Thunder and Lightning

So much rain these past few weeks.  Seems like it’s done nothing but rain since we came back from our beach vacation.  I haven’t had any time in the sun to maintain that tropical tan!  Though sun worshiping isn’t the wisest thing to do these days, I have to admit that I do feel so much better with a little sun on my face.

I’m not sure exactly when I stopped being terrified of thunder and lightning.  I have some pretty vivid memories of hiding from thunder storms as a child.  I’d pull the blankets up over my head, hide my head under the pillow.  And it was sweltering hot in my room to begin with.  I always assumed my sister was just as frightened, as we shared a room and shared those terrifying nights.

I remember one storm that occurred while my grandmother was visiting.  We were huddled in the game room, on the couch, talking about things grandmas talk about.  Thinking back on that afternoon, I would venture a guess that we were in the throws of a tornado warning.  I can only remember being told to get to the basement when the conditions were ripe for a tornado.

I wasn’t alone in my fear of those storms.  There was a little boy, I think we called him Jimmy Joe, who could not be comforted during one storm while Miss M, the kindergarten teacher, tried to distract us with a singing circle.  She had to call Jimmy Joe’s father to the school.  And his dad came to the rescue that day.

I smile when I think of our dog, Willis, in a thunderstorm.  I have heard plenty of stories of where dogs go to hide during storms.  Linda’s dog, Pal, used to hide in the clothes dryer, a remarkable feat for a full-grown collie.  Pal would find his way into the dryer on the 4th of July as well.  He did not like the loud booms of the firecrackers and fireworks.

Our bunny, Puffer, never liked storms, but Willis could not care less about them.  Good ol’ Willis.  He doesn’t like to go outside when it’s raining, doesn’t like getting wet.  Doesn’t give a hoot about thunder.

Lightning over Pittsburgh
Photo Credit: Photography by Jon Holiday

And how do you like this for irony?  My phone just swooshed with the latest Severe Thunderstorm Watch from the national weather service.  Guess we are going to get some more rain.

musings, weather

The Smell of the Rain

On my way into the office this morning, I heard one of the students complaining about the rain.


Rain is good – and today it sure beats the snow!  It was so gorgeous yesterday – at one point in the day my weather app informed me it was 80F!!  And that is just fine!


The smell of the rain this morning took me back a few years to the days we walked to school.  Who could spot the longest worm!  Up Livingston Road, across the highway, along the path that skirted the Lebanon Jr. High practice field, back down across the same highway, through the back drive to the elementary school.  There were two crossing guards that kept us safe on that trek.  Crossing Guard Ernie always had a stick of gum for each of us on Friday.

I wonder how far it really was.  I’ve always thought it was at least a mile.  And that’s how we stayed in shape in those days.  We walked to school.

Imagine that.

I would like to take a trip back to Livingston Road and walk the walk to school one more time.  And measure the walk.

My kids can’t believe it was that far – but it was only uphill one way!

garden, seeds, weather

A Formula for Seed Starting Success

I have never really given much thought to the science of starting seeds.  I estimate our set out time (here in Zone 5b) to be somewhere between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. So mid to late May.  I usually start my seeds on St. Patrick’s Day – mid March.  No science to this logic whatsoever.  Most years it works, depending on what seeds I’m starting.


So I’ve been reading many other blogs and a few have mentioned a starting formula, a seed starting schedule.  Wow – a formula for starting my seeds.  I should have thought of this myself!

We seriously need to start with the seeds.  And if you have organized your seeds like me, you know exactly where to find them!   Check your seed packets and separate them into 2 categories – those that are sown directly into the soil, and those that are started indoors.  Most annuals will be sewn directly into the soil.  Most perennials will be started indoors.  But take a look.

Most of my seeds indicate “6-8 weeks before last frost date”.

Last frost date?  Just how am I supposed to guess at the last frost date?  There’s an app for that – well probably, but I did a quick Google search and, lo and behold, a link that reveals the last frost date!   Check it out, compliments of the Farmer’s Almanac!  You can find cities in the US here, and any Canadian cities will be linked to the closest US Climate Station.  Interestingly enough, there are no guarantees here.  The site claims to be 50% accurate!  Hah!  It’s their best guess, I guess!  My last frost date is May 1.

Sort your packets according to these recommendations.  I added a small sticker to indicate (in large numbers!) which week to start, 4, 5, 6, and so on. Some packets, especially those for perennials, may only tell you how long it takes the seeds to germinate. If that’s all you have to go on, take that figure (which is usually a range) and add 6 weeks. Then label the packet accordingly.

If there’s no information on the seed packet, you can pretty safely just start all your seeds about 6 weeks before you’ll plant them outdoors. Make note of which plants are too big or too small at planting time, and then you can make adjustments next year based on your notes.

Creating the Calendar

To calculate your planting dates, you need to count back from the last frost date in one-week increments. (I base my calendar on Saturdays, because that’s the day that I usually have available for seedstarting). In my area, the last frost date is May 1.  For me, when I count back from May 1, Week 4 is April 3, Week 11 is the week of February 13, etc. Simply write the week number (8,4, 6 or whatever) on the seed packet.  When the planting week arrives, you just grab the right packet and start planting.

Making Adjustments

Now that you have a great schedule, here are a couple of reasons you may want to make some adjustments:

Start earlier: Seeds take longer to germinate and plants grow more slowly when air and soil temperatures are cool (below 70 degrees F). If you plan to start your seeds in a cool basement or cool bedroom, you may want to shift your whole schedule a week or two earlier.

If you have a cold frame or greenhouse, or if you use row covers or water-filled teepees, you can plant tender seedlings several weeks before the last frost date. Just count back from that expected planting date to get the right date to sow your seeds.

Start later: If you grow your seedlings in a greenhouse or a very warm room, you should cut a week or more out of your schedule. Heat promotes rapid growth, and you could find yourself with giant plants that are ready for the garden before warm weather arrives.

So, back to my seed collection.  Most of my seeds that can be started indoors should start 6-8 weeks before last frost date.  Seven weeks before May 1, is the week of St. Patrick’s day.  So, according to my system, I wasn’t so far off with my “St. Patrick’s day” to “Mother’s day” formula.  If I back it up just a bit, I should be able to enjoy a couple more weeks, 50% of the time.

Ah, but beware!  Last year was one of the “other” 50% frost dates, as we had a killing frost in late May.  By the time I went out to purchase the annuals I hadn’t started, most gardeners in these parts were purchasing their second crop, and the nurseries were sold out.  Good for those nurseries, not so good for me.


Red sky in the morning

Very often I’m up early enough to see the sunrise.  Most times, I’m in the shower or packing lunches – not really paying attention.  This morning, I happened to be making coffee and feeding the dog.  The strange light that was streaming through the back door was, low and behold, the sun!  Such a striking sight, here in sun-deprived Pittsburgh.

pink sky

But what made the light even more spectacular was the pink tint that accompanied it.  My mind immediately starts reciting “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  Red sky at night, sailors delight.”  My mom used to say that.  A little Google search reveals that there is truth in the saying.

A red sunrise reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. This indicates that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content in the atmosphere. So, rain is on its way.

When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically good weather will follow.

A quick visit to indicates we are in for some rain or snow showers late this morning.  But I could have told you that, just by noting the morning sky!


Frosty Freeze

I am a Weather Channel junkie – think I can thank my dad for that one too!  I remember being introduced to the Weather Channel when I was very young, and I thought at that time that the only place you could get weather on your TV was at the beach.  He watched for the timing of the tide; I was more interested in the sun prediction!

I go to sleep with the Weather Channel on – not sure if the repetitive nature of the show or the music (muzak) they play during the local segment is the secret – but it puts me right to sleep!  And I have my alarm set for 5:27 so that the first thing I see on the TV in the morning is the local weather forecast (weather on the 8s)!

So I also have the Weather Channel forecast on my computer’s desktop.  Don’t we all just have to look at the weather prediction on an hourly basis?  Haven’t set up the Home Page option, but that’s probably something I should try!  And today the hot little warning comes up that my area is scheduled for a Freeze Warning tonight.  Can you believe this?  We have had the most incredible Spring Preview for the past month.  All the trees are in bloom, all the spring flowers are up and everyone is thinking that we are past any danger of snow.  But I think this Freeze thing may be worse than snow.

So what’s the difference between a Frost Warning and a Freeze Warning?  I have no idea.  I just know that all my hostas are up and they are in grave danger of turning into a pile of mush unless I do something tonight to protect them.  I did a little reading on this topic, and it seems the best options are covering tender vegetation with a sheet or a cardboard box or even a flowerpot turned upside down.  I can’t believe just last week I tore down 3 or 4 nice sized cardboard boxes – I’m such a recycling nut.  If I don’t put those out for the recycle truck my DH will toss them in the trash – nooooo.

So, I’m planning to cover the azaleas, rhododendrons, and hostas with sheets and any boxes that may still be lurking in the garage!  I may even have to cut a few paper grocery bags down and figure out how to keep them over the taller plants.  My yard is gonna look like a crazy Halloween town tonight!