Garden Planning?

Gardening with Drought and Wildfires

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Gardening with Wildfires

I’ve been in a thick of wildfire smoke this summer.

With a garden struggling with yet another season of drought and wildfire smoke. 

Truth is I lost my gardening and homesteading mojo this summer. It disappeared when the wildfire smoke got so bad that we couldn’t go outside.

We spent the last few weeks of summer with some of the worst air quality in the world.

Staying at the 10+ risk for air quality for many weeks takes away your summer (not to mention restless kids!). Beautiful British Columbia summers are no longer the same as they used to be.

My gardening also changed.

This is the 3rd summer in a row where we’ve had very bad wildfires.

Drought has increased in many places. B.C. Canada is where we live, and it’s been terrible for a few years now. In the U.S. California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and other states are also dealing with drought and wildfires all summer long. Other places of the world have been dealing with drought for much longer.

Drought here is a new feeling, I grew up here and don’t recall summers being like this. B.C. Canada has always been known for rich forests, rain or snow and biodiversity. For a couple summers in a row, we haven’t been able to go camping, enjoy as many beach days or enjoy outdoor adventures as frequently. That’s why we moved back to the mountains, to enjoy all of those things.

B.C Wildfires have been getting worse
Nelson B.C hidden in a haze of wildfire smoke

Wildfires and drought are bad for gardening and homesteading (and general life!) for many reasons:

  • The smoke blocks out the sun reducing the heat that many summer veggies need to ripen.
  • Drought causes a lot of plant stress so many garden veggies and flowers. Some are more drought tolerant like our wildflowers.
  • With drought comes water restrictions reducing your ability to water your garden. Sometimes a vegetables garden is still permitted, or hand watering at certain times.
  • Not being able to go outside means the weeds take over very quickly. This reduces space for your garden crops to grow and means a lot of catch up work once you can finally get into the garden.
  • It’s depressing. Not being to enjoy the summer is a serious downer. Here in Canada, we’re used to being down for the last stretch of winter. Experiencing this feeling during summer sucks! The sun getting blocked out also creates a really ‘eerie’ feeling, it’s cold and dark during the day which feels strange.
  • Pollination suffers depending on when the wildfires start, often the smoke makes bees lethargic. I grew a lot of flowers for the bees this summer and luckily our garden had a lot, but I did notice reduced squash and pumpkin pollination.

ONE nice thing? The sun and moons are extra red so it’s neat to look at. This isn’t worth all the cons (obviously!).

Mountain valley sunset in wildfire smoke

What’s a garden lover to do?

Having dealt with this for many summers in a row, will I change my garden planning next year?

Most likely. The heat loving crops definitely suffer. I’ll need to consider mulching a lot more to suppress weeds when I can’t get into the garden. Things like drip irrigation or ollas (Lovely greens shows you how to make some!) might be worth looking into.

Have you dealt with gardening in wildfires or drought?

What changes have you had to make?

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  1. It took us quite a while to get used to the drier climate of Colorado (came from Wisconsin). Over the years we have tried, failed, tried again and succeeded on a ton of different watering ideas. The best we have found is putting our drip lines underground as close to the roots as possible. We can mulch some things, but just have to work on weeds the old-fashioned manual way. The smoke was very heavy here in northeastern Colorado for the last 8-10 weeks. Most of it is coming from California, some from other western state and some right here in the mountains. Our summers seem to have gotten hotter with a lot more wind. The cool fall season (my favorite by the way) seems shorter. We just go from hot to cold almost instantly. Since we are bull-headed Irish/Germans (thanx mom and dad) we keep working on new methods to grow stuff. We have tons of ways to process once it matures, the hard part these last few years is reaching maturity. We keep trying! You hang in there too! Maybe we will all get through this together.

    • Thank you so much Rachel for sharing that with me. I love fall too, it comes fast here too, dropping 15 degrees very quickly. I’m an avid fall and winter gardener, but losing August is something I’m still adapting to. I tried going out into the smoke to weed but only had a couple of days in August.

      I think in the coming years I’ll figure out how to work around this.. hopefully.
      Best of luck with your gardening too


  2. I live in East Texas where we faced a 5 year drought. We usually have issues with humid, hot conditions. I had planted mainly plants that could withstand drought and mulched like crazy. I placed all my soaker hoses under the mulch. That seemed to help. What I did not expect was the dryer air. Are seasons are opposite of yours. We plant Fall to spring with summer being too brutal. During the summer, I kept everything mulched heavily and followed the watering rule of watering: if the dirt was dry lower than 1 inch. The mulch retained the water quite well along with compost amended into the soil. I also grew shade tolerance veggies as the neighbor’s tree is now casting shade on my garden. As far as the smoke, I wore a hepa mask. The mulch kept the weeds down. The roots of the few plants that can live through our summers dug in deep. During the dry winter (lowes only to the 40-30 mainly) I had to keep the beds mulched and thickly planted to prevent too much evaporation. Soaker hoses were again used as they were one of the few watering tech allowed in our town and we were only allowed to water 1-2 times a week. I only watered the rest of the yard about 5-6 times each year. The plants that made it though are thriving. I did not try to save the other ones if they did not revive after 1-2 attempts to baby. Same with the garden. If the plants did not do well, I changed when I planted them.
    I hope this helps.

    • Thank you so much for sharing that Donna, it sounds like you’ve made some great changes to garden in your climate. I’ll look into that mask, it was something we were thinking about this past summer because we couldn’t go outside. Most masks don’t fit the little ones though and I have kids ages 1-8 (although I could wear one to get some weeding done after hubby is home from work!).

  3. I Live in Australia where drought is cyclical and bush fires are usually a given. Having said that, we haven’t had bad fires in NSW for a few years although they are predicting a bad summer this year.
    For the garden, heavy mulching with straw is a necessity, watering in the evening or early morning and going without high water crops such as lettuce is normal as it bolts very quickly Dec – March. The tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, zucchinis etc do well in these conditions. We live in a temperate climate that isn’t as extreme as out west; our winters in the highlands usually are moist but the last two winters have been without more than a drizzle.
    Sorry you lost your summer. My husband is from NW Ontario and I have spent quite a few winters there. I KNOW what it’s like to long for summer. To be cheated out of it by smoke would be terrible.

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