Resilient Gardens

The other day I was reading a message board where people from all over were talking about how their gardens had done this year. Most of them had trouble, and most of them blamed the strange weather. Now, of course, we can’t know the weather was truly to blame in each and every failure–but temperature shifts, unseasonable heat and cool do play havoc in the garden.  It got me to thinking about climate change and how gardeners might be able to hedge their bets to make sure they get a harvest every season.

Climate change creates unpredictable weather, and unpredictability is a terrible thing for a gardener. Ensuring success, I think, will have to do more and more with identifying and perhaps even breeding tough-ass, locally adapted plants.  Plants that are known survivors can form the backbone of your garden. Each year you can try to plant tender favorites, exotics, delicate plants of all sorts, whatever you want–and if the roll of the weather dice falls in your favor, you may harvest those plants. But that backbone of tough plants will be there, so you’ll have something fresh for your table no matter what.

Now, just what those plants are is going to vary by location. I’m going to list off some survivors for Southern California.  Please chime in with your location and your favorite, bomb-proof plant!

SoCal Survivors:

  • Prickly pear cactus. When the Armageddon comes, I’m sure we’ll be living off of this while serving our mutant cockroach overlords.
  • New Zealand spinach. We just posted on this.
  • Arugula. As a winter crop–it doesn’t like summer heat.
  • Artichoke. Everyone in SoCal should have one in their yard.
  • Cherry tomatoes. Cherries don’t seem to be nearly as susceptible to the various tomato maladies. Climate change or no, they are an important backup to big tomatoes.
  • Swiss chard. The most amiable of all greens.
  • Fruit trees. They aren’t bothered by much here in this mild climate–but this wouldn’t be true somewhere where, say, a late frost could wipe out a crop. However, I think our chill hours are dropping in SoCal so I’d recommend very low chill hour trees, like figs and pomegranates, over more borderline trees like apricots.
  • And, we’re very lucky to live in the ideal climate for avocados.  

Credit where credit is due: this is a post by Mrs. Homegrown–due to a computer glitch it got posted by Señor Homegrown. 

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      1. Southern Peas (aka cowpeas) and okra are pretty much bomb proof in my southeastern garden. They shrug off the diseases that turn everything else to mush and soak up the heat, although the drought did delay them a bit this year. I probably could have fixed that by watering them, but I didn’t.

      2. Plantain, the weed with the spike of seeds and rosette of leaves that lawn care nuts love to hate, was brought here by English colonists. It is a wonderful plant. You can eat it, you can crush its leaves and put it on boo-boos and bug bites, you can drink the leaves in tea to help with a cold, and the seeds aid with digestion. I always put one spike worth of plantain seeds in my pancake batter.

        Amaranth, otherwise known as pigweed, is a pseudograin, and the greens are edible (but tough, so cook them).

        Quinoa likes cold climates. This pseudograin is a whole protein. It also is tough like a weed.

        • Plantain is a very useful weed! There’s always some in our yard. We don’t eat it (ours has to be eaten when very young or the ribs are too tough) but as you say, it is fantastic for other things. I infuse oil w. dried plantain leaves to use as a base for lotions. Love the pancake idea!!

      3. Our NoCal list is fairly similar, but I’d add favas (also a winter crop) and, if you have a long planning horizon and are willing to process them, acorns.

        I’d also like to add that cherry tomatoes are often a parent of hybrid varieties, meaning that the F2 mishmash one gets by allowing non-heirloom varieties to go to seed can be useful, if you don’t intend to grow large fruit. If you want to stabilize a hybrid line into an open-pollenated variety, in the tomato world, the way to go is probably to start with a hybrid that has some desirable properties, and live with drastically smaller fruit in subsequent generations. I guess “early girl”-derived cherry tomatoes might be a handy thing to have in our mild summers, for example.

      4. Other winner for the inland valley in SoCal are jujubes, loquats and amaranth. Jujubes seem to shrug off 100+ valley temps with their glossy green leaves and with the proper pollinator hang heavy with fruit. Loquats are an early spring producer just when the citrus finishes. Amaranth is great for summer greens that don’t wilt even all day direct sunshine. When it does bolt the seeds can be cooked like quinoa. Oh, and for more traditional fruit trees Anna Apple fruits early and heavily.

      5. I live in close to the border in BC, Canada. We have a pretty good growing season compared to most of Canada. We can, just barely, grow eggplants in a good year but not this year. It was colder and wetter than normal followed by warmer and dryer. Lettuce, peas, fava beans all did well. Tomatoes were disappointing. Luckily I grow beans, squash, and dry beans that are adapted to the climate so they did OK. Happily we have some local seed growers and I save seeds. Not many apples and plums this year. I envy you the avocados.

      6. I’m in N. CA. Bay Area, and I’ve had an ok tomatoe harvest this year…the roma varieties are just not ripening a deep red, so I’ve been bringing them in with a little green on them, and they ripen on the counter pretty well. The cherry varieties are doing fine. Squash, both winter and summer varieties have struggled, which I’ve never had any problems with in the past. The big success this year has been the Tuscan Kale, and different varieties of heirloom shell beans.

      7. Here in GA, the plants that never fail for me are green beans, summer squash, basil, oregano, and mints. It’s my first year for asparagus but so far the stalks are as tall as I am so I’d say it loved this crazy summer! I’m also putting in some SE native rabbiteye blueberries this fall. In general I think perennials are a good hedge against the weather.

      8. In our N. Calif. Central Valley (hot & dry) garden I always have luck with Armenian cucumbers. Assuming you give them enough water, it’s hard to fail with those. Always tons of fruit, never bitter. The other staple is cherry tomatoes. Every one of the many tomato plants in my yard suffered this year, except the cherries.

      9. I have done pretty well against unpredictable weather by 1) starting indoors under a light and 2) planing in self watering pots.

      10. Tomatillos are easy to grow and can withstand a lot of abuse. I’ve gotten big harvests from both well tended and neglected plants. The fruits, once picked, also last months, without refrigeration.

        • I don’t know why we never grow tomatillos. I think we’ve done it once. Yet I love tomatillo salsa. You’ve inspired me for next summer. Also, I didn’t know they last so well. Any special tricks for storage?

      11. For Los Angeles, guavas are very adaptable to the weather. Three years ago, and before then, the fruit was always ready by mid- late september around here. Last year, as with this year, they flowered late, and last year they were ripe by mid november, and some were still on the trees until about February. Hard frosts would probably change this, but for now they work. They do okay without water in LA once established.

      12. Purslane! I live in the CA high desert and I have never see such huge plants as I have this year. Great with scrambled eggs. And this is a weed that seems to live all over SoCA.

      13. In Northwest Arkansas we have a four season climate and were in the “extreme drought” zone this summer. I’ve been moving toward easily stored calorie crops for my garden. Squash bugs annihilate organic winter squash plantings but sweet potatoes have been amazing. The leaves are edible for both humans and our backyard chickens and the sweet potatoes themselves have kept at least 9 months just in a closet. Cowpeas are also happy through the summer heat. As for fruit, pears and the wild persimmons, blackberries, and elderberries have managed to crop even this year.

      14. Thank you for all the great ideas everyone. My chili plants were hardiest along with fruit trees. Other plants that typically enjoy warm and hot weather like pumpkins and tomatoes didn’t fare to well. San Fernando Valley, CA.

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