It is an undeniable fact that the global climate is changing at an unnatural accelerated rate. In temperate regions, such as those closer to the equator are already experiencing impacts from climate change such as prolonged droughts, increased wildfires and desertification. Climate change is the single greatest threat that we will face in our lifetimes. It will impact food security, national security and create mass migrations like our species haven’t experience for millennial as ecosystems collapse.
Changing climate with greater unpredictable weather events and rainfall patterns will require both gardeners and farmers to quickly adjust. To adjust to ensure continued successful harvests, it will require new approaches. In our region, for the first time in my life we experienced drought this summer season. Across the summer months, the Halifax region received 50% less rainfall than historical averages. Into the Fall months, we have experienced a prolonged period of unseasonable temperatures coupled with unpredictable temperature variance.
With these additional challenges, it adds to the pressures of producing food and flowers whether for home use or to sell across your local communities. So, the question is how do we move forward? The first step is keep detailed notes so you can pinpoint changes in weather patterns that would negative impact production. For example, in my region, precipitation largely occurs in the spring. This has two impacts; with a cooler wetter spring, it can delay production starts. Secondly, reduced rainfall in the hotter summer months requires efficient use of water.
How do we manage this?
First, a huge key to our success is healthy soil and viewing production as a whole ecosystem that interacts with the larger regional ecosystem as a whole. By focusing on healthy soil and a sustainable network of indigenous plants to help manage pests; we have healthier plants which in turn are more resilient. We treat our soil like the living organism that it is, employing low/no till practices, exercising green manure and mulches to enrich and protect the soil.
Second, water, water and more water. Water is obviously necessary for a successful urban farm and being under the whim of nature we had to do our best to manage the risk. We work to reduce the risk sustainably by harvesting rain water. In 2016 we had the capacity to store 280 litres of water. Because of changing weather patterns, and the drought of 2016 in 2017 we will increase our storage capacity by at least 180 litres. That will allow us to store almost 500 litres which will help us handle lower rainfall amounts. Also, coupled with soil protection and row cover over specific crops helps us to use our water resources efficiently by controlling evaporation/transpiration rates.
Third, season extenders are no longer an option for the home gardener or urban farm. Large scale agriculture has employed season extenders for decades. With the cooler, wetter spring combined with longer warmer autumns season extenders provide solutions for both situations. In the spring season extenders, such as row covers, cold frames and greenhouse plastic provide a jump on growing. Spring season extenders allow greens earlier, legumes sooner and cold sensitive crops such as tomatoes started 4-6 weeks ahead of beds without protection. In the autumn, the same approach can bring you greens and cooler loving crops well into December. For cold sensitive crops, you can again get at least an additional four weeks beyond traditional harvest times.
Lastly, seed saving should be part of your production plans. Seed saving note only will save you money over time, it will also provide you with plants that are specifically adapted to your local growing conditions. Many gardeners and farmers experience micro-climates in their production areas and saving seeds over several generations of plantings can help you capitalize on this.
Climate change is and will continue to affect crop production. How are you managing the impacts in your gardens?