As some parts of the world grow drier, others are getting wetter, and some have just been soggy all along. If you live in a wet climate, then you are well aware of the challenges of gardening where it rains more than it shines, and the only thing you can count on to flourish in the spring is mud.
There are a lot of advantages to wet climates, however. Water, for starters. Things are very green, and a lot of flowers and vegetables and herbs do well with an abundance of rainfall, unless—of course—the rain floods your beds and causes rot or washes away your topsoil... or prevents you from working the soil at all until mid-July.
If this sounds like your vegetable garden, there are a few sustainable techniques you can use to boost your yields.
If your garden is prone to flooding, raise the ground level. Raised beds protect your garden from run-off and flooding, and they also make it easier to improve drainage. They can be as simple as low beds in the field or as complicated as framed beds. Framed raised beds are great for backyards, and you can build them as high as you need to for your comfort and to avoid flooding. This is especially useful for areas with a high water table.
Want to really keep the rain away? Short of putting an umbrella over your tomatoes, the best thing you can do is put up a hoop house. These keep the rain off and, if you raise the soil level inside and promote drainage, can prevent flooding from the outside, too. Hoop houses and covered beds are perhaps the best way to avoid the deluge, and if you keep rain barrels around, watering can still be done using nature’s surplus.
Before you build your hoop house, select a site with decent drainage or put down a layer of gravel beneath your soil to prevent standing water from accumulating.
Clay-based soils are less permeable than sandy soils, which means you won’t get much gardening done in wet, clay soils until things dry out. Adding amendments like compost and sand can improve the drainage of your garden beds. This is costly on a larger scale but is very feasible for smaller vegetable gardens.
Adjusting the composition of raised beds is important, too. Clay-based raised beds will still hold water, even if they are higher off the ground, so make sure you keep up on your composting. Adding sand and gravel can also help improve drainage.
Spray from rain and mud can cause diseases in plants. The best way to prevent this is mulching. Straw, cardboard, wood, plastic, felt, shredded leaves, pine needles, and a host of other readily available materials all make excellent mulch that you can use in your garden to protect your soil from erosion, nutrient leeching, and spray. Using mulch is also a good way to prevent pathways from turning into mud pits, reducing soil compaction and mess, and less permeable varieties, like black plastic, may help protect your soil from saturation.
Organic material improves soil drainage and water-holding capacity and boosts fertility; there is a reason compost is called garden gold.
If you don’t already have a compost pile, now is the time to start one, and you can always call around to local farms to source manure. Most farms are happy to let you come pick up, as well as soiled bedding, and you can also call around to local coffee shops to ask for used grounds if you need more material.
Like compost, cover crops provide organic material, boosting drainage, and their roots also break up compacted soils over time so that your vegetables don’t have to. Cover cropping is a great way to help larger vegetable gardens thrive in both wet and dry climates, and they also prevent erosion.
Sometimes, the drainage issue is deeper than your topsoil. Hardpan or compacted soils can create a layer down below that water cannot get past, leading to root rot and drowned plants. Double digging is a technique that gets to the root of the problem, so to speak, loosening your soil deeper down than conventional tilling to prevent this problem.
If your yard or garden area is constantly waterlogged, you may have to resort to more permanent fixes like drainage ditches and grading. There are several options available for gardeners, and some may require the help of an expert.
Starting plants in wet soils from seed is tricky and often results in poor yields. Starting plants from seed indoors and transplanting them or buying transplants instead offers several advantages. You don’t have to worry about germination, and you can also hold off on planting until the wettest part of the spring has passed.
If all else fails, there are some less conventional gardening techniques that can come to your rescue. Straw bale gardening is an easy and efficient way to create raised bed gardens with excellent drainage, and straw is usually cheaper than building raised beds.
Gardening in a wet climate has its challenges, but using these sustainable techniques can help your garden thrive, even if you feel like you are living in a monsoon.