Rainy days and Shuswap gardens

The Shuswap Market News welcomes gardening columnist Margo Westaway to our pages.

The Shuswap Market News welcomes gardening columnist Margo Westaway to our pages.

Her column will run biweekly in the Market News. Below she provides a brief introduction before taking on the topic of gardening in our current rainy weather.


Greetings all fellow and future gardeners!

I live in Sicamous where, over the past 13 years, I have been busy creating multiple gardens and landscaping with rocks and cedar rail fences, honouring my island roots.

Basically – and probably like most of us gardeners – I have been flying by the seat of my pants and learning as I go, but last October I was lucky enough to take a six-week Master Organic Gardener – Working With Nature course, offered through the Gaia College on Vancouver Island.  Now let’s be clear about this – I “took” the course, which doesn’t grant me the lofty title of “a” master organic gardener. There are plenty of you out there with a wealth of experience and knowledge that I don’t have and probably never will. We did, however, cover many topics and studied the latest and best organic practices, with the emphasis on soil ecology and microbes and how that translates to healthy plants and good water management practices.

By learning and understanding how nature works in the garden, we can completely eliminate the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides, creating a healthier environment for ourselves and other precious and important life forms that dwell within our landscapes.

“In order to see a rainbow, you have to stand a little rain.”

That’s true, but if you’ve lost tourist or business dollars, got flooded out, or had to cancel a special outdoor event, rain can be an element of nature we don’t always want or appreciate.  I grew up near Grouse Mountain in Vancouver, where it could rain for weeks on end, but my mom would always say that if it wasn’t for the rain, we’d be living in a desert where nothing would grow, so be thankful for it.  But with the rains we’ve been having lately, I don’t see anybody out there singing in it!

We have so many ways of describing rainfall: precipitation, the heavens have opened up, pounding, punishing, driving, torrential, pelting, a downpour, a cloudburst, raining buckets or cats and dogs, a deluge, a west-coaster and a soaker rain.  Then there are showers, intermittent rains, sprinkling, spitting, drizzling and a misty rain.  We also have a couple of descriptive expressions for the wet stuff, but they so far remain unprintable.  When it’s pouring rain, we grumble under our breaths and mutter that it’s crappy out and only good weather for ducks!  But such is the nature of rain.

Rain can truly wreak havoc on our landscapes.  It can come down like a million watery missiles, hitting the ground at speeds of up to 25 mph – THWACK!  The impact can create big craters on an unprotected soil surface and the precious topsoil can be washed away, especially if your garden is on a slope.  The life forms and plants can easily be damaged or killed, so it’s really important to protect all of this with a good mulch or living ground cover.

Last year I mulched my gardens with solid shredded leaves, which turned out not to be the greatest, because the water couldn’t always penetrate through it.  This year I took the time to make a great mulch cover, which consisted of half partially composted wood chips – to allow the air and water through, a quarter shredded leaves from last fall and the rest fresh grass clippings.  (My cement mixer is good for this job or also in the large bucket of the power wagon.)  This will provide a great balance of carbon and nitrogen and it’s  rich and healthy looking.

Someone sent me a link on a fellow in Oregon who has started a garden movement called Back to Eden (Google the video). He has a very poor source of water for his giant garden and fruit trees, but he uses a good mulch cover every year, and he never has to water – ever. There was a gal in my Gaia class that was taking this big course because she and her husband had just bought a property in town that was chock-a-block full of gardens, but the previous owner’s water bills were a couple of thousand dollars a year and she wanted to learn better ways of maintaining, growing and watering them in order to reduce the bills.  She was elated and relieved to learn that the solution was to simply cover her gardens with a healthy organic mulch which would then trap the moisture, protect her soil surface, reduce the weeds, build up the underlying soil, provide good slow-release nutrients and provide food for her worms and microbes.

The rain can be a pain, but the silver lining is that it’s chlorine free and our nifty new smart meters aren’t counting the energy it’s costing you to use the water pump. Best of all, we don’t have to spend a bunch of time watering!

Rain rarely stops me from going out and working in the yard because I just protect myself from it with a good waterproof cover.  The same goes for our gardens.  Just protect it, so you don’t have to sweat it.