Tag Archive: climate


I’m currently learning about Permaculture Design on an online course provided by Oregon State University. It’s interesting revisitng what I know about garden and landscape design from this new perspective, and whilst a lot of the Permaculture approach has many similarities with traditional landscape design, there are some interesting new angles and ideas which enlarge the scope and address some fundamental issues like the impacts of climate change and ‘going with nature’. The course provides some fascinating links to many additional resources and I was delighted to look at one or two ‘musical takes’ on some of Permaculture’s principles by a guy called Charlie McGee. Here’s  an example (there are a number of others on Youtube) which I particularly love…all about embracing change..enjoy!

Old School Gardener

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‘Weather watching’, or rather using forecasts of it and then responding so as to maximise plant growth and health, is a central task for most gardeners, especially those growing food. So my next object (no it’s not a weather vane), marks the massive progress there’s been in forecasting over the last 50 or so years; it’s one of the first satellites to be launched with the aim of improving meteorological forecasting, the TIROS-1.

Artist's impression of the TIROS 1. Picture by NASA Kennedy Space Center

Artist’s impression of the TIROS 1. Picture by NASA Kennedy Space Center

Launched way back in 1960, the TIROS Program (Television Infrared Observation Satellite) was NASA’s first experimental step to determine if satellites could be useful in the study of the Earth. At that time, the effectiveness of satellite observations was still unproven. Since satellites were a new technology, the TIROS Program also tested various design issues for spacecraft: instruments, data and operational parameters. The goal was to improve satellite applications for Earth-bound decisions, such as “should we evacuate the coast because of the hurricane?”. The TIROS Program’s first priority was the development of a meteorological satellite information system. Weather forecasting was deemed the most promising application of space-based observations.

TIROS proved extremely successful, providing the first accurate weather forecasts based on data gathered from space. TIROS began continuous coverage of the Earth’s weather in 1962, and was used by meteorologists worldwide. The program’s success with many instrument types and orbital configurations lead to the development of more sophisticated meteorological observation satellites. Read more here.

We gardeners have benefitted enormously from improvements in both long and short-term weather forecasting; I especially like the three-day forecasts broadcast on the BBC here in the UK, which usually turn out to be pretty accurate. Of course, with climate change affecting weather patterns, leading, it seems, to ever-increasing ‘unusual’ weather events, the future challenges for gardeners and growers (as well as the general population) are perhaps greater than they were. The worst effects of extremes of wet, dry, wind, hot and cold can be ameliorated with physical changes to the layouts of our gardens to create ‘micro climates’ and we need to be ready to supply extra water and perhaps food for plants in times of drought.

And in these days of ‘big data’ it is also interesting to see how further technological developments could help to improve farming (and in due course gardening?) practices. So called ‘Cloud Farming’ is being trialled in Kenya, Africa to help small holders monitor and manage key elements of their plots in ‘real time’. As a recent blog post on ‘Can We feed the World?’ says:

‘Although a sophisticated technology relying on expensive high-tech equipment, and thus not practical for the average smallholder farmer, cloud farming is increasing our knowledge of what happens on a farm scale, knowledge which could be useful in providing technical assistance on a broader scale. IBM’s EZ-Farm project, which is currently being piloted in Kenya, aims to explore how advanced data collection and analytics can help farmers monitor farming conditions on their smallholdings. Around the farm, sensors and infra-red cameras are strategically placed to monitor water tank levels, the amount of moisture in the soil, the performance of irrigation equipment, and rates of photosynthesis. This data is then streamed wirelessly to the IBM Cloud and can be accessed by the farmer via a smartphone app. The hope is that with access to such information, farmers can modify their practices and make their farms more productive…’

6928926222_9304a04498_zSo, while a weather satellite might seem a bit removed from the essence of gardening, I think it symbolises both gardeners’ historic need to monitor and forecast the weather (perhaps with something as basic as a weather vane), and our continuing need to do this, using technology to arm us with the information we need in more unpredictable times.

 Old School Gardener

How to build a Cold Frame

‘Spring is around the corner and it will soon be time to start sowing seeds.

For those of us who haven’t got a greenhouse, (especially a nice warm one like our editor Maddy’s, who has been using her hot bin composter to keep her greenhouse above freezing all winter), the unpredictable weather can have a huge impact on when we start our seeds. With the possibility of late frosts, seeds can be easily damaged, right through to April and May.

So making a cold frame is a great way to start off your seeds in a warmer and more protected environment, until they are strong enough to be planted out in the unpredictable weather……’

Great idea from Permaculture Magazine – click on the title link for further information and other useful links

Old School Gardener

World Temperature Records on Google Earth

‘Climate researchers at the University of East Anglia have made the world’s temperature records available via Google Earth.

The Climatic Research Unit Temperature Version 4 (CRUTEM4) land-surface air temperature dataset is one of the most widely used records of the climate system.

The new Google Earth format allows users to scroll around the world, zoom in on 6,000 weather stations, and view monthly, seasonal and annual temperature data more easily than ever before.

Users can drill down to see some 20,000 graphs – some of which show temperature records dating back to 1850.

The move is part of an ongoing effort to make data about past climate and climate change as accessible and transparent as possible…..’

click on the title for the full article and link to the data

Old School Gardener

One of the sloping beds

One of the sloping beds

My previous article on Trengwainton covered the wider gardens and grounds as well as some historical background. Today I want to focus on the extensive walled gardens, built by previous owner, Rose Price. This is said to follow the dimensions of Noah’s Ark- though why, I’m not sure.

It also seems to have been created as a response to the period of persistently cooler weather known as the ‘Maunder Minimum’ (or otherwise known as the ‘prolonged sunspot minimum’). This period- starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 – was when  sunspots became exceedingly rare. The term was named after the 19th Century solar astronomer Edward D. Maunder who studied how sunspot latitudes changed with time. The Maunder Minimum coincided with the middle—and coldest part—of the ‘Little Ice Age’, during which Europe and North America were subjected to bitterly cold winters. recent research has established a causal link between low sunspot activity and cold winters.

The surrounding garden wall prevented warm air from escaping from the garden on cool nights, thereby allowing frost-sensitive fruit trees to survive, despite the cooling climate. The walled garden is also interesting for its use of sloping beds – orientated to take advantage of the sunny aspect and so aiding the warming of the soil and creating beneficial growing conditions. 

The gardens – there are separate walled enclosures rather than one large expanse – are both a fascinating horticultural legacy and also a modern-day guide to good food and flower growing. There are demonstration plots and little corners showing different sorts of container growing, raised beds, nectar – rich flowers, a DIY device for creating liquid plant food etc. A wide range of food is still grown here as well as beautiful ‘cottage garden’ style flower borders, orchards and a demonstration plot conjuring up the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign of the second World War. And while we were there the Gardens sported a delightful display of home-made ‘fairytale’ characters which amused and enchanted the young children who were eager to discover the next character on their way round!

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Related article: West Country Gardens: Hydrangea Heaven at Trengwainton

IMG_6665Whilst on our summer holidays in Cornwall and Devon, we visited a fascinating iron age village – Chysauster, near Penzance. Thought to be around 2,000 years old, this wind-swept, rocky network sits on a south-facing slope overlooking Mount’s Bay.

It’s thought the location takes advantage of a natural spring on the hill slope, for to locate a settlement in such an exposed spot would other wise seem a little crazy. However, having got their supply of fresh water the occupants were able to create a microclimate within their thick stone encircling walls (The walls survive to heights of up to 3 metres). Channelled water to each house and it’s accompanying courtyard/garden and the tall, 4 metre-thick walls created a sheltered, sun soaked encampment – perhaps they even grew food inside these compounds?

Primarily agricultural and unfortified, and probably occupied by members of the Dumnoii tribe, the village today has the remains of around 10 courtyard houses, each about 30 metres in diameter. Eight of these form two rows. The houses have a similar layout with an open central courtyard surrounded by a number of thatched rooms, orientated on an east-west axis, with the entrance facing east. A field system in the vicinity demonstrates the site’s farming connections. The whole site also has wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.

Work is underway with local schools to create an ‘iron age garden’  where some of the old varieties of wheat (such as Spelt) and other plants will be grown. The Site Manager, Steve (whose accent I immediately recognised as East London!) , gave us a great potted guide to the place and he’s obviously enthusiastic for the site’s future development as a super educational as well as heritage ‘must see’ attraction.

 

Further information:

English Heritage

Old School Gardener

Aphids forecast to fly considerably later this year

‘…Dr Susannah Bolton, HGCA Head of Research and KT, said, “Average temperatures in January and February can be used to forecast the first aphid flights. As this winter was colder than the long-term average throughout the country it means that aphid flights are expected to occur much later this year.”

In the southern half of the country, as average temperatures were between 1oC and 2oC below normal, the first aphid flights are expected to be two to four weeks later than average.

In the northern half of the country, as average temperatures were less than 1oC below normal, the first aphid flights are expected to be up to two weeks later than average….’

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