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Cultivating a gardener’s patience

It’s hard to believe that it is April, as it feels more like February. This is a year to test a gardener’s patience, and if the rain keeps up much longer, may drive some local farmers out of business. Livestock operations won’t have to buy hay for a long time, but hay (and grain), crops may lodge (fall over), before they can be harvested. Hopefully our ground water is getting some much-needed recharge, but extreme rain, like extreme drought, can be a real obstacle to our ability to produce food.

We should expect food to be more expensive this year. For those of us gardeners who are on a limited budget, perhaps we will grow more this summer – we have the water to do so – and preserve as much as possible for winter. I feel that we need to also support our local farmers, in spite of higher prices. Doing a bit more cooking from scratch as opposed to buying prepared food or eating out will easily make up the difference in your food budget. We really need to keep as much food production happening locally as possible to bolster our regional “food security”, keep diversity in our agriculture and augment our local economy.

So how does a gardener’s patience manifest?

  • Wait until the soil dries out to get on it. ! I have already seen some serious damage from compaction where people have gotten machinery onto soil too soon, creating ruts and sometimes sinking tires into the ground. Even just walking on or digging in soil that is too wet causes compaction and this damage can take many years to repair. Compacted soil does not allow for root growth, limits water absorption and makes the soil much more difficult to work.
  • Wait until weather is settled and consistently warm to plant warm season crops. We were spoiled for a few years with warm springs and some people thought they could continue planting tomatoes and other summer crops before it was even officially spring! I was concerned to see so many people buying these plants during the little warm spell a few weeks ago. Those plants will not grow in this weather and are much more susceptible to diseases. Some years you can hedge your bets and try a few plants early or late, along with the main season. The main month for planting warm season crops in most parts of this region is May. I sure hope that it’s warmer and drier by then!
  • Watch carefully for pests. Unsurprisingly, aphids are out in force on bolting brassicas, (old over-wintered kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc.). Since aphids suck the juices out of plant leaves, they will flourish with all these very juicy leaves this year. On plants that I want to keep going, like my tree collards, I check them every few days and gently brush off the clusters of aphids, looking to see if any have been parasitized yet. (These will look like little beige seeds amongst the rest of the gray aphids) But with crops that I can sacrifice, like my kale, I will let it become an aphid colony for a while to provide food for lots of aphid predators and parasites to feast on. I’ll remove the plants when it’s drier and I need the space for something else. Also, the first generation of leaf miners are in the chard, so I pick off those leaves, and the moles and gophers are hungry between storms. I was happy to catch one yesterday! The better we control pests early in the season the less problem they can be later.
  • Wait for perennials to recover. There is evidence of root rot on some perennials. Some plants suddenly looked wilted in March and some seem to be not leafing out well. I think that especially those 2 weeks of warm rain on already saturated soil drowned roots and provided perfect conditions for fungal diseases to set in. We’ve done a good job of selecting plants that are adapted to our Mediterranean climate – not a rainforest or the southeast! I was very worried about some of a client’s major landscape shrubs as well as my own lavender bush. But we waited and watched and now most plants seem to be recovering, at least to some extent. I think it’s best to wait a couple more weeks before doing too much pruning of what may appear to be dead branches of shrubs. If there is some life left the plant will probably be able to regrow.

This week is also Passover and Easter, with Earth Day coming soon. This time of rebirth and recovery gives us much to be grateful for. As we watch our gardens rebound and flourish this season, we can be grateful for the rain.