Dealing With Microclimates

At our old house, in Maple Valley, Wa, our grow zone was considered 8A. However, I treated it as a 7B due to late freezes in early spring. Where we live now, in Freeland, Wa, it is zone 8A.

So same zone, right? Well….no. You can have it on paper that it is, but microclimate plays a big factor. It has been a huge learning curve for me this Spring, to learn how to grow food where while it claims it is only 2° cooler on average, in reality it is 10 to 15° cooler, and the steady winds keep it cooler.

Old house:

In the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Mount Rainier brought storms, hail and snow in the off seasons, but we often had stretches of weather above 80° and Arctic freezes from Canada that took it below freezing for weeks in winter. Land is flat, in town and exposed to sun.

New house:

Live within a mile of open water, of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, on the narrow section of an island. Cooling winds blow in the morning and evening year round. Weather is influenced by the rain shadow of the Eastern Olympics. Land is sloping with forest behind house that holds shade, though farm areas are sunny.

With the (very) limited garden we got in this year, in early spring, I was getting frustrated. Nothing was growing at the rate I was used to. You’d think the lightbulb would come on, but it isn’t always that easy. I have had a lot on my mind, as we clear land and get it ready for fall planting.

Then I realized at the start of June I had to insulate my tomatoes if I wanted them to grow. At our old home, we could “field grow” (uncovered) them with few issues. Here, once we go into full growing, they will have to be under caterpillar tunnels. Which we have, but they are for the growing fields. So….I got thinking and pulled together quickly a DIY way of helping boost the temperature (and taking away some of the wind) for the plants. I took my old methods of making hoop houses, and changed it. Since we have deer fencing everywhere, I used that to wrap plastic wrap around it (find in the paint section or similar at the hardware store), instead of using hoops to go over.

The tomato bed before being wrapped. Being at the top of the hill, the bed was exposed constantly to wind.

For the tomato bed I did it in two sections, so I can remove half as needed, and leaving a “back stop” of plastic.

As I have talked about before, large binder clips are very useful to have on hand. I keep a plastic shoe bin full of them in the garden shed.

Open to the sky for rain and visits from pollinators. This also helps on sunny days with letting out heat.

In the first few days we saw more growth, and in the past 2 weeks the plants have filled in more, and produced many flowers.

After finishing the tomatoes, I got to thinking about the alpine strawberries. Without the use of our greenhouse till later this year, the strawberry plants we do have were stunted from growing in colder temperatures.

A week of being wrapped led to huge results.

For now, until the temperatures warm up into the 70’s consistently (well, even the upper 60’s), I am leaving them wrapped.

It’s easy though to unwrap: Just unclip and let hang down. If windy, just pinch the plastic together with clips.

~Sarah