The good, the bad and the ugly of living in a Mediterranean climate

The Good
While much of the United States (even parts of California only a couple hours drive away) are knee deep is frigid, snowy drifts, the unique Mediterranean climate of the San Francisco Bay Area has been beautifully (and unseasonably) lovely and warm this January. Ours is not like the most famous California climate found in Los Angeles--home of Hollywood and Disneyland. That climate is a good 7 hour drive away to our south. So we aren't used to balmy January weather quite like we've been having. For example, two days ago it was 77F/25C outside in the afternoon without a cloud in the bright blue sky. That's weird--even for those of us who have lived here all our lives.

I've always counted myself very lucky to live in one of the few "Mediterranean climates" in the world. Here's a world map showing the rarity of these conditions that I am fortunate enough to consider my own.

Believe me... I do not for one minute take this privilege for granted. When we have a beautiful January as we have been having, I soak it up with the full and grateful heart of one who has lived in extreme winter conditions in the past. I know I am blessed when I am able to go out into my garden and expect to see the first jonquils blooming some time in January. I am honored whenever I spot the first almond tree in bloom in late January. I feel a thrill every time I discover the first camellia blooms in January or February because I see them as the miracle they truly are.

The Bad
Living in these unique circumstances makes it challenging to be a home produce gardener. I can't follow the same gardening practices seen in general gardening magazines and websites (the only magazine I can turn to is Sunset magazine because it's written for the western United States). It has taken me quite a while to shift my thinking away from the traditional way of approaching growing food.

For one thing, I have to plan for summers without rain. I know that I shouldn't expect rain from around May until October at the height of growing summer veggies and fruits. Although I have the luxury of having a year-round garden, I know that there are certain things that will not grow in my summer garden such as lettuce, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, peas and kale. I have to plant them to grow during the winter. Freshly picked salad greens are not something I can enjoy during the summer.

The other challenge is that when we are having a gorgeous rainless January as we are currently having I can't grow any of those above mentioned veggies during the winter either. Normally, the winter rains provide the necessary moist and cool conditions those veggies need. But I haven't been able to get my nitrogen-producing "cover  crop" of clover and alfalfa to sprout around the base of my citrus trees, let alone successfully maintain a bed of moisture-loving lettuce.

The Ugly
These warm and rainless January days happen every few years. It's a part of life here. And it's never fun in the midst of it because the local weather forecasters love to latch on to the possibility of a drought. Every night we are told how many inches of rainfall we are below normal. During a year when we have plentiful rain, we're given the stats from the angle of how far above normal we are and how it could all possibly change on a dime.

I am quick to remind myself that this has very little to do with "global climate change". A few months ago, I was transcribing a handwritten letter from mid-January 1948 (66 years ago). The letter was written by a husband newly located to this area from Minnesota. He was writing to his young wife who was still back home while he scouted out prospects for employment here. He wrote his letter while sitting on a Bay Area hillside. He said:
"The weather is so nice--not too hot & lots of sunshine. They are all worried here because of the lack of rain. It hasn't rained once after the day we arrived--no clouds just sunshine & warm."
Apparently, even 66 years ago the locals were having the same discussions during a rainless January that we are now. And I don't think "global climate change" was a factor in the discussion back then. To the newly transplanted Minnesotan the weather was marvelous. But to the locals... not so much.

Like I said, this happens every few years. It's just a part of life here. The constant possibility that our reservoirs and groundwater (as well as the snow pack in the Sierras a few hours drive north and east of us) won't get replenished enough during the winter to last through our rainless summer is a specter that Bay Area residents have looming in their minds each and every year as we head out of summer into October and November. And when we see week after week of no rain in the weather forecast during December and January, we start to get very concerned. We know that there needs to be enough water for each of our own gardens as well as the 80,500 farms and ranches up and down California that provides more than half of our nation's fruit, nuts and vegetables (click here to read the breakdown by crop). Here in the Bay Area, we also know that the northern part of our state will have to provide the water for all the arid regions of the southern part of state. We take water very seriously around here.

What do we do when faced with dismal weather forecasts and thirsty soil in January? The only thing we can do...

with childlike faith...
with conviction...
for a miracle. 

(We in California would be most appreciative for prayers from anywhere right now.)
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  1. ...and please make sure to pray for cold rain originating from the Gulf of Alaska, which provides snow in the Sierra for the water storage Cindy mentions... we really need it.

  2. I so hope some welcome rain comes your way. I've lived in San Diego, but most of my life has been spent in areas of the country that are wintry and this winter has been one for the books. But I know what you mean, no matter how wonderful someone else's warm and sunny climate may seem, there are always a set of problems that come along with it. Just as there are problems that come with our four seasons!


  3. Well, I don't know. I think I could put up with the bad and the ugly for a little bit of the good. *wink* Around here, the challenge is to find plants that can withstand drought in the summer, temperatures as low as 45 degrees below freezing in the winter, and winds that average 25km - 45km. an hour. :o/

    Our 'garden' is currently a frozen wasteland.

  4. Cindy, I had to chuckle at your description of your weather predictors, because that is exactly how they are here too. :) Nothing is ever normal - we're either above or below, we're having floods or we're worried about drought. *sigh* But like you, I just try to relax and enjoy whatever weather is thrown our way, and I do pray when I have concerns. Otherwise, I just trust that God will provide what is needed and have faith that everything will work out. And you know what? It always has in the past. Our climates sound amazingly similar, we're just a bit cooler than you are. We've had some mid 50's to low 60's and I'm anxiously awaiting my daphne to bloom sometime in February. But, also like your climate, we're experiencing a much drier than normal 2013 and now 2014. It has some people pretty nervous, but I've lived here all my life, and the rains always come. There's not much I can do about it, but pray, so I choose to relax, have faith and enjoy this awesome winter we're blessed with. I will keep California in my prayers though, I know you are in need of a lot of water.

  5. Cindy, I think the one magical time I got to visit must have been during your perfect weather period.

    I can still evoke the lush tropical feel of the foliage in my mind.

    It's snowing here, white, and silent, soon we move into summer drought like Carolynn. Although we don't get as cold, or maybe here is perfect after all.



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