Living through the legendary drought of 1976 has made me particularly aware of this weather extreme. I'd just started studying geography A Level at the time which was following a new syllabus with lots more practical work. I chose a couple of weather related projects to count towards my exams because I found it such a fascinating topic.
My first project looked at soil infiltration rates (a posh term for how quickly water soaks into soil) on different types of soils in our garden before and after rain. My other one was keeping a weather diary. How much rain actually fell during the soil infiltration project? ...None. How many weeks of exactly the same hot, sunny weather did I record in my diary? ...Six. That's 42 different ways I had to find to explain what was happening i.e. high pressure from continental Europe blocking our usual rainy weather from the Atlantic. Luckily the seventh week was rather different, otherwise I reckon I would have gone bonkers!
As a gardener I'm also interested in physiological drought, where there's sufficient water but it's temporarily unavailable. We've seen this happen more frequently than usual this winter owing to its severity: the soil's water's been frozen and everything in the garden subsequently droops, particularly my Violas. They soon recover if the temperature increases sufficiently during the day. At other times, particularly in summer the same thing happens when the rate of water leaving a plant via evapotranspiration exceeds the water it can take in via its roots. This often happens on a hot, windy day. This time, the plant wilts in the daytime, but recovers overnight, when evapotranspiration ceases. Vigilance is especially needed with anything newly planted out as their roots have not had the time to establish and seek out water lower down in the soil.
Today, gardening on a limestone enriched clay soil sounds like I shouldn't have many problems with drought and I suppose it does mean I don't have to water as often during the summer as say someone gardening on sand. However, it seems we only need to have just a few days of sunshine for my soil to turn to what seems like concrete and for rather alarming cracks to appear. I react by frantically raiding the compost bins and pouring as much organic matter into the cracks as I can in a vain attempt to close them, so that my plants are kept happy. It might not be much of a solution, but at least I feel I'm doing something positive and I am getting some organic matter into the depths of my soil in addition to my autumn round of mulching everything.
How's the weather with you today? It's very cold, but sunny here. 1pm: Now it's snowing!
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