Year 3, Month 2, Day 7: Don’t Forget To Mulch

The Albany Times-Union runs another piece on the USDA hardiness zones:

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its Plant Hardiness Zone Map for the first time since 1990. This is the colorful map that is on the back of most seed packs that helps gardeners match their region’s climate to plants’ climatic tolerances.

The updated map has many new features, including finer-scale resolution and more interactive technology such as the ability to view specific regions by ZIP code. However, the most notable change is a nationwide shift in planting zones to reflect how climate change is altering our climate and plant-growing regions. The vast majority of the country finds itself in a warmer zone, including large areas of the Capital Region and the rest of New York.

This update makes concrete what many researchers have been saying for some time: that climate change is not just the province of the future.

I have a lot to do this evening, so I just re-used another letter on the same subject — rearranged all the words, used synonyms as appropriate, etc., etc., etc. Sent February 1:

The new map of hardiness zones from the USDA will probably make some gardeners very happy. What’s not to like about locally-grown mangos in Minnesota? But as we change our seed orders to reflect these new climatic norms, we need to remember that they’re only temporary benefits — and they aren’t unmixed blessings.

For every new tropical fruit or vegetable we can grow, we’ll lose some of the resilience and interconnectedness of our local and regional ecosystems. Beneficial flora and fauna may suffer from changing weather conditions or the introduction of invasive insects and plants from hotter regions (perhaps the most genuinely dangerous class of illegal immigrant).

The agricultural infrastructure which provides our corn and wheat is extremely vulnerable to the epiphenomena of the rapidly burgeoning greenhouse effect. The USDA’s map makes for pleasant contemplation in the short run — but the longer-term picture is not a pretty one.

Warren Senders

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