Archive for July 31st, 2009

Summer heat

By Tom Read

Our garden is using less water overall, but going strong at 2:00 pm on this hot summer's day.

Our garden is using less water overall, but going strong at 2:00 pm on this hot summer's day.

Yes, it’s been hot and humid here on Texada Island lately. Just a few days ago we recorded 31 degrees centigrade (31C) in the shade on our front deck at 5:00 pm, a new high for us.  Friends about a mile west of us endured 38C in their house on the same day, while the City of Vancouver hit 33.8C, a new all-time high, apparently.  Do these numbers mean anything, other than some temporary discomfort?

While no particular heat wave should be linked to the concept of climate change, it’s hard to dismiss the possibility that our near-record snowfall and cold last winter and the current heat blast are part of an increasingly unstable climate pattern.  I’ve read somewhere, but can’t remember the citation, that climate change will manifest itself hereabouts as more frequent extremes: colder colds, hotter hots, windier winds, rainier rains, etc. “Extreme” is becoming the new “normal,” it would seem.

So how do we cope with greater heat than we’re used to?  Texada is fortunately surrounded by an ocean buffer that usually moderates weather extremes.  But for now we’re stuck in the middle of a vast heat-trapping high-pressure ridge, according to Environment Canada, that shows little sign of leaving soon. The major consequences for our homestead include the following:

—  Careful conservation of electricity, because the creek stopped flowing enough to make power some weeks ago. We’re relying on solar power during the day, and a nightly 2-hour generator run to charge our battery bank to carry us through the night and morning.

—  Careful conservation of water, because the level in our (shallow) well is down about 50% from two months ago. At the moment we can only pump for 30 minutes at a time, once a day, or risk running dry. I’m checking the well every few days.

—  Water our garden at more frequent intervals but use less water overall. This is possible for us because for the first time we’re using watering timers with our drip watering system. So far it’s working extremely well — we should have installed watering timers a long time ago.  By planting a diverse garden we’re assured that at least some vegetables are thriving (notably the tomatoes, beans and squash), while others bolt, particularly cilantro.

—  In addition to pumping well water, we’re using our pond as a backup source for watering the garden, chickens and pigs.

—  We work outdoors only in the mornings, up to about 11:30 am, then go indoors until after 7:00 pm. It’s not just the heat and humidity that compel this schedule, it’s the deer flies. These flesh-and-blood-eating tormentors can be held at bay temporarily with insect repellant, but they’re a very persistent  nuisance during warm days at mid-summer.

—  Rocky, our nine-year-old canine companion, has always lived outdoors and in his own insulated dog house no matter the weather. But his obvious suffering became too much for us a few days ago, so we’ve let him spend afternoons indoors with us, where it’s 10 degrees cooler. Our house’s straw bale walls, clerestory vents and ceiling fan provide ample “air conditioning” to keep us all reasonably comfortable.

—  Conversely, our feline companion Penny prefers to remain outdoors during the summer heat. She’s eating very little of the food we put out for her, but I’ve found the remains of several mice on paths near the house, so I’m sure she’s not lacking sustenance.

Another coping tactic is that we are keeping all this in perspective.  After all, 31C is actually perfect for many garden plants, even if it (temporarily) stresses us, animals and the surrounding forest. We’re fortunate to have enough water in our well and pond to see us through, at least for this year. But what about the future? Will 31C become typical for a Texada summer’s day in a few decades, or even sooner? “Don’t borrow trouble,” Linda tells me, and rightly so. But don’t take anything for granted, either.


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