As you sow, so shall you reap.
By early June, as the reader leafs through the glossy pages of the magazine you hold in your hands, the rainy season of 2014 may be well under way.
Not so at this point, mid-May, as yet another prediction by the national weather service fails to deliver the ‘early onset’ of the rains in Guanacaste. Now, for local farmers and those foreign transplants who thrive on getting their food fresh and their hands dirty, all eyes are on the skies.
In spite of a few promising downpours, and the rapid leafing out of native trees and plenty of the ephemeral species that tend to sprout, bloom and set seed quickly just in case, the weather lately has been more like a dose of summer. Offshore winds, sunny skies, low humidity and back to the daily grind of watering to keep things alive.
For quite some time, my rule of thumb has been to wait till the locals start planting corn in earnest. OK, I cheated in a few areas where I have drip irrigation as a fallback. But it’s just not the same, you’re constantly on edge, watching and waiting. There’s a huge constraint on planting with the reckless abandon, knowing that your fruit trees and landscape plants will be basking in the glow of optimum conditions. That you‘ve made a great leap towards enjoying the fruits of your labors. This year there are a couple of extra reasons for adding a dose of caution to your standard list of gardening inputs.
Scientists have been tracking the development of that big “patch’ of warm water in the Pacific Ocean that gives rise to the ‘El Niño’ phenomenon. It’s a periodic phenomenon, first noticed by Spanish sailors, and, given the size of the Pacific, the ‘patch is actually thousands of miles wide; the El Niño affects climate—and weather–globally.
California for example, currently undergoing the earliest and worst fire season in its history, may well emerge from the massive drought that has turned the state into a tinderbox, into a ‘water world’ fraught with massive downpours, flash floods and the kind of disastrous mudslides that commonly occur on the fire-savaged slopes.
As mentioned above, we can expect global effects on climate, and ditto for growing conditions. Tofu aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief, because conditions for that crop are expected to be better than normal. Ominously however, “corn, wheat, and rice yields are all expected to fall overall. Farmers that will be hit the hardest include wheat and corn growers in parts of the United States.” You all remember that basic law of economics. Supply goes down, demand remains the same and price goes up.
Combined with the ongoing drought in California, looks like a double whammy for food prices in this, the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of “As the world burns.”
The most likely effect on food prices locally would be an increase in the imported yellow corn that forms the basis of all concentrated feed for livestock production. Eggs, poultry, pork and beef prices are likely to be affected just as they were when massive amounts of US corn started being brewed into ethanol some years ago. As to the probable effects for gardeners and landscapers here in Guanacaste, a combination of past experience and a bit of informed conjecture will have to do.
During the last big El Niño, the Agriculture Ministry actually alerted farmers to reduce the size of their herds. I was helping install the landscaping at a newly opened hotel and we were suddenly beset with a ‘veranillo’ that lasted about 6-8 weeks. Hot, strong, offshore winds turned our best efforts into an exercise in futility. Closer to Playa del Coco a friend had managed the planting of 40,000 teak trees which shriveled in the heat in spite of frantic efforts to hand water with buckets. And remember, we’re not yet officially “in” the El Niño situation. That’s predicted for late this year and 2015. So if this year continues relatively dry, it could be a good chance to practice for the real test.
For those who follow the specifics of global warming science, you are already familiar that most of the accumulated ‘extra’ heat has gone into the oceans, and much of that into the very deep layers, say, below 500 meters. As it turns out, the ocean has 5-10 times the heat storage capacity of the atmosphere. Scientists have maintained for a while now that things could get real ‘interesting’ when currents start to ‘stir it up’ a bit. Well, that is part of just what is going on with that “patch” of warm water already bonking into South America and heating up the air directly over it.
So, 2015 could well turn out to be hottest year on record globally and the super El Niño could locally be a replay of the one 17 years ago. Construction turned out to be a smarter use of time than landscaping. The good news is we’ve got time to get ready.
I’ll spare the regular readers of the Howler with yet another regurgitation of the rainwater management advice that have been an ‘ad nauseum’ feature of my articles over the years. The basics are “Slow it down, Spread it out, Sink it in,” the techniques are all on line, in books and even videos. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, just someone who can relate to the words of the philosopher who wrote, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth.” And, I might add, your gardens will stay greener.
Tom Peifer is an ecological land use consultant with 19 years experience in Guanacaste. 2658-8018. firstname.lastname@example.org