I took the camera around the garden this morning (loving the coolness!) to assess the damage.
The most important thing is to learn from this. If this sort of weather is going to be the new normal, we have to learn and adapt or die. Natural selection eliminates the unfit and preserves that which adapts and survives. That goes for us, our gardens and our animals.
Most important, three happy chooks who survived:
It was upsetting to see that both Green Gavin and rabidlittlehippy each lost a hen to heat distress. In my case, the Girl’s secure run and playground is close to the house on the morning sun side. Once the sun goes over the house there’s shade at least on the secure run. There’s also a large tarp over the top and a row of greenery along one side. I covered the floor there with leaves and kept them wet. The Girls made themselves a hollow in the wet leaves and sat there during the hottest part of the day. I pegged a heavy old curtain over the playground and sprayed it every half-hour with the hose. Eventually going out into the sun to do it started to stress me out, so I used the hose which I always connect to the cold water outlet of the washing machine on fire risk days and with that I could stand in the laundry doorway and spray all over the chook’s area, without going outside.
In the garden, the first thing to notice was that everything in wicking boxes was unaffected. Frogdancer has also commented that her wicking boxes were OK. I think it’s the way to go. I lost some cucumbers planted in the garden down the back, I’m guessing because they were lacking sufficient water at the roots. These cucumbers in a wicking box were unaffected. Not even any burned leaves (no, I didn’t cut them off for the photo!):
So long as there’s plenty of water in the root zone, plants won’t be too badly affected. Even if I think I’ve watered the garden well, that sort of weather really rips it out of the plants and if there’s no adequate reserve in the soil, the plants suffer. In a wicking box the soil below the drainage holes is always saturated. I could have watered every second or third day and still not have lost any plants. The only thing I did was cover the beans in wicking boxes with shadecloth. Those large leaves lose water faster than they can take it up and even though there’s plenty of water in the root zone, the leaves will fry.
Down in the food forest there was a lot of damage. Unfortunately, it’s on a slope (the only place on the property that was cleared of existing vegetation), and the soil is heavy and compacted. It’s hard to get water into it. If I stand there holding a hose, within a couple of minutes the water’s running off, so I water by gravity from the tank using a fine spray, which means it takes ages to water the whole area. The furthest parts were really dry and plants there suffered.
The loquat’s large leaves really burned:
The comfrey just lay down and (almost) died:
That’s not a problem, though. I’ll cut it back and stuff it into a bin of water and make nutrient tea. I’d been going to do it anyway, but just hadn’t got around to it.
I’d picked all the Satsuma plums, but there were a few on the Mariposa that were still green. They’re not green any more:
Anyone for stewed pears?:
The rhubarb plants in the hugelkultur mound were OK as they had dappled shade from eucalypts, but this one was out in the open:
I’d been giving the tamarillos plenty of water, but those dinner-plate sized leaves were not going to like the heat regardless:
The developing fruits were mostly OK but a few got a bit of a tan:
Here’s one surprise…the asparagus fern. It hasn’t had any water except rain since I stopped picking the spears in November, yet it was untouched. Since it’s about 2 metres tall, it makes me think a row of asparagus might be a good shelter for a row of something smaller, say strawberries:
The corn was fine. I’ve been pumping water into it and it had a tamarillo for afternoon shade:
Another surprise was the quince. It’s next to the loquat, so is in a dry spot, but look at the new tip growth. Green and unburnt. Those dark spots on the older leaves are the fungus disease it always gets—quince rust, I think—not burned areas. Maybe this is another plant that can tolerate dryness and be used as a shade tree:
You know it’s hot when bracken will burn. This frond was out in the open, but even so:
Redcurrants won’t tolerate hot sun. I knew this from last year and should have protected them:
And right in the middle of it all, tomatoes in a wicking box, untouched:
What have I learned? Wicking boxes are the way to go for vegetables. They’re small, so individual shade can be erected, if necessary over a single box. Plants with large, soft leaves, like beans, need shade even in a wicking box. Site them so that they receive morning sun only. Poke the boxes in behind a tall plant that shades them from the afternoon sun. I have a row against the side of the deck, which gets only morning sun.They were fine.
Cover any developing fruit. If you can’t keep water up to everything, prioritise. I’m letting one orange tree go, the Lane’s Late Navel. It’s never been a good bearer and I have a Valencia and a Washington Navel which are better trees and get priority. It’s under the drip line of a eucalypt and even though it gets afternoon shade (it wasn’t burnt) it competes poorly for water. When I take it out I’ll put a couple of wicking boxes in it’s place. They’ll get shade from the eucalypt and the plants in them won’t have to compete with its roots.
Look after your animals. That goes without saying. The chooks were my biggest worry. I’d have taken them inside if I could. I bought a half-watermelon at the beginning of the week and gave them some every day. They love it and it helped to keep them hydrated. I didn’t get any myself!
I’m still making notes about what did well and what didn’t and how I can change things for a better outcome next time. I think it’s safe to assume summers like this are going to be the norm from here on.