Tuesday, September 25, 2012

climate change on the ground

winter carnival, february 2011- a real minnesota winter

I don't know that it was on the front page of the New York Times or any other major newspaper, but the fact that arctic ice melted more than it has in recorded history should be a major story, I would think.

Recently, in a meeting with a group of people who I thought would have heard of this, none of the three had heard that there was less arctic ice, by a long shot, this September than there has been since people started paying attention to such things.  I've heard it on NPR a few times since then, so I suppose the word may be getting out now.

This has been a hot year in North America and in a lot of other places too.  Here in Minnesota, the ice sculptures at the winter carnival, in February, had pretty much all melted within a day of being carved.  (The picture above is from 2011).  This was followed by an early spring, then by a brief frost that killed off all of my cherries.  Then a blazing hot summer and massive drought and crop failure to the west and south of here, that thankfully spared Minnesota for the most part.

We dug up potatoes at our community garden plot this weekend, turning the hard, dusty soil to find the yellow potatoes.  They were small- I'm not sure if it was from the sandy, poor soil, the drought, or if that was just the character of the variety.  No matter why- but we have a lot of baby potatoes now.  Which I like.  I wonder if they'll be sweeter- as tomatoes are said to be when grown in dry conditions.

potatoes- dug sunday afternoon

While I like to try to see the upside of climate change, since it's happening anyway, it's hard to see any good to the introduction of the spotted wing drosophila to the state.  It, like so many other new garden pests, came from Asia, probably with a boatload of stuff destined for MallWart.  It arrived first in California, and according to the link, it was literally blown up to the state on strong southern breezes this spring and summer.  Nobody is sure if it can survive the winters or not, given that it has been in this country for only 4 years, and in the south for most of that time.  But it seems unlikely that it would be here in Minnesota if we'd had a normal weather year.

And what does it do?  It attacks "many types of ripening, thin-skinned, soft fruit, especially cane fruit, like raspberries and blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cherries, and plums" according to the U of M Extension Service.   That's pretty much all of the fruit I've planted in my yard in the last five years.

It's hard to describe how my heart sank when I read that.  This means that most, possibly all, of my home-grown fruit in the future will be full of tiny maggots, maybe even rotting on the tree or vine before I can even cook it up for jelly or wine.  Bastards.

And who to blame?  Global warming, unfettered international trade, all of the ususal suspects, but these are all things that I've participated in myself.  I still drive a car, and the bus I take to work burns diesel.  I buy stuff from China at big box stores.  It's almost impossible not to.  The culprit is me and probably you and almost everyone we know.  And look where we are as a result.

Sure, we got blenders and bath towels for a lot less than we would if they were manufactured in Ohio or woven by an old lady across the street, but has it really been worth it?  I bet even Thomas Friedman looks in his garage and thinks -man, I have way too much crap- but still writes an article the next day about how fantastic it is that he was able to get all that crap so cheaply now that the world is flat and all.
our pantry- relatively bare this fall

As the arctic ice recedes and allows oil drilling rigs to appear where they never would have before, so too the receding Minnesota winter allows garden vermin to go where they wouldn't have survived.  The variegated cutworm and genista broom moth also popped up here this summer in unusual numbers according to the Extension service, which was at least partially confirmed by the reports of gardeners on a listserv I subscribe to.

So we have a future of early springs and late falls to look forward to, but also of more frequent droughts, punctuated by downpours and of surprise freezes after the trees flower.  A future of new, exotic pests coming to eat what we've planted.  A future that makes it even harder to garden organically than it already is.  The hardest thing is that it isn't the future.  It's already happening.

If I were to give stock tips on what to grow in a Minnesota garden in the next growing season, or the next, or the next, I'd go long on hot peppers and potatoes.  Short on plums and apricots and cherries and raspberries.  Short on tomatoes and corn and almost everything that requires regular moisture.  Long on- not sure what. Sagebrush?  Squirrels maybe?  I hear that they taste good, but haven't actually eaten them myself.  Not yet at least.


  1. Hello--------You are a wonderful husband, father, community member, and lover of the earth. I enjoy your thoughts and realistic optimism. I'm 63 and still a liberal and always will be because I care about people. I'm a Green and will be voting for Jill Stein. I love the photos, and think that your home, wife, and children are beautiful! Thanks for sharing them.

  2. I don't wish to have climate change in this faster pace but on those long cold days in Midwest, i have felt i wish i am in warmer place then this.

  3. Thank you Stacy. I'll look into Jill Stein. I've voted Green before and would consider it again. I'm all for third (and fourth and fifth) parties- I'd like to see one that could really make a go of it!

    Anonymous- I appreciate climate change in the middle of winter as well. I want to take a hard, cold (sorry) look at it though and see both the down and up side.