How Global Warming is Affecting Garden Produce

Facing up to the realities of global warming: Learn how global warming is affecting garden produce on homesteads.
By Joan Gussow
October/November 2002
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Global warming is affecting how our gardens produces fruits and vegetables.
ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN ORR


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News on how global warming is affecting garden produce.

I'm not in denial about global warming — far from it. I've thought it likely that human activity was heating up the Earth since I read the proceedings of a 1970s hearing on the subject run by then-Senator Al Gore.

So by now I'm convinced that our dangerously ignorant species is pushing up the thermostat on the only planet we have and that global warming is affecting garden produce. But I find it hard to keep that reality uppermost when I'm under the spell of raspberries, though we're at the edge of winter.

For the past few seasons, the fall raspberry plants that regularly indulge me from August into October have continued to fruit through strangely warm Novembers; more improbably, the early bearers are rejoining the party. Following horticultural orders, I pruned out their fruiting canes when they finished bearing in July, leaving the new canes to generate foliage and energy for next year's crop. Instead, those newcomers are fruiting now — putting out small clumps of double-lobed fruit that seem vulnerably out of season.

It's tempting to relax and enjoy them, but we all know there's a warning underneath the pleasure. When we talked about this odd weather, Barbara reported the devastations of Arizona's worst drought in recorded history — dying desert animals dragging themselves into back yards, desperately seeking food and water. There and elsewhere, wildfires raged throughout the fire season, which we once called summer.

Here on the East Coast, the fifth year of a prolonged drought threatened our ability to garden last summer. The vagaries of climate change now intermittently scorch us, drench us with unprecedented floods and plunge us into untimely freezes. That's the real face of global warming and what we'll need to expect in the future — chronically unstable weather, marked by extremes of temperature and moisture that will allow us to produce food normally only part of the time.

But global warming is not foreordained — humanity forced it and can stop it. And as the nation that contributes most — by far-to the problem, we in the United States can participate hugely in its solution. We need policy change — government support for our efforts to become responsible global citizens — but we also need personal change. Our food devours fossil fuels in its production, processing, packaging and transport, thus contributing mightily to global warming.

Growing food and buying it locally are not just healthy pleasures, but powerful acts of resistance and restoration.

So I'll relish my late November raspberries as an anomaly we need to smile as well as worry — content in the knowledge that my freezer and cold cellar are full of homegrown food to keep me going through the coming winter, whatever the weather.

Where I live, in downstate New York, this is the time of year for tidying up stripping the last fruits from the peppers, eggplants and tomato vines, then salvaging a final zucchini. The plant remains can be hauled off to the compost pile, or chopped in place and buried so the nutrients they've removed can be returned directly to the soil, together with all the energy they've stored in carbon compounds.

Although most of my white potatoes have been dug before now, in Michigan, Mary finds that hers keep longer indoors if she leaves some in the ground until just before hard frost. Obviously, underground spuds are hardy, as anyone knows who has found potato sprouts urgently pushing through the spring soil in beds they occupied the previous year.

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, must come indoors before the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees. Although sweets are not an exclusively tropical crop as many gardeners believe, they do like warm temperatures and make their only serious demand right after they are dug: They want to cure for a week or so in a warm and humid place. So I put them in open boxes near a pan of water and an automatic heater set to 80 degrees — covering everything with a sheet, or putting the whole works in a room with the door shut. After a week of curing, the tubers will keep — as long as they're stored around 60 degrees — until the following summer. If you make the mistake of storing them with white potatoes where it's cool and damp. they'll shrink and turn black — and you won't be able to make these delicious curried sweet potato latkes (see recipe below) through the winter.

Amidst all this talk of autumn harvest, Barbara reminds us that some people around the country also are planting. Once fall has tamed the fierce heat of summer. many gardeners in southern regions plant everything that can stand a light frost garlic, peas, broccoli, chard, lettuce. But north or south, harvesting or planting, this is the season when all of us above the equator watch together as the northward-tilting Earth carries us rapidly toward the year's shortest day. It's time to go inside and get some reading done.

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes Recipe

In a large bowl, mix together:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To the flour mixture, add:

2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup (or less) of milk — just enough to make a stiff batter
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated

If batter is too stiff, add a little more milk. Drop batter by spoonfuls into a preheated frying pan containing inch of peanut oil. Flatten latkes with back of spatula. Cook on each side until golden, and drain on paper towels. Makes about 16 pancakes. Delicious! And they also keep well.

Joan Gussow's best-selling book, This Organic Life, is available on MOTHER'S Bookshelf, Page 103 of this issue.


By Joan Gussow, with advisers Mary Anselmino, Michigan; Gail Feenstra, California; Barbara Kingsolver, Arizona/Virginia; Toni Liquori, New York City; and Jennifer Wilkins, New York;


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