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Hard to grow
Community gardens impacted by dry weather

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Friday, August 15, 2014

The lack of rainfall this summer isn’t just contributing to wildfires, its also making the growing season difficult for community gardens.

nnsl photo

Environment Canada data from 1981 to 2010 shows normal precipitation levels in regions throughout the NWT. However, this summer, the actual precipitation levels are much lower than usual. The exception is in Norman Wells, which received more rainfall in July. - photo courtesy of Lutsel K'e community garden

Stephanie Poole, one of the founders of the Lutsel K’e community garden, said the area is still experiencing very dry conditions.

“There is hardly any rain this season,” she said. “Whenever it does rain, it’s very light and it doesn’t last very long.”

She said the lack of rain has definitely been impacting the community gardens. While the project in Lutsel K’e includes greenhouses, two of the plots are outside.

“Without rain this year, it’s been a lot harder to water the garden, the outdoor plots,” she said. “It’s really dry.”

The lack of rain means gardeners are finding other ways to keep plants alive, said Poole. The community’s water truck driver has been setting aside time to spray the garden once a week.

“Our community water truck driver has been helping us out a lot,” she said.

Poole said while the help is appreciated, nothing beats steady rain when it comes to growing plants.

“I always think of rain as sort of like magic for the garden,” she said. “To me it seems like when we get a good rain, the very next day the plants look much bigger.”

Brian Proctor, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said warm, dry conditions in British Columbia and Alberta that moved into the territory this year are contributing to the lack of precipitation. A low ridge of dry air has been sitting in the Mackenzie Valley, stopping moisture from reaching the area.

“The reason the precipitation has been so low is the prevalence of this low ridge,” Proctor said. “These omega blocks in the atmosphere tend to be very stable and hard to move when they set up.”

Proctor said summer rainfall usually accounts for nearly half of all yearly precipitation in the southern part of the territory.

“The really interesting thing is in much of the southern Northwest Territories, almost one half of the annual precipitation falls in June, July and August,” he said.

Proctor said normal precipitation levels in Fort Simpson, for example, are about 61 mm in July. This year the area received 22 mm.

Rainfall often comes in the form of thunderstorms, but storms in the territory are different this year, Proctor added.

“The thunderstorms they have been getting often times have been fairly dry thunderstorms,” he said. “Lots of lightning.”

In addition to the lack of rainfall, Poole said smoky conditions from burning wildfires are also impacting plants.

“With so much heavy smoke in the air all the time, it feels like the plants aren’t doing as well as they do in other years,” she said. “I’ve heard that from some gardeners, some community members who have gardens at home as well. Even they feel that things aren’t growing as big as they usually do.”

Proctor said the weather forecast doesn’t show any immediate improvement. He said the ridge seems to be staying put for the time being.

“It doesn’t show signs of moving at this point,” he said. “I would expect precipitation to stay fairly low.”

Proctor said he believes the weather pattern is going to continue before finally letting up. He said he expects it could change within about a month.

“It’s going to get worse again before it gets better,” he said.

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