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Though it may not feel like it somedays, it is summer once again up here in the Pacific Northwest. While every other day might be accompanied by gray, overcast skies with an overbearing and seemingly constant threat of rain, gardening is still an option. Having just gotten around to planting my outdoor garden a few days ago, I sit here on this sunless yet somehow still rather bright day wondering if my starts are going to get enough sun. The combination of unseasonable amounts of rain with the wide fluctuations of outdoor temperatures from day to day would leave any gardener feeling uneasy. We’ve had so much rain in the past few months, the state of Washington has lowered the “area classified as Drought Emergency status” from “96% to 9% of the state”. If that isn’t an impressive, if not slightly alarming, turn around, I don’t know what is. In fact, all of the Cascade Mountains and our very own Western Washington regions are in neither Drought Emergency nor Drought Advisory Status. That’s got to count for something, no? While this is pretty great news as far forest and wild fires are concerned for the Western half of the state, but what does this mean for farming and gardening practices? Let’s dive into it, shall we?
Drought is a problem enough for anyone who attempts to grow things outdoors. Lack of consistent water can leave top soils brittle and cracked wanting for nutrients. Flooding, the other half of this rain based coin, is just as disruptive to the growing process. While you may be able to add some water to a garden suffering from drought, taking away water is a harder activity. Luckily for many of you reading this, you have a greenhouse and don’t exactly have to worry either way. Well, drought caused water restrictions could and generally are a hindrance to home gardens, but that’s beside the point. With both drought and flooding having impacted us these past few years, many are left wondering what this summer has in store for us. As of right now, things are pointing towards a rather wet summer, at least in comparison to previous years. Realistically, we have no way of telling what’s in store for us this year, but that just means we get to plan for multiple outcomes!
In case of drought; plan for a dry summer. If you are expecting a drought of sorts this summer, unlikely in my opinion at this point, but I was taught to always be prepared! Collecting some excess rainwater now can help you along later in the summer. Growing more drought resistant plants can also help you in your lack of water woes. Mainly you need to worry about your seedlings. Once fully grown, harsher growing conditions can potentially help your plants produce better quality fruits, veggies and flowers. In dryer conditions, be sure to prune suckers off plants like tomatoes and peppers, really any plant that will suffer from trying to do too much. Allowing your plants to focus on growing less fruits can ensure they use their resources to produce better quality as opposed to more abundance. When your plants are seedlings, you can loosely cover them with a thin layer of plastic overnight, removing the cover around mid-morning. This cover will act as a dew catcher when the temperatures shift when the sun goes down. As water droplets accumulate atop your plants, the excess moisture will make its way to your plants providing them with much needed hydration. The gentle heat of the morning sun will help evaporate any leftover dew drops, creating humidity under the cover. Once the sun is in full effect, remove the cover to ensure your plants don’t over-heat.
In case of flood; plan for a wet summer. If you are expecting a whole lot of rain this year, things may be a bit more complicated. Rain water is great for plants for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, plants need water and rain is an easy way to hydrate your plants without you having to do anything. Second, you don’t need to waste time or resources trying to keep your plants watered. There are plenty of other reasons to hydrate your gardens with rain water, but I’ll stop at two. However, too much rain can be a real problem for your garden. For starters, an overly abundant amount of rain can lead to soil washout, or soil erosion. This is the process when the top layers of soil get worn away by the falling rain, leading to puddles and displaced soil, roots and seeds. Even if the rains aren’t enough to wash out the soil, your roots could suffer rotting if your garden space doesn’t drain well enough. Installing forms of covers for your plants can be a good way to control the amount of water being given to your plants. If this is your plan of action, you will need to ensure whatever you’re using to shield your plants from rain can either be removed when it’s sunny or possess the ability to let sunlight pass through. Even when it rains a lot for a few hours in the PNW, it can be almost painfully sunny the next. What’s the old saying? “If you don’t like the weather, go inside and wait five minutes”. I’m very much learning this to be true of this area of our country. If you are expecting a rather wet summer, make sure you are planting in deep planter boxes. Planter boxes are generally not a part of the surrounding earth which can not only protect your gardens from invasive weeds but will also allow for excess water to drain out of the boxes.
Or, if you’re really serious about getting your plants away from the harsh climate you live in, get a greenhouse! If you already have one, use it for your more sensitive plants! Or just keep everything inside until you think the weather is going to calm down. Not sure that this is ever going to happen… I sit here, writing this, in the middle of June, actively wondering if it’s going to rain or just be vaguely gray all day long. My weather app tells me there’s a 50% chance of rain all day, but I’m pretty sure it says that every day. I think they’re just guessing at this point, but that’s just my opinion. Yes, it turns out your greenhouse may have been the answer to planning for unpredictable weather this whole time. I know you want to garden outdoors since it is now summer, according to the calendar. But, it may save you a lot of time and heart ache if you keep your more sensitive plants inside for the time being.
While many of us are no longer living under drought threats, that doesn’t mean we should go wasting water. Still be sure to keep an eye on how much water you are giving to your plants, both indoors and out. Too much water can be a bad thing for your plants, despite the fact that you may have water to waste. Be water smart and get some rain barrels to prepare for the dry seasons, if it ever comes.
Sooner or later the weather will revert to some sort of norm for the time of year, or at least I hope. Once it does, there may be a lot of sun that your plants may not be ready for, if it comes about suddenly. In this case, you should be prepared with some sort of shading for your plants. In your greenhouse you can install some shading cloth on the exterior that will allow some amount of sunlight to penetrate, but not all of it. Too much sun can also be a bad thing for your plants if they aren’t getting proper shade or water. Make sure you water your plants during the day so the heat of the sun can help evaporate any excess water. Keep your fertilizer usage under control but ensure to increase it once your plants start fruiting. Gardening can be fun, but it is more or less an art/science so you need to stay on top of things before they get on top of you.
Other than all that, summer in the Pacific Northwest can be a whole lot of fun! We finally get some sun, which most of us could use. There aren’t many beaches, but they do exist if you know where to look! Hiking becomes a lot more accessible in this area once the temperature starts to rise. Skyline Divide, my personal favorite, will leave you in awe. I strongly recommend it if you’ve never done it before. If you have already, I’m sure you will be doing so again soon. The various local bodies of water; whether they be lakes, rivers, bays, sounds, inlets as well as the open ocean for the more adventurous are now open for business. Well, they’re warmer than they would be in December, as is the open air. Just make sure you wear some sun screen when you decide to hit the open water, when it’s out the sun can be brutal. No matter what you’re into, there’s likely to be something to keep you busy during the summer. Maybe go catch a Mariner’s game if you’re local enough to Seattle. I’ll be there tonight! It’s one of a few “Firework” nights at T-Mobile Park so it should be a fun night, despite the outcome of the game. Whatever you decide to get into the summer, I hope you stay safe and have fun! Until next week, thanks for reading!