I wouldn’t quite describe the weather as tropical, but a heatwave we are definitely having. Keeping a productive garden going when you are on your third day hovering around 40 degrees C (104 degrees F) is no easy task, particularly when we are trying to use our water responsibly.
Thankfully the drip irrigation system that TB installed before Christmas is taking care of the bulk of the veggies. However some beds still need additional watering by hand. The ‘3 sisters’ bed with its thirsty corn gets an extra 10 minutes watering every second day.
But sometimes just water isn’t enough. These tomatoes got a nasty case of sunburn.
To help the remaining tomatoes get through the hot weather I’ve put up a shade cloth barrier, which will hopefully provide enough protection for the rest of the fruit.
It’s not just the veggies that need extra care. We are letting the chooks out to forage in the cool morning air, while we enjoy the garden eating breakfast in the shade of our Japanese maple.
Like us the chickens are not fans of hot weather. They spend the hottest part of the day lying in their specially dug hollows underneath the hen house.To help them feel a bit cooler we are also giving them cooked veggie mash straight from the fridge.
It must be working because the girls are still laying despite the heat.
Our resident brushtail possum has been helping itself to the leaves of our young beetroot plants. I found this converted double birdcage – designed to protect your plants – at the tip shop this week. It’s enough to let the plants regrow their leaves and the possum can still get to eat other leaves in the meantime.
Richard Stirzaker is a CSIRO scientist with a lifelong history of veggie gardening and an avid interest in understanding the way water is used in gardening, farming and the broader landscape. TB and I joined an already a large group of people at the Stirzaker’s house in O’Connor which was open to the public this weekend. Their house block is fairly standard 887sq metres, but it is pretty much all veggie garden. TB was stirred to dreams of converting our whole back garden to veggies, which I’m resisting at present, as I’m not sure just who we would be growing for. The Stirzakers’ are after all a family with hungry teenagers to feed.
Richard was on hand to answer questions. He said that they had rainwater storage of some 12,000 litres. They also use grey water, bathroom and kitchen only, to water their fruit trees. They also have a large greenhouse which is used to extend the growing season for their garden. Like the rest of Canberra this garden was showing some signs of mildew and other problems as a result of last weekend’s heavy rains. The garden beds all have Fullstop water metering devices which enables Richard to see how deeply the water is penetrating into the garden beds. He commented that he now spends as much time measuring and monitoring in his garden as he does the gardening proper. The trials that Richard is currently carrying out on his corn bed, watering it using only washing machine water apart from rainfall, can be followed on his website.
To give you a quick tour of the house I’ve included some photos that follow the order of my following written description. The front garden is laid out with flowers and fruit. Here the raspberries are cropping at present. Along the side fence the fruit trees have been netted to keep the birds away. At the back end of the side fence the chooks live with an open run linked to an enclosed roosting area. A small paved seating area, under a trellis, is surrounded by veggie beds. I asked Richard about the large number of raised beds in the garden, which are really nicely made to look like adobe. It turns out to have been a purely practical choice. The house had a large area of concrete out the back. The choice was to dig the concrete up or build up the beds, so they choose the latter. There are also several netted enclosures for fruit trees along the back fence which is the driest area of the garden. The good-sized greenhouse is along the remaining side fence and is currently producing banana chillies, tomatoes and a rock melon. I can’t vouch that my recollection of all the plants under cultivation is completely accurate, as there was so much to take in.
I’m looking forward to reading Richard’s book, which is also available through his website, to gain some further insight into the better management of water both in our own back yard as well as the wider landscape.