Garden Changes We Should Be Making as a Result of Climate Change

Both the Pacific Coast and the South BC Mountain regions received more than 30% less moisture than normal. And when it did rain in those regions, in some cases higher than average amounts, it came all at one time which is hardly the type of precipitation beneficial to growing crops. As the climate changes so should your plans in the garden.

by Len Fraser

Once winter is upon us it can be difficult to make good, conscious plans to change our gardens for next year's growing season. Even if we winter garden, we must plan carefully now, not just where to plant our crops, but also which varieties will do best in increasing summer heat and longer growing seasons.

Drought is a major contributor to poor yields. My potatoes burst from the ground right on schedule, were hilled at just the right time, but with increasing summer heat, the yield was way down. I got lots of potatoes but they were mostly the little size you see in the specialty gourmet shop. They're tasty but, without offending any purists, I like potatoes with some meat on them. The greatest contributing factor is a lack of water at the critical stage of development of the tuber. Carrots and most other root crops will suffer equally.

In order to avoid this problem next growing season, I may have to rethink where I am planting my potatoes and the watering schedule as well. Variety can play a key role as well. There is no point in planting spuds that need gobs of water like Kennebec, if a dry land variety like Bintje, Norland or Caribe will do better.

Opportunities abound in the food garden for change. Just as the climate changes so then should your plans in the garden. Sure, we think about moving the potatoes to a different part of the garden to avoid incidences of pests and diseases but do we consider the changes we should be making as a result of climate change? While the provinces wrangle over the content and intent of the Kyoto Accord and its ramifications, good or bad, we should be preparing for a changing climate in our gardens.

The key here is planning. Our climate is not likely to get much wetter for a while. Both the Pacific Coast and the South BC Mountain regions received more than 30% less moisture than normal. And when it did rain in those regions, in some cases higher than average amounts, it came all at one time which is hardly the type of precipitation beneficial to growing crops.

To grow good food and beneficial plants you need to provide consistent moisture at just the right time, usually at the seed germination, transplant, and fruiting stages. By selecting the right plants and using irrigation methods that both conserve water and apply it specifically to the growing area, you may be able to avoid some of the problems associated with drought.

So, where do you start? One place would be the Irrigation Association of BC (IABC), which has an excellent website dealing with water, its application and conservation. Of particular note is a Factsheet (sic) which you can get by going to: http://www.irrigationbc.com/irrigation_links.htm Under MAFF Fact Sheets click on Soil Water Storage Capacity and Available Soil Moisture which is a pretty ponderous name for a simple four page package that describes in some detail how soil (in its various forms) stores water, how deep into those soils various plants will sink their roots, and two types of irrigation methods, sprinkler and drip. The IABC site will give you lots of extra information about irrigating in general.

Regardless of what type of soil is present in your garden, diligent watering is the key to healthy plants and good food. Water, fertilizer and compost are the three elements basic to good food growing. In fact, if you think about it, they are the same elements essential to all life: water, food and a place to lay your head and feel nurtured. Now, about the Kyoto Accord, will it put meat on my potatoes?

* Leonard Fraser is a food gardening consultant in BC and can be reached at llfraser@telus.net

[From WS December 2002/January 2003]

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