There’s not a lot we gardeners can do about our climate. If you live in the far north, you’re as likely to dread the drought months of summer as I, in my South Otago rain forest environment, dread the endless rains of spring and early summer.
Some folk battle early and late frosts, and garden within a tiny window of opportunity that many of us would despair at, while others battle endless winds. This is the gardener’s lot and it’s what makes for the challenges that we all pride ourselves in rising to meet. However, whatever climate you find yourself growing in, there are also, within your garden, micro-climates that you can take advantage of. And how I wish I had realised this earlier. If I had, my shallots might not be turning up their toes this summer, my rhubarb would be producing stems for a longer period, and I my apples would be fruiting. Let me explain.
It’s been an exceptionally wet spring in my garden (even taking the Catlins climate into account). The rain continued into summer and, for the first time in twenty years, the tops on the shallots are turning yellow and many of the bulbs are rotting in the ground. I may have given the shallots the best garden on the property in terms of nutrient and sunshine (if there were any!) but I’ve also placed them in a raised bed that is on a flat piece of property. They would have faired much better in this particularly wet summer if they had been planted on one of the fast-draining beds on the sloping part of the section. If it had been a dry season, I could have watered the shallots but there is now nothing I can do to help the garden they are in to drain.
My rhubarb has been another micro-climate mistake. Because it’s one of the earliest food producers in the garden, I decreed that the rhubarb should be spoiled and grow in a bed on the north-facing part of the property where it receives the first sun of the morning and then basks in sunshine all day long. It’s a wonderful way to encourage early growth and I’m usually harvesting the stems in October. But rhubarb doesn’t like to dry out and, come mid-summer, its big leaves are wilting and the whole bed of plants is looking dry, even with a layer of mulch around the crowns. The couple of plants I have in a shadier part of the garden produce far better.
As for my latest apple tree, it currently has no fruit on it. I also gave this tree a favoured spot on the north facing part of the property. However, what I failed to think about was that, in November (for over a month) we receive horrendous gale-force winds which knock every blossom petal off the branches. On the shadier side of the house (which has shelter from trees and buildings) the apple tree growing there is covered in small fruit.
Where I am having success this year is with the peas. These cool-loving vegetables don’t like a lot of direct sunlight so mine are sown in the shade of the house. In this spot there’s the potential for them to get wet roots (which they object to) but I have them on a sloping garden bed to keep them well drained, and they are growing in leaps and bounds. Similarly, my silver beet, which is unfussy where sun is concerned, is zooming away in a cool but sheltered spot beside a hedge.
Yes, we all have ‘climate’ to contend with but each of has within our own (even small) garden spaces, areas of shade, shelter, sun, dry, damp, slope and flat, and providing we have an idea of what grows best where, we can maximise the situation and micro-manage to produce the best harvest.