Deciding what to let go

Every spring I plant seeds for as many plants as I can, in the fond hope that I will have bumper crops that I can harvest, eat, share with friends and preserve the excess.

And every summer we get hit with more and more hotter days and less and less rainfall. And I know I’m going to have to let some plants die, because I can’t keep the water up to all of them.

The wicking boxes are fine. They’re near the house and near mains water taps. They don’t need watering every day, except when the temperature gets into the 30’s. I can manage them.

The area I’ve developed as a food forest is ‘down the back’, over halfway down a one hectare property, 75 metres and more from the house. Also in that area are ‘garden beds’β€”80 cm wide circles of wire (to keep the rabbits out), filled with compost, in a line below two alternating lines of fruit trees. There are 35 of those. They were the original vegetable beds, before I learned about wicking boxes and before I did the permaculture design course and learned about zone planting. The whole food forest area is on a slope and the soil is not the native sandy soil, but introduced heavy clay which was brought in by a previous owner, after taking out all the sand and selling it. In other words, it’s fill.

This area gets watered by gravity from a 9000 litre tank next to the house. Because of the compacted nature of the soil, the water doesn’t penetrate. If I put water in too fast, it just runs off. So I use a fine spray on the end of a hose held up by a hose-holding spike. The circular vegetable beds each have a circle of 13 mm tubing with two fine spray heads attached which criss-cross each circle. The hose from the tank can connect to each one in turn and water the circle.

I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees on the slope and I fill them from the mains regularly in summer (if I filled them from the tank I’d empty it in no time). There are (I think) about 25 major fruit trees and several scattered redcurrants. Some, e.g. the loquat and the quince and the 3 nectarines, don’t have swales and don’t get any water in summer, either. There are scattered clumps of asparagus in the food forest which likewise don’t get any summer water.

Alongside the path which leads to the food forest are three hugelkultur beds. At the moment, the first has pumpkins, rhubarb and asparagus, the second has zucchini and the last one has raspberries. I’ve just put in sprinklers to cover each bed and the water is gravity fed from the tank.

We had good rain in December and everything looked pretty good. Then we got hit with 40 C and high winds and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I had corn, some tomatoes and dill in the vegetable rings. I’ve managed to keep the corn going because it gets afternoon shade. The dill died, although I thought I’d been watering adequately and had put shade over it on the hot day. I’ve let the tomatoes die. They had early blight and weren’t doing well even before the heat. These were actually in a wicking box in one of the rings. They were in full sun for part of the day and I didn’t shade them. The soil was still wet :

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I pushed my cheese thermometer into the flesh of one. It read 36 C. It’s heartbreaking.

Today the forecast temperature was 35 C. I have the sprinkler from the tank going all day down the back. I’m trying to save another few raspberry plants down there and the four tamarillos. The tank was full a couple of weeks ago; now it’s below half. Oh, I can use the mains, but the pressure is so variable. I can get it right, go down later and find it’s reduced to a dribble. Walking up and down to keep adjusting it, in 35 degree heat is not for me.

I keep telling myself summer is only three months long and the really hot days are even less. But for how long? Climate change is happening faster than anyone thought. (Except for the Looney Tune we’ve got for a Prime Minister, and then it’s not happening at all !).

How long will it be before it will be impossible to grow food in summer? What will happen when oil runs out and the energy to pump water to households is no more? I thought I’d be pushing up daisies well before climate change got worse; now I’m not so sure.

Is it worth it? On days like today, I doubt it.

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19 Responses to “Deciding what to let go”

  1. Lynda D Says:

    Oh Dear, what a sad story. Im sure i couldnt manage such a large plot and yes. Perhaps Mr Rabbit doesnt know its hot. Perhaps he’s locked away in air con and surely he wouldnt know anything about the heart and soul that we give our vegetables. Im so sorry. My garden is so small and yet I struggle as well. I made Ollas last week. Perhaps we need to apply ancient irrigation techniques from other hot climates.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the comment Lynda. I’ve just Googled ollas. I knew about them,but didn’t know that’s what they were called. I’ll start looking out for terracotta pots now, but they are so expensive to buy. It’s a wonder someone hasn’t come up with the idea of making containers out of the same recycled stuff they make those weeping hoses out of. I think it was old car tyres.

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  2. Chris Says:

    It’s extremely disheartening. I felt that way before the summer rains arrived – it hadn’t rained for months and then the heat came. I lost some plants which survived several other summers by the skin of their teeth.

    My garden certainly is noticing the climate changing. Its harder to get things to survive, let alone grow.

    I hope this season of heat passes for you soon, and you’re rewarded with something else which flourishes in the garden. And if that doesn’t bolster your spirit, think of what kind of state your land would be in, if you didn’t make the changes you already have?

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Chris, yes I know it will pass; I’ve just got the jeebies at the moment…sort of the summer equivalent of SAD. Maybe I’ll call it HAD…Head Affected Disorder….then I can say I’ve really HAD it! πŸ˜‰

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  3. rabidlittlehippy Says:

    I think we will find that we have no choice but to adjust our garden plants to hotter climate plants. Dates, pomegranates, olives, African plants, Middle Eastern plants. Meditteranean too. We might lose apples and pears, peaches, apricots, nectarines and other European plants though sadly. Still, if the people of Africa and Jordan have survived for millennia then I can have some hope we will be able to grow something. And perhaps we should take a leaf from the native people of Australia’s book too. I mean they survived on something growing so maybe bush tucker is the way to go?

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Trouble is there’s not much in the way of bush tucker left now. I am getting Dianella berries at the moment. I must really learn to catch rabbits. I have a couple of pomegranates but although they’ve flowered, there’s been no fruit.

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  4. narf77 Says:

    I am with Ms Rabid on this one Bev. Tasmania is changing rapidly as well. No longer is it the lush green oasis tacked onto the bottom of Australia. I am planting out Mediterranean species predominately. Figs, olives, pomegranates (when I can find one in the shops to try πŸ˜‰ ), persimmons (same as the above πŸ˜‰ ) etc. When we are faced with heat like we have been suffering (we had it here in Tassie as well) we need to think smarter, not harder. What about Jerusalem artichokes to form a perimeter around some of your more sensitive veggies? They will grow on a hot tin roof. You are doing amazing things for your property and as Chris said, just imagine how depressed you would be if you had no idea what you were doing and didn’t have the safeguard of permaculture tucked under your belt. It’s time to adapt and work with the changes. They are inevitable, but then so is resilience and ingenuity and so long as we couple it with permacultures honest appraisal and ingenious ways of reusing, recycling and re-purposing, we will survive this Bev. Wish we lived closer so that I could come over and have a cuppa and a chin wag with you and give you a hand in your garden.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      I have a couple of figs (easy from seed if you want to try), but they’re only small. The persimmon is well-established but apart from one year, hasn’t set much fruit and see note to Jess above about the pomegranates.

      I would love that cuppa and chin wag. Maybe I’ll up stakes and move down your way πŸ˜‰

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      • narf77 Says:

        Its a lot cooler down here! Its actually raining as I type this and poor Earl (who despite being South Australian) is recovering from a hot night panting on the bed (sounds wrong! πŸ˜‰ ) I have 7 figs that I sourced from the same tree. It was old, overgrown and forgotten and the grass was up over most of it. The heavy grass had weighed the branches down and where they were touching the ground, they had rooted! I got 7 long rooted cuttings that all took (well, I am waiting to see if the 7th has adapted but the first 6 did so I can’t see why it won’t πŸ˜‰ ). Nature wants to survive so we should take a leaf out of her book and adapt. We have lots of native cherry trees on the property but the currawongs ate most of them this year after setting up camp here to raise their baby. I thought that they had gone but when 2 crows came sniffing around the water baths the other day the currawongs emerged and chased them off! I get days where I think “what the HELL am I doing this for?” But then I head up to Sanctuary and sit there for a bit and collect my thoughts and regroup and make a new plan (Stan) and come back energised and renewed. It would be really hard on your own with a hectare to deal with. Maybe you could let some of it go to bush and just concentrate on the house and surrounds?

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        • foodnstuff Says:

          It IS native bush! here’s what I wrote on the ‘about me’ page :

          “We …. have a one hectare property in a south-eastern Melbourne suburb. About three-quarters of it is covered in remnant natural bushlandβ€”Heathy Woodland & Grassy Woodland plant communities. The remainder is being planted out as a food forest along permaculture lines.”

          The bush section is covered by an Environmentally Significant Vegetation overlay in the local planning scheme, as well as being covenanted by the Victorian Trust for Nature organisation, one of only 3 covenanted properties in the region. I manage the bush area according to a management plan they wrote for me. The rest of the area is known (by them) as the ‘domestic area’, which is where I can do what I want. That’s where the food forest is.

          The covenenant goes with the land title and is binding on me and any future owner. The land may never be cleared, nor may any owner, inc. me, keep more than 10 chooks, or a dog or a cat. The entire property is also registered with the Victorian Land for Wildlfe scheme.

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          • narf77 Says:

            Wow! I know a bit about covenants as we had to study them (to do with old trees) in our Horticulture Diploma (one of the units we took). None of the old trees of significance in Tasmania are allowed to be covered by a covenant as that would upset the loggers and foresters apparently and we wouldn’t want that now would we? :(. Our back acre is native bushland and we wanted to have it listed as “Wilderness for wildlife” which is our (lame) alternative to what you have done, but it does give the wildlife a degree of protection. We have lots of paddymelons and wallabies on the property and plenty of birds and some gorgeous little ringtailed possums (and their fat aggressive cousins the bushy tailed possums πŸ˜‰ ). The covenant is quite restrictive isn’t it? I guess it’s in the animals best interests. Kudos on being one of only 3 covenanted properties in the region Bev. You are certainly giving the animals that live on your property respite from the complete and utter lack of protection that they usually have anywhere else.

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  5. Eve Inbetta Says:

    I would love to hear more about the bush tucker you’ve planted, especially photos πŸ™‚

    So sorry to hear about the losses due to heat. Climate change is such a scary topic, even worse when you know the current government is setting us back

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  6. Bek Says:

    I’m also with Jessie. Adapt or die. I’ll hate to lose the apples, stone fruit and others but I’d rather have something to eat than nothing at all. I also wonder what we’ll be doing in 5 or 10 years time. Will be storing food to get us through summer, rather than winter? Permaculture and other low energy input surely is the only way forward. Hopefully at least we can get a head start rather than be chasing out tails come the effects of global warming.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      5 or 10 years down the track will be VERY interesting. Growing food will be a whole new ball game. We may well be storing our winter food for summer. I can almost see the freezer full of broccoli and kale!

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  7. brymnsons Says:

    Phew that sounds like hard work! The heat is a pain in the butt, even simple herbs can be affected. We might be growing under cover in the future….
    Good luck with your harvest, hope you feel more inspired soon x

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