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Rain teasers and gratitude

Some rain is better than none, and I’m grateful that we’ve had several little “storms” pass through in the last few weeks. The garden and landscape always bounces after rain. It radiates the renewal of soil life and gratitude for life-giving moisture. Breathing freshened air and seeing rain-washed leaves cheers my soul.

But the rains we’ve had have been light and the rainfall statistics can be deceiving. Where I live in the Santa Rosa plain, and in much of the county, we’ve only received around a quarter inch each time, followed by warmth that evaporated most of what fell. Our last “real” rain – rain that could actually soak down to deeper soil levels – was in early February – 9 months ago! So although “regular” irrigation can probably be stopped now, it’s likely that you will still need to spot water your fall vegetables and plants in containers later this week. However, if you’ve been capturing rainwater from your roof, you will be able to supply your garden’s needs without turning on the tap! I’m surprised at how much water collects just in my one 5 gal. bucket at the corner of the house – without even a downspout! Maybe this is the time to implement techniques for getting the most from what rain we do get – minimizing run off by catching in containers and in the soil. See the iGROW Stormwater Management Guide for details.

As each problem presents opportunities, the silver lining of these blue skies is more gardening days! It is a great time to clean up the remains of warm season crops and build compost piles. You can still plant cover crops such as the “soil builder mix” or clovers like Crimson clover, as long you do so very soon. Garlic and fava beans can go in through November. See past blogs for more details on making compost, planting garlic and cover crops.

I really like to put mulch on any bare soil this month. Right around the vegetables, that mulch is a light layer of compost. On unused beds the mulch is old manure, livestock bedding, or rough compost. This would be good around berry plants and fruit trees that have higher nutrient needs too. In my garden paths I put a layer of the small leaves from a mimosa tree. I love this soft padding and know that it will keep down weeds and provide for mud-free winter garden visits. Leaves or arbor mulch can go around trees but should not come close to the trunks of trees and it’s better not to add mulch right under native or Mediterranean shrubs like lavender.

And if you still have any lawn, know that sheet mulching it now will allow the grass to decompose over winter, leaving beautiful soil underneath by late spring. You can also punch holes in the sheet mulch and plant native or Mediterranean plants this fall. These plants will get established over winter and the thick mulch means only occasional deep watering may be needed next year.

These dry days I try to keep a close eye on my fall crops, looking to pick off green cabbage “worms” on the brassicas and watching to see if the birds are now choosing a fall salad diet. Baby snails are emerging now too, so they get picked off and stepped on.

And in the chilly mornings I warm up the house with winter squash or apple crisp in the oven, and am grateful for my garden and the bounty of Sonoma County.

Pause to reflect on what your garden has provided this year, and may the blessing of gratitude be yours this month.