Sustainable Summer

Umbrella shading plants

Shading plants from the hot summer sun

Although we often think of spring as a great time of growth in our gardens, summer is where things really race ahead. Given the right nourishment and protection, your garden should reward you with bountiful produce. Failure to put in place a few basic essentials however and you’ll be left with hard dry soil and crops that bolt to seed. Of course, there’s always plenty of things you can do to keep your garden flourishing over summer but the three most important factors for success are hydration, protection and competition. When acted on, these three simple concepts will ensure that your garden is well prepared to survive the harshest days.

  1. Hydration: If your soil has become hydrophobic (water repellant) or is very sandy you could add a wetting agent or water crystals, which will increase the soil’s water holding capacity and help keep the soil moist for longer. Water crystals are especially helpful in pot plants, which often dry out quickly in the sun or with hot winds. If you don’t have a dedicated irrigation system it is best to push your hose slightly into the garden, around 50-75mm deep, so the water is much closer to the roots of the plants and less is lost to wind and evaporation. Watering this way also eliminates sunburn on the foliage caused when droplets of water act somewhat like a magnifying glass in the harsh sunlight. Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon to mimimise water loss through evaporation, dig through as much compost and organic matter you can get your hands on and mulch well and you’ll have a healthy, robust garden that will bounce back after even the hottest days.

 

  1. Protection: Protecting your garden over summer takes many forms. The most obvious being the provision of shade. Our baking sun can wreak all sorts of damage on our plants, especially on the young seedlings you hope will provide you with sustenance for the next few months. If you have the option of raising seeds in a green house during the hottest months then this is certainly optimal, just remember to harden them off in the sun for a few hours a day before planting them out into full sun. Planting seeds directly into the ground however can be just as successful (and will reduce the amount of time you have to spend tending to the seedlings) as long as you provide shelter from the sun and also the wind. Branches stuck into the ground, with their leaves still attached, are a quick and easy way to ensure dappled sunlight gets to the plants, an umbrella will provide light shade but not much beats good old shade cloth for strong protection. If you are caught short or a heatwave looms, draping an old sheet over plants will afford some protection and may just save next weeks salads. If your garden beds are particularly exposed you could consider planting essential herbs and greens in pots that you can position in a shady location, ideally near the kitchen for easy harvesting and watering. Or if you are in the exciting phase of planning your garden, make sure to group plants according to their water requirements. This will not only ensure they flourish but will limit the amount of time you need to spend tending to them.

 

  1. Competition: There is one job you can do at all times of the year that will benefit what you are trying to grow, which is especially important during summer, that is weeding. Weeds are plants too and they are very good at seeking out water. Generally, weeds are much hardier than the food species we plant. Their roots are often deeper in the soil, their leaves more robust and more resistant to pests. This gives the weeds a definite head start, so removing them altogether will ensure that competition for resources is limited. Competition can also come from overloading your vege patch. Planting crops too closely or not thinning out direct-sown seedlings as they get bigger can result in spindly growth from overcrowding and not enough sunlight.

 

As always, gardens grown in healthy, organic-rich soil will fare the best whatever the weather, so before it gets too hot it’s a great idea to give your garden a bit of a nutrient boost. These vital minerals, along with the pointers mentioned above should help to keep you in firm, fresh fruit, veg and flowers all summer long.

 

Summer’s Here

Published in Eumundi Green Issue 187

Life on a Better Ridge Summer's Here

The long days are here on The Ridge. Given the path of least resistance, it is much more preferable to work with the environment rather than against it. So, the time we get up each morning is inversely proportionally to the temperature forecasted that day. The hotter it is likely to be, the earlier we get up to get jobs done before the heat sets in.

Work in the garden happens in shifts – dawn until mid-morning (on a cool day) and early afternoon until dusk. This is when we water and prune, as it is not only easier on us as humans, but the plants do better because of it too. The mid-day hours are spent inside, and on the hottest days, we take our cues from the animal kingdom and find a shady tree to sit under or some cool tiles to lie on.

Our egg-laying friends are well cared for too; the sunflowers we planted a month or so ago are now large and lush and provide both shade and seeds to snack on, old feed bags have been sewn together to make temporary shade sails and the arrowroot we cut back months previous also offer shelter from the baking rays of the sun, as well as a great hiding place from the sneaky hawks who would like to make a quick meal of our growing chicks.

Old milk and juice bottles are put to good use – each night we fill them with water and freeze them solid, then take their lids off and lay them on their side over the animal’s water containers. As they thaw, they drip refreshing cool water for thirsty critters.

Small seedlings are given shade with cut banana leaves or bamboo frames, and to stop the fishpond from simmering the guppies; we use an old beach umbrella to block the worst of the sun.

Summer causes us to consider the heat pretty seriously, but it would be remiss of us not to think about the effects the inevitable rains will have as well.

The early hours of a fine day are a good time to check gutters for leaf litter, sticks and other debris. The last thing you want when the rains come is to have water come cascading over your gutters, especially if you are on tank water and are (quite literally) sweating on catching every drop.

It may be tempting to do this job of an afternoon, but given the solar storage capacity of our roofs, the tin or tiles can still give quite a nasty burn! The morning time frame also ensures you don’t lose light and can get the whole job over and done with in one go.

But rain or shine, truly the best part of our hot summer days are the cool balmy evenings when twilight is long, and the breeze blows softly. A cool drink fades the effects of the day, and the powdery scent of vibrant blooms fills the air and reminds us that summer is well and truly here.