A Garden for Global Warming

Wow, but the times are changing! No measurable rain has touched the soil of my garden for weeks and weeks. The sun bakes down, its light glinting off upturned leaves and even sneaking into the hidden corners. While the lawn withers to a pale gold, the vegetables stay green only by the grace of regular watering by hand and by sprinkler.

All this sunshine and heat has the corn in an ecstasy of growth. I look out over the land and wonder if it’s too soon in this cycle of Climate Change to plant some tropical delicacies. Of course, it is. Winter, when it comes, will freeze the vulnerable. Still, the heat has brought on hallucinations, and I imagine an orange tree next to my blueberry bush. Watermelon vines might like the area near the pumpkins. Thus I dream of my globally-warmed garden of the future.

Then I think, “OK, oranges and watermelons are good, but what about something more exotic? Surely there are amazing fruits and vegetables out there that I’ve never hear of. Would I like them?”

Some investigation is needed. I begin by questioning the edibility of the tamamoro:

 Weird Food Taste Test

Global Warming? Don’t Care!

Here I am, not caring an atom about global warming, or climate change for the nit-pickers among us. After all, I’ll be nothing but a whiff of crematorium ash by the time the rising tide laps at my front door. Indeed, milder winters, which we’re already enjoying – that’s enjoying – are nothing but a plus for us living north of the 49th parallel and on the west coast of North America. Can’t tell you how nice it is not to have to scrape ice or shovel snow when we have an easy winter.

Pay no attention to the number of times I ride my bike or walk instead of getting into a fuel-burning mode of transport. That doesn’t make me a Carer. I don’t care.

Want another reason why I don’t care? Of course you do, and I’m happy to share. Get this – it’s February, and we’ve got magnolias in bloom, a sure sign of anPspMagnoliaPink1CrpBCri15Fe23other mild winter. The flowering plum tree in my neighbour’s yard is a fireworks-burst of pink, the crocuses have been feeding bees for weeks, and daffodils glow like miniature suns in every rock garden. February, people!

Ignore the fact that I’ve been composting and recycling for more decades than I care to count. The reason I continue to compost and recycle is purely a question of habit. It’s a simple rut. It’s not because I care about global warming. I don’t.

Take notice, too, of how a warming of my home turf increases the growing season for my garden. What gardener can’t thrill to that result? I dream of the day when the Lower Mainland has the climate of today’s California, and I can grow crops year round. I get delirious thinking of the trees I’d plant – almond, avocado, citrus – wow! If it got even warmer, I could grow mango. Pardon me while I swoon for a moment.

Don’t count it against me that I’ve been growing my own food for many years, either. Even though I’m saving the planet the fumes from tractors, reapers, and transport trucks, I shouldn’t be branded an eco-warrior. I’m not. I don’t care about the toxins or the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Couldn’t care less.

My only complaint against global warming is its pace. This last winter, we had two nasty spells of icy weather – five days in a row of seriously sub-freezing temperatures, then another six. It killed off almost all of the hardy plants I was hoping to nurture through the dark season so they would produce tasty, early shoots. Only one survived. One lonely Brussels sprout plant stands green among the blasted remains of its brethren. Tragic.

Now that I think about it, the Lower Mainland of British Columbia needs to become California-North now. Right now. Or sooner. Sooner would be good.

Pay no attention to my going-paperless office. Ignore my water conservation habits. Turn a blind eye to my instinctive worship of the four Rs – reduce, re-use, recycle, repair. If you ever imagine that you see me doing anything to save the planet from global warming, you will know you are dreaming. Or hallucinating. Probably both.

Now, I must dash. I have an evergreen shrub to plant. And I’m not planting it to help clean the air. Wherever would you get such an idea?

New Life

“While there’s life, there’s hope.” Who said that? Some guy called Cicero who lived in the first century BCE. Dude! I couldn’t agree more.

After endless months of wet, cold, rainy, soggy, grey, dreary, adjective-ridden winter, my garden awakes. The rhubarb, the keenest plant of all, arises.

 RhubarbShoots

Cheery red shoots emerge from the slime and the muck. It’s cold above and cold below, but nothing deters the rhubarb. It has a mission to thrive.

Most days, I stand snug in my warm kitchen and watch its progress through the window. Rain sheets down one day, fog intrudes the next, and frost pounces during any night without cloud cover. The rhubarb never wavers. It pushes up new shoots, opens new leaves, and grows and grows with ever increasing pace.

Many more weeks will pass before I even start to sprout other vegetable seedlings indoors. Such wimps! For now, I am in awe of the rhubarb. My hero! My soon-to-be soup. My ever-popular dessert.

And, given the time of year, and the colour of the buds – My Valentine!

Cleanup

Two days ago, my corner of the world was treated to a smidgen of dry weather. The ground wasn’t dry – that’s just not a possibility this time of the year – but no water poured down from above. The sky was grey with clouds, and, for one heady moment, the sun threatened to burn through in a weak spot. Unfortunately, the spot wasn’t weak enough, and a dull, diffuse light prevailed. A few droplets of rain braved the journey to the ground, but only now and then. That hardly counts at all.

I took all this to be a good omen, and a good opportunity. Feet protected in rubber boots, hands encased in water-resistant gloves, I launched into the backyard and tackled the left section of the garden. There were defunct and decidedly damp bush bean plants to tug out of the ground and consign to the compost pile. Then there were one or two weeds to hoe off. Well, maybe a handful or two of weeds. All right, I admit it. I hoed up three mounds of weeds.

Given that I’m such a dedicated gardener, how do such quantities of weeds appear? Simple answer. They don’t because they can’t. Therefore, those three mounds are a figment of my imagination. Apparently, my camera has quite an imagination, too. For a moment, it saw the piles of weeds.

GardenLeft

But, like all good mirages, the mounds vanished. I mean, really! Weeds? In my garden?

The only thing growing madly in the garden these days is the compost pile. The corn stalks I removed from their place in the right section filled the box to its brim, the pole bean vines from the centre section added a dome, and the bush bean plants from the left section raised it to a tower. If there had been any weeds to add to the tower, it might have threatened to topple. Of course, there were only mirage weeds, not real ones. No problem.

My cleanup of the garden to prepare it for winter slumber is not quite complete. A number of zucchini plants still live, feebly. Occasionally, they will produce a few fingerling fruits to grace our plates with succulence and flavour. I want every last fruit these plants can squeeze out before the first frost kills them. The cold, wet weather is not to their liking, but they are as determined as I am.

Today, cold rain sheets down on the garden. From the warmth of my kitchen, I look out the window and cheer on the zucchinis. I admire the clear areas that I have tidied for winter.

And I dream of spring 2015.

Winding Down

Autumn is upon us. The harvest moon came and went on September 9 in this year of 2014, and the equinox passed on the 23rd of the same month. Now it’s October, and the season of the vegetable garden is dwindling to an end. It’s winding down.

That expression – winding down – brings to mind a gradual tapering off, a gentle decline, or a peaceful amble into the sunset. Do I wish!

That’s not the way my vegetable garden comes to a close. No. It demands attention. It stamps its withering feet and insists. I never realized how much time and effort the harvest involved until I kept track of my garden hours one year. Back in 2009, I discovered that only forty percent of my time went to preparing the ground in the spring, then planting, tending, and weeding through the summer, and finally clearing the ground at the end of the season. Sixty percent of my time (120 hours) went to the picking and processing of crops for off-season use. A full 86 of those harvest hours were crammed into September and October.

The day to celebrate the harvest – Thanksgiving Day – arrives on October 13th this year in Canada. I’d love to be able to put up my feet and joyfully contemplate its rapid approach, but I’m too busy grubbing, scrubbing, chopping, blanching, chilling, layering, freezing, canning, and NOT panicking.

Happily, the zucchinis and vegetable marrows will produce fresh delights for my table until the first frost kills them. They make no special demands on my time. Even better, I can ignore the beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and chard, for now. They will fend for themselves even as the temperatures drop. They laugh at a simple frost.

But, on the heels of taking down the corn patch, I must store the potatoes. Then the onions need to be readied for the winter. I’ve barely finished canning the last of the plums, and the late-ripening apples nag at me to pick them and turn them into applesauce. The picking and saucing of apples will be hours and hours and hours of work.

And that’s not all. We’ve enjoyed a warm, dry September and into October, so the bush beans are still producing edible beans. They need to be picked. Again. Looming in the centre section of the garden, the scarlet runners continue to mature. I will strip the beans and take the vines down at the last moment, hopefully on a dry day, and definitely before the first frost.

I’ve already brought in the pumpkins – all 42 of them. I rinsed, dried, and set them out in sunlight to mature their flavour for two weeks before converting them to purée. That two week deadline gallops ever nearer. Do I need to mention that it will take many hours to convert 42 pumpkins to dried seeds and frozen purée? I thought not.

Who, me? Worry? Poised to pounce, the cold, drenching monsoons of autumn hover off the coast, and I’ve still got the apples, pumpkins, scarlet runners, and bush beans getting all up in my face needing to be harvested, processed, and bedded down for the winter. Pshaw, I say. Piffle!

I am NOT panicking.

Pumpkins

Too Cute For Words

Who can resist a squirrel with its fuzzy face and liquid brown eyes? We admire their nimble speed when they scamper up and down trees. We are awestruck when one takes a fearless leap of faith from one springy limb across the divide to another tree and lands with feet that stick like Velcro. Amazing!

GreySquirrelTree

They’re industrious, too. Unlike the housecat that sleeps away 16 or more hours of each day in a variety of lolling poses, the squirrel is the poster child for hyperactivity. Its quest for food is endless. It is compelled to run up and down every tree, run out and back on every limb, walk tightrope on any wire, bound through the grass, and raid all bird feeders.

Even when the motion of its feet pause for a thoughtful moment, the squirrel’s body twitches and its tail jerks and flips. It’s semaphore in fluffy fur. If we could decode the movements of that tail, we might discover squirrely masterpieces – A Tail of Two Cedars, The Day of the Hominids, or A Limb With a View.

Squirrels take life seriously. They plan for hard times by caching thousands of snacks in thousands of hiding places. They are renowned for their love of nuts, and I have resigned myself to losing a percentage of my garden’s hazelnut crop every year. In years like this one, when the trees produce little and the squirrel population is booming, I get no nuts at all. [Imagine these next words spoken through clenched teeth.] But I’m OK with that. Really I am.

This year, the squirrels gave me a special surprise. Not content with the hazelnuts (after all, it was a slim crop), they turned their attention to my patch of sweet corn and swept through it like a horde of proverbial locusts.

CornEarDamage

Nimble enough to climb the corn stalk, toothy enough to strip back the husk, and voracious enough to take every kernel for themselves, they have savaged the yield of my corn. Instead of harvesting the crop at a leisurely pace, waiting until each ear had reached its peak of ripeness, I took as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Even so, I lost countless ears of corn.

With such losses, some people – not me, of course – might start thinking of squirrels as little more than rats with fluffy tails. They would say the squirrel is a rodent and a rat is a rodent, therefore, Squirrel equals Rat. Furthermore, rats are vermin, so squirrels are vermin. By association, the next thought of such people – not me, of course – would be Vermin! Exterminate!

Myself, I chuckle at their naiveté. As if! As if any pathetic human could make even a tiny dent in the swarms of grey squirrels in our cities. These are squirrels fed to fecund fatness by peanut-toting grannies, grandpas, and grandkids in the parks, squirrels big enough to intimidate neighbourhood cats, squirrels kept safe by leashes on dogs, squirrels annoyingly savvy about traffic, and squirrels fanatically devoted to being fruitful and multiplying.

Considering all the qualities and quirks of this animal, when you ask me what I think of the irrepressible grey squirrel, I can give only one answer. [Imagine these next words spoken through clenched teeth.]

“They are too cute for words!”

Mine, All Mine.

BlackberryBucket
It’s summer now, but just imagine it is the middle of winter. Outside, the wind screams to get into the house, spring is too far off to even be a promise in the air, and summer is a myth. What you need is a taste of summer, and you can get it without buying tickets to the Caribbean or surrendering your last shred of dignity to the penetrating glare of airport security.

How? Just unseal a jar of hand-picked, home-canned Himalayan blackberries, the free-for-the-taking berry that grows in wild snarls of briar along ditches and over abandoned lots. One spoonful is all it takes – eat it straight from the spoon or have it over ice cream – and instantly you are transported to sun-bleached August.

Ahhh!

But – and there is always a but, as you know – before you can enjoy these berries in the winter, you have to pick them in the summer. If you are lucky, you are a loner, a hermit who lives down a long, abandoned country road well lined with briars. Your nearest neighbour is beyond a distant hill, and strangers never venture down your road. The booty is all yours.

Here in Richmond, BC, access to that most delectable taste of summer is not so simple. Construction is everywhere. New buildings mushroom out of ground once blessed with waist-high grasses, rust-and-emerald pheasants, and sprawls of Himalayan blackberry vines. Three times over the last five years, I have lost prime picking patches to the scourge of those who must tidy wild things. Improvement, they call it.

As more good patches vanish, competition for the remaining blackberries rears its thorny little head. On the happy side, most people can’t be bothered to leave their ceiling-fanned couches or their air-conditioned autos to pick this crop. On the unhappy side, those who are willing to take on the August heat are ferociously keen.

Accessible blackberry patches grow on public land for all to see, so there’s no way to claim ownership of a good patch. You either get to the fruit before everyone else, or you get no fruit. Every year, as the season approaches, I plot my strategy, and check the progress of the ripening. My specialty is getting to the patch when it first ripens – before anyone else has noticed the vanguard fruits have turned from red to black.

Come with me as I head to my neighbourhood briar patch. It’s early in the morning, and I’m ready to glare down any intruders in my patch. Clearly, I have perfected my glare; this morning the brambles are mine alone. Because I’m no fool, I wear thick boots, thick sweatpants, and a long-sleeved shirt. Yes, the weather is too hot for such clothing, but I would rather melt into my boots than be eviscerated by the thorns. As a nod to beating the heat, I wear a broad-brimmed hat to shade my eyes from the rising, scalding sun.

At first, I coyly stand out of harm’s way and pick ripe berries at the edges of the briar patch. I delicately reach one hand around the vicious thorns and pluck out the berries, taking care to extract my hand without contacting the many curved sabers on the vines. I’m too clever to get scratched. Yet.

Naturally, the best fruit, the plumpest, ripest, juiciest prizes, hang just out of reach of my safe zone. Naturally, I cannot resist temptation. I venture into the brambles, step over one vine, and duck under another. Standing on tiptoe, I snake one arm through a maze of vines and pluck big fat, black fruits that fall into my cupped palm, then tumble from palm to picking bucket.

As I pick, the vines I have walked over spring back into position. One of them smacks me across the back. My shirt protects me, mostly, from its lash. Another vine snuggles across the back of my left calf. Both of them gently grasp the fabric and tickle the skin beneath. No problem. I will extricate myself with care when I have gleaned all this amazing fruit. I pick on.

Then a hint of movement catches my eye. My eye notices, but my brain ignores. Bad brain. Bad, bad brain.

Suddenly, a fiery sword is thrust into my forearm. I look down and see a wasp the size of a 747 on my sleeve, its stinger buried in my arm. Even as I focus on my attacker, it is already moving further up my arm and getting ready to stab me again. Below my arm, I see a rising swarm of 747s. Unknowingly, I have intruded on the territory of a wasp nest hidden somewhere nearby in the brambles.

Retreat! my brain screams.

Fat chance! say the vines on my back and leg.

Wham! The wasp stings me again.

Then my body jolts into survival mode, and I twist, turn, dodge, bend, contort, rend, and thrash my way out of the blackberry patch and to a safe distance from my attackers, now moodily sinking back into the briars. My silent screaming (it is silent, isn’t it?) makes my ears ring. My back and my legs are thorn-clawed and throbbing. It feels like someone used a sledgehammer to drive two red-hot spikes into my arm.

Having fun yet? asks my inner cynic.

Wasps are scary. Can we go home now? asks my inner wimp.

I look down at my picking bucket and sigh with relief. Not one fruit has been lost in my flailing escape from the wasps. Although instinct demanded all speed, my inner miser refused to allow the loss of any berries. They are mine. All mine.

Unfortunately, having just begun, I haven’t picked enough berries yet. A car slows nearby, and I can sense the driver’s eyes measuring the fruitfulness of my blackberry patch. I move further down the briars, out of the territory of the wasps. Gingerly, I start picking again, eyes alert to any movement among the vines, keen to spot any new nest of stingers before they strike.

The sun bakes down on my shirted back, and winter looms on the horizon.