Climate Change And The Edible Landscape

July 2, 2013

I got an email the other day from a new reader named Margaret, who writes:

I am new to this site and edible landscaping and I am despairing over my garden ...

I live in Oxfordshire, England. The biggest problem is the weather especially over the last 3-4 years and it isn't getting better. Last year we had draught, then constant rain resulting in no fruit or vegetables. This year we have very had late frosts and snow, some rain, heavy cloud very little sunlight.

I have a very fertile soil which is also a problem because the weeds love it. All I seem to do is weed and get ready for planting and no further ...

Whatever reason you want to put as to its cause, climate change and climate instability is a well-known fact to anyone who spends any time out in their garden.

"Season creep" (progressively earlier springtimes), hardiness zone shifts, more violent weather, droughts, and heavier downpours leading to flooding have been occurring for several years now.

I'm sorry to have to tell you that it's probably not going to get better anytime soon. However, there ARE things that you can do about it ... the most important being:

Face your new reality.

Your garden (and by extension, your gardening) will have to adapt to the current weather conditions whether you like it or not.

Putting dryland plants in beds that don't drain well during months of constant downpour or planting edibles which require a lot of watering when you've had years of drought is asking for trouble.

We've had it easy over the last few generations -- regular seasons and dependable rainfall amounts are becoming a thing of the past, so we'll have to get smarter to overcome these obstacles.

Charting what is actually happening in your garden is a good first step.

When is it wet? When is it dry? When is it cold or hot? And as Margaret is learning, you might even have to chart what times of the year you even get sun or rain at all.

See if you can find a pattern and garden around it. This may mean gardening at a completely different time of year from when you're used to.

Also, pay attention to the microclimates in your yard. Where does it tend to be wet or dry? Where does it frost? Where are the sunny and shady areas? Use your yard's strong points and minimize its weaknesses as much as you can.

(I talk more about this sort of thing in my workbook "How to make your own garden landscape design plans").

Use plants native to your area (or at least your climate) as much as possible.

For example, Margaret should first try to find plants native to England, particularly native to Oxfordshire and its surrounding counties.

But if she can't find what she wants there, ordering seeds from another rainy cool climate such as Seattle, WA (US) may work better for her garden than getting seeds from a Mediterranean climate such as Spain or France.

In any case, choose hardy plants which can tolerate heat, cold, wet and dry spells, and that thrive in the zones both above and below your current hardiness zone. This will "hedge your bets" (as we say here in the US) as to what your weather might be in the future.

Then watch to see how the plants do. Plant more of what is thriving and less of what isn't. Move a plant which should be doing well but seems to need more light or less water to a place in your yard which has what it likes.

If you find a plant which really likes your new weather, save the seeds or otherwise propagate it so you can share it with others, or have a backup in a pot in case your special plant gets killed by a sudden heat wave or cold snap.

Speaking of heat and cold, it would be wise to keep track of temperatures -- especially in the spring and mid-summer -- and take measures to protect your plants from late frosts and intense heat.

For further reading:

Gardeners and climate change

Ten years of bad summers predicted (UK)

We're not in zone 6 anymore

How are you adapting to your weather changes? Do you have any tips for Margaret?

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Comments for Climate Change And The Edible Landscape

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Jul 03, 2013
Having the same problem in Somerset
by: Fiona

We have a Community Garden, in Somerset U.K. a very wet part of the country.I have been having the same problems as Margaret. We have been getting 50% of light that we used to get in Summers and I think this is the main problem. I have not been able to get Tomatoes to ripen outside for three years.I am growing all my butternut squash, tomatoes and cucumbers in a greenhouse now and am getting a polytunnel. I am planting three times the number of seedlings I think I might need as so many plants and not thriving or just plain dying. When I saw this year what was doing well I planted more seedlings of those plants in order to get a second crop. Used to do really well with Broccoli and carrots not so this year.

Aug 06, 2013
Getting prepared for every possibility
by: Jamie

I completely commiserate with Fiona. I live in the thumb region of Michigan, USA and am also experiencing a plethora of gardening issues.

First, this summer has been a wash out for me in regards to heat loving crops. It has been in the high 60's to low 70's for weeks now and most of my warm weather crops need warmth to fruit. This was right after an intense heat wave that baked my poor plants.

Pretty much everything is going into 'dormant' mode as the night temperatures have been dipping into the 40's. Not good.

I have been having some success with kale and that is about it. Even my herbs are struggling to grow and flower. Such a shame because I have noticed, over the years, that it is my herbs that attract honey bees thereby insuring pollination of my veggie crops. I have yet to see a honey bee this year and this is so disturbing.

Second, knowing that we are experiencing a magnetic Polar Shift ( Accelerating at 40 miles per year + ) towards Siberia has led me to purchase materials for a 14'x20' greenhouse which I now grow Olive, Moringa and Lime trees in. I planted cherry tomatoes inside as well along with peppers and eggplant. I am having a very difficult time with pollination of the eggplants so use a paintbrush to help the process. So far, no success.

I also am purchasing other plants and seeds that are not typically indigenous to this region but feel that, in the not too distant future, they will be fairly reliable crops.

I think that you have given the best advice, Patricia, in preparing for drastic changes in the garden and what to grow there, such as plants that are hardy and adaptable to all conditions. We just have to be willing to try everything and anything possible to ensure that we do not starve...which, could become a reality soon.

I will say that I am having success with my Olive, Moringa and Lime trees and even noticed two Avocado trees growing in my front yard garden from seed that I had incorporated into my compost earlier in the year! I was stunned to see this 1 and a half foot tall avocado growing with no help from me whatsoever. So, that an avocado seed would feel like even germinating in the Michigan....tells me something very important about the drastically changing climate. It also tells me something about what is happening inside of mother Earth as I have had few perennial plants go dormant in the winter.

So, this is definitely a time to be attentive to even the slightest changes so that we can adjust accordingly.

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