Growing in a changing climate

Last year our own blueberry bushes produced enough for us to eat steadily, with some left over to freeze. Not this year—we’ve picked only a few pints to eat (mostly in handfuls). We weren’t sure why: the bushes were fed in the spring with a special organic fertilizer for acid-loving plants, and the bees were busy pollinating the flowers. However, talking to the owners of Harmony Farms, we learned it’s been a tough year. In March there was the heat wave, followed by freezing temperatures, a very wet spring, and a very dry summer. Their blueberry bushes (and peach trees) started producing very early—they’ve been picking peaches more than a month ahead of schedule. The blueberries are smaller than usual this year, and softer. The real disaster for them was in their apple orchard. The trees flowered much too early because of the heat wave, and then the flowers were killed in freezing temperatures that lingered for too long. Little apples had formed, and at first they thought the trees would be okay. But the inside of each apple was black. So this year they won’t open the apple orchard for picking because their yield will be too small.

I have read that farmers and growers will need to adjust to our rapidly changing climate, altering their timetable for growing, or the types of crops they raise. However a farm with well established blueberry bushes, peach and apple trees, is at the mercy of weather.

Growing up, my sister and I had a wonderful babysitter who was in her 80s when she took care of us (although it wasn’t until she went to live with her son, when she was in her 90s, that my parents discovered how old she was). Whenever there was a weather anomaly, she would say, “We never should have sent a man to the moon.” We always laughed at that, but now her idea, that we shouldn’t have messed with the natural order of life on earth, seems almost prescient.

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