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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.

Drought and the Home Garden

Summer Garden HeatNo doubt you’ve heard that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the United States. 2012 was also a year of severe drought in as much as 60% of the country. Winter has not alleviated the dry conditions and predictions for some areas see the drought continuing at least into the spring. Lesser known facts: the drought may have done more damage — some $60 to $100 billion worth — than Hurricane Sandi ($75 billion). The drought also contributed to the spread of the deadly carcinogenic mold aspergillis in last season’s corn crop. The fungus is deadly to humans as well as livestock. Scientific American reports that up to half of the corn crop in Missouri was contaminated with the mold. By contrast, 8% was damaged in 2011.

Drought — again depending on where you live — made itself known in your lawn and garden with higher water bills, more pest infestation, and smaller yields. While there’s still some disagreement among (mostly) reasonable people on the causes of our current heat and drought extremes — Global warming? Natural cycles? Some combination of both? — there’s one thing that can’t be denied. We must prepare for more of the same.

Xeriscaping, the practice of wise-water use in landscapes and gardens, has become more important as drought continues. Originating in the arid mountain West, the practice has become more popular across the country in these water-conscious times. Not surprisingly, the most efficient, far-reaching tool in the xeriscape gardeners tool box is organic gardening practice. (more…)

Cold Frame — Hot Box

Vegetable StartsCold frames are a great gardening accessory, giving you a place to harden off transplants before putting them into the garden, giving seeds a head start in germination just before the last frost, and giving warm weather crops — tomatoes, peppers, eggplants — a warm boost when the days and evenings might still be cool. In general, they’re a great way to extend the growing season from either end, spring and fall. Building one is simple. Resourceful gardeners make them from scavenged wood and reclaimed window sashes. But you can also build them from scratch, allowing you to use materials that will better withstand the elements while putting your woodworking skills to use. And, of course, you can buy them as kits.

The English, because of their cool, moist summers, are great champions of cold frames, often incorporating them right into the design of their homes. The English row house often features cold frames along the south or west side of the building, often made of the same brick as the home. While most of our cold frame experience is of the salvaged wood type, we’ve also seen some pretty nice set ups built by those who are more handy than we are. (more…)

Playing Plant Jeopardy

Plant JeopardyMr. Trebeck, I’ll Take Frost Protection for $500

Are your plants jeopardized by a short growing season and the possibility of frost just about any time of the year?

That’s the situation we face in Montana where Planet Natural is based. To avoid an Old Man Winter shakedown that wreaks-havoc on your garden in the early spring or late fall, consider playing our organic gardening based version of the popular television game show Jeopardy! There are no expensive prizes or cruises to win, but you’ll learn a lot and find ways to extend the seasons for your plants.

Season Extenders for $500 anyone?

Here’s a list of phrases. Reply with a question that the phrase “answers.” After you’ve played, we have a score card at the end so you can see how you did. All the questions have to do with the topic of frost protection and offer ways to prolong the growth season for your plants. Good luck, Contestants! (more…)

High Altitude Gardening

Garden TomatoesGetting Results From A Short Season

Gardening at elevations of 5,000 feet and higher in America’s mountainous west presents unique challenges. The high country gardener must pay careful attention to the weather and its effect on growth to be successful. A little knowledge regarding climate and growing seasons, soil conditions, moisture and pest control — knowledge that all gardeners should posses no matter where they garden — will result in minimal failures and maximum success.

My own high altitude gardening knowledge came hard. Back when all of us wannabe hippies soured on the urban commune and decided it was time to get back to nature we, of course, struck out for the hills. The high, mountainous country of the American West, as it had for generations of Americans, represented freedom, a fresh start and a return to nature. Live off the land! Grow your own vegetables! Become self-sufficient!

Our desire for a life in concert with the land was superseded only by our ignorance. Even those of us who’d had farm experience in the Midwest and had raised vegetables with our parents and grandparents had no idea of the growing challenges at high altitude. We soon found out. (more…)

Seasonal Garden Care

Garden Care“To every thing there is a season…” Ecclesiastes

Garden care is a year-round activity, its rhythms dictated by seasonal conditions and local climates. April showers may bring spring flowers in temperate zones, late frosts and snow may continue at higher elevations while harvests of greens, peas and other vegetables may be well under way in the coastal south. Wherever you live, lawn and garden care is required throughout the year to a varying degree. The kind of attention and level of intensity depend on your growing zone and micro-climate conditions. Whether you are mulching, fertilizing, planting or harvesting, there is work to be done all spring, summer, fall and winter. A little planning and consideration to the longevity and health of your plants and soil will give you an enviable yard and garden to be enjoyed year round.

Spring

Spring may come shortly after the New Year to coastal California and the South, not until May and June in the higher elevations of the West. You know when it reaches your area; the days begin to warm and nights hover above freezing, trees and shrubs swell with buds, lawns green in the first rains. Start a garden journal that records last frosts and other weather conditions, planting dates and germination times; any and all information that will be useful to future gardening seasons. (more…)

Let It Snow

Early SnowfallWe had the first snowfall of the year here in Northern New Mexico this weekend. The mountains are blanketed and long patches of the white stuff remain in the shadows of the pines and junipers here at the relatively modest elevation of 7,200 feet. Of course, further north in the Rockies, they’ve already had plenty — thanks, Brutus — as well as in the plains. New England has been covered in white just a week after hurricane Sandy brushed the area. The upper midwest? They saw their first snow a month ago.

While first snow accumulations signaling the end of another season can trigger a sense of melancholy in outdoor gardeners, others take solace in the beauty of their snow-draped landscapes. It’s important to remember that snow has valuable benefits for your lawn and garden. It’s insulating factors help protect tender roots from hard freezes. Some bulb plants love a blanket of snow for their winter sleeping. An early snow makes it easier to harvest those remaining root vegetables than it would be if the ground froze solidly. (more…)

Sweet Season: After a Garden Frost

Frosted GardenMost of us don’t dread the coming of fall even though for several parts of the country it means the end of vegetable gardening season. (Of course, there’s always growing indoors). That first frost will yellow the cucumber vines and turn the basil leaves black. We’d better have all the corn picked — if there’s any left — and bring in the winter squash if we want it to keep, ahead of that first glistening, frozen veil. And the lettuce? Kiss it goodby, unless you’ve covered your delicate plants or the first frost is light. On the other hand, spinach may not be hurt if the frost is light enough.

But there are reasons to look froward to the first garden frost. Some vegetables not only survive it, they come out of the garden tasting even better than before. Kale and broccoli especially gain a sweetness from a light frost that can’t be matched by anything picked earlier. Other members of the brassica family — cabbage, brussels sprouts and kohlrabi — also do well with frost. (more…)

Drought, Corn and Genetic Engineering

GMO CornDrought has been big news this summer, no more so than regarding its effect on America’s corn crop. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that it has put renewed emphasis on corn raised for energy production (ethanol) and the amount that goes into making high-fructose corn syrup with all its connections to obesity. The down side? What about genetically engineered corn that resists drought?

This article in The Washington Post and a related blog post on its “Wonk Blog” tells us something we might have guessed: Monsanto has developed a so-called drought resistant corn. We’re reminded of the dictum that’s been bandied about the last several years: Never let a good crisis go to waste. Monsanto, apparently, has taken that to heart. It goes without saying that the claim to drought resistance is something of a stretch.

Is there a silver lining to these articles? Scroll down through the Wonk Blog and find some doubters (enter the Union of Concerned Scientists – PDF format). (more…)

Green Roofs Sprout Over U.S. Cities

Roof Top GardensInterest in green roofs (pun warning) continues to grow, especially in urban centers. Their benefits, both environmental and aesthetic, include savings on energy use, thus reducing the impact on global warming (especially in urban areas), helping to control rain water runoff thus reducing loads on storm sewage systems, and providing locally-grown produce to urban markets. “Green roof” is a general term that includes “white roofs,” those that reflect sunlight thus saving cooling costs; “blue roofs,” those that retain water and control runoff; “solar roofs” that heat water or generate electricity, and “living roofs,” those covered with soil and planted, a practice that both insulates and impedes runoff.

Living roofs — especially those planted with edibles — may be the next big thing but the practice is actually quite old. We recall a diorama at the Nebraska Historical Society that showed a “soddy,” a home entirely built of sod. As we remember it, there was even a cow grazing on top of the house. (more…)

USDA Updates Hardiness Zone Map

USDA Zone MapDid you miss it? Last January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), in conjunction with Oregon State University’s Prism Climate Group (a great site for those interested in climate), updated their “Plant Hardiness Zone Map.” The map includes new features which should make it easier to use:

“For the first time, the map is available as an interactive GIS-based map, for which a broadband Internet connection is recommended, and as static images for those with slower Internet access. Users may also simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.”

The new map can be found here. And yes, there has been a general revision because of new climate data: (more…)

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