My Growing World in a Changing Climate

24 Feb

As a gardener, I feel that I have a closer connection to nature. Not in the way where I know everything about it, but in a more intimate way like a relationship that develops over time. For example, when I am in the garden from day to day, I can detect the little changes with the unfolding of leaves, predict when certain insects will arrive to pollinate flowers, or know that the dry warm days of late summer will ensure a sweeter tomato fruit. I am subconsciously on the lookout for diseases knowing when they will be a threat due to certain weather conditions, and hear the plants as they quietly whisper their watering needs. With the crazy weather we experienced last year, I often wonder if this will be a continuation. Is this what climate change is all about? Or are we just experiencing weather extremes? I can feel the change in weather, the ache in my bones before a winter storm or drop in the barometric pressure, or the hot and heavy moisture in the air before a summer thunderstorm. Most people can. I cannot however, feel a changing climate.

This is what I know…..

I know that the U.S.D.A. Hardiness Zones have shifted. I used to garden in U.S.D.A. Zone 5. The name of my organic farm I had ten years ago was called Zone 5 Gardens and Nursery. That farm is now right smack dab in the middle of U.S.D.A. zone 6. I read in the news and hear other gardeners talking about the changing climate and how the polar ice cap is melting at an alarming rate. Scientists say that since the industrial revolution, increased Carbon Dioxide, Nitrous Oxide, and Methane are the major reasons why we are experiencing global warming and climate change. I hear that our planet is warming. I hear complaints of how our summers are hotter. The Great Lakes has been dropping. I have heard that this is a cyclical pattern, and they will come back up.

This is what I learned…..

This past week I attended a conference where one of the days was spent on the presentation and discussions of climate change, mostly in the Great Lakes Region. Research scientists, educators and farmers presented and attended. The time of year where the warming is  occurring is the winter, not like the summers that I heard. This time of year is producing less snow in the snow regions. Over the past 100 years, the temperature at night has increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit. From 1980 to today the increase was 1 degree F. Much of the information presented showed historical charts and graphs. It was obvious how the majority of the changes as they relate to climate issues began to excel about this same time. There has been a dramatic drop in the Grand Traverse Bay, a bay in Lake Michigan, in the past thirty years due to warmer winters, lack of snow, and the bay not freezing, which when frozen holds moisture in, reducing evaporation. Spring is coming earlier, and our growing season is longer. We can expect our climate to continue to change, including increased temperatures ranging from 4F to 8F. In the United States, 2012 was the worst draught in 88 years. When asked, “Is this due to climate change?” The Geologist replied to the audience, “No, it was more of a weather extreme, but know that as our climate changes; we can expect to see more weather extremes.”

This is what I can do…..

Maybe I can’t feel climate change, I can’t stop it, I can only do my best to slow it down during my short time on earth. The difference from 4F to 8F can be determined by choosing how I live my lifestyle. It’s hard to change from what I am used to, and to be realistic. I have reduced my carbon footprint as low as it can go in my living situation. I ride my bike, have a fuel efficient car, so I have reduced my fuel usage. Or have I? What about the food I eat? Do you realize that eating locally not only helps to improve your local economy, but it helps to offset the use of fuel and can help reduce the rate in which climate change is occurring? Think about it. What did it take for that head of lettuce or bag of apples to come from the west coast of the U.S.? How much gas does it take for the truck or the plane? What about fuel usage of large agriculture companies compared to your local farmer? Did you know that according to the 2008 US GHG Inventory Reports the highest percentage of farm energy (29%) goes toward fertilizers? That doesn’t mean compost. I don’t plan on boycotting my farmers and insist they stop using their tractors, but I will commit to working harder to make sure I buy local produce and shop local farmers markets. I think I do a pretty good job, but I know I can do better. The biggest thing I can do is to grow my food at My Urban Farmscape, and continue to share my experiences with others that want to learn to grow more with less… less space, less fertilizer, and less water. Will I give up coffee? Nope, but I do drink less than I used to. This is what I CAN DO. What can you do? Do you have ideas to share?

Links to learn more…..

Cornell University http://blogs.cornell.edu/climatechange/
Climate Change General http://www.climatechange.org
Carbon Footprint Calculator http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx
Plant Hardiness Zone Map http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/
National Farm to School http://www.farmtoschool.org
Local Harvest http://www.localharvest.org

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