Gardening in dry and cold conditions

I'm planning to do a makeover of my garden, it's no way near as productive as I would hope for it to be and with last summer in mind and the fact that we already have wildfires in some parts of Sweden I want to make the garden more drought resistant. We had a very hot and dry summer, by july we weren't allowed to irrigate, our watersource wasn't able to supply everyone with water. I want to be better prepared if we get a similar situation this year. I've been looking into different gardening methods and also taking in to consideration that I do live in a climate where I simply can't grow vegetables directly into the ground if I expect them to do well. I'll try to use a combination of different methods so that I can solve the issues I'm having or may be facing.

The first thing I learned from permaculture was to see that the problem is what leads me to a solution. I had to look at what my issues were in order to find a way to a solution. I think I'm on to something here, but I have to try it to know that it's really working. Below you can read more about the methods I'm planning to combine. I'll explain what I think will benefit me in my garden, but you'll get more information about every method as well by both videos and links to useful articles.

I live on the edge between polar zone and temperate zone about 20 kilometers south of the arctic circle. We get temperatures below - 30 deg C every winter and sometimes it even drops below - 40 deg C. The ground are frozen solid and stays frozen until spring hits us with sunlight around the clock and literally an explosion of growth. I used a weather service to get better knowledge about how long our growing season actually are. That might be useful when you choose what varieties to grow as well. In general by looking at statistics we have about 95 days without frost. In this short time we get loads of sunlight when the sun never sets, but that doesn't change the amount of time vegetables need to grow in order to be harvested. One way to improve the growing conditions where it's cold is to use raised beds, but with the climate change I so strongly believe we are facing I think it's best to be prepared for shortage of water as well. If I'm wrong about what lies ahead I'd still benefit from the changes I'm planning to make. In this case I'd rather be wrong, but only time will tell.

Keyhole gardens

Round garden beds designed as the shape of a keyhole using a composting bin in the middle of the raised round bed. (I can't help it but I think of Pacman every time I see the sketch I made for my garden) There's also a keyhole designs for garden beds where the keyhole is used for access into the beds, but I'll be using the method where you have a composting bin in the middle of the bed. These method will reduce the use of water as well as feed the soil surrounding the compost bin. I like that it's used in such hot areas as Africa, my hot summer months are no way near comparising to the climate there, but I will benefit from the design as well.

Besides that it reduces the need to irrigate. It also solves my problems with composting, instead of just having one compost bin in my garden I can have one in each garden bed and use kitchen or garden waste directly into the garden. There are different ways of building the keyhole garden, it doesn't have to be bricks. I'm going to use chicken wire and I'll be using weaved cloth inside the wire to keep the soil inside the beds and I will be building a higher version since I need it to warm up faster in the spring. Somewhere during my research for this I've heard that even loundry baskets could be used as composting bins so there really isn't any limitation to what materials can be used.


Garden beds that acts like a hot bed, reduces the need to fertilize and irrigation by using layering of different materials. Similar to lasagna gardens, but it's layered a bit different.

I'll be layering materials like the picture shows in my keyhole beds, not only to fertilize and reduce the need for irrigation, but I won't be needing as much soil to be able to start planting either.

The hugelkultur adds nutrition to the soil and the logs and branches in the bottom acts as a sponge and retain water in the beds. That will reduce the need for irrigation even more. It's also a great way to make use of the materials we get from bushes, small trees and other plants. I've started a number of new beds by using old plants as a layer in the bottom of the bed and adding soil on top. With hugelkultur I can use more of the wooded materials that my garden is producing every year from pruning. It'll also be beneficial to our invironment, you can read more about that in the article from The Off Grid News below.

More about Hugelkultur:

Off The Grid News - Hugelkultur: The better Gardening Method Your (European) ancestors Used

Craft Thyme -How to build a Hugelkultur Raised bed and why you should

back to eden

I don't think anyone else can explain this method better than Paul Gautschi himself. There's a lot of good information in this documentary.

I need to look at the work I'm putting into my garden, by using deep mulch on some areas I'll reduce weeds, add to building up the soil and reduce the need for irrigation.

I have a big issue with grass, I've been fighting a war in my garden for over 15 years and my attempts of using mulch haven't been successful in such a way that I can say I've won the war. I found the answer to my issues with mulch while reading about permaculture. I did it the right way, but I didn't use enough mulch.

It's hard to know what is enough and every area where I've tried mulch have been reclaimed by the grass growing in my kitchen garden. The battle is for real. Roots of the grass keeps going into every growing area I've prepared. My hope is that by following the directions about how to layer mulch I can actually win the war. I'll be adding edges so that grass can't reclaim areas that I've once prepared. It's easier to see the weeds that grow on top, but it's damn near impossible to fight off things I can't see.

I'll be using mulch in areas surrounding the keyhole beds, that way I'll fight off any grass that might be able to creep up into the beds and I'll also add more growing space where I'll be able to grow things like chives and strawberries, rhubarb and different herbs or greens that doesn't have the need to be in a raised bed to do well. Some plants prefer a shady spot and they'll get that behind the raised keyhole beds. I'll also be able to add more and more areas to my kitchen garden by using deep mulch, the only solution I've had so far has been to dig and remove the grass and all of the roots. That would be a far to big task for me to handle and if I can do it without digging I will. In time the mulch will also add to the quality in the soil in my garden.

Using plants to build up soil

Mother earth has a rule of covering soil and in order to do that cover crops are often used to improve soil. In other areas this might be a great idea, but for me it wouldn't work as it's supposed to. I can't use it as a wintercrop when nothing is growing so I can only use it during the short growing season. I would use it if I ever had to leave an area empty for some reason, but instead I came up with another idea. I need to improve my soil quite extensively, one area in perticular is my perennial flower bed. I have really bad sandy soil and the perennials are hardy enough to come back every year no matter the weather, but in order for them to thrive I need better soil. When I water I wash off the nutrients I've added and the water isn't staying for long in that sandy soil.

I'll start by covering the soil with garden waste such as dry leaves and then I'll add weeds during the summer, but I also realized I can use annual plants that grow really well here and cut them down to add nutrition to the soil surrounding my perennials. I'll be growing peas that adds nitrogen and squash for both the roots and the green leaves and steams. I hope that by covering the soil with dry material it will keep the moisture in the soil right from the start and in time add more nutrition from the plants I'll be using. Squash grow well here and besides the green matter I'll get from the plants they will add some shade to the roots on existing plants with their big leaves. If I can get a good crop of squash in the process I'll be even happier. I know there's other plants that can be used, but I'm sure it's different in every location what plants are best to use. Everything that grow leaves and stems are useful either by roots left in the ground or as mulch.

Location and micro climate

I can point out spots in my yard where there's almost impossible for me to have a garden, I can tell by the snowload and how long the snow stays in that spot. The last place that has snow on the ground is behind our house, sun never gets to it and we often have to shovel it around to get rid of it. In front of our barn is a great spot for gardening, but I have to be careful what I use. Any construction that can't handle the snow that comes off the roof during spring will be getting crushed. My plan is to use raised beds and whatever I'll plant there has to be annual. I might be able to get a great crop of tomatoes but I can't leave anything but the frame when fall comes. The downside is that in general I have to use the greenhouse to get tomatoes to ripe enough to be picked. I haven't tried any smaller varieties so far, but I aim to.

I have a high spot where my greenhouse and most of my raised beds are and that's one of the first places where snow melts off, but there's a road running right past it. I've tried to use trees and low bushes to stop some of the dust and winds that comes from the road and we are planning a better fencing than the netting we used when we moved here. For some reason people didn't get that we lived here so they continued to let the dogs do their business in our yard and that wasn't so great for us with two small children. So we used what we could find without putting all that much work into it. Now that fence is about to be replaced for several reasons and our plan is to build a wooded fence instead. With the trees already planted and the fence I'll probably gain even more since that'll keep the heat from escaping the garden. We get winds that goes from one corner of the yard to the opposite corner. Even with a group of lilacs in the middle there's still some winds coming through. We got fully aware of that a few years back when we pruned the hedge along one side and we pruned them good. I'll never do that again, it turned out to be the coldest summer I've ever experienced and I could constantly feel that chill from the winds coming through the yard.

More about micro climates:

Northern Homestead -Micro Climates in a Northern Garden

There's a lot of information to be found on how to use windbreaks, but I'm gonna be so bold to say that I think any trees and shrubbery is better than none at all.

When using fences to avoid winds there's a rule of thumb to use fencing that sift the wind otherwise it might create more consentrated winds right behind the fence as described in this picture.

There's also ways to retain heat in areas by using rocks and boulders. Stone store heat during daytime and then it slowly radiates during the cooler evenings and nights. Old tires can also be used as planters for non-edible plants to both reduce winds and to retain heat when placed near plants that need a little extra to thrive or smaller areas.

I truly hope that this gives you some ideas about what can be done to reduce the need to irrigate and grow more food in your own garden. It's that time of year, spring is nearly here and I'm so looking forward to give this a try. My plan is to start with a couple of the keyhole garden beds and add mulch to areas that are available this year. If you try any of the methods or if you have anything to add to this article, please leave me a comment by following the links in "Everyday life" and comment on any of my blogposts. Make sure that you add what article we are talking about so that I know.

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