Climate

Sunshine, precipitation, heat, cold, seasonal variations, altitude; all are critical considerations when planning and maintaining a successful garden. Knowing which plants do best in your climate, which conditions encourage growth, and how drought and other weather changes can affect what and how you grow is essential to wise gardeners. We discuss the issues — from shade and frost-tolerant plants to heat and drought-resistant gardens — important to every grower.

Winter Growing: Heating Greenhouses

Winter GreenhouseKeep your winter greenhouse productive with these heating and heat-conserving ideas.

Greenhouses are wonderful places, especially in the spring when benches are filled with brilliant green starts, and in the summer, its doors and roof vents propped open, with cucumbers trailing from the ceiling and tomatoes ready for picking. But in winter? Not so much. Overwintering herbs and potted plants cluster together for warmth. A few brown, leafless cucumber vines hang from an overhead trellis. Kale and spinach are over-picked and the seeds you planted have yet to sprout. (more…)

Conifers In the Winter Landscape

Snowy ConiferGrowing evergreens takes planning, care … and water.

Our latest cold snap here in Bozeman is breaking and the forecast says that tomorrow the temperature will rise above freezing for the first time in, well, I don’t even want to think about it. As winter sets in more than a month before its calendar arrival, it reminds us how much we love evergreens. With the leaves dead and mostly gone from the deciduous trees, we never lack in our favorite color. Luckily conifers of all types keep us in green through the long winter.

We in the West love our pines and firs and spruce and junipers. Not only are there native varieties to plant, but grafted or otherwise naturally altered evergreens will also do well in cold and colder environments.The native conifers tend to be water-wise plants, able to exist in your natural xeriscape. Many are appropriate for planting on inclines and side hills where drainage is good. That’s because they can get by on less water. (more…)

Cold Snap Puts Freeze On Gardening

Cold Weather GardenWhy gardeners are more sensitive to the weather.

Your warm and friendly Planet Natural Blogger was all smug over finishing his last post about sticking bulbs in the ground late in the fall when Mother Nature delivered a well-deserved lesson. Almost everything depends on her.

So with the surface soil frozen solid and snow covering it anyway, bulb planting season is probably over for us here in Montana and in other parts of the country as well.

The temperatures are so cold that a friend who was hoping to keep a crop of greens going in his cold frame until Thanksgiving reports that despite plenty of mulch over the greens and a tarp over the frame (securely anchored) he’s lost his crop, except for maybe the kale. Last year, he was proud to serve up fresh salad from the garden at his Thanksgiving feast. (more…)

Organic Gardening Based on Location

Climate ZonesThe amount of light, food, and water an organic garden receives is only part of what determines whether the plants in the garden will thrive. Climate also plays a big role. The United States is a large country with many different regions and different climates. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zones map attempts to take the guesswork out of gardening by describing the average lowest temperatures for each area. But, hardiness zones only tell part of the story when it comes to deciding on the best plants to grow in each area of the country.

Northeast

The Northeast makes up the states from Maryland up to Maine. Hardiness zones for the region range from zone 8a, with a minimum temperature of 10 degrees Fahrenheit to zone 3b, with a minimum temperature of -35 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, the gardening season kicks off in late March and early April in the Northeast. Gardeners can start to plant tender annuals, which can’t withstand frost, around the end of May. The area can experience unexpected cold snaps at the beginning of the gardening season. Some gardeners will use a cold frame to get a head start on gardening and to protect plants from a random frost late in the season. (more…)

Using Cold Frames: A Year Round Gardening Tool

Cold Frame GardeningGive you plants a head-start and shelter from the cold with a versatile cold frame.

Springtime sees your friendly, think-ahead Planet Natural blogger putting his cold frame (PDF) to heavy use. Now, in a time of year where frosts are still possible, many of our indoor vegetable starts are almost ready to go into the garden. They need to get use to being outdoors. Many of them can’t survive the night-time cold but can when protected inside a cold frame, maybe draped with a blanket on the coldest nights. (more…)

Patience When Planting Peas: The Payoff

Pea PlantsWait for the right soil temperatures and conditions before planting peas.

This time of year we’re thinking peas. Peas are always the first thing to go in our garden and the common wisdom — “plant as soon as the soil can be worked” — is our cue to get into the garden as soon as the soil dries enough that it doesn’t ball up when squeezed in our fists. Peas are also a cool weather crop, doing best in spring and early summer but also planted in late summer-early fall in places where winter doesn’t jump the shark as soon as October comes around.

Not only great eating — we were all about serving curls of fresh pea shoots in salads before it became popular in gourmet, farm-to-table restaurants — peas serve another purpose that promotes well-being in gardeners. They give us something to do in the weeks (and months ) ahead of when the rest of the garden goes in.

If you’re like me, you’re chomping at the bit once March rolls around and garden season is imminent. It’s like waiting for Christmas when you’re a kid. Sometimes you just can’t keep your hands off the presents even before the big day. (more…)

Agricultural Water Use and the California Drought

Agricultural Water100 billion gallons of water, in the form of alfalfa, shipped to China. How can we use less water to grow the produce needed in this country? (Hint: small, sustainable, organic farms.)

Here’s one effect of the drought in California and elsewhere: there’s been a lot of fascinating reporting on water use in commercial agriculture. And the amounts of water that go into some crops, and where those crops are headed, has created something of a controversy. (more…)

Kids and Cabbage, Exploding Cows & Global Warming

Farmed and DangerousNews items on student gardening programs, marketing food by resisting factory farms, and the complications of climate change.

Learning about gardening one cabbage at a time:  Let’s start with some good news. Bonnie Plants, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of plant starts, has announced the winners of its 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. A winner, randomly chosen from each state, will receive a $1,000 savings bond to be applied to the student’s future education.

While only one winner gets the savings bond, there are no losers in this program. Bonnie supplies millions of cabbage starts around the country to classrooms that choose to participate. Included with the starts are lesson plans that help teachers teach the fundamentals of plant growth. That the students learn their lessons well can be seen in the pictures of the cabbages they’ve grown. (more…)

Facing Drought

Drought in the GardenWhat should gardeners do in the face of water shortages?

We don’t have to tell you. The news from many parts of the west is all about drought. You can find accounts of what’s being faced, including the potential for cutbacks and rationing, here, here, and here. And the forecast for the coming months doesn’t look good.

No matter if you believe that drought is just a part of the natural cycle (it is) or is a product of global warming (we don’t see this as an easy either-or question but think both factors could be in play), dealing with a lack of or more expensive water is something that gardeners frequently face. Even as a back-to-the-land, ex-hippie in the 19(garbled) living on the edge of the rain forest in Washington State we had summer months without rain some years that meant the buried reservoir that collected water from our spring filled more slowly and even ran dry when we watered our rather large garden. That’s the problem with water: you run out just when you need it most. (more…)

Winter In the Garden

Winter GardenMay your holiday season, like your gardening season, be joyous.

We love the first days of winter, the last days of the year. We love these days as much as we love the growing season, but in a different way. We think there’s a reason so many faiths have holidays this time of year and, it seems to us, people are just a bit more considerate, more thoughtful, more generous, and more out-going this time of year. We’ve passed the longest night of the season, the winter solstice, and now the sun’s slow climb in the sky, spending more time with us each and every day until the summer solstice, is something of a beacon of hope, a reason to anticipate the return of our gardens and landscapes from their winter sleep. (more…)

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