We cannot control the weather; we simply have to take what nature throws at us. Nevertheless, there are some ways in which we can limit the worst of its effects.
Winds can be destructive. Not only can they knock over and break plants, but also wind-rock can cause a plant to move about so that it becomes loose in the soil or it can create a hole around the point at which the plant enters the soil. This fills with stagnant water, and the plant can rot. A dry or hot wind can remove moisture from leaves, making them wilt. Cold winds can create wind-burn, which shrivels leaves. Winds can also make it unpleasant to work in the garden, frequently making the gardener not only uncomfortable but also irritable – not the best of moods to produce a good vegetable garden.
A long catalogue of woes, but the wind can be tamed to a large degree by creating windbreaks of some sort. By far the best defence is a hedge, which filters the wind, cutting down its speed considerably but at the same time not creating turbulence. A wall, on the other hand, stops the wind dead, but it escapes over the top and creates turbulence on the far side, and this can be more destructive than the wind itself. An alternative to a hedge is a form of plastic netting that is designed especially to be used as a windbreak. This is not the most beautiful of materials, but it is extremely functional. Make sure that the poles supporting it are anchored securely because the netting will act as a sail and exert enormous pressure on its supports.
As a rule, a hedge or windbreak netting will create a “wind shadow” of about ten times the height of the barrier. In other words, a hedge 2m/6ft high will create a relatively wind-free
area of about 20m/60ft from its
base. The degree of protection decreases the further you get from the hedge, and at 20m/60ft from the hedge the decrease in wind speed is minimal.
Turbulence is reduced considerably by the use of double hedges or two rows of windbreak. Set a few yards apart, these give far greater protection than a single barrier.
There are two aspects to frost. The first is general winter cold; the second is those
sudden unseasonable frosts that can wreak havoc among tender, newly put-out plants.
Winter cold is not generally too much of a problem in the vegetable garden because most of the things left in the garden are hardy. In particularly cold areas or in very cold spells, it is a good idea to give protection to some of the permanent crops, such as globe
artichokes, by covering them with straw.
There is more of a problem if the garden is a cold one and the soil does not warm up until late in the spring. If your garden is like this, you will find it impossible to start gardening until then, and this makes early crops difficult to grow. There are several things you can do to help, however. If your vegetable garden is in a frost hollow – caused by cold air being trapped within it – it may be possible to “drain” it. Make a hole in the hedge or fence at the lowest point of the garden so that the air can flow through and continue down the slope. Alternatively, hedges may be placed higher up the slope to deflect the cold air as it moves downhill. Covering the soil with black polythene (plastic) or cloches will help warm up and dry out the soil so that you can start work on it earlier.
Sudden frosts can be a nightmare, especially if they are preceded by a warm spell that brings plants into early growth. Keep an ear or eye on the weather forecasts and cover tender plants if frost threatens. Use cloches, fleece or even newspaper.