This Week in the Garden, Such As It Is

G. Caillebotte - Les jardiniers

G. Caillebotte - Les jardiniers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

March 31, 2012

My son and a friend mowed the lawn this past week for the first time this year.  The next day, the glossy black seed birds (whose name I can never remember) moved in like little gleaners pecking and bobbing their way across the newly mown lawn.  And, the dandelions are in bloom, the clover is up and creeping Charlie has joined the henbit in its race across the back lawn.

The ornamental pear trees, planted years ago along corner easements around the neighborhood, which only two weeks ago were crowned with mounds of pink-tinged white blossoms, now have their leaves – as do the maples, poplars, oaks and other assorted trees that inhabit old neighborhoods like ours.

Jonquils have ceased their showy, yellow shouts and now sit in silent green clumps along the fence.  Some type of purple-blossomed ground cover – planted by an unknown former tenant – creeps again across the rose bed at the sunny south corner of the front porch, while the neighbor’s lavender phlox tumbles over and down their retaining wall as if fleeing the riotous colors of the spring lawn in fear of getting lost in the confusion.  Life reborn is everywhere this Easter weekend.

And my garden, such as it is?  Coming along in fits and starts, thank you.

The tomato slips, in their cut off plastic pop bottles, have grown a couple of inches and added new leaves, this week.  The pepper starts are not far behind.  The lettuce, spinach and radishes in my south bedroom earth box have popped up for a look-see.

Out on the south porch, the dwarf orange tree that spends its winters huddled in front of the south window in that bedroom, dropping leaves, has now added leaves and taken on a proud green sheen out in the sunshine and fresh air.  I’ve given up the hope of it ever producing oranges, but it has become like an old, stray cat that with some love and caring still manages to strut its stuff.

I replanted the beets and carrots in the one earth box that I thought an errant squirrel had dug up, only to find it had merely scattered the seeds into clumps clustered along the edges of the holes.  Perhaps it was a near-sighted squirrel, too caught up in the joys of digging to notice the treasures it had cast aside.  No matter.  I’ll be pulling the beet thinnings for salads once the plants are up an inch or two, anyway.  And the potato onions in the other earth box (and the pot full I planted inside late last fall and have now brought outside) are looking good above ground.  So, I’m assuming they are busy doing their thing below ground, too.

Out in the back yard, some of the rhubarb is tall enough for cutting.  A trash barrel of old soil that I had planned to mix with some compost and spread over low spots in the garden has, instead, sprouted volunteer potato plants.  What will come of that remains to be seen.

The asparagus, which showed such promise only a week ago, is beginning to go to fronds in the unusual heat of this spring and something (perhaps another near-sighted squirrel) has eaten the tops off most of the new spears.  We’ve not had our usual compliment of thunderstorms this year and it’s a bit dry.  I’m guessing the squirrels are looking for moisture.  I’ll have to test that hypothesis by leaving some pans of water under their favorite trees and see if that stops the plundering.

Last week I also spent a morning weeding and side dressing the asparagus and another two mornings hoeing a part of the garden plot and planting beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach and radishes at their usual time here on the plateau.  The rest of the soil I’ll leave alone until time to prepare it for May planting.

I love gardening.  It invigorates me.  I find great satisfaction in hoeing and planting, weeding and tending and just rooting around in my garden.  But, this year especially, I find an eerie anxiety underneath that joy.  This wonderfully warm spring is not normal.  We have been fifteen to twenty degrees warmer than average for almost the entire month of March.  We were absent the heavier snows this winter that melt into and nourish the soil from late December to early February.  The season of thunderstorms and squall lines that sweep across the Ozark Plateau from late February to early April barely lasted two weeks this year.  Now we seem to have settled into a late spring-early summer pattern where those storms go north and south of us, leaving this area with only minor showers that will not nurture a garden in summer’s heat without the soil having drunk in the abundance of snow or rain that falls from January through May.

We are promised a return to more normal April temperatures at the end of next week, though whether brief or prolonged, I haven’t heard.  Will April and May rain patterns return?  May is usually our rainiest month.  Last year, our rain patterns were fairly normal, yet in the extreme heat of this past summer, gardens across Springfield – including my own – stopped producing, even with watering three times a week.  What will happen if we have another summer like that without the benefit of normal rain in the next couple of months?

I don’t think this is idle worrying.  For a country so dependent on an abundant food supply to stock our grocery shelves, we are woefully isolated from what it takes to grow that abundant supply and what havoc the changing climate is likely to wreak on it as those changes grow more profound.

A new report this week, warned that we have reached another tipping point in climate change.  For the home gardener and the small farmer who grow a multitude of different crops, there is still some time and flexibility to experiment, to try different vegetables, to spread out the growing seasons through fall and even into winter.  But most of our national food supply – indeed, much of the world food supply – does not come from the small growers any longer, but from large farms growing huge amounts of only a few crops or from big corporate farms growing mono crops.  Will these behemoths be able to adapt in a rapidly destabilizing climate?  I have to wonder if, in the light of all this, the sudden updating of the Presidential Order on the steps to be taken in a national emergency is as innocent as the administration has tried to make it sound.

Last year was the first year since I’ve been gardening that everything I planted in May stopped producing in the summer heat – every single plant.  It worried me then; it worried me through this past winter when I combed over past garden layouts and gardening notes; it worries me now, as I begin this year’s garden.

I still love gardening.  But, more and more, I feel as though I’m watching a loved one exhibit symptoms of a dangerous disease that I know little about and may be able to do nothing about.  For those of us who depend on our gardens to supplement our food supply, or help our neighbors who are without, it’s a little frightening.  For those of us who see the earth as a whole of which we are only a part and on which we totally depend, it’s sometimes terrifying.

I don’t intend to give up on my gardening; it’s too fulfilling. But I must tell you, that these concerns over what lies ahead for us as the climate changes and what I might do about it in my own garden, have become as much a part of what goes on this week in the garden, such as it is, as any of the things I’ve come to love about it.

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15 Responses to This Week in the Garden, Such As It Is

  1. witsendnj says:

    Last weekend I went to an orchid show at Longwood Gardens, an enormous series of greenhouses started many years ago by Pierre DuPont, which is now open to the public. Of course I do realize that climate change, erratic precipitation and excessive heat are already causing an existential threat to our survival that will only intensify, but although I went to the exhibit to see the flowers, I found some of the best evidence yet that air pollution is taking a significant toll on trees and annual plants (on top of scads of scientific experiments I’ve read – this European site has a collection of photographs of leaves from ordinary crops like beans and spinach that have been fumigated with ozone – you can just click in the name and compare symptoms of damage to see if your plants have the same sort of injury:

    Take a look at the bonsai trees in the pictures – they are not losing needles from a lack of water (about 5 pictures down – no need to read the whole post). It IS scary. The unnatural heat is creepy, the news is ominous.

    • theozarker says:

      Witsend, I hear people say things like, “Well, more Co2 in the air is good for plant growth” or “higher temperatures just mean longer growing seasons”, but from what I see in my own garden, I don’t think it works that way. Scary, indeed.

      • Gail says:

        It doesn’t work that way for CO2 although it will temporarily make plants grow faster. Not necessarily stronger though. I liken it to eating more calories that you need – how’s that obesity epidemic working out for America?
        Actually though I was talking about O3, not CO2. Most people don’t know the difference, and assume that our air is cleaner, because we did in fact clean up a lot of the visible part of smog, sulfer dioxide. We’ve done nothing about NOx however, because there really is no way to filter it out, and that’s what makes ozone. It’s invisible and very toxic. It causes cancer, and even eats away at plastics and marble monuments. When leaves absorb it (along with CO2 which they need) it poisons vegetation, leading to visible spotting and browning on foliage, stunted growth, shriveled roots, fewer and lower quality fruits/nuts/seeds. I keep hoping organic gardeners will sue the fossil fuel companies, because they are at a disadvantage, since some of the impacts of pollution can be offset (in agriculture) using pesticides (insects and disease flourish from O3) and fertilizers. Doesn’t do much for forests though.

    • pamela says:

      Well I’ll be damned, just looked at the ozone damage photos you linked to checking for what happened to our tomato plants last year and I believe that’s what it is.
      We thought it was some kind of virus or plant disease but I believe it was what is in those pictures.
      I’m going to bookmark that to refer to later this summer so if it happens again this season I’ll have something to go by.
      thank you so much for posting that!
      going to your second link now but just wanted to comment on the first one.

      • theozarker says:

        Witsend, I put a link to the Ozone damage in the gardening links to the left and added your blog to the blogroll. Thank you for posting them in the comments.

      • Gail says:

        Thanks Madame Ozarker! One of my biggest ambitions in life was to get my garden, which I started from scratch, nice enough that it could be in the local garden club annual tour. Right about the time it was getting mature enough to consider, it all went to hell. (sob).

  2. pamela says:

    I still love gardening. But, more and more, I feel as though I’m watching a loved one exhibit symptoms of a dangerous disease that I know little about and may be able to do nothing about.

    that statement really hit a chord Linda. That’s exactly what it’s been like.
    beautiful work as always.


    • theozarker says:

      Thanks Pam. Last summer when everything stopped in the garden, it broke my heart. Only the cantaloupes came back with any vigor and they were much smaller than usual.

  3. graveday says:

    I read where Scotland is having record heat. I also read where some enormous number of alltime high temps were set last year as opposed to only a handful of lows, like 7000 to 7. The numbers alone are staggering, but then, as you state so eloquently, we have to live it, not just read it.
    Yes, keep gardening, even in the face of heartbreak. If there is any justice, it those with some good earth under their fingernails who will be spared. And if not, at least you will be close to your final resting place, heh.

    • theozarker says:

      Yeah, I think I read about the same number for here in the US, too. (Or was that what you were talking about?) Pretty scary stuff.

      LOL, final resting place, huh? Well, I guess if my son can’t find a nice Ozark bluff to toss my ashes from, the garden would do just fine. 😀

  4. theozarker says:

    Gail, thanks for the info. I knew CO2 was different from ozone, but had no idea where the ozone came from or how it really affected plants.

    I like your blog and am always looking for sites that can provide good information to people who wander in looking for such information. Both your blog and the Ozone site provide such.

    And sorry about your garden. Maybe we should form and Order of the Lost Gardens so we can comiserate with like souls. 😉

  5. graveday says:

    Another thanks to Gail for posting those links. I got well past the bonsai tree photos and good detective work there, when my computer/connection went belly up. I’m back on and will finish reading this am, but had to say I was suffering serious disjoint with the dire text vis a vis the beautiful pics of tropical flowers, heh.
    Regardless, I am reminded of a comment from an astronaut who was lucky enough to go up a second time in the shuttle after a ten year hiatus. He was blown away by the degree of pollution in the atmosphere after such a short span, where sights he could see first time were now obscured. I believe that flight took place in the eighties. I wonder what he would say now.

    • Gail says:

      Cognitive dissonance comes with the territory. I get a serious case of it every time I go to the grocery store and see the shelves laden with incredibly perfect produce from all over the world, knowing it isn’t going to last. In fact in many poor countries from where the food is exported, the people who live there and grow it can’t afford to buy it themselves.
      Don’t suppose you have any link or more info about the astronaut? It reminds me of Jacques Cousteau. He was a sport fisherman until he went scuba diving in the Mediterranean and witnessed the degradation. He spent the rest of his life as a conservationist trying to save life in the oceans.

  6. graveday says:

    Gail, it was in a book I used to own by this guy. Perhaps you can find it in your library. I met him and he signed my book, but the binding was poor and I think I recycled it.

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