(Picture from here.)
We’re now in our final harvest: chestnuts. Now, I’m in a fairly good position to judge the entire season.
It wasn’t good.
First, let’s talk about the chestnuts.
We have three chestnut trees: Big Guy, Little Sister, and Baby. Big Guy is an American chestnut, hybridized with a Chinese chestnut and backcrossed to create an American chestnut with blight resistance. He’s fully grown and has been producing nuts for several years now. Little Sister is a modified Chinese chestnut that can cross fertilize with Big Guy so we get nuts. Chinese chestnuts are naturally blight resistance. Baby is a mammoth American chestnut of indeterminate blight resistance. She is only about four years old and not really flowering yet. All attributions of gender are completely arbitrary.
This year we’ve harvested in excess of forty pounds of chestnuts from Big Guy and Little Sister. Harvesting has to be done differently between the two trees. Big Guy drops the burrs containing the nuts. Little Sister opens the burrs on the tree and drops the nuts. We’re always in competition with the squirrels.
Forty pounds of chestnuts sounds like more than it is. Chestnuts are made of three components: burr, husk, and nut. The burr is spikey. The spines go through most gloves. The husk then has to be removed. The remaining nut must then be dried. The forty pounds is husked, undried nuts. So, it will be significantly less yield when we’re done processing them.
Using Big Guy as an example, a burr is supposed to hold up to three nuts. If there isn’t sufficient pollination, there might be burr filled with “flatties”: nuts that weren’t pollinated turn into this strange looking flat nut. Not even the squirrels like it.
We got a lot of flatties.
In general, we had a problem with pollination. Mostly we blame the weather. We had a warm May, cold and raining June, mixed rest of the summer. The chestnuts flower and get pollinated in the May-June time frame. Consequently, we didn’t get as much of a harvest as we would have liked.
But the weather is even stranger.
We’ve had a very warm September and October. It didn’t get much below sixty until mid-month and we’ve had no frost or even any danger of frost. At one point, Big Guy was sporting flowers on one branch while adjacent branches were making burrs.
I’ve mentioned before about the persimmon which set about a dozen fruit. Usually, we get pounds and pounds of persimmons. Ditto Cornelian cherries. We had an unusual infestation black rot on the Concord grapes and the Marechal Fochs had a lot of immature grapes when we harvested them.
We’ve been seeing this pattern for the last several years. And it’s only getting worse. There’s a number of other indicators. Back in the day, we’d get some warmth through May but didn’t dare plant the outside garden until Memorial Day. By September, we’d be having cool, dry nights and certainly by mid-October, we’d had a frost and be in brief warm spell in October. During the winter, we’d get sticking snow starting sometime in December, a thaw in late January, then socked in on snow and cold temperatures in February through early March. (Cold means hovering in the low twenties with a drop below zero for a few days at a time.) Then, things would be spotty all through May.
That is not the case these days. The pattern seems to be evolving that we have an elongated comparatively wet fall up until late December. Then, a snow/thaw cycle punctuated with occasional plunges well below zero. March and April are still quite changeable. Beginning in late April, the weather turns quite warm through May, followed by a cold, wet June. Looking outside on 10/18, we have the first true fall day. It was in the forties last night and today it is in the sixties.
Just a few years ago, we had Christmas dinner out on the picnic tables. It was too warm to do it inside.
This is, of course, a local manifestation of climate change.
We are not subsistence farmers. We’re more advanced gardeners. But the issues that are plaguing us are only larger agricultural problems as evidenced in our small space. I have a friend of mine from Georgia who is gratified the weather is more like what he’s used to—and gratified he’s no longer living in Georgia which, I think, is moving away from habitability.
My point is that climate change is messing with our food supply now. It will mess with it more in the near future. We are going to have a collision in the close generational future between climate change, crops that are not adapted to the new climate reality, and nine billion people. This is fact now. This is what is baked in from what we have already done. The future does not look good for bananas, cocoa, and coffee. We are even entering the time of climate induced sickness.
And we are adding to the problem every year.
I can’t say this enough. We are seeing this now. We will be seeing more. The CO2 we’ve already added to the atmosphere will be there for thousands of years. The methane will be there for hundreds. If we stopped right now, the CO2 would cause the temperature to top out at +2 degrees Celsius. That’s what I mean by baked in. Every year we add another gigaton or two and that becomes baked in. Every year after that. 2C is a third of the way towards the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). From what I’ve read, that world would be a miserable place for us.
There are people whose fortunes are committed to making this problem worse. At this point, I tend to think that anyone who saying that climate change isn’t happening is either uninformed or making money off it. We should not be arguing whether or not to fix this. We should be arguing how to fix this. We should be starting those fixes now.
Kübler-Ross’ five steps of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I think it’s a good model for handling any catastrophic change in life. I think it’s applicable to our handling of climate change.
I just wish the hell we’d get past step one.