Friday, July 6, 2012

Neighborhood Microclimate

My cousin and I were talking the other day about how she knows when to plant certain seeds in her garden. She says she just waits till her neighbor down the road posts a seed planting update on Facebook, and then she follows suit. I thought she might be putting a lot of faith in a neighbor until she told me this person grows 60% of her food right there in her urban yard. It got me thinking this person is probably the best resource my cousin has on when to plant. I also started to ponder how valuable a relationship like that can be to all of us who are trying to become more food self-sufficient.

This led me to thinking about microclimates. I wrote in another post about spring and fall frosts and "plant hardiness zones" and the importance of knowing which one you live in. But that is an oversimplification of your climate. There are many factors that can change the climate of where your garden is relative to the rest of your zone- including hills and valleys, buildings, and large bodies of water. This can be good or bad depending on where you live. For instance, if you live somewhere according to the climate maps doesn't experience enough cooling to grow things that need to vernalize, maybe your microclimate provides the cooling temperatures needed.

So what is a microclimate? From Cornell University Gardening resources page: 

"A microclimate is the climate of a small area that is different from the area around it. It may be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts.

Microclimates may be quite small - a protected courtyard next to a building, for example, that is warmer than an exposed field nearby. Or a microclimate may be extensive - a band extending several miles inland from a large body of water that moderates temperatures.

When you use the USDA Hardiness Zone and spring and fall frost-date maps, you need to be aware that your microclimate may make where you garden very different from the information found on the maps. If you are in a cold valley, your minimum winter temperatures may be lower than what the map indicates. As a result, you may actually be in a hardiness zone that is colder than that shown on the map, and some marginal plants may not survive your winters." 

The Cornell web page goes on to explain many different modifying factors, including (of course I'm highlighting this one) living in an urban area. I recommend checking it out. I also recommend getting out of your garden and talking with the neighbors. You may be enlightened.

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