Why plants grow better after rain than when WE water them

Ever noticed that when you water your lawn/garden it politely says “thank you,” but essentially doesn’t look much different unless it was drought stricken to start? But then it rains, and it’s like the plant version of the “Hallelujah Chorus”! The plants not only perk up, but they practically leap up and suddenly you have new growth, flowers or a need to mow your lawn. Most people notice, but otherwise don’t think much of it, but some of us look at this dichotomy and think “What? Isn’t my water good enough for you? What does rain water have that mine doesn’t, or is it the chlorine slowing it down?”

Well, here’s the answer, and it isn’t the chlorine in tap water, but what air is composed of:

Most people think that air is primarily oxygen, since this is the gas we need to survive. However, the major component of air is nitrogen – 78.09% of it! Nitrogen is completely inert, meaning it the under normal conditions it has no positive or negative effects on our bodies (unless you scuba dive, but that’s not part of this post). Oxygen is only about 20.95% of the air we breathe, with the final 0.96% made up of trace gasses such as carbon dioxide (0.03%) and argon (0.93%).

So what does this have to do with plants? Nitrogen is a natural fertilizer, and when it rains it washes out of the air and fertilizes the plants as well as giving them a drink. (What a cool way God has designed to both water and feed the plants!)

Why doesn’t the atmosphere doesn’t contain a higher concentration of oxygen? It wasn’t designed to, for (at least) 2 excellent reasons:

  • Breathing pure oxygen for extended periods of time leads to oxygen toxicity (and a particular danger for premature babies that is better understood now than in the past);
  • oxygen is a potent accelerant, so if there was a greater concentration in the air, fires would be more common and more intense.

As Bill Nye, the Science Guy used to say, “Now you know…!”

Mulch Garden Diary – Not much rain, but…

It’s been dry all over and most gardeners (and farmers) are concerned and watering regularly. Western New York has also been dry, although we have had a few days when small fronts have come in from Canada over the lakes bringing scattered pop-up showers which, although welcome, have only been a drop in the proverbial bucket.

I began gardening late this year – I do every year, but I have finally made my peace with it. As long as we homeschool, the ideal planting time of late April/early May falls close to the end of the school year with co-op lessons, end-of-the-year mandatory testing (NY…), reports and other required NY paperwork (blah, blah, blah…).

Anyhow, my usual routine depends on “volunteer” plants, select nurseries for specific plants, and seeds of some vegetables that don’t mind (or even prefer) starting later. So I thinned out and/or moved some volunteers, purchased and put in a few vegetables and dibbled a few holes for late-purchased seeds (Baker Creek). The mechanism is simple: I pull back mulch and plant, wait until the plants are large enough, then push it back. Because I was late, and it’s been hot and not raining my husband has been spot watering in the morning, but when I first started and pulled back the mulch the soil was still moist, and the worms were just at the surface of the soil under the mulch happily turning straw and hay into soil gold. On the other hand, own lawn doesn’t look as good as my neighbor’s lawn (you can see it in the back) because he waters his, but we haven’t watered ours.

Today I wandered about in the garden in my bare feet (I love the feel of the top layer of dry mulch). I pushed it back up to most plants, dropped some spare mulch on some thinner places and did some random checks in the open places between plants, causing worms to flee. All good. Other than my husband using a watering can to water of certain places and one good watering of the strawberry bed in the middle (it got quite thin there and was drier and I couldn’t re-mulch until the berries were done), the rest is fine. I pulled about 5 little weed upstarts and took some more pictures.

This is just the main vegetable garden as of today, I have five other narrow ones around the yard. This one has tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, corn, scarlet runner beans, eggplant, broccoli, collards, cilantro, Russian purple fingerling potatoes, bush zucchini, bush buttercup squash, cucumbers and okra (I also put in some asparagus seeds but don’t expect anything this soon). The “volunteers” in this garden are the strawberries, collards, cilantro and potatoes. In my other beds I have leeks (volunteer), garlic, basil, parsley, peppermint (volunteer), cilantro (volunteer), black raspberries (volunteer), dill, walking onions (volunteer), chives, more okra and strawberries (volunteer) and sunflowers.

I will try to post other pictures as it progresses, for I know it will fill in surprisingly.

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