Monday, July 11, 2011

Weathering the Garden

A month or so ago, I wrote about the impact of unpredictable weather and changing climates on growing food.  Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the biggest impact the last few years has been increasingly cool weather.  Turns out, we are in the minority though because at least our weather is fairly static.  In fact, this year, the "norm" seems to have been cold spells, then weather in the 90s and 100s.  People reported premature going to seed.  Cool weather crops never grew then suddenly bolted and a harvest was out of the question.

Big swings in weather surely will hit us all.  Likely some of us will also have times where the summers are very hot or have no heat at all.  That got me thinking and my fingers typing, researching and compiling lists of how to deal with changing weather in the edible garden.

1) Mulch helps stabilize temperature.  For cooler weather plants, it prevents soil from warmer too quickly and drying out.  For warm weather plants, mulch protects the plant from heat, drying winds and reduces weeds which compete with plants for water.  It also reduces need for water and minimize the effects of heavy rain.  I've only ever used organic mulches, though.  With bigger shifts in temperature, though, and as I become more serious about growing more of our own food, I'm thinking I might need to explore the world of black plastic mulch which is said to promote early growth.

2) Shade susceptible plants. Plant lettuce, spinach and other veggies particularly susceptible to premature bolting in containers that can be moved into the shade or look for a pop up canopy at a garage sale that could shade those beds

3) Choose carefully what you plant.  For instance, look for plants specifically designed to withstand temperature extremes - like Slow Bolt Cilantro.  I hate to say this but heirlooms are not always the way to go.  A while back, a local farmer told me to skip heirloom tomatoes and go with cherry and hybrids like  Early Girl because that is what does best in our area.  We have a lot of disease in our soil she said which the heirlooms are susceptible to.  She was right.  I've done much better with hybrids and cherries than any beautiful heirloom. 

4) Fertilize with thought.  Apparently, you are not supposed to apply high nitrogen fertilizer in late summer or when hot weather is on the horizon.  You should, however, fertilize when there is a lot of rain as heavy rainfall washes away soil nutrients.

5) Invest in some material fixes.  Greenhouses and cold frames can get things moving during a prolonged winter or a cold spring.  A hoop house or row cover is another idea - more scalable than a greenhouse.  All of these things protect against excessive rain and wind and are more appropriately used in cooler weather.  Once it gets too hot, you can remove the plastic from a hoop house or lift the cold frame or cloche.  The greenhouse, by contrast, is pretty static.  To keep things cooler in a greenhouse, ensure that it has vents to expel hot air on hot days.  

6) Adding a water feature in the garden regulates temperatures in the vicinity of that feature.  It can be as expansive as a pond or fountain or as simple as a pot filled with water and some water plants.  Of course, water plants do not tolerate frost so this is more of something that can help with extreme heat.

7) Planting sun traps and windbreaks to regulate the temperature is another handy idea.  Gaia's Garden, my absolute gardening bible, suggests planting in a U-shape to soak that opens in the south but protects from wind with plants in a semi-circle.  It further recommends planting evergreens along the north for a year-round windbreak.  Check Gaia's Garden out from your library for more information about using plants to stabilize temperature in the garden.

I'm anxious to incorporate these ideas in my own micro farm.  What have you tried?  What works for you?

This post is my submission to the Homestead Barn Hop, the Tuesday Garden Party and Garden Tuesday.

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SharleneT said...

I have the evergreen windbreak on the north side of my yard and my waist-high container garden stops about 8" below the top to protect plants from harsh winds and keep them warmer in the winter.

Annapet said...

Thank you for writing this post. My garden is continuously evolving as I learn to garden.

Green Bean said...

Sharlene - I'm glad to hear that is working for your garden. I'm trying to figure out how that would work. It sounds great because the plants do the work for you.

Annapet - I agree. I never have the same garden twice - even when gardening in the same spot, because I'm always learning, learning, learning.

Sam @ My Carolina Kitchen said...

I would love to have a greenhouse so I could start plants early. Happy Gardening Tuesday.

Beth said...

I find each and every Gardening Year to be its own unique adventure - and Gardening a Continuing Ed experience!

Corinnea said...

Great information! I have a "toy" garden compared to yours but I keep trying to learn things!

Melynda said...

Lots of great information, thanks!

Joani said...

Thanks for the information. This year my early girl did phenomenal. When planting my tomatoes I place a cut up banana in the bottom of the hole and then place my tomato. Am not sure if it is the calcium or potassium but I've always had good luck with this. Have a great day.

Green Bean said...

@Sam - Me too!! That's on my to do list this fall.

@Beth - Too true!

@Corrinea - "Toy garden"? I love it! This is my first big garden. I was so happy to move here with all the space.

@Melynda - Thank you for visiting.

@Joani - I've never heard of that with a banana. I've heard of a crushed egg shell but I may have to try a bit of both. Thanks for the tip.

Pam said...

Thanks for linking up! This was so informative!

Chef Penny said...

Those are fantastic ideas! Thanks!

Mrs. Petrie said...

Thanks for visiting Casa Petrie. I had thought about applying a shade cover over our berry box (which is totally pathetic), but was worried it might kill off the plants. I may try it now. :)

Barb @ A Life in Balance said...

This year, I spent some time mulching our vegetable beds with almost-ready compost. I'm so glad I did because we're having a very dry summer. The plants are surviving and thriving because of the mulching plus I'm getting a head start on getting nutrients in the soil for next year.

A greenhouse has been on my to do list or playing around with row covers to extend the season. Just don't have the time yet. Though I could see building a greenhouse against a cement wall we have on the northern side of the property. I could take advantage of the microclimate and the wind and weather protection.


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