What does "climate change" actually mean at the grassroots level?
When most people hear the term they think of rising seas and hotter temperatures. Many are aware of potential collapse, but it all seems theoretical for now. The grocery stores remain stocked and we go about our daily lives.
While political leaders and scientists discuss broad mitigation strategies, the effects of climate change are already impacting those on the front lines of human survival.
Distant heat domes and flooding dominate the headlines, but food production is where it becomes real for all of us. Farmers and gardeners are the first to experience the early stages of the global crisis. We must pay attention to the signals food growers are sending.
I connected with gardeners from across North America and Europe to understand how climate change is affecting their ability to grow our most valuable resource: food.
The results were shocking.
Given the wide geographic scope of my audience I expected a range of feedback - some positive, some negative. What shocked me was the uniformity of responses around the world.
I've included a selection of the best verbatim comments below, but if you'd prefer a summary I've listed the common themes here:
- Extreme Weather Patterns: People are experiencing more extreme and unpredictable weather, with severe droughts, intense heat waves, early frosts, and heavy rains becoming more common. This has led to challenges in gardening and agriculture, as traditional growing seasons and methods are disrupted.
- Shifts in Seasonal Norms: Many note a shift in the timing and characteristics of seasons, such as longer summers, warmer winters, and unseasonal weather events like unexpected frosts or heatwaves.
- Water Management Challenges: Due to changes in precipitation patterns, including reduced rainfall and altered snowmelt timings, water management has become a significant challenge. This affects not only garden and crop irrigation but also leads to issues like flooding and soil erosion.
- Impact on Flora and Fauna: The changing climate is affecting plant growth and health, with some plants struggling to survive in the new conditions. Additionally, there's a noted decline in pollinators like bees and butterflies, and an increase in pests and diseases.
- Adaptation Strategies: Individuals are adapting to these changes through various means, such as using shade cloths, altering planting schedules, and implementing different watering techniques like collecting rainwater or using greywater for irrigation.
- Observations of Local Ecosystems: Changes in local ecosystems are observed, such as trees suffering from drought, shifts in wildlife behavior and populations, and changes in the health and productivity of gardens and crops.
- Personal Reflections and Anecdotes: Many of the accounts include personal reflections on how the climate has changed within their lifetime, noting significant deviations from the weather patterns and ecological norms they grew up with.
- Concerns and Warnings: There's a sense of concern and urgency in the accounts, with individuals noting the rapid pace of change and the need for more awareness and action on climate change.
We used to have one decent rainfall per week in the growing season (10mm+). This year we had no precipitation in spring, one huge rainfall event over a week or two in summer and then almost no rain since. We've been breaking records for how long we've had zero precipitation for over a month now, and have had about 1/4 of what we should have had since September (the majority of that in September).
The last three years have been much the same. Long, hot, dry falls with less precipitation than normal. Early springs with little to no rain. Four years ago we had rain every single day. Gardens drowned everywhere, mosquitoes were rampant.
We get lots of everything. 10C more than normal for months. No rain/snow for months. Deluges of rain for months. Freezing rain for months. It's exactly what was expected really, more extreme weather more often. I would be so happy if the "big brains" that deny it were right.
My garden? When there are no water restrictions it's done alright, because I water and things grow. My tomatoes and peppers don't set fruit when it's 30C+ every day though. My flowers are much more prone to winter kill, and drying from drought in summer. I'm on a slope with nice soil so rain every day is far easier on the plants than no rain at all but we don't seem to be getting those years very often. I don't think I'll ever see a year again like I grew up with, rain once a week, 20C for summer and fall starting end of August with snow shortly after until spring.
I live in an area that used to have light, steady rainfall/mists on most of the days of the year.
Recently we've had months without any rain at all and the rain that we do have is heavier and more prone to causing erosion. Most of our summer water comes from snowmelt and the snowpack has been melting early in the spring, meaning water is increasingly hard to come by (and flooding is more likely).
I live in a wooded area, and my trees are suffering and dying from drought and abnormally intense heat.
My roses should all be dormant but are still leafed out and putting out new growth.
Pumpkins and butternut squash went gangbusters, but frost came early and took most of them out (that's weather, though, not climate). Overall, though, the night lows have been too cold to plant later into Spring and earlier in the fall, and then summers have been sustained heat and drought, both of which are abnormal for my previously mild, temperate area.
Drought and high temperatures for longer periods of time. For sure, it is our biggest challenge. Forest fire smoke adds another dimension of complexity, when that happens in August, the tomatoes didn't seem to ripen properly.
And how are gardeners denying climate change?! We should be more in tune to changes in climate and the evidence is clear.
Fireflies are gone, bees and butterflies are rare. Beatles are more common, mosquito aren't as large and the wasps aren't always grinding my gears like they used to.
My growing season is getting longer. This year I finally decided I was consistently getting another 1-1.5 extra months of growing season that I think I'll try some veggies that will want that extra time next year.
Less predictable seasons, more frequent and more destructive storms, unusual weather patterns that stay fixed in place for weeks on end. Most years seem to have a false spring before plunging back into winter
Every year there's some sort of record being broken here...hottest, driest, wettest, windiest....you name it the records gets smashed every couple of years the pace of it is scary
I live near some internationally important bird colonies speaking to the reserve managers their records are showing a clear change in their arrival, breeding, fledging and depature dates.
Also bugs .....there's so few bugs even from when i was a kid that's probably pesticides rather than climate chane though
Heat and lack of rain. I live in the desert southwest. I've been gardening here since 1984. The summers are hotter. The heat comes earlier. I've had to put up sun screens to block the worse of the mid-day sun. With the heat, in spring and autumn, comes the winds. The winds have been stronger. They blow down my sun screens and have broken the 4X4 posts the screens are attached to. The wind dries everything, including the soil.
And the rainy season used to start in June and last til October. This year we received half our yearly average of rain. This really hurts when we only get about 7 1\2 inches of rain a year.
So how do we grow anything? Well, irrigation. Back in the 80's and 90's, we'd get irrigation water at least once a month, from May to September. With the lack of rain and less winter snow fall, we are lucky to get water 3 times a year. I have used water from my washing machine, shower, and dish water to keep my fruit & nut trees and grape vines alive.
I have almost given up on a summer garden. Only my peppers, eggplant, and cantaloupe survived the 79 days of 100°+ weather this summer.
Flip side, I have a wonderful winter garden. Just can't grow tomatoes and squash.
I'm having trouble with pollination. I'm in the desert and i don't know why but I suspect bees are dying from the heat. I'm adding a pollinator garden. We've also added high shade structures over two-thirds of the garden so the tomatoes and peppers fruit. Plus, we grow almost all our greens beans/ peas in the winter because of the heat.
We live near where Hatch chilis are grown. University researchers are swiftly adding more heat-tolerant pepper varieties but I fully expect that peppers will be grown in fields covered with shade cloth in the next seven years.
I tried and failed to fall garden this year. The Temps got low for about a week, so I sowed seed, then the Temps shot up and nothing germinated.
My spring plants all bolted so fast bc of early heat waves. My poor peas suffered. All my brassicas just really had a hard time. We had periods of drought followed by heavy rain so uneven watering & all its troubles. It sucks bc we capture rain in 5 barrels but the way that it rained means our barrels would fill up fast in the deluge, but they can only hold so much, so they'd empty before the next heavy rain. Rinse & repeat all summer. Very unusual since I'm in a lake effect zone, we usually get much more predictable rains.
Things that did well: my peppers went crazy. Had some of the biggest plants I've ever seen. Tomatoes & tomatillos were huge, too. All of these also produced so late into the season. We were still harvesting in October, which is unheard of here 5b.
All-in-all, it was just a mess. Much more pests, much fewer pollinators, water troubles, high heat.
Our local vineyards were hit really hard by drought, and last fall, we went from summer weather at the end of October to full winter in November. Just skipped fall entirely, and none of the perennial plants and trees had a chance to adjust and go into dormancy. The losses in vines, trees, and shrubs this year were quite startling.
And then in the spring the issue of early bud out followed by frost. The cherry orchards run helicopters steadily to create an updraft to blow the frost off the buds. I imagine it works, but extremely expensive mitigation.
When I was a kid growing up in the Portland (Oregon) area, to hit the 90s in the summer was a crazy event and the growing seasons were short. In 2015, I literally grew okra and sweet potatoes for the first time. We moved to a cooler climate in the Northwest because I could not handle the heat of Portland - of Portland! - and when the 2021 heat dome brought it up to 116 degrees, and summers that regularly had heat waves in the upper 90s and low 100s that would crush so many tender tomatoes and peppers (even with shade cloth)? We knew we would never return to my hometown. We'd considered moving to Sonoma to try out a new area of the country - but the droughts and fires down there have kept us in the NW, where our natural disasters are pretty much limited to waiting for the big Cascadia Quake in the next 50 years.
Massive drought, wildfires, and no pollinators. It was disturbingly empty of pollinators, and I wasn't alone in noticing it. I met with people who track certain pollinators, and there was a precipitous drop this year.
We were on water restrictions starting in August and I just left my garden to die because I'd have been using more water than the veggies I'd get would be worth.
Generally, I'm planing two to three weeks earlier than I used to, and they just changed our zone from 3 to 4.
A lot (and I MEAN a whole lot) less European honeybees.
I mean, it was 100-110 degrees nearly everyday for 2 months in the DFW area this summer. I only had enough shade cloth for half my garden so I had to choose which of my babies would live and die. I’ll be buying more in the spring. Oh, and no rain for 2-3 months in that period. It’s been lovely.
We've had our Apple trees blooming in December for a few years now. Just absolute madness.
Anecdotal, but I feel as though increased wind/high wind days will be one of the climate changes that we'll see in my area. The last few years I've had to be very careful with when I put my tomatoes out to harden them off, as well as introducing them to the garden. In 2022 I actually had to make a wind break because we had a week or two of unrelenting wind and I couldn't put off putting the plants out any longer. I do give them a fan early in their growth to start the process, but that doesn't really prepare them for 20-30mph gusts.
We had a drought in Texas that wiped out all gardens/crops. My community garden was devastated. Most of my plants died, no pollinators, and my city put us on water restrictions so we lost a ton of trees as well. Then there’s the “once in a lifetime” freezes, winter storms, floods and hurricanes that are happening every 2 years without fail here. It’s just awful.
Varies every year, but in general we are seeing very dry and warm springs, followed by either dry and hotter than usual summers, or wetter and cooler than normal summers (normal summers are just a frame of reference now). Too mild autumns resulting in very strong storms blowing in off the Atlantic that causes significant damage to trees and infrastructure.
There are pros and cons to the weather in that in some years we are now blight free due to the hotter and drier weather but conversely, we also struggle to keep crops watered and see shortages of hay and feed for our livestock.
This is in Brittany in France, roughly zone 9b.
I live in Canada and I harvested ripe tomatoes in November. No cold frame or anything, just growing there against my garage siding. They weren't great because there's too little light for them to properly ripen, but still.
Some might think this is a good thing, but the consequences are not to be ignored.
We don't really get snow anymore. It's not cold enough to kill off the ticks, so there's a big rise in Lyme and other tick borne diseases. I'm still killing mosquitos inside my house, in December. Last summer we had rain for 4 solid weeks, washing out crops. And the entire lobstering industry has fallen off a cliff, the bay is warming faster than anywhere else in the world, and my neighbors livelihood is cratering. Also because we're so low in some places, our roads flood at high tide and storms more often now. Like 3x a year, compared to 3 x every 10 years.
Bugs and humidity. I've been reading all available literature about climate change in my area and we're seeing the first signs of it. The frequency of high-impact storms is going up, and with it lots of rain, and wind. Sometimes hail. Humidity caused a lot of issues with peas and squash. And this is all going up in frequency and magnitude. I've invested in rain barrels but we have not seen as much of a drought as the US. But the silver lining is that I finally may be able to do year round gardening in Southern Ontario, so long as I get a green house or polytunnel.
Summers that reach 105° every day, and a record 50 day drought this summer. Where we used to get El Niño or La Niña only every few years, it’s now every year one or the other. I’m having trouble with tomatoes because it gets so hot by May that I don’t get much fruit. And this might be the worst, and latest I’ve seen aphids. With the freezes we’ve had in Texas the last few years, all the citrus trees are gone in my neighborhood.
Seasonal weather is getting more extreme and unpredictable.
Summers where I live in the UK used to be fairly predictable. I'm in one of the drier areas of the UK and summers previously might be on and off rainy and sunny and low 20s C or hot and sunny and no rain up to about 30C. Some years raspberries would be full and a bit bland and other years small but full of flavour.
Last summer we had multiple days over 40C and our hazel tree dropped all the flowers early to keep itself alive, as did most of our fruit plants and we had strawberries growing (not ripening) in December after they shrivelled up for the summer. This summer it was cold and overcast and rained and rained while in mainland Europe they baked. In the spring and early summer we had days so hot my carrots bolted.
Roads around us have flooded repeatedly through the autumn and our garden has become saturated.
It's basically become harder to predict what will work each year and what won't. My fig tree though has started producing ripe fruit for the first time ever, so there is at least some consolation.
Omg the viruses! I think my garden had literally all of them this year! And not a single drop of powdery mildew ... The weather changes are favoring different vectors and our lack of rainfall is changing what diseases we get. This year I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board and pick things resistant to what I saw last year. I'm even tempted to buy more from different regional seed sources.
Apple tree just bloomed and produced another small crop of apples....In November. My paperwhites all bloomed for the second time. My Acacia tree? Bloomed in January instead of late March.
It rained all summer this year, we only had 2 five day periods of no rain all summer the sun hardly shone at all. And the wind has become brutal, upstate NY trees cant withstand 50 mph sustained winds, gusts yes sustained no. So many healthy trees just snapped or torn from the ground.