Well that was one seriously hot and dry summer! Much of Ontario has been in a drought, the most severe in 30ish years it seems. It’s been a super challenging season for farmers, many of whom have lost some crops and have had serious decreases in yields of other crops. The spring was quite cold and so things got planted late, and then once things got planted/seeded, it didn’t rain. For months. And it’s been hot hot hot!
As a School Garden Educator, the drought has affected “my” school gardens, but I’m lucky that it does not directly affect my livelihood. With school gardens (at least the small school gardens I work in), it is of course lovely when we get great yields and get to taste lots of food we have grown ourselves, but nobody is depending on these gardens to feed themselves or their families. With school food gardens, anything is a teachable moment.
It has been super interesting observing how the school gardens fare in different summers. Much depends, of course, on the care they get over the summer. And each garden has their own microclimate, with some being shadier, some being in more open areas, etc. But either way, it’s been interesting to start to learn which plants can handle a severe drought and which ones have not been happy this summer. Basil is one which has really surprised me – I thought it would be delicate and would wither in the heat. But it’s been thriving! The High Park Children’s Garden was exploding with basil in August (though admittedly that garden got lots of love over the summer). And even the basil in the Withrow school garden (which hardly got watered at all) was still alive and doing relatively well. And any mildew problems we’ve had with basil came significantly later than last year and have not spread nearly as quickly.
Lots of cooler weather plants bolted (went to seed) super early this year. The spring season was short for lettuce, radishes, cilantro, arugula, etc. BUT, some of those seeds have already started to grow a fall crop. Bonus! The Withrow garden certainly has its fair share of arugula coming up, and I promise you, no humans were involved in planting that particular crop. The plants did that all by themselves!
A few plants kept on surviving, but just didn’t grow. Even though I was impressed that the basil survived the drought, it was sort of funny to see that even a couple of months after being planted, they had hardly grown at all. The tomato plants were similar – still alive, but only barely bigger than when we had planted them. And though these poor little mouse melon/fairy watermelon plants and squash plants did eventually start to grow, there’s no hope of them actually producing fruits before the winter comes…
Despite the drought not affecting my livelihood directly, I definitely find that as a gardener, I am very aware of the weather. (Of course working outside most of the year leads me to know what the weather is doing too, seeing as I need to dress for it every day…) I’m always surprised to find people who have NO idea of what the weather has really been doing. It surprised me many times over the summer, when people came to the farmers’ market and were truly puzzled by why we had less produce than we do in most years… Anyway, we have had a few good conversations with students at the school gardens, about why this summer may have been challenging for our gardens (and for farmers) and about what the word “drought” means.
As I write this, on the first full day of fall, it is ironically a cool and rainy day. Hopefully the seeds we planted with students this past week will have a good fall of growing! We planted a few sunflower seeds for sprouts, and a variety of quick-growing fall crops like radishes, lettuce, mustard greens, etc. Hopefully I’ll have picture and stories of fall crops soon…