Gardening and Climate Change in Cariboo Region of BC

by Ken Bourne


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.


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://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.


The Garden. Photo by Ken Bourne

image2.jpgThe Garden. Photo by Ken Bourne

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