Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Growing Instability

My puny peas! Just starting to bloom in June.

I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years.  For at least the last 12, I've gardened consistently.  Every year, the tomatoes go in the first of April.  I direct sow wildflower seeds mid-March.  For the rest, I follow my handy planting guide.  It's worked well for me.  Summer welcomes the bees and butterflies through our seed-started pollinator garden.  Fall produces a bumper crop of tomatoes and pumpkins that hulk about the yard.  Sunflowers gawk over everything.

Only, it hasn't actually been working these last few years.  Last year, April 1st hit and I headed to a local plant sale to load up on tomato starts (No, I'm lame and don't start my own.).  I finally located parking, bundled the kids up in their parkas and headed for the sale when we began being hit by hailstones.  At the sale the vendor suggested bringing tomatoes in on cold days and at night due to the unpredictable weather that spring.  I overheard another patron say "I'll just wait."  Me too, I thought! And I did.  I put the tomatoes in in early in May, once it warmed up, but they never did produce that much.

This year, I dutifully raked in seeds in mid-March.  The first weekend of April was in the mid 60s.  Warm enough for tomatoes, I determined and plunged ahead.  In May, I piled mounds of earth around the garden and poked squash seeds in them.  In late May, I tucked sunflower seeds in vacant spots.

Here we are, the first week of June and are bracing for another winter storm.  You read that right.  A winter storm in California in June.  It is so bad, the weather service has inserted little exclamation points on three days worth of weather.  The tomatoes look to be holding their own.  The sunflowers and squash sprouted but nothing more.  For weeks, they've squatted on their mounds, two leaf wonders, turning more and more yellow as day after day of 50 degree temperatures crawls by.   My friend's dad is a local farmer.  He reported that it doesn't look like there will be any pumpkins this year and that rain deterred most of the pollination during blossom time so few fruits as well.

As cold as it was last year, I remember cosmos blooming and squash blossoms echoing with bees by this time last year.  What is happening?

Climate change is a touchy subject these days but more and more, our climates do seem to be changing.  Weather has become more extreme, less predictable.  Yes, yes, I know.  There are colder Mays on record here.  Apparently 26 of them.  And it is El Nino or La Nina or blah blah blah.  

Regardless, the weather continues to be as moody as, well, me.  It seriously interferes with growing food - not just for the urban homesteader but for large scale operations as well.  How big of a problem do you think this is?  How have you dealt with it or what do you plan to do to avoid weather related catastrophes next year?  Have you invested a greenhouse or set up a hoop house?  Or do you just roll with the punches?
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12 comments:

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Interesting you mention this...we've just had a blistering heat wave (mid to high 90's for several days running) in early June in Chicago, and our second one right now, and my lettuce plants are officially done for before I got a single good harvest out of them.

Rivenfae said...

We've been thinking the same on this odd weather. I don't get how we had cold and then "sudden" summer. I had to buy an AC unit due to some health issues here we need the cool air for at least Silver. He almost had an issue with heat exhaustion last year.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

Like Jenn, we're having the opposite problem. Way too hot way too fast. My broccoli plants had bolted by April, and don't even mention lettuce...

Rosa said...

Huge problem, and it will get bigger. Wait til we get hit by a drought in areas that don't irrigate, like the parts of Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota that grow most of the continent's corn and soy.

I moved 200 miles north of my hometown, ten years ago. I've bet on "slightly warmer than average overnight temperatures" with my garden every single year, planting about 2 weeks ahead of the safe last frost date, and it hasn't treated me wrong yet.

We had the hottest 7th of June since 1988 today, btw. All my cool-weather crops just bolted in about 2 hours flat. That's after only-slightly-useasonable snow on May 3.

Green Bean said...

@Jenn & Erin - I guess I might actually be luckier! A greenhouse can help with the cold but what helps with the heat! And, worst of all, is when we have big swings back and forth.

@Rivenfae: Yes! It isn't just the plants that have trouble adjusting. ;-)

@Rosa: I agree! I do think that things are getting worse and will continue and there just isn't much to do with the swings like you describe. Its just crazy.

E said...

See wetherspark.com for records of any weather station.

Select month and you can see clearly that this is cool year.

E said...

http://weatherspark.com

sorry!

rebecca @ baydirt said...

There's nothing quite like gardening to illustrate that yes, climate change is a-happening. This time last year I had just scored my community garden plot in SF and was planting it out -- in quite warm weather. And yes, my snap peas are just now growing peas too.

Green Bean said...

@E - Thank you for the information.

@Rebecca - Agreed! I much prefer the moniker "Climate Change" though because it is so much more accurate. Things are not warming everywhere and it does not seem to be consisten.

rebecca @ baydirt said...

So true -- Climate change definitely is not manifesting as warming here in SF Bay Area!

Jen (emeraldsunshine.org) said...

I've only been gardening for a few years, but I have definitely had to learn how to be flexible and creative. We are putting in a greenhouse in the next few years. We also have mini hoophouses for our raised beds and I'm going to put in a new bed with windows on the top this year or next for early season planting. I'm doing what I can to counteract weather!

Green Bean said...

@Jen - Love those ideas! I think we need to be as flexible as possible for changing weather.

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