SEATTLE — It’s rained more almost four feet at Sea-Tac International Airport since our rainy season officially began October 1. Officials with the National Weather Service Office in Seattle say that’s the wettest October-to-April stretch since they’ve been keeping records for more than a century.
This record wet weather is causing problems for gardeners and local farms, too.
“Too much of a good thing,” nods Maren Neldam.
The Bellevue native and garden educator is with Tilth Alliance, a new Washington state nonprofit that resulted from a merger between Seattle Tilth, Tilth Producers of Washington and Cascade Harvest Coalition. She says our 44-plus inches of rain this season is having consequences for both gardeners and farmers.
“When the soil is saturated, it’s unworkable.” Neldam says.
She adds that the ground can get compacted, seeds can float away in soaked farm fields, and in raised garden beds the nutrients can leach out of the soil.
“If we were to dig in when it was still wet,” says Neldam, “we can create this impervious clogs that will be really difficult to break up later in the season.”
Pike Place vendor Mike Osborn said, “But, the wet weather up and down the West Coast translates to a four- to six-week delay in the typical growing season. As a consumer, even as someone who wants to plant their own things, you can’t plant.”
Osborn has run Sosio’s Produce in the market for decades and says the higher prices and lack of availability are already here.
“With the California situation and the situation up here, it’s been a double whammy.”
Broccoli and some leafy greens in his booth are going for top dollar and avocados here run about $5 each.
“Your first initial warm-up is only when they’re going to plant. You’re not going to get a crop just because it warms up.”
Osborn says he thinks it will take another month for growers locally and in the Golden State to catch up when prices will finally fall back toward normal.
There are a few bright spots in Northwest agriculture.
“Because of it, so many different cultivars are thriving,” says florist Michael Spicer of Alm Hill Gardens out of Everson in Whatcom County. Spicer says the traditional pick-me-up flower of spring can be enjoyed for many more weeks. “Tulip season is stretching longer,” he says.
“For your own yard, think about tilling gently and adding organic matter on the top of your garden beds. Letting gravity and any more spring rain take those nutrients down deeper.
Tilth Alliance has some advice for you: Go easy on your garden.
"The more you dig deeply into the garden," says Tilth Alliance educator Maren Neldam, "you can potentially break up some of that beautiful soil structure, oftentimes. We're working to build on top of the soil and prevent compaction to begin with."
She says an ounce of prevention in the fall is worth a pound of cure in the
spring when it comes to wet soil. Covering your garden beds with burlap, straw or planting a cover crop like clover can do great things when it comes to keeping your soil intact after heavy winter rains.
If you'd like some more garden advice, you can call the Garden Hotline. It's a free service of the Washington state nonprofit. They can be reached during normal business hours at 206-633-0224.