Looking after your garden during this unprecedented hot and dry Autumn
It appears that the current warm whether and low rainfall is set to continue through to June with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) stating that in South East Australia both day time and night time temperatures are expected to be higher than normal. While this can have some positive impacts in the garden it can also create a range of challenges that we don’t usually have to deal with at this time of year.
First and foremost the hot dry weather means that maintaining well mulched garden beds to retain soil moisture continues to be necessary and a priority. Water conservation has been an ongoing issue for some time in the Braidwood area, with rainfall remaining well below average resulting in ongoing water shortages and very dry soils. According to Roger Hosking our local weather data annalist we have been in drought since June 2017. Furthermore the Soil Dryness Index (SDI) which is used to determine soil saturation is currently at 115mm. (17 April) ‘...It is calculated daily and measured in millimetres with a scale from zero to 200mm’ Zero is when the soil is saturated. ‘As a general guide… pasture plant growth is suppressed when SDI is above 50mm; most shallow rooted plants have died when the SDI is above 100mm and young trees begin to die when the SDI is above 150mm.' As we drive around the area we can see that pasture growth is definitely being affected.
Keeping the produce garden watered will continue to be a challenge. Along with mulching garden beds, adding organic matter to your soil improves its structure, which helps it to retain moisture. Using watering practices that conserve water are also essential. These start with watering only if you need to. To check if you need to water, feel your soil. If it’s damp, it’s fine; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. Seep hoses or irrigation systems that allow water to drip or trickle into growing areas are very efficient watering methods. At Wynlen House we use in line drip irrigation readily available from most rural stores. Hand held hosing or watering cans are also very efficient but can be labour intensive. Reusing water is an option also well worth consideration. Household soaps and detergents are generally harmless to plants, and can also be useful in managing some pests. But don’t use water containing bleach, disinfectant, dishwasher powder or stronger cleaners, which can harm plants, damage soil structure and could also be a health risk.
The warm dry weather does have some benefits, however, including an extended growing season usually associated with more temperate climates. For the first time since I have lived here (2002) we have been able to field cure our pumpkins, and we are currently harvesting beans!
So with rain not predicted until the end of May prioritizing the use of water for food production will continue to be a must.
Unless yo are able to recycle your bathing water, less showering and more vegie watering will have to be the go.
Don't forget to keep an eye on those overnight minimum temperatures
Happy gardening until next time.
PS Roger Hoskings book All About Braidwood's Climate- apractical handbook and descriptive guide, is available from a number of shops in Braidwood.
Each year in the garden brings a greater depth of knowledge about the rhythms, the cycles, the seasons and the weather. Autumn is when we can experience the full weather cycle in one day, and the frosts begin. In Braidwood we had our first frost for the year on 27 March.
While it is a widely held view that our frost season starts on Anzac day and ends on Melbourne Cup Day, this is not actually true. According to Roger Hoskins our local weather expert, (Author - All about Braidwood’s Climate) the average date for the first frost of the year is 23 March, and the last frost is 22 of November. Last year, (2017) the first frost didn’t occur until 29 April. Is the occurrence of the first frost in March an indicator of a colder winter for this year? Last winter (2017) was one of the coldest winters we have had for some time with the number of frost days and the number of frost hours below zero for June, July and August being significantly greater than the long term mean. According to Roger “the 2017 winter was very much colder than normal by several measures”
We have had our first frost in late March, an indicator that this is an average year. However we seem to be experiencing some very warm April temperatures. Last years highest temperature for April was 21.9 This year we have had much higher temperatures than this for 10 days out of the 12 days of the month so far, with the highest temperature being 31.8. The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) seasonal outlook April to June, states “Days are likely to be warmer than average for parts of southeast Australia” This is certainly true for Braidwood so far. Minimum temperatures have also been higher.
What does all this mean for the gardener growing produce? The change seasons (Autumn and Spring) are very busy in the garden. Autumn is the time when the garlic gets planted and when a great deal of planting and growing takes place to ensure produce is available through winter and early spring. The root vegetables for winter eating, carrots, parsnips and turnips, need to be planted. Lots of Brassica seedlings also need to be planted (from late Summer through Autumn); broad beans, a range of Asian greens (its the perfect time to plant wombok - Chinese cabbage) and other greens particularly English spinach. Autumn is also the time for harvesting, storing and preserving. Pumpkins are harvested and cured for winter storage. Fruits can be stored or preserved. Late plantings of potatoes will be dying off now and in our cool climate, will store well in the ground for eating over winter.
The warmer April weather provides an opportunity for extra plantings and more importantly increased growth before the cold sets in.
Happy gardening and keep an eye on the minimum temps and lets hope that we get some Autumn rain.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm