Weather has made it, so far, a very strange year.
In February, we had a false spring, with balmy weather for more than a long week — a week long enough to bring out buds on our young fruit trees, seducing them sufficiently to make their sap begin to run. This was followed by a really, really cold few weeks, among the worst of the whole winter. It froze the sap within the trunks, killing 95% of many tree species.
This climate see-saw killed off most of our cherry trees, as well as most of our young peach trees. Thankfully, our nut trees, and our pear trees, survived fine — along with almost all the bushes and berries we planted into the black plastic. The raspberries are looking promising, and the high bush blueberries are pretty happy.
The spring through April, May, and June was extended, and stayed cold, until it was suddenly summer, and became super-hot. It played havoc with our plans. When we took the row-cover orr of our first broccoli, for example, we found it had grown long and lean, and then in the hot, turned instantly to head. The extended heat convinced the plants that it was July. For us, the broccoli head was the size of a dime, on top of a trunk that was a foot tall.
Today, I heard that the strawberries that last year had remained “pick-your-own”-ready for nearly a month, had “gone by,” two weeks after the season opened. Probably not many pickable strawberries, from here on out.
While we have not been “in drought” here in our region, it’s been very dry. The rain, when it comes, mostly isn’t drenching — it’s almost moisturizing rain. The top half inch dews up, but the lower levels of the soil remain in a sort of stasis, waiting to absorb. And the roots of our greens, and our beets, and even our potatoes, have to work harder to find their goal.
Fluctuations in local weather are always unique. That’s what makes a microclimate. But the experiences we’ve been having are not limited to Pictou County, or to the North Shore. It seem regional, perhaps to a large swath of the Maritimes.
Is this climate chaos in action? Are we destined to have a fundamentally unpredictable microclimate, at Red Road Farm?
Microclimates may always be unpredictable — but my sense, from talking to neighbors in the area who have been here for decades if not generations, is that this year’s weather is especially unusual.
Is this the Polar Vortex — driven by a warming Arctic — changing the overarching atmospheric gradients? Is this the warming Arctic driving some El Nino variation? Is this a newly-named thing (how many years ago had you heard the word “derecho”? One?)?
It’s hard to know whether to publicly blame the elephant-on-steroids that nobody names (climate chaos, the “gigantophant” of this post’s title) for the extreme variability week to week, and hour to hour. We could be disproven, I suppose, if things went back to “normal,” though that seems unlikely.
But it does seem likely that we, at Red Road Farm, have no choice but to come to some conclusions about the question, in order to plan effectively for the next couple of years.
Susan and Anika and I would all, I think, agree that we each anticipate, over the next few decades, a profoundly disrupted weather system. I don’t think that any of us imagined it would happen super-fast, however. A rapid-change context would demand radical rethinking of our near-term plans.
That is, if we’re on the cusp of rapid, extreme, and unpredictable disruptions, year in and year out from now forward, along with similar disruptions in other microclimates, then what does that mean for us at Red Road Farm?
- more covered spaces/greenhouses, with consequent costs (CC)
- more water catchment and delayed irrigation, with CC
- more diversity of planting regimes, so that “what can prosper, is planted”
- more hyper-tailored artificial microclimates (black plastic, row cover, white plastic, micro-irrigation…), with CC
- even more diversity of crops during the growing season
- more-local outreach to ensure our local necessariness as local food provider
- more experimentation with winter crops in the greenhouse, under plastic in the field, etc., with CC
It’s easier, of course, to blame the weather extremes on natural variation, and to believe that the greenhouse gases we humans have produced over the last century somehow isn’t the cause of the extremes.
That “natural variation” line, of course, is utter horseshit. If you believe that, you’ve swallowed the whole denier line, and probably won’t listen beyond that. If so, I’m sorry that I’ve alienated you.
But let me be clear, at least as far as what we believe here.
There Is No Doubt for us. The “just right” climate within which Western civilization developed (from 1600-2000), has been radically disrupted. The disruption is mostly humans’ fault, from its carbon and methane emissions during the Industrial Revolution.
Here at Red Road Farm, we sadly acknowledge the faster-than-expected climate disruption, and hope to engage with the implications as they become clearer, year on year.
This is not debatable, nor deniable. It’s just reality, as we’re experiencing it. We wish it wasn’t the case, but there’s no denying what we’re seeing, and hearing from the local farmers who have spent their entire lives in this region.
Things are changing, and not for the better.