Gardening in a Changing Climate

Sharon October 22nd, 2009

When I worry about climate change, I often think first about human consequences. But the line between human losses and nature’s losses is pretty fine – literally a tree falling in the forest question. That is, if the sugar maples that turn my region into a blaze of red, the hemlocks that overshadow my creek disappear, who loses me or nature? The only answer is “yes.”

The evidence that any prevention of the worst forms of climate change would require radical action is becoming firmer.  If it is not already too late to avoid many of the worst effects of climate change, it shortly will be, and if we do not act quickly, our losses will grow each year. I see no signs of quick action. I hope for them, of course, and work for them, but there comes a point at which we all need to turn to the problem of mitigation.

If climate change cannot be limited, if we will see our local ecologies change – perhaps quite rapidly.  In general we will get warmer – but that’s not all – many places will get dryer, while others may get wetter.  Or areas may see one sort of change in the short term, and another later.  What we do know is that we’ll see more violent weather, more extremes of wet and dry, more extremes of temperature, more instability and uncertainty.  This affects both our ability to feed ourselves and also to preserve what we value in our region.

We will need to find ways to feed ourselves in our new climates, and in many ways that’s project enough.  But the land we husband can do more than simply feed us – it can soften the blows of climate change, help bring new and valuable species into regions just becoming able to support them, or on the contrary, help breed and adapt new varieties of old residents of our areas, so that they not lost to us. They can provide wildlife habitat for new and old species, and even microclimates, in which things being chased to extinction can survive. To an extent, we can even hold back raging floods and deserts with our hands.

Does that sound too extreme? It is, nonetheless, true. That is, one of the most remarkable examples of what small scale husbandry can do is shown by Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement in Kenya, which has planted more than 30 million trees in Kenya, a nation deforested by a combination of colonialism and poor management. As deserts encroached, Maathai demonstrated the only way to keep them back was to create oases of trees, producing food, drawing up water, cooling people and making areas livable. The trees were planted, almost all by poor women, most of them desperately poor, who carry water to their trees each day by hand, because they know that the way to fight the desert is trees. My friend Kate worked for a while with the Green Belt Activists, and she said that in Kenya, trees are powerful – they free up labor for women who no longer have to walk miles for firewood, and provide food and security. But most of all, the trees create life – it is possible to live in a place shaded and lush with green, in a way it is not for most of us in the desert.

How many of us live in places where topsoil washes away, where rising temperatures are reducing water? We need a worldwide Green Belt movement, bringing suitable, food and wood producing trees to the driest and hottest places. That is the beginning of our gardens – the planting of the trees that will make them possible, that carry water from the deepest places, repair and hold soil, and create places we can live. We will have to choose our trees carefully, especially in the hottest and driest places, but we must plant them – and if necessary, carry water the way the women of Kenya do.

One tree that more of us ought to consider is Moringa, a naturalized shrubby tree that has several highly drought tolerant strains, but will grow as a die-back perennial as far north as Atlanta. The leaves are enormously nutritious, a single tablespoon of dried moringa containing 100 % of the Vitamin A, 14% of the protein, 40% of the calcium and 23% of the iron needed by a small child. The fresh leaves are rich in Vitamin C as well. The seeds make a high quality cooking oil, and the pods can be cooked and eaten like green beans. Moringa can become invasive in disturbed soil areas in tropical places, but offers enormous potential even in cold climates, grown as an annual, because of its potential use as a human and livestock feed.

There are other equally important trees – many oaks in warmer places are suffering from diseases, but there are oaks that can tolerate wide climate ranges, and acorns are an important human and animal feed – my own property has a long swath of swamp white oaks being nurtured in the wetlands for their future value.

Water is likely to be a huge issue all over the world. One of the things we can do to deal with this crisis is grow our own – although that requires irrigation water, Gary Nabhan of Native Seed/Search, in his book _Coming Home to Eat_ documents that generally speaking, homegrown produce, even in drought regions, uses up less water than produce trucked in from distant places. In many cases, the sheer cost of refrigerating produce means that it uses more water even within the dry region than it does if you grow your own.

 We must see water shifted to home agriculture when possible. But we also must minimize water use wherever possible, choosing annual and perennial food crops that can handle heat and drought, and growing them in appropriate ways, using greywater, rainwater, and water-thrifty growing techniques.

As we choose our perennial species, we must make decisions. Do we push our zonal limits, moving north plants from southern places that are newly able to survive here? This can be important work, enabling us to replace species as they are lost, and also providing food and habitat for birds and wildlife that move northwards faster than trees and plants can. 

This exercise does come with some risks – new species can naturalize more swiftly and aggressively than we would like them to. But human beings have perturbed the climate and transformed the world unwittingly, making mistake after mistake in our rearrangement of nature. We cannot wash our hands of the work and say “it is too complex for me – best not mess with it” – we’ve already messed with it, now our project is to use every power we have – mind, imagination, passion, strong backs – to do the imperfect best we can to shape our future.

We will undoubtedly make wrong choices and do harm – but better we try as wisely as we can to fix what is broken than we go on choosing without thought or care. And so we begin to push our limits. I have recently added the hardiest of the hardy bamboos to my yard, and we shall see whether it becomes a pest, or if it even survives. But the sheer usefulness of bamboo makes me think that the choice is worth the risk. And if it does not survive this time, perhaps in a year or two, it will. Although I hold little hope of it attracting pandas, it may yet serve other purposes for our native wildlife, and it certainly serves me.

 My Maypop has survived and fruited – as far as I know, it is the only maypop at my elevation in my region of rural upstate New York.   I know of no other quince trees up here, or of any medlars.  But perhaps, if they survive and fruits, someday the seeds will grow in someone else’s garden, and on again.

You see wild teasel growing all over the place here – its spiny heads are unmistakable. It is hard to imagine that this pesky weed was once a major crop in my area – used to brush down the nap of woven cloth in the cloth mills of Lowell, MA, farmers once grew acres of teasel – now it is a wild thing, unloved, untended. And it shows just how quickly crops can change – what will New Yorkers grow, for example, when olive oil is too expensive to import from California and Italy? My own guess is oilseed pumpkins that once filled fields in Germany. I plant them now, not because I think the days of oil pressing pumpkin seeds are coming quickly, but so that I will have seeds to share – and for their delicious pumpkin seeds.

We can also to a degree stem the tide of loss of beloved species. In my region, the two trees I first mentioned, the glorious Sugar Maple and the cooling hemlock, are both projected to disappear from my region this century. In the desert southwest, the pinion pines are disappearing, and one report suggests that someday, Redwood national forest will have no redwoods in it.

 But although species are lost, they rarely disappear entirely. Despite the depredations of Dutch elm disease, in my region you sometimes see that beautiful vase like shape in the middle of an old field, a tree that lived even though the rest did not. The American chestnut, that two centuries ago filled half the eastern forests, is gone – but there are a few left that grow up from stumps and even produce the occasional nut before dying back. It is these hardy, partially resistant specimens that offer hope to plant breeders that we might bring back the Chestnuts and the Elms. But that work isn’t the work of professional plant breeders alone. All of us who own even a tiny postage stamp of a yard can get to know our trees, watch them and the ones around them.

Perhaps your maples or pinion pines will show signs of withstanding warmer temperatures, or resistance to new diseases moving northwards. Perhaps if in the autumn, you take a garden bed and plant some seeds, you will give birth to the next generation of familiar plants.

Backyard plant breeding sounds hard, but it is as simple as this – when an annual or perennial crop is grown in your place, a host of information and slight adaptations are created to your conditions. The children of this plant will have a taste of those adaptations in their blood – study after study has found that the plant children of first generation transplants uniformly do better adapt more easily to a climate. That is, if you grow a heat loving squash like “Seminole” in your borderline too cool climate, and mature only one fruit, the next year the seeds of that fruit will be better able to handle your cool soil and nights, and perhaps you will get two, or three, and the next generation still better.

This works with both annual and perennial crops – seed saving is not just a way to save money or preserve genetic diversity, but a way of increasing yields, and often, increasing the nutritional value of a crop, for as plants respond to stress, they lose nutrients. A plant adapted to your region, soil, climate will have more energy to create beautiful, healthy, nutritious edible parts.

And it isn’t just the plants themselves that we can mitigate with.  Soil saving can mitigate the harm of climate change – rich soils, high in organic matter, over time can store as much carbon as a similarly sized forest, and pasture animals as well. If we were to transform the millions of acres of lawn to high humus pasture, or rich garden soil, we could soften the blow of climate change a great deal. The process of cover cropping, adding manures and nurturing a piece of land may not just help us adapt – it may limit the amount of adaptation we have to do.

 What about wildlife? We are destroying our species so thoroughly – a third or more by mid-century that we must give them a hand. Whether we manage 10 acres or a 20 x 20 yard, we can plant diverse species, and protect endangered wild plants at the margins of our gardens. We can work to attract wildlife, and to meet its needs for food, water, shelter, places to reproduce.

We can watch for new species, and changes in habit, and strive to adapt to them. One garden among a row of postage stamp lawns seems like it can do nothing to stem the loss of wildlife, but you’d be surprised. Thousands of insect and animal species can live in a single yard, and hundreds more may visit on their way somewhere else. Your milkweed may be the difference between monarchs next year and none at all; your wild places the one that the bumblebees rely upon.

Moreover, your influence doesn’t lie only on the ground, but on what you start in your neighborhood – the neighbor you persuade to leave a little space for the bumblebee, the native seeds you toss over the fence into the vacant lot. Farmers might consider bringing back their hedgerows, even using British style “laid” hedges as livestock fencing. In those hedgerows we can provide habitat, animal feed, and also wood and food for ourselves. Mixing traditional regional species with those who might adapt, we can create integrated plant colonies, or Permaculture style “guilds” that may adaptively work together, enabling the plants as whole to do better than any isolated specimen.

We can protect the most vulnerable creatures, at least a little.  In some places, the robins never leave at all for the winter, but here they still do, and every year I record the first time they return. This year it was January 27th, the first time I have ever seen them here in January. The first year it was mid-February. They lay earlier, too, and the ones that return each year to the nest in the old chicken house on our property sometimes lose their babies to cold. Last year, I started going out in the evening, once the parents were on their nests, and simply shutting the door to the chicken house, rising early in the morning and opening it. Last year, the first batch of babies survived.

It might be wisest to have our gardens do a little of each thing – bring in some new crops and push our regional limits, particularly when such crops might fill a void, such as pumpkin seeds in a vegetable fat poor region, or leguminous trees that can be interplanted with annual crops to feed the soil and respire moisture into the air. But also, we can protect and preserve what we have, watering a little, if we have it to spare, to enable the old crops to hang on a little longer, to find the ones that might survive.

As my own home gets warmer and wetter, it is a challenge to figure out what my new norms are. It is warming in the spring, but I’m not planting any earlier most years, because the rains are so heavy that it isn’t possible. In anticipation of a time when I might truly need the food I can produce in April here, I am building some beds, with gravel at their base, designed to dry out even in the wet times.  Many of us will have to adapt our gardens – or even move them.

 With a little protection, I hope that fresh greens and perhaps rhubarb will produce soon enough to bring the spring season home a little earlier, and to stretch the winter food reserves – we may as well take advantage of the small number of pluses of climate change – despite claims to the contrary, for food production, they are extremely few.

The changes in the spring flooding season also mean that it is more important than ever to keep topsoil from eroding and the banks of my creek stemmed with trees. My own security from flooding depends on not losing soil, and on keeping my ground intact. Near the ocean, this may mean finding salt tolerant marsh and reed plants to hold back soil, or in heavy wet soils, finding root crops, like cattails, that can take the place of less wet tolerant foods in our diets.

In hot, dry places, the whole system of agriculture may have to change to a vegeculture model. That is, field scale cultivation may not be possible as things get dryer and hotter – in many drought stricken parts of Kenya, the only places to grow gardens are under the shade of leafy oases. That means returning to traditional African models of agriculture, that integrated small, intermittent patches of root crops with perennial tree and vine crops (more on this here. 

When Europeans came to Africa, at first they could not understand how Africans fed themselves from their tiny gardens, but soon they realized that they cultivated the forest. We too will probably have to cultivate our forests, and change the shape of our food cultures and food production. That is, climate change won’t just change our gardens, but our diets as well. It may be necessary to give up the hope of summer salads in hotter places, and accept that summer is a time for other foods, or to give more priority to cool weather cultivation for staple crops.

Here in my garden, our growing seasons seems to lengthen on the autumn end – 4 out of the eight falls I’ve spent here, we’ve had a frost more than 10 days after our traditional frost date.   So I need to plant better fall gardens, and wait longer before taking out winter stores – if I can be growing cold hardy crops into early December, I should be.

There is no single process of adaptation – every region will have to deal with its own projections, and the specific ecology of a place and time. And as quickly as we determine what we should do, we will probably have to change it again – for climate change moves forward, whether we like it or not. But the preservation, sustenance and recreation of a piece of land is good work, and necessary work. The starting point is beginning to look hard at the realities of the problem, and anticipate what our landscapes may look like, and what our proper role in our new world is.

Sharon

25 Responses to “Gardening in a Changing Climate”

  1. Heather says:

    Inspiring! I can’t wait to start our garden next spring. :)

  2. Julie says:

    Your post is making me remember so many books read and in this case movies seen like for instance:

    “The Man Who Planted Trees (French title L’homme qui plantait des arbres), also known as The Story of Elzéard Bouffier. ” which can be found in book and video form and is one of those stories that enchants both adult and children.
    And I can’t help but think about Barbara Kingsolver when you talk about the chestnuts as they play a role in her wonderful novel
    “Prodigal Summer” but then you could read almost anything she has written (fiction or nonfiction) and come away much more than just entertained. Or how about Steve Solomon and “Gardening When it Counts” He’s got gardening in hard times at the top of his list.
    Thanks Sharon

  3. Bill says:

    Many people think of climate change in terms of rising annual temperatures. Not a big deal, right? A few tenths of a degree here and there, or so it is thought. David Holmgren made the practical observation that what we are dealing with is not some small annual change in the average temperature, but rather a shift that has increased variability in local weather and also an increase in extreme events. Case in point – where I live we have had record smashing heat and cold events in the last two years – off the scale on both ends as to when they occurred and how far above / below the old record they were. These extreme events resulted in some loss of production each time, but also provided opportunities to observe how plants react and recover (or not) from a shock. System design needs to feature multiple levels of resilience and redundancy along with the selection of plantings that are proven in adverse conditions.

  4. Emily says:

    It’s hard to keep this trend in mind, as our last 2 summers have been decidedly cool. Always plant a variety…you never know if the peppers or the peas are going to have their favorite growing conditions!

    Also – for anyone interested in growing oil, this looks like a great home oil press. Will press any seed, from mustard to sunflower to pumpkin to coconut and palm. Small seeds (like sunflower) don’t even need to be shelled. http://www.piteba.com/eng/index_eng.htm

  5. Susan says:

    Sharon, I’ve been posting regarding climate change as well. Can’t believe how it pulls deniers and pseudoscientists out of the woodwork. Bill, your case in point is awesome, because these pseudoscientists will look at the average temps for those very years and then deny there’s anything going on. Nice how that works, eh? That is in fact what I’ve been dealing with here and have been noticing more and more every year I garden. The weirdness of the weather and the unpredictability — even more than I can ever remember — makes it hard to know what to plant when.

    I have been lazy about seed saving except for the few plants that are ridiculously easy to save; I think I will make it my goal for this year to also save seed from every plant that does well so I have my own reserve for following years. I know on a theoretical level that over time they will become adapted to my yard but I just haven’t made the leap to doing the extra work to save seed.

    The good thing about where I live is that I really can have a four season garden; the only thing I will need to do is make sure there are frost covers placed over each bed in use for the winter. And get a better rainwater harvesting system.

  6. Heather G says:

    Sharon, I’m curious as to what plants you grow into early winter? And what you plant in the fall besides garlic and onions? We’re having wetter summers here as well, so I’m curious as to what’s working for you.

    We managed to save some of our tomato plants this year — mulch and staking was all we did, but it helped shed some of the rain. Potatoes we did mulched really well, in a cone shape to shed water — also, as we built up the pile of mulch, the plants grew upward through the pile and put out more potatoes, so win-win there.

    I got in Jerusalem artichokes from a friend in NJ this summer and they’re doing marvelously. Not enough to harvest this year (roots), but perhaps a few next year. As far as I can tell they’re originally indigenous to MA, but they need sun, so perhaps as woodland got cut down for fuel and pasture, and woods are trimmed around the edges for road and field management, it didn’t survive as well against human management as it might. My long-term plan is to re-introduce it in our area, planting them in likely looking spots. I like the idea of not having to weed all my edibles :D

    We’re planting anther blueberry bush this year — we’ll have 4! I know, it isn’t much, but the bush was on sale and has berried successfully in our area, s I’m glad to get another local addition to the garden. The oldest bush has adapted, the two younger ones from the valley barely survived this year, but I’m hoping they’ll do better next year, and that the additional company will help.

    Speaking of increasing rains, haying was a challenge this year, waiting for enough dry days in a row! Also, we worked on improving the drainage for the field. The old pipes worked for the past hundred or so years, but couldn’t keep up with the change in weather. Hopefully the field is set for the next hundred years, but I think we may have a little more work to do in the lower part of the field next year. Happily, grasses are pretty adaptable, and we have a variety in the field.

  7. Claire says:

    The most noticeable thing happening here (St. Louis, MO) is a rise in the winter minimum temperate. I came to St. Louis as an adult in 1984. The first winter after I got here, we had a low of -18F one night. Each winter in the 1980s and into the 1990s we’d routinely get a winter minimum at least in the 0 to -10F range, and in the 1980s and early 1990s in the -10 to -20F range. That was USDA zone 5 to 6 territory.

    Since 1996 we have not had a winter minimum drop below 0F. At least so far we always get a winter minimum below 5F. But I wouldn’t be surprised if we never go below 0F again. That moves us up to Zone 7.

    I’ve been tending to favor plants for which Zones 5 to 7 are at the northern edge of their ranges, because our winter minimums may not support cool-weather plants like rhubarb if winter minimums keep increasing. So, for instance, I haven’t planted currants or gooseberries, but I have planted persimmons and am thinking of where I can plant Asian pears which seem to do best in Zones 6 to 7 and above. I’m thinking about where I could plant some things like moringa or tea camellia that need Zone 8 conditions, and where I could keep rosemary in the ground instead of having to keep it in pots brought inside during the winter. It may be that our highly changeable winter conditions won’t allow for these plants to survive winter even if the minimums are at acceptable levels, but that can only be determined by trying. I have two moringas in pots that I bring inside for the winter at this time. Once I decide where the test plot should be, I’ll start more moringas from seeds and try planting the ones I now have in pots and protecting them over the winter.

    Although the predictions suggest St. Louis conditions will get more like those in Oklahoma City as the years go by (hotter and drier), the last two years have been very wet. We got record-breaking yearly rainfall last year, and by the end of today we’ll already have gotten our average total yearly rainfall. My DH and I are planning to beef up our rainwater collection and storage system, adding a large tank up by the garden to store rainwater and finding a pump to get it from the barrels under the downspouts, which are slightly downhill of the garden. We need to gang rain barrels under the downspouts, too. I’m collecting soaker hoses to get water from the tank, once it exists, to the plants in the garden. The goal is not to use any municipal water for garden watering within the next couple years.

  8. Eleanor says:

    Very intersting thinking. I hadn’t really thought of this issue before. I will probably change some of my seed selections for next year and develop and more long term plan for the next several years.

    With respect to Claire’s post, I am curious about the rain water collection. What is the current thinking on use of rain water collected from composit shingle roofs? I once read or heard that you shouldn’t use that water on edible plants, due to toxic substances that might leach out of the shingles. On the other hand, everyone seems to be using their roof water in their vegie gardens, with no mention of this issue. I have been thinking about installing rain barrels, but I would also like to feel safe that I am not poisoning my family.

    Thanks!
    El

  9. Eleanor says:

    I started looking up problems with roof water, and found this http://home.comcast.net/~leavesdance/rainbarrels/safety.html. It was very helpful. It also has a link for slow sand filters, for filtering bacteria and what not out of the roof water.

  10. Mark N says:

    “Backyard plant breeding sounds hard, but it is as simple as this – when an annual or perennial crop is grown in your place, a host of information and slight adaptations are created to your conditions.”

    Remember, while growing the plant no adaption has taken place yet. Its when you collect the seeds of the offspring that were successful and show the traits you seek that you produce any adaption to particular conditions.

  11. DEE says:

    When our maple seeds fill the gutter I don’t complaint…how cute is a mini forest of sprouted maple seeds? Sure we have to clean ‘em out but just as many fall in our garden and we cultivate a dozen or so every year in our little nursery.

    When the Chinese elm…over 100 years old according to the arborist–tried to split we spent the dollars to cable this beautiful tree.

    We aren’t rich folks but we love trees. Our 80 acre wood of mainly oak/maple/black walnut trees now have many different varieties oftrees/shrubs–and the state forest gets a new order yearly as we strive for even more diversity. Our persimmon patch has gotten many people a start and we have pawpaws now–well,if we beat the deer to them. Red bud and dogwood grow in the understory of our woods and we have wandering trails throughout. We do some selective harvesting–who knew the beautiful grain lurking in a dead catalpa tree. Another home made gift from DH’s lathe.

    Rarely a month goes by without some logger wanting to make a bid on our woods…no way. Logging is big business here in the Ozarks but we had the state forester make us a plan for sustainabilty in our forest. The only logging we did do was with mules. How cool is it to find out that muscadine grape vine down by the all weather creek is probably from Civil War times?

    …..DEE

  12. Alan says:

    Um, just for the record, there is no “Redwood national forest”. There is Redwood National Park on the far northwest coast of California, almost in Oregon where there are also redwood trees. There is Sequoia National Forest (and National Park) much further south in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California near Yosemite National Park. The giant Sequoia trees of those parks are not the same as the giant redwoods of the north coast, although most would agree that they are similarly impressive.

    Did you mean redwoods or sequoias? The sequoias further south are, to my inexpert eye, probably in more danger from climate disruption than the redwoods.

  13. Alan says:

    Claire,
    The soaker hoses around here which are the ones made from recycled rubber and that “weep” won’t work with water from a cistern/rainwater system. They are designed for the amount of pressure carried by municipal water systems. The light pressure from a cistern just won’t reliably force the water through the extremely tiny holes, a problem caused by surface tension, perhaps.

    On the other hand, water from a cistern rarely has enough pressure to wash away soil from roots, so you can place a hose with a “bubbler” device or a small sprinkler and leave it while doing other things without worrying about washing your planting bed away.

  14. Paula Hewitt says:

    great post – i have been struggling with drier conditions here, and i am working on a perennial vege garden this summer.
    I couldnt see the link for more on the African model of underpanting shade trees – can you help please.

  15. Shira says:

    Paula,

    Look for Bill Mollison’s books on permaculture. He gardens in Australia, and he has the vegetables under shade trees very well described.

    Just look up permaculture and Africa or Jordan and you’ll get plenty to start.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  16. Bob Sonnenberg says:

    Blight resistant American Chestnut tree are growing in the Allegheny national Forest in Pennsylvania. They survived on a farm and are being spread through the forest by the latest generation of farmers,

  17. MD says:

    Don’t be too discouraged about your maples- we had a tree my parents called a sugar maple in our front yard when I was growing up- in middle TN. Our winters are too mild for sugaring, but the tree is still there and still thriving (and beautiful when fall is cold). The oaks and maples here are HUGE at maturity, and a welcome source of shade.
    In Memphis I’m finding that growing vegetables from India and Asia is good for throwing our pest population off guard (the pests don’t die off in the winter) and finding new varieties. Unfortunately I grew heat-and-drought-tolerant tomatoes this summer- and got very few. Growing several varieties is better than betting on hot and dry.
    And wildlife is actually booming in places down here, with abandoned farms (in rural areas) and buildings (in cities) providing habitat. We have possums, raccoons, squirrels, lots of birds (including hawks) and more species of insects, spiders, and mollusks than you can shake a stick at, in my tiny backyard, three miles from downtown. I even saw several different species of bees this year out back. Planting 30+ different varieties of garden plants in 300 square feet helps the diversity, I guess. I like the whole “farm the forest” idea, but then again, we picked poke salad from the fencerows in the spring, growing up.
    It’s warmer down here, but life isn’t a treeless wasteland. It’s more like a jungle to my husband’s Northern-bred eyes. Throw a plant down and run away (as they say of the kudzu), and it grows. Even your robins vacation down here. If y’all get what we have now- you’ll be fine, and we’ll be making salsa.

  18. ej says:

    many true things written here. but remember nature doesn’t care.

  19. Ståle says:

    Geoff Lawton (who studied with Bill Mollison in the late seventies and today is one of the world’s foremost permaculture teachers) talks about how we can be a force for good in the world, just like today we are mostly a force for bad with our environmental destruction. Intentional use of the right techniques can restore degraded land.

    For a great example of reclaiming desert, search YouTube for “Geoff Lawton” and watch the video “Greening the desert”. At 400m below sea level, right by the Dead Sea, they transformed extremely saline desert to productive land using permaculture techniques (e.g. swales and berms).

  20. Sena says:

    Some more information on blight-resistant chestnuts, from Minnesota:

    http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display05/27/chestnut/

    sounds like they are hybrid crosses with asian chestnuts.

  21. Sharon says:

    Alan, I meant Redwood Park, not forest – my fault. I suspect the Sequoias are also in danger, but the paper I was reading was discussing Redwoods. Mark N, thanks for the clarification – that’s what I meant, if not what I said ;-) .

    Heather – I find that with minimal protection, I can keep kale, leeks, scallions, sorrel, arugula and spinahc going into December most years. In mild years, I’ve overwintered leeks, kale and spinach with absolutely no protection here in zone 4 (5, but 4 by elevation).

    As for what I plant in fall – on the sidebar there’s a whole fall gardening section, based on a class I ran this summer which should be helpful.

    Sharon

  22. Dave says:

    Sharon, it’s predictable that we will all be concerned about the various impacts of climate change where we live, but on this global issue, we do have to stay focussed on the bigger picture. You obviously live inland from the ocean, dreaming. By far and away the biggest climate impact will be “progressive” sea level rise, measured in meters, not centimeters. In Japan alone, 40 million will become refugees, in China 300 million, in the Indian subcontinent 180million, Europe perhaps 75 million, and on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. at least 20 million will have to abandon flooding coastal cities and homes, many of them thinking of moving up to where you are contentedly gardening….

  23. Claire says:

    Alan, thanks for the info on soaker hoses! I’d already noticed there wasn’t enough pressure from the rain barrel to operate an oscillating sprinkler or to push water through a spray nozzle attachment for a hose. I’ll look into the bubblers you mentioned. I do have one non-oscillating sprinkler head that might work on the low pressure from a barrel.

    Eleanor, I have composite shingles, but I have not been all that concerned about any problem with contamination of the rainwater. It’s not that there isn’t something to be concerned about – there might be – but I’m not going to replace a roof that is only 8 years old, having been done by the previous owner just before we bought the house. I’m going to use the water that falls on the roof, despite whatever may or may not be in it. My garden is in an urbanized area that has been subjected to leaded gasoline emissions. Years ago, it was an apple orchard, at a time when lead arsenate was a commonly used pesticide (we found a container of lead arsenate in our house when we moved in – thank goodness our county collects hazardous waste from households). Our municipal water has contaminants in it too, according to the report the water supplier provides. On balance, I’m not going to worry about anything the shingles may or may not be contributing to whatever contaminants surely are already in the soil or are in the municipal water I’d otherwise be using, at a much higher cost to the environment and to my wallet.

    I have experimented with drinking the rainwater from my barrels with minimal treatment (filtering through cheesecloth and either boiling or exposure to UV from sunlight). No immediate ill effects have been apparent. I am trained as a chemist so I realize there might be something in the water that could be harmful in the long run, but I was exposed to chemicals that might also be harmful in the long run. IMHO, the rainwater is safer. But don’t anyone try this based on my say-so; do your own research. I’m planning to set up a low-tech filter system and use more rainwater for drinking in the next year. Should the roof need to be replaced in my DH’s and my lifetimes, we’ll put a metal roof on it at that time. It’ll benefit whoever has the house after we do, at least.

  24. Sharon says:

    Dave, it isn’t either or – even in the places most vulnerable to flooding, there are gardening projects to be done. For example, the re-establishment of the salt marshes or other important ecosystems can give people buffers that mean the difference between evacuating now and 10 years from now. Planting trees that are salt tolerant means that the chances of enduring for a decades rather than years go up. Carbon sequestration is important everywhere.

    Yes, I live inland, and upland – I chose this place precisely because of what we face. My entire family lives within 20 miles of the coast, and my husband’s as well – that means that my kids live apart from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, precisely because I don’t want them to have to leave their home someday as the storms grow worse. I expect to be moving my elderly parents and in-laws to my inland life as it becomes less safe and harder for them to evacuate. So no, I’m not contentedly gardening – I’m making the best choice I can for myself and attempting to establish something for many of the people – related to me and not – who will come inland eventually, but not until they have to.

    Sharon

  25. Erica says:

    Thank you very much for posting all of the excellent info! I am looking forward to seeintg more!

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