Chilly days and nights after a brief period of perfect gardening weather occur every year in many parts of Australia. Australia is the only place where spring is said to start on the first day of September. Everywhere else, spring starts at the equinox when day and night are of equal length. This year, the spring equinox occurs on September 23rd.
Unfortunately, Australia’s deviation from world-wide practice tricks some gardeners into planting out seedlings while nights are still longer than days and soil is still too cold for root growth of warmth-loving plants. The problem can be solved by placing this simple cloche over beds that contain cold-sensitive seedlings. See: Cloche for seedlings.
This odd little character often hangs out on our front verandah. He is one of the many species of microbat found in Australia and is 6 cm long when he is all tucked up and asleep. The reason he is odd is that he is always alone, eschewing the company of the colony of microbats we see dashing between the tree tops at dusk, and he sleeps on our verandah at night when bats normally forage for food.
Microbats are very helpful in the garden as they consume a huge quantity of mosquitos, moths and other insect pests. If you are fortunate enough to have a colony of microbats on your property, please avoid using chemical pesticides.
Predictions are for more cold, windy weather on the way. Keep a close watch on your garden as wind can dry out soils faster than summer heat, resulting in cell collapse of soft tissue plants. To discover why this happens and how to protect your plants, see: Windy weather
Seedlings and many vegetable crops are vulnerable to wind damage in winter and early spring. Ripening citrus are also easily damaged by strong winds.
Some parts of Australia are enduring extremely hot weather and, apparently, there is more to come this summer. Periods of intense heat can cause scorching in many gardens.
Although European-based garden texts recommend full sun for most vegetables, where summers are hot and air pollution is low, full sun can result in sunscald. While Australian natives have evolved to restrict loss of water through leaves in hot, dry conditions, very hot plants, especially those that originated in cooler Northern Hemisphere regions – such as most of our vegetables and fruits, lose a lot of water through their leaves in an effort to keep cool, in a similar way to humans perspiring.
A bit of shade Providing some light shade during the hottest part of the day can prevent sunscald on susceptible crops, and, by keeping the plants cooler, reduces their water consumption, an important consideration where water restrictions apply. We use lightweight, knitted shade cloth, supported by arches made from 38 mm irrigation pipe attached to garden stakes or star stakes, or you can use old light-weight curtains or sheets.
Each canopy is positioned to allow morning sun to reach plants, yet not restrict air flow around them. Poor air flow (such as in fully enclosed areas) can produce conditions suitable for some fungal diseases to establish. Instructions for making these can be found in the post Sun and heat protection.
However, in an emergency, any old curtains or pieces of lightweight fabric will do. Tie the corners to garden stakes to provide some relief for garden beds during the hottest part of the day.
If possible, move potted plants to a shaded area of the garden, and group them together. This provides more humidity around the plants, and reduces their water requirements.
Water is essential Adequate soil moisture is essential for your vegetable garden to maintain good growth during heat waves. Mulching garden beds is very helpful. A method that we have found very helpful to water mulched beds is to use plastic soft drink and juice bottles to funnel water directly to the root area of susceptible plants. This is a quick and very efficient way to hand water during 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
Water for wildlife Don’t forget to provide water for birds and bees that visit your garden. A bird bath, or containers of clean water positioned where cats and dogs can’t reach them will provide relief for the insect-eating birds and the bees that pollinate your crops. Chlorinated pool water is toxic to these helpful creatures. A container of water under shaded foliage will be appreciated by your resident frogs too.
Some gardeners may not be sure whether they are in a Temperate or Cool climate and, where frosts occur, the position of a property within a neighbourhood (the microclimate) can affect how much frost may affect your garden. The diagram below indicates where frost is more likely to affect parts of your garden.
The position of garden beds can also have a marked effect on the amount of plant damage that frosts cause. Cold air, like water, always flows downwards; anything that blocks the downward flow will result in frost damage in that area. Buildings, solid fences and shrubbery, and flat land at the bottom of a slope can all allow cold air to pool, and plants in these areas are more likely to be damaged by frost.
In temperate climates areas that can be affected by frost, gardeners may find it helpful to use the guide for ‘cool climates’ in autumn and winter and use the ‘temperate climates’ guide in spring and summer because the world’s climate is changing and we have recently experienced harsher winters and hotter summers. It appears that the standard climate zones may have to be adjusted slightly in future. If unsure about what to plant at a particular time of year, a reputable local nursery will have suitable plants in stock and be able to advise you on what is best for your local microclimate. Be cautious though when buying seedlings from Australia-wide nursery chains, as some tend to send the same seedlings to stores in all climate zones.
By the way, advice to orient beds in a north/south direction to allow plants to receive ample sunlight comes from northern hemisphere gardening practices and only applies to very cool climates in Australia. Most areas of Australia get more than enough sun to ripen crops. In fact, plants can benefit from some relief from harsh afternoon sun in warmer climates during summer months. It is more important to position beds across any slope in the ground to ensure that all plants in a bed have equal access to water. Avoid placing vegetable garden beds under trees, as trees are very competitive for both moisture and nutrients.
Forecasters are warning of more hot days to come. During heat waves, pot plants become stressed more quickly than plants in garden beds, and your pot plants may not getting as much water as you think.
If potting mix dries out, the first sign may be complete collapse of a plant. If you water dry potting mix in the normal way with a hose or watering can, your plants may not be getting as much water as you think. This is because potting mix shrinks slightly when it dries, leaving a narrow gap between the mix and the pot. When you water, most of it runs into the gap and out through the drainage holes, leaving the mix around the roots still dry. Seedling punnets and smaller pots can be thoroughly watered by immersing the entire pot in a bucket half filled with water, or use a laundry tub if a lot of pots need reviving.
Water should come over the top of the pot. Leave the pot in the water until bubbles cease to rise. Short term immersion won’t hurt the plants. Then lift the pot allowing it to drain into the bucket or tub. This method of watering also works very well when your water supply for plants is strictly limited.
For pots too large to be immersed in a container, fill some large soft drink or juice containers and insert 2 or 3 neck down into the potting mix. Provide support if necessary and allow them to empty slowly into the mix. Re-fill the bottles and repeat watering until water is being drawn into the mix very slowly. If heat is likely to continue for some time, place some mulch or stones on the surface of the potting mix to slow evaporation.
Potting mix can become incredibly hot when pots are in full sun. During extreme heat conditions move pot plants to a cooler spot, including under trees. Grouping them together helps retain humidity around the plants and reduces water loss through the leaves.
With some women it’s shoes or handbags, but with me it’s seeds, so I have to practice restraint when I go to Greenpatch Organic Seeds, as I did recently. Greenpatch supply a wide range of open-pollinated, organic seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and grains, grasses and sprouts. You may have seen their seeds for sale at nurseries. Organic, open-pollinated seeds are not hybrids or GM seeds, and that means you will be able to save seeds from your crop for next season. Open-pollinated vegetable seed varieties are grown for flavour and vigour rather than shelf life.
Many of the seeds are produced at Greenpatch, but where cross-pollination can be a problem, other varieties are produced by local growers. I like buying organic seed that is produced in Australia because the seed comes from plants that have adapted to Australian soils and seasons. Previously, I had found that imported seed did not perform particularly well, and I achieved better results from seed I saved from those plants. We do save seeds from some of our crops but saving seed from all our vegetables and herbs can tie up garden beds for long periods while the seed matures, and being able to buy locally-produced seed makes life much easier.
Greenpatch also has a huge selection of fruiting plants, herbs, cottage garden and aquatic plants. Neville and Sophia have been producing seeds and plants on their farm for 20 years, and you can order seeds and plants by mail but, as Greenpatch is just off the freeway at Taree and only a short drive from our farm, I enjoy paying a visit and browsing through their stock for plants to add to our collection. You can see their catalogue at Greenpatch Organic Seeds.
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
If you are in the Taree area this Sunday (23rd October, 2011), Greenpatch Organic Seeds are having an open day from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. Activities include a tour of the farm, garden and nursery; demonstrations on saving particular types of seed, and a seed-saving workshop for home gardeners so that you can learn how to save viable seed from your own backyard crops.
Members will receive a 10% discount on purchases.
For directions to Greenpatch, email: email@example.com – or phone 02 6551 4240
Greenpatch Organic Seeds have released their mail order catalogue for 2001-12. They have added many new Heritage vegetable, flowering annual and herb varieties to their range. They also have 230 varieties of potted plants, tubers and bulbs that can be delivered to you in all states except Tasmania and Western Australia. As Greenpatch is in our neighbourhood, I had a lovely time last week at Greenpatch browsing through their seeds, plants and books for things to add to my collection. Like us, Greenpatch is certified-organic with the Organic Growers of Australia. All their seeds are non-GM, non-hybrid and open-pollinated, so that you can save seed of your favourite varieties from your own crop.
You can ask for a catalogue by e-mailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or download a catalogue from their secure website.