Friday, January 18, 2013

Not an oxymoron after all

I stand corrected!

It turns out that with hard work, planning and some ingenuity, it is possible to have a productive vege patch in summer after all.

My summer that is, not yours. I'm talking about living in a seaside town where the annual rainfall averages 400mm and most of that falls between May and September. Seriously! say about 95%!! Then there's the filthy hot days when the mercury climbs above 40, even above 45 degrees, for days on end and the nights don't get below 30! And if the wind isn't blowing a dessicating fan forced easterly heat from the desert inland, it's a blistering 25-35 knot southerly, which although cooling, still dries out the foliage. Oh yeah, and the soil isn't soil, it's sand!!

For the last 10 years I've made a half arsed effort to grow veges in the summer months but usually the plants just spend the time either barely surviving, or giving up altogether. They certainly don't put on new growth or fruit for me. So I kind of gave up. And just said summer gardening was an oxymoron...

But this summer it's different. It isn't because the soil has suddenly morphed into loam, that the climate has changed along with the rainfall, or that the wind didn't blow. It's me. I've changed!

Firstly, I sorted out my water supply. Now although we are allowed to hand water any time, and water restrictions are only for sprinklers, I personally prefer rain water on my vege patch. I don't drink the local scheme water at all, it tastes horrible, why would I put it on my veg? Also, aside from the initial investment in tanks, rain water is free! And as water prices continue to climb, it's a canny investment indeed.

I have 3 tanks. I'm afraid I can't give you their capacities, except to say that none of them are small. I've got a fair sized block, so there's room for them. One is steel, and is my primary tank into which all water from the roof collects. This is the one I replaced this year, is plumbed in to the house for drinking water and also to an outside tap. It has a pressure pump connected which means I can use it to fill up the other two tanks to avoid waste when all that rain does fall over 3 measly months in winter.

The key is to fill the excess tanks and keep the primary tank's capacity not quite full so if a big downpour suddenly happens I don't lose it down the drain. Then I water my garden from the secondary tanks.

One tank is up the top of my block, and sits on a stand, so it has enough pressure to gravity feed to the vege patch at the front of the block. I've been meaning to reconnect the drip reticulation to this tank and put it on a timer, but I haven't got round to that yet. Instead, I've been hand watering from the other tank, which is connected to another pump which I just turn on and off as required. Sure this doesn't make for "free" water since there's electricity involved, but it isn't much, just 10 min a day isn't going to break the bank!!

I've been hand watering daily from this second tank since my return in late September, and had almost emptied it when the skies opened up last Sunday and we got a deluge! There was me, soaked through, up the ladder inserting a hose into the tank and transferring water as quickly as it could accumulate. No wastage and the green tank is now half full again. So the top tank still doesn't need to be called into service yet!

I like the hand watering. It gives me a chance to see how the veges are growing, to pull out weeds and keep an eye on infestations. There's alot of happy caterpillars eating my lettuce plants at the moment, and citrus leaf miners are also going crazy! Some judicious caterpillar and snail collecting, weed pulling and leaf removal doesn't go astray on an almost daily basis, and helps keep the intruders at bay. Since I have alot of visitors to the patch - birds, lizards and predatory insects - keeping chemical free is important. I also love seeing how big some fruit can grow in just a day, daily monitoring allows me to harvest before they get too big.

I've spent quite a bit of time improving the soil by adding compost, particularly when planting new seedlings. It's pretty hard to make compost at home here, because the weather is so dry nothing rots, it just dries out! So I buy bags from Bunnings as needed, and since I only buy the cheapest bags, it isn't a huge expense. But I still need to water daily, the soil isn't that good yet!

I've heard that there's a product you can add to sandy soil that has clay particles in it, so it helps the soil be less water repellant, and it's organic. But expensive! I'm not a fan of alot of the other water retention products, as I've heard they are potentially toxic to microorganisms as well as the big guys that feed on your insect inhabitants. I have a friend who put it through his new garden last year so I shall have to ask him how it's performing. You still need to add organic matter though....

Then there's the elements! Well I manage this through perimeter planting with natives and an ingenious, though not particularly attractive, set of temporary screens and shade cloth. Although the blurb says "full sun" I can assure you that in this climate your veges will not survive unless they are shaded. All day! They get quite enough UV through that shadecloth to grow, produce fruit, and yes thrive! No shade cloth? It's like Death Valley, nothing alive within days!

I can't quite believe it myself, that my garden looks so bloody good at the moment. It's thriving, it's happy, and I am too. I'll let you know what's growing in my next post.

Happy Gardening!

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