Please note that none of the information I’m sharing with you here is backed by research. We hope and expect agricultural researchers to explore this and other techniques for coping with climate change, but it’s happening so fast now that research is running behind and having to play catch-up. Please note too that what I’m describing is an experiment; I’m telling you what we’re going to try, not telling you what you should do.
Now that climate change has been shown for the global catastrophe it is, it appears to be too late to stop the changes coming to our weather. Here in the southeast US, we’re told to expect longer, drier summers, fewer gentle soaking rains, and more extreme weather events in general. As we plan to continue subsistence farming in this changed ecosystem, we now contemplate dividing the long, hot summer into three shorter summers, which we are calling by name:
- Spring Spurt – early March through June 30.
- Okra Doldrums – June 15 through July 31.
- Fall Rush – August 1 through ??? (around December 15).
Here’s how we plan to use each season:
Spring Spurt. No more waiting for Good Friday (the traditional day for planting summer veg here in central Alabama), and no more waiting for the average last frost day. We will watch the long-range forecast beginning March 1. As soon as it appears that our soil is warming up and that the chance of a hard freeze is low, we will plant heat-loving vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and melons. If we get a light frost, we will deploy frost blanket overnight (being careful to remove it promptly in the morning). We’ll wait a couple of extra weeks to go into the ground with eggplant, because it’s unusually susceptible to cold nights. Likewise, we’ll wait an extra few weeks to seed okra and other direct-seeded crops, which need warmer soil to germinate. We hope and expect to be able to harvest from Spring Spurt during May and June.
Okra Doldrums. This is the part of the summer when hot days and warm nights put the garden into what looks like a state of suspended animation. Plants don’t die if they get enough water; they just sit there. Tomatoes may remain green for weeks and won’t set new fruit. Only the okra, which has its roots in Africa, continues to thrive during this hot, dry period. Because so little is happening, this is also a time when we humans can cut back our activity slightly. We may experiment with deploying 30% shade cloth during this time, but we’re not optimistic; the main problem appears to be not the direct sun but the ambient air temperature.
Fall Rush. This is the unexplored new season for heat-loving veg. Unfortunately, it corresponds to the season for fall veg, so the season becomes crowded and busy; every day counts, and every square inch of growing space needs to be working. We will plant a new season of heat-loving veg around August 1 to take advantage of the long season with low likelihood of frost. No more trying to terminate the garden before the average first frost. If there is a light frost, we will protect the heat-loving veg with frost blanket. The first hard freeze ends the Fall Rush, so when we know it’s coming we will harvest all we can, even if it’s still green, and bring it in so it can ripen indoors protected from freezing.
What we’re describing here won’t work without supplemental watering; without it, plants will just die in the Okra Doldrums and the Fall Rush. A dedicated, conscientious gardener might be able to keep a small garden watered manually, but drip irrigation will be the gold standard for keeping heat-loving veg hydrated.
Also, what we have described here applies to heat-loving veg; we will continue to plant fall veg and early spring veg as we always have, and we will look forward with eager anticipation to the early spring asparagus harvest.