Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Surprisingly Fast!

As all of us "plant fans" already know, plants are really quite remarkable things. Growth for some must take place in a very short amount of time. Here in a relatively northern garden all growth and development, from seed germination to seed ripening, must take place in roughly 4 month's time.... or about 120 days.

Although I've been gardening for nearly 30 years, it struck me particularly this year how fast annuals and vegetables actually grow here in Minnesota. The first photo was the "sunny" garden on May 12th. As you can see from the surrounding spaces, nothing much was planted by anyone else at that time in my 6'x8' community garden plot.

The second photo was taken on June 19th, or about a month later. The tomatoes are not up to the tops of their tomato-cages and the fairly new transplants aren't filled in or blooming much.

The last photo was taken June 29th, less than a half month after the previous photo. You can see that the tomatoes are past their cages and the zinnias are much more lush and filled out with some good looking blooms. That happened in only 10 days. I'm frankly amazed.

I share this amazement because of a couple of reasons.... one being that sometimes we forget. I forgot over the years that sun really does matter. My home gardens never have more than two to three hours of direct sunlight a day. I have (what I like to think) is a fun yard with lots of bird feeders and semi-tended gardens and interesting plants that I'm "trying out" to see what they'll do in a northern climate. Everything has to "put up" with shade. I have trees in the front and I have trees in the back..... and where there might be a potential patch of sunlight, the neighbors have huge Cottonwood trees across the street. The sun doesn't get past them after about two in the afternoon either. I simply forgot the lessons of growing up on a farm. Fields do not have shade.

On a whim, I signed up for a tiny patch of community garden. A 6'x8' plot is approximately the size of a living room accent rug like the sort at the home furnishing stores. Since I haven't had any home grown tomatoes for years (or any that were larger than a golf ball) I thought I would plant a couple of vegetables. I put in three different heritage tomato varieties, some chard, peppers, basil, onions and flowers. In only 55 days I have plants that are as tall as a couple of the neighbors! Light, the number of hours of light and the intensity of light are extremely important to robust growth. I'm going to take that lesson indoors and reassess what the violets and gesneriads on the light stands are getting as far as both the quantity and quality of light that they're receiving.

Perhaps something else that I've forgotten about is temperature. Our typical frost-free days here in the Twin Cities area are from May 10th to about Sept. 20th. If we're using roundish numbers, that means there are about 120 frost-free growing days and about 245 that fall someplace in the time that could potentially freeze. Many of the fruits and vegetables that we grow are not hardy past freezing. Some of the "cole crops" like cabbage might be able to stand a little cold weather but most things do not. So fast growth and maturity are important.

Many of the gesneriads and African violets have naturally evolved to live climates where the weather is never cold enough to freeze. But, could the temperature that they grow in matter more than we realize? The appeal of houseplants is that they survive in the same conditions that most people usually keep their house at. But, would more closely mimicking nature (and that plant's natural habitat) speed their growth and development up like the lovely surprise of putting tomatoes in full sun? This could be a good topic for one of the experiments that we posted about a week or two ago. Anyone want to try this???