Examining Microclimate in the Garden

food bank garden

When growing a vegetable garden its important to note how choosing the location of the garden has an effect on plant growth. I planted a raised bed of squash and zucchini plants at our community garden at least a week before my garden at home. Our community garden is in full sunshine and very open meaning its exposed to winds at all times.

squash plant

But take a look at the plants in the beds today and you will see there is something seriously wrong.  We have new soil but so does everyone else who gardens at the front of the garden and their plants are doing well. So the soil is most likely not a factor in why the plants aren’t thriving. I water regularly so that is not an issue. Here is my theory. I think that being at the very back of the community garden, the raised garden beds are exposed to more cold than the plants can handle to get off to a good start. Of course, the spring has been wetter than normal so maybe some good consistently warm weather will help.

halona melon

Here is a photo of the same Halona melon in my home garden on the same day and planted a week later.

flowers

I planted my home garden at the end of May, one week after the community garden. Yes, I did have a few greenhouse transplants such as beans and squash but the ones at the community garden were from my greenhouse as well. I wanted to be sure we had a harvest so starting them in the greenhouse gave them a jump-start. I am growing Halona melons for the first time and can’t wait to see how they do here.

vegetable garden

Here it is a month later and I am overjoyed at how my raised garden bed is doing. I have harvested spinach and radishes already!  So what makes this garden look so lush compared to the community garden beds? For one, this garden is protected. Its has its own microclimate. Microclimate is defined as an area that has an atmospheric zone different from the surrounding area. It could be that a garden is surrounded by trees, next to a south-facing building or one that is getting reflected heat from sidewalks or buildings. We all have different microclimates in our gardens. Its obvious from the difference in growth from my garden to the one at the community garden that certain factors are influencing growth. My garden is banked by my greenhouse on the south, the house on the west and a tall shrub on the east. I also have the garden right next to the sidewalk. Did you know the sidewalks absorb heat throughout the day that is then given off at night.Even though this garden has less sunlight it is doing better than the community garden beds.

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All the surrounding structures, sidewalks and shrubs have created a special microclimate in my garden. Even though the greenhouse blocks the hot sun, enough sun comes through the greenhouse for this garden to be very productive. Like the community garden, I have new soil this year and it gets watered the same as I do at the community garden. Just look at the difference in the size of the zucchini plants. Even the lemon cucumbers are almost touching the ground.

zucchini plant

Here is my zucchini which is beginning to scare me with its size. Luckily it will be able to clamber through my blueberry garden.

squash

Here is a similar zucchini plant at the community garden. Pretty sad sight, that’s for sure.  I have decided to place a floating row cover over a few of the plants at the community garden to see if it warms the bed a bit.

temperature

Okay, so I headed to the community garden to do an experiment. I placed my handy thermometer in the garden to see what the outside temperature was. In both the community garden and my own the temperature was a cool 19C. I had expected the temperature to be different but the only difference was the wind factor. At the community garden there was a good wind blowing and I was picking up plastic compost lids and the cushions from our lawn swing. In my yard, the wind was hardly noticeable due to the protection of the structures nearby.

Violas in late June

Another thing I noticed in the community garden was that the Violas I planted in May have not bolted like the ones in my home garden have. Violas are spring plants and when it gets warm out the tend to get leggy and go to seed. The ones at the community garden are still very compact and full of blooms.

broad beans, lettuce

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It hasn’t been a total disaster. We do have some lettuce growing but much of the germination has been erratic. Notice the tiny red lettuce seedlings still trying to grow behind the full-sized head. We do have a good crop of peas, broad beans, onions and potatoes, all plants that don’t mind the cool weather.

So what can I do to improve the community garden beds. I could plant a hedge row around the garden to create a microclimate or I could use plastic tunnels or cloches over my plants. I think planting a hedgerow around the garden will be the easiest. There is a good chance that plastic tunnels will only blow away with the force of the winds.

So my project for fall will be planting a hedgerow of shrubs, perennials and small trees to provide protection from the elements at the community garden. After all, the food I am growing at the community garden is for the food bank. I can’t let them down.

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