After a recent trip to my parents, I came home with a few copies of The Garden magazine, published by the RHS for their members of which my mum is one. In the June edition is an article about a report published by the RHS called ‘Gardening in a Changing Climate’ which looks at the impact of climate change on gardens and gardeners. It predicts how it may affect the way we garden in future years, with some potentially positive and negative impacts.
How anybody can be in denial of our changing climate I don’t know, but it’s a fact us gardeners (who are just a little bit obsessed with the weather) are acutely aware of. If only Mr Trump was to try his hand at vegetable growing, he might have a little more sympathy. We now have very mild and often wet winters, meaning some insects (some might call pests) that would normally be killed off in colder temperatures are surviving, and the wet weather results in water logging in some areas. We seem to get much hotter spring weather which can cause some plants to shoot up ahead of time, only to be plunged back into cold weather before the spring is out, and sometimes we get a spring drought. Our summers are often unpredictable, soaring temperatures making for very dry ground, and then flash floods when it rains excessively onto hard ground. And then Autumn quite often brings a (not unwelcome) Indian summer, with the possibilities of storms as we go into winter.
Droughts, floods, storms. All of which provides us with an extra challenge, on top of the challenge that is gardening and allotmenteering in the first place.
In the article, the RHS has given 6 ways you can ‘future proof your plot’ in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. Most of these are good practices of organic gardening, so you might already be ahead of the game here, but it’s worth sharing.
- Plant large trees and shrubs, and green up bare areas to increase carbon storage.
In terms of an allotment, I would say, try not to leave beds bare over the winter months, use green manures, or plant over-wintering crops to avoid bare areas. There are restrictions for some plot holders when it comes to planting trees, but if you can plant a fruit tree or two, do.
- Plant a diverse range of pollinator-friendly plants.
I think it’s much more popular now for people to grow flowers on allotment plots, either in cutting patches, or in between vegetables for increasing pollination and/or protecting plants from certain insects. I grow more each year, but could still fit more in.
- Invest in green walls and roofs, for summer cooling and winter insulation.
I think this applies more to houses and buildings, but it would be lovely if some shed roofs became places for plants and insects too. The shady side of my tiny shed is completely smothered with a thornless blackberry bush, does this count as a green wall?
- Capture and store more rainwater for irrigation and flood prevention.
More water butts! But shed roofs can only provide so much, perhaps we need to be more clever in finding ways to save water.
- Avoid synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, with their heavy carbon footprints.
There are plenty of more natural and environment friendly alternatives out there. As a small example, I use wool pellets around my beans to keep off the slugs, and I’m experimenting this year with neem oil to combat aphids (but only where there are more than the ladybirds can deal with). I fertilise the soil with manure, or use a little blood, fish and bonemeal or seaweed extract. Also, I had asparagus beetle for a short while, but we spotted frogs hiding out in the wild area behind, who soon polished them off, so there’s something to be said for a little ‘weedy’ nature area.
- Compost more at home: organic waste disposed of in landfill releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
And there’s nothing better than the black gold of homemade compost to add nutrients back into your soil.
I recommend reading the full report here. It’s nicely designed and reader friendly.
In addition to the points above, I would add a few other suggestions:
Floods – Raised beds can help if you know there’s a section that is prone to flooding, and digging a drainage channel to allow the water to escape. I’m lucky that I haven’t suffered this problem, but I know many do.
Droughts – when the weather is very dry, watering onto hard ground does very little, as the water either runs off, or just immediately dries out on the surface. I recommend using some plastic bottles with the bottoms removed. Plant them neck down near the roots of very thirsty plants (courgettes, squashes, tomatoes, beans for example) and fill with water. Also, working lots of rich material into the soil really helps.
Extended growing season – grow chillies and peppers! I’ve had lots of luck with them the past couple of years.
June alone has given us a full weather range, rain and gales at the start of the month, an extended heatwave through the middle of the month, and then back to rain and gales. Neither of which are ideal conditions for gardening in, but adapt we must, so early morning starts to work before the heat, late evening watering sessions, and then just stay in and drink tea when it rains! As for progress on my plot, harvesting has begun on lots of crops, and the planting out is winding up on others. I have some empty beds where overwintered crops have been cleared out, but there are still leeks to plant out, I’ll get some more peas, carrots and spinach on the go, and have ordered up some ‘Christmas potatoes’ to be planted out in July. I have also sown some biennial flowers, some of which will be planted out on the plot in autumn for picking next summer. It’s a never ending running buffet.
Let me know if you’ve found any good ways to adapt to our changing climate.