Know Your Place

Before you plant your first seed, get to know your land.

by Tamara McFarland, Cooperation Humboldt

Humboldt and Del Norte Counties are replete with life-sustaining natural resources. We have everything we need to survive right here, and the more we learn how to meet our most basic needs as close to home as possible, the more resilient our community becomes.

When it comes to techniques and best practices for growing food, some things are universal, but many details depend on the characteristics of your bioregion and specific garden site.

To set yourself up for gardening success, take the time to learn about the place where you’ll be growing food. Get curious!

  • Who are the historical inhabitants of the place you call home? (Find out at What do they eat?
  • What is the highest summertime temperature and the lowest wintertime temperature at your site? Is it windy? Where is the sun? The shade? Where does water sit after a hard rain?
  • Is your soil mostly clay, or mostly sand? What has your site been used for in past years?
  • Talk to experienced gardeners. What are their favorite things to grow in this region? What are some of their hard-earned lessons learned?

It may seem daunting at first, but the more information you gather ahead of time, the more effective you’ll be once you touch trowel to soil. We’ve assembled some simple place-based information to support you in the following pages.

Within the rural expanse of Humboldt County, climactic and other conditions vary. Our USDA Plant Hardiness Zones range from 8b inland, where annual extreme minimum temperatures average 15-20 degrees (F) and summer high temperatures can reach the low 100’s, to 9b on the coast, with an annual extreme minimum temperatures average of 25-30 degrees (F) and where a 75 degree summer day constitutes ‘extreme heat.’

Wherever you’re gardening, it’s critical to know your Zone as well as the average dates of the last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall. This helps determine what to grow and when to plant.

Within each zone, microclimates also exist. A microclimate is a set of atmospheric conditions that differ from those in the surrounding areas; this may refer to areas as small as a few square feet (for example a garden bed or a cave) or as large as many square miles. These may be caused by proximity to water, surrounding surfaces, slope, and more. Becoming familiar with your microclimates is critical to your success. There are many ways to use microclimates to your advantage, either by matching existing conditions to a particular plant’s needs, or by making changes to your environment to create a microclimate. By planting a citrus tree along a south facing wall or fence to provide heat, you’re working with microclimates.

Learning to better understand and appropriately relate to the natural world that surrounds you is a lifelong process, and always worth the effort.

Posted in 2021 Community Food Guide.