It would be hard for anyone to deny that the hot temperatures we had last week in Tillamook County are not normal. We just don’t see 100° in the city of Tillamook or 98° in Garibaldi very often. Thank goodness! I have been so spoiled with the moderate summers and winters on the North Oregon Coast that I don’t think I could stand those kinds of temps for an extended period of time without melting into a small puddle on the ground. Especially when we see them as early in the year as we did. Those are temperatures for maybe late August, not late June.
And who can comfortably work in the garden when the temperatures reach the 95-degree mark? Certainly not me.
But I was reading an article last week by Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University Climate Scientist. He has been studying the climate in California for many years and made the statement that “California is now in a new climate. We are in a climate now where, essentially, all of our years are warm years. We are getting these very severe heat waves as a result. We are getting rapid snow melt that means that water supply that we have counted on in the past is much less reliable and the vegetation is much drier." He also said the fall fire season in California is starting much earlier and becoming more severe.
Of course, that is California, but we can’t deny that Oregon’s summers have become warmer and drier and, as a result, our risk of fire is greater here, too. We all shudder to remember the fire in the hills near Bay City last year which brought smokey skies to north and central county.
A June 17, 2021 report - issued by Oregon Department of Forestry and penned by ODF’s Lead Meteorologist Pete Parsons - lists Tillamook County as being in the “Abnormally Dry” area of the state with above-average temperatures in July and August and lower-than-normal rainfall.
So, if the scientists are saying this may become the new normal for western states in general, what does that mean for local gardeners? Watering our plants and trees to keep them hydrated becomes crucial in a hot, dry summer to keep them alive. But the possibility of lower water levels is an issue as well. I like to save the gray water from my washing machine’s rinse cycle to water my hanging baskets. I also fill containers with the water from the kitchen facet when I am waiting for the hot water to make it into the sink to wash dishes. Since this is clean water, I have no qualms about using it to water vegetables in the garden. We also have a rain barrel which catches water from the roof during a rain. It has a screened lid to prevent mosquitos from laying eggs. Mine came from Gardener’s Supply many years ago and it has really come in handy when past summers have been dry. There are many systems you can have installed (as long as it is permitted by city ordinances) that will capture more rain than the one barrel we have.
Gardeners need to be smart when making future plant choices and pick the ones that will survive a hotter, drier summer while still being okay (we hope!) with a wet winter. Mediterranean plants and herbs are good choices. A topic for a future column!
But we also need to be aware of the possibility of fire, and there are things we can do to alleviate the risk of fires near our homes. Dr. Diffenbaugh recommends clearing space around our homes and out building from combustible matter. Some plants are more ignitable than others, too. We can also reduce ignitions of fires as 90% of fires in California are human-caused, and I would imagine a like statistic in Oregon and Washington as well. This means we need to become more aware of our surroundings when we are making camp fires, lighting barbeque grills, setting off fireworks, or even smoking when the grasses and brush around us are so dry.
To quote a famous American, Smokey Bear, “Only you can prevent forest fires!”