Tag: High Plains

From Summer to Winter-Changing Seasons on the High Plains

Two days ago it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit, or 40 degrees Celsius and now the chill feels cooler than the 41 degree Fahrenheit (5 Celsius) and we have gone from Summer to Winter in 48 hours. This temperature swing is not unusual for the High Plains. But the timing is a bit earlier than usual. Since I moved to this part of the world, the earliest snow, a mere dusting, occurred back in 1995 the third week in September. The latest seasonal switch occurred about a half dozen years later on the Monday before Thanksgiving.

Two days ago the forecast was calling for snow and a frost. So many, many hours were spent in the garden harvesting everything ripe, or close. Now the forecast has backed off a wee bit. A slight chance of sleet but the temperatures should stay above freezing. The work is not wasted, and the delay-if it happens- will allow the melons to ripen.

The harvest was focused on tender plants. Those that freeze as soon as the thermometer registers 32. So a plethora of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers were plucked from the garden. Batches of salsa, spaghetti sauce and Lemon Basil Eggplant Caponata filled the house. Jars cluttered the counter tops. And the smell reminded me of all the Sunday Italian meals I enjoyed during college.

Summer to Winter Chores

Not all the crops were harvested. The melons are a risk, but they need another three weeks to ripen. The sweet potatoes are still growing like gangbusters and also benefit if the temperatures remain above freezing. Likewise with the potatoes and the peanuts.

The beans are at a variety of stages. A small amount were picked from the bush beans ahead of this summer to winter action. But the pole beans I left unpicked. Both the Cherokee Purple and the Blue Lake Pole are heirlooms. They are setting seed now. This year’s Cherokee Purple plants were grown from seed saved off last year’s plants. They are a mainstay in my garden.

I mounded straw around the artichoke, just to be on the safe side. Plus, that area of the garden is slated to have the frost hoop. Hopefully, the double coverage will protect a few key plants from this first wild summer to winter swing. While the Rosemary can handle temperatures down into the teens, the basil will not last the night if the temperature wobbles around the freezing point.

These next two nights are critical for the garden. I am hoping for a near miss. But if the freeze happens I will begin getting the garden cleaned up for the colder months.Harvested Peppers Summer into Winter

 

 

February Freeze

Striped cat atop a cat seatOut here on the High Plains of the United States it is not unusual to have a mild January followed by a February freeze. It appears that 2020 will maintain that historical pattern. So, even though Groundhog Day was pleasantly mild, the frigid weather is upon us.

This past weekend it was really hard not to stick some seeds into the ground. Perfect weather for puttering around in the garden. Temperatures reached into the upper 60s and lower 70s. But the forecast was for a quick turn-around. The lows over the next few nights call for single digit temperatures and even possibly below zero.

Sure enough Tuesday morning brought snow and cold. The much needed moisture is welcome. So far, the snow is gently falling. Beautiful to look at and not as dangerous for livestock.

Furthermore, the weather pundits are predicting another storm and then another. This change in pattern is one that often occurs, bringing moisture along with the February freeze. After many years as a transplant to this part of the world, I have finally learned not to let January fool me.

Indoor Activities

For the most part, kids still have school although there were a few two hour delays. Individual school administrators determine how much time if any the kids have for outdoor recess. Determining factors include outside temperatures and whether or not the wind kicks up. Wind chill is dangerous in this part of the country.

Here at the house, I will keep busy in the quilt room with a break every once in a while to look for results from the Iowa Caucus. (Quite the Public Relations disaster.) But poor Sophie will be housebound. Her choice not mine.

Sophie’s Story

Sophie is the fourth cat I have ever shared a home with. My policy is only one animal at a time. (Gold fish are exempt.) One of my nieces found her as a tiny weeks-old kitten at one of the farm buildings. No mama or other kittens in sight. Frigid weather much like the February freeze we are currently experiencing. And if my memory serves right, a spot of snow.

Sophie was near death. But with bottle feedings from family members and meds from the local vet, she survived. She is small for a cat. In fact at four years, Sophie looks closer to nine months. Additionally, Sophie is the most loyal animal I have ever been around.

February Freeze Keeps Sophie Inside

Most days, Sophie is anxious to go outside. She likes nothing better than to accompany me around the yard chasing rabbits and jumping for grasshoppers. But, on cold days she doesn’t venture far. Add snow to the mix and she refuses to venture out. Instead she perches by the window and watches the snow come down. This February freeze is no exception.

Cat looking out at February freeze

 

Rain, Rain and More Rain on the Plains

Rainy days are rare in the part of the world I live in. But rain has fallen four days in a row for a total of just over two inches. Considering our annual average rainfall is 15 inches, the rain over the last four days is significant.

Wet Season

April, May and June are the rainy months for our section of the High Plains. Snow often falls in April which hinders the garden. This year we had the frigid temperatures but not much in the way of measurable snowfall. Then May continued the cooler than normal temperature with a last frost on the 21st of the month. Unfortunately, the month was also dry. Just over an inch of rain watered the garden.

Thus you can understand my excitement of two inches of rain in just four days. The historical average has taken some hits this decade. The beginning featured a carryover of the drought that started in the late ‘00s. The lowest total precipitation for our county occurred in 2011 when just over six inches of rain fell. This was in the middle of a run of years where the rain total fell below ten inches.

Perhaps the ongoing focus on world economics kept this serious drought from the spotlight. This time period was actually drier than the Dust Bowl years. Our area lost a lot of population to the Front Range as individuals and families moved to where jobs could be found.

Fortunately 2015 heralded the end of the drought. The area received over 21 inches of rain. Everything turned green. The High Plains are beautiful with this amount of moisture. The wheat grows tall and the heads are laden with grain. The key to the harvest is a drying period in the weeks before harvest. That might be a problem this year.

Rain and Water Conservation

Since twenty inches of water is a banner year, we are accustomed to conserving water in our part of the world. Unless high winds and/or very hot days pop up, the garden will now not receive water for a week. During dry spells of little to no rain, I water the garden early in the morning. Soaker hoses are the preferable method since our winds carry the spray from sprinklers astray.

Plantings also come into play. After very dry winters and springs, the only flowers in the garden are the perennials. The food crops need the water. So no pretty annuals. The yards tend to brown during a dry year as well.

Stewards of the Earth

I believe gardeners are stewards of the Earth. Both water and soil conservation are important. Rain is welcome in my pat of the world but other areas are receiving more than what is wanted. Those areas with greater annual rainfall need to keep an eye on hard surfaces. Pavement keeps the rain from soaking into the soil. Thus dangerous runoff and flooding is a concern.

We have flash floods when a thunderstorm dumps inches of rain in a short amount of time. So even here in a sparsely populated area, street flooding can occur. The years (few and far between) of heavy spring rains can cause the creeks to look more like streams.

So hardscapes in the garden need to be thought out. Our recent patio addition has flagstone laid upon a gravelly sand. Additionally, a drain pipe was inserted to allow excess water to flow under the herb garden into the lawn.

During yesterday’s rain we looked for ways to improve drainage. We will make a few adjustments to the section of the patio covered by pavers instead of flagstone. The pavers serve as a flat area for the grill to roll out on. Our high winds necessitate moving the grill to a sheltered place when not in use. In fact, it is time to tackle that project since more rain is forecast for this afternoon!