by Nadja Osterstock from Nadja’s Garden
‘Tis the season to be chili!
This morning Adelaideans have woken to a most welcome cool change with gentle, soaking showers, after a record-breaking – and in some gardens, heartbreaking – December heat wave. It has been a severe start to summer, but given that we experienced a foretaste of this in late spring, many of our plants have had a chance to acclimatise. Those that received sufficient water and shelter may have paused in their growth and wilted during the heat but should now be perky and ready to recover. Some plants may be carrying scorched upper leaves and it’s worth leaving these in place initially, to provide some shade until new growth hardens up. Plants with sunburnt stems and branches, or which have had their root systems severely damaged, are most at risk. This happens more readily to potplants, where the roots can literally be cooked, and to those plants in the ground that have relied on frequent shallow watering and have therefore not dug their roots in deep enough to be insulated against high surface temperatures – even more so if they are not mulched. If potplants have been severely damaged they may be retrieved by soaking in very diluted seaweed solution, shifting to a semi-shaded location, pruning and regular watering – then gradually returning to a brighter spot.
The humidity we are now experiencing also carries the risk of fungal problems, especially for plants such as beans, grapes and zucchini. If any of these have been shaded, the cool change signals time to lift the shading and let the air in. When rain stops, a spray of diluted (1:10) full cream milk or eco fungicide can also help to safeguard the plants.
Many fruit trees will have dropped all or part of their crop if heat stressed, and this fruit should be cleared away to compost quickly to maintain good hygiene around the trees. Fruit with minimal damage may still be suitable for jam or preserving if picked over, cleaned and trimmed carefully. Whether harvesting or lamenting losses, pamper those hard-working fruit trees with a good, deep soak to support their development of buds for next year’s crop. Any summer pruning should be timed for mild, clear weather so that branches are not suddenly exposed to sunburn and new cuts are not exposed to rain until they have had time to dry and seal.
Fruit that has held well on the tree may now take up water very quickly so keep a close eye out for splitting, especially with cherries and nectarines, and get ready to pick and process quickly!
Unless you are in a cool and shaded patch of the Hills, you are likely to still have time to grow corn, beans, squash, cucumber, gourds, pumpkins, zucchini and melons from seed. Summer veg that are slower to establish such as chili, capsicum and eggplant would be best planted as seedlings now, taking care to choose a location that will receive sun well into autumn. Sweet potato slips (rooted cuttings) grow quickly in the heat but also need a long growing season.
If you are going on holidays, save any seed-raising for when you return, and take care to ensure that indoor plants don’t dry out or get scorched by sun through windows.
Keep newly planted seeds semi-shaded and constantly moist, and do the same for any tender leaves such as lettuce and spinach. Silverbeet can stand up to the heat and sun if it is hardened off during mild weather and has sufficient water.
Harvesting & plant care
Check daily for tomatoes, zucchini, beans and berries – anything that can quickly get spoiled, stolen or overgrown if you miss it for a day!
Lanky tomato plants, overgrown grapevines and sprawling pumpkin plants can all use a trim to keep them manageable. Strawberry runners that have taken root into new pots can be cut off from parent plants and lightly fertilised. All vines now making rapid growth can be trained to the desired shape, e.g. trimming off side growth from young grape and passionfruit vines to encourage the main branches into their permanent shape on a trellis or pergola before allowing lush growth to bush out later.
Featured Permaculture principle: Observe and Interact
In the space after the festive flurry, I enjoy looking back over what has worked well in the garden during the past year and what I would do differently: identifying what has served its purpose and is ready to be replaced; planning which fruits, vegetables, native plants and flowers to add in the coming year and slotting them into a plan for the appropriate seasons. An ongoing goal is to create irresistible places in my garden where I will be drawn to spend time, both relaxing and working, so that I develop an ever closer relationship with my little ecosystem.
ph. 0410 636 857, website and blog at www.nadjasgarden.com.au