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How to be your own weatherman.

How to be your own weatherman

Mercurial, given to extremes, and powerful enough to control your garden's fate, the weather deserves as much attention as you can give it. After all, even if you do everything else right--till, fertilize, water --much of your garden's success ultimately depends on the weather.

The more you know, the more you'll understand how the weather affects your plants. To keep track, you'll need a few instruments and a way to record your readings.

Instruments: some (like a birdbath) you probably have, some you don't

Some gardeners rely on natural clues to chart the weather: for example, judging how cold it is by checking the tightness of the curl on rhododendron leaves.

But for most of us, a more accurate way to monitor weather is with the instruments described here. You can buy them separately; try a hardware or nautical supply store, nursery, or scientific supply outlet. For a weather instrument source list, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Weather Watch, Sunset Magazine, 600 Logan Building, Seattle 98101.

Or you can install a rooftop weather station (several instruments in one; see pictures on page 237). It's a pricy but convenient alternative, especially when bad weather makes gauge-reading in your garden an endurance test. Units range from $350 to $1,500.

The instruments listed here are ranked in descending order of importance:

Minimum-maximum thermometer. Records the lowest and highest temperatures in a 24-hour period. Mount it out of the sun but not on a building wall or under an overhang (both may give false readings).

To find your garden's microclimates, use two such thermometers. In the evening, put each in a different location; compare the low readings in the morning. Note the chilliest locales and avoid them for frost-tender plants. Cost: $15 to $30.

Rain gauge. This measures how much water your garden gets--even from sprinklers. Situate your gauge out in the open, since large objects (buildings, trees) can block rain and give a false reading. Cost: $3 to $50.

Birdbath. Not just for bird-watchers, it can serve as a quick gauge for cold temperatures and humidity. Put yours in plain view; fill when necessary. In winter, check water for a skin of ice every morning. In summer, pay attention to how fast the water evaporates. When it dries up fast, water plants more. Cost: $32 and up.

Barometer. Measures atmospheric pressure --a good clue to short-term weather patterns. A rising barometer indicates a high-pressure cell (usually clear weather); a falling barometer marks a low-pressure system (clouds and precipitation likely). A fast-falling (or -rising) barometer is often accompanied by high winds. Cost: $25 and up.

Wind instruments. An anemometer ($80 and up) measures wind speed. Some even give averages so you'll know how much wind your plants endure--important since steady winds dry out soil and limit plant growth, flowering, and fruiting.

A weather vane ($45 and up) tells which direction the wind is coming from, often a tipoff for weather changes. For example, in northern California, south winds bring rain; in Southern California, winds from the northeast often mean hot, dry Santa Ana winds are starting up.

Field guides. Find one that helps you identify clouds and what they mean in terms of weather. One of the best is A Field Guide to the Atmosphere, by Vincent J. Schaefer and John A. Day (The Peterson Field Guide Series, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1983; $10.95).

Record-keeping is the key

Good records can link your instrument readings with your garden's performance: for example, how a poor fruit crop resulted from a heavy rain at bloom time, which kept bees away.

Keep records simple; jot them in a calendar or a spiral notebook. Include your instruments' readings, as well as sky conditions and unusual events (hail, thunderstorms). Do it each evening, when your minimum-maximum thermometer will have last night's low and today's high.

Briefly record what's happening in your garden: first iris, tent caterpillars, exceptional fall color on the sweet gum, when you picked the last plum.

Of course, even the best records won't guarantee your garden's success. But they can help you follow and understand garden-weather relationships, and anticipate them in the future.

Photo: The ultimate in weather-watching, this roof-mounted weather station (above) relays information into the house; you take daily readings indoors (below)

Photo: Fair or foul? A barometer can help you predict weather changes. When the needle drops, expect cloudy skies--the best time to transplant

Photo: Not just an ornament, weather vane shows wind direction, a clue to coming weather

Photo: Inside tube of this top-quality rain gauge precisely measures first inch of water; more than that spills into graduated outer tube

Photo: Too much wind stunts plant growth; this anemometer records how much a garden gets

Photo: How cold, how hot? A minimum-maximum thermometer tells you at a glance. Use it to find your garden's microclimates
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:devices
Date:Nov 1, 1987
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