Friday, March 13, 2015

How I came to love the new "Great California Desert"

Welcome to the great California desert!  Sunny skies, seasonally warm temperatures, and dry, dry, dry…  So the good news is that we have received 15.76 inches of rain this year

The bad new is found in this graph:

Standard Climate biome determination chart

if you know the average temperature of a location, and the annual rainfall… you can safely predict the type of biome pattern to be found in that location:

For example:  Anyplace on earth that has an annual average temperature of 10 C and receives 150 cm of rain in a year … will definitely be a forest… (natural vegetation before human activity)

Go to this link to find your climate characteristics:

Add caption

So Fremont has 15.76 inches of rain – that's about 39 cm. and our average annual temperature is 60 F = 15.5C.

Check it out on the graph – We are a desert… This is our 3rd year of severe drought… Whatever you call it, climate change is happening to us!

We get along fine when we can count on melting winter snow water in the Sierras - but we are in big trouble when there is very little winter snow...

Interesting comments on how long range climate predictions are determined:  National Geographic:

Plant assemblage in Southern Mexico
Several years ago we were in Southern Mexico – a reagon about as dry as Freemont… and I marveled at the beauty and productivity of the gardens… Then it dawned on me – since early times those local people had refined the art of growing plants suitable for that climate.  I saw no pansies or petunias… no lawns or thirsty vegetable plants… but plants naturally adapted to the available water and climate…and they were beautiful – just different from the classic English and European garden plants that most of us associate with “garden “.  Those local people have also developed methods  of focusing water into the root zone of the plants, and used mulch to slow drying. 

A plant largely unknown to most Europeans - this is the Chayote - found in Central America - grows well in Fremont too...It has squash like fruit...

So I thought – "what plants are suitable to the climate of Fremont?"  I came home and started doing my research.  I discovered that the Fremont climate is a classic Mediterranean biome climate – distinguished by  moderate  temperatures, and minimal rainfall – which all comes in one brief  rainy season.  This same biome  is also found in the European Mediterranean countries, parts of South Africa, Chile, parts of New Zealand and Australia… Plants that have evolved in these locations generally do well here.  I also found a great wealth of native California plants – but beware the term ‘native’ … almost everything is native to somewhere – so I am only interested in plants native to my region… After a lot of trial and error, success and failure, I have developed the maxim – "If it can't live here with the water I give it, I let it die and I replace it with something that can adapt."

One of my cactus in bloom 

If our climate truly continues to be dry for years ahead, as predicted – I am shifting from Mediterranean plants to plants adapted to very low water.  Among some enduring Mediterranean plants, I have a growing collection of cactus and other drought resistant succulents.  When the plants are small they require extra water support – but once established they thrive with littler water.

Garden cactus

Now, the Kansas farm boy in me can't go completely away and I have some raised planter boxes where I add extra water and can grow excellent tomoatoes, green beans, fava beans, kale ( 3 varieties ), potatoes, beets, and squash.  We also have a variety of fruit trees with deep roots  that do OK!  

Now I come to a pet peeve of mine – Why do local nurseries and local garden groups encourage new gardeners to attempt growing plants just not suitable for our climate?I suspect that they try to grow them here because their relatives in warmer summer climates " always' grew them in their gardens.
We have cold nighttime temps in the summer due to air movement off  of the cold Pacific ocean. That limits us in important ways – Both the Alameda Master Gardening association and the  Davis UC  Farm extension program  recommend not attempting to grow peppers, eggplant, okra, or large fruiting tomatoes (like Heirloom types)… we simply don't have the climate for it… The plants will ’grow’ in many cases – but produce poor quality or little fruits.  Why keep doing that which is impossible - grow varieties that are suited to do well our climate!