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Garden Blogging: Preparing for Rain

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Oct 11, 2012 at 12:41:09 PM PDT

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Rain is a big event in San Diego. We don't get very much of it. Drivers here aren't really sure how to drive in the rain. People plan their events outdoors and rarely need to have contingency plans in case it rains - because it never does. And for gardeners, each rainstorm is a major opportunity and a gift.

Today marks our first rain of the year. By May of 2013 and perhaps before then, we will be done with rain for good until fall. We definitely won't get much rain between now and then, but we will get SOME. And we don't know whether it will be well-distributed or not. A few years ago, we got six straight days of rain at Christmas, followed by an entirely dry January. So when the rain comes, you want to make sure you use it!

Jill Richardson :: Garden Blogging: Preparing for Rain
A few days ago, we all got excited about rain in the forecast for Thursday (today). By yesterday, we were giddy that it was not just rain in the forecast, it was a thunderstorm! And yet, here I am with this weedy yard with paint in the soil in some areas, and I am hardly ready to really take full advantage of a rainstorm. Time to get to work!

Rain serves a few purposes. It gets seeds to germinate better than all the hand watering in the world. Drip irrigation germinates seeds well, but only in the areas right around the hoses. Rain does the job EVERYWHERE. For anything direct seeded, especially over large areas, rain is crucial.

Instead of bringing in a bunch of compost and mulch materials, I'd prefer to generate my own via yard waste and cover crops. And to grow cover crops, I need rain. Once the seeds are germinated and the roots are established, I can take it from there with occasional hand watering if need be. But I need rain to germinate my seeds.

Rain also softens the ground, making it easy to dig holes to plant trees, loosen the soil to mix in soil amendments, and pull weeds. So with my yard full of weeds, a nice soft ground will be a welcome help to me.

If you are set up to fully take advantage of the rain, you can capture it and then use it long after the rainstorm has passed. You can do this with a rain barrel that captures the rain that falls on your roof or you can do this by making sure that the water that falls on your soil seeps into your soil and stays there. But most yards and lawns are set up to let the rain run off into the street and then into the gutter. This is especially true for our yard, which is on a hill. And it's also especially true when the soil is clay and water cannot penetrate it easily.

On the other hand, rain germinates weed seeds and - if you have paint in your soil as we do - rain can spread it throughout the yard instead of keeping it contained in the spot where it was dumped. And as the rain rolls off your yard into the gutter, it can take your soil and soil nutrients with it. Yikes!

My goals before this rainstorm was to put in place a few basic soil conservation measures - one swale in the front and another in the backyard. They will capture the rainwater and let it seep into the soil and it will also prevent erosion.

In the front, I planted sunflowers and tossed out seeds for buckwheat, a cover crop that is relatively low growing and won't require frequent mowing to keep it looking tidy.

In the back, I started some weeding near the house (and the paint) and planting a few sunflowers and some cover crops (ryegrass and hairy vetch). The sunflowers will remove any lead left in the soil from the era of lead paint and the ryegrass will help keep the soil in place and build the soil with its incredible root system. The vetch will fix nitrogen too. Ultimately, I want to put some non-edible plants along the house.

In the area where the chickens will go, I removed dirt with paint chips and then spread cover crop seeds (ryegrass, vetch). They will germinate and the chickens will eat them.

That's as much as I was able to do before the rain came. I took the lid off the compost so that it can get good and wet (it's so dry here in San Diego that we have to water our compost!), and I placed the lid against the house right where the downspout will let all of the water out. There's a hole under the downspout where all of the paint was dumped, so I am hoping that having the compost lid channel water away from there will prevent some of the paint from running into the rest of yard as much as it might have otherwise.

Now it's raining and there's nothing to do but sit inside, look out the windows, and enjoy the show.

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I remember the rain in Phoenix... (4.00 / 1)
...when I was living there for nine months as a kid.  We had one that I remember (and that may have been the only rain during those months!), and everyone in the apartment complex came out and sat on their stoops and their balconies to watch.  Everyone.  The sky got dark as midnight in the early evening, then boom!  Five minutes or so later it was over, and everyone went back to their routines.

Enjoy the show, indeed.

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