As farmers across the country are facing drought conditions and food prices are expected to rise, a vegetable gardener can find real benefits to living in Del Norte County.

Across our state farmers are already seeing grass dying and restrictions on water. With virtually no rain since January, farmers in some counties that are used to running water through May, June, and July have already been told the usual water supply is not available and they will only be able to use underground water.

They are keeping a close eye on the limited water table and realize higher pumping costs will also affect market prices. Limits on water will make it difficult and expensive to grow crops and feed livestock across the United States.

So for those of us who live in Del Norte County we can be very thankful for the ecology of the North Coast. Yes, it sometimes seems too rainy and yes the winds can present challenges, but with our moderate climate and available clean water this is an ideal environment to nurture a successful vegetable garden and prepare fresh, healthy meals for your family.

The clear skies in our area have given our farmers and gardeners the chance for an early start on planting. We have been able to start our planting at Ocean Air Farms earlier this year because of the limited rainfall, but with this opportunity come some challenges.

Gardeners need to be cautious that with our cool, clear nights, plants need some extra TLC. New seedlings need to be protected from the lower night time temperatures and winds.

The simplest solution is to apply a thick layer of mulch, which can be bark, straw, or hay. Sawdust can also be laid down before the mulch. Cold frames and sun boxes are good for hardening off seedlings that were started indoors.

A southern or southeastern exposure with a slight slope for drainage is best. This gives seedlings started in greenhouses a transition period in order to adjust to outside temperatures.

Simple cold frames can be constructed out of lots of different materials and patterns can be found on the Internet. An alternative is row covers. These can provide a greenhouse-like atmosphere and help the plants retain heat and protect against frost. They also help protect against insects and wind damage. They needs to be securely placed so wind will not damage them.

Right now at Ocean Air Farms we are transplanting from our greenhouses to the fields seedlings of broccoli, kale, lettuce heads, Pac Choi, and onions. We are direct-sowing seeds of carrots, lettuce mix, radishes, spinach, and cilantro.

We are just three weeks out from the start of our full-on planting season May 15. If you want to get started planting and would like to purchase seedlings, check out The Dutch Gardener's Spring Opening this Saturday.

If you are interested in supporting your local farmers and enjoying a bounty of farm fresh produce every week, we still have farm shares available. Contact us at

If you want to try your hand at gardening, but are a novice, we are teaching a free beginner gardening class this Saturday at 10 a.m. at College of the Redwoods. We will be showing basic soil preparation and how to start seeds.

This will be a hands-on class, so bring your gardening gloves and we would love to see you there!

Del Norte Gardening runs monthly. Paul Madeira and Julie Jo Ayer Williams own Ocean Air Farms in Fort Dick. Have a question or suggestion? Email it to ocean and it may be addressed in a future column.