Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What's it Like in Your Neck of the Woods?

Every yard, garden and farm has a unique micro climate.

Here at Mule Shoe Farm our micro climate is influenced mostly by the natural topography - the Cumberland River and steep limestone hills. I can also take advantage of man-made disturbances, such as my house to can maximum usage from my micro climate.

Since the river water changes temperature slowly, our micro climate also changes more slowly than surrounding areas. This means our last frost can be a bit later than tax day. Generally I wait until at least May 15 to start summer crops from seed or plants. On the back side, in autumn, my last frost date isn't until mid-November and the weather stays relatively mild until January.

The limestone hills not only make sure I have plenty of small rocks to fill the holes in my driveway, but the hills also mean that the water rushes toward the bottom of the hollow where I plant. To work with this fast flowing water (esp. in March) there are several tactics we employ here at the farm. I plow in a specific direction designed to minimize wash if it rains after plowing and before plants come up. I can create water breaks, catchment areas and enhance natural drains. I can also practice no-till agriculture and use raised beds to allow the water to slow down and stay closer to the vegetables.

Man-made disturbances in the area are mostly confined to my house. The placement of the house creates a natural cool and shady zone on the sides and a very warm spot in the back. I can use the sides to grow Shitake mushrooms and ferns, while tomatoes and peppers are grown in a hot space created by a concrete patio, afternoon sun and the white paint on the house.

Take some time this year to get familiar with your microclimate. When is your last frost - really? How does the sun cast shadows during the day? What kind of wind(s) can you expect? Do you need to manage runoff? Which side of the house is warmer? etc. Then place your plants accordingly. Not everyone can have tomatoes until mid-November but chances are you can plant something that will grow before or after the regular season or something unique to your area.
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