Micro Climate Change Part 2

Microclimates are areas around your home and garden that have three things in common: distinct temperature and moisture variations, exposure or protection from winds, and access to light. They create unique opportunities for variety in your garden plantings and the use of your home. In part one, we looked at the factors that affect microclimates, such as latitude, elevation, temperature, moisture, vegetation, and soil composition.

Identifying Microclimates

Here are some techniques for identifying microclimates and how to adapt to the conditions in your area. David Holmgren’s first principle urges you to observe and interact with the microclimates in your space. Once you’ve identified your microclimates, match those spaces to their best use for your home.

In the Home

You can grow and produce items to improve your home economy. Try turning old t-shirts into quilts! Do you have space for a workshop or sewing corner? For gardens? Mushroom logs?

Also important to home economy is efficient storage. How much storage do you have in your home? With the growth of consumer society in the 1950’s, space for storage in the home has decreased. In recent years, home designers have increased the amount of storage available for use. This is not because we are more productive in the home economy, but because we consume more. Some savvy people are using that space for storing away their harvests, materials, and other resources.

I often ask my permaculture design students to sketch a map of their homes. Then I ask them to put the pencil down in their bedrooms, tracing how they move around in a typical day. They discover the areas they use most frequently. Many identify a cold or hot room or a room they almost never use, and why. Use cold rooms as cool storage for items that need to be dry, such as root veggies through the winter. Mitigate overly hot rooms that might be next to a stove or furnace to be useable by increasing ventilation and shading from either the inside or outside. These rooms might also be helpful spaces for drying herbs or veggies in the summer. Insulated curtains or a spread of indoor plants can absorb the sunlight and humidify a room, making it a much more usable space.

Dry, warm rooms with good air circulation are excellent for storing tea, herbs, and other smoked or dried foods, like the mint or basil from your Garden Tower® 2 planting system. Dried tomatoes are well-suited to being stored in a warm, dry room. For a treat, dry slices of tomato with basil and diced garlic on a cookie sheet in the oven or in an electric dryer. Stack them in a glass jar for use in winter sauces and stews, or simple eat them as a yummy snack!

Cold and cool dry rooms are good places for winter squash, potatoes, and apples. Old-timers, and some savvy younger people as well, use cool bedrooms (which are better for sleeping) for keeping produce in crates under the bed.

In the Garden

Microclimates are everywhere! They are a secret to the theoretical unlimited yield mentioned by permaculture co-originator Bill Mollison.

Microclimates affect the placement and success of gardens. Situate your garden where plants can get 6-8 hours a day of direct light. This is the amount of light needed for most annuals and perennials to bear fruit. If your garden area gets less than the minimum amount of light, don’t despair! Play with plants that bear fruit in partial shade or even deep shade. Use Plants for a Future to help you find good options for your space. Try greens, potatoes, and anything in the brassica (broccoli) family. These plants are more likely to yield a harvest in a shady spot. You might want to consider thinning the tree canopy if that’s your limiting factor.

The Garden Tower® 2 planting system is fantastic because its rotating design allows you to turn the tower and equalize the amount of light each section gets. If the tower is on casters, then you can move it to exactly the right place for what you are growing.

If you live where there is too much light saturation where intense light negatively affects plants, you need to change your growing area. Saturation usually creates areas with higher temperatures. Sometimes we find them at higher elevations, where the thinner atmosphere hits plants with more intense ultraviolet rays. In these areas, light shade can improve your yields. An awning or a light over-story tree with dappled shade is perfect. Shade cloth or placing your garden on an eastern wall can also help to get the right amount of light to your garden. Shading your garden has other benefits, too. It lowers temperatures and limits light. It also eases the soil evaporation and transpiration which sucks water away from tender plants.

As ozone levels in our atmosphere rises and ultraviolet light intensifies, these strategies, which are common in the southwestern United States, will become more widespread. A greater number of gardeners need to experiment with growing under light shade. Your plants will tell you they want more shade when they drop their leaves or slow productivity in the hottest parts of the summer.

Vegetation, buildings, and landscape features also determine how wind moves your garden area. Constant exposure to wind dries out the soil and places stress on the plants. Plants like being in sheltered, sunny spots. Windbreaks can make a big difference. At the same time, a light breeze can confuse or discourage pests. To create a windbreak, place something, such as a perennial planting or a wall, that gently lifts the wind over the area you are using and sets it back down beyond it. To direct wind, use perennial plantings in a V shape with the V pointing towards the window or garden area you want to cool and the wider part of the V pointing toward the direction from which wind tends to come.

A hood to keep pests away can provide some additional insulation. You can keep plants cool with shade, but keeping them warm enough to be productive is just as important. This is the key strategy for season extension in spring, fall and winter. Important techniques for passive heating include creating a barrier that traps warm air such as a hoop house or greenhouse, and using thermal mass to warm an area throughout the night. If these techniques aren’t enough, then you’ll need to use a heater, which is expensive, as you must factor in the cost of maintenance and fuel. It is much simpler to insulate the greenhouse well and use thermal mass to absorb the sun’s energy from the day and radiate it back out at night. We’ve all enjoyed a warm stone or brick ledge on a cool day, and your plants can, too!

To store solar energy in greenhouses, people use stone, brick, gravel, and tanks of water. Black tubs of water store the most solar energy and are therefore the most effective. With the Garden Tower® 2 vertical planting system, a wonderful thing happens. The core mass of compost and moist soil absorbs a lot of solar energy and stores it away exactly where the plants want it. This is a winning situation when the tower is in an enclosed area during the cooler months.

As you practice observing microclimates and become more familiar with the techniques used to modify them, you’ll also learn about different productive plants you can include in your garden. Your system will become more resilient and tailored to your interests. Enjoy the experience of discovering your microclimates! Don’t forget to put a hammock or other relaxation spot in your favorite microclimate.

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