Last summer was so hot that many probably thought it was one for the books. Well, it turned out that Earth in 2015 had its warmest summer in recorded history. It was another sign that the planet is heating up, due mainly to human-induced greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere.
For some folks in Vancouver, the dry conditions at the time made gardening so challenging that they immediately started an experiment.
The result is the beds of herbs, flowering plants, vegetables, and young fruit trees currently in the front yard of City Farmer, a nonprofit organization that promotes urban agriculture. The group’s executive director, Michael Levenston, calls them a “climate-change adaptation garden”.
“We’re all learning to adapt, and we’re watching [the plants] very carefully,” Levenston told the Georgia Straight at the Maple Street site.
Instead of soil, each plot is filled with compost. According to Levenston, compost holds moisture better, protecting gardens from drought. “It’s a big experiment to see what will do well,” he said.
As part of the experiment, City Farmer also planted two olive shrubs last June. Olives aren’t traditionally grown in Vancouver. However, the weather was warm enough for the group to give it a shot. In the fall, 13 olives were harvested.
“If climate change happens more and more, perhaps we’d be able to grow olive crops here,” Levenston said. “You never know how things are going to change.”
The experiment isn’t over. Next, Levenston said, the group will try different methods of watering the beds to see which works best. City Farmer’s head gardener, Sharon Slack, likes soaker hoses. As a tip for gardeners in general, she said that soaker hoses deliver water slowly through their tiny holes to the roots of plants. This reduces water runoff, allowing gardeners to “water deeply”.
“The roots then will be encouraged to go deeper, where it’s cooler and there’s more moisture,” Slack told the Straight. “Once they’re down there, they are more tolerant of the hotter temperatures.”
Gardeners should realize that watering frequently is not actually beneficial. “People want to water all the time, and all this does is keep the roots up at the surface where they can be burned by the hot weather,” Slack noted.
She also suggested checking out labels in nurseries to see if certain plants have been classified as drought-resistant. She pointed out that herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and melons tolerate dry conditions.
Inside City Farmer’s office is a copy of Resilient Gardens 2016: Climate Change, Stress Disorders, Pest Update. Levenston and Slack recommended this new book by Salt Spring Island–based pest-management and gardening expert Linda Gilkeson. Her website offers tips for gardening in various weather conditions.
In summer, Gilkeson suggests shading young vegetable plants and seedbeds during the hottest times of the day. Anything from shade cloth to curtain material and newspapers will do. Gilkeson also recommends applying mulch to keep the soil cool. She says lawn clippings are good for this purpose.
Meteorologists forecast normal summer conditions this year in Metro Vancouver.
But as Slack noted, one never really knows what’s coming. As the warming planet’s climate system can change abruptly, spawning extreme weather conditions like droughts and storms, Slack said: “Nothing is guaranteed.”