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Crops for a cooler climate

A reader kindly points me to the blog of UK seed merchant Thompson and Morgan, where Emma Cooper is wondering what to plant this year:

Over the years in which climate change has been discussed in the media, there have been continual suggestions that it will be of benefit to gardeners – allowing us to grow fruit and vegetable crops that enjoy the continental climate, but fail to thrive in a traditional British summer. As those warm summer days have failed to materialise, and look increasing unlikely, I am eyeing up my new allotment with a view to planting crops that will enjoy our cool climate.


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Reader Comments (46)

Hope you have better luck than we did last year on our allotment. Normally we get a freezer full of fruit, last year one small container full and we were not alone. Much as I would like the warmists to be proved wrong I am really worried about the lack of sunspots, if we get a repeat of the little ice age, Northern Hemisphere famine might be a reality. We only need two rotten summer before we run out of food.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterOldGifford

Emma Cooper must be looking at the central England temperature trend and decided to go traditional. Around Exeter, Julia Slingo is bucking that trend and has gone bananas.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:35 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

I've already planted my veg patch for crops that do better in cooler conditions, I am growing tomatoes etc in a greenhouse only, growing more leeks than onions, and more spinach and chard instead of late cropping beans. On the agro-industrial level, we could see the return of oats and barley replacing wheat in colder climates, and the binning of growing food for fuel that has so adversely affected the poorest in the World. New strains of cold and damp-resistant grains from the GM seedsmen could change public perception of that industry from frankenstein to saviour if the globe starts seriously cooling. Lets not underestimate the effects of an increase in life-giving plant food in the atmosphere either.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

As a member of the RHS, I keep reminding them that "climate change" means we should be preparing for a colder, shorter growing season. Of course, it falls on deaf ears, as alarmism and toeing the party line are more important that the empirical evidence before their very eyes.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:41 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Reality has this rude habit of intruding upon models.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered Commenterktwop

I 2006 there was an item on my local news about a smallholder in Devon who was planting all Southern European crops, olives, peaches and the like. I checked his web site recently ( , he does a bit of green journalism, and I see no mention of olives and peaches just traditional British fruit and veg. So even the devote followers are learning.

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterEdwin C

Why is it that my weeds flourish whatever the climate??

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Edwin, I just emailed Dellingpole a few days ago about Otter Farm and received a reply. I pointed out that this farm was all over the media including the Telegraph, a few years ago as it was going all Mediterranean to take advantage of global warming.

I think a lot of his stuff is actually Himalayan, Japanese, Chilean varieties so hardly delicate Mediterranean stuff.

However on the Otter Farm blog last month the farmer said:
"But yes, I’ve been thinking of moving abroad. This year, it has finally occurred to me that as we slip into the last week of April and finally enjoy the first occasional random days of sunshine that at best, we can hope for four and a half months of reasonable weather. Don’t get all Billy Connolly on me about good weather and the wrong clothes: that’s arsewipe. I’m no sunworshipper but some light and the odd bit of warmth is very welcome. Four and a half months out of 12 is not so good, especially if the shoulders of the loveliness are sludgy and grey rather than zingy and bright at one end and autumnal and appeasing at the other."

So off to the south of France then no doubt. Oh the irony!

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

Re the Otter Farm project. It was originally all over the local news, but not a peep in years.

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:18 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Joe Public : 'Why is it that my weeds flourish whatever the climate??'

I assume you refer to politicians?

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan E

Running an allotment/kitchen garden over several decades teaches you how variable the English climate is, irrespective of political interference.
However present cooler conditions mean less watering. Leaf crops are productive, while others are not even germinating.
Having only just stopped lighting the wood stove after consuming much of next winters wood store, the house is fully insulated, but this cold weather is depressing. With the prospect of continued colder weather, through planetary alignment, solar tides, and increasing cosmic rays, returning us to the colder conditions of previous centuries, l'll see out two more winters, before leaving England for one of the Mediterranean countries.
Early retirement on fixed savings and income, means leaving the high politically determined fuel costs, the high council taxes, for the oversupply of cheap accommodation, in places like Spain.
Why stay here?

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul in Kent

This is interesting: - Betts' paper on the 40th anniversary of 'The Limits to Growth'.

co2 induced stomatal closure means increased runoff means reduced water stress and increased crop yields

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:51 AM | Registered Commentershub

I'm watching the vineyards that have sprung up around here in the last few years with great interest. The owners have ploughed in VAST sums of money to get them going, with nothing back for several years - and then only if the promised warming happened.

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Flindt

I hope some day there will be serious attempts made to estimate the losses caused to society by official climate forecasts. The embarrassment of forecasting mild winters and BBQ summers quickly followed by something like the opposite of each seems to have led to the production of less specific guidance, but what of the projections for the UK for years ahead being used, presumably, by central planners everywhere? An initial assessment of the forecasting skill of the Met Office climate guidance would also seem to be in order. As a first step, every effort needs to be made to capture all their forecasts/guidance/projections in a secure way. Some are public, some are 'on the record', some may be private for government or others.

Jun 8, 2013 at 9:55 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

David Schofield

So off to the south of France then no doubt.
The south of France it will need to be. Here at 46oN the weather has in general been no better than the UK. Admittedly winter was less cold and there wasn't as much snow but overnight minima of low single figures have been the norm until a few weeks ago and only in the last week has the temperature hit 25 for more than a couple of days at a time.
The general consensus among the locals — and this is farming country — is that Spring was at least three weeks late by historical standards and that this was the worst Spring for sowing in a decade.
Compared with the last two years, my garden is telling a similar story.
This may be un-scientific but I'm afraid I trust the nous of farmers more than all the computer experts out together. If they get it wrong they can't just pass on to the next scare story!

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:10 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

I'm glad to see that Farmers and Seed Producers are still sources of common sense. One might call that Evidence-Based Policies.

The old saying was something like "plant on 1st May to avoid frost damage". But this year in our garden we have got so desperate we are growing potatoes in tubs in a greenhouse! We took a chance with some planting, but even in the 3rd week of May there was frost. We have delayed planting-out most of the runner beans to the 4th week of May.

On a related subject, where are the bees? All the bee-keepers I know report that their hives have struggled to survive the winter and then this cold wet spring. Some hives have perished completely from the combined effect of cold, damp, and nothing growing to provide new food for bees. The hives that have survived are much-reduced in population. And this is in an area with loads of gardens, organic-status crop farming and grass-pasture dairy farming. Which is about as bee-friendly as you can get!

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRudolph Hucker


It's the wrong kind of global warming.

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:38 AM | Unregistered CommentereSmiff

Having to sell to customers in a competitive market doesn't guarantee that a firm of seedsmen will be more accurate than a government department, but that's the way to bet.

Jun 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Unregistered Commenterdearieme

Thanks to the skeptic blogosphere I chose frost tolerant fruit species back in 09 for my forest garden, I also planned a large greenhouse, and planted acres of firewood.

Seems to me the UK climate will continue to be dominated by the AMO. With the cycle bottoming Circa.76, and topping out Circa 08, I expect a gradual return to the weather of the early 70's over the next 25 yrs. The quiet Sun is a bit of a curve-ball though, if we get a few re-runs of the 63/64 winter earlier than expected in the cycle compared to the last one, I will adjust my personal long-range forecast down, but at 48 I really don't think I'll live long enough to be concerned about a mini ice age, but I still follow developments just in case I will have to adapt further.

Jun 8, 2013 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

Caught a small section of Gardeners Question Time yesterday and a woman was asking about how to grow a particular climbing plant (forget the name, but it is like a blue bindweed) and Chris Beardshaw answered that it was a Mediterranean plant and with the poor summers we have had recently it would be unlikely to grow and recommended growing it in a greenhouse or conservatory.

I wonder whether there is a retreat from the advice, without actually suggesting it is a retreat of course, that we should be growing plants more suitable for the hotter, drier summers we were advised were going to be the future. I too have tried said plants and they were a dismal failure, but I am at quite an elevated, exposed position and on heavy clay so many plants are a challenge. [I shall refrain from banging on about the difficulties of gardening with the myriad mammals and birds looking for free food.]

As with Charlie Flindt, there is a vineyard close by and I shall take great interest in watching whether the owner has managed to make any wine. He has diversified to a farm shop to try to generate an income while waiting for the vines to produce, but is such a miserable so-and-so I am sure he frightens any customers from making a return visit.

Jun 8, 2013 at 11:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

She does an ethnobiology course at the University of Kent. Have you seen how many courses at that university depend on climate change?

She'd better keep her head down...

Jun 8, 2013 at 11:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer


"only if the promised warming happened"

A lawsuit against those making the promises might concentrate a few minds. Who best to sue, I wonder?

Jun 8, 2013 at 11:20 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

It's all very well rolling around in the aisles, laughing like drains at our supposed superiors and betters, but what about all the eco-advocacy shills and carpetbaggers, what of their hopes and dreams?

Personally, I would derive no satisfaction whatsoever from the sight of Julia Slingo queueing at the dole office counter, do-you-know-who-I-am'ing for all her squalid claims were worth.

None whatsoever, honest.

Jun 8, 2013 at 1:45 PM | Unregistered Commenterchippy

I have two summer time activities which act as a gauge of how good the summer weather has been, playing cricket and keeping an allotment. Both of them are strongly re-enforcing my scepticism of CAGW.

I lost count of the amount of cricket we lost last year due to rain. Same story on my allotment. Last year was terrible, very cold and wet with very poor crops and this spring has not shaped up any better. The biggest problem has been that it has been too cold for seeds to germinate, even in the green house. So much for getting a head start!

Jun 8, 2013 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuck

Whatever happened to Phenology? It was very popular when we had a couple of warm springs. Remember them?

Jun 8, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Schofield

The Betts paper that Shub noticed is highly speculative and typical of its genre - start with discredited climate models and then make further assumptions and questionable conjectures to arrive at a conclusion that is speculation multiplied. However this one is interesting because of its emphasis on population growth and non-alarmist conclusions:

"Population is likely to be the main driver of decreasing food and water security, with Africa vulnerable to increasing population and climatic change. The effects of CO2 through fertilisation and physiological forcing have been shown to potentially increase food and water resources in the future. Climate change itself is likely to have negative effects on crop productivity if the climate change is not associated with increasing CO2. Africa is a key region where climate with CO2 fertilisation potentially reverses a decrease in runoff and a decrease in crop productivity from climate change alone......."

Betts does provide the necessary qualifier:

"Assessments such as this one which are necessarily based on modelling studies are therefore highly uncertain."

Jun 8, 2013 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterpotentilla

Potentilla -
"Climate change itself is likely to have negative effects on crop productivity if the climate change is not associated with increasing CO2."

Wow, just wow!

Apart from the fact that increasing CO2 is the only thing that is actually happening right now (and which is pretty much unarguably a good thing for agriculture), is this the only way they can think of to make climate change scary? Good grief, what a horrendous piece of spin. And this is from Richard Betts? I used to give him some credit, but putting his name to this is shocking.

Jun 8, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Potter

Jun 8, 2013 at 4:20 PM | Rob Potter

"climate change itself is likely to have negative effects on crop productivity if the climate change is not associated with increasing CO2."

Or alternatively, Mr. Betts is giving credence in a very Met Office way to the possibility that the next move in the climate system is towards cooling?

Jun 8, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

Jun 8, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Grumpy Old Man

Is a cooling world likely to have a positive effect on crop productivity according to the researchers?

Jun 8, 2013 at 5:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Just a few years ago, I remember a lot of articles about how spring was coming earlier every year and how the birds seemed to be moving further North. Anyone seen any of these of late?
The bluebells seem to be much later this year.

Jun 8, 2013 at 6:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Two appropriate vegetables that spring to mind for a cooler climate are cabbages and turnips.

Jun 8, 2013 at 6:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterManicBeancounter

Jun 8, 2013 at 5:51 PM | Rob Burton. A good question, the answer to which I haven't a clue. for example, I don't know the likelihood of semi-desert becoming more fit for cereal cultivation, I don't know the exact effect the increase in atmospheric CO2 will have in mitigating the effects of a cooler climate, though I suspect it will be beneficial. What I've done this season is to move towards f1 hybrids that did well in the '50s and '60's, and I've got hold of a medieval pulse that lasted through the LIA. I've also used the greenhouse more, and to a later stage of plant development than in previous years. Maybe next season I'll have to invest in greenhouse heating. Onions, eg. are more affected by sunlight and water in the period March/june. but leeks don't care so much and are much more hardy. Last year was poor for onions and garlic (too much water and not enough sun in the crucial period), but good for leeks. The sets I planted in the Autumn are looking good, but those I planted when the weather broke for a week in March are struggling. I'm going big on winter cabbage, Brussels sprouts,and chard which are all hardy,parsnips and jerusalem artichokes, both of which will keep well in the soil with a straw-filled cloche over them. I'll believe researchers when they have empirical evidence to justify their computer-fuelled speculations, but until then it's the precautionary principle for me in the little bit of ecology I can have an impact on.

Jun 8, 2013 at 6:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

We installed a polytunnel at Turning Tide Towers last autumn. Being of a scientific bent, we've been experimenting with the same crops both inside the tunnel and braving the Welsh elements in the raised beds outside. So far, the only thing that is unequivocally better outdoors is the garlic. We just had a few delicious polytunnel-raised winter-hardy carrots for tea. The same ones sown outdoors last autumn sank into the swamp and disappeared without trace. The lettuces, rocket, Chinese leaves, Mizuna etc. inside the polytunnel are all at least four times the size of the same stuff outdoors. We've also got turnips and beetroot ready for picking in the polytunnel: it was sown at a time when it would have been absolutely pointless to sow any outdoors.

I realise I'm not a climate scientist or anything, but it does make me wonder if maybe plants quite like the warmth inside the tunnel compared to the chill outside?

Jun 8, 2013 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Grumpy Old Man - go steady with the Jerusalem Fartichokes, they're lethal. And they spread like crazy. I don't bother covering them or the parsnips with a straw-filled cloche. The only trouble is trying to dig them out of the frozen ground, so perhaps your idea might be a good one for this coming warm wet winter / sardonic laugh.

Jun 8, 2013 at 7:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy

Jun 8, 2013 at 7:34 PM | Turning Tide It appears you are conducting empirical experiments without a computer in sight. I'd say that's fairly scientific.

Jun 8, 2013 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

I re-read a gardening book that was published in the 1940′s which describes Home Counties planting conditions in the 1930′s and 1940′s. There seems very little difference between that era and the warmth we enjoyed for 5 or 10 years in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s. Certainly we couldn’t grow over the last 5 years what was common place back then

In this gardening book is a reference to Francis Bacon

“Latter Part of November, you must take such Things, as are Greene all Winter; Holly; Ivy; Bayes; Juniper; Cipresse Trees; Eugh; Pine-Apple-Trees; Firre-Trees; Rose-Mary; Lavander; Periwinckle, the White, the Purple, and the Blewe; Germander; Flagges; Orenge-Trees; Limon-Trees; And Mirtles, if they be stooved; & Sweet Marjoram warme set. There followeth, for the latter Part of January, and February, the Mezerion Tree, which then blossomes; Crocus Vernus, both the Yellow, and the Gray; Prime-Roses; Anemones; The Early Tulippa; Hiacynthus Orientalis; Chamaïris; Frettellaria. For March, There come Violets, specially the Single Blew, which are the Earliest; The Yellow Daffadill; The Dazie; The Almond.”,_Bacon,_1902.djvu/20

He wrote this book in 1625 and what strikes me is once again the similarity of seasons then compared to the warm period that seemed to have ended 5 or 10 years ago here in the UK

I reconstructed CET to 1538 and discovered this unexpected hump around the time Bacon was writing.

In a yet to be published article I noted;

.’….more accurately we should observe that the ‘direction of travel’ of temperatures, when combined and constrained by historic records, shows that at several points from 1538 there are similarities to the modern era as regards warm periods. (1538 for several decades and a decade either side of around 1630/40) Note ‘extraordinary European heatwave in 1616.”

This warm period can be seen in my graph here.

As I search back through the contemporary records to the 11th Century the evidence of a number of periods around as warm as today seems to increase.

Jun 8, 2013 at 7:50 PM | Unregistered Commentertonyb


Of course, unless Francis Bacon published his stuff in a peer-reviewed journal, the alarmists will dismiss it out of hand as "anecdotal".

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:39 PM | Turning Tide

As I understand it, Francis Bacon WAS the peer reviewing authority of the time. Makes life difficult for some, dunnit?

Jun 8, 2013 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

"but at 48 I really don't think I'll live long enough to be concerned about a mini ice age,"

Really? Have you seen the NHS stats on who is most affected by cold damp winters? Pensioners who can't afford to heat their homes. You (and I) are heading into that demographic group.

Mind you, James Lovelock did the sensible thing when his winter heating bills in Devon got too high, he moved to a warm part of the USA. If only we all could do the same.

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterRudolph Hucker

After becoming pretty frustrated at crop failures year after year due to wet cold summers I took the advice of a high profile contributor to Skeptical Science and bought a large polytunnel; I set it up following guidance from permaculture magazine and bingo, I have moved my garden a thousand miles south.I am now getting great crops of varieties I have not been able to grow outside for some time. I don't think there is any debate that the Climate of the UK is cooling along with much of Europe, the difficulty is that this is an impact of a changing climate that no-one seems to want to discuss. Instead of arguing about whether the climate is going in one direction or another or who or what is responsible we need to discuss adaption to the challenges climate change produces, some of those adaptions can be cheap and easy, but we need to take action.

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterGarethman


I won't be holding my breath waiting for the BBC to start talking about Adapting to a Cold Climate, because that will confuse the sheeple too much. Or they will start asking awkward questions. God forbid.

But congratulations on moving your garden a thousand mile south. I wonder, did you move your home and job a thousand mile south as well? I'd like to do the same. Is there room for all of us?

Jun 8, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterRudolph Hucker

Anyone thinking about moving should consider northern Spain... and keep going. Our crops are all at least 6 weeks late. We have been reduced to buying new potatoes from Marrakech at a nosebleeding price when we should be savouring our own by now.

Another reality check is that the woodpile has been reduced to matchsticks, whereas we normally have half a tractorload of inventory carried over each year.

Jun 9, 2013 at 7:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterTimbo

Great work on the anecdotal evidence, all. I only have a garden with the usual trees, shrubs and flowers, and a couple of acres of woodland adjoining which is mostly made up of rather horrible conifers planted for the tax break available in the 70s and 80s. Which we use for firewood, obviously, along with coppicing the ash trees. We've lived here (East Sussex) for 10 years and spring was definitely later than usual, one of the specimen acer trees in the garden only just coming into leaf last week. Hardly surprising, given today's max of 14c with a harsh Northeasterly. Last week's 'heatwave' missed us entirely, with a high of 18c, and a wind which chilled you immediately if you were out of the sun.

Our local farm shop said that the potato harvest this year has been terrible. We noted both that the spuds were almost twice the price from last year at £14 a sack and that they were small and prone to rot. She would only sell us 5lb at a time today, fearing that the very poor season is already over. Echoing the leek grower above, onions were plentiful, large and cheap.

Jun 9, 2013 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered Commenterstun


I buy potatoes from the local market. Last year, you could get a whole carrier bag full of Scottish or Herefordshire potatoes for a couple of quid, but this year they're selling one kilo for £2 or £3 (depending on the variety), and they've been selling spuds from Majorca and Cyprus rather than the home-produced ones.

On the subject of leeks and onions, we're also following the trend: we've got loads of leeks in the garden which have been there since last year. Our onion crop last year wasn't great, however - a lot of the onions didn't store properly and either went soft or rotted altogether: probably because it was impossible to dry them out since we only had one week without rain all summer. We've just been harvesting overwintered onions from the polytunnel today, which should dry OK this time if the "heatwave" continues (when I was younger, I don't recall a week of temperatures over 20 C being called a "heatwave", but then again half an inch of snow didn't constitute a national emergency then either).

Jun 9, 2013 at 8:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

The real reason the USA is incredibly wealthy is the vast amount of arable land they have between the 32nd and 45th parallels. Pretty soon you'll understand all of the implications.

I hope you have the courage to send those of the more virulent AGW cults to Northern Scotland to spend a short time living out their beliefs.

Jun 10, 2013 at 4:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterFred Z

Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses about 70% of the country's land area.

Jan 25, 2016 at 6:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterPetrica v

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