Heat

Environmental writer George Monbiot wrote a book called Heat, about climate change (should those c’s be capitalised now?).

Yeah, George, I know. It’s outside now. It was outside yesterday and the day before. And it will be there tomorrow and the next day. Three days of high 30’s temperatures and one topping 40. (I won’t bother to convert to fahrenheit for any American readers; you don’t want to know).

It’s 30 degrees in the living room now. Coming in from outside it seems positively frigid. I venture out only to shift the sprinklers coming from the water tanks and put more ice in the chook’s water. It’s said they won’t drink water if it’s above their body temperature and if they don’t drink for a day they will die. I give them watermelon and say useless things like, “keep your fluids up, Girls”. I’ve covered the run with an old sheet which I keep wet. They sit in the shade with beaks open. I apologise for the stupidity of my species which is causing these hotter summer days.

Four months of below average rainfall; well below average. The most important rainfall months, when fruit is swelling on the trees. It’s triage time for the garden.

The gloss has gone off the leaves of so many hard-leaved plants; a sure sign of dryness. Next the lower leaves will yellow and drop to the ground. The leaves of softer plants hang floppily beside the stems. Even if there is water at the roots, they can’t take it up quickly enough and wilted leaves will fry in the hot sun. Touch them and they crumble into fragments.

I can’t water every single thing in the ground. The ground-based food garden (I laughingly refer to it as a food forest) is on a slope with heavy clay-based soil that water doesn’t penetrate readily. Nor presumably, do roots. I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees and fill them daily with water. Trying to keep ahead of the curling, wilting leaves is all I can do at the moment.

What can I let die?

Most of the feijoas are useless. They don’t flower much and set only small fruit which magically seems to disappear before it gets any bigger. Possums or parrots? I don’t know. The feijoas can be allowed to die.

Even the rosemary is stressed. Rosemary is supposed to be a Mediterranean plant…drought-tolerant. Nobody told it about climate change. Still, rosemary grows readily from cuttings…easy to replace. Maybe I could let them go as well.

The persimmon HAS to be watered. There are a dozen or so fruits forming. With no yields to speak of for a couple of years, and the promise of something this year, I can’t let that go.

The only good thing about deciding to let a plant die is planning what I can put in to replace it. After 15 years at this self-sufficiency thing, I’m starting to get a handle on what will survive where, what the rabbits will and won’t eat and what will give the most useful yields. I think about those who haven’t started on self-sufficiency yet; when the energy available to agriculture starts to seriously decline and supermarket shelves become increasingly barer, their learning curve will be pretty much vertical.

What about pumpkins and zucchini and their ilk. There are fewer bees around each year now. Hand pollination is mandatory. But excess yield can be dried. That’s worth having. Cucumbers can be pickled. I’m still eating last season’s bread & butter pickles. Cucumbers have to be kept going (anyway I grow them in wicking boxes now).

Speaking of wicking boxes….these have been worth their weight in gold. At last count I had over 40. Tomatoes, basil, beans, peas, lettuce, capsicums, parsley, kale and leeks, and much more. They thrive with constant water at the roots and with a regular topping of chook poo compost.  I can’t believe the growth in this one:

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Two tomatoes (the front one going bananas…that upturned pot is holding it up), some climbing beans at the rear and a cucumber at either end. It gets about 4 litres of water once a day of course, but it has a 60 litre water storage bin beside it and it’s on the deck where I can keep an eye on it. Wicking beds and/or boxes are the way to go in a water-stressed future. Every time I get a load of chook poo compost to fill it, I make another wicking box.

Well, I’m off out to brave the heat again and offer ice and sympathy to the chooks.

Soon be winter, Girls.

 

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8 Responses to “Heat”

  1. kmfinigan Says:

    Extreme weather is tough on any garden! I wrote down my top tips last summer, and so far they are standing me in good stead in this years insane weather patterns! Hope this helps at your place http://bit.ly/1p4nYKd

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks, that was good advice. When you recommend using Seasol, do you water it in or spray it on the foliage, or both? I’ve done both at times.

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  2. notsomethingelse Says:

    Yes, I too have experienced the heartbreak of watching tender plants and even some tougher varieties wilt and die from heat. I agree, heat is the main enemy in the battle to grow food, and that is not likely to change other than for the worse as time goes by.

    Water is also an issue, but not (yet, anyway) the major one. We can take steps to set up or increase our water storage, and even if that means trucking it in, it is not all that expensive (once you have the storage). I have only done that once, two years or so ago when the rainwater storage tank at my previous dwelling mysteriously ran dry. It cost around 1c per litre (~$150 for 15,000 litres, from memory) to fill it up again.

    Heat is a different problem, because the plants also need light, and so need to be exposed to the Sun. I have been thinking of ways to combat the heat and also provide the necessary light. This is only theory so far, but I hope to work on it over the cooler months and be able to protect my food plants next summer.

    I think shade-cloth is the answer, for me at least, since my garden areas are relatively small at less than 3m x 3m. The shade needs to be only in place during the hottest parts of the day (most days) and therefore has to be easily retractable. I can’t think of any way that does not involve some manual effort, but it only has to be done over the hottest months (and could possibly double as frost protection too).

    I am thinking that some open timber framework, strong enough to withstand whatever winds are experienced, just uprights (to about head height) sunk into the ground or attached to existing raised bed structures at the boundaries of the garden and connected across the top for support and rigidity, would do the trick. Then shade-cloth of suitable dimension to cover the top of the structure (best if square/rectangle even if garden is round or other shape), attached to poles on two sides and rolled up similar to roller blinds could be rolled out on appropriate days.

    This represents an adjustable shade feature, if someone is around to do the adjusting as the Sun position changes throughout the day. Additionally, similar retractable ‘blinds’ for the sides could be added. This may only require two sides of the structure to be covered, depending on how the Sun tracks across the garden.

    Just an idea. If I get it going I will send some photos. One thing is for sure, we can’t just give up trying and adapting. That’s not an option.

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      Yes, I think shade is going to be mandatory for food gardens from now on. Garden beds for growing vegetables will need substantial frameworks around them, not only to take shadecloth but also for bird and possum netting. The way we did it in the ‘old days’ won’t suffice now.

      I’m wondering if agricultural crops in full sun all day are now suffering on extreme heat days and how the problem there will be tackled.

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  3. fergie51 Says:

    I thought to myself today after chatting with someone at the bank how ridiculous it is to think that when the temp has dropped to 30c it was a lovely cool change. We discussed how as kids it was headline news when the temp threatened to hit 100f (back in fahrenheit days) and that was extremely rare. If I’m right 100f is approx 35c, this is not a rare occurrence now but a common one and it is decimating our food supplies, not to mention the emotional drain it has on people. I’m shade clothing lots tomorrow if I get out early enough. Keep your spirits (and your fluids) up!

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    • foodnstuff Says:

      I remember when I was a kid; if we had a hot day we always got a cool change around 5 o’clock. I don’t remember this oppressive heat going on for days.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Chris Says:

    Sorry to hear about your heat affected garden, Bev. So many lessons to take from how nature deals with heat though – for all of us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Especially since building another block retaining wall. There are now two walls (upper and lower) which we will attempt to grow food between. Both walls will now radiate a lot of heat!

    I know I can grow pumpkins on that lower wall, into winter, but in summer, it cooks my cucurbits. I’m still working on how best to organise things. Different plants, will be where I will be experimenting.

    Like I’ve recently learned, a clump of plants at different heights to each other (creating airflow and access to light) do better, than clumps of the same height which tend to create disease, in the heat. Especially if you’re fortunate enough to get some moisture too. When the rain finally arrives, heat stressed plants now start to die of fungal diseases, once you add moisture. I’ve noticed plants at different heights to each other, but planted close, seem to ward off fatal fungal attacks though.

    I wouldn’t want to be learning this stuff, any later than I have already begun. Because it can take years for a plant to show you, its prime location, or whether its suitable at all. My feijoas, live in pots now. I tried them in the ground, and while they can survive extreme heat, they won’t grow. And if they don’t grow, they can’t produce a crop. So maybe you could take cuttings, or transplant them into pots. I find the pots easier to manage, because I can move them about to more suitable locations. I have them on the eastern side of the house, during summer, so they don’t get the sun after 2-3pm.

    Isn’t the longest day of the year coming up, or have we passed it already? Then the daylight hours will start to shorten, and reduce the time, plants are exposed to heat.

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