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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Climate Change Could Mean Good News, Bad News For Seattle-Area Gardeners

Ann Dornfeld
John Mullen gets his soil ready for spring at a Seattle P-Patch. Climate science experts say he shouldn't start planting pineapples anytime soon.

Washington farmers can expect longer growing seasons, drier summers and increased risk of disease and pest outbreaks, according to some of the predictions in the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday.

Most of the research about the impact of climate change on Northwest agriculture focuses on what might happen east of the Cascades, to major crops like wheat, wine grapes and irrigated potatoes.

But most of us are farming on a much smaller scale, like John Mullen.

On Tuesday, Mullen was busy turning over the soil in his plot at a Capitol Hill P-Patch.

“Oh, there’s an old root!” he said. Mullen has been gardening in the Northwest for more than three decades.

He says he’s noticed higher high temperatures – and lower lows.

“So the summers are definitely seeing longer periods where we’re hitting the 90s, which really helps tomatoes grow, 'cause that’s a notoriously difficult crop here," he said. "And it’s also good for roses.”

Mullen says one downside is the winter cold spells, like a recent one that cost him his artichoke plant.

Overall, though, Washington State University agricultural researcher Chad Kruger says Seattle-area gardeners won’t be seeing major changes anytime soon.

Kruger was one of the authors of the Northwest portion of the National Climate Assessment.

“I think for the intermediate future, the likelihood that gardeners in Seattle experience substantial changes that would be recognizable as attributable to climate would probably be pretty lean,” he said.

Kruger says the biggest changes are likely toward the end of this century – like significantly longer growing seasons.

Still, Kruger says one short-term challenge could be drought as summers get drier.

“How much water is available, at what cost is it available, are there prohibitions on the use of water in yards and gardens. That could actually be a fairly serious impact that people will experience.”

So the next time you’re at the garden store, maybe walk right past that Meyer lemon tree … and head for the succulents.

Year started with KUOW: 2008