Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Around the Garden

The weather outside is frightful, even if it isn't the kind of frightful we expect for the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Rain, wind, more rain, gustier winds – that’s been the story for the past few weeks.

What’s a gardener to do? Prepare for unseasonable weather – all year ‘round! Years ago, I kept a garden journal, occasionally writing down temperatures, storm data, and the dates of the first daffodils. Today the Environmental News reported that, in 2011 alone, 2,941 extreme weather records were broken. Somehow, it doesn't seem worth keeping a notebook anymore – other groups are doing a more through job of documentation.

The National Resources Defense Council predicts that Connecticut will experience more extremes: more wet weather and likely flooding as well. Urban areas will bake in the summer, with more triple-digit days in summer, leading to drought. Ironic, isn't it, that we need to prepare for floods and droughts in the same year? Temperature extremes are among the hardest things for most plants to adapt to: when buds begin to “break” (open), plants have evolved to expect certain predictable events to follow. Spring is supposed to come through with lots of gentle rain and mild temperatures. Lately, spring has provided sporadic, heavy rain, accompanied by high temperatures or rapid plunges below freezing.

All of these oddities create less than ideal circumstances for plants. When plants normally pollinated by insects or birds deviate greatly from their normal timeframe, those insects or birds might not be present to perform their services. We don’t care too much if fuchsias don’t get pollinated – after all, they aren’t going to give us another year’s blooms anyway. If the dogwoods and the magnolias have their buds blasted by a late freeze, we are pretty annoyed. Those plants are supposed to put on a show for us!

But, if we happen to be robins or starlings, and the dogwoods don’t produce any berries, what then? And if the apple or peach crop fails, the local growers weep; we, of course, can “always” get our apples and peaches from the supermarket – which gets produce from Washington State, or Japan, or Australia. But what happens when crops fail on several continents at once? What happens when China needs wheat, because drought has wiped out their crop? Can we envision a time when China wants some quid pro quo for bailing out our economy – to the tune of our entire wheat or corn supply?

So, here are a few resolutions to adopt for 2012 – small things we can do to keep our planet green:

1) Buy only the food you need, preferably not processed food, and use it all. If you have the room, grow some vegetables yourself. At least 25% of the food purchased in the U.S. today is wasted – as in, goes to a landfill or incinerator.

2) Start a compost pile, bin or container of some sort. Dozens of web sites tell you how. Middletown’s Recycling Coordinator, Kim O’Rourke, is a wealth of information on the subject, and she regularly offers compost bins for sale at a very good price.

3) Hoard water! Kim is also responsible for bringing 55-gallon water barrels to Middletown, along with the connectors to hook them up to your downspout. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have rainwater to spare after “Alfred”! Water that would otherwise contribute to urban flooding can be used to grow trees or shrubs – or your vegetables!

4) Hoard more water with a rain garden. Check out the University of Connecticut’s excellent web site on the hows and whys of absorbing some of that runoff.

5) Spend some time this winter looking at seed catalogs and plan your vegetable garden early. Comstock, Ferre in Wethersfield and Select Seeds in Union, CT, offer high-quality heirloom and native seeds. Unlike seeds purchased from England or Oregon, you can be pretty sure these are plants that will thrive in Connecticut.

6) Consider joining a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm this year. Several organic growers in the area supply members with organic fruits and vegetables from late June to early October.

7) Eat meatless meals one day a week.

8) Plant a tree – or two or three. No room? At least plant a shrub that will feed some birds – viburnums are ideally suited to Connecticut. Look for native plants when you plant trees and shrubs – they will acclimate better to our climate with less need for water and fertilizer.

9) Keep your lawn at three or four inches in height: taller grass shades out weeds. When you mow, use a mulching mower so that all that green nitrogen goes back into your own lawn.

10) Mulch your trees and shrubs with wood chips – and don’t forget that Middletown is rich in wood chips right now. If you must have weirdly colored mulch – and that is food coloring, not Nature – save it for top-dressing. Mulch widely but not deeply: two to three inches is plenty, and keep it away from trunks and stems. If your landscaper tries to build mulch volcanoes around your trees, hire a different landscaper.

Happy New Year!


Space Ghost said...

Hello Tree Fanatic.....

I agree with you about taking proper measures to help guard against the effects of global warming...I hope people will realize that extreme weather of any kind is part of the deal....We must keep sharing this information to help better inform the general public......

Anonymous said...

hurrah Tree Fanatic for the ability to write about gardening even in winter.... Even though I don't garden at all, I appreciate Tree Fanatic making all these connections so clear. I always thought that composting would be a huge, messy, and difficult project, but after I watched "No Impact Man" I saw how easy it could be, and I got a couple books from Russell Library about it, and have been composting ever since using a small box made out of old cabinetry. Its so easy! There are always little things that everyone can do to stay connected to the earth and its very rewarding to do so.