You can’t fight the weather. Well, you can, but you’ll probably lose. Not living in climate denial is a very important step toward financially sound home food production. No matter where you live there is a very good chance that it’s too hot, too cold, too rocky, too windy, too humid or too dry to grow something you want. Sometimes you can nibble around the edges and mitigate the problem somewhat, but keep your expectations realistic.
Back in Part I, Gardener Jane was dismayed to learn that lettuce didn’t grow in the summer in her climate with the rest of her salad veggies. When faced with a conundrum like that, there are four potential solutions:
- Buy the item in its off season
- Grow an alternative crop
- Manipulate your growing conditions
- Try to grow it anyway
Jane decided on the first option. One of the fantastic things about living in the 21st century is that our food web is global. A crop failure in one location doesn’t have to mean famine, and sometimes one region is highly optimized to grow a crop which does poorly elsewhere. Unless you are completely resolved to produce 100% of your food, choosing your battles and buying a commercially produced crop is a reasonable response.
The second option, to grow an alternative green suited for her hot summers, was tentatively rejected by Jane because the alternatives didn’t appeal to her even though they would grow well in her region. In Part VI (yes, I have six parts planned out!) we’ll go into more detail on potential alternative crops.
Manipulating growing conditions is sometimes possible. A crop which does poorly in hot weather may be shaded; a crop can be sheltered from frosts with anything from row cover up to full hoop houses. It usually works better to extend the season into the winter than the other way around. Eliot Coleman covers season extension methods thoroughly in his book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Home Garden All Year Long.
Finally, you can try to grow it anyway. Sometimes you hit the jackpot with the weather one your or in your microclimate. While I personally wouldn’t recommend this method for someone highly focused on the financial benefits of their garden, experimentation with trial plots could reap a surprise reward for you.
With all of these potential solutions, it’s important to keep a realistic goal in mind. Sheltering a summer crop from a early fall frost is a realistic accommodation. Growing an avocado tree outdoors in Pennsylvania is not.
(By Nicole Castle)