Brisbane Skips Winter, 2013 Becomes Hottest Year Ever (Until 2015, The Latest Hottest Year Ever!)

Lemongrass is flowering very early

Lemongrass is flowering very early

This year my garden had an extended autumn and now, judging by the flowers outside, it’s spring. Did Brisbane skip winter?

Today, The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australia has just experienced its warmest 12 months since climate records began.

On 29th July I posted that Global Warming is about the effect of physics and chemistry on life on Earth.

In a couple of years the Arctic will lose its summer ice for the first time since humans evolved. At that point the Earth will have lost its protective, reflective ‘heat shield’ and the methane gas release from melted permafrost and sea floors will trigger the catastrophic phase of Global Warming.

We know rising levels of carbon dioxide gas – now joined by methane gas – are changing our climate. What most people don’t realise is how fast and how thoroughly these changes are affecting life on land and at sea.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in much the same way that cloudy nights are warmer than clear nights. While daytime and summer heat extremes are going up, it’s at night time and in winter that the changes are happening faster. Why? Because heat is not escaping back into space as fast as it used to. Warmer winters affect the flowering and fruiting of cold-loving crops like apples, pears and stonefruit.

But even more important is the affect of warming and carbon dioxide enrichment on soil ecology. Dig down a metre and the soil maintains a constant temperature. In Sydney it was 13C, too hot for tulips, but a cymbidium orchid, in optimum conditions, grows in soil. Here in Brisbane, my soil is 16.2C. Plant a cymbidium orchid and it dies. Why? Both locations have similar soil-borne diseases, but warmer soil enables them to become more virulent.

On 19th July 2007, I was startled when a ‘Ladyfinger’ banana bloomed. Curious, for a tropical plant in the subtropics. Then a ‘Pisang Ceylan’ banana bloomed on 6th July 2012, and this year a ‘Java Blue’ banana flowered on 6th July 2013.

As the noisy miners catch caterpillars to feed their chicks, which hatched two weeks earlier this year, I thought I’d capture shots of what I used to call ‘spring’ flowers in my garden.

Confused? So is nature. Some things in my garden are flowering ‘on time’, some are flowering ‘early’. Summer flowering love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus) and Mouse Melon (Melothria scabra) continued flowering (and seeding) as if winter hasn’t happened.

It’s not just Wynnum that has noticed the absence of winter’s chill. Last week gardeners in Stanthorpe told me their region hasn’t had any decent frosts. It was amazing to see Lobelia flowering on a windowsill in Warwick. Just a few metres away was a magnificent specimen of a Pelargonium, it’s decorative leaves and flowers untouched by frost.

This week I visited the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney, where cherries and Wigandia caracasana were in full bloom and the first tulip of spring was flowering in the spring walk. Further west in Richmond, where winter frost is a given,  the Magnolia x soulangiana, cherries and almonds were in full bloom. Underneath them flowered scented-leaf Pelargonium ‘Cherry Time’, as yet untouched by frost.

Since they were settled, Australia’s highland, inland regions have been prime temperate fruit growing land, and the Granite Country of SE Queensland is the best place in this state to grow apples, grapes, raspberries, peaches and pears. With warming conditions, the future of this state’s pear and apple orchards doesn’t look much more secure than that of the township of Newtok, USA.

In a submission to the federal government (‘The role of Government in assisting Australian Farmers to adapt to the impacts of Climate Change’, March 2009) Apple and Pear Australia Ltd pretty much said that Global Warming will have a significant negative impact.

Meanwhile down south, market forces are currently ripping a hole in the heart of Australia’s best pear orchards in Victoria.

It takes many years to grow a viable orchard, and Australian growers have been alarmed that importing apples and pears will also import Fireblight disease. Australia is currently one of the few places on Earth that is free of this disease. There was an outbreak of imported fireblight disease during the 1990’s.

Put Global Warming and Market Forces together and national food sovereignty is put at risk on a number of fronts. How long before the only pears you can buy in Australia are imported? Is that fruit infected?

Maybe we should grow our own. Officially, there’s still another month to plant for ‘winter’, so pick a fruit tree that can cope with warming conditions and grow your own food security.

Feedback from Facebook readers of this blog:

Sally. Yup. My loquats and peaches agree that it is spring. I’m a little concerned that the August winds and chill will destroy the developing fruit/buds. Shall report back later on that.

Angela. Yep. It’s the same in my garden my winter crops aren’t growing as well but we have flowers in the garden and on the Tahitian lime.

Kate. My fig tree has been trying to shoot its spring leaves since April…

Deb. Northside certainly skipped the dry season.

Heather. Tropical peach orchard at Knockrow on full bloom. Jasmine and azaleas are out here. I think spring has sprung!

Yvonne. So has Melbourne

Adrian. Over 18 degrees in my part of Melbourne today. Whatever this is, it isn’t winter anymore….

Jane. Even my broad beans are beginning to flower…

Shane. I have a necterine tree flowering allready, 3km south of bargo N.S.W.

Jo. I’m in Mittagong and I noticed the sap is flowing in my mulberry when I pruned it the other day. Plum flowers aren’t far off!

Jerry Coleby-Williams. At Sydney Botanic Gardens I’ve seen the first tulip of spring . The cherries and Wigandia caracasana in the Spring Walk are in full bloom, 30.7.13.

Alan. Here in tasmania, it’s been very odd. everything is budding and flowering very early and sometimes it’s been like a pleasant cool summer’s day…just a bit disconcerting.

Jasmine. Was it even winter? I have what I think are buds on nearly 8′ high sunflowers that grew all thru “winter” in Ipswich. Will have to wait until they get a bit bigger to be totally sure

Gabrielle (Canberra). Interesting, Jerry. I am noticing a very early Spring here too – I live in the hills outside of Canberra, at 800 metres, where it snows and where the seasons are usually about three weeks later than Canberra, and I am noticing a very early flush of new rose leaves and milder and fewer frosts. My roses think it is spring all right, and my winter veggies are looking a little too leggy for this time of year too.

Annetta (Brisbane). We blinked and winter passed by. Scary. My garden is the same: spring growth and blooms.

Andrew. I saw a cane toad for the first time since summer – autumn last night here in Brisbane.

Kara Sophia (Brisbane) Felt the change in the last week.

Deb Turnbull (Brisbane). So do the birds. There’ll be baby noisy miners and noisy friarbirds aplenty at my place soon – watch out grasshoppers and cabbage-white butterflies, your time is up!

Cheryl Nielsen (just north of Brisbane). I have the same thing happening, Jerry. I already have four hands of fruit forming on a banana.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

First posted 29th July 2013

Updated with Sydney Morning Herald Report on 2nd September 2013