Can you feel it? The chill in the mornings, the breeze in the air. Fall is on its way. Vancouver has experienced its first serious rain in what has been one of our hottest, driest summers on record. I, for one, am rejoicing. Rain means that my family and I don’t have to spend hours hand-watering during watering restrictions. It replenishes depleted reservoirs and offers relief to farmers and those affected by forest fires. My friends can complain all they want, but I’m celebrating.
When the weather changes like this, gardeners are well-advised to protect their plants. Rainstorms can tear holes in leaves, wash away seeds, compact the soil and flush out nutrients. If you’re a backyard gardener with raised beds, one of the best purchases you can make is a roll of lightweight floating row cover material, a type of spun polyester available from garden supply stores. When suspended from hoops made from hardware store plumber’s pipe, this multipurpose fabric keeps bugs out and retains moisture when it’s hot, and helps to deflect the pounding action of rain while still letting moisture and air in. If you’re a patio gardener, try to move your planters to a protected spot, such as under a roof overhang or against a glass railing.
Tomatoes really don’t like rain. These warm-weather plants, along with their pepper and eggplant relatives, get sick when their leaves get wet. If you really love your tomatoes, make a tent out of clear plastic from a hardware store to protect the top two thirds of the plants without touching the leaves. If that sounds daunting, simply monitor your plants closely. When the leaves die, you’ll need to pick ALL of the fruit and ripen the green ones in paper bags in your kitchen.
As our climate changes, I personally predict that we will see more stormy fall and winter weather with intermittent heavy rain and less of the slow, constant drizzle Vancouver is known for. I’m not a climate scientist, but that’s what my gut tells me. Gardeners need to adapt to whatever the weather brings us.
For those who want to take their garden to the next level, the beginning of September is a great time to experiment with planting more seeds. Cooler weather means that seedlings have a better chance of surviving than in August heat. Although seeds planted now won’t necessarily produce a fall harvest, they stand a good chance of surviving the winter and giving us a major head-start in early spring. Fall-planted seeds can produce harvests weeks earlier than spring-planted seeds, and with any luck will help tide you over during the surprisingly difficult months of March and April. Gardening is all about planning ahead.
Seeds you can plant in September
- Mustards and Asian greens, such as pac choi and bekana
- Mesclun mixes
- Carrots and dill (still experimental, but I’m trying them)
General recommendations for planting seeds in September
- Plant fall-friendly crops. Sorry, but it’s too late to plant zucchini. Stick to small greens and herbs from the list above.
- Start your seeds in small pots, not out in the garden. Heavy rain will spell the death of your seeds. So will dry spells, which are still a distinct possibility this time of year. Sow in small pots, such as yogurt cups with holes poked in the bottom, to maintain a controlled environment. Keep them in a protected place and make sure that the soil stays moist but not soaked. To improve seed germination, plant them into a specialty seed-starting mix or a fine-textured potting mix, and place a small piece of row cover material right on top of the newly planted seeds to retain moisture and deflect the action of your watering can. See how useful this stuff is?
- Plant seeds more densely than you would in the spring. Germination rates can be lower this time of year.
- Protect newly transplanted seedlings. Once your plants have their first “true” leaves, transplant them to the garden. Keep them well-protected at this vulnerable time. In addition to row cover, try using clamshells from commercial salad mixes with holes poked in them as little hats for the first couple of weeks. Ask friends to give them to you, since you’re probably not buying salad these days.
- Remember that it’s an experiment. Your seeds might not germinate, and they might not survive. Fall gardening is challenging. It’s still fun even when it doesn’t work out.