It isn't just us feeling the ill-health effects of environmental degradation. Climate change and biodiversity loss are among the human-caused factors contributing to the rise of infectious diseases among people, animals and plants. From a meta-study reported in the New York Times.

The planet is overheating, we know, due to greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. Global research shows it's burning up literally as well, increasingly near the cities where most of us live.

Beth Hendry Yim Large 

Urgent 

By Beth Hendry-Yim

 


In this article, Gaia College student Beth Hendry-Yim shares some reflections on the urgency of the climate crisis and the small yet mighty impact of gardening, growing your own food, and sharing knowledge with future generations. 


It’s the urgency that pushes me forward, keeps me up at night staring at the ceiling and out the window at the darkness and shadows of trees. It’s this pull to do something, to  make a difference, leave a dent in what our children will be left to clean up. It’s the planning and researching, the dreaming and sacrificing that leads me to an endless mental loop of what should I do, how and when, that drives me into the garden to check soil, compost piles, new shoots, old shoots, trees, and shrubs. It’s the sense of running out of time that has me calling my granddaughter to join me in the garden when some days I want to work in the stillness of my plants, alone. I need the time to teach her to treat the soil and all it gives us with respect and reverence. 

 

I feel compelled, acutely. I speak to strangers, hear myself fanatical, focused, a little too enthused. I back off only to begin again, the strength of my conviction and fear too strong to silence me. I can’t seem to help it. The writing is there on the ground, etched into the soil, mirrored in water, visible in the trees and silence of a summer’s evening. 

 

In a conversation about raising children a friend asked me, “What do you fear the most for your kid’s future?” I said, I feared they would think I let apathy rule my actions, that I did nothing, stood by, and watched, enjoyed my life at the expense of theirs. She cleared her throat, moved her chair back and asked if I wanted another cup of tea. 

 

It’s a hard topic to think about, even harder to talk about. Voicing it makes it more real, like you gave it energy and truth by letting the words float free. 

 

We’re using up the planet. Killing the soil, poisoning the water, destroying habitat, making it impossible to grow food without the chemicals that kill the soil, poison the water, destroy habitat. 

 

Yesterday, I emptied out the worm castings from my vermicomposting tower. It has four trays filled with vegetable leavings and shredded paper. Worms inch their way through partially broken down broccoli stems, carrot slivers, lettuce and apple cores. The top tray holds the rich nutrient dense soil that I use in my beds on the deck garden. I rotated it to the top so the worms could escape to a new buffet in the tray below. Once they have migrated out, it is safe to use, and I can begin again filling it with their food and rotating it. But it’s such a small amount of soil and it took months to make. It’s not enough to keep my entire vegetable garden in enough organic matter. And turning organic matter into soil is what will keep my plants growing and my family fed. I need more towers! More time!

 

Last night we watched a documentary on the disappearing songbirds, and the insects whose numbers decrease by a conservative 2.5% annually. What about the microcosm below the surface? The microorganisms that turn soil into food for the plants that feed us and the animals we consume. Have they suffered from extinctions? It’s so hard to tell, there are so many of them. You’d think, enough, we can stand to lose some. But can we? 

 

 My 16-month-old granddaughter helped me in the garden today. Both her and her older sister love digging in the dirt. She headed right for the freshly dug plot where the lettuce will go in a month’s time. I just repotted the tiny plants in the greenhouse, in soil I was going to toss out because it was from last year. I used to think I needed to start fresh with a new bag of potting mix purchased at the nursery up the road. But as I loosened the soil from the pot moist, pink, ringed bodies wriggled away from the light of exposure. A millipede twisted and gyrated in a defensive dance and a sow bug dashed from the cover of a piece of moss. I relented. Grabbing a large steel mixing bowl I transferred the soil into it, added a bit of starting blend, worm castings and vermiculite. I mixed it well and potted up the one inch three leaved lettuce starts. No waste of living soil. 

 

I must reset my belief about growing food. Change it from nurturing plants to life, to tending soil that gives life. Wasting nothing, seeing the unseeable in every grain of dirt.

 

There is a force pushing, prodding, relentlessly trying to speak through me, get the word out, get any words out. Perhaps, the fungi in the soil are speaking through me, like the ants that parasitize hosts, make them do what they want, go where they command. I’ve worked the soil long enough, deeply enough to blend our personal population of microbes.

 

 It’s when people don’t listen or deny or refuse to act, I feel anger building inside and I chide myself, remind the anger that all I can do really, is an example. Grow soil, share food, revere all life, do my part, show my grandchildren, enjoy the bounty. 

 


Photography credits

Beth Hendry-Yim's second floor balcony garden. Beth Hendry-Yim photo. 

100+ year-old rhubarb plant, passed down to Beth from her grandfather and then father. Beth Hendry-Yim photo.  


 

About the Author 

Beth Hendry-Yim is an award winning writer, author, Nana and self professed lazy gardener. She has written on climate change for several publications including Island Parent and Natural Life, and has reported on less pressing issues for The Navigator and the Nanaimo News Bulletin. She wrote and self published, Fresh Start: A Workbook and Guide to Healthy Living and is currently working on a book about gardening, grandchildren and climate change, in that order. Her love of gardening is driven by a passion to connect with Nature and create a sanctuary for her children and grandchildren for the coming years of + 2 degrees. She lives in Nanaimo with her son, his wife, their two young girls, husband of 40 years, her heart dog, Willie, and his sidekick Sadie, and the billions of tiny creatures living in and around her garden that make food production possible.

 

Reforestation efforts from the 1920s in the eastern US are paying off today in climate control. Environmental scientists have long wondered why the region seemed to avoid the trend of higher termperatures everywhere else -- and now believe the regrowth of forests plays a major role. 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2024/feb/17/us-east-trees-warming-hole-study-climate-crisis

By: Steve Ryan 

In Newfoundland (Zone 5b), almost everything revolves around the weather. If you ever visit, you’ll know exactly what I'm talking about. Every friendly face you encounter as you “twack” (a word meaning “see the sights and poke around our many wonderful shops and boutiques”) will eventually ask you how you're finding the weather here; if it differs greatly from the conditions you’re used to wherever you're from, and so on. Heaven forbid if it's raining out and you show your dismay; you’ll be told “don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes and it will change” a common expression in reference to our island’s tendency to see everything–from hail-storms to heat waves–all in a 24-hour period.

Despite our historically poor weather, the elephant in the room as far as our weather is concerned is that the times are indeed a-changin’. In 2016, I started the Convenience Crew as a lawn care service. My goal was simple: if I could round up enough people to let myself and my then-business partner (/cousin) mow their lawn, then I wouldn't have to spend my summer pushing carts at my local grocery store (pushing carts and breaking hearts was my motto through high school… a slogan I thankfully outgrew). Fast forward 5+ years and my little lawn care company has blossomed into a full-blown landscaping service with 8 employees during peak months. We service over a hundred lawns on a regular basis, and our landscaping crews are out fighting weeds and planting shrubs 5 (often 7) days a week from April through November. Our office is the Great Outdoors, and we’re proud of it.

Convenience Crew Gardening Team 2022

Photo: Convenience Crew Gardening Team 2022

People often say to me, “you must have a tough time with scheduling around Newfoundland weather” alluding to the fact that rainy days and playing in the garden don’t often go hand in hand, but the truth is that in spite of our RDF (rain drizzle and fog) fame — very rarely have I had to call off our crews for the day due to weather. In fact, last summer was the first time I had to manage the workloads to accommodate for days that it was actually–wait for it– TOO HOT to be working deep into the afternoon.

It’s increasingly clear that our climate is changing. A province that was once known for legendary winters and harsh snow storms, we barely had enough snow on the east coast of Newfoundland in 2022 to make a snowball, much less run a snowmobile or go skiing. Our winters have become much milder and in turn our spring comes a little early. We see crocus showing their heads early; actually, all of the fall-planted bulbs are up a little earlier and the landscaping season kicks off more than two weeks ahead of schedule these past couple of years. Great! …right?

The season being extended means a lot more working days, less wasted time due to weather, and happier customers who don’t have to painstakingly wait for us to catch up on rescheduling due to weather every other day.

But…

Let’s not forget that the season is being extended due to the planet warming. Temperatures are rising across the globe — and Newfoundland is certainly not exempt. I remember one day in particular, we were doing a new landscape install for a client living in an area known by the locals as “The Gut” down in Quidi Vidi, a lakeside borough of St. John’s, known for its scenic views of the ocean and idyllic, colourful houses and entertainment options. Typically working close to the Atlantic Ocean means cooler air right? Not this summer.

Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland 2022

Photo: Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland 2022

For the week-long stretch we spent digging holes for plants, shrubs, and trees in the unyielding rock ground, the temperatures hovered around 28-29 degrees celsius with a humidex reading much MUCH higher. We kept lukewarm water and gatorades flowing all day long to replenish all the electrolytes we were sweating out. The week ended–finally– with a dart across the road to Quidi Vidi Brewery for a pint as a well-deserved pat on the back for a crew who had gone above and beyond without complaint despite the scorching heat.

Skip ahead a few months to October; our crews typically move into the fall services: wrapping and tying vulnerable plants in preparation for the winter, raking leaves, and planting bulbs for early spring pops of colour — however, fall 2022 was so warm that we held off planting bulbs as long as we could, in fear that they might get confused by the temperatures and start blooming too early. The effects of climate change are in some cases subtle but certainly come with a feeling of unease about the future. Extended seasons and warmer temperatures are great for business, but are longer seasons and padding bottom lines worth the long term environmental impacts of climate change?

What will the future look like if our planet keeps warming?

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about the answers to these questions… and I hope by doing our part to work in ecologically friendly ways and encouraging others to do the same can stunt the effects of climate change and help heal the damage we’ve already caused — even if it means we have to work in a little bit more rain.


If you'd like to keep up with the Convenience Crew, check out their website and follow them on Instagram and Facebook!

Is Climate Change Affecting Seed Growers/Keepers?

By Cate Henderson

Seeds.png


Over the course of more than a dozen years of growing many seed crops organically, seeds became very visible to me. At the same time, this accentuated how invisible, ignored and underappreciated they remained in general. In 2019, my job growing seeds for the Heirloom Seed Sanctuary became redundant, as the seed collection was rematriated to two organizations, and I continued working only part-time for one of them.  Finally, I had the time to pursue some answers to questions like:

  • why was I so lonely growing community seeds?
  • why was Kingston, ON, one of only two communities with a Seed Sanctuary in this relatively well-off country of ours? 
  • why were people who grow gardens NOT growing seeds? 
  • why do farmers who pride themselves on growing local food, regularly source their seeds from half-way across the world? 

So many questions, and so little time to pursue the answers-the gardening itself had taken up all my time! To solve this, I enrolled myself in the Master of Arts: Sustainability Studies program at Trent University where I could do some formal interviews to finally get to the bottom of all these questions. 

“I believe that climate is definitely affecting them [home-saved seeds]. ‘Cuz last year, when I planted all my different bean varieties, I had to water the seed to get it to grow, which I've never, ever done! In 20, some odd years of growing anything <laugh> to actually have to water what I planted. I know some people do it … just to make sure it gets germinated, and there's probably been a couple of years, a year or two prior to that, you know, like thinking back there's been a year where I should have done that because they didn't germinate till late. And of course, I didn't get any dried beans that year, or very few. But last year was the first year that I had to actually water to help germination in May and June.” – Interview participant

There are seed growers in Canada, of course, and Seedy Saturdays and Seedy Sundays originated here and have spread around the world, so there are gardeners willing to grow and share their seeds and knowledge, but it just isn’t enough to make us food secure as a nation. Some growers sell their seeds in packets, and some share and trade them. Canada is famous for its grain-growing. Indeed, we could likely be self-sufficient in certain grains, but we fall far short in vegetable and flower seeds. That seems so odd since we have such unique conditions including some very short seasons! Not to mention the changing climate... Many of the garden crops we grow come from seeds grown in Mexico, but the climate there is so different from anything we have in Canada that this doesn’t really make sense. Surely, it’s no wonder that crops often underperform for people here in our climate? Especially in a time of climate chaos: shouldn’t we be actively trying to adapt our food crops through saving seeds? Otherwise, how will we feed ourselves as the climate shifts? Can we really just keep importing seeds and food from all over the globe?

38E0D5B0-BADD-4842-A4A2-4DCE92EB2E14.jpg

Jennifer Burns-Robinson photo

It is quite well understood that, for plants, a strong adaptation mechanism is engaged at the time of genetic recombination-that is, when an ovule is fertilized by a male gamete so that a seed can form. Characteristics from the male are combined with those of the female in new ways, which naturally can result in new adaptations.  But the “proof of the pudding is in the tasting”. Do seed savers see adaptation happening among their crops, and how does that manifest? It turns out that all of the experienced seed savers I interviewed for my research affirmed that they saw their crops were adapting to the changing climate as they saved the seed, although many, like the gardener quoted above, have had to adapt their own growing strategies as well.

As one gardener of “close to 42 or 43 years” observed: “So that tells me stuff about adaptation, whether that's to climate or whether that's the plants resiliency or whether that's some other special miracle that's happening. But no, in the past, when I was younger, there were certain things that just cannot, could not survive our winters.  And then I started noticing things during the melt every once in a while, like when things were melting sometimes, over our garden, there would be like an ice shelf, where the warmth of the land would melt the ice from below. So then you could see underneath the ice and snow… and there was a lot of things alive and …I was surprised to start noticing how many different things were making it through our winters, like kale and other vegetables and things or like, you know, I guess mostly like the parsley, the kale, um, the tomato plants, even we've had potatoes regrow from places that weren't all harvested out completely.  Like if one or two got left behind, they grew and they actually produced!  We'd mark them off, to see what would happen, I guess.”

Even professional seed growers confirm: “Yes, I do think they are, adapting to the local changing climate. How, I think?  Well, they're becoming more resilient to the changes that we see and to the, the more extremes of the weather patterns that we're seeing. And we're seeing that because we grow, you know, a fair amount of, of plants in, in one variety. So, a fairly big population. And we can see that, over the years, more and more of them are thriving. Um, and fewer and fewer are succumbing to weather patterns, especially the extreme weather patterns. So an example is that a lot of our crops don't or seem to be pretty resilient when we think they will succumb to drought. They keep surprising us of how well they still survive and produce fruit and seed, in times of drought.  Especially in times when we weren't able to get them water either at all or water at the right time. They seem to, to thrive. And so, I think they've adapted…”

Another seed saver claimed their peppers mature earlier when grown from home-saved seed: “but definitely the peppers I find now are [ripening] on par with the tomatoes. And usually they're solid months, like a few years ago, they would've been definitely a month behind. So… especially sweet peppers. I find them maturing faster now whether or not it's because it's warmer and they like it… that would be like a climate change notice is that they are definitely faster than they used to be.”

As gardeners, and particularly as organic gardeners, climate change offers an opportunity to engage nature’s own mechanisms for adaptation by growing, observing and gathering seeds from our favourite plants. The plants offer their seeds freely, because they want to survive, as do we! This research has affirmed for me that there is potential to work together with plants in order to provide food, beauty and habitat for humans and non-humans into the future. I don’t believe that this is something the larger seed houses can do for us, although of course all good seeds themselves may well carry the potential. Indigenous seeds are of particular importance, because they have been adapting here for such a long time and have been feeding and providing medicine to whole communities for millennia. Many of the common Indigenous crops moved north through trade from South and Central America and gradually adapted to the growing conditions as they went-so they are already accustomed to dealing with various climatic changes over time. Honouring these crops by growing them respectfully in community may well be one of our best strategies for decolonizing, not to mention surviving within, and adapting to, an uncertain future.

 

Gardening and Climate Change on Vancouver Island

By Grace Eldridge (current Gaia College student)

Fenced garden

Grace Eldridge photo


I garden on Vancouver Island in a zone 7 area. My garden is located on a previously disturbed building site and is composed of mainly clay soil. So compaction, drainage, water holding capacity, organic matter content, and microbial activity are all active challenges I am facing. 

The land where the garden sits is a small acreage that my family has purchased and are living on together as part of a multigenerational homestead. Before we purchased the land it was clearcut and many invasive species made their way in, including scotch broom which has taken over about 2 acres. It has been my goal to convert this land back to a space where nature can thrive and support itself. It has been a lot of work in the few years since we have moved onto the property. We are working to create a food garden that provides for our family all year long. We have planted fruit trees, nut trees, and native trees across the property. Everything that we are doing and working towards is to make this small piece of land an example of the harmony and prosperity that can come when working with nature.

The area that I garden in is located in the valley below a mountain, so we often have a small microclimate here. In the winter we are typically colder than other areas and, in the summer, we can be 2-4 degrees warmer. Our average last frost is typically the end of April-Mid May and the first frost at the end of October. However, in the past few years that has varied greatly! This past year, we had frost on and off until the beginning of June. And our first hard frost in the fall did not come until mid-November. It was a very interesting growing season and there was a lot of loss for growers in the area. We had a severe drought this summer as well, nearly 4 months without substantial rain… And this fall we have had lower amounts of rain whereas last year we had severe flooding in many areas. 

Experts are predicting that in the next 30 years, the number of days above 25C will double, the rainy season could get up to 10% wetter, and the lower mainland could experience a 30cm rise in sea level. It is also predicted that about 25% of BC’s glaciers will have melted due to an increase of 2.5C by 2050. A temperature rise will also create more favourable conditions for wildfires, increasing the risk and extending the wildfire season. These are really scary predictions that will have devastating effects on people and the environment.

Greenhouse garden

Grace Eldridge photo

 

Already we have started to make some changes to help our growing spaces better adapt to the changing weather conditions. We are using greenhouses to provide an extended growing season in the spring as the frost has become so unpredictable. In the summer we have had to string up a shade cloth during the heatwaves to protect crops from scorching. We are also working to install rain-water harvesting systems, a pond for water to drain into during the wetter months, and a rain garden by the house to deal with pooling water. Most importantly, we are trying to improve soil health so that the plants and the ecosystem as a whole will be more resilient and resistant to these drastic weather conditions. It is a long journey full of hard work, but it is worth every minute. 

Garden under shade cloth

 

Gardening and Climate Change in Cariboo Region of BC

by Ken Bourne

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When I came to the Cariboo, (Central Interior of BC) 40 years ago, the plant hardiness zone was 2b (-50C in winter). This was a huge learning curve for me. I had just finished a 2-year contract in Abu Dhabi, building a greenhouse operation in the desert, growing tomatoes and cucumbers in 15 acres of greenhouses.

Before that my gardening experience was in the UK, which had a long growing season and a very short winter. What I had in the Central  Interior of British Columbia was a less than 90-day frost-free growing period, which often had killing frosts throughout the early growing period in May, June and even July. This meant using row covers, cold frames surrounded by fresh manure and even plastic milk bottles with their bottoms cut off to put over tender plants.

The current growing zone for our area of BC is 3b, but I have noticed that I can now plant about 2 weeks earlier and harvest 2 weeks later than normal. Climate experts say that the growing zones of most areas will go up at least 1 and possibly 2 in the next 10 years. The BC Government predicts the following changes in agriculture and horticulture: 

  • longer and hotter seasons in the interior of BC, in regions that are suitable for vineyards, orchards, and annual crops 
  • more wildfires and drought during the summer and fall
  • increased winter and spring precipitation that could lead to flooding and erosion
  • unpredictable and increasingly extreme weather events
  • new invasive pests, partially due to warmer winters that don’t kill them off
  • changes in wildlife populations and distribution due to changing rangelands.

https://bcclimatechangeadaptation.ca/regional-adaptation/cariboo/ 

How gardeners in the Cariboo are adapting to climate change

Over the last few years I have been teaching organic gardening at Eliza Archie Memorial School. (Read more here: https://www.100milefreepress.net/community/new-vegetable-garden-for-canim-lake-school/) Initially, the students and I built a vegetable garden on the edge of a swamp, as that was the only available area. I was amazed at how quickly they began to enjoy the classes about natural growing and healthy food. The garden consisted of raised beds with wood chip mulch, and had to be fenced against bears and deer. The first year we won several prizes at a local Fall Fair. This allowed us to get a small grant for a greenhouse which we built from scratch the following year. I would love to see a school garden like ours at every Reserve. It would improve their health so much.

The School garden was flooded 2 years ago due to the adjacent creek overflowing due to excess silt buildup. Luckily that was cured by the creek being deepened and the silt applied to the hayfields. My garden, about 5 kilometers away, is all sand so drainage is not a problem. I have built up the garden soil to over a foot of topsoil by using compost and cover crops.

As a windbreak I have planted willow trees on the west side of the garden and caragana on the south side. The willow and caragana grow very quickly, and the prunings are used for wood chips for compost and for mulching and I make biochar out of the larger branches. The willow also produces willow water for a rooting compound, which is used for making cuttings and added to compost tea when it is applied to the roots of plants and shrubs when they are planted. Caragana is a legume that produces a pod like a Mung bean and can be used in the same way, it also produces its own nitrogen.

Our changing climate is due to human interference with nature. Much of that change is due to agricultural practices that are destroying ecosystems and the soil. If every backyard garden, and every farm regenerated the soil on a global scale, that would be a great start in helping to reverse the damage done.

Here are a few sites that readers might be interested in:

https://cuesa.org/article/10-ways-farmers-can-fight-climate-change

https://webinar.soilfoodweb.com/webinar-transforming-desert-landscapes-into-functional-ecosystems/143065   (Watch for the interesting remarks by Dr. Elaine Ingham about the people who are in charge of transforming the desert- and also the amount of animals running around who should be in fenced enclosures (e.g. .mob grazing)

https://bcfarmsandfood.com/category/climate-change-resilience    Here there are many articles and videos about coping with climate change in British Columbia.

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The Garden. Photo by Ken Bourne

image2.jpgThe Garden. Photo by Ken Bourne

Climate Change and Victoria Gardens

by Christina Nikolic

Christina Nikolic Garden Late June 2022
Christina Nikolic's Garden Late June 2022. Photo Credit: Christina Nikolic

Hello there, Christina here from Victoria, BC in Canada’s Zone 9 “Banana Belt”. Situated within the moderate oceanic zone, Victoria enjoys warm dry summers with a long drought period, and mild wet winters reminiscent of Mediterranean climate. Snow is rare and usually doesn't last more than a week or two. Thunder or hail are almost unheard of, though we do get pummelled by wind storms.

Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the Victoria area is significantly drier than Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, though not as dry (or as cold in the winter) as the Southern BC interior.

All that said, things are no longer what we expect them to be, and climate change became glaringly obvious last year when records were set for heat, drought, rain, and cold, all within six months between June and December.

Having just posted a general blog on the topic [https://www.gardenerspantry.ca/blog/gardening-in-a-changing-climate/], this is a good opportunity to be more specific.

It is pretty safe to assume not only an increase in average year round temperature, but also weather extremes becoming more frequent and fluctuating more rapidly. I have lived in my urban neighbourhood for 15 years and have been looking after this particular residential garden for 12 months now. My observations mirror recorded data:

Winters are getting wetter, and Arctic outflow patterns, when they do happen, last for longer. Part of the garden remained flooded for weeks last November through March. On the plus side, the grass is still lush and green there now, six months later and after weeks without rain. I had planned on converting this area to a vegetable garden next. In light of the flooding which will likely repeat every year, I will try and create low mounds for beds, and will not grow winter veggies or perennial food plants in this place.

Because of saturated soils throughout the garden, I held back planting garlic until January, which paid off with a bountiful harvest last month.

The basement water pipes froze for four days in December and a lot of tender perennials died back to the ground (most came back, phew!). My landlord’s citrus trees made it, but with a twist: The grafted part died, and the surviving rootstock sent up new shoots. Pretty, but they won’t flower or fruit. This will teach me to no longer bother with marginally hardy plants.

The spring was slow to come along, cold and wet, and pollination was spotty. To my surprise, the peach tree is bending low with fruit, but there are almost no apples at all, and maybe a dozen pears between two trees. That’s a tough one to adapt to. One of my strategies will be to improve wild pollinator habitat and forage options. Check out Pollinator Partnership Canada [https://pollinatorpartnership.ca/]! If fruit trees ever need to be replaced, I will pay attention to late blooming varieties.

On the other hand, when things go right, some plants might yield a sudden and unexpected bounty. I think it’s time to learn how to preserve the harvest... by fermenting, drying, canning, and freezing. Peach chutney!

Due to hotter drier summers, the ubiquitous ‘Emerald’ hedge cedars (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd') seem to be having a harder time every year — and the future doesn’t look good for Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and even something as seemingly indestructible as salal (Gaultheria shallon). This is pretty serious.

Looking at the large amounts of water needed by cedar hedges, I would no longer recommend them, opting instead for other barrier plants, or vine covered fences. I also think it’s time to reconsider Victoria staples like hydrangeas and (gasp!) rhododendrons. In the meantime, I care for the 30 or so cedars around my place through mulching, soil building, and water wise irrigation.

Speaking of mulch: Most of my time and energy this fall will go to collecting and spreading leaves on the many new garden beds I created. I will also set aside as many bags of dry leaves as I can so I have top-up material come next summer.

To reduce lawn watering needs, I continue to leave the grass to grow long and I mow in sections. I do water the lawn, moderately, and mainly to keep the soil ecosystem underneath alive. Thankfully my soil texture is a silty loam with great water holding capacity!

I planted my winter veg seedlings already to give them the longest possible time to develop, which is a tightrope act between the current summer heat and not knowing when the cool and wet autumn will arrive. The tomatoes are doing okay in their containers but for the first time ever I saw some blossom-end rot. A calcium deficiency, exacerbated by irregular watering. My bad — I need to come up with a more balanced water supply system especially during heat waves.

Overall, I think Victoria is so far getting off easy(-ish), so far, compared to other regions ravaged by climate change fuelled disasters. But in our complacency we are far from prepared to fend for ourselves, even for a week, and remember, we’re sitting right at the rising ocean’s edge.

I draw hope from noticing how a lot of the tips for developing climate resilient gardens (see the blog post above) are the same as those we are teaching in the Organic Land Care curriculum. Build soil. Mulch. Plant in layers, and densely. Save seeds. Use water wisely. Grow biodiversity. Share your knowledge.

After all, what else would we do?

 


 

Climate Change and Its Impact on Alberta Gardens

by Jennifer Burns-Robinson

Greetings from my Zone 3 garden, 50km west of Edmonton, AB! I garden on an acreage in a rural area, so unfortunately, I don’t get the benefit of Edmonton’s heat island, which bumps up their growing zone to 4a. Winters here tend to be cold (down to -42C, two years ago) with only moderate snowfall. Summers tend to be dry and warm, but that is changing. Climate change is driving more extreme weather variations, so very variable rainfalls, more extreme rain events, hail, winds, and droughts are in our forecast. An expert climatologist, David Phillips, recently predicted that by 2050, we will be bumping our zone up by 1.5 levels. So, my 3b garden will move to almost 4b. That is a lot of change in just a few years.

So, what can an Alberta gardener do to keep on gardening despite the weather? Thankfully, there are lots of things we can do to help manage our microclimate and buffer it against extreme weather. One thing we can do right now to protect our future gardens is plant trees. Trees not only act as a carbon sink, but they create shade to cool the soil, help block damaging winds and help hold water in the soil. Deforestation is a big contributor to climate change, so if we can each plant a few trees, we may be able to offset some of that damage in the long run. We plan to add some shade trees over the next few years, including some hardy maple that we will tap for maple syrup.

A storm rolls through my zone 3 Alberta garden - Photo by Jennifer Burns-Robinson
A storm rolls through my zone 3 Alberta garden - Photo by Jennifer Burns-Robinson 

What else can we do? Mulch, mulch, mulch! Leave no soil bare, and your plants will thank you. Mulching reduces water evaporation, and cools plant roots. Last summer, we had hot dry weather at the start of the season (no rain for almost 3 months!) and mulching helped to reduce stress on my fruit trees and reduce the amount of water I needed to use from my well - preserving my underground water. Hand-in-hand with mulching is collecting rainwater. With the looming possibility of alternating drought and extreme rainfall, collecting your rainwater for the dry times is a smart move. We are installing 2 more 1000L tanks this summer to catch rain, just in case we get another spring like last year.

My vegetable garden is already sloped to allow for drainage, and we have a small natural depression that collects runoff and creates habitat for frogs and birds. If you live in the city on a smaller lot, you can install a rain garden so that your heavy rain can collect temporarily and drain any excess from your beds.

We also plan to add some shade structures in the vegetable garden this year, to allow for a little relief from that intense prairie sun. My vegetable garden faces full south with no trees nearby, so the heat can be powerful. My brassicas did not appreciate the hot dry weather last year, and I lost all my Purple Lady Bok Choy to bolting. Shade cloth for my greens and cabbages, strung over a wooden arbour should reduce the temperatures by a few degrees.

I am also hoping to work with Mother Nature and add some more perennial vegetables to my plantings. Sorrel, dandelion, dock, asparagus, will hopefully have more resilience in the face of change and require less work on my part.

Thankfully, as an Alberta gardener I am used to adapting my practices to harsh weather. I hope these ideas can help you build a plan for your garden!


Suggested Viewing:
How Climate Change Impacts Gardening (18:08)  https://youtu.be/h_WcT3fj1bI
How to green the world's deserts and reverse climate change | Allan Savory  (22:19) https://youtu.be/vpTHi7O66pI