A late-blooming Welsh poppy gave the Cox garden some unexpected colour last month. Photo by Leslie Cox

A late-blooming Welsh poppy gave the Cox garden some unexpected colour last month. Photo by Leslie Cox

DUCHESS OF DIRT: La Nina signs not necessarily steeped in science

LESLIE COX

Special to The Record

I am beginning to think climate change is knocking the predictability of certain weather patterns askew. Case in point: the weather forecast is for a La Nina year.

According to weather scientists, this occurs when summers are dry and winters are cold. Agreed, that fits our weather pattern… a dry summer of bailing our kitchen sink and reclaiming our laundry water for the garden and our first hard frost of -5 C on Oct. 25.

We also had some late-blooming flowers in the fall – the roses and honeysuckle to name but two. And would you believe, we spotted a large dogwood tree in the Oyster River area which was covered in blooms in late August, of all months. Quite the sight to see white flowers at the same time as the red berries.

Speaking of berries, it was a good harvest year judging by the 12 pounds or so of aronia berries from our one shrub and the Amelanchier x grandiflora (serviceberry) was loaded as well. Another sure sign of a La Nina year, apparently. But did not notice that the apple skins were overly tough. Maybe because we were regularly giving some of the bailed water to the espalier apple tree so the apple crop would not suffer unduly.

Other La Nina signs weather forecasters note include: birds migrating early, the width of the rust band on the wooly bear caterpillar, leaves dropping off the tree later in the fall, thicker skins on the onions… the list goes on.

While I cannot comment on the onion skins because we do not grow them in our garden, I can say that I noticed the robins had disappeared around the middle of September. But then they reappeared later in October, just for a couple of weeks or so before disappearing once again.

Not so the hummingbirds in our garden. They are sticking around for yet another winter. Have to check my records but think this must be the fourth or fifth year they have stayed.

Here is a puzzle for you: could the hummingbirds be staying here because of the global warming effects in the garden, or are they acclimatizing to the periodic temperatures reaching -10 C and lower? Certainly, the -12.5 C that I recorded on Dec. 15, 2016, had me frightened for their welfare. And yet they endured. Thankfully.

We were very surprised the chestnut leaves did not all drop off the tree the day after the hard frost in late October, which is the tree’s normal behaviour. Good news for me since it gave me more time to pick up all the nuts before the leaves buried them. And we still have beautiful golden yellow leaves on the birch tree… even after that horrific windstorm and snowfall.

What about the wooly bear caterpillar’s winter prediction? I have seen several of these caterpillars in our garden this fall. Some of them have wide rust bands and some have narrow ones. Is it going to be a cold one or not?

If the raccoon who was foraging for grapes on the arbour the other night is any indication, it could well be a tough, cold winter for many in this La Nina year. Especially since the grapes had been picked clean weeks ago. So sad as the coons never venture up there this late in the year.

With all these variables in weather forecasting now, I just look at the thermometer and check the sky to see how I should dress in the morning. Time to leave the folklore to the “folks” and listen to the science.

Leslie Cox co-owns Growing Concern Cottage Garden in Black Creek. Her website is at www.duchessofdirt.ca

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