On weather gambling

I was asked by a far-away friend how the gardening year has been so far.  “Four words,” I said.  “It’s a no-hose year.”

Not full power but coming close.  See this post for what it looked like two months ago.

Wet.  Sunny.  Hot.  Wet.  Sunny.  Hot.  There’s not been much that has been unpredictable, weather-wise, in the late spring/early summer around here.

This certainly isn’t anything to complain about.  No, really; the last year we had insane amounts of rain is the last one to which I can directly compare, and I will take this year, thanks.  And I am much happier with the garden’s reaction to this rain now.  My sweat has turned into equity.

You see, in 2007, we had lots of rain.  We’d been here for a year and a half and thus had only two summers’ worth of observation and (more importantly) soil and land improvement under my belt.  I lost a whole flotilla of crops that summer due to the unending drip-drop…everything got hit.  Badly hit.  Drowned roots = dead plants, see; gone were my hopes of complete veg self-sufficiency…that year was my first attempt.  So that fall I trenched and installed perforated drain pipe around the garden (300 or so feet of the stuff, and through clay, too) and I have consistently added more and more vegetative matter to the existing outdoor beds.  It’s helped, a lot.  The plants are healthier and the growing ground is less wet.

Here’s something new:  black garbanzo beans

But a little less rain would help things along!  Every spring, I do actually till two small areas of my garden:  these zones are too big for raised beds but wonderful for the sprawl that is The Winter Squash Vine.  This year, though, no dice.  Can’t till in wet clay, and it never goes longer than two days without rain.  So it looks like I will have to forego another ginormous winter squash harvest…which is just as well considering how unloved that fruit becomes in our household come January.  Likewise, I have seeded the outdoor root crops three times now, which are some truly awful gambling odds.  I don’t like to gamble with my carrots, man!  Luckily, July is around the corner so indoor carrot season is fast approaching.

Purple Peruvian fingerling potato flower

Interestingly, I read a recent article about my extension service’s adoption of greenhouses (high hoops, hoop houses) in my area for…fruit growing.  Really.  This shouldn’t surprise me as I live in The Fruit Belt but I can definitely see the advantage of growing cherry trees under cover here.  Doesn’t that sound…odd?  It makes sense though.  Wet/Sunny/Hot/Repeat means your cherries are going to explode on the branch, their roots are taking up too much water.  Modulate the water, the wind, the bugs, the birds, and the temperature swings and indeed these plastic bubbles will grow fruit just as easily as they grow veg.

Anyway, I look back at 2007 and realize it too was the year we put up our first greenhouse.  With that greenhouse went my worries about weather extremes…and up shot my odds for veg self-sufficiency.  You wanna improve your own odds?

You know what I am going to say, don’t you?

It’s great for drying things, for extending your seed-saving efforts, and of course for many different kinds of veggies and herbs

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21 responses to “On weather gambling

  1. We are also having a “no hose year” but Mother Nature has finally stopped crying and the sun is here to stay…I hope…we even watered for the first time last night. We plan on taking your advice and setting up a hoop house someday soon. Unfortunately I have a few hoops to jump through first…a well and electricity. If I had one this year that is where my tomatoes and peppers would be growing right now.

    Nice beans! They are fiddly little suckers but still rather interesting.

  2. teresanoelleroberts

    Could you send a little of that rain our way? We get violent seeming T-storms with almost no rain.

    Of course, after last year, the Year of Mud and Late Blight, I can’t complain too much about having to water…

  3. We’ve had a lot of rain, too, unseasonably so for Western WA, but finally it’s turned late spring with warmer temps and some sunshine. Our corn and beans are very happy and have grown visibly in a matter of a few days.

    Do you have a post where you discuss the dimensions of your gardens and raised beds? We plan to move and consolidate our two veggie gardens into one new location in the fall and I your layout looks very efficient and doable.

    Thanks!

    • You know, Amy, I don’t think I have ever done a post of an overall tally of the gardens. There’s about 3000 s.f. under direct cultivation in the exterior beds (it’s a rectangular area about 60’x50′) but a good portion of that is path, which drives me a little crazy as it too needs to be weeded. All the paths are either 24″ or 36″ wide. The widest rectangular bed is 4′ wide. The longest bed is 50′. I LOVE raised beds because they seem so finite: I kid myself all the time by saying “I will only go out and weed 3 beds, or seed 3 beds, or mulch 6 beds” as opposed to telling myself “I am going to mulch 800 s.f. today” because that would be crazy. But is this an efficient layout? Probably not. It’s arranged in a quadrant pattern, so…it’s only aesthetically pleasing to its owner. I doubt it saves me much time.

      • My garden paths are dirt, as well, and also need to be weeded, which drives me mad, so I’ve just bought some low-quality (read: cheap) landscape cloth from Home Depot, cut the roll into 18″ wide pieces, and unrolled them the length of my paths. I picked out the larger weeds, and unrolled the cloth right over top of the rest of the weeds, then pinned the cloth to the ground with pins from Lee Valley.

        I’m hoping that this will block the light to the weeds, thereby murdering them where they lay, but allow moisture into the ground, and hopefully, my need to weed paths will be eliminated completely.

  4. We’re over here in SE Mi and I’m not complaining either :).

    I was wondering if you have any tips for winter squash growing. Last year each of our squash produced one small squash. one!?

    I’m not sure if it was because something ate the blooms or if we didn’t do something we were supposed to.

    Any thoughts?

  5. You’ve nearly got me convinced that I need a greenhouse here in San Diego! I do enjoy looking at photos of yours, as well as your garden.

    Also, black garbanzos–aren’t those a one-bean-per-pod type? They sound almost as labor intensive as lentils!

  6. Well, my mom said almost the same thing when I commented on how much rain you guys have gotten…”Well, we don’t have to water!” I wish you’d send some of that down here. It’s so dry and HOT. I have to water almost every other day. Today, thank heavens, it rained a bit this am, and looking like more this afternoon! Yippee.

    Funny thing. I’ve got the most beautiful healthy tomato plants, with blooms, without the first tomato in sight. Think I need to hand pollinate? I have 3, all Celebrity, tall and beautiful.

    I had a Kumi Kumi (Australian squash/pumpkin) that got bit by what I think is a vine borer. It had one little shoot on it before the bore. I plucked it and put it in a vase inside, hoping to root it to plant in another part of the garden. Is there hope?

    Thanks!

  7. I just flew over Ontario and saw these huge, field-sized structures from the sky. What were they? Factories? Parking lots?

    No – 1500 acres of greenhouses! Mostly growing hydroponic tomatoes and cucumbers, as it turns out.

  8. My garden was drowning this year also. I have read about doing the drain pipe around the perimeter. This would be a large task but if its the only way out I think I might have to plan on it. I was thinking the more that I amend the soil the better the drainage would be but the soil surrounding all the beds will still be nasty clay. Do you think this would help at all in the long run just adding large amounts of organic matter to the beds, or would it only really help if they were more of a raised bed situation. Just looking for your thoughts on this. Love your blog!

  9. That’s funny, I read another proponent of hoops recommending strawberries this spring, and then one of our local growers had berries in MAY and said he tried low covers for the first time (“50 years of farming, and I learned something new….). ‘Course it was an awesome spring for berries here, so it might just be luck 😉

    I’m having the mid-season wane of greenhouse dreaming (I really need to build it in the spring, darnit) so thanks for fanning the flame a little, it’s still on THE LIST. 🙂

  10. i tried black kabouli garbanzo beans this year, too. but mine don’t look so pretty as yours; they aren’t doing well. perhaps it’s all the weeds the size of trees next door?

  11. @Rachelle, I tried that trick a couple of times. It works, sort of! But you still have weeds coming up thru the black cloth. I dumped loads of bark mulch or wood chips on top of the cloth. But I still spend a fair amount of time pulling individual weeds, like quackgrass, out of the paths. These weeds will grow thru anything!!

  12. @DennisP and @Rachelle, the paths in our raised garden area are sand with landscape fabric underneath. Not the best path material ever (talk about tracking everywhere with bare feet!), but boy, do the weeds ever pull out easily!

  13. I became so frustrated with weeds in my paths that I’ve let the weeds and grass fill in between raised beds and once or twice a week I take a weed whip to them. So far they haven’t spread into the beds and as long as I’m careful about seedheads it seems like a win-win solution for now. I’m sure they deplete the surrouding soil to sone degree but my vegetable and strawberry beds seem to be producing more than ever this year (possibly due to the no-hose weather you mentioned)… I also have a non-raised veggie bed that I’ve let the grass and weeds fill in around the plants (tomato, squash, cuke and pepper). The rabbits prefer the grass, the slugs prefer the weeds, the dukes and tomatoes get ventilation by the mature grass propping them up…. Natural pest control and trellising. I sound like a crazy person, but the bed is producing beautifully! (albiet the peppers aren’t fans of sharing their space…)

  14. Glad to hear your skies are sunning up, Mike. And yeah, perhaps we should remind each other about how these project lists grow and then somehow overtake our lives…can your tomatoes and peppers forgive you for not having a hoop house? Probably. But yeah, if I can say anything about them…they are very easy to construct.

    Teresa, of course after I wrote this it’s not rained a drop. Sheesh. Otherwise I would send it your way!! But yeah here’s hoping you’re at least blight-free this summer.

    Amy, I was walking around the gardens yesterday and indeed raised beds can be very efficient. Especially if you augment the soil with lots of organic stuff, you might even be able to crowd things in quite a bit, and if you succession-crop and interplant the productivity per square foot goes way up. I do like doing things in quadrants so I can rotate groups of plants as families so that there’s less chance of a bug or a blight hitting the same crop twice. Anyway, consolidation is great!

    Rachelle, that sounds like a decent solution. I have had three approaches to the paths: nothing, then cardboard/wood chips, then grass clippings on top of them, then even more wood chips. The chips are rotting away nicely thus there’s weeds again. Grr. Need about 20 yards of chips (two dumptruck loads) to really be efficient…need to look into the local tree service to see if I can score some this fall. And see Dennis’ and Amy’s comments above to benefit from their experience…

    Shannon! That sounds like you have low pollination. You can attempt to do it yourself with a cotton swab: find the male flowers (they’re the ones without a fruit blob attached to it right at the stem) and do a dusting then transfer it to the female flowers, doing the same swabbing thing. Can you encourage the native pollinators like mason bees? I just got a mason bee house for my birthday, it’s pretty sweet. And also put lots of flowers in and around your veg and that can help.

    Heidi, indeed. Who knew those little things were such a bit of a pain. I figured I am growing a seed crop this year, so that next year I can have and shell maybe one small meal of them. Kind of makes me laugh, considering how much I love garbanzos and lentils: I would need a LOT of time if I attempted self-sufficiency in them. But a greenhouse in SD? That would be fun, but you’re right, not terribly necessary in paradise, eh?

    Jules, tomatoes are mostly self-pollinating, which is one of the reasons I have success with them in the greenhouses: I would just wait and see, unless of course you see dead blossoms with nothing attached, then, well, I dunno. That squash plant is probably toast, though. I have heard you can wrap the stem with tinfoil from below the soil to about a foot out to prevent borers. I did a tutorial last year about extraction; you need a knife, and to keep an eye out for the signs.

    Emily, I guess the Netherlands has Ontario beat as far as square feet of indoor growing space. Apparently they even light and heat the things. I suppose they’d need to because they’re so far north but wow. Anyway, good eye!

    Hi Niki. I did try the augment-the-beds thing before I resorted to the drain pipe and that’s when we got the most rain and I lost practically everything. Do you know how gross rotten carrots are? Believe me, nasty. It’s funny. Our garden space has been the kitchen garden as long as there’s been a house here (nearly 100 years) and it was placed where it was so that it would retain the water. Hum, bad idea. Thus, I dug. Fortunately, these things don’t need to be far down, just as deep as the shovel itself (the pipe is 4″ diameter, about $30 for 100′) and if you go over it with a tiller first it’s even easier. But raised beds DO help, just not for deep-rooted crops like carrots or even broccoli which just hates wet feet.

    Sara! Just think how fun it will be in the Wisco winter!! If it’s any consolation we put both of ours up in the fall, and the newer one even got snow on the crops before the plastic got put up.

    Serina, well, they are wimpy plants, that’s for sure. I don’t think they like the heat much which I find hilarious: aren’t they middle eastern? I’d think it was hotter there than here. But yeah: I was always pro-tree before I became a serious gardener, and now…well. Firewood!

    Dennis, that’s my experience with the school gardens in particular. Don’t get me started on quack grass. Nasty stuff. Thanks for your input!

    Amy, sand! Hah. Oh boy I hate sand more than clay. I grew up in the sand dunes, the stuff was everywhere, always, but indeed it does mean you can pull them weeds out quickly.

    Emily, there’s a whole school of thought about forest-gardening (it’s an extreme form of permaculture) that you are practicing with the unraised parts of your garden, did you know that? I would love to practice it but my experience is that the weeds do win out and darn it it’s always at the expense of our preferred plants. Gardening with extreme prejudice, that’s what I do, I guess. But psst: here’s a secret: if things get really bad with clover or whatever I even whip out the tiller down a bed row…then I swear it won’t happen again!! Anyway, try grass clippings as mulch…it does help.

  15. Yes, grass clippings seem to have this incredible stifling quality whereby they really destroy things under a thickness of them. I just re-cardboarded and mulched many of my paths. I like clean paths, and it does help keep weeds from invading the beds. Top-dressing with good compost has cut way back on the weeding- I’m definitely not tilling the beds again.

    We desperately need rain, but I still prefer it to last summer’s slugstravaganza. The squashes are going positively apeshit in this heat, so my project for next year is to make them their own private garden out in the field so they can run amok without swarming over their neighbors.

    • Oh yeah Peter mulching and not tilling is definitely the way to go. I made Tom get a bagger for his lawn tractor, and then he went out and purchased 3 more bags for it (that way he doesn’t have to wait for me to scatter the first 3 bags). It’s quite a production on mowing day but really the garden is weedless or near enough thanks to our joint efforts. Grass clippings ROCK but I can’t put them in the greenhouses as they cause too much trouble with munching bugs. But every other darned thing that grows? It gets a coating of grass clippings, 8″ deep in places, including all fruit and nut and berry bushes and trees. I even have areas where I pile the clippings and then in 2 years it’s great greenhouse soil.

      Yeah the squashes are doing well here too, despite the fact that I planted them realllllly late. Tonight looks like the first harvest night; I think I will sear them on the rocket stove.

  16. How much soil improvement moderates the effects of weather. I like the idea of boutique cherries! I’m in a geographic area that gets lots of rain for a visit, and it blows me away to see lawns everywhere, guilt-free lawns. A very different aesthetic certainly, but water just falls from the sky.

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