Gardeners, keep an eye on the jet stream

Rows of garlic, their protective, winter blanket of straw removed, will easily survive cool spring days

With the growing popularity of home gardening there must be a lot of people on a steep learning curve trying to come to grips with the apparent uncertainty of the weather.

After all, spring seemed to have arrived early in the Canada-U.S., Great Lakes area with temperatures in the first week of April that were seemingly warm enough to allow for the planting of early hardy, veggie crops like peas, beets, carrots, onion sets, and potatoes.

After years of gardening that should have made me know better, I again found it hard to resist the temptation of eagerness to get started. But I compromised, planting only a couple of rows of early edible pod peas; after all they are called ‘snow peas’ for a reason, I pseudo-rationalized. I also planted a row of onion sets, and two rows of Chieftain red potatoes. The date was April 6. I’ve never planted potatoes that early. Meanwhile, I held off on planting beets, swiss chard, carrots and radishes.

I should have held off entirely, especially the peas. That’s also considering I plant untreated seed; that is, seed not coated with fungicide to keep it from rotting in the ground if the soil temperature is not warm enough for germination. A few more days of warm weather, and the pea seeds and I might have got away with it. There was evidence of germination just getting started. But now, April 18, there’s no sign of little, green pea-plants emerging. I few might survive, but the rows will likely have to be replanted. With temperatures now forecast over the next few days to be below freezing at night here on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, the two rows of seed potatoes buried several inches in their rows should be okay; but just to be sure I’ve covered them with a generous layer of straw. The same goes for the onion sets.

Two rows of seed potatoes planted, covered with straw to help insulate them from the cold. After it warms up the straw can be raked aside and mulched around the plants to prevent potato beetles.

Meanwhile, in the back garden, the numerous fall-planted rows of garlic are looking good. They will be okay without the straw blanket I covered them with for the winter and raked away a couple of weeks ago to give them sun. Garlic, fast becoming a popular crop in southern Ontario, is hardy enough.

I’m not a newcomer on this planet, having lived my ‘three-score years and ten’ and more, but in memory it seems to me the advent of spring, once arrived, was much more reliable than now.

It’s well known that the location of the jet streams, the high altitude winds that circle the globe  in temperature regions, is a major determining factor in weather. In the northern hemisphere, the generally west-blowing jet stream keeps colder temperatures north of us, and warmer, south. As the seasons change with the sun, the jet stream used to move south and north in a fairly stable way. But recent years have seen a growing school of thought that climate change is weakening the jet stream, as the Arctic warms relatively faster than tropical regions. As a result, The jet stream’s pattern has become more erratic with deep dips to the south that sometimes appear to get stuck, or ‘blocked’ over certain areas. I keep a close watch on jet stream maps, and have observed, anecdotally, that often in recent years it has dipped down in large tongues or nodes and lingered for long periods of time south of the Great Lakes. Sometimes, it appears to even fragment and get scattered. Depending on the seasons, all that has resulted in long periods of extreme cold weather in winter, and prolonged cool weather in spring. The spring of 2020 at this time, was similar to what’s happening now: an unusual warm spell in early spring, followed by much colder weather, and then a serious snow event in April. I note snow is in the forecast for this week.

Now, snow in April is not unusual. I well remember driving to work one morning years ago in June with snow coming down. But it’s the sudden, dramatic changes and extremes that now seem new and unusual.

The experts admit evidence of the impact climate change is having on the Jet Stream, and therefore weather, is still inconclusive. They do, after all, have a duty to be precise in reaching their conclusions. Meanwhile, the skeptics can find all kinds of supposed reasons why it’s not happening. I choose to believe climate change is having a destabilizing effect on the jet stream that needs to be taken seriously.

From the point of view of gardening, and farming, I would say you are best advised to keep in mind there is a new norm happening: the weather is becoming more erratic. If it seems too good to be true that warm spring weather has come too early, it more than likely has. And you should take a wait-and-see attitude to planting until the weather warms up to stay. Late April, early May is still a good time to plant cool-weather crops. They won’t do much growing until then anyway.

Above all, keep your eye on the jet stream: where it is, and where it’s expected to go. I recommend a new, interactive ‘global’ jet stream map put online by U.K.-based

Successful gardening in a time of climate change: soil temperature, not the date


There’s snow peas in there somewhere, under the snow.

What’s with the weather?

Here in southern Ontario, Canada, in The Great Lakes region of North America, as we approach mid-May, to say the weather in ‘unseasonable,’ is to put it mildly.

No sooner is that word out of my fingertips and on the cyber-page than it seems incongruous in the circumstances: it’s anything but mild outside. It’s cold, and wintry cold at that, with sub-zero, night temperatures in the seven-day Environment Canada forecast. Continue reading

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


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. Continue reading

A thousand words


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this one tells quite a story. You don’t have to look that closely to see parts of northern Canada (northern Alberta, the Northwest Territories, and northern Quebec) are considerably warmer than other parts of southern Canada, including the Great Lakes region; and even warmer or as warm as parts of the U.S. as far south as the southern states.

Right here, in my little corner of the continent on the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, where the Jet Stream now often hangs out, the unusual cold, wet weather persists. Cool-crop seeds I planted in the ground weeks ago are barely up, or still waiting patiently for a few more degrees of heat and sun.

Maybe by the end of this week, I tell the snow peas, potatoes, Swiss chard, beets, and even kale, the hardiest of them all. Normally, by mid to late May the garden is well greened up. It was, even last spring, which was bad enough as late springs go. But this is something else. My old memory is far from perfect, but I don’t recall anything like this spring: temperatures barely in the double-digit Celsius, often cold enough to threaten frost, and more cloudy, rainy days than sunny.


The garden, Hope Ness, May 20, 2019

On the bright side it could be a lot worse: parts of southern Ontario, the Ottawa valley, Quebec and New Brunswick are still flooded, or just beginning to recover from disastrous floods.

And there is some hope on the horizon for the mid-Ontario growing season toward the end of this week, with a forecast of warmer weather and some sunny days. That’s if the forecast pans out. No offence to the climatologist/forecasters. They do their best; but in recent years it’s become evident that the weather in increasingly hard to predict. Which doesn’t make life any easier for market gardeners and other farmers whose livelihood depends on dependable weather.


May 24, 2016, potatoes and peas well-sprouted

Are those days gone, or in the process of going? I can’t help but wonder. Even as I sit here at my keyboard typing out these words and concerns, tender plants I risked putting in the cold frame yesterday to “harden’ before transplanting in the garden, are still under a protective tarp cover. With the temperature hovering around 6 degrees Celsius, and a cold wind gusting from the north, tender plants like tomatoes, squash and peppers are vulnerable to shock damage, or worse.

By this time in past seasons I would be thinking about planting some bush-bean seeds, or even sweet corn. But sufficient soil temperature is critical for germination when you plant untreated seed (without chemical fungicide) as I do. And that temperature, a minimum of 21 degrees Celsius, is nowhere near being reached yet. I’ll be luck to get those seeds in the ground by the first week of June. I hate being pessimistic — honest, I do — but I’ve even beginning to wonder if the soil is ever going to heat up enough in time to save the corn season.

And so it goes. I trust these unscientific, anecdotal observations and thoughts from an old gardener’s experience, and perhaps others like me, should be worth something. After all,  in a part of the world where most people have little understanding of where their food comes from, let alone how it grows, the voices of those who do should be heard.

I count myself as one of those who believes, for good reason, that climate change is a critical issue affecting the future of life on earth as we know it. Surely, I daresay, it can’t be denied any longer. And yet, backward-thinking, Trumpian and mini-Trumpian politicians who pander to populist, climate-change denial are increasingly being elected to be our so-called leaders. Even in Canada, eh.

It’s unprincipled political opportunism at its worst, ‘the will to power’ for its own sake, rather than any thoughtful, informed, caring concern about this precious little jewel of a planet and the present and future generations that live, and hopefully will live, on it.

They should know better. And they do, which makes it all the more tragic.


April 15, 2019: this is not normal


For a lot of years I’ve been growing vegetables at several locations on the peninsula between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in southern Ontario, Canada. I’ve grown accustomed to being able to rely on getting certain ‘hardy’ crops planted by mid-April with the snow gone, and the ground dry enough to cultivate. So, peas, onion sets are, or were, I should say, planted by now; and some time this week in previous years, a few rows of potatoes. That especially is my ‘official’ confirmation spring has arrived.

I had my doubts after our experience in these parts last April, when the temperature dropped again, the snows came back, and spring was sorely delayed, that last year was just an anomaly. Still, I had my hopes up this year for a return to normalcy. But yesterday’s ‘snowfall warning’ weather advisory, and then waking up this morning to the reality of winter returned with a vengeance was more food for thought about the impact of climate change; not just here in little Hope Ness, but on North America and the world.


Hope springs eternal: I had my snowblower disconnected for the season

There are global warming/climate change deniers who will seize on these prolonged winter conditions as further proof it’s a hoax. One of them happens to be the current President of the United States of America, who made much of a prolonged, sub-zero cold spell this past winter that enveloped Washington, D.C. and reached deep into the American south-east.

Now, I’m not a climate expert, far from it. But I try to keep myself well-informed about matters touching on the fate of our world, not just climate change, but that especially.  (I’m Canadian after all, eh? We love to talk about the weather for fairly obvious reasons.)

There is ample evidence already of the destructive potential of climate change: the disastrous Fort McMurray/Boreal forest fire two summers ago, widespread, deadly brush fires in California, extreme weather events more frequent and destructive. And that’s just North America.

I can explain to anyone who care to listen the basics of what’s happening to our weather in central and eastern North America. The Arctic region is warming at a relatively faster rate than areas much further south. As a result, the stability of high-altitude winds, especially the Jet Stream has been disrupted, causing large nodes of the Jet Stream to dip much further south, bringing cold Arctic air with it. (Yes, it’s still pretty darn cold up there, especially in the eastern Arctic).

jetapril15See for yourself: keep a regular eye on Jet Stream maps on internet weather sites. It’s an eye-opener. Meanwhile, the Pacific Ocean is a vast heat-collector. The warm waters of the Pacific reach into the coastal waters of north-west Canada and Alaska. One of the most remarkable things to see this past winter and early spring is how frequently the north-west, including Whitehorse in the Yukon, has been warmer than southern Ontario.

Most recently, there have been reports based on scientific evidence that North America’s arctic region is warmer than it’s been in 10,000 years, that on average Canada is warming at twice the rate of other parts of the world; and before that, a report that the world in general may already have reached an unstoppable, ‘point of no return’ regarding the effects of global warming and climate change. And that’s even if we suddenly stop in a big way burning so much fossil fuel, which is highly unlikely.

Some key,  political jurisdictions in the world are still hung up in the continuing discussion, fueled by big, climate-change-denial money, about the validity of climate-change science. Here in Canada, the Alberta provincial election is being fought over the need to build more pipelines to get Alberta’s crude, including oil-sands bitumen, to new international markets, to eastern Canada, and even to the U.S. which already gets Alberta crude at bargain-basement wholesale prices. It’s not a question of whether or not to build more pipelines, but how many. And for so-called conservative voters that means as many as possible. So, what are conservatives trying to conserve, if not the future?

The economically smartest people know the future is about developing new economies on the basis of a new, sustainable energy paradigm. That should now be the focus of human imagination, ingenuity, and enterprise, not the building of many more pipelines. That writing is on the wall. Some can read it — China, I suspect — but others can’t, including in Alberta, where a United Conservative Party government is poised this day to be elected. And yet, there is no better place to get the new paradigm humming than Alberta, arguably Canada’s energy-industry focal point. The failure to take that bull by the horns is a provincial as well as national tragedy.

And then there’s Ontario, once Canada’s industrial engine, and now where a populist ‘For the People’ conservative government is fighting  the Canadian, federal government’s carbon tax tooth-and-nail; it’s even demanding that oil and gas companies post anti-carbon-tax notices on their retail pumps.

Spring will come in some way, shape or form; and then something resembling summer, too hot sometimes, or too cool, for periods of time. Someone will try to plant a garden here for many years to come, I hope. I wish them well, and trust they will keep themselves well-enough informed to make a difference. It really is up to us, after all, to plant the seeds and help them grow.


Seedlings waiting patiently for planting


This post shared on the Hope Ness Facebook site

Making the best of a Canadian winter, mindfully


I hear spring flowers and blossoms are starting to bloom in Victoria, on Canada’s Pacific Ocean, west coast. But everywhere else in this country, known for its long, cold, snowy winters, such a thing is still the stuff of day-dreams. The reality of spring is three months away here in Hope Ness, Ontario, halfway between the Equator and the North Pole; more if spring is late this year like it was last. Continue reading

Last tap for a tough, old tree


Trees have a lot to tell us about the state of their world, and ours. They’re in trouble too.

That tough, old sugar maple clinging for dear life to a primordial rock up there by my barn, for example, has surely been through many a hard winter, summer drought, and other traumatic seasonal surprises. But this late winter/early spring, maple sap/syrup season must be one of the most challenging in its long history of stolid endurance. Continue reading

You winsome and you lose some


“Lake effect snow squalls will affect the Bruce Peninsula today. Local accumulations of 15 centimetres are possible before the snow squalls weaken this evening.”

So said the Canadian Weather – Environment Canada alert on the Google search page Wednesday morning on the way to the actual website where the red-bannered “SNOW SQUALL WARNING IN EFFECT” appeared over the six-day forecast.

There was also an EXTREME COLD warning.

One look out the kitchen window was enough to tell the likely story of the day: The prospect of needing to spend several hours blowing the long driveway twice. Best to keep on top of it. Continue reading

Avoid the Trump factor in the fight against climate change


Winter came a little late this year. Less than two weeks ago there was no snow on the ground here in Hope Ness. But it has arrived, as you can see. This is not at all unusual for mid-December: daily, “lake-effect” snow squalls coming off Lake Huron, the nearest of the Great Lakes. They will continue until the lake water cools down and starts to freeze over. So, it’s daily snow-blowing with my trusty tractor and attached snow-blower to keep the driveway clear. There’s no if, ands, or buts about it. It’s get up in the morning and go to work, stay on top of it, morning after morning, or risk getting snowed-in. Nothing like necessity for motivation in defiance of SADs and the aging process. Continue reading