Plants are simple to grow, really. Provide them with what they need and they will pretty much grow themselves. This sounds simple, but it isn’t. The “providing them what they need” part becomes pretty tricky sometimes.
So what do plants need? Nutrition-farmers growing using organic practices spend a good bit of time managing soil. If we want our plants to grow well, we must provide nutritious soil. Then we have water. Water here in Maine is (luckily) not usually limiting. We have a cool temperate climate which lends itself to water conservation in the soil. With frequent rain, rarely do we run into water issues for plant growth. Next we have light. Plants photosynthesize so they need light (along with carbon dioxide and water) to complete this complex enzymatic reaction. Again, in Maine we rarely have a light issue (unless we are talking about the dark days of winter or trying to grow in a shaded portion of a garden). Typically we have plenty of light for optimal plant growth.
So this all sounds dandy for plant growth…right? Well, the fourth thing required for plant growth is optimal temperatures. Plant growth is exponential with temperature increases (to a point, of course). What does this mean? This means that the warmer it is, the faster the growth rate (and this compounds upon itself because more leaf area means more photosynthesis which means higher plant growth). Temperature is our issue in Maine. Not too hot (which can also slow plant growth) but too cool. When we are in this up and down swing of temperature in these spring months, plants grow slowly due to low temperatures. Temperature increases the speed with which enzymatic reactions occur and if these are running slowly………yup, you guessed it……..Sloooooowwwww plant growth.
This is the reason why if you jump the gun and plant an early crop in cool temperatures, typically a crop planted two weeks later in more optimal temperatures will easily catch the crop planted first. So, when farmers have deadlines to meet (i.e. CSAs starting, or first days of farmers markets) temperature can be a real thorn in their side.
I don’t write this to bore you to tears and make you feel like you are back in high school biology, but to raise awareness. As we consume (especially plant based food) we should think about this, especially if you are a locavore or even if you are someone who only infrequently visits a farmers market.
Knowing the basics of plant physiology and paying attention to things like weather patterns and how they relate to your food, makes a more robust relationship between farmer and consumer.
So as you sit down and watch the evening news, or are listening to NPR on your way to work and hear that weather forecast, think about what that means for plants and ultimately your dinner.
And as with the last post I wrote, maybe now Harmony will see that I DEFINITELY need more high tunnels which can mediate these temperature swings J
Happy spring and good growing!!!
Dylan and Harmony, whichever of us have the time to sit down and write for a few minutes. : )