The weather so far this year has been really
weird. We had snow in March, and then we had a cold,
long, wet spring, and then suddenly it was warm and dry, with a heatwave thrown in.
Since march, the weather here in Ireland has been quite similar to what I grew up with
in Canada. It’s not bad weather, it’s actually quite
good weather to grow in, and quite enjoyable, but its just different and unexpected, and
that has caused some problems. Ireland is famous for its wet, cool, maritime
climate, it’s what makes everything so green. But for the past 7 weeks, since the middle
of May, the temperatures most days have been significantly above normal, with a break of
about 10 days where there was more normal temperatures.
And there was a few days where the temperatures almost broke record, all-time highs, with
temperatures above 30ºC. I don’t ever remember feeling heat like
that in the 20 years I’ve lived in Ireland. The rainfall during the same period of time
has also been very low. In May, June and July of a typical year, we
would expect an average of about 17-20mm of rain each week.
But, for the last 7 weeks we’ve only received 25mm of rain in total.
Put another way, there’s more than 100mm of rain that we would normally get over that
period of time that hasn’t fallen, and we haven’t had a drop of rain in the last 26
days. It looks like there might be some rain tomorrow,
but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be a lot.
With all of the warm temperatures, and lots of sunlight, and big thirsty plants in the
ground, the time that we need the most water is when we’ve actually had the least.
This is quite an unusual drought for Ireland, and a lot of growers and farmers are really
suffering, and so is the landscape and biodiversity around us. Within the context of many parts of the world,
this is quite normal, and in fact good growing conditions.
But here in Ireland we’re struggling, because it’s outside of the range of what we’ve
come to expect And that’s the critical point, having to deal
with things that we’re not set up for, and it can be quite chaotic and stressful, having
to deal with unexpected pressures, just when our workload is tough enough.
And this is especially an issue when our systems aren’t as resilient as they could be.
There was a fair amount of heat stress in plants in the polytunnel, especially during
the really hot days, and there was also heat stress in some of the plants outside, particularly
the salad crops. And it was difficult to keep enough water
in the potted plants, and seed germination was a bit tricky for some crops.
Other pants did really well during that period, especially the squash, courgettes or zucchini,
and the runner beans, which really like these type of conditions, providing I can keep enough
water in the soil. But it was all a bit much as a grower, with
the heat and the sun being quite overwhelming at times, especially in the polytunnel, and
I really feel for farm workers around the world who have to deal with these kind of
conditions on a regular basis. This kind of heat in a garden is ok, and even
desirable, but water is the key issue, and it’s especially an issue for me on this
site, because of key limitations of the context that I’m in.
The municipal water supply has very low flow and pressure, the result of poor coordination
and planning during the development phase of this community.
There’s obviously some kind of obstruction in the supply pipe, the result of which is
that we only get about 8L a minute of water on the site, less if more people are using
the supply. This is a fixable problem, but not without
digging up the entrance road and laying a whole new section of pipe.
In a typical year this constraint has not been a problem.
It does add a little bit of extra work in the polytunnel, but not enough to really worry
about, and as a result, the problem never got fixed.
But this season it’s been a real problem, with trying to get enough water in the gardens,
as it slows everything down, and it really limits the options, as many sprinklers just
don’t work with this kind of low pressure. I’ve explored a number of different options
on how best to do this, but without rushing out and setting up drip line watering systems
for all of the gardens, I can only really water by hand.
Thankfully, I have a number of large tanks that have been really helpful with this.
So, what I’ve been doing, is setting up the tanks near that garden that needs to be
watered, letting them slowly fill up over time, and then watering quickly by hand using
watering cans. it takes me about 20 minutes to add over 600L
of water to a 100 square meter garden, which equates to about 6mm of rain if it’s spread
out evenly over the whole area. I’ve also started using hoses or pipes to
syphon water from one tank to the next, which means that I can fill up 3 tanks at a time,
which saves time in managing the whole process. And it also means that I can stockpile water
when other people aren’t using the supply, and I can water the gardens when it’s most
convenient for me. But, it’s still taking up a lot of my time,
as I’m trying to water each of the six outside gardens at least twice a week, in addition
to the regular watering that I need to do in the polytunnel.
This means that I’ve been spending about 7 hours a week watering all the gardens, or
about one hour a week for each of the family scale gardens outside.
In comparison, last year I spent on average, only 4 hours over the entire season watering
each of these gardens, and most of this was to keep recently sown seedbeds moist, or to
help transplants, or while liquid feeding. I’ve added more water in the last three
weeks to each of these gardens, than I would normally add over an entire growing season. Of course, all of this has an impact, as I
don’t really have time for a lot of the other tasks, and it’s already been an extra
busy season. As a result, I’m struggling to keep up with
some of the sowings that I’ve planned, and I’ve delayed sowing some crops that would
need some extra care and attention, and I’ve abandoned others.
In addition, some of the plants that have been growing in the garden are maturing faster
than expected, or bolting, and I don’t have transplants ready to fill the space when they’re
pulled out. And it’s a bit disconcerting seeing empty
beds in the garden in the middle of the summer. I’ve been practicing a type of triage, letting
go of some crops, and focusing on the crops that will do a lot better with some care and
attention, and trying to fit everything else in when I have the time.
It could be a really good growing season, especially for the crops that I can keep strong
and healthy with enough water and fertility. It might be the best crop of squash that I’ve
ever grown, which is a plant that I normally have a lot of trouble growing this climate. In addition to keeping up with day to day
tasks, I’ve also been looking at how things can be made easier in the future, and replacing
the pipe for the municipal water supply is a big part of this.
I’ve also been exploring options for installing a pump and pipes to bring water from another
well, which is about 400m away from the gardens. This will reduce dependency on the municipal
water supply, which is treated, and can be expensive, and could be restricted at some
point in the future. Then, with decent water pressure and supply,
I could invest in sprinkler systems, and even lay out drip line watering systems in all
the gardens outside. Catching rainfall water would be an option,
but there’s an issue about how much can be realistically stored and for how long.
i could also work to build the soil organic matter and apply mulches, and use a lot of
other techniques that are useful in growing in dry climates, which often don’t make
a lot of sense here in Ireland. I could also invest in shade cloths, to protect
seedlings and transplants from the strong sun and heat, and I could even put in ventilation
fans into the polytunnel. But all of this is infrastructure, with associated
costs and embedded energy, and equipment that needs to be maintained and materials that
need to be stored. And it only really makes sense for me to acquire
this stuff if I think I’m going to need it again, and it’s kind of crazy to think
that I would use any of this stuff in Ireland. So, getting the water pipe replaced makes
a lot of sense, for a number of different reasons, but everything else depends on the
likelihood of these dry conditions happening again in the near future.
If I believed that the climate was broadly stable, or changing only very slowly, then
I might deduce that these extreme conditions are only at the outer edge of what would be
considered a normal range, and therefore unlikely to happen again for a number of years, or
decades. In which case, it doesn’t make a lot of
sense to make these kinds of investments or changes, as I would assume that weather next
year and the year after that would be closer to the normal range.
But, that’s not what I believe, as I trust the climate science for the most part, and
believe that the climate is shifting, and possibly faster than the climate models have
forecasted. And some of these models have indicated that
we should expect more of the types of weather that we’ve already experienced this year,
with wet, stormy winters and dry summers. In which case, I should expect that these
hot dry conditions will happen more frequently in the near future, and I should start investing
in the infrastructure and start planning for the possibilities that these unusual growing
conditions may actually become typical or normal.
But, of course, there’s no guarantee, as seasonal weather is very different from long
term climate trends averaged over many years, and next year, we might have a cool growing
season with way too much rain. This RED Gardens Project is an independent,
citizen-led research and development project, focused on trying to help people to grow more
food for themselves and others. The only funding I get is through the sale
of surplus vegetables to my neighbours, teaching an occasional course, but mainly through this
YouTube Channel. As I want to avoid sponsorship, and would
prefer to limit ads as much as I can, I’ve set up a Patreon Page, to try to raise funds
from people around the world who want to support me in the work that I do, or at least want
to encourage me to produce more videos. A link to my Patreon page can be found here
or in the description below, and I’ve produced a short video explaining how Patreon works,
and why I’ve chosen it as a platform, which you can find here, or again in the description
below. It would be really cool if you could support
me in this great adventure, but most importantly, thanks for watching.