Saturday, March 25, 2017

Planting again

You've probably noticed an absence of property posts lately. That's primarily because of the heatwave, we experienced at the end of summer. It literally killed a lot of plants, and I didn't want to write, until I knew the full extent of the damage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum though, we've had rain for the past few weeks now. We've had very few days, it hasn't been raining. Some plants that were on their way out, were given a sudden reprieve.

Wicking box #3
cops the western afternoon sun

Not surprisingly, most of the plants in my wicking boxes, were fried during the heatwave. They had access to water in the reservoir underneath their roots, but their leaves just couldn't cope with temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius. Adding shade would have helped, but we didn't get to that job before the heat prevented us from going outside, and the damage was done.

It's not all bad news though. I made some clear observations of what made the grade through these extremes.

 Wicking box #2
protected by both boxes on either side

That star- picket is meant to deter the brush turkey's, but of more interest in this box, is what is surviving. The rubarb and the spring onion. Both have moisture filled stems, and in the case of the rubarb - roots. So they had a pre-existing coping mechanism, enabling them to survive through an extreme.

The rubarb leafs were also large enough, to shade the soil at it's base. Rubarb is a perennial plant, so not surprising, nature built it to survive more seasons than one!

 Wicking box #1
cops morning sun, but protected from the afternoon

Another thing to survive in that unruly mess, are cabbage and broccoli stalks. You can see a few tiny leaves which managed to emerge, before the heat put them in stasis. They have a fibrous, thick core, which kept it alive when the searing sun and high temps stuck around.

When the rains returned, and more importantly, the day-time temperatures normalised, those sticks are the first to kick-in, and start producing.

Hugelkultur bed #2

This kale is the perfect example. I took this photo today, after a week or more of rain. It's in my hugelkultur bed. The outside leafs are what were left of the old plant (eaten by grasshoppers) and the new leaves are emerging from the centre.

I thought this plant was on it's way out. Not much survived in this particular hugelkultur bed - but it was all planted in annuals. Plants which are bred by mankind, to be pampered and not live beyond one season. Therefore, annuals are probably not a safe bet, with dicey weather extremes on the cards, for the future. 

Hugelkultur bed #1

This kale is a little more developed, than the former. It's in a different hugelkultur bed to the other, and had more protection from the afternoon sun. When the heatwave was on, the soil was shaded by another perennial crop - our sweet potato. More about that particular plant, soon.

We were able to pick the leafs from this kale, within a week of the rains arriving, to make a green smoothie. They were so tender, I could eat them straight off the plant. Had we planted a seedling though, we'd have to wait several weeks for something similar.

So the lesson here, is wait to see what can survive in your garden, before you start pulling things out. Anything with a thick, fleshy stalk and/or root system, will be quick to produce, once the weather normalises again.

 Hugelkultur bed #1

Here is that sweet potato vine, I said protected the kale. I had several plants of kale in this bed, but the one to survive, was the one closest to other plants. There's a chilli plant in the middle, which is about to set flower too.

Observing what survived in our recent heatwave, I can nail it down to a few contributing factors:

  1. They were a perennial plant, with thick, fibrous material
  2. They had some form of buffering from other plants or structures
  3. They were in beds (hugelkulture & wicking boxes) with access to moisture underground
Those three factors, are what determined the survivors, from the compost. I'm going to start planning my edible plants, from a more perennial basis. That is what stands the best chance, of surviving weather extremes. I will speckle some annuals, but by increasing the perennial ratio, I increase the buffer zone of actually getting to eat something from my garden.

What is often considered an annual vegetable, such as cabbage and broccoli, can actually be treated like perennials. They just produce smaller heads, next time around, and you can always eat the leafs in stir-fries. Or just feed the leafs to the chickens.

Future food

This is what wicking box #1, presently looks like. I revamped it a few weeks ago. I removed all but the cabbage, added some more compost, a purchased basil plant, and seeds. Wet weather is perfect for planting seeds. I went mad planting seeds in the wicking boxes, and hugelkultur beds. I hope to have something to show for it, in a few months time.

Weather extremes can hit gardeners hard, but getting back into the game, is what it's all about! Observe what worked during a weather extreme, and seek to duplicate it.

Has your edible garden taught you anything new, recently?


  1. Hasn't the rain come just in time! Well I nursed a few bean planylts through the heat and got nothing off them until it cooled down, so I guess they don't set fruit or even flower when its hot. Great to see your hugelkulture producing. Gave me some ideas...

    1. I had the same experience with my purple king beans, Liz. They emerged prior to the heatwave. I lost many. The few which remained, stayed the same size, and wilted. Plants can't grow above a certain temperature. It's in the high 30's Celsius. They go into stasis and wait for revival or death.

      The few which lived, will be first to crop, and the new seeds I planted recently, will come in later. Glad yours are starting to flower now.

    2. Forgot to mention Liz, those peas in the last photo, just starting to emerge, are descendants from the Lacey Lady Peas you sent me. They do well in our climate.

  2. My wicking boxes were made from styrofoam. they worked like a charm EXCEPT that the chooks LOVE pecking the styrofoam. We'll be making them from other materials in future.

    1. I know! Crazy, chooks, right? Mine did the same when they temporarily got out. Even the brush turkeys attacked them. What's with styrafoam and poultry?

  3. It's interesting to look at what thrives in the heat or simply survives those scorching heatwaves. Here, it was zucchini and cucumbers that produced for a lot of the Summer in the veg bed. In the wicking barrels, spring onion, were the clear survivors. I'm going to have to look up hugelkulture as I've no idea what that is! Meg:)

    1. My zucchini succumbed to powdery mildew in the heat. Which is unfortunate, as the chickens normally get to enjoy the surplus! I've never had success with cukes. Glad you had some successes in your vegetable patch, despite the extremes.

      I'll write another post tomorrow, with links to how we set up our Hugelkultur beds. It will explain a little more.

  4. Chris, I still have a few cucumber plants growing and the cherry tomatoes have taken off again after a lot of them being fried. My watersaver garden that I paid a LOT of money for and which hubby pulled apart to fix a leak (months ago) is now full of weeds so there is a lot of work waiting outside for when I am feeling up to it. One of these days the watersaver garden will be fixed but I am not holding my breath.

    1. Cucumbers must do better up the mountain, than down in the valley. Good to hear something edible survived in your garden, during the heatwave too. Fingers crossed for your watersaver garden. I'm guessing it must be similar to a wicking box?

  5. Good post, Chris. Observing and learning to adjust to change is what it's all about. We didn't have the heat you had, so no real problems here. We had reasonable rains for summer too. I'm tending towards perennials as well, but planning to poke in the odd annual brassica amongst them in the hope of fooling the white butterflys. It's still very warm here, so tomatoes are making a comeback with new leaves but I may not get many fruits from them.

    1. Here's hoping your tomatoes produce quickly then. :)

      It really was great to know others weren't experiencing the kind of heat we were. When it starts happening everywhere at the same time, we really are in trouble! I bet you've been eating well from the garden this growing season.


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