It’s the equinox and autumn is here, thank God! Shorter days and longer nights. Less heat and more coolth. I am thankful, even though it means the spring/summer growing season with its wonderful gluts of tomatoes, beans, cukes and the rest, is over.
Time for a roundup summary of what worked, what went wrong and what might be needed in future.
Major concern is weather. I haven’t been overly worried about climate change, thinking I’d be pushing up daisies well before things got hairy, but it seems to be progressing faster than anyone thought. We’ve just had a very dry summer with only 120 mm of rain and a dry spring before that. Average for Melbourne over the three summer months is 150 mm. Add in periods of extended heat with no cool breaks and all the plants were stressed way beyond their comfort zone. Of course, it may be just another el Nino year and the wetter la Nina years will be back. But climate change may well put its own cycles atop these two and we really don’t know how that will play out. We’re playing russian roulette with a system we don’t fully understand and I don’t think Homo sapiens is going to come out on top, if at all.
I had trouble keeping water up to the food forest, particularly the fruit trees. As a result fruit was small and I let the parrots have most of it. The individual swales I dug behind each fruit tree were a godsend. I just filled them with water once a week—from the tank at first and then from the mains when the tank got low—and that helped the trees to just hang on. Swales are great, but no good without rain to fill them. Because that part of the garden is on a slope and the soil sets like concrete in summer, it’s no good putting on a sprinkler—the water just runs off rather than in. Even though I’ve mulched and mulched, the soil structure hasn’t improved for more than a few inches in depth. I long to see it deep and friable, full of life and able to absorb more water. I suspect the shallow root systems it forces on the plants are a major part of the problem.
Annual veggies in wicking boxes were fine, although they had to be watered every second day in 30-plus temperatures. Deeper wicking boxes would have helped. Those not in wicking boxes had to be watered every day. Temperatures in the high 30’s (celsius) really rip the water out of plants and the leaves curl and brown.
Redcurrant with burnt leaf edges in the food forest:
Tomatoes bore well and I picked over 30 kg, but by late February most had yellowing, shrivelled leaves, even those in wicking boxes and tubs. I think it was a tomato thing (probably late blight), because other plants sharing the same tubs or box were perfectly healthy, lettuce and basil, for example.
Plants in the greywater line were fine, except redcurrant here too, which browned at the leaf margins as it did in the food forest. This probably indicates that it needs more shade. Tamarillo and feijoa right next to the redcurrants were fine. That’s an amazing result for tamarillo with its dinner plate-sized leaves. They’re very leathery, maybe that helped.
Tamarillo in the greywater line:
Plans for next summer:
*Will be fine, just need plenty of nutrients, aka chook manure compost applied regularly, but will be better with shade on really scorching days.
*Probably need more of them and close to the house (permaculture zone 1).
Annual veggies in wire rings in the food forest:
*Being built-up beds means they dry out more quickly, so maybe it’s pointless to grow in these areas in summer anyway, if I can’t keep the water up to them.
*Certainly more organic matter is needed in them, so will add as much as I can get.
*Might be more sensible to keep them for winter crops only.
*In any case shade is a virtue, so the plan is to erect polypipe structures over them to hold shadecloth in summer.
*Keep them pruned small so they can be easily netted against parrots and possums.
*Deepen individual swales behind each tree.
*Dig swales where there still aren’t any (new plantings).
*Surprisingly, it went very well. The underlying bed of sticks is nowhere near broken down, yet pumpkins grew well. Zucchinis weren’t so good, but that was more due to lack of flowering or female flowers aborting before they even opened. Maybe lack of nutrients was a problem there (?potassium).
*Plan is to build more hugelkultur beds and to keep building up the first one with compost and chook manure. They’re a much more sensible way to use up excess branches, sticks and leaves, rather than burning them.
Pumpkins in the hugelkultur bed:
The pumpkin harvest. The Butternuts are embarrassingly small; the Red Kuri are small to average and the Blue Ballet I know nothing about. It was my first time growing them:
This Butternut that came up by itself in a wicking tub is going to be better:
*Occupies about two-thirds of the property and there’s more on surrounding properties. Fire is a constant worry in summer. Last fire in the area was 16 years ago (we weren’t living here then), so we’re well overdue for another.
*Major decision in the management of this area is to remove all grass, native and non-native. Some of this area was cleared by a previous owner, the sand taken out and sold and replaced with weedy fill. I had planned to remove all the non-native grasses and replace with native and had done quite a bit of that, but even the native grass dies off/back in such dry weather and since I only have a hand mower, it’s more than I can cope with, considering there are more important things to do than mow grass. I’m certainly not going to buy a noisy, fossil-fueled mower or pay someone with one to do it, so, over winter, the grass is going to go (yes, glyphosate, unfortunately; I can’t hand-weed it all). I’ll keep a small area of representative species somewhere, of a size that I can handle, just to maintain the diversity of species and as a seed bank. The vegetation community here is Heathy Woodland anyway, not Grassy Woodland, so its understorey should only contain minimal grasses.
*Bracken will continue to be removed and mulched on a weekly basis. It makes great mulch and I need plenty.
*I’ll continue to remove fine dead fuels and keep the bush as clean and green as I can. The cooling effect of the large eucalypts in summer is something it would be pretty stupid to eliminate. In any case there’s a protective covenant on that part of the property, which bans any clearing, in perpetuity. But nothing is forever and climate change is a whole new ball game. Things change and we must change with them if we want to survive.
*Also, rather than have an area of continuous shrubbery, I’ll keep some areas open, with just a minimal ground layer of wildflowers and small herbaceous species and intersperse that with clumps of shrubs for habitat. It won’t eliminate fire, but might minimise its effect. While I intended this to be a conservation property, in a warming, drying, fossil fuel depleting world, conservation will eventually become dead in the water as people attempt to just survive. Anything that competes with humans for food will be killed (including, in the later stages of collapse, other humans), and anything that will carry wildfire (and can’t be eaten), will be chopped down. It’s too late for anything now, except to try and survive what’s coming. Major cultural change isn’t going to happen. (Some see that, most don’t).
Notwithstanding all that, I’ll keep plugging on, enjoying the bush and my food forest and the healthy, tasty food it gives me in return for all the work. Shopping till I drop and unhealthy supermarket food just aren’t options for me and even without climate change and energy depletion, still wouldn’t be.
Postscript: Because it’s the equinox, I’m supposed to be out planting my garlic and potato onions today, but instead I’m having an indoors day. It rained last night (only 8 mm, but not to be sneezed at), and there’s a vicious nor-easterly blowing which is unpleasant to work in (everything I put down blows away), AND too many inside jobs have been building up. I’m having a much-needed tidy-up, making yoghurt and mueslii and re-bubblewrapping the windows (before you say, whaaat?… I’ll be explaining that soon).