Midwinter lightning and hail

Midwinter lightning and hail damage trees, plants and electrical-infrastructure; but bring welcome rain and nitrogen for the soil.

I expect you too were totally shocked by the midwinter hailstorm that hit the Midlands recently in midwinter. We do have short memories, and perhaps I am totally wrong, but I don’t remember it ever happening before.

We see climate-change all around us, warning us of the devastation of the planet, in part caused by greenhouse gases.

Midwinter lightning strikes a tree in the front garden.

Awesome was the strike of lightning that hit my favourite tree only 22 metres from where we were sitting in our lounge. Luckily our solar system and electronica were preserved from the shock wave of the powerful electric-field by proper earthing.

Bits of bark from the tree were found 50 metres away. Only time will tell if it survives; it has been hit before. Updating this page a year later, I'm glad to say it recovered completely.

It serves as a stark reminder of how lightning can strike from the blue; anyone standing out there would surely have been killed. Keep well away from trees in a storm, even one that is seemingly far-off. South Africa has over 200 deaths each year.

Lightning provides about 10% of the nitrogen fixed from the atmosphere[1]; the other 90pc comes from the bacteria[2] on the roots of legumes.

Both make inert nitrogen in the air available to plants which are then able to synthesise the amino-acids that all life is totally dependent on; the building blocks of proteins.

We may think we get our protein from a cow, or an egg, but both are only made possible by the amino-acids in the fodder that they themselves consume.

A lightning strike according to Hill et al is typically about 5 km long with a current of about 25,000 amps but of course the emf is around a staggering 1M volts; enough to power 12 million kettles. The awesome heat produced is sufficient to break down the nitrogen-molecules, the atoms immediately forming oxides which then dissolve in the rain.

Acids are formed and thus the nitrates in the soil are produced which plants can absorbe to create proteins.

Hence the monsoons, as my grandmother would have said whenever a subject of science came under discussion.

As gardeners we welcome this unusual weather. The 17mm of rain half-filled the reservoir that provides our water; the greens and broad-beans are already much happier. It also reminds us of the importance of seeking shelter when a storm threatens, even in midwinter.

Just as our children will be stunted by insufficient nitrogenous protein, plants in the garden grow miserably without enough of the element. 

It is at a time like this that we consider ourselves so lucky not to have a gardener. Witnessing nature in all its glory and fiery-power is one of the joys of being a greenie.

And then there's the blessing of being able to harvest the bounty from the skies; sunshine for our solar generator and rainwater for our underground reservoir[4].

Midwinter lightning and hail

Midwinter lightning and hail in the Midlands of SA are most unusual.

Spring soon follows; it's the time for building the large bamboo trellis on which we grow our various beans every year. It's all about more green legumes from our garden to reduce our reliance on red meat for protein.

Pole beans garden trellis.

Easy composting may give you a few ideas to provide an richer soil for your vegetables.

Then we would mulch[3] the young seedlings once they are established. Latterly we grow limas too on these trellises to protect the tender plants from the ravages of the Mexican bean beetle larvae.

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  • Microplastics from our water
  • Alternative types of water storage
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  • What can go in compost?
  • Grow broad beans for longevity
  • Harvest and store sunshine
  • Blue zone exercise
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