Not deferential enough: Knee high by the fourth of July

Posted Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: Knee high by the fourth of July

by Gina Hamilton

A farmer friend who is also in state government mentioned that he and his little son planted sweet corn over the weekend.  I said that with such a late planting, it probably wouldn't be knee-high by the fourth of July.

For those who aren't farmers or gardeners, that phrase means "it's growing on schedule", based on the idea that corn really should be about that tall around July 4.

Craig said that the old rule didn't apply anymore, because summers are hotter and the warm weather lasts longer into the fall than in the past.  He assured me he would have a crop before the frost.

For those of us who till the land, it's a sign of global warming.  We see it first, no doubt, because we are looking for signs that tell us when it's safe to set out bedding plants, when it's safe to put seeds in the ground, or when we have to harvest everything, ready or not, and try to ripen it indoors.  And we are seeing our crops come to fruition earlier.

My tomato crops have small tomatoes on them already; my peppers have tiny peppers; my beans are twining up the lattice; some of my roses, normally July bloomers, are already blown out and forming hips.  Winter squash is growing out in the back beds.  The blackberry blossoms are already off the brambles; the fruit is forming.  I've already made strawberry jam.  The cranberries have buds.  I've had to deflower the herbs numerous times already so they don't go to seed.  The apples are about the size of golf balls.  Our grape vines are growing fruit. The lettuce is just about ready to pick.

The lettuce is just about ready to pick.

This might not seem alarming to most people, but let me assure you it's not normal, nor is it good news.  Global warming is changing our growth patterns.  In the midcoast, and elsewhere in coastal Maine, our plant hardiness zones have changed from 5b to 6a in 10 years.  That is a major shift.  Some of our ponds and lakes no longer freeze; the rivers rarely do.  The latest frost is much earlier; the first frost is much later.  We are growing grapes in sheltered locations; just 50 years ago, it was unthinkable for Maine to be thought of as a wine growing region; now, there are multiple wineries in coastal areas.

If all of this sounds good, consider that the downside is rising sea levels, salt intrusion into the fresh water table, confused polinators ... in southern Maine, orchardists are hand-pollinting pear trees because the hummingbirds aren't here when the flowers are ready to be pollinated. They're not alone.  Consider all the native plants that aren't being pollinated and replaced because their animal partners are on the old schedule.  Consider the invasive species that are replacing the natives.

That is, if the pollinators even exist at all in the future.  A bumblebee die-off in Oregon this week pointed to a major pesticide, called 'Safari', that killed tens of thousands of bees in parking lots near Portland.  Safari's main ingredient is dinotefuran, a neonicotinoid, and a well-known bee toxin.  Why it was being used to control aphids despite nontoxic and effective controls such as ladybird beetle introduction, or simply spraying with soapy water, is not clear. 

But bees are dying from all sorts of toxins, including the infamous 'Roundup' by Monsanto, which has been banned in the EU due to its toxic effects on bees.  It is one of the chemicals believed partly responsible for Colony Collapse Disorder.

The biggest problem for us ... and for you, who presumably eat our produce ... is that changing climate conditions may make previously locally grown produce impossible to grow here, while new varieties and so on will take time to be field tested in order to produce enough for the local populations. And in areas where the crops have been growing traditionally, they may no longer be able to be grown there.

Think the desertification of the entire breadbasket, while Maine and New England, with our rocky fields, try to catch up to produce core crops.  My best guess is that there are going to be some problems there.

It's long past time to do something about global climate change instead of pretending it doesn't exist; it's getting old to hear some folks claim there are reliable studies that show conclusively that it's not a human-caused problem.  Of course it is, and the only beings around who can stop it are us.

Want dinner? DO something.

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