The sweltering heat this week has announced the start of summer in stone country. There’ll still be the odd cool day, but from now on the soil will be warm, and your garden beds are going to bake in the sun. You might even be leaving town or very busy over the Festive season, so there’ll be no-one to water your garden for a bit. This week’s column is about how to deal with that.
The best piece of overall summer advice is to water early or late. If at all possible, water your garden before 8am and/ or after 5pm, when you’ve got more chance of that water soaking into the ground where it’s needed. Remember, when you water you’re trying to give water to the roots of the plant, which are a few inches underground. Any water that sits on your leaves or the stem is wasted. If you water while the sun’s up there’s a very good chance that it’ll all evaporate away, leaving your plants effectively unwatered.
You can also help protect your plants by putting down a thick layer of mulch, which will help keep away weeds. Stopping the sun from reaching your soil will stop the soil from baking, and that will make sure your plants carry on growing nicely. You can use torn up newspaper or cardboard if you don’t have anything else to hand. Woodchip also makes very good mulch, because it creates a strong, organic layer that will hold lots of water and have lots of air spaces.
A steady trickle watering is better than no water at all. Drip irrigation or sprinklers are expensive, but there is a simple, low cost solution. Take cool drink bottles and put in a single pinhole near the bottom. If you then bury the bottle in your bed, it will very slowly provide water directly to where it’s needed most. Remember to leave the neck of the bottle exposed so they can be refilled if you’re away for more than a few days.
Once you’ve got the bottles, going away is simpler. It is easier to ask someone to pop in every few days to refill than ask them to water for longer periods each day. It might be worth thinking about doing a bit of garden sharing, and watering someone’s plants while they’re away so they can water yours.
If you’re staying in town, there’s plenty to do. Plants that have finished their winter/spring growth will have have gone fully to seed. This includes onions and carrots, both of which should have sprouted a tall head of flowers. When those flowers have fully opened, you should take the plant and hang it upside down somewhere in the shade, until it dries out nicely. Then you’ll have plenty of seeds for your next round of planting.
In planting terms, right now is your last chance for the year to plant potatoes and squashes, like butternut or pumpkin. The best way to grow potatoes is to do it in a sack. Roll down the sack, then put in a few inches of soil. The potatoes will grow upwards, and when the leaves reach up all you have to do is unroll the sack a bit, put in more soil at the bottom, and keep going. When you reach the top, the potatoes can then be harvested easily and cleanly. This can be done almost anywhere with sun, so long as you use a hessian cloth sack.
Good luck with your summer gardening. I’ll be back in the new year with tips on how to salvage your garden from the damage the heat has done, and how to deal with the problems that spring up when you’re away.
Do you have a project you’d like to see featured in Gardening in G’Town, or a gardening question? If so, please get in touch. Feeding The Self is a cross-NGO project focused around building gardens and using them for teaching and community building. You can find out more about us from our website, and if you’d like to get involved please email me at email@example.com or send a message to me on 0735 578 909.