By Cam Mather
(Note from Michelle: Cam actually wrote this post in late May but I forgot to post it until now. Interestingly enough, the summer has carried on as it began with record high temperatures and the worst drought that we’ve experienced in our 14 years here at Sunflower Farm.)
I’ve noticed a strange tone in recent gardening columns in newspapers. Gardeners seem to think that climate change is pretty good. One gardener claimed, “If this is global warming, I’m in favour.” This comes from a gardener who has a garden plot in an allotment, so let’s say it’s probably about 20 by 30 feet. Easy to maintain and big enough to provide salads for about two months. Eating anything else for the rest of the year doesn’t seem to concern this type of gardener!
It really should though because the weather we are experiencing here in Ontario is absolutely brutal. After the winter that wasn’t we experienced summer heat in the spring. Early in March we had two weeks of summer that was bizarre. People loved it. Weather forecasters were like rock stars. “Hey isn’t this patio weather awesome?” It sure is, if you just want to consume alcohol and eat finger foods, but if you want a secure food supply, this is a nightmare scenario.
All those poor trees that are used to a gradual warming got tricked. They decided it was time to go. And off they went. Their leaves and blossoms began to develop. And then just as their blossoms were in full bloom, we got three nights of frost. In a typical spring the trees know to wait. But not this year. The knowledge they have built up over eons in their DNA went out the window, as did their fruit. The frost devastated much of the fruit crop in Ontario. I found this CBC news report on Chudleigh’s apple orchard in Milton heartbreaking to watch. A large percentage of their apple crop was killed by this freaky spring weather.
The maple syrup producers in our region were also adversely affected by crazy spring weather. They produced about 40% of their usual output. The maple trees got confused with the heat wave in March too. Amazing how two crazy weeks of heat can damage a food supply.
In my gardening zone, it’s considered safe to plant your garden during the Victoria Day weekend, which usually falls around the 24th of May. This year it was a bit earlier – Victoria Day was on May 21st. In the 14 years that we’ve lived here, most of our Victoria Day weekends have been cold and rainy. I always feel a little sorry for the campers and cottagers in the area who have traveled all this way just to sit inside and watch the cold rainfall. But this year, the Victoria Day weekend was more like July. The temperatures were in the range of 25° to 30° C (77 – 86° F). It was a prime planting weekend for me and I had plenty to accomplish in the garden and not enough time to get it all done. And it felt like July. I made sure to get out there by 6 a.m. and it was hot by 9 a.m and pretty unbearable by noon.
I know, as a gardener I should love this weather. But planting 50 different varieties of vegetables like I do, there is a rhythm required to get everything in. You start planting when it’s cool. As the temperature gradually increases you get more planted, but you ramp up. Your body acclimatizes to the heat. All the early planting is done in cool weather so you don’t get as fatigued. Planting a full garden in July heat is just not do-able over the long haul.
Cottagers loved the weekend. People raved about the weather. And yet all I could do was shake my head at the implications. It reminds me of the many videos taken during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. I feel like the guy on the balcony yelling at the people on the beach who are oblivious to what’s happening. I can see the wave and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is not normal and that it is going to have a very bad outcome. But those people just keep on frolicking on the beach thinking shiny happy thoughts.
I wish I could think shiny happy thoughts about climate change. Unfortunately I feel I have a unique perspective on it. I’m trying to grow food in a sustainable, low carbon input way. I don’t own a tractor. I don’t have municipally supplied water or electricity. So other than the gas for rototiller, I have to supply all the energy inputs myself, from the sun and wind to pump water and for me personally to do the planting and weeding and watering (fueled by Michelle’s awesome granola.)
And you know what? It’s hard. It’s really, really hard. It would be way easier if I had a big tractor and specialized pieces of equipment to do all the work. But if I did, I’d end up getting specialized in growing just one thing. And I’d be reliant on diesel. And with oil at $110/barrel it becomes obvious to me that input costs are going to rise, to the point of potentially being uneconomic.
So I keep trying to figure out how to grow at a sustainable level. And this bloody hot weather is making it significantly harder.
Sometimes I think I should move back to suburbia. Get a job. And jump in my crossover SUV and drive to a cottage every weekend. Drive a jet ski. Grill steaks. Fly south for a week in the winter. And just forget this whole global warming thing.
But that only works as long as someone else is out there growing your food. Right now the weather forecasters, who are raving about this awesome weather, will casually mention “… but we could use some rain for the lawns.” For the lawns? Is that your priority? We could use some rain so farmers can GROW FOOD!
Here in Canada less than 40 percent of us elected a majority Conservative government that seems hell bent on ignoring climate change. Stephen Harper (who raged on about a Liberal “omnibus” bill years ago) introduced his first majority budget’ an omnibus 400-page blockbuster that manages to reduce things like environmental assessments for tar sands pipelines, so we can burn up our natural gas by shipping low quality bitumen to China. And really, putting a pipeline through pristine Northern BC mountain ranges is such a no-brainer, who needs an environmental assessment for such a great plan?
The Stephen Harper Government had put some money aside for the eco-Energy Audit program that would help homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient. But they chose a Sunday morning to announce that they had canceled the program, probably so that no one else could sign up for it if they caught wind it was going to be ended prematurely. Ah sorry, my cynicism is showing. Might as well book my winter vacation in Mexico now.