A rare treat, and a blessing

Just when things were starting to look dark and dreary, I was called to go over to the raspberry batch and receive a rare treat and a blessing: late season raspberries in Hope Ness, Ontario, Canada on September 14. Within a few minutes, with the humming background music of bees doing what they do, I filled a container with a Canadian quart (1.14 litres) of freshly picked raspberries.

I found myself thinking of you again, Wilma, and how you so perfectly chose the perfect place to start this raspberry patch: in full sun most of the day for the growing season, near a roof that made sure it was well watered, and on well-drained ground. It remains a thriving testament to your love of gardening.

The perfect place for Wilma’s raspberry patch

Less than a minute after I picked the last berry the rain came down; heavy, but just long enough to feel refreshing on unusually warm midday, and more. Yes, I choose to believe there was something wonderful, even spiritual about the experience, more than mere coincidence. There was hope in the air. I look out my kitchen window now as I write this, and the sun is shining; the clouds that blessed me, not so much dark, as life-giving have passed over.

It is for such moments that I have come to live. I look back to earlier in the morning and think now that moment began before I was moved to go into the raspberry patch and pick the late-season berries. I was putting in the time with a usual routine, checking email, news headline, YouTube, and Facebook. It asked me, “What’s on your mind, Phil?”

So, I told it, and ‘friends’:

“Sometimes these days I think there isn’t much point in doing anything without meaning and feelings of love. But then I think we, I, must continue to give ourselves the chance to find a way to make that happen. And then I realize that thought in itself is meaningful, and loving.”

I thought it was worth saying, and that some friends might agree. And so it was: enough ‘likes’ within an hour or so to make me pleased I had offered something that touched more than a few people. I do, after all, firmly believe — and often tell others struggling to keep their spirits up — that you never know when life will wonderfully surprise you and lift your spirits. It may be a seemingly little thing, though in that moment it means so much. And so it was for me this morning.

Or it could be something big and even life-changing for the better. What might that be? I suppose a lot depends on who you are, what you want, and believe.

I happen to believe life is a sacred gift and a blessing. I do not want it to end. When my time comes I hope to enter the Great Mystery of the next state-of-being forgiven and at peace, despite the things I have done wrong. And they are legion, or so I fear. But most of all, I hope my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will live their lives in a safe and better world, and in the time I have left, this moment, or the next, I will try to do what I can to help make it that way.

And I hope the same for all who read this post. We are all one human family.

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 netweather.tv.

On the flowering of potatoes, the crimes of tyrants, and your comforting voice

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Rows of flowering potato plants, July 1, 2020. Those are staked tomato plants in the foreground.

The humble potato has its moment of floral glory.

Two types of well-sprouted tubers I planted around the first of May have overcome unseasonably cold temperatures through much of that month, then drought in June, and are now looking quite healthy thank you, despite current drought conditions.

Perhaps in defiance, both are showing pretty, blue flowers. Usually that’s a clue to the colour of the potatoes taking shape in the ground. But not in the case of the four rows on the left where a well-known, red-skinned potato with white flesh is growing. Continue reading

The polar vortex challenge: looking on the bright side this gardening season

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A well-mulched, healthy garlic crop in Hope Ness after a difficult winter and cold spring. A good crop in Ontario, Canada for challenging times. Two rows of peas on the left are coming along slowly in the ‘unseasonably’ cool weather. But they are also hardy.

This spring a lot of people decided for various reasons related to Covid 19 to plant a garden and grow their own food. They may have had some past experience, or not, in which case they likely did a certain amount of preparatory research and planning in hopes of a bountiful outcome.

But I suspect no amount of homework prepared them for the realities of this growing season. So far it has, and continues to be a shock, even for this old gardener. It depends where you are to a large extent. That comment reflects my experience here in southern Ontario near the 45th Parallel halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. By this date, nearing the end of the second week of June, seeds and transplants would normally be safely in the ground and growing nicely. Continue reading

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

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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