Howdy Grow Appalachia collective! Holly on behalf of HQ, not completely recovered from another gathering that’s come and gone just like that!
Let me tell you- it was my second gathering ever and you guys are just legit the real deal! The work you all take part in day after day is the farthest from easy and often goes unthanked or unnoticed. But your tirelessness, your energy, your spirits, and your awareness and dedication for the sheer need of this work is making waves! I hope to become one of you when I “grow up”. So thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! I wholeheartedly applaud each of you.
Getting back to a “business as usual” routine/mindset of sorts, this week we’re covering something that was a bit of a hot-button issue during last year’s growing season: weather. Yep, it’s already almost March! Weather: it’s unpredictable and occasionally frustrating, especially if you live in this region, and often times we’re left shaking our fists at Mother Nature. Instead of being quick to let our tempers flair, raising our hands in surrender, we as stewards of our plots and lands ought to work together with Mother Nature. Or at least try our best to.
1. Wet Weather
They say when it rains, it pours (Ok, perhaps not the best analogy). It was an especially wet growing season last year, with some devastating flooding that occurred in several counties in eastern Kentucky over the summer. Rain is probably the most problematic when it comes to gardeners and their gardeners- How much is too much? Is my garden too wet to be out in? What do I do if my garden floods?
-Generally speaking, vegetable gardens need one inch of water per week. If you receive several days of prolonged rain, or live in a notoriously rainy region/area, keep an eye out for patches in your garden that don’t drain properly. Plants that are left in stagnant water are much more susceptible to root rot. Dig small trenches or moats to divert water elsewhere, or set up some rock bed trails to create a “path” of sorts. Additionally, if you receive that much in rainfall for the week, you don’t need to water any more. It might be wise to invest in a rain gauge as well.
-Check the moisture of your soil before you do any work in your garden. There’s a simple test to determine if your garden is wet enough to work in/till: Grab a small handful of soil and squeeze it in your hand. If moisture escapes, it’s too wet. If it crumbles slightly, it’s dry enough and ok to work in. The reason you don’t want to work in your garden if the soil is waterlogged is that it will lead to compaction, which can disrupt microbial activity and decrease the pore space in between soil particles, reducing the ability to uptake nutrients and other vital resources. Compaction can also cause significant root damage.
-After a period of heavy rain or a storm, when it is safe to do so, check your plants for any potential damage. If only a few leaves are damaged or rotted, you can simply remove them. Remove any additional diseased plant matter and dispose of it properly. If the main stem of the plant has been snapped, unfortunately it’s unlikely that the plant will recover. Also check the base of your plants to see if any roots are exposed: contrary to root rot, roots that are exposed can also dry out.
-Replenish any potentially lost nutrients by supplementing with compost or additional organic matter.
-Finally, if you unfortunately do experience significant flooding and some of your produce becomes submerged, DO NOT EAT IT! Flood waters contain so many potentially harmful contaminants.
2. Hot Weather
Here in Berea, sometimes we experience all four seasons in the same week! Once we transition out of the balminess of spring, it’s summertime, in all its dry, scorching, humid glory!
-Since we are, as mentioned earlier, stewards of our plots and land, it’s important that we take care of ourselves in the heat. Avoid any garden work during the midday, if possible. If you must be outside, take overly proactive measures in staying hydrated and cool. And from one fair-skinned lass to any others who may be reading, please wear sunscreen! An interesting rule of thumb from Mother Earth News is that if the outside temperature and the humidity, when added up, are greater than 160, it’s best to stay indoors.
-When the mercury rises, it might be necessary to water an additional day or two per week. As is the case with overly wet plants, you also definitely don’t want your plants to dry out also.
-Remember the tuna can trick? Set out several tuna cans in various locations throughout your garden, turn on your sprinkler system or whatever method of irrigation you use, and time how long it takes for the cans to become filled. This is approximately one inch of water, and you can use this method to properly strategize and gauge the timings of your watering. Many growers also sprinkle their plants with small amounts of water- if you do this, be careful to keep any excess water off the leaves, as they could become more susceptible to rot, mildew, or other disease.
-Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulch is probably the most effective in moisture retention. Be sure to layer it thickly!
-If you grow in high tunnels, keep your sides rolled up during the summer. If you have one of ours, you have the option of removing the back plastic for additional ventilation.
-If your summer temperatures are especially unforgiving, perhaps invest in some shade cover (such as an old sheet). Make sure it’s a permeable enough material that sunlight can still pass through.
Technically we still have a few more weeks left until Old Man Winter goes back to bed, but many folks are taking advantage of the many resources available to capture the art of gardening on a year-round basis. Our winter this year has been just about as crazy as you can imagine: 12″+ of snow back in January and mid-February, some scarily windy days this week, a high of 66 yesterday and some snow flurries today (Wednesday). Even just the slightest inkling of below-freezing temperatures leaves many Appalachian gardeners nervous.
Many of our growers fall in zone 6a-6b (USDA plant hardiness map here).
-For your winter vegetables, row cover and/or low tunnels provides an additional 2-4 degrees of protection against frost or freeze temperatures.
-Did you know that frost actually brings out flavor in some vegetables? Namely carrots and kale, look for winter-hardy varieties that can withstand frost or freeze temperatures. Under the resources section I’ve posted a link to some good winter varieties.
-Plant a winter-hardy cover crop to build up additional nitrogen and organic matter. This will help replenish nutrients and build a healthier foundation come spring time.
-Adopt a few season extension methods into your gardening. In general, season extension techniques add an additional six weeks of growing time into the season. This doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re, for example, a market producer, this is an ideal way to increase your revenue because if you’re growing several typically out-of-season crops that are suddenly available, guess where the customers are going? You can read a few more season extension ideas at this HQ blog from last year. A good friend of us at HQ absolutely, absolutely swears by his high tunnel! Let Chris or Mark know if you’re interested!
-This doesn’t just go for winter: Keep track of your soil’s temperature. Many crops require a very narrow window in order for adequate germination. Invest in a soil thermometer if you don’t already have one. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy.
Do you have any crazy weather gardening tips that you just can’t live without? Keep the conversation going in the comments section, and until next time, happy gardening! (It’s almost planting time!)
Mother of a Hubbard: A ridiculously successful year-round gardener in eastern Kentucky. We reference her work many times.