What Does Climate Change Mean For Gardeners?

A few weeks ago the smartest dude I know got a bit maudlin about how warming waters over the Arctic and methane burping forth from the melting permafrost is likely to increase the speed and effects of climate change. (Read more here and here.)

This, in combination with the polar vortex in the midwest and the raging drought up and down California got me pondering: what does climate change mean for gardeners, and what can we do to mitigate the effects of more extreme weather? This is a meant as a thought exercise, not a call to action, so I hope you’ll add your own perspective in the comments.

Climate Change for Gardeners

One note: anthropogenic climate change is, in the US at least, political and controversial. I’m not interested in opening this up to a debate on whether or not climate change is real, or if it’s anthropogenic or part of a natural warming cycle that would be happening anyway, even without industrial CO2 discharge. If you don’t think the actions of people are influencing global climate patterns, please just mentally substitute the phrase “unpredictable weather” for climate change throughout this post. The topic should still be decent brain-crackers.

Okay, so gardeners are obsessed with the weather, right? My neighbor, in her 70s and a gardener from way back, assures me every year that she’s never seen weather like this before. Over the fence we engage in old-school weather gossip, pointing out unusual overwintering bugs and strange warm spells and sudden cold snaps and looking at the sky in spring like we’re trying to read tea leaves.

But the data seems to support that notoriously-unreliable gardener “gut impression” of the weather: more variable, extreme, intense weather events are probably the new normal. As a gardener, I feel like I need to be ready for hotter hots, colder colds, drier dries, wetter wets.

But how?

In the immediate term – right now – I think it’s all about mental flexibility. I live in a bioregion that is defined as “moderate” and “temperate” for a reason. If I had my say, the temperature would always stay within 20 degrees of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. A range of 40 to 80 degrees seems entirely civilized to me, thank you very much.

But if I know that those cold snaps and dry spells and heat waves and torrential downpours are more likely to come at me, fast and hard and sometimes in sequence, that changes the way I think about my garden. I know I have to build in more stability and diversity in my plantings, be more alert to those weather events, and be pretty constantly prepared to moderate their effects for my plants.

Mental flexibility also means understanding that the timing sequence that worked last year might not be right this year, and we might have to take more and greater educated guesses about when to get our plants in the ground. We might have to make more staggered sowings of key crops to compensate for the more dramatic temperature swings over a growing season. When a January warm spell comes, maybe we should seize the moment, take a chance, and plant peas a month early. Maybe this year that’s appropriate. Maybe it’ll flop – but flexibility is the most important thing we can cultivate now.

Certainly focusing our minds on learning to read our place backward and forward is a good idea – looking for those natural clues – tulips breaking ground, birch trees leafing out – to help guide our deeper garden knowledge.

In the short term, I think investing in tools and supplies to help moderate the unpredictable effects of climate change is very smart. Ironically (because, you know, industrial production and input dependency) this might mean buying stuff like hoops and plastic covers for low tunnels and cloches. It means maybe saving old worn out sheets in the garage, ready to be tossed over plantings to protect them from a freeze. It might mean investing in grow lights or heating mats so that growing out your own starts is easier, whatever the weather outside, and setting up a rain barrel to help offset less predictable rainfall patterns.

But let’s be honest: if climate change dramatically changes weather patterns, buying technological solutions to moderate those extremes is a stop-gap measure. It will help us keep the garden growing, sure, but at the cost of greater dependance on the technologies that are, at least in part, contributing to climate change in the first place. That’s a bitch of a situation to be in.

I’m not giving up my grow lights any time soon, but I see intermediate steps to build resiliency in the garden as more education and design-based. Steve Solomon wrote a book called Gardening When It Counts, and in it he talks about dry gardening – growing food with far less water and fertility inputs than is typical. There are resources out there for gardeners looking at a future of less predictable weather.

Educating ourselves about alternative growing techniques like dry gardening, winter sowing, food forests and other kinda kooky, non-mainstream options for edible production will be key, I think. Then we move to re-designing our gardens in ways that utilize the full breadth of those traditional and cutting-edge techniques to maximize the garden’s chance of success going forward.

For example, I’d suggest that gardeners in areas at risk for lower rainfall check out sunken beds, hugelkultur, berms and swales, passive rainwater sequestration and drylands gardening. If increasing cold is likely to be a problem, Sepp Holzer is a great example of a guy who’s hacked his climactic zones with thoughtful farm design. At his farm, he built terraces and placed ponds and rocks in certain positions to reflect sunlight onto trees and plants, and in this way grows citrus more than a kilometer up the slopes of the Austrian Alps.

If water is really the new oil, personal grey water reuse systems just seem smart. Investing in the kind of technology – or just hacking existing plumbing systems – to get a second use out of water used for bathing and laundering may be economically and ethically critical in the years to come and may be the only thing that keeps personal gardens acceptable (or legal!) in low-rainfall areas. One simple step in this direction is to stop literally pissing away clean drinking water. (Read more: How To Use Pee In Your Garden.)

Folks going down the path of greater independence in the face of an unpredictable climate will want to make sure they learn basic seed saving and start trialing various open pollinated varieties of veg to see what is most successful in their own garden.

Folks looking for a more communal approach to riding-out a Water World future should spend their time getting to know (or create) a local seed library and should support efforts to maintain or increase seed diversity in whatever way they can. The dinner you breed might be your own.

Long term, it’s very hard to predict what climate change might do. Thoughts on the best and worst places to ride out global warming are fraught with either sarcasm or unsurety. But we do know that if sea levels rise due to a melting polar ice cap, waterfront property will become underwater property. And unless your favorite crop is kombu, that’s gonna put a kink in your gardening.

This map came out a few weeks ago showing what my hometown would look like with a huge, 240′ sea rise. (Read all about it here.) It’s the archipelago of Seattle, and it’s fascinating and terrifying. The take away: live at the top of a hill.

Image credit: Jeffrey Linn

So if climate change is something that concerns you, there is perhaps some sense, long term, in considering where you live. What are the geographic areas least likely to become uninhabitable? What areas are likely to be mild or suffer less from weather extremes? I don’t know the answer. I’m not sure anyone does, though avoiding the two extremes of “hell and high water” should be a major concern.

To that end, anything that’s already a desert is a bad choice, as are low-lying coastal regions. I’d avoid any area typically in the path of hurricanes or typhoons, since those will probably just get bigger and more damaging. Areas currently chilly may become more desirable as they warm – chilly Northern Canada might end up a temperate paradise, who knows?

In the northern hemisphere I’d look for land in a temperate to cool area on a gentle south-facing slope with mountains that will continue to see snowfall at my back. I’d be careful of building on permafrost – if it becomes meltafrost, giant sinkholes may eat your house. Does anyone reading live in Terrace, B.C.? That town looks like a great little spot to call home in a post-climate change future.

I’m not a doomsday person. I think people are good at adapting if they have enough time to do so. And if the worst, most terrifying predictions are accurate and climate change is going to rapidly kill off the majority of mankind anyway, I figure we might as well just hug our kids, read great books, grow great food, eat it and have a good time. But in the meantime, it can’t hurt to work on being resilient and flexible in how we garden.

What do you think?

Related Stuff…

(These are affiliate links. Purchases made through these links cost you nothing extra but may help zombie-proof your garden. Full financial disclosure here. Thank you for your support, guys!)

An good introduction to gardening with less water: Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon.

Anything by Sharon Astyk is a very choice for homesteader-types concerned about climate change or peak oil. I particularly recommend her latest book, Making Home.

For information on how to garden with an eye towards sustainable design, I recommend the following permaculture focused books: The Vegetable Gardener’s Guide To Permaculture and Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist (both excellent for beginners), and Gaia’s Garden. I have not read it, but apparently Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture is amazing for people ready to implement a permaculture vision in a cold climate.


  1. says

    It means a lot of what you said but it also means that in my garden where things seem to not follow the gardening rules anyway, it might just work out, sometimes. ie we have trees that fruit when they’re not meant to, twice a year when they’re meant to fruit once etc.
    OR… is that ALREADY a result of the climate change and I’m just seeing it as a rebellious garden?… lol the plot thickens.

    Seriously though, I think it just means more unpredictability – a garden reflection of what we need to be prepared for as humans, generally. What we think we know, we will have to rethink. What is normal, may not be any more so our reactions or pre-actions will have to respond accordingly.

  2. Sheri says

    Some years ago I was looking at the classes available at Skagit Community College. There was a huge change towards water resource issues, loss of land mass, displacement of people. I checked out some other maps for predictions of rising water lines. At the time it was a 50 year prediction, now at 45 years. The average mortgage is 35 years. People would be wise to consult the map before purchasing a property. If the dikes fail to hold back the sea water, Western Washington will lose it’s farming lands.

  3. Linda McHenry says

    Yesterday afternoon on NPR they were discussing the CA drought. More available water will be diverted to save the fruit and nut trees meaning fewer fields of annual food crops……tomatoes, lettuce,broccoli etc. The result will be shortages and higher prices. Grains and the like relying on rainfall will also be affected. My take away was, grow as much as possible, stock up on jars and dust off the old canner.

  4. Angela M. says

    I agree with what you say about water and being careful when choosing a location, but I think one other good thing to consider is what people who are already gardening in extreme climates are doing to deal with unpredictability. Where I live, we see lows in the -30s and highs well over 100; last year we had significant snowfall and 95+ degree temps within ten days of each other. We get drowning rainfalls…followed by searing drought. Some years you can garden from March clear into November; other years you can’t even see the ground until late May, and have hard freezes by September.

    But we still grow a lot of food. People expect unpredictable weather and adapt. They plant less by the calendar and more by what the conditions are this year. Orchards have backup plans that can help get them through an unseasonable cold snap. For home gardeners, winter-sowing in containers that sit out in the snow is getting pretty popular locally as a way to deal with the unpredictable springs, and we just plan on having to cover the tomatoes some nights in the fall. Rain barrels keep getting more important as our early summer deluges give way to incredibly dry autumns. You get used to being aware of your garden’s microclimates and planting accordingly, since that degree or two can make a big difference. And you learn to think a lot more about what varieties you’re planting.

  5. Valerie says

    Hard to look on the plus side when you’re in the middle of a polar vortex (in Indiana), but the county extension service thinks that the cold might kill larva and eggs of pests in the soil. I’m sure that’ll affect pollinators and other beneficial bugs too, but I could do with a few less cucumber beetles in my garden!

    Agreed that choosing appropriate varieties is essential. I’ve taken to shorter-season varieties with squash, melons, and cucumbers because I can’t plant them outside until May 15th (I start them indoors), but once we pass July 1st drought, heat, and bugs mean the vines are hit pretty hard.

  6. Dan says

    Great post. It side tracked me to your post about peeing on/in your garden and compost pile. It will now determine where I build my new compost bins behind my shed, hidden from the neighbors site lines. Thanks

  7. cptacek says

    The California drought is no doubt frightening, but great swaths of the Midwest have been drought stricken for 4-5 years now. Luckily the lake that we depend on for our water system was the recipient of a 7″ rain last year, and so is at conservation level. Otherwise, we would be severely limited in what water we could use. But pasture land is practically bare (except CRP, which the government pays people to not use, grrrr) and people are getting rid of cattle. We are at the lowest stocking level of cattle since the 1950’s.

    After consulting with Erica last year :) I put in some “mini” hugelkulture beds, in the ground, to help conserve water. I put in blackberry and raspberry canes, but they couldn’t survive the drought even with those beds. I grew the absolute best pigweed and stickers, though…better than in any other part of the yard lol. I’m going to try again and make sure to water it better to see what happens.

    Two years ago, spring came in March and never left. Last year we had snow May 5. I think watching signs from birds/other animals and plants will be the key to figuring out how to handle swings like that.

    Also, regarding polar ice caps, I thought that they were at their highest levels in years this year?

    • Danny says

      For me here in Calif…its the water. Living in northern Ca. most of my life, water was always there in abundance. Streams flowed year round, lakes got full, farming at its best….Now we come to this year…Never have I seen a year where no rain falls in Dec.-Jan….What does it mean?..who knows. Every piece of land is different..some absorb water quickly, others it runs off..some become saturated with the first storm, others take many storms…My land becomes saturated with the first storm..mainly because what soil I do have sits on hard pan (some call it decomposed granite)…So..moisture goes away rather quickly in the 100+ heat of summer. (I also have started making hugelkulure beds..in reading it does take a few years to get it going)…I can deal with the 15 degrees in the morning, the 105 in the shade, the 50 mph wind..but the water has to be there.

  8. Cathy says

    You and your readers might be interested in something I found a few days ago: http://climatechange.cornell.edu/gardening/

    Cornell University has a new page on climate change and agriculture/gardening. Check out the video on the linked page, Sustainable Gardening in a Changing Climate. It’s context is upstate New York, but it’s got lots you’d find relevant. I learned a lot.

    The effect of CO2 on weed growth was thought provoking. Also the way in which rainfall and dryness will increase in many parts of NA at the same time.

    I really agree with you about mental flexibility. There is no normal anymore. My gardening experiences are wildly different year to year.

  9. says

    I know a good deal of math and science and for a long time part of my job was modeling complex biochemical systems. With that background, I’ve read a great deal on climate change and come to the conclusion that only specialists really have a grasp on it and that those specialists often only see one piece of the puzzle. I don’t know if CC is anthropogenic, although I think the processes by which it should occur are reasonably well elucidated. However, I’m not sure if CC is actually occurring, regardless of origin, in the way that the trends are often packaged. So, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.

    One thing that we do know is that the climate changes. It has been warmer and cooler while humans have been around and we did OK. Apocalyptic predictions about the future never come true (I know; this time it’s different!) We sit 46 feet above the Pacific at 0.0 tide and I imagine that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil in probably not more than another 40 years, we’ll probably be about 45.5 feet above the Pacific. That will undoubtedly give me something to complain about, but to the next generation it will just be normal. I wouldn’t run off to northern Canada expecting it to turn into a temperate paradise in our lifetimes. I might consider selling a house that already gets licked by storms at high tide.

    The mild Pacific Northwest seems like a good spot to stay, because another 5 degrees would only improve our growing season, but I also wouldn’t abandon California (not over climate anyway) because drought is a normal part of the California climate (just not a normal part of weather). I might consider moving out of any of the big swaths of desert that petroleum and technology have turned into fragile oases, because those places are going to have problems related to population and economics, climate change or no.

    The next decade will give us some interesting data. Will the abatement in rising temperatures continue, or will they resume an upward trend? I think it is best not to bet when you don’t know the odds, so I will avoid taking actions that assume either outcome.

  10. says

    Here in central New York State, they’re predicting increased precipitation as a result of climate change. We’ve always averaged pretty even precip amounts on a monthly basis, but in recent years we seem to swing more between extreme heat and dry or steamy and tropical.

    Last year was a complete disaster in the garden. I did pretty well with peas and I was getting about a quart/day of strawberries when the rains began in early June. Basically, we got 6 months of rain in 6 weeks. When it finally stopped, we were hit with a week of 90 – 100 F weather. The plants couldn’t cope. They just sorta sat there in the gray gloom and waited for the rain to stop. I garden in raised beds, so nothing died, but I think they had little room to spread their roots without hitting muck. The lawn had standing water in it for close to a month and couldn’t be mowed.

    Near the end of the rains, a groundhog showed up – the first I’ve ever seen here, maybe driven by flooding – and decimated the broccoli. Ate it right down to the ground before moving on.

    I got exactly 2 squashes from 6 hills. The butternut vines didn’t start forming a single baby squash until late September. I got a dozen or so tomatoes from 6 plants. The cukes did okay until the squash bugs moved in. The corn formed small ears, that for the most part had few kernals. The weeds were rampant, and so were the mosquitoes. Sometime in July, I just gave up. Just a terrible year.

    The previous year was the winter that wasn’t. Summer temps in mid-March, followed by multiple freezes, one down to -15 in April. Only one orchard in this area had any fruit and they credited a micro-climate situation that saved much of their crop. All the other orchards had to buy fruit from Pennsylvania to sell at their farmstands.

    My Dad, who is 90, is like your neighbor: he says there’s no doubt something’s going on. The weather events are definitely becoming more extreme. Wish I had solutions to offer. Who knows, this year might be spectacular. I wonder if raising my raised beds might help. Sigh.

  11. tanaya ropp says

    I didnt read all the comment so these things may have been mentioned. In California we dug drywells by all our fruit trees we grew 3 times as much fruit as trees without them. I’m hoping to build a key hole garden for my mom this spring to go with her hugel, straw bale, standard, and bag garden. (She would like to start have tours for schools to show how mamy different ways you can grow good food.) I think key hole is easy to cover, you could paint or use dark colors for the base to help absorb heat. Peas, when they are finished and we are cleaning an area we will take the plant with some of the pods on it and plant the whole thing where we want it for next year. We do this with other plants as well. I’d say 50% of the time they come up. I think it could work better where you are your wintets are as cold.

    P.S. We can take on a few here in Utah if you get flooded out.

  12. Sarah says

    I have been taking a permaculture design class and they used the term “climate change refugees”. When the teacher said that, it immediately hit with me. I think the Northwest is a place many people will and have come because of this. Temperate climate, fairly clean still (not polluted), real estate somewhat reasonable (compared with other cities). The question posed was – how will we handle the influx of climate change refugees. A very interesting question. We also talked about exactly your subject of what can we do in an agricultural sense to mitigate these fluctuations. What you are talking about is spot on. Luckily its also interesting and fun!

  13. Nicole Matisse Duke says

    As usual, thank you for sharing your perspective with us readers Erica. I always enjoy your posts over my morning coffee and this morning’s was one of my favorites in a long time. Here on Orcas Island in the San Juans we rely heavily on industry (the Washington State Ferry system to ferry us back and forth to the mainland, or what we like to call America, and Amazon to ship us the many things we just don’t make or can’t find in the stores on our fair isle); and yet, we also rely on our personal fortitude to enrich our homesteads, households, farms, and estates that you will find all throughout the San Juan archipelago. My community has been pondering all of the stuff that comes with climate change since we will be hit heavily if the systematic status quo changes in major ways. So, your words ring true to me…especially the bit about mental flexibility. Folks often misunderstand Darwin’s theory of survivability and focus on the word ‘fit’, when, really, he was proposing the merits of being the most adaptive. Survival of the most adaptive has proven itself time and time again. I suppose it might be wise to consider that statement and start stretching accordingly.

  14. Beth says

    A few thoughts…
    I can’t vouch for anyplace else but I’ve lived almost my entire life in southern New England and I, and many others, have had to explain to people in their 20’s that they grew up in a freak 20 year mild spell and that THIS is normal New England weather .
    No can of worms intended: I was a child, but I remember “Global Chilling” from the 70’s. It was irrefutable Gospel Science that we would be in a new ice age, a la ” The Day After Tommorrow” , by 1995.
    That having been said…whatever and whyever is going on, a thank you for the reminder about adaptability. One of the main causes of the widespread starvation that sparked the French Revolution was their refusal to adapt to a changing climate and grow different crops than they were used to. The wealthy just imported what they were used to and know how that ended.
    There’s a fascinating and informative History Channel special called “Little Ice Age, Big Chill”. It’s about how the French Revolution, Stradavarius instruments, George Washington crossing the Delaware, why Americans largely favor beer over wine and a bunch of other seemingly random things are weather driven. It’s also a reminder that it can happen again and what happens if we don’t prepare and adapt.

    • adarc says

      I grew up in New England through the 70’s too, and my mom before me since the 30’s -and I remember waking up with frost on my windows too. New England is supposed to be cold. But what I don’t remember is F5 tornadoes, and solid rain and low temps throughout a whole summer ( like last year) . What I don’t remember is my grandparents losing an entire season of maple syrup because it warmed up to 50 degrees in Jan instead of late Feb & March. These things have all hit New England in the past few years. The problem isn’t weather, it is the loss of predictable seasons, which no matter WHAT you plant, you still need to be able to predict when it will germinate and flower.

  15. Thom Foote says

    Here in Spokane, with 17″ of average precip) climate change (yes it is real!) is projected to mean early runoff of snow further away from the growing season, more frequent and more severe weather events (snow, rain, drought) and a longer and warmer dry period. I am looking to plant heritage and drought-resistant plants and I am putting gutters on everything in order to fill the many small “pondettes” I am digging for that dry period. I live in a 10 acre pine/fir forest and hope my firs survive because my pines are better suited, I hope, to “weather” the coming storm.

  16. says

    We’re in north Seattle. We’re using EarthBoxes and seeing good success regardless of what the weather does. (At least so far.) The containers have the advantage of constant soil hydration, regardless of the weather, so no boggy and/or parched soil. It’s my understanding that they consume less water than an uncovered garden as well, so that’s a good thing if water availability is a concern.

    (We added 12 EarthBoxes the same year that we got a more water-efficient clothes wash machine, and our water bill went *down*.)

    I’ve also been trying to incorporate hoop houses and/or shade cloth into the mix to see if I can get as independent from the weather as possible, and to extend the growing season both further into summer for the cool-loving stuff, and further toward spring and winter for the warm-loving stuff. Finally, I’ve been focusing lately on relatively short-season varieties of things, and making an effort to match plants to weather, rather than planting things that may take exception to whatever happens next.

    Ideally the weather won’t matter that much, though that’s likely unrealistic.

  17. Peter Tindall says

    Actually, there is not one shred of credible evidence that so-called “extreme” weather events are any more likely now than, say, 50 years ago. What HAS changed is the speed with which information travels in our society. Thus, when a typhoon or tornado happens we hear about and see it as it happens on the internet, not a a footnote on page 10 of the daily newspaper a month later. This creates the impression that these storms or whatever are increasing in frequency. Also, a lot of coastal areas have much higher populations so storms etc. cause way more damage. Last year no major hurricanes hit the US mainland. Is that extreme? I don’t think so. I am a geologist and what’s going on now is not unusual at all. I remember the 70s and the “global cooling” scare. It was no more credible. And no, I’m not employed or paid off by Big Oil.

    • adarc says

      A F5 tornado tore through Massachusetts a few years back – we’ve had several other smaller tornadoes since. My family has been living here since the 1830’s and has never seen tornadoes here. I can tell you a tornado in a New England town has never been page 10 info around here, not even 100 years ago.

  18. says

    You missed Carol Deppe’s book, The Resilient Gardener. She’s in OR, not so far from you – this is the first book on gardening I’ve read in 20 years that taught me somethings I didn’t know.

    Thanks for a thoughtful, well-written post.


      • says

        I’m reading that one right now. Very interesting perspective, gardening for survival versus for only fresh veggies. I was so intrigued by the sweet meat squash I bought a pack of seeds :)
        I like her blurb on the history of agriculture and how people transitioned to root veggies from grain (Have you read the ‘Alchemy of Air’? A very interesting historical book on what humans have used and come up with for fertilizers throughout history (which also ended up becoming accidental ingredients for war bombs). Quite amazing how humans have survived throughout history!! I think we’re in for a bit of a shock coming up. So many ppl don’t even know how to cook, let alone grow or prepare from scratch…

  19. says

    Here in the B.C. interior mountains, we’ve definitely seen way less snow, and often rain in Nov, Jan, Feb rather than snow as it’s been so warm. We’ve been learning how to winter garden because it’s so mild. The kicker for us are huge heat waves in May & Sept, going from a frost to over 30C/86F in just a couple of days. It makes growing the cool season vegetables extremely challenging because they bolt from the stress.
    We completely take into consideration our location with the current climate change. Every time we think of moving because work is hard to come by here, we honestly can’t think of a better place to live. We love the coast, but it’s too un-predictable for my liking and I’m not a fan of the -40 of the Canadian prairies.We have lots of fresh water here, although maybe even too much as we’ve been getting 3-5 weeks straight of rain in June. (remember the Johnsons landing slide a couple of years back? It was 45 mins from our place). We’ve adjusted to our rainy June season by transplanting the heat lovers during the May heat wave. The past 2 years have been tough, but I *think* I might have the knack of the chaos this year. Wildfires are a huge concern in B.C due to the increased pine beetles.. there is always something wherever you live, but I myself wouldn’t live on a tropical island these days…The drought in California has got us Canadians concerned for food prices, 75% of our produce is imported and mostly comes from California or Mexico…
    Interesting times ahead. Crazy weather, crazy economy and not fast enough of a sustainable movement to help with the changing times…

  20. says

    A post in response is in the works, but here are the bullet points/outline
    1) install hoops or sockets for hoops on every bed so that shade cloth or plastic sheeting can be deployed to combat sudden temperature swings. When temperature is not a problem you will still need bird/squirrel netting to keep the crops you grow from becoming a feeding station in desperate times.
    2) Greywater reuse, coupled with environmentally friendly cleaners/deodorants/shampoos like soap nuts, white vinegar, and baking soda. Even if you don’t have a grey water system sooner or later you are eating and drinking everything you add to the water supply.
    3) Revisit permaculture crops that have fallen out of fashion like quince and pawpaw. Just because it takes a little extra work to harvest or ships poorly doesn’t mean it won’t be worth its weight in gold when it is the only thing producing consistently.
    4) Start a beehive now.
    5) Compost, vermicompost, and leaf mould.
    6) Lithic mulch.
    7) Watering system.
    8) Open pollinated varieties.
    9) Stagger plantings
    10) pay attention, adapt, adapt, adapt!

  21. Carolyne Thrasher says

    Something that has barely been touched on in gardening circles is building community. We live in a “me-first, consumer-oriented culture.” However, historically humans have managed to weather (sorry for the pun) bad times primarily because they were interdependent NOT independent. To that end we have chosen to live with my parents. We intentionally bought a house together, on a larger lot than we could afford or they could take care of. My parents will age in place with me as their caretaker which preserves their retirement savings for me and my brother to inherit. I get to stay home and work on “homesteading” whatever that means. We can grow quite a bit on our .42 acres. My children get the wisdom of an earlier generation. We are well situated geographically for most major natural disasters and probably most manmade disasters. We are active members of a faith community that has a significant number of gardeners. We try to build bridges and remain open to friendships whenever and wherever we can. We volunteer in our community with organizations that help the poor and marginalized. We try to remain aware of what is happening with local ordinances and land use laws (VERY IMPORTANT). And lastly we have FUN! It is FUN to grow your own food, FUN to learn new skills, FUN to try to see what you can live without, FUN to get to know your neighbor, FUN to HELP your neighbor, FUN to host parties and functions for diverse groups of people. So even if the “big disaster” never occurs, the worst we will be able to say is that we had FUN.

    • Carolyne Thrasher says

      When I said larger house than we could afford, what I meant was that because of my parent’s financial contribution we can afford a larger house on a larger lot than we could if we were buying it by ourselves. They provide the financial muscle and we provide the literal muscle. ;)

    • Beth says

      Touché ! When I was little we foraged a lot. Picking up Black Walnuts and stomping the husks off, Quahoging(clam digging) ,picking wild black raspberries and elderberries and making jam were all fun family adventures that did so much jmore than provide food . They taught self-reliance and family responsibility too, but they were great adventures that built some of my favorite family memories. When my Mom died, one of the things we all talked about at the funeral was when the washer irreparably died and we did the wash in the “crick” for 2 weeks.
      I really got to know my Mom as a person during that time.

  22. Amy says

    YES. Thank you for writing this article. It’s such an eloquent statement and invitation to discuss a subject that has been running around in my mind, but in a very discorded way.
    I currently live on the East Coast and am hoping to move back to my native North Texas sometime in the near future. I have wondered if this is a good plan long term given the temperature extremes and lack of precipitation. It’s a real challange to grow food in the DFW metroplex now, let alone as the climate shenanigans escalate and the water we so carelessly dump down our toilets and on our green lawns runs out. All my family is in that area so it makes sense to move there…..but in the long run I wonder if getting land in a different state, out of tornado alley, out of the dreaded heat of summer, in a place where it actually rains regularly is the wisest choice. I lack a crystal ball, but the motto of adapt, adapt, adapt will probably do more good for me anyway. Anyone else live in TX and have similar water/temperature concerns?

    • Carolyne Thrasher says

      I have only lived in Texas for 1 year (San Antonio). I would move to Austin in a heartbeat if it weren’t for family here in cloudy Oregon. One of the things that most impressed me about the part of Texas I was in was the attitude. I’d bet on Texas being viable as a place to live as long as the attitude (call it swagger, call it get er done, call it let’s pull together folks) remains. The influence of Mexican culture doesn’t hurt either. There’s resiliency and courage there that you don’t find in the rest of this country. I’ve also lived in Pennsylvania and Wyoming. It’s unfortunate that the rest of the country doesn’t get Texans.

      • Amy says

        Carolyne – thanks for the kind words – and I Completely Agree – isn’t Austin fantastic?? Sigh. I would move there in a heartbeat too – if my particular profession was present there.
        I guess I take for granted the Texas Can Do attitude ;) But you make solid points. I think that our innate independent streak might cause some challenges for community along the way. Hopefully we’ll see the light and stop watering grass in the near future……I guess I won’t know till I get there.

    • Mandi says

      I live just west of Austin. We just moved to a 24 acre plot. I am starting over with my gardening philosophy, less ornamental plants and lots more workhorse producing plants. We are concerned about water so I’m going to spend quite a bit of money on an extensive gutter and rainwater collection system. We have a metal roof and I’m going to try catch as much as possible, even off my chicken coop.
      It’s hot, and it’s dry, but when we get rain we get a downpour, and that’s what fills our well and my (soon-to-be) rainwater cisterns. If we moved to another part of TX I’d be sure to be on well so I could manage my own water and not worry about other people sucking the lake dry to keep their lawns green in the summer. That’s what I like best about our current property…I’m in charge! No HOA to tell me to keep the grass green!

  23. says

    Hi from horticultural obsessed UK where extreme weather challenged even the best of gardeners in recent years and yet gardening continues to be the fastest growing hobby over here. Is that same situation in USA? My view is that gardeners of the past always had to adapt to changing weather but we will certainly need to be even more resourceful as climate patterns and seasons continue to shift and become more extreme over the next 50 years and beyond. Gardening is about planning for the future – planting seeds watching them germinate and tending the plants as they establish and bear fruit or flowers. It has to be one of the oldest professions with thousands of books and resources available and yet we still have so much to learn to help our gardens adapt to a rapidly changing climate.Keen to have American gardeners complete my climate gardening survey at http://www.myclimatechangegarden.com .Targeted at UK mainly but please feel free to complete as my blog receives many hits from American gardeners dealing with climate change gardening issues. Interesting reading the range of climates and conditions that USA experiences compared to our tiny island on the edge of the Atlantic. Great post by the way Erica and going to tweet to my followers @ climategarden as will interest many of them.

  24. says

    Thanks for the good ponderings. I agree that we shouldn’t look to the future with fear, but just be better prepared and resilient to handle the unknown. It may come down to having more gardening stuff, but hey, if I’m going to the Caribbean, I’m going to buy a decent bathing suit. And likewise, if I’m headed to the Alps from the Caribbean, I’m going to buy myself a decent winter coat. We homesteaders can be counted on to be thrifty and resourceful when collecting all this new gear!

  25. Nancy says

    Thanks for turning our thoughts in this direction, Erica. And I’ll take your attitude any day, with ‘deniers’ on one side and ‘NTE’ers’ on the other ;) After all the prudence and planning, it is today that matters :)

    I have sandy soil here in W. Wa, so am also ‘in-ground’ hugeling, i.e., burying wood and biochar material, et al. My post hole digger is very helpful. If I had clay, I’d probably build them above ground, ala Sepp. Also, biochar is apparently very effective in retaining nutrients, along with moisture, so I’m incorporating that (along with bentonite clay, i.e., cheapest nothing-added kitty litter). For those short on charcoal (which, when impregnated with bio-nutrients.. think golden elixir, worm tea, etc, …becomes ‘BIOchar’) consider Trader Joe’s BBQ briquettes, as they are “from sustainably raised hardwoods with only cornstarch ‘sticker’ added… ashes good for the garden” …per advertisement … and pretty cheap.

    (Biochar also sequesters carbon that would eventually contribute CO2 to the atmosphere by decomposition.)

    Another thought is rocket stoves of various designs, which have the advantage of maximum heat production (and minimum pollution) from ‘twigs’, i.e., small pieces of wood, often dropped annually in quantity by our tree friends. For W. Wa folks, check out Art Donnelly’s ‘SeaChar’ operation.

    Burlap sacks are readily available for free here.. see coffee roasters. Puyallup has industrial size operations, with tons of surplus bags. Frost protection, mulching, etc, etc. and decomposable.

    I second Carol’s book on resilience, where potatoes figure prominently…. btw, how DID your potato ‘cages’ do last year ?? Inquiring minds need to know…. spring is approaching! (Have I missed your report?)

    In light of your map, maybe I’ll have to get ducks instead of chickens :) Thanks again for everything. You are a rare gem ;)

  26. says

    Thank you for this!! It is a relief to read someone taking these realities to heart in a thoughtful way. This is my work –dealing with the impacts of yes, factual and profound shifts in our climate. The more we can all be of the right mindset that allows us to deal with increasing variability and a range of severe weather events, the better.

    I noticed several commentators still don’t “believe” in climate change. It’s not about belief, its science and we are so, so far behind coming to grips with this. And our slowness in facing this challenge and our role in it head on is becoming an acute issue. It was such a relief to read your post and know you and others are thinking about this issue and starting to make plans accordingly.

  27. wicker762 says

    Talk about a hot topic! Talk about speaking on if with class! I tend to not buy into climate change but I do buy into the idea that it’s foolish to waste resources, something I feel was an undercurrent in this posting. Climate change or not having greater respect for our resources and being versatile in the garden will prove wise.

  28. says

    I’ll third the Carol Deppe book. I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know (not many, admittedly) that are interested in homesteading.

    My 2014 season has been…odd. Quite cool here, with many days at 75F high/mid 50s low. Hopefully I’ll get some tomatoes eventually. Farmers at the markets do have them, so maybe it’s just my inexperience/lateness. Last summer was the complete opposite – one of the hottest on record.


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