How to Deal with a Wet Spring in the Vegetable Garden

Learn how best to handle a soggy season in your vegetable garden or field of vegetables by properly preparing your soil and crops.

By Adobe Stock/goodmoments

Gardeners and farmers don’t control the weather. Especially in spring, unpredictable heavy rains sometimes mean water can’t drain away fast enough, leaving soil impossible to work. How do we adapt when it’s too wet? What are our best options for planning ahead?

 As part of your rainfall preparedness, think about the average weather in your locality. Figure out which crops are already marginal in your climate, and decide whether they’re important enough to warrant extra protection.

Primary Prevention

For crops you do decide to keep, try the following tips to prevent flooded plants and soil erosion. First, where feasible, plan to use raised beds or ridge planting to help excess water drain sooner. Minimize tillage, because tilling accelerates nutrient burn-up and the loss of organic matter. Also avoid tilling right before a forecast of heavy rain. Instead, use a broadfork, which will open up the soil and allow it to dry faster. You might be able to mow, which will prevent weeds from seeding and prevent any cover crop or previous food crop from getting bigger. Or, lay tarps over the cover crops and weeds and wait for them to die. You might also use a string trimmer, a scythe, or a flame weeder to bring down unwanted vegetation. We successfully used our wand-style flamer to kill weeds in the potato patch one spring when it was too wet to hill the potatoes.

Increase the organic matter content in the soil so it can absorb more water in a manageable way, without compacting and becoming anaerobic. Incorporate compost, cover crops, organic mulches, crop debris, and weeds, all of which improve soil structure, organic matter, and humus. The effect of compost lasts longest. If you’re practicing no-till methods, lay these materials on the soil surface and expect the incorporation and benefits to be slower to arrive.

Maximize the volume of living roots in the soil from food and cover crops, and use both deep-rooted and shallow-rooted crops; root channels improve soil structure and drainage. Keep these roots in the soil all the time, or as much of the time as possible, whether they’re alive or dead, to tie the soil together and prevent erosion. Consider no-till cover crops, which will become mulch. Their roots will support microbial growth, form active organic matter, and rapidly release nitrogen to the plants. Low-growing, noninvasive cover crops can be planted in pathways.

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