Global warming is affecting how our gardens produces fruits and vegetables.
ILLUSTRATION: BRIAN ORR
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
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
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
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
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;