Food Gardening and El Nino
Food Gardening and El Niño
Food Gardening and El Niño
By Master Gardener Sue Ridgeway
The following actions and information should increase our opportunities to effectively and healthily food garden through an El Niño event.
- Prepare your soil to absorb water and hold it – reduce top soil loss, run off and improve soil structure by digging in or adding three to four inches of compost. Top, side dress or mulch with compost or straw. If you are not growing winter vegetables, consider planting cover crops. The canopy and roots of plants, such as fava beans and daikon radish, will add vital nutrients to your garden as well as stabilize the soil and prevent erosion.
- Prepare your plant beds for good drainage either by elevating the soil in boxes or raising the soil level and mounding the beds. Constantly wet soil inhibits root growth and, if it persists, can lead to rot. Raised beds and mounding allows excess moisture to drain away more quickly and ensures that the vegetable roots will be above any water left standing between the rows.
- Cover the garden beds of smaller plants with floating row covers, or use plastic low tunnels, to protect plants and soils from driving rains, heavy wind and colder temperatures. The material should be securely tied or weighted down.
- Historically, El Niño brings warmer than average temperatures to our area. Warmer weather allows some insects and pathogens to survive the winter. In the spring, be prepared for a possible larger insect population that could add pressure to seedlings and already stressed plants. Many fruit trees and shrubs require dormant chilling days to break dormancy and provide optimum crops; if the chilling days are not met, blooming and foliation will be delayed and fruit set and quality will be poor. Wide temperature fluctuations can be hard on plants—particularly in winter. Warm days followed by freezing nights can cause bark injury on trees with thin, smooth bark. Alternate freezing and thawing of soil can result in heaving of shallow-rooted plants.
- If only rain water falls on your garden, your vegetables should remain edible. However, if any edible parts of your vegetables, above or below ground, are submerged, splashed by, or near flood waters your produce is probably too dangerous to consume. There is no effective way to wash off many flood-borne contaminants. It is better to be safe and live to garden another day! A related issue emerges with rain collection systems. During a rainy season, is a great idea to capture as much water as possible to use in our gardens when the warmer, dryer weather arrives. However, using collected roof water for overhead watering of food crops is not recommended. Roof water may contain pathogens. Most individual households are not equipped for water testing and maintaining food-safe water collection, storage and transportation systems.
For additional guidance related to your ornamental gardens, see the SCMG article “Drought to Deluge? Preparing for El Niño!” If we experience an El Niño event and you need gardening advice, contact the UCCE Sonoma Master Gardener information desk: firstname.lastname@example.org or(707) 565-2608. We’re in this together.