March 6, 1998

This has been an El Niņo year here in the Pacific Northwest, without a doubt. The weather folks have hesitated to pronounce that as fact; after all, we couldn't really expect them to make predictions, could we? But now in hindsight they are admitting to what all of us have been noticing for the past three months.

After two extremely wet winters (even by our standards), we've been blessed with a relatively dry season this time. Much of our rain has been shunted down to California, where I imagine they are now wondering if being in a drought was really such a bad thing. Our temperatures have certainly been milder than usual, in terms of extremes - my USDA Zone 8 garden hasn't seen anything lower than 24F this time. In contrast, though, my garden has seen more than its share of frosts due to the increased frequency of clear nights (normally a rarity here). People closer to Puget Sound's temperature moderating effects have been complaining about a bountiful supply of slugs, while I haven't been finding many of them at all!

Since, as I mentioned, we haven't had nearly as soggy of a winter as is the norm, I've taken a few chances with pushing the spring gardening season. I planted a couple beds of peas on January 31, which is a month or more ahead of the usual target date here. As is typically the case whenever I sow anything, we immediately had several good frosts during the first week of February. Fortunately the peas, protected by a floating row cover and a sheet of clear plastic (did I mention this happens every time I plant early?), did fine and are several inches out of the ground already. Some lettuce, spinach, and mustard also was put out a few weeks early, and seems to be thriving under a row cover.

Several of my fall crops have survived due to the mild winter temperatures. Some things which were a write-off last year have actually produced this winter! Some late cauliflower, which did not head because I had sown them too late in the summer, produced tasty flowers around mid-February. The fall broccoli also made it through, and has been throwing off side shoots for the past month.

Another positive effect of this year's weather has been the early start on growth that some of the overwintered vegetables have made. Leeks, garlic, garden cress, lettuce, radicchio, and onions all have been making substantial growth since January. On the downside, though, the root crops broke dormancy early as well. The carrots and parsnips especially are getting quite "hairy" already, and probably won't taste good for much longer.

I haven't mentioned the grass yet. I don't know if other gardeners hate lawn care as much as I do. Normally I really look forward to taking the winter off from mowing. With this warm winter, though, the grass has kept growing. It's easily 8 inches high in some spots already!

All things considered, it's been a great winter. Even those of us who have grown up here often get really tired of the constant cloud cover by March. It's been nice to have the sun as a semi-frequent visitor for once! Sitting outside with a friend, a latte in your hand, enjoying a bright January afternoon - who wouldn't love it?


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This page was last updated November 18, 2013