Protecting your garden from extreme weather

Wendy S. Delmater
By Wendy S. Delmater on Sat, Aug 18, 2012 - 6:19am

Here is a National Geographic article about extreme weather. Let's talk about it and how it affects your food security.

And it’s not just heavy rains that are making headlines. During the past decade we’ve also seen severe droughts in places like Texas, Australia, and Russia, as well as in East Africa, where tens of thousands have taken refuge in camps. Deadly heat waves have hit Europe, and record numbers of tornadoes have ripped across the United States.

The article lays out, briefly, why this is so.

Global climate change. More heat means more moisture in the air, and that moisture comes down in storms. More heat means El Nino and La Nina, wind patterns ebbing and flowing across the Pacific, will move the jet stream around: causing too much rain in one place and drought in another - then reverssing which part of the world gets what bad weather news.

As the warm pool shifts back and forth along the Equator, the wavy paths of the jet streams shift north and south—which changes the tracks that storms follow across the continents. An El Niño tends to push drenching storms over the southern U.S. and Peru while visiting drought and fire on Australia. In a La Niña the rains flood Australia and fail in the American Southwest and Texas—and in even more distant places like East Africa.

This summer in the Carolina Midlands, we had 10 days of over 110 F heat in July. Our 2011-2012 winter was very mild, to the point where it affected certain crops like peaches: they need more cold in the winter to fruit ptoperly. Things like figs, however, loved the heat this year.

Yet in the winter of 2010-2011 we had incredible amounts of snow and cold for this area. The weather bounced between extremes. Welcome to the new normal, climate-style. So what should you, as a gardener, do? Yes, of course stock up on seeds, but also - diversify.

There is a reason I as an American Southerner, am planting drought-resistant crops, and certain things that are right on the edges of my USDA "planting zones."  I have an olive tree and a cold-hardy orange tree. I also have crops and trees that can survive a severe winter (examples, apples and parsnips).  I have duplicates of perennials in case of hail damage, planted in different spots with differtn "cover" (examples , grapes and blueberries). And I have seeds immediately to plant if everything gets flooded or ripped out of the ground by high winds or hail.

I have gardener friends in Australia that are responding to excess mud by planting lemongrass. Gardeners in Texas are adding drip irrigation and wicking plant beds.

Think of how your garden might fare with too much rain, too little rain, severe winds, or hail. Diversification of crop type and crop location can help you feel more food-secure, especially when the cost of store-bought fruits and vegetbles soars due to droughts and floods.

Please share strategies for dealing with this in your climate, wherever you are.


Lnorris's picture
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Mar 28 2011
Posts: 105
Protecting your garden from extreme weather

Hi Safewrite,

For the first time we used a shade cloth for our tomatoes on the south side of our house.  We had a run of 90+ days for 3 weeks that was unrelenting just as the flowers were blossoming.  The shade cloth saved the plants as they would have all died.  They are in containers on a raised wooden frame we built to hold them.

We are going to experiment with woodchips this fall.  My father always got 2 loads of woodchips every fall and his soil was the most loamy and rich I have seen in our area.

sand_puppy's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 2033
What do you mean by wicking plant beds?

I am about to terrace my front lawn to make it garden-able and am looking for ideas about how to work with water--drainage,  water collection areas (like a small pond on each level).  What is wicking?  What is its purpose and how is this done?  Thanks.

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
Hi Sandpuppy. Here is info on

Hi Sandpuppy. Here is info on wicking beds



Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 13 2009
Posts: 1988
shade cloth & wood chips experiment


Glad your shade clothexperiement worked, but ours did not. We perhaps left it on too long and the green beans on that trellis died, but they were dying anyway. So we flipped the cuke vines up onto that trellis, which had the advantage of getting the cukes off the ground.

We did not try wood chips this year, but we tried bark chips - on our raspberry canes. It cause three of them to thrive and kept in moisture for them, but perhaps I was too clumsy when I poured them on the 4th - it snapped that cane and killed it. *sigh*

Juli B's picture
Juli B
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 28 2009
Posts: 87
Gardening with weather extremes

Hello all,

One strategy I have been recommending to every small farmer I've worked with in several bioregions across the U.S. is to get part of your production under cover--hoop houses with roll-able side walls, shade cloth, small greenhouses, etc. with hail-resistant covers, drip irrigation regardless of where you are located for at least part of the garden...I think Safewrite has it down pat...redundancy is your friend.

Map out your microclimates, and create some if need be, to add diversity to your growing conditions and think four-season production..short rock walls (made with ripped up concrete chunks salvaged from sidewalk removal?) facing south for added warmth, trellised vines for sun protection, whatever.

Eliot Coleman has a book on four season production -- get it from your library and think about how you can adapt his strategies for your own needs. When in SE Illinois, I grew kale and overwintered it in raised beds with short hoop houses made with PVC pipe bent over the beds and covered with plastic  and put floating row cover right on the plants. I let a couple of plants grow as perennials for about 4 years just to see how they would do. I naturalized deer tongue lettuce in the grass in the yard, as well as violets (leaves and flowers great in salads...)

Think perennial wherever possible. Small fruit (bramble berries, strawberries, grapes, currants,etc.) is a great investment because that is a more expensive part of your grocery dollar no matter what the economy is doing and something kids generally love eating. Look at your hedges and see where you can plant uncommon fruit (nanny berries, anyone?) If you really want to do some research, try Dave Jacke's books on Forest Gardens (try your library on interlibrary loan). Maybe buy copies and share with your community group?

cheers to all---happy gardening in every season,



maceves's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Aug 23 2010
Posts: 281
wrong preps

I planted drought resistant plants and prepared for another long, hot, dry summer like we've had the last two years. Instead, we got a cool, rainy summer with so much water the garden started to mildew on the vine and new bugs showed up.

Climate "change" means we have to be ready for anything, I suppose.

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