How do we know climate change is here?
FREQUENCY OF EXTREMES - records broken every year, historic events such as wildfires, hurricanes, and winter storms coming every season, every year now. This summer was not normal, but it used to be in the '70s - that is how much we've changed in just five decades.
Research has shown the warming climate is making heat waves, droughts and floods more intense and frequent. We are already having greater temperature swings closer together, and historic weather events happening more often - massive hurricanes, record breaking temps and rainfall, longer droughts, more snow and ice.
20 of the 22 past years were the hottest on record.
According to NOAA, this past July was the hottest in 142 years of record-keeping.It was Asia's hottest July on record and the second-most-sweltering July for Europe, according to NOAA. It ranked among the top 10 for warmest July for North America, South America, Africa and Oceania.
Gulf Stream is slowing.
Summit of Greenland - it rained for first time ever.
Sea level has already risen 8 inches in the past 100 years. Islands in the South Pacific are already going underwater at every high tide and even places in the United States - Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana isn't inhabitable anymore because of the rise in ocean levels, so the native peoples who had lived there forever had to move. PBS Earth Focus episode called Sea Level Rising: Living With Water is a great show about that.
Normal climate swings: at a climate and environment talk at The Natural Gardener years ago, Bob Rose, LCRA meteorologist, explained about a 30 year swing in our climate from warmer and drier to cooler and wetter. That might account for part of it, but certainly doesn't account for all of it or most of it or even a large part of it.
All is not lost and we don't need to completely panic. We definitely should be concerned, and take more steps NOW to do our part to try to help not make it any worse. If you can afford it, buy a hybrid car and get solar panels. The technology has come MILES from where it used to be. Conserve energy just like they've been telling us forever. But there are many more things we can do, especially in the garden.
What does it mean for us?
We need to give a lot of thought to how gardening is going to change and how we are going to change with it. We need to have a long, hard look at what we can no longer do and accept that we can't.
1. No more planting semi-hardy things thinking we'll get a few years out of them - now they'll likely have to be grown as annuals, if at all.
2. No more planting delicate things all over the yard. Maybe we keep one spot that is very visible where we can plant those things we love that aren't hardy anymore, or grow them in pots so we can move them inside for the first few cold snaps so they'll last longer.
3. No more trusting the garden center person without doing our own research because they may still be going off of old rules.
4. We'll have to be more accepting of more damage to the plants and rolling with it. We'll have to be okay with learning as we go as well, and sometimes getting it wrong.
We'll have to "unlearn" and "relearn" a lot of things
1. UNLEARN: that we have "summer" and "winter". We don't have one long frost-free growing season. We have two very short ones interruped by not just freezing cold, but also dessicating heat.
2. RELEARN: when to plant annuals, vegetables, & even trees
3. UNLEARN old watering habits like once a week watering, "set it & forget it" for a season, giving plants more water DURING the heat (heat dormancy) instead of before, and just guessing how moist the ground is without physically checking.
4. RELEARN how to water adequately for each temperature swing (water everything but cactus before a cold spell - water *before* a heat wave, not during), how to change your irrigation system's timer, how to check the soil moisture level, relearn signs of over- and underwatering, & watch the weather forecast every day even in milder seasons.
5. UNLEARN: what plants we can grow here: HORRIBLY hot one season, then bitter cold a few months later, might finish off a lot of plants that previously would have been fine.
6. RELEARN what plants are hardy in our new climate: watch what comes back after a bitter cold winter.
So what do we do?
First, don't go changing everything right away. Just pay attention - watch for a while. This is when you're unlearning and relearning. Notice what comes back just fine after being frozen back. Wait for at least June before deciding something is dead, and July or August is even better. Fall is the best time to plant here anyway. So wait for plants to die from cold or heat or floods or drought, THEN replace them with hardier things, or do something completely different, like a bird bath or porch swing. Porch swings don't die if you forget to water them.
Plant more trees. This helps in multiple ways, including:
1. By the direct sequestration of carbon in the massive amount of plant matter of the tree itself.
2. By shading our house so we use less electricity to run the air conditioner.
3. By using the air conditioner less, we use less hydrofluorocarbons, substances that have tens of thousands of times more warming potential than carbon dioxide.
4. By holding the soil in place so it doesn't blow or wash away.
Re-use grey water.
Install a "laundry to landscape" system.
Install a handwashing sink on the tank of your toilet.
Grow some vegetables. Even a few. Agriculture accounts for 30% of the greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all transportation combined.
1. Don't go buy a bunch of stuff to do it. Look at what you have and use that. I have numerous cattle troughs I don't use for animals anymore, an antique wheelbarrow, and an old goldfish pond filled with soil from the pots of dead plants. BAHAHA! A friend filled in her swimming pool and that's her veggie garden now. Or that sunny spot you used to plant annuals in, do colorful veggies instead. Veggies can be very pretty, too.
2. Compost and use that on your vegetables. Helps you avoid buying as much stuff to garden with, as well as not putting it in landfills where it makes methane, another serious greenhouse gas.
3. Wasting food is a MASSIVE problem. If we grow it, we're a lot less apt to waste it.
4. What you can't grow, get at the farmers market, or only in-season things from HEB.
If you grow fruit trees, do it strategically.
1. Plant both low and high chill hour varieties. IF that means you have to plant more than you thought you would, plant them close and keep them pruned small.
2. Put most of your eggs in the "easy" basket - ie, figs, blackberries, pomegranates, & native edibles.
3. Keep citrus potted, or only grow Arctic Frost varieties.
Plant smarter in our yards. Plan for the extremes.
1. The "bones" of garden must be more hardy. - shrubs, trees, and especially plants that make a privacy hedge need to be hardy to at least zone 7, while still able to take our heat.
2. That sunny spot on the west side of your house that never seems to grow much of anything? Stop fighting it, and just grow lettuce and broccoli in winter, then cover crops in summer, letting them naturally die back in the heat.
3. Plan for drier winters. Get up close and personal with your irrigation system NOW. Learn how to adjust it and change it every month for practice. Video yourself telling yourself how to adjust it, then watch that again later. Then keep adjusting it regularly, even when it's mild and cold. We need to not "forget" about our gardens when the weather cools off.
4. ...And wetter springs and falls. Use easy-to-rake mulch or plant rain garden plants. If a certain spot seems to constantly be wet in spring and fall, maybe build a real rain garden there. More on both of these later.
Keep your plants healthy & unstressed in gentler weather so they can withstand those extremes.
Learn the signs of too much water so you can step in and fix it asap (turn off irrigation, rake back mulch, or transplant and replant with something that can take wet feet). WILTING IS A SIGN OF STRESS, NOT DRYNESS.
Don't kill the soil. That will lead to desertification, the process by which rich soil degrades into desert. The soil dies by letting it dry out, starving it, using chemicals, or tilling too often.
RELEARN how to check the soil moisture level - open a hole in the ground with a shovel, stick your fingers four or five inches down in the opening, and feel the soil. It should feel as moist as a well-wrung-out sponge. Aim for that level of moisture on balance - it should be wetter after you water, then drier before you water again.
About desertification: it is what happened during the Dust Bowl.
When it rains, watch where the water pools and where it runs off, then adjust those for larger rainfalls.
Plant rain garden plants where the water pools and stands, and also where it runs off to slow down the runoff. Some common examples are Big Bluestem, Flame Acanthus, Horseherb, Bee Balm, Cast Iron Plant, and Butterfly Weed.
Build a real rain garden: A rain garden is simply a low spot intended to catch and hold rainwater runoff from any type of impervious cover. They are filled with plants that can handle wet or dry conditions. This helps in numerous ways:
1. less flooding
2. keeps toxins on site, not washed into waterways where they can become concentrated over time
3. makes your landscape more attractive as well.
Season Extenders - what they are and how to use them. Everyone should have these in your garage just in case. Even if you only plant hardy things, that first cold snap may be so severe and coming "out of the blue" that that might do them in. For instance, even if they normally are fine with 15F, they won't be now if it's coming after a month of temps in the 70s.
Season extenders are things used to keep heat in in winter and keep heat out in summer.
3. Kinds of season extenders we would use here in Texas
A. Row cover (aka frost cloth)
B. Shade cloth
C. Cold frames
5. Heat sources: Be sure to have some passive heat sources (non-electric) if you have some plants that are incredibly special.
A. Incandescent Christmas lights
B. Small ceramic or oil-filled radiating heater w/thermostat
*Make sure any electrical things are plugged in to GFCI outlets.
C. Candle smudge pots
D. Thermal mass - The Earth itself! Or other large mass - it needs to be large to be effective, but even small mass can help a little bit.
My Season Extender post on TheRedneckHippie.com with a lot more info and photos.
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