Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gardening in a Changing Climate

My name is Green Bean and my rain barrels are empty.  It is mid-March and, in Northern California, it is downright warm.  We had two rainstorms this winter, our snowpack is 13% of normal.  The rhubarb never came up after this spring, after the warmest winter on record (literally), and many established plants have died or are in deep stress due to the prolonged drought.

It's not just small scale gardeners like me, either.  In Oregon, pear trees bloomed two weeks ahead of schedule - while rented bees were all still in California's almond orchards and before the native bees had emerged from winter.   Indeed, in 25 years Oregon has been keeping records, this year was their "lowest amount of chilling by a considerable amount.  The three lowest years of chilling occurred in the last four years, with this year being the lowest."  Washington state is also seeing its crops starting two and a half weeks ahead of normal due to warm temperatures, which are also jeopardizing the state's wheat crops.  To the north, the warm winter has put British Colombia's blueberries in a "danger zone."  To the south, a record breaking heat killed famed California poppy blooms.

How do our gardens survive these unexpected weather changes?  How can we normalize patterns in our gardens to ensure decent crops?

Temperature Manipulation - In a desperate attempt to get my rhubarb to come up, I mulched it with ice cubes for several days - too cool the soil to the requisite temperature.  No dice.  I've read that the technique will also not help with chilling requirements.  I did, however, put hoops over my raised beds that will enable me to install greenhouse plastic or shade cloth as needed.  Greenhouses and cold frames can also help.

Plant Variety - If you are putting in fruit trees, choose ones that have lower chilling requirements and that are of more disease resistant stock.  Also, put in a wide variety of fruit trees.  My most successful apple tree has been the Winter Banana, an heirloom that has been popular in mild winter areas.  Further, when trees are stressed by weather changes, they become more susceptible to disease and pests.  Fire blight roared through my city two years ago, taking many apple and pear trees.  I replaced the Asian pear tree that I lost with a disease resistant variety.  Finally, I have aimed to have many different kinds of fruit trees.  Last year, the apple harvest for our three trees totaled less than 10 apples.  Fortunately, I also have plums, figs, citrus, pears, pomegranates and persimmons.  If it is too hot or wet for one type of tree, hopefully it will be just right for another.

Plant for bees in your garden to increase the likelihood your edibles will be pollinated.
Pollination - The constantly changing weather can do a number on pollination, as referenced above. Plant a wide variety of bee friendly plants (annuals and perennials) around your edibles to attract as many different types of pollinators as possible.  Leave bare ground for native bee to nest and avoid using pesticides.  Hopefully you will end with some buzz around your edibles.  If not, grab a small paintbrush and learn to pollinate your own crops.

A cover crop of fava beans shields out weeds, retains water and puts nitrogen into the soil
Good Dirt - The key to a garden is its soil.  This is even more so when you have temperatures out of whack and drought conditions.  Most of our urban and suburban soil has been treated with chemicals over the years, compacted, "mown and blown" and is downright unhealthy.  Regularly add compost to your soil and mulch around your plants to coax life back into your soil.  Use cover crops and let leaves and twigs lie.  Try lasagna gardening.  Encourage root growth with Mycorrhizal soil fungi and actively aerated compost tea.  These last two tips came from a garden class I recently attended, Gardening in a Drought.  The presenter swore by both tips.  We toured a native plant garden she put in at the public works building 18 months ago and the plant growth sure beat my garden, planted with the same species at the same time.

A pine needle mulch adds organic material to the soil to help it retain water.
Water Right - Whether your area is stricken by drought or not, your plants will benefit from correct watering.  I confess that this has been a challenge for me.  I tend to underwater and then compensate by overwatering.  It is best to water long, deeply and infrequently.  Wait until your plants start to show some stress and then give them a nice deep drink.  Play with your irrigation timer frequently and invest in a moisture meter.  Just because the top of the soil is dry, does not mean the root ball is.  Conversely, the top may be wet and deeper down, bone dry.

For more ideas, check out the post - Weathering the Garden - that I wrote on this topic back in 2011.

What changes have you made in how your garden to account for unpredictable weather?

This post is part of the Tuesday Garden PartyMaple Hill Hop and Green Thumb Thursday.


daisy g said...

I hope that more folks become aware of the vital role that pollinators have on our food sources and plant accordingly. No doubt it has been a tumultuous few years in California, things seem to be changing so much out there. Hope you get some rain for your barrels soon!
Thank you for sharing this valuable post on The Maple Hill Hop!

farmgal said...

Hi, thank you for the overview and information, I live in Ontario Canada and we are in the deep freeze, setting record cold temps this winter, only time will tell if my more tender plants will make it..

But I understand your post and agree with so much of it, when I was planning my garden, I told my hubby that we had NO idea what Climate change would bring, so we planted two zones colder, and up to one zone warmer as well as our own zone 5.. We also learned that the more I could plant that would give us the most choices the better we would be.. I found your post on the homestead bloggers, I hope to see you again.

Sara Vartanian said...

I always learn so much about gardening and our food system from your blog. I'm not a gardener but enjoy knowing more about ways in which we can protect these resources. Thanks for sharing!

Lynn Hasselberger said...

Great post! We have a couple of rain gardens, which will hopefully remain hearty and acclimate to the changing climate. Planted bee and butterfly friendly plants, so hopefully it will help!

Shelly Olson said...

This year was definitely a warm winter here in Oregon. The cherry blossoms came a full month early and I was hoping to get my hostas divided before they got too big but I'm too late for this year. Thanks for linking up to the Tuesday Garden Party.

Green Bean said...

@daisy g- Agreed. What is going on with our pollinators right now is so critical. We need to be planting for bees, using less pesticides and all around making better decisions to preserve their and ultimately our health.

@farmgal - Thank you so much for stopping by. Someone who understands!!! :) I have done the same thing in planting. It might be warmer. Some years might be colder. I do think more variety is the key to hopefully be getting something from the garden.

@sara - Thank you for visiting.

@Lynn - Rain gardens! Bee and butterfly gardens! I want pictures.

@Shelly - Don't you just hate that when you are all prepared to do a garden chore and suddenly it is too late. I had a friend wanting to move her dormant apple tree but, oops, too late!

Lori Popkewitz Alper said...

Very interesting take on gardening and climate change. In New England I haven't had to change much as of yet, although this year with our incredibly high snow fall I'm guessing the soil will be very wet. Also the cold temperatures are impacting when we can actually begin gardening outdoors. The drought in CA has been so challenging. Climate change is impacting all of us in many ways.

LA Murano said...

So much great information! I really enjoyed this post....I've chosen it as the featured post at Green Thumb Thursday. Stop over and grab a featured button for your blog!

Thanks for linking up!



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