La Niña vs. tomatoes

January 10, 2012

By Jane Garrison

With La Niña we don’t know what is normal anymore. We used to be able to predict the weather around here.

In January, we expected our lowest temperatures — maybe even icy ponds. We used to get a break for two weeks in February, which would give us the false idea that spring would come early, and also the opportunity to prune roses and fruit trees. We expected showers and sun breaks in March and April and started seeds indoors. Then May would bring the first warm days, and we prepared our soil. June was never stable; we always had warmth and rain, perfect for planting warm-weather veggies.

The rain always lasted through the Fourth of July, dousing the fireworks fantasies. On the fifth came the sun and it would stick around until October. The veggies grew big and produced. Octobers were clear and cold as the last of the edible crops were brought in. Then on Halloween, the rain would come, dousing the kids again. Those rains would last until year’s end, falling sometimes as wet snow. We planned on it every year.

We are not able to predict weather cycles now. Last year, my diary shows that January was warmer than usual, and February was dry and sunny. Then March came in like a lion and didn’t let up. My diary shows that May, June, and July were the coolest on record, averaging highs of 60 degrees, not enough to grow vegetables.

We finally got some warm temperatures in August, but it was too late to plant. We had a few warm days in September and October, but mostly it was cold and wet. November and December were drier than usual. It seems that our dry periods were wasted on our cold months in 2011. It was a bad year for gardening.

If the weather cycles are changing how can we deal with it? Maybe we have to change our expectations and respond to conditions as they arise. If we get any nice days in January we could prune the fruit trees and the roses ahead of time. We can be ready for anything that comes along.

Is it possible to outfox the weather? We could look at cold frames; crop covers, supported and unsupported; raised beds; and season extenders that allow us to go with the flow.

There are many possibilities out there for gardeners. It’s important to educate yourself to deal with gardening in unpredictable weather. Check out www.kingcountymg.org. I would ask people at The Grange Supply for what they have to offer, because they live here and share your pain. Charley’s Greenhouse in Mount Vernon gets my vote, too, because they understand “cold and wet.” You can always crosscheck prices and possibilities at www.farmtek.com.

Jane Garrison is a local landscape architect and master gardener who gardens in glacial till on the plateau.

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