One of the things I do yearly is test my boundaries. The boundaries of growing plants. To see what can I push to the edge, and still work.
But to explain it, not that many years ago we were urban homesteaders, living off the luxury of having our mini-farmstead right out the back door, with the greenhouse was just a few steps off the back deck. The luxury of having electricity, and even water, right where we needed it. Life was linear, I happily grew our plants under grow lights, snuggled in with a toasty heater running to stave off the cold chills. We grew food as a hobby, even when we started our first urban farm there. Because it was a hobby, I wasn’t watching how much it was costing us. And to be honest, I was following conventional wisdom about gardening. “Do this and you will get good results”.
Where we live now, we had none of the infrastructure in place when we moved in, in spring of 2018. 4 springs later we have some of that in place. We have water. We have irrigation in much of it. But electricity? We could do it, but it’s just not that important in the grand scheme of things. For now, growing to eat became far more important.
I realized in the first year of living on the island my goals would have to change. And they did. I took everything that was “set in stone” about our grow zone and tossed it out. And came of the mantra of “Either you survive, or you don’t” because…in the wilds, mother nature would do that to us humans. I was moving 600 feet of hose back and forth daily to just keep the plants growing. It was not sustainable, year in and out.
One of the first things I truly noticed after we moved back to the island was plant sellers on the island. They kept them in greenhouses, under lights, fully heated for a very long time. They were showy, of course, but was it a good thing? For were we teaching ourselves to grow as a hobby, or for survival? A summer garden will feed you, but it won’t let you survive if you needed. We need dense plants, shorter, but built for handling late chilly nights. Plants that don’t need pampering to survive. Living in the north means you must work around the lack of light in winter and early spring. It means you must wait. You will have time. But you must have patience.
This may well change how you grow in a microclimate as well.
Plant your seeds far later then you see others doing it. It’s OK. You are not in a race with them. You might see on Facebook or other social media that one person, who has a huge greenhouse full of plants, that are huge. In March. Or April. It only means they started their seeds inside, under grow lights, and with a mat heater under them…in January.
But here is the thing:
They cannot plant those plants outside.
They would die quickly. Being pampered they are delicate. The leaves would be sapped within a night or two, and the plant would die. It has no hardening off. It lives in a gilded cage of fake light and warmth.
And that’s totally OK if they want to grow for show, as a hobby. That’s their thing.
For us, (mostly me) I had to step back and not seed in January. Nor February. Only in mid March did I do the first things.
And then there are “the years”:
This spring has been brutal for patience. It’s cold. It is rainy. And it has barely let up. We many weeks behind. Our goal is growing to eat, so we must wait till the time is right enough – that we won’t waste seeds or time to see the crops fail, over and over.
It is May 29th and it was 48* last night. It is continuing to be this cold many nights. It just won’t stay about 50* at night. And worse, it keeps raining (which is good for the long term, I won’t argue that, but it is frustrating none the less). It is sunny at times but holding in the 50’s many days. Even in the low 60’s the plants cannot surge. They need a full day’s worth of sun. Not clouded over till the afternoon. Or worse? All day long. Grey stretches on, for months now.
I have my views on this. I feel it is happening because of Tonga’s volcanic explosion in January, and it recently waking up yet again this past week. Tonga is easy to ignore, for it sits in the middle of nowhere, far away. It is near Fiji and American Soma. It reminds me of the winter after Mt. St. Helens blew when I was a child. It was a cold summer and just never felt right. Say what you will about global warming, all it takes is 1 very large volcanic explosion to set all that back. The thing is, our spring and summers have become hotter this past decade, and spring happens earlier every year. But this year? It is far, far different. All the local growers (both farmers and gardeners) I know see it…but the media is pretty much silent on it. Does it not fit their narrative of global warming crisis? Cold wet springs don’t help the narrative of an eternal drought, and withering hot temperatures (which last summer were horrible around the 4th of July).
This is a year where growing for hobby will not happen for many in the Pacific Northwest. They will give up as their seeds don’t come up, or if they do, they are scraggly and barely making. Their tomatoes will not thrive for now. If summer comes, it may change, but the crops will be smaller, and we will run into the issue of blight in September with the rains, and the crops won’t be ready to pull.
This is the year to ask:
Am I growing to eat, or as a hobby?
If it is to eat…..you need to get serious about covering your crops to ensure more warmth. Be it hoop tunnels, greenhouses or wrapping fences in plastic wrap to block winds. This is the year we must work on it.
Today I am wrapping 2 fenced beds with 6 mil plastic (for painting) to push the temperatures up in the beds. I want to eat. Hobbies don’t feed you full time.