Welcome to a new year of gardening.
If December has been anything to go by, the rest of the summer will prove a challenge for gardens and humans alike. Whilst most warm season crops thrive with days in the low 30s and enough rainfall or irrigation, when faced with heatwave conditions for days on end and low moisture, it’s just stressful and stunting, if not a killer, for many plants.
Both direct and radiant heat affect plants. Hot, drying winds are an added summer peril. Plants will close their stomata in an effort to reduce transpiration and minimise evaporation (although transpiration also helps to keep them cool) which means no photosynthesis, so no growth. Leaf burn and scald, leaf wilt, flower and fruit fall are other heat stress symptoms. Most veges and fruit haven’t adapted their leaf structures and general physiology in the way that Australian native plants have. Or desert dwellers!
One obvious solution is put your garden into recess for summer and heavily mulch every bit of bare soil. Grow the essential leafys and a few other crops in pots gathered together under the veranda or out of direct heat on the south side of your house. But if you want more than slim pickings, here are some steps you can take to ensure a garden harvest:
Think light colors – just like roofing and clothing, using a light colored mulch (eg straws rather than mushroom compost,etc) and shade cloth/physical protection will help reflect heat
Mulch, thickly (and don’t forget to water well before you apply the mulch) and if you are short on supplies, think about thick wads of wet newspaper or phone books (collectors items?!), tied together or weighted/pinned down around plants and trees
Think early, deep watering – a water early in the morning after the cooler night time will allow plants some opportunity to do more than just recover from the day’s heat. Before a stinker, I’ll also give fruit trees and other plants a bit of a spray over their leaves and trunks, though the focus will be on deep watering to encourage deep rooting and water economy. If you do water in the evening after a hot day (or use black poly pipe irrigation) check the temperature of the water as it’s coming out of the hose or drippers before applying to the plants (you may be creating a mini solar hot water system!) and beware of scalding. For more watering tips, see this earlier blog.
Erect temporary (or permanent) shade and wind protection – even bird netting will provide a bit of sun protection, but shade cloth (it comes in different weaves, or weights, to allow more or less protection, e.g. 30%, 50%, 75%, 90%) is even better, just ensure plenty of airflow and pollinator access. You can also use old curtains or tablecloths, sheets, mosquito netting, hessian, or anything that will allow a bit of airflow. Cardboard can help protect young seedlings – another use for recycled boxes. Even a wicker laundry basket or prunings from other (non-deciduous) plants can work for smaller seedlings. Be creative!
Rehydrate – just like us, heat stressed plants will benefit from the equivalent of an electrolyte drink – diluted seaweed emulsion (or fish/seaweed) is a great tonic for plants under stress. Diluted worm juice can also be helpful, but in both cases make sure it’s adequately diluted, or you’ll just cause a bigger problem for the plant. The best way to apply is by watering can, onto the foliage, the finer the spray the better.
Let damage be – it’s tempting to cut away dead and damaged foliage, but the best thing is to let the plant be until the threat of extreme weather has passed, or until pruning time. This time of year there will be too much sap flow so you risk further, perhaps fatal, damage. Those damaged leaves will be protecting the ones below them anyway.
These tips are for short term first aid (and check out this earlier post). A longer term solution is to improve your soils’ water holding capacity, structure and biological activity. We do this through repeated applications of BD500 in the cooler parts of the year, many applications of biodynamic compost, and crop rotations. Plant selection is another key general strategy; locally adapted (and grown from seed) plants will mostly fare better. Think about microclimates in the garden and also which beds it may be better to leave fallow (but mulched) over summer, or growing taller, tougher plants in the north/northwest/west parts of your garden, or where you can grow plants under taller shading ones.
And, if you want to eat from the garden right through late summer, autumn and winter, you will still need to do some planting and sowing this month. Available water supplies could limit your growing activities though; think ahead and choose lower water use crops if you can. Late summer is good for putting in seeds for winter eating – parsnips, carrots, leeks, caulis, cabbages, brussels, so start sowing these seeds towards the end of the month (keep them on the south side of the garden or under a verandah and well protected). Again, keep planting herbs and leafy saladstuff in January if you have a sheltered spot in the garden and enough water to keep them going through autumn.
What would we do without Brian Keats?! This is his 29th year of producing the astro-calendar and he’s now developed one for Asia. In Traditional Chinese and some English, the 2016 East Asia Calendar is based on China Time and incorporates Western and Chinese solar and lunar calendric systems. The time difference to Eastern Australia is only 2 hours so it is handy for the Australian Chinese community. Traditional Chinese enables it to be read in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Another new feature of Brian’s calendar is the nature timeline according to solar pentads. They connect events happening in the natural world with the seasons (and will be unique for your own part of the world, though Brian has included some more general observations) as the sun moves along the ecliptic, every five or six degrees. For example in the first week of January, water ribbons will generally flower in Victoria.
Brian’s calendar is far more comprehensive than these notes which are gleaned from it. You can purchase your own copy directly from Brian at http://astro-calendar.com/ or through Australian Biodynamics – Victoria. Brian also has produced a more basic primer, for those new to lunar gardening. Please support Brian’s work.
Happy gardening for 2016, may it be a source of peace, health, connection and inspiration.
January 2016 Gardening Dates for temperate areas of SE Australia:
Here are the dates for gardening this month. Note that (s) means sow as seeds and (p) means plant as seedlings. For more info on these planting notes and dates, refer to the gardening notes home page.
Leaf Days: 6-8, 15-17, 23-26 – amaranth (s,p) basil (s,p), bok choi (s,p), brussel sprouts (s), chinese cabbage, cabbage (s) (s,p), chives (s,p) dill (s,p), celery (s,p), endive (s,p), kale (s), mibuna (s,p), mizuna(s,p), orach (s, p), rocket (s,p), tat soi (s,p), lettuce(s,p), mustard(s,p), salad greens (s,p), silverbeet(s,p) spinach(s,p), chives (p,s), garlic chives (p), coriander(s,p), dill (s,p), parsley(s,p), radicchio (s,p), rhubarb (s,p), clover (s)
Fruit Days: 1, 8-10, 17-19, 26-28 – amaranth (s,p), bush and climbing beans (s,p) capsicum (p), strawberries (p), chilli (p), corn (p), cucumber (p), eggplant (p), okra (p), mustard (s), pumpkin (p), rockmelon (p), snopeas (s,p), squash (p), tomatoes (p), watermelon (p), zucchini (p)
Root Days: 1-3, 10-13, 19-21, 28-31 – asparagus (s,p), jerusalem artichoke (p), beetroot( s,p), carrots (s,p), celeriac (p), fennel (p), kohlrabi (p), leek (p), spring onion (s,p) salad onion (s,p), bunching onions (s,p) potatoes (s,p), parsnip (s), shallots (s,p), radish (s,p), turnip (s,p)
Flower Days: 3-6, 13-15, 21-23, 31 -broccoli (s), cauliflower (s), borage (s,p), globe artichoke (s,p), sunflower (s,p) marigold (s,p), nasturtium (s,p), other flowers
Other Auspicious Gardening Dates:
Moon opposite Saturn: 20 (a good time to plant, transplant, etc)
Moon Descending: 9-22
Moon Ascending: 1-9, 22-31
Full Moon/New Moon: 24/10
Nodes*: 1, 15, 28
Apogee***: 2, 30
Apply soil food: 10-13, 19-21 best and then other moon descending dates
Apply foliar food: 22-23, 31 best and then other moon ascending dates
Mulch: now and through summer, but remember the slaters and slugs!
Transplant seedlings, plants, cuttings: 10-13, 19-21
Graft: 22-23, 31, 3-6
Dates are a guide for these particular crops. For more info see Planting Notes. Timing will vary from region to region (particularly with climate change) and even within a garden’s own microclimates. Of course, rainfall, weather conditions and your own schedule will influence when you garden.
# Broccoli can be grown year round, apart from the hottest months. I prefer to plant through the colder months to avoid having the broccoli forming heads when the cabbage moth butterfly is active, in late spring and summer.
* Each month there are a couple of lunar ‘node days’. Many biodynamic gardeners choose not to plant on these days, or at least a couple of hours either side of the node, as the effect is similar to that of an eclipse. Nodes occur when the moon or planets cross the sun’s path. The lunar nodes occur when the moon, earth and sun are on the same plane.
** Perigee is the point where the moon is closest to the earth, so the influence of the moon is strongest. Apogee is the furthest point from the earth, so the opposite occurs