Over the past couple of weeks as I sit and watch TV I have noticed that the local weather reporter has been telling us that this summer we can expect the El-nino weather pattern to affect the rainfall and temperatures in Australia. I remember a couple of years ago when I had to deal with El-nino, the summer heat was a real pain in the backside, because the veggies got hammered by the heat and dry. So this year I am going to be as prepared as I can be for the hot dry summer. I have learnt quite a bit since last time our old mate El-nino came to visit our fair shores, and I reckon that the best thing I can do is be prepared as much as I can. I plan to give the veggies the best chance of success over the warm months. This is what I am doing this year to do to get ready.
Soil preparation: As I prepare the soil in spring I add compost and manures. What this does is improve the soil structure so that the plants get off to a great start and are healthy. Good soil structure encourages a strong root growth that enables the plant to be more resilient. The organic matter helps to retain the moisture and nutrients in the soil for the veggies to use. Also keeps the worms and other beneficial organisms in the soil healthy and in balance.
Nutrition: As the crops grow it’s important to keep nutrients available for the plants so that they are constantly healthy. A steady growth is the desired outcome when it comes to growing veggies. To enable this to occur, I use a combination of compost and manures as I prepare the soil for planting, followed by frequent doses of a quality liquid fertiliser to promote growth of roots and foliage when the plants are young. If needed I will also chuck on some pelletised chicken manure which will enable growth to happen at a steady rate.
Mulch: I use liberal amounts of sugar cane mulch. It keeps the sun off the soil and as a result a couple of things are achieved. It helps to keep the soil at a more consistent temperature and evaporation is reduced. The soil is cooler and I use less water. As a bonus, it stops weeds from growing and using up all of the water and nutrients that I want to keep for the veggies. The worms love it too.
Shade: As the summer hits and the sun gains in intensity I cover a section on the veggie patch with shade. I have permanent structure attached to the house that I put shadecloth on for 5-6 months each year. Under the shade is where I put in the salad veggies. I find that it helps to stop them getting too tough and strong in flavor. I also use temporary shade igloos to keep the hot sun off any seedlings I put in.
Water: In the heat it is so important to be able to provide water for the veggies as they need it. I have thought a lot about the watering system for the veggies over the past couple of seasons and it does pay dividends to invest in a good water system for when it gets hotter. I have a couple sources of water available for the plants and I use them in different ways.
- Bore water – I have good quality water not too deep underground that I am able to get hold of thanks to a small backyard bore pump. I have set up a system of drippers on every garden bed that is on an automatic timer that is set to run in short bursts every day. The amount of water is dependent on the time of the year and the rainfall (if any) received. It is my main source of water.
- Tank water – Each garden bed has a small overhead watering system in place if I need to water overhead for some reason. When I sow directly into the soil I will set a timer for 3-4 small bursts on a hot summer day so that the topsoil does not dry out. Rain water tanks are mandatory these days as a house gets built and it is a good thing too.
- Mains water – If my tank runs out, I have mains water connected to both systems just in case I need to use it as a last resort.
So that’s how I’ll keep El-nino in check this summer. I plan to get a good crop of veggies this summer. I always find that if i keep the root system healthy and feed the plants with small amounts on a regular basis they will be more resilient to the heat and dry.