It happens more often than we like. Some extreme weather takes a toll on your garden or homestead. Do you give up or can you overcome nature’s challenges?
How can you deal with extreme weather that damages your food crops?
Dealing with the weather is part of being a gardener or homesteader. There are many preventive measures you can take to protect your garden or homestead from nature. Depending on what weather you are expecting, a few simple preparation steps will minimize the damage to your plants, so that you can still eat from your garden even when the weather isn’t on your side.
Please note: I have not covered animal care in this article as I don’t have any livestock on my homestead. There are some articles on The Grow Network that cover this. My main focus in this article is food crops.
How you can deal with drought conditions and extreme heat
- Collect rainwater for when you need it (assuming there are no laws prohibiting you from doing so) – even if you don’t have any rainfall to fill them up, use a hose to fill them up and have them at the ready in case of drought and severe water restrictions. You might also be able to save graywater from laundry or baths providing you don’t use any harsh soaps or detergents
- Mulch your garden heavily to retain moisture during the driest months. A 4-6” (10-15cm) layer of wood chips minimizes evaporation loss
- Use drip irrigation as that is usually allow during severe water restrictions, but check the specific restrictions in your area. If you can put drip irrigation underneath mulch it will work even better!
- Embrace the weather: You definitely won’t have a slug or snail problem in your garden.
- Erect shade cloth over heat-sensitive crops. A simple A-frame over your garden beds with the shade cloth draped over and secured will lower the temperature of the bed by several degrees and shade your plants from full sun exposure which will dry them out quicker.
- Grow heat-sensitive crops in the cooler months. Crops more prone to bolting such as brassicas, greens and lettuce do better in the spring and fall. The summer heat is great for fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, etc.
- Ensure your soil has enough moisture (see above under Drought for tips). Plants will stay cool by transpiring water from their leaves just like we sweat to stay cool.
- Plant deciduous trees that can cast shade over the garden during the hottest hours of the day. In winter they will lose their leaves and allow sun through so you can grow some crops then.
- Embrace the weather: use the hot weather to dry fruit and vegetables and herbs for use in winter. Erect a solar panel to harvest energy from the sun to run ventilation fans in your greenhouse
How you can make sure excessive rain doesn’t leave your homestead a muddy mess
- Use raised beds to elevate your crops above saturated soil.
- Use swales and drainage ditches to collect and redirect water (don’t redirect water off your property though – see next point)
- Use a pond to collect rainwater and then use it for irrigation during the drier months. You can also raise fish for additional food.
- Embrace the weather: collect rainwater for when you need it during dry weather
How you can protect your garden from extreme cold and snow in winter
- Invest in a greenhouse or hoop house to allow you to grow food in cold temperatures. You can also heat them if needed but that can get expensive if you are using electricity for heat.
- Add more insulation to your greenhouse, including an extra layer of plastic separated from the walls and ceiling by an air pocket.
- Heat your greenhouse if necessary to keep it above freezing
- Cover your beds with row covers for instant protection
- Plant vegetables that actually benefit from the cold. Leeks, kale, cabbage, collards, Brussels sprouts, celeriac, rutabaga, turnips, Swiss chard, parsnips, carrots and beets all taste better once they have had a few frosts.
- Use heavy mulches especially for root crops to protect against freezing
- Embrace the weather: cold can actually kill a lot of bad insect pests, especially those that feed on fruit trees
- Melting snow can have the same impact as too much rain (see above for tips)
- Remove heavy snow from greenhouses, hoop houses, cold frames and row covers. Most crops will bounce back from a heavy snow cover so no need to remove snow from them unless you are harvesting.
- Construct greenhouses and hoop houses to allow snow to slide off rather than accumulate. Steep pitched roofs work best. It will also be easier to remove snow when needed.
- Embrace the weather: make a snow man with your kids, enjoy the white blanket that hides all the sins in your garden such as that pile of branches you still need to chip up into mulch. Snow can also act as an insulating blanket over your crops so you may not want to remove it
How you can deal with high winds
- Use sturdy construction when building greenhouses, hoop houses and trellises, arbours and pergolas
- Trim dead branches from trees before storm season hits. Branches dropping can damage greenhouses and your crops.
- Install windbreaks such as hedges to break up strong winds so they are less likely to inflict damage, don’t use solid barriers as that just amplifies the wind when it drops down after climbing over the barrier
- Embrace the weather: harness the wind by erecting a small wind turbine that charges up a battery bank. Use the stored energy to run heated water into a greenhouse or recharge portable devices
How you can deal with lightening
Warning: during a lightening storm it’s not a good idea to go out into your garden. Stay indoors until the storm is over.
- Make sure any sensitive electronics you are using in the garden are protected from light
ening strikes. Irrigation timers and greenhouse controllers should be kept indoors.
- Keep trees trimmed as lightening can knock off dead or half-broken branches and cause damage
- Embrace the weather: lightening can actually cause nitrogen molecules in the air to cling to the oxygen molecules, which forms nitrogen oxides. The nitrogen oxides fall to the ground either by themselves or in raindrops and these are used by your plants to grow greener and healthier.
How you can find out when bad weather is imminent
In some areas you may not even be able to rely on weather forecasts to be accurate for more than a day in advance.
So how do you know what weather is coming?
- Have measuring devices setup to monitor the outside conditions: at a minimum outside temperature and wind speed
- Know what direction weather usually comes from and monitor the sky in that direction
- Some people say they can smell snow in the air
- Barometers can be useful as barometric pressure will usually drop when bad weather is expected
- National services should provide storm alerts – while these might not be 100% accurate, heed them and make preparations anyways
- Animals can often detect bad weather before humans – birds may stop flying and pets and livestock may appear agitated
Always expect the worst and prepare for it. If it turns out that the forecasts were wrong and you have a beautiful sunny day, at least you have that to celebrate!
Extreme weather doesn’t have to be the enemy that stops you from having success in growing your own food. With these tips and a bit of hard work preparing for the weather extremes, you can improve the chances of “weathering” these challenges.
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC