Planning your garden in the face of climate breakdown

January is a hard time for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. It is cold, often gray, and, depending on where you live, snowy or stormy. But it is an essential time to start planning gardens, as well as other Earth-based activities, for the spring and summer. In the face of climate breakdown, the task of cheerfully planning one’s garden may be filled with sadness, anxiety, or confusion. The snowy picture of my backyard looks lovely and wintry but until yesterday, it was freakishly mild. I know other parts of the world are experiencing much more serious climate chaos. However, the creation of spaces in which people and non-human nature can flourish is more important now than perhaps ever before.

I don’t have any magical solutions, but I do have a few examples of what I am doing to plan for a flourishing garden in 2020:

1. Make a detailed plan of your garden. I found a great aerial map of my garden on my City’s map website. It was useful because it was taken in mid-spring when we were preparing the garden beds but before the trees had not leaved out. I drew over the map using Sketchbook but there are a lot of different programs you can use. Map out what your outdoor space looks like now and what elements you hope to integrate in 2020. Making a yearly plan and keeping a garden journal is especially useful when the climate is increasingly unpredictable. It can help you see what is working and what is not.

2. Consider energy flows. Play close attention to energy flows into your space (in permaculture we call these sectors). On mine (below), I indicate the sun, wind, neighbours, city bylaws, opportunistic plants, and the flow of people and domesticated animals. Think about climate disasters you might be vulnerable to…flooding? fires? Mark where you think these may occur and consider them in your plan.

3. Choose hardy plants. One of the big problems in my area has been unpredictable springs. Some springs lately have been cool and wet and then boom! hot and dry. Last year was so wet and cool, that gardeners and farmers planted weeks late. Choosing hardier plants or having a plan to protect more delicate ones will help your garden persist in weird, unpredictable weather.

4. Support independent and organic seed companies. As agribusiness corporations consolidate power within the agricultural system, fewer and fewer independent seed companies exist. The ability of people to collectively control our food system starts with seeds. Try not to buy seeds from large multinational corporations. Urban Harvest, Richter’s Herbs, and Hawthorn Farm Organic Seeds are a few of my favourite seed companies in Southern Ontario.

5. Learn how to save your own seeds. The plants that are flourishing in your space through weird and wonky weather are ones worth growing next year. Of course your ability to save seeds is entirely dependent on the planting of open-pollinated seeds, not hybrids. This is another important reason to support organic, heirloom seed companies.

6. Support small-scale, organic farmers in your region. Similar to point # 4, the ability of people to collectively feed ourselves will rely on building relationships with farmers who are independent of agrochemical corporations and do not grow highly-vulnerable monocultures. One crop can easily be wiped out in a disaster, support farmers who grow polycultures!

7. Nurture biodiversity. Plant a variety of plants, including native species, in order to nurture pollinators, birds, and other critters. Plan out (back to point # 1) the location of habitat niches in your space and where you will provide reliable sources of water. I engage in wildlife gardening as much as I engage in edible gardening for humans.

8. Get involved in activism. Now is the time to take a stand for all beings who are suffering under colonial-capitalism. Join Fridays for Future strikes and look for other ways to act in your community. I also encourage to support Indigenous Land Defenders and migrants rights activism. Only climate justice can create a better world for all! And remember, care work is climate work. Support teachers and other care workers. In Ontario, this means supporting job action from education workers and their unions! #nocutstoeducation

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