Watering in drought conditions

This week, two readers have asked me about garden problems caused by lack of water. As you know, it is extremely difficult to keep gardens well-watered in drought conditions. However, as plants can only absorb the nutrients they need for healthy growth and ripeness of crops as water-soluble ions, inadequate water is the cause of a wide range of problems, including pest attack.

Bare soil in garden beds and around trees, shrubs and vines allows a lot of soil moisture to be lost to evaporation. A 5 cm layer of organic mulch over beds and around larger plants (keeping it a hand span from the trunk) will prevent water applied to the soil from being wasted. Lawns are greedy and as their roots are close to the soil surface, they take water and nutrients intended for fruit trees and favourite ornamentals. Keep lawns beyond the outer canopy of trees and cover the area under trees with mulch.

wtrbttle.jpg A method that we have found very helpful to water mulched beds is to use plastic soft drink and juice bottles to funnel water through mulch directly to the root area of susceptible plants. This is a quick and very efficient way to hand water during drought, water restrictions, heat waves or windy weather. Limp tomato seedlings will freshen up in about 10 minutes after watering by this method.
Simply cut off the base of each container, remove the lids and bury the necks of the containers about 8 cm deep near outer edge of the foliage of plants. Large shrubs may require several containers. Pour water into the container until it begins to drain slowly – an indication that you have dampened the soil in the root area.

Seedlings and pot plants are usually the first to suffer during heat waves, and you can find advice on how to revive stressed pot plants here: Pot plant stress

Save the bees

An important message from Avaaz.org:

Quietly, globally, billions of bees are dying, threatening our crops and food. But in 24 hours the European Union could move to ban the most poisonous pesticides, and pave the way to a global ban that would save bees from extinction.

Four EU countries have begun banning these poisons, and some bee populations are already recovering. Days ago the official European food safety watchdog stated for the first time that certain pesticides are fatally harming bees. Now legal experts and European politicians are calling for an immediate ban. But Bayer and other giant pesticide producers are lobbying hard to keep them on the market. If we build a huge swarm of public outrage now, we can push the European Commission to put our health and our environment before the profit of a few.

We know our voices count! Last year, our 1.2 million strong petition forced US authorities to open a formal consultation on pesticides — our target now is 2.5 million, enough to persuade the EU to get rid of these crazy poisons and pave the way for a ban worldwide. Sign the urgent petition and send this to everyone — Avaaz and leading MEPs will deliver our message ahead of this week’s key meeting in Brussels: Hours to save the bees

CCA timber update

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) have placed new restrictions on arsenic-treated timber.

From this Sunday, July 1st 2012, timber treated with copper, chromium and arsenic (CCA timber) will be declared a restricted chemical product, and further restrictions will be placed on its use that will protect children, in particular.

See APVMA’s media release

Growing potatoes update

A reader has asked if potatoes can be grown in the plastic tubs that are sold by Bunnings, Big W, etc., and I will answer it here as the links may be helpful to other readers.
Yes, Rebecca, they would be suitable if you add plenty of drainage holes and put several centimetres of gravel in the base of the tubs so that the potting mix does not block the drainage holes.
Opaque tubs provide similar conditions to small or medium drums (in that the young plants will be more shaded) and you should use those instructions for the tubs in this post. Basically the seed potatoes need at least 15-20 cm of potting mix underneath them and 15 cm of mix above them. Seed potatoes should be sown/planted 30 cm apart and, if they are the tubs I’m thinking of, you would probably only get one plant per tub as there is not really enough room for tubers of 2 plants to form.
The how and why of ‘hilling-up’ potato plants can be found in this post: Growing potatoes.

Advice on suitable soil conditions for the best results from potatoes can be found in Potato beds.
Also see: Other ways to grow potatoes.

Simple living

Down to Earth – a guide to simple living

This very practical and beautifully presented book by Rhonda Hetzel is packed with good advice on all aspects of sustainable living for both home and garden. Chapters include: finances and budgeting; organising and de-cluttering; making your own cleaning products and soap, and growing, preparing and storing food. An excellent reference for homemakers of all ages.

Rhonda also writes regularly for the Australian Women’s Weekly. Down To Earth