Growing your own food: gardening and weather, the first learning experience

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I’m Canadian, eh. And a modest market gardener, living and working in a sparsely populated rural area. So, I guess I’m more culturally obsessed with the weather than a lot of people in Canada who now mostly live in big cities. It wasn’t always so; but more about that later.

I have been reminded yet again that keeping tabs on the now-frequent wanderings of the Jet Stream is key to understanding Canadian weather; and in particular, here on the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula, and elsewhere in southern Ontario. This comes in the midst of winter’s virtual return, several days of freezing cold weather, a month into the spring season of the Northern Hemisphere. It’s supposed to be a lot warmer than this. Gardeners are supposed to be busy planting hardy, early crops like snow peas, even potatoes by now; and rejoicing that a healthy-looking crop of new garlic has emerged, not worrying about even it, surprisingly tough as it is, being damaged by one hard frost after another.

But I chastise myself. So many other people have far worse things to worry about these days. And I have lately become aware that many are turning to gardening as a way of growing their own food, and lifting or keeping their spirits up. That’s a great idea, for all sorts of reasons. So, I will try to be helpful, and hopeful.

Early this month when the weather was warming up nicely, the Jet Stream was farther north. But suddenly a few days ago it dipped south, below the Great Lakes. Early today it had started moving slowly north and east. The Environment Canada Weather website pages I normally bring up (click on the Jet Stream button at the top) shows it today coming off the northern Pacific, becoming somewhat fragmented south and over of the Great Lakes where persistent, strong north winds are helping the Jet Stream pull frigid air down from Hudson Bay. South and East of the lakes it’s moving out into the Atlantic and up to the Maritimes, and then steeply north to just west of Greenland. The sun is shining again today, and hopefully, warmer, so-called ‘seasonal’ weather will soon return, though that word hardly applies any more.

Such deep-dip configurations are symptomatic of the weakening of the Jet Stream, a phenomenon now known to have been caused by global warning/climate change: because the polar regions are warming relatively much faster than regions much further south, the temperature differential that underlies the stability of the Jet Stream has been disrupted.

It’s interesting to see in today’s Jet Stream map that parts of southwest, coastal Greenland are as warm or warmer than southern Ontario. And Alaska, as well, is warmer. No wonder the Arctic Sea ice, and Greenland’s once-massive glaciers are melting at a rate greater than previously predicted. And the more that happens, the worse it gets, leading to more Jet Stream instability, and abnormal North American weather extremes.

As someone who has been gardening for many years, I’ve seen it go from spring weather arriving on cue in April, with a good degree of certainty about the planting schedule; to the uncertainty of what’s been happening in more recent years. Last April saw a major winter blizzard hit southern Ontario. This April began to warm up nicely, so much so, I planted some sprouted Yukon Gold potatoes left over from last year; and I cheered the emergence of six rows of garlic planted last fall. But then, a few days ago, came sudden, sub-zero (Celsius) temperatures, high winds, and blowing snow. The Yukon Gold had not yet emerged, so they may be okay. And so, it looks, should the garlic.

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Garlic, still doing well despite the freezing cold with little or no snow cover.

There’s a reason why Canadians have a long-standing obsession with the weather. Once we were mostly a rural people who depended on what the land, and the weather, would let us grow and/or harvest, wild and planted. Many of us of a certain age were raised on farms or otherwise had first-hand experience, learning in our rural communities, where and how the food our lives depended on was raised, grown, gathered, or hunted.

Times have changed; there are fewer among us who understand such things; young people especially, the saddest of all, though I sense that may be changing. I hope so. They’re missing a lot about what life is really all about.

Suddenly food can’t be taken for granted. Just going to the supermarket or the local, family-owned grocery store is, well, complicated. And shortages of the most basic basics, like flour and yeast, are routine. Meanwhile, a great many people are now planning to grow their own food. That’s a good thing, a ‘silver lining of sorts’ in troubled times. Seed suppliers are faced with an overwhelming demand while they struggle to fill orders – mine included — while practicing social distancing on the job. And some are already running out of certain popular produce seeds, like sweet corn.

But it comes as no surprise why, for practical, as well as therapeutic reasons, so many people with access to a small or big piece of land are taking up gardening. I remember what my oldest grandson, Daniel, said while helping me plant sweet corn a couple of years ago. After a while, as I tilled and he planted seed by hand in long rows, he stopped, looked over, and made an insightful observation: “you don’t think of anything else, do you.” (It was a rhetorical question, more of a statement of fact, so I chose to leave out the question mark) He was, of course referring to the general “you,” which I believe may be another typically Canadian way of speaking, sometimes leading to the plural, “youse.”

There’s always a lot to learn about gardening. That’s one of the reasons it’s so enjoyable, the never-ending adventure of learning, about such things as soil temperature, and what can be planted when. I’ll do what I can to regularly post the progress of my garden and my own, continuing learning experience.

If anybody has any questions, or looking for advice based on experience, feel free to ask in the comment section of this or any post.

And yes, first and foremost, the weather matters, eh.

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This is what hope looks like at the end of Cathedral Drive, Hope Ness, April 22, 2020. Rows of recently planted chieftan and blue potatoes. Yes, blue. Because of the same amino acid that makes blueberries blue. That’s my big, beautiful Shepherd, Buddy, in the background. He must have picked up one of the many wild animal scents prevalent in the surrounding Hope Bay Nature Reserve

 

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