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About Vernonia's voice. (Vernonia, OR) 2007-current | View Entire Issue (Jan. 5, 2010)
Diggin’ In The Dirt: Hardiness Zones in Oregon
Part 1: What It All Means For My Figs…
By Kim Camarda
One of the most confusing things about gar-
dening in the Pacific Northwest for me has been the
issue of “Hardiness zones.” Coming from Zone 3,
which is pretty consistent-- the weather is either cold
or not to varying degrees; the ground is frozen or not-- I
thought Zone 8b was going to be a paradise, practically
the tropics… Oh, the amazing things that would live
through the mild winters of Oregon…the flowers that
would reward me for all my hard work. Oh, the dreams
If only zone placement were all there was to it.
The zones are a good starting point, but you
still need to determine for yourself what will and won’t
work in your garden in a given spot.
Minimum temperatures are not the only factor
in figuring out whether or not a plant will survive/thrive
in your environment. Soil types, rainfall, daytime tem-
peratures, day length, wind, chill hours, humidity and
heat play their roles. Where there is shelter, where the
cold air stays put, etcetera. Your yard or garden space
is a special climate, not found in a book.
For example, under the USDA zone map, the
Olympic rain forest and the Sonoran desert are in the
The USDA plant hardiness map divides North
America into 11 hardiness zones. Zone 1 is the coldest;
zone 11 is the warmest. Only helpful in a general man-
ner. It’s a jumping-off point for areas like Vernonia.
Sunset Publishing has been publishing “The
Western Garden Book” for this part of the country for
many years. They have a different set of hardiness
zones for the region, a little more accurate but still not
reliable in places like this. In this map, they have iden-
tified 24 different climates for the west. This includes:
Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and all
This hardiness map takes into additional con-
sideration: latitude, the continental air influence, the
ocean air influence, and directional influences to a de-
“Latitude” impacts growing because the far-
ther you go from the equator the colder and longer the
winters are and daylight will increase in summer and
decrease in winter. A degree of latitude is approximate-
ly 69 miles.
“The continental air influence” plays its part as
well. The North American continent creates its own
weather, in a sense. The longer an air mass hovers over
a given area, the more likely it is to take on the char-
acteristics of that area. Also, the farther inland you go,
the stronger these influences can be.
The “ocean influence” can also generate
weather patterns. Some ocean currents, such as those
causing El Niño and La Niña, can have an effect on
temperatures and weather patterns all over the planet.
Some are cold water currents, carrying cooler water
from the arctic areas down toward the tropics. Others,
such as the Gulf Stream, do the opposite. All affect air
temperatures and humidity.
“Directional influence” or what side of the
mountain are you on? Mountains, hills and land for-
mations influence the weather and wind patterns be-
yond them in different ways. South slopes get more
heat from the sun than flat land. Slopes can also effect
airflow, depending on the orientation. Warm air rises,
cold air sinks. Hillsides are never as cold as the hilltops
above them or the lower ground around them. This is
called a ‘thermal belt.’ Lowlands that have cold air
flowing into them are called ‘cold air basins’.
All this will affect where and when to plant.
We are 621 feet above sea level here in Vernonia at
main street level. The surrounding areas can vary up to
150 feet. I have neighbors up the hill from me who get
snow when I’m dry. They are only 60 feet higher in el-
evation. Higher elevation gardens tend to have longer,
colder winters with lower nighttime temps.
The American Horticultural Society has cre-
ated a heat-related Zone Map showing max temps and
heat trends, and a chill map is published showing aver-
age chill hours for a given area. These will help form
an overall picture of Vernonia. My figs are still alive. I
was told when I bought them they were tolerant of this
part of Oregon. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the
time. Now it seems to mean it will make it through a
cold snap in the low teens.
Barnyard News: Which Came First?
By Dawn Carr
This month we’re
going to discuss Chickens.
The first question I’m going to
ask is, are they smart or are they stupid?
During the cold snap we had in
December, my husband put a heat lamp
in the hen house to keep them warm.
But my chickens were so scared of it
that they roosted outside in the 4 degree
weather. So instead of the 250 watt bulb
we had originally put in, we decided to
go with a 75 watt heat lamp. Well, the
Leghorns were fine with it, but not the
White Rocks. They were having none of
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it. So, in all fairness, we took it out and
they all roosted in the house that night.
So, stupid or smart?
I went on the Web looking at
chicken rumors, myths and facts. This
is what they had to say: There are some
stupid chickens. And there are some re-
ally stupid chickens. But not all chick-
ens are stupid. Similar to how wild
sheep are much more intelligent than
domesticated sheep, the more wild the
chicken breeds are, the more intelligent
the chickens typically are. Nature tends
to weed out stupidity. Any animal that
is not intelligent enough to survive gets
eaten, can’t find enough to eat or dies
some other way. The less intelligent or
weaker of a species don’t get a chance to
reproduce and pass on their genes to off-
spring. That’s what happens in nature.
But when we step in, things change.
Instead of them having to fight for sur-
vival, we protect the animals, and select
not the most intelligent or best animals
to mate, but instead the best egg-laying
or meat producing. Which makes sense
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So now let’s talk about the
things you can do during the cold weath-
er to help your chickens. First, let’s dis-
cuss the availability of water. Chickens
need fresh water daily-- not a frozen
block of ice found in the morning when
you check the flock. So this is what I
have seen work. Instead of buying a $45
heater to go under your water container,
put a submersible fish tank heater in it.
This will help keep it from freezing. Just
make sure not to let the water tank get
empty. You can spend anywhere from
$10 to $30 on a heater. I picked one up
at Creatures pet store for around $10.
Make sure you follow the directions on
the heater. One time, I turned on a heater
and then put it in the water. BIG mis-
take! It broke the minute it hit the water.
Luckily no one was hurt-- not even the
fish in the aquarium.
OK, now let’s discuss frostbite.
Roosters and hens with larger combs/
wattles are more prone to frostbite.
Make sure your hen house has good air
exchange, making sure damp air is not
trapped. I also read that you can use
Vaseline on the comb/wattles to help
prevent frostbite in the colder months.
But I also read that it is not advisable to
use after frostbite has occurred.
Another thing to consider is egg
production. Putting a light up to extend
daylight hours helps the hens to keep
producing, and putting your light on a
timer helps keep constant daylight hours
for your hens. Using a timer will also
help you-- this way you
aren’t going out to turn it on or off, mak-
ing your chicken experience more en-
I guess the moral here is-- it
doesn’t matter if your chickens are smart
or stupid, as long as you’re smart about
caring for them.
Hope you had a very Merry
Christmas and a safe and happy New