Putting the pups to work

Your garden might seem like it’s all the same climate, and the USDA Hardiness Map doesn’t give any insight on this matter, but there are a lot of factors that affect how a plant will do in a particular spot. Proximity/distance to buildings, foundations, pavement, slopes, types of soil, larger plants (esp trees), fences, and so on can all affect the microclimates of your yard. Some areas are exposed to drafts and breezes. A south-facing wall with a reflecting foundation and an adjacent heat-sinking driveway might be good for an early springtime start, but brutally scorching in the summer. If everyone cuts across the yard at the same point, your soil is going to quickly become brutally compacted. Dryer vents, downspouts, and temperature fluctuations can cause major Life Events for your plants, so it’s important to identify areas where you can get a little boost or avoid something gnarly. Moisture, temperatures and wind can vary wildly within the same small yard. Microclimates are an important idea in permaculture, which is the subject of at least eight books on my bedside table.

Since we haven’t lived here for a year, most of the microclimates of our yard are a mystery. Mostly, we are looking for the least shady areas with maximum heat — because our yard is in Olympia & has some mature trees – so we don’t really have enough sun or heat. What does our yard look like in the summer? The sun will move, the trees will leaf out, there will be a lot less rain, and I have no idea what to expect. This is a year that I anticipate we’ll do a lot of learning. Not to imply that I’m totally a lazy farmer, but if I can get microclimates to reduce my workload at all, it’s worth it to me.

While I often exclaim about the relative worthlessness of our pets, I have occasionally found a use for the dogs in the garden. Last summer, they did a remarkably good job of chasing the birds, squirrels and wildlife that would try to steal our garden’s bounty. This year, so far, they have dug up some plants I probably didn’t want to keep anyway, and helped me identify some of the most important microclimates in our backyard.

You see, we have two small, shivering, heat-seeking, under-the-blankets, “Get me a sweater PLEASE” kind of dogs. If you need to find the warmest spot in the house, unleash the hounds. The same principle applies to the backyard. From about 10am to 2pm, this corner is THE place to be.

Surrounded on two sides by heat-reflecting fences, this corner is sheltered from the wind, gets a lot of light and warmth, and would be a really great place to grow heat-loving plants…. if the dogs weren’t likely to kill anything I plant there by sleeping on top of them.

Clementine is giving me the look that says, “Yes, I HAVE always dreamed of napping on top of a watermelon vine, thank you for asking.”

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3 Comments

Filed under garden, pets, urban farming

3 responses to “Putting the pups to work

  1. Kate D.

    You could treat them like deer and have a little fence to keep ’em out. :) We had feral cats in our neighborhood that used the back of one of our beds as their personal bathroom the first year. As soon as we got the dog they cut that out.

  2. Hillary

    It occurred to me last night (after having read this post) that if I used the cats to figure out the warmest spot to plant, I’d have cantaloupe growing out of the kitchen heating vent!

    • jess s

      the cats might be onto something. maybe you could build a cold frame there to harness the radiant heat and divert the air flow.

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