Rain, rain, rain: I surrender

Rain, rain, go away…

April showers may bring May flowers, but, quite frankly, they’ve washed out my gardening plans.

I had every intention of planting cool weather veggie seeds—lettuce, beets, chard, carrots—during the first few days of April, but rain and showers saturated our garden and made that impossible. One day I started to hoe some winter weeds but surrendered—quite happily—when the sticky soil just wouldn’t fall off the roots of the weeds. Our Maryland soil is basically clay, so if I plant seeds in the wet soil, the soil will crust when it dries and the seeds may find it impossible to break through.

For every day of sun that we’ve had during the first three weeks of April, we’ve had two or three cloudy days, often with showers, rain, even downpours. The “Official weather data” for Baltimore-Washington International Airport through last evening, as reported in the Washington Post, tells the story: we’re nearly an inch above average rainfall year to date. The forecasts for the next five days aren’t encouraging for seed planting either: rain Tuesday, thunderstorm Wednesday, rain possible on Friday.

I surrender. If I can’t plant lettuce outside, I’ll plant it inside. And that’s exactly what I did late Monday afternoon.

I gathered essentials for starting plants inside: sterile starting mix (soil), beverage cups that I saved over winter, and, of course, seeds. I took the packets of lettuce seeds—Red Sails (Botanical Interests), Coastal Star (Johnny’s Selected Seeds), and Simpsons Curled (Bentley Seeds)—out of the plastic jar in which I store them in our refrigerator and went to work.

Plastic dividers make two growing areas

First, with a Phillips screwdriver I punched two drainage holes in the bottom of each of the seven recycled cups I planned to use. Then I filled the cups three-quarters full of starting mix, dividing the growing area in half with plastic strips I fashioned with scissors from a blueberry box that I liberated from our recycling bin. (The plastic strips will make it easy to separate the plants, two per cup after thinning, when I transplant them later.) Then I sprinkled two or three seeds into each side, covered them with about a quarter-inch of starting soil, dampened them with water, and took the cups in a plastic tray into our kitchen, where they’ll sprout in five to 10 days in temperatures ranging from the 60s at night to 70s during the day.

I don’t plan to move the seedlings down to our basement utility room to grow for three or four weeks under fluorescent lights. Instead, when they sprout, I’ll carry them outside during daylight hours for a week or so, until they look tall enough to survive the next shower or downpour. Even though temperatures outside dip into the 40s at night, lettuce is a “cool weather” veggie that should be flourishing outside in our garden, not inside our house.

Why do I plant the lettuce varieties that I do?

Red Sails has beautiful, burgundy-tinged leaves that look and taste great in salads, and it’s slow to bolt when hot weather arrives, so we can harvest it longer into the summer. When lettuces bolt, they send up a flower stalk, turn bitter, and go to seed. From planting seeds to harvest: 45 days.

I bought Coastal Star as an experiment while looking in the Johnny’s catalog for Parris Island romaine. I liked what I read. It’s heat tolerant (slow to bolt), and similar to Parris Island but with darker green leaves. From planting seeds: 57 days.

I didn’t buy the Simpsons Curled seeds. They came in a promotional packet from an organization soliciting my membership. I’ve grown greenleaf Black Seeded Simpson, apparently a similar variety, for years. Small plants can be pulled to highlight salads in about 28 days and full-size plants will be ready in about 46 days.

Which variety will sprout first? Most likely the Simpsons Curled.

And I’m still wondering when we will get a week or 10 days, rain free, so I can plant carrot, beet, and chard seeds in our garden.

4 Comments on “Rain, rain, rain: I surrender

  1. Oh GOSH…you too. I am going N U T S with wanting to plant cool weather crops, but the soil is so wet here in Harford County that its nigh on impossible to clean and clear the bed out and get going. I did manage during a two day dry spell to weed and put out a few small rows of kale, Tom Thumb Lettuce, Merlot Lettuce and another green that I can't recall. I have a slew of seeds started inside…and the only thing that is failing due to dampening off is spinach. Ahhhhh!!! The next nice day I am going to dive in and come hell or high water get spinach and some more greens planted, along with peas. These rains are making me N U T S!!!

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  2. This is my first year vegetable gardening, and I chose to use Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening method. I've had no problem sowing and growing since March. I'm guessing it's either 'Mel's Mix' soil mix or the fact that it's a raised bed or both. Maybe you both would like to have at least one raised bed so you can start cool weather crops early too! I do worry that later, my raised bed will require excessive watering, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it! For now, my early veges are doing great!

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  3. I'm so glad I started loads of lettuce seeds indoors this winter! I have a great variety that I transplanted back in March just before that cold, cold spell. I covered them w/ row cover and didn't lose anything to frost at all. I had also sprinkled several rows of lettuce seeds before the last freeze and thought they were goners, but they are up. No doubt about it, the transplants are way ahead of the direct sown seeds. I had a delicious salad of baby lettuces, kale, and chard last night!

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  4. @ArtBeatPhotography: You're weeks ahead of me. Alas, more storms are forecast for tonight and this weekend. Why weren't we smart enough to order watercress seeds?

    @Stephen: Congratulations. You are off to a great veggie-gardening start. I have a 30-year-old copy of Square Foot Gardening and follow many of the principles. My series of small hillside gardens are semi-raised, so they don't require too much extra water. Actually, the composition of the soil you've created will determine how much water you will have to add, so you may be surprised at how little that will be except in the driest weeks, especially if you mulch and use a “drip” system to minimize evaporation.

    @Anonymous: Successful veggie gardening shows up at the table–and your “baby” salads are proof positive. You can do so much more with your row covers. I have a very series of small plots on a hillside, so I've taken the lazy way out and not used row covers. Good Anonymous. Bad Bob. 🙂

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