Saturday, July 20, 2013

Keeping cool while it's hot

During these hot days of July I've been keeping a close eye on the garden. Heavy rains early this summer encouraged generous growth, and I've been a bit worried as I watch the ferns fainting, the production of flowers slowing, and the drooping leaves of the potato plants. Their "performance" isn't what it's supposed to be. 

But the plants have an idea I think. As they sense the shortage of water in their environment plants have a bunch of options they can use to adapt. In the long run this helps them survive the rigors of drought and heat. 

One strategy they use is to close their stomata. Stomata are the pores, mostly on leaves but also present on other parts of the plant, that take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Plants manufacture their own nutrients from carbon dioxide, which is the raw ingredient for sugars and starch. But while the stomata are open water vapor, a by-product of photosynthesis (like oxygen), is also released. Plants lose water, lots of it, whenever they do photosynthesis. So in these hot, dry weeks our garden plants slow down. You could say they're on a kind of fast, just depriving themselves of nutrients for a few hot hours of the day to avoid overdoing it. 

The by-product of the "fast" is something we can observe. Fewer and smaller flowers, less than perky plants. Well it's July, and most of the plants have laid in a good store of resources already. So a few days of slowing down won't hurt them, not as much as a super soaking will hurt my water bill. 

I've been watching our cat too. Fin is a Maine coon, hairy and luxuriant. He's happiest in a blizzard or under the misty dripping April sky. Poor guy.  All he's been able to do over the past few days is splay himself out on the floor, wherever it's just slightly cooler than the rest of the house. 

Maybe we can take a lesson from nature in this heat. Slow down and chill out. Don't try to "accomplish" so much for a few days. 

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