Gardening and Climate Change on Vancouver Island
By Grace Eldridge (current Gaia College student)
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.
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.