Archive for the 'weather' Category

Here comes the sun, eventually

By Tom Read

Here's our food preservation "tree" with a local seashell on top instead of a star.

With the arrival of winter Solstice a few days ago, our days are theoretically getting a tiny bit longer, and that’s certainly something to celebrate as we head into a new year. Glancing out the window at this moment, however, it still looks rather grey out there — but we might be due for some sun later today.

Grey punctuated occasionally by brilliant sun breaking through the clouds might be considered normal for Texada Island during this season. I love our beautiful island home, including its rainy winter weather.

As for today, it’s the holidays!  Linda and I hope that you are enjoying the fruits and bounty of the Earth, as is also our good fortune. Best wishes for 2010 and beyond,

–Tom

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What really matters

By Tom Read

There's just one store-bought food item in this photo, namely the bell pepper in the foreground. It's not easy to grow such big peppers here on the cool coast because they thrive on sustained heat. But we like 'em in our salsa, and for now they're still relatively cheap and available through the industrial food system. That's a conscious compromise, eh?

There's just one store-bought food item in this photo, namely the bell pepper in the foreground. It's not easy to grow such big peppers here on the cool coast because they thrive on sustained heat. But we like 'em in our salsa, and for now they're still relatively cheap and available through the industrial food system. That's a conscious compromise, eh?

Texada’s almost ideal mix of mild temperatures, ample sun and just the right amount of rain this past month has given our garden a shot of warmth leading to lots of ripe tomatoes.  So today we turn our attention to converting our ripe Romas into salsa. Most of the ingredients will come from our garden; we will use only a few store-bought items. If we were to consider the amount of labour we’re about to expend on making this salsa, it wouldn’t be “economical,” but what matters to us is the satisfaction of creating a very personal taste of summer that will last us through the coming winter and spring.

Preserving our harvest is a deliberate act of resilience-building for our household. We know that the world around us swarms with economic, ecological and political stresses, but we pretend they do not affect us. After all, we live on an island! What matters to us at this moment is that a friend has loaned us her pressure-canner (we’re keen on trying this food preservation approach), while another friend has offered us an opportunity to glean more apples and pears. And all the while our garden and domestic animals are thriving.

I feel a sense of well-being by living in a place where the world’s problems seem far away. This feeling may be an illusion, but the accumulating supply of home-grown food in our pantry and freezer are real. From time to time I like to write about the politics and economics of Texada Island, but what really matters is being part of a network of friends here, and learning how to be more self-reliant.

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.

A wildfire warning

By Tom Read

Here's a small part of the Cranby Creek fire zone. You can see that most trees weren't seriously damaged, but that's only because we were lucky that the fire hit when there was still enough moisture in the ground.

Here's a small part of the Cranby Creek fire zone. You can see that most trees weren't seriously damaged, but that's only because we were lucky that the fire hit when there was still enough moisture in the ground.

Back in the late summer of 2006, Texadans fought side-by-side with provincial firefighters to put down an accidentally caused wildfire that could have resulted in widespread destruction if it had successfully migrated from an open field into the forest. That was a very dry year, and capricious winds kept the fire alive as an unpredictable threat right up until overwhelming force arrived in the form of two quarry water tankers and a corps of local volunteers. We were lucky; it was a close call.

Last weekend, another wildfire hit Texada.  Located near the headwaters of Cranby Creek, this fire jumped immediately from a clearing near a dwelling on private property directly into the public’s forest. The cause is under investigation, particularly since nobody has admitted to starting the fire. Ambiguity has fueled fierce rumour and innuendo heard all over the island; dark speculations but no proof. This isn’t healthy for our community, and it’s quite unfair to anyone being targeted by such speculation. I know we can do better than this, but that’s a topic for another post.

Meanwhile, as in 2006, Texada volunteers responded admirably to the fire alarm, including the Gillies Bay Volunteer Fire Department, JMG Logging (water tanker) and Wallmer Bobcat Service (backhoe). Provincial firefighters came through as well, including air crews flying two fixed-wing fire retardant bombers and a water-dumping helicopter, plus an experienced team on the ground. After about eight acres of a steep, forested, rocky hillside had burned, the firefighter’s coordinated efforts first contained, then knocked out this fire. The drama lasted about five hours.

The next day I spoke with members of the mop-up crew, who had come from Port Alberni to help fight the fire when it broke out on Saturday afternoon. “We were lucky here,” said a sweat-soaked young man who had been digging out and extinguishing hotspots among still-smoking tree roots. “This was a classic surface fire, where the flames never got higher than my shoulder,” he said. “The amount of moisture in the ground meant that the fire had to use most of its energy to burn off water, so it never got into the tree tops. Mostly, it just singed the trees and destroyed a lot of undergrowth.”

He added that the mid-sized and large trees should not suffer any permanent damage, and the burning of undergrowth and old deadwood on the forest floor will actually help reduce future risk of a catastrophic wildfire on these relatively few acres.  But 2009 is already shaping up as a dry year for Texada, and we may not be so lucky next time. If this fire had occurred on a windy day in August, after months of little rain, events might have unfolded quite differently.

These dangerous events are foreseeable, if not exactly predictable as to time and place. What are we doing as individuals and as a community to prepare for wildfires? I know we haven’t done enough at our house to protect ourselves; our current plan would mostly amount to safe evacuation. But what about our community? Does anyone have a copy of the Texada Emergency Preparation Plan? What does it say about coordinating emergency response and follow-up in the event of a truly wild fire in the forest?  I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out and report back in a future post.

Seven sunny days

Where's the rain?  It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way.  Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

Where's the rain? It's starting to feel a little like a drought might be headed our way. Here's the forecast for the coming week for Texada/Powell River

By Tom Read

Our local weather forecast from Environment Canada shows a string of sunny days reaching into the future. Spring weather predictions are notoriously unreliable, but if we get all this warm sunshine, we’ll need to get busy in the garden, weeding and prepping beds for May planting. And the bees will be busy, I hope, so they’ll need some attention, too. Not to mention the chickens, which we let out to go walkabout every afternoon when it’s nice weather. They’re always back waiting for their evening snack by 5 or 6, then have to be tucked in for the night.

We’re still waiting for one of the hens – any one! – to go broody and start sitting on a clutch of eggs to ensure our next generation of chicken for the freezer. The rooster crows earlier every morning it seems, especially with all these bright days that start peeking out around the darkness way too early.

There’s some not-so-great parts to all this sunshine, though. The rain gauge in our garden seems stuck at about 1.5 inches for the whole month of April. Let there be no doubt: we’re too dry for this time of year. The implications for our homestead, for Texada Island and for the region include:

— barbeque season will be short, while irrigation season will be long;

— we’ll make a lot of solar power at our homestead during the day, but little or no micro-hydro (which operates 24/7) once the creek gets too dry, so we’ll have to burn propane in our back-up generator to make up the shortfall in electricity production. And propane costs a whole lot more than “free” microhydro;

— due to our decreased electricity production in the months ahead, we’ll probably have to shut down our freezer until the rains return sometime in the fall;

— some people with shallow wells aren’t going to have enough water this year;

— the forest will become “tinder dry” as they say, with water-stressed trees and increased fire danger;

I could go on and on about the implications of too little water for our area. Consider, however, that drought is affecting the world’s industrial food-growing areas as well. We’re fortunate that our creeks and rivers still have any water at all, because many other regions have little or none. “Resilience” is not an abstract concept, it’s a necessity. We live on an island on this sphere called “Earth,” and we are about to get a lesson in how to cope with multiple shocks to our too-comfortable, industrial-based, supposedly non-negotiable way of life.


Post facto

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