As horticulturists and food growers, we are no strangers to the profound impact that climate change is having on our daily work. Rising temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events pose significant challenges to food production in. Small crofters and home growers, who are the backbone of local food systems, are particularly vulnerable. In this article, we will explore the current challenges, future prospects, and practical solutions for sustainable food production in the face of climate change, with a focus on organic and environmentally friendly practices.
Erratic Weather Patterns: Unpredictable weather patterns can lead to crop failures, loss of productivity, and increased susceptibility to diseases. Home growers and small-scale farmers need to adapt by selecting resilient crop varieties and utilizing protective measures, such as row covers and greenhouses.
Water Scarcity: Changing rainfall patterns and increased evaporation due to higher temperatures are putting pressure on water resources. Rainwater harvesting, efficient irrigation techniques, and drought-resistant crops are essential for mitigating these challenges.
Pest and Disease Pressure: Rising temperatures can create favourable conditions for pests and diseases. Integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, companion planting, and using beneficial insects can help minimize the need for chemical interventions.
Soil Health: Climate change affects soil structure and composition. Regular soil testing and organic practices, like crop rotation and cover cropping, are critical for maintaining soil fertility.
Preparing for the Future
To address the challenges posed by climate change and secure our food supply, small crofters and home growers must embrace sustainable and adaptable practices:
Crop Diversity: Expand your crop selection to include heat-tolerant and drought-resistant varieties. Consider ancient grains like emmer (Triticum dicoccum) and einkorn (Triticum monococcum) that have proven to thrive in adverse conditions.
Vertical Gardening: Utilise vertical gardening techniques to maximize space and increase productivity, especially in smaller gardens. Grow vining crops like cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) and pole beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).
Rainwater Harvesting: Install rain barrels or cisterns to capture and store rainwater for irrigation during drier periods.
Agroforestry: Incorporate fruit and nut trees into your landscape. Varieties like the hardy Kiwi (Actinidia arguta) and mulberry (Morus spp.) are excellent options for temperate climates.
Perennial Vegetables: Integrate perennial vegetables like asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) and rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) to reduce the need for annual replanting.
Exciting Crops for the Future
As we look ahead, there are numerous exciting crops that can be grown in Ireland, combining resilience and culinary appeal. Some will be hardy outside, some might be tender and need protection but it is time to widen our horizons.
Here are a few from around the World:
The “Lost Crops of the Incas” refer to a group of ancient South American crops that were cultivated by the Inca civilization and other pre-Columbian cultures but largely disappeared from mainstream agriculture after the Spanish conquest. These crops, which have been rediscovered and are gaining popularity for their unique flavours, nutritional value, and adaptability to various climates, can make exciting additions to your garden.
• Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa): Although it’s no longer “lost” and has gained worldwide recognition, quinoa is a high-protein grain with a unique texture and nutty flavour. It’s well-suited for a small garden, and its adaptability to various growing conditions makes it an excellent choice.
• Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.): Amaranth is a versatile and resilient crop that can be grown for its leaves as a nutritious green or for its seeds, which are high in protein and can be used like a grain. It thrives in both small spaces and diverse climates.
• Oca (Oxalis tuberosa): Oca is a tuber crop with colourful, vitamin-rich tubers that can be grown in containers or small garden plots. It’s relatively easy to cultivate and adds visual interest to your garden.
• Maca (Lepidium meyenii): Maca is a root vegetable known for its adaptogenic properties and is often dried and ground into a powder. It’s suitable for small gardens, and you can grow it similarly to radishes or turnips.
• Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius): Yacon is a sweet-tasting root crop that can be grown in containers or in the ground. Its crisp and juicy tubers are versatile and can even be used in salads and desserts.
• Cañihua (Chenopodium pallidicaule): Cañihua is a close relative of quinoa, offering similarly nutritious seeds with a slightly different flavour. It’s adaptable to various climates and can be grown in small spaces.
• Chia (Salvia hispanica): Chia seeds, known for their nutritional value, can be cultivated in pots or small garden spaces. They’re versatile and can be used in various dishes.
• Kiwicha (Amaranthus caudatus): Kiwicha, also known as amaranth, produces striking red or gold seed heads that can be grown decoratively in small gardens. The leaves are edible as well.
• Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Tomatoes can be grown in Ireland, especially in greenhouses or under cloches, to extend the growing season and protect the plants from cooler temperatures.
• Chili Peppers (Capsicum spp.): Many chili pepper varieties can be grown in pots or containers, particularly during the warmer months.
• Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus): Jerusalem artichokes are hardy tubers that can thrive in UK and Irish gardens, producing knobby tubers with a nutty flavor.
• Corn (Zea mays): Sweetcorn varieties can be grown during the summer months, though they may not reach the same size as those grown in more favourable climates.
• Pumpkins and Winter Squash (Cucurbita spp.): Pumpkins and winter squash are suitable for UK and Irish gardens and can be used in soups, stews, and pies.
• Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon): Cranberries can be grown in acidic, well-drained soil, and they are often used in jams.
• Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.): Blueberries thrive in acidic soil and can be grown in containers or raised beds. They are well-suited to temperate climates.
• Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus): Sunflowers can be grown in UK and Irish gardens for their seeds, which can be roasted and eaten or used for oil.
• Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra): While not originally from the Americas, black walnut trees can be grown here and produce delicious nuts.
• Chestnuts (Castanea spp.): Chestnut trees can be grown here and produce edible chestnuts, which are used in various dishes and roasted as a snack.
• Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum): Potatoes are well-suited to temperate climates and have been successfully grown in Ireland for generations. Consider various potato varieties for different culinary uses.
• Aji Amarillo (Capsicum baccatum): Aji Amarillo is a Peruvian chili pepper with a unique flavor, and it can be grown Ireland with proper care.
• Pineapple (Ananas comosus): Growing a pineapple to full maturity outdoors Ireland is challenging, but you can start a pineapple plant indoors and enjoy the process.
• Cassava (Manihot esculenta): Cassava can be grown in pots or containers and brought indoors during the colder months.
• Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus): Jicama can be grown here as an annual, similar to growing turnips or radishes.
• Maize (Zea mays): Corn, or maize, can be grown here during the summer months. Look for shorter-season varieties to ensure successful cultivation.
• Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris): Common beans, such as kidney beans, black beans, and pinto bean. Bush bean varieties are a good choice for small spaces.
• Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica): Tomatillos can be grown Ireland with protection or in greenhouses to extend the growing season.
• Chayote (Sechium edule): Chayote, a vine-like vegetable, can be grown in pots or as a climber in Ireland.
• Achiote (Bixa orellana): Achiote, also known as annatto, is a small shrub whose seeds are used as a spice. It can be grown in greenhouses or as a container plant.
• Zapote (Manilkara zapota): The sapodilla tree, also known as zapote, can be grown in containers in a greenhouse or as a houseplant.
• Jicama (Pachyrhizus erosus): Jicama can be grown here as an annual, like growing turnips or radishes.
• Avocado (Persea americana): While not a traditional crop Ireland, you can experiment with dwarf or cold-hardy avocado varieties in pots or greenhouses.
• Banana (Musa spp.): Cold-hardy banana varieties can be grown outdoors, or you can grow bananas in pots and bring them indoors during the winter.
• African Horned Cucumber (Cucumis metuliferus): Also known as kiwano or melon cucumber, this spiky fruit is not only visually striking but has a unique, mildly sweet flavour. It can be grown in a greenhouse or under cloches to provide protection from cooler temperatures.
• Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus): Okra is a heat-loving vegetable that can be grown during the warmer summer months. Choose early-maturing varieties to ensure a successful harvest.
• Sweet Potatoes (Ipomoea batatas): While not originally from Africa, sweet potatoes are a staple in many African cuisines. They can be grown successfully here, but they require a longer growing season, so consider starting them indoors before transplanting to your garden.
• Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor): Sorghum is a hardy grain. It’s drought-resistant and can be used for various culinary purposes, such as flour for bread or porridge.
• African Eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum): African eggplants, also known as garden eggs, are small, round eggplants with a slightly bitter taste. They can grow with proper care and attention to warmth and light.
• Amaranth Leaves (Amaranthus spp.): The leaves of amaranth plants are a common ingredient in many African dishes. You can grow amaranth for its leaves in your garden, as it’s well-suited to temperate climates.
•Taro, (Colocasia esculenta), also called eddo or dasheen, has an edible rootlike corm. Can be grown in a pot and protected under cover in winter.
• Fonio (Digitaria exilis): Fonio is a nutritious grain that can be grown in Ireland as a warm-season crop. It has a short growing period and is well-suited for small gardens.
• Bitter Leaf (Vernonia amygdalina): Bitter leaf is a leafy green used in many African dishes. It can be grown in temperate climates but may require some protection during colder months.
• Moringa (Moringa oleifera): Moringa trees are known for their highly nutritious leaves, which are used in a variety of African dishes. In Ireland, you can grow moringa as an annual and harvest the leaves throughout the growing season.
• Swedish Turnip (Rutabaga): Rutabagas are cold-hardy root vegetables, and they can be grown, especially during the cooler months.
• Red and Black Currants (Röda och Svarta Vinbär): Currants are well-suited to cooler climates and can thrive Ireland. They are used in various dishes, desserts, and jams.
• Lingonberries (Lingon): Lingonberries are popular in Nordic countries and can be cultivated in acidic, well-drained soil. They are ideal for small garden spaces.
• Cloudberries (Hjortron): Cloudberries are a sought-after Nordic delicacy. While they are challenging to cultivate, some enthusiasts in Ireland have successfully grown them in acidic, boggy soils.
• Nordic Berries (Sea Buckthorn, Rowan, Bilberries, and Crowberries): These native berries are well-suited to Ireland’s conditions and can be grown in gardens. They are used in various culinary applications and are rich in antioxidants.
• Potatoes: Varieties like “Kerrs Pink” and “Maris Piper” are well-suited to our climate and can be grown successfully.
• Barley (Korn): Barley is a versatile grain that is easy to grow here. It’s used for making malts for brewing and as a staple in soups and stews.
• Hardy Greens (Nordic Lettuce and Mustard Greens): Many Nordic lettuce and mustard green varieties are well-suited to cooler climates and can be grown throughout the growing season.
• Swedish Oats (Havre): Oats are an excellent cool-season crop, and some Nordic oat varieties can thrive inIreland.
• Wild Mushrooms (Chanterelles, Porcini, Morels): If you have suitable woodlands or forested areas nearby, you may find wild mushrooms, such as chanterelles, porcini, and morels, which are prized in Nordic cuisine.
• Leeks (Purjolök): Leeks are hardy and can withstand our cooler temperatures. They are used in various dishes, including soups and stews.
• Fruit Trees (Apple, Pear, Plum): Many apple, pear, and plum varieties thrive in temperate climates and are commonly grown in both Nordic countries.
• Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum): Buckwheat is a versatile grain that can thrive in Ireland’s climate. It’s used in a variety of dishes, including pancakes and porridge.
• Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum): While rhubarb isn’t originally from the steppe, it’s widely cultivated in the region. It’s a popular ingredient in desserts and jams.
• Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana): Horseradish is a hardy, perennial root vegetable that can be grown in your garden. It’s known for its pungent flavour nd is used as a condiment.
• Russian Blue Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum ‘Russian Blue’): This potato variety, which originated in Eastern Europe, is suitable for cool climates and has striking blue flesh.
• Wild Edible Plants (e.g., Stinging Nettle and Wild Garlic): Many wild plants commonly found in the steppe, such as stinging nettle and wild garlic, can be foraged or cultivated here. They are used in soups, teas, and various dishes.
• Chicory (Cichorium intybus): Chicory is a leafy green that is popular in Eastern European salads and can be grown in temperate climates.
• Caraway (Carum carvi): Caraway seeds are used as a spice in various dishes and bread in Eastern European cuisine. You can grow the plant in your garden for the seeds.
• Hops (Humulus lupulus): Hops are grown for brewing, and certain hop varieties can be successfully cultivated here.
• Wild Berries (e.g., Bilberries and Lingonberries): Some wild berries found in the steppe, such as bilberries and lingonberries, can be grown in acidic, well-drained soil in your garden.
• Wild Game (e.g., Rabbit and Venison): While not crops, wild game like rabbit and venison is commonly consumed in steppe regions. Consider raising rabbits for meat or source wild game from sustainable practices if available.
• Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata): Cabbage is a staple in Eastern European cuisine and can be grown in your garden for making sauerkraut and other dishes.
• Rye (Secale cereale): Rye is a cool-season cereal grain suitable for Ireland, often used in breadmaking.
• Lentils (Lens culinaris): Lentils are a pulse crop that can be grown in here, providing a source of protein and fiber.
• Cherries (Prunus spp.): Certain cherry varieties are successfully cultivated and grown here.
• Napa Cabbage (Brassica rapa subsp. pekinensis): Napa cabbage, commonly used in Asian cuisine, can be grown successfully in Ireland. It’s a cool-season crop and is suitable for spring and autumn planting.
• Daikon Radish (Raphanus sativus var. longipinnatus): Daikon radishes, with their mild and crisp texture, can be grown. They prefer cooler weather and are ideal for autumn cultivation.
• Choy Sum (Brassica rapa var. parachinensis): Choy sum, or Chinese flowering cabbage, is a quick-growing leafy green that is perfect for our climate, especially during the cooler months.
• Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus): Lemongrass can be grown in containers or pots. While it may not reach the same size as in its native tropical climate, it can still provide the distinct lemony flavour for your dishes.
• Shiso (Perilla frutescens): Shiso, also known as perilla, is a flavourful herb used in Japanese and Korean cuisine. It can be grown in pots and is well-suited to temperate climates.
• Ginger (Zingiber officinale): While ginger is originally from tropical regions, you can successfully grow it in pots or containers in Ireland. Bring it indoors during colder months.
• Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Like ginger, turmeric can be grown in containers and brought indoors when temperatures drop. Fresh turmeric adds a distinct flavour and colour to dishes.
• Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora): Thai basil has a unique flavour and is perfect for growing in pots. It’s a key ingredient in many Thai dishes.
• Thai Peppers (Capsicum annuum var. ‘Bird’s Eye’): Thai peppers are spicy and add heat to Asian dishes. You can grow them in pots or in the garden during the warmer months.
• Chinese Five-Spice Plant (Schisandra chinensis): The Chinese five-spice plant produces small, aromatic berries used in traditional Chinese medicine and culinary applications. It can be grown as a woody vine in temperate climates.
• Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba): Jujube trees produce sweet, date-like fruits. They can be grown in Ireland, especially in milder regions.
Japan and China:
• Japanese Greens (Mizuna, Komatsuna, and Shungiku): These leafy greens are used in salads and stir-fries and can thrive in temperate climates.
• Wasabi (Wasabia japonica): Wasabi can be cultivated in cool, well-drained conditions, making it a unique addition to your garden.
• Japanese Ginger (Myoga): Myoga is a Japanese ginger with a unique flavour. It can be grown in containers or in sheltered garden areas.
• Edamame (Glycine max): Edamame soybeans can be grown here, particularly in warmer months.
• Bamboo Shoots (Phyllostachys edulis): Some bamboo species, like Phyllostachys edulis, produce edible shoots that can be grown in your garden.
• Japanese Plum (Ume): Ume trees can be grown, producing small Japanese plums that are used for making umeboshi pickles and plum wine.
• Japanese Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius): This fruiting bramble is hardy in Ireland and produces sweet, raspberry-like berries.
• Japanese Mustard Spinach (Gyōna): Gyōna is a Japanese leafy green that can be grown in temperate climates and used in various dishes.
• Yuzu (Citrus junos): Yuzu trees can be grown in pots or sheltered areas, providing aromatic citrus fruits.
• Sansho (Zanthoxylum piperitum): Sansho, a fragrant Japanese spice, can be cultivated in the UK and Ireland for its berries and leaves.
• Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki): Some persimmon varieties are well-suited to temperate climates and can be grown here.
• Nagaimo (Dioscorea opposita): Nagaimo, a type of yam, can be grown in pots or containers.
• Chinese Greens (Bok Choy, Chinese Cabbage, and Gai Lan): These leafy greens are used in stir-fries and can thrive in temperate climates.
• Chinese Long Beans (Vigna unguiculata subsp. sesquipedalis): These are heat-loving, but they can be cultivated here in warmer months.
• Chinese Garlic Chives (Allium tuberosum): Garlic chives are happy growing here and are used in various dishes.
• Chinese Black Soybeans (Glycine max): Black soybeans can be grown, particularly in warmer months.
• Chinese Peppers (Sichuan, Shishito, and Bird’s Eye): Various Chinese pepper varieties can be grown in pots or containers during the warmer months.
• Chinese Bayberry (Myrica rubra): Bayberry trees can be grown in Ireland, producing small, sweet berries.
• Chinese Hawthorn (Crataegus pinnatifida): Hawthorn trees can be cultivated here, and their fruits are used in Chinese snacks and desserts.
• Chinese Citrus (Kumquat, Calamondin, Yuzu): Various Chinese citrus fruits can be grown in pots or sheltered areas, providing aromatic and tangy flavors.
• Chinese Water Chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis): Water chestnuts can be grown in containers in the UK and Ireland, and they are used in a variety of Chinese dishes.
• Artichokes (Cynara scolymus): Globe artichokes are a gourmet vegetable that can be grown successfully in Ireland. They require well-drained soil and a sheltered spot.
• Kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa): Some kiwi varieties, particularly hardy kiwis, can be grown here with proper care and protection from frost.
• Figs (Ficus carica): Figs are becoming more popular in Ireland. You can grow them in a sunny, sheltered area or in pots.
• Grapes (Vitis vinifera): While Irish winemaking is still emerging, you can grow grapevines for fresh eating or making your wine in a sunny spot.
• Aubergines (Eggplants) (Solanum melongena): Aubergines can be grown in the greenhouse or under cloches to extend the growing season in Ireland.
• Olives (Olea europaea): Olive trees can be cultivated in large containers and kept in a greenhouse or against a sunny, sheltered wall.
• Medlar (Mespilus germanica): Medlar trees produce unique fruit that can be grown in Ireland with proper care.
• Pomegranate (Punica granatum): In a greenhouse or sunny, sheltered area, pomegranate trees can be grown, although they may not produce fruit every year.
• Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum): Goji berry plants are hardy and can be grown in the garden for their nutritious berries.
• Pawpaw (Asimina triloba): The pawpaw tree can be grown in Ireland with protection from harsh winds and frost.
• Tea (Camellia sinensis): You can grow your tea plant in a container and enjoy homegrown tea leaves.
• Chayote (Sechium edule): Chayote is a vine-like vegetable that can be grown in pots or as a climber in Ireland.
Your Ornamental Garden:
• Edible Flowers: Edible flowers like nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.), pansies (Viola spp.), and calendula (Calendula officinalis) not only add visual appeal to your garden but can be used to garnish salads and desserts.
• Microgreens: Microgreens, such as arugula (Eruca sativa), radish (Raphanus sativus), and basil (Ocimum basilicum), can be grown in small containers or window boxes and provide a quick harvest of tender and flavorful greens.
• Dwarf Fruit Trees: Compact or dwarf varieties of fruit trees, like miniature apple (Malus domestica) or pear (Pyrus spp.) trees, can be grown in pots or small spaces, offering both ornamental beauty and a bountiful harvest.
• Mushrooms: You can grow gourmet mushrooms like oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) or shiitake (Lentinula edodes) in shaded areas or on logs, making efficient use of limited garden space.
• Climbing Vegetables: Grow climbing vegetables like cucamelons (Melothria scabra) and mini pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo) on trellises or arches to maximize vertical space.
• Strawberries: Compact varieties of strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa) or alpine strawberries (Fragaria vesca) can be grown in containers or hanging baskets, adding both beauty and a sweet treat to your garden.
• Chard (Beta vulgaris): Swiss chard is a stunning leafy green with colorful stalks that can be grown in ornamental borders and is both decorative and delicious.
• Lavender (Lavandula spp.): This aromatic herb is perfect for garden edges and has culinary uses in addition to its pleasing fragrance.
• Ground Cover Herbs: Consider ground cover herbs like creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’). They add an attractive low carpet of greenery and can be used in cooking.
• Aromatic Plants: Incorporate aromatic plants like lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and mint (Mentha spp.) into your garden to provide fragrant leaves for teas and culinary uses.
Climate change poses a significant threat to food security in Ireland, but small crofters and home growers can adapt and thrive by adopting organic and sustainable practices. By diversifying crops, maximizing available resources, and embracing resilient varieties, we can build a more robust and sustainable food system for the future. These changes not only enhance food security but also contribute to a more resilient and ecologically sound agricultural landscape. Together, we can meet the challenges of climate change and ensure a sustainable food supply for generations to come.