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Working with Our Wet Spring

By on May 20, 2010

Here in sunny California, we are having a long, cold, wet spring.  What is a gardener to do?  Here are a few ideas that I have been using in my garden to work with and around the weather.  We have, fortunately, had some breaks in our rainy weather, so we have taken advantage of those windows of dry weather to dig in our cover crops and fork and amend our open beds.  It is very important to make sure that your soil is dry enough to work.  How long it takes for your soil to dry out depends on all sorts of things, including where your garden is located (even in one yard, you may well have dry spots and wet spots) and also on what type of soil you have.  Sandy soils dry out much more quickly than clay soils.

If you get over anxious and dig or (heaven forbid) rototill wet soil, you can create a sea of dirt clumps that will take a lot of work to break up into suitable soil for planting.  To check the amount of moisture in your soil grab a handful of dirt and squeeze it.  If it holds together and does not crumble it is too moist.  It is a good idea to wait until you think it’s dry enough and then give it one more day, if you can.

Create good drainage away from the garden even if some trenching and channeling are needed. Additionally, you can make ridges for rows with channels for drainage if necessary.

We have gone ahead and put out some tomato plants, though we are waiting on the more sensitive peppers and eggplants.  We have had to transplant some of our seedlings into larger pots, to give them room to keep growing, provide them with some soil nutrition and avoid stressing them as they wait for warmer weather.  Be sure to keep your seedlings well fed with a foliar fertilizer twice a week.   We have used the following season-extender ideas to give our tomatoes their best chance in these wet and cold conditions.

You can cover the garden with plastic to begin drying out the ground. Secure it with rocks, tent stakes, whatever. Just be sure to take it off or vent it when the weather is warm and dry to allow remaining moisture to evaporate off the surface.  Once the soil is fairly dry you can replace the cover to help your soil warm faster. This will improve your seedlings ability to get growing when placed in the soil.  You can also poke holes in the plastic and plant in the holes to keep the soil warming and suppress weeds.  We are also covering our tomatoes with Agribon to keep them warmer, reduce the amount of rain, and protect from hail and frost.

Here are a few things you can do to increase water absorption.  Incorporate organic amendments like peat moss, compost, and green sand, which will help to loosen clay soil and also raise the height of the soil. Raised beds can certainly help with drainage.  When creating a new garden I rototill the soil, layout where my beds and paths will be and then shovel the top soil off my paths, throwing it into the beds.  This is the lazy wo/mans guide to creating raised beds.  Cover crops assist by creating more air paths through the soil with their roots.  The green matter they produce when turned into the soil, creates more tilth and assists in increasing the soils water holding capacity.

Hang in there.  Summer is just around the corner (I think).  Meanwhile, enjoy your cold weather spring crops.  

My peas are loving this weather!

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