Climate scientists are telling us that extremes of weather are becoming the norm; water quality and supplies of water are diminishing, and the increase in CO2 is contributing to more pests, weeds, and illness. For Northeast gardeners, this means a longer and warmer growing season, short-term droughts, and an increase in heat stress for plants and humans.
All of these changes bring another layer of change, such as an increase in ticks carrying diseases, an increase in asthma due to diminished air quality, and a change in the tree species. As the temperatures warms, insects are able to reproduce more often and diseases proliferate. Add to this mix the myriad of invasive plants and insects on our doorsteps and the balance as we knew it is out of sync. Take note: these are no longer predictions but realities for all of us, especially for farmers and gardeners. The key to adaptation lies in taking responsibility for one’s actions by being climate smart.
Consumers need to be as energy efficient as possible, leading to a low carbon footprint.
That means changing habits for shopping, traveling, and even comfort levels at home. Recycling and reuse of items must become part of our lifestyle. Promotion of local sustainable economic growth will be key. For gardeners, gardening in the “new normal” will prioritize conservation of resources by using mulch to conserve water and mitigate weeds. This also will conserve the energy of the gardener and lessen the effects of heat stress on both the plants and the gardener. Using soaker hoses, rather than overhead watering, and collecting rain water for the garden are best practices.
Composting will keep food scraps (no meat or dairy) and plant trimmings out of the landfill and produce a soil amendment rich in nutrients and microorganisms that will boost soil health and productivity while lessening the need for fertilizer. Planting native plants that are drought tolerant and a part of the local eco-system will lessen the maintenance needs of the garden and landscape. Fall planting of “cover crops” in vegetable gardens that get turned under in spring will enrich the soil and sequester carbon.
Plant more trees as they are a great way to store carbon and add oxygen into the atmosphere. In your food garden plan, consider perennial crops such as asparagus, berries, and dwarf fruit trees if space allows. Look into permaculture techniques for ideas on low maintenance plantings and design ideas for your own edible landscape. Backyard growing of food is ideal whenever possible as it gives the gardener control over how the food is grown, lowers costs, and lowers carbon footprint. It does not get more local than that!
Susan Pezzolla, Master Gardener Coordinator, Horticulture Educator. Cornell University Cooperative Extension. 24 Martin Road, Voorheesville, NY.