Have you ever bought a big trolley full of plants, got them home, planted them, and then found a few days later that everything was curled up, dry and without life? It can be so discouraging, but NOT a reason to give up on your garden this summer.
Here are some tips for starting a new garden, or reviving your garden in the middle of summer.
When to water?
Water is going to be crucial to keep your plants alive, but the time of day you water makes a huge difference. Try for first thing in the morning - literally as soon as you wake up. I sometimes walk around with coffee in one hand and hose in the other, just giving the beds that need a drink a little. My technique is to hold the water over one spot for a good five seconds, to let the plant get a really good drink, right down to the roots at the bottom.
Another good time to water your garden is the late afternoon/evening. It's the opposite to when you water in winter, and so spring and autumn are funny transitions where you want to be watching the soil temperature, air temperature and water temperature. A biodynamic teacher once told me to think of what I would like to be drinking at any particular time of day, and give that to the plants.
Is your soil covered with plants?
This is a great reason to head out and buy more plants, or sow more seeds. On hot days, any exposed soil will lose moisture, so one effectivr way to keep the moisture under the soil is to have your garden packed full of plants. This is a little counterintuitive - I used to think that more plants would mean more water would be required... not the case. The same amount of water will take care of a densely planted edible garden partly because you are not losing as much through the evaporation through bare soil.
One problem (or perhaps benefit) of planting densely is that you need to harvest regularly, to make sure everything is getting enough light. Water less, grow more, harvest more - it's a good formula, right?
What to grow? Right plant for the right season
Here in Auckland it gets really warm, but it's generally not hot enough for true heat-loving plants to mature. Good luck growing loofah gourds... I'm not even trying this year. At the moment I'm immersed in herbs and flowers, with a few salad greens, and the obligatory tomatoes, basil and beans.
If you are interested in starting a journal for your garden, then I recommend the course Foundations of Edible Gardening to help get all your aspirations onto paper.
Hugelkultur, lasagne gardening, no dig gardening - what do you prefer?
These three gardening methods all help with moisture retention, which means when we do get a little rain, your garden will thrive for longer. I'm experimenting with hugelkultur in raised beds, and so far it's going really well.
Compost or leaf mould as a mulch
A good layer of compost around your plants will help protect the soil, and now is a good time to get that down. Protecting things before they start to suffer is so much easier than trying to save something when it's too late.
My favourite method of composting is to use the biodynamic compost preparations in a hot compost pile, and I build one a month, every month, which helps keep all the garden waste under control. Here's the Blue Borage Hot Composting online course.
Pea Straw Mulch
I'm not a big fan of this.... mostly because I avoid purchasing extra materials if I can make do with what I have at home. Plus, I've heard it's almost impossible to get truly organic, spray-free pea straw.
My low budget alternatives:
1) Living mulch - weeds left in garden beds. A lot of traditional gardeners find this really hard to do, and if you are new to embracing weeds in your garden and having a hard time, then you could snap off any flowers or seeds.
2) Dried kikuyu grass as an alternative to straw. Will this grow back? It might. In my experience though, when the kikuyu grass does grow back, it is so much easier to pull out when your soil is nice and soft. Years and years of using biodynamic preparations here in the Blue Borage home garden have transformed the clay soil to something so very soft and easy to work with, and the kikuyu grass is now very much a friend in the garden.
Move your containers into partial shade
If you have a container garden, now is a good time to assess if they are placed correctly. I have a front garden that is in partial shade, so a lot of my moveable plants get relocated for the heat of summer, and the sunniest spot is reserved for crops that love the heat - last year I got a my first watermelon!
In ground worm farms
I used to think the worms would suffer in the heat, but observations show that as long as they have plenty of food, then summer is a really good time to get this activity underground. It seems to be a little like how caves are warm in winter and cool in summer - the worm farms (when working well) often contain beautifully cool, moist soil, and the worms help the surrounding garden area through the summer heat.
Olla & Wicking Beds
Ollas are marvellous - the concept is a slow transference of moisture by using specifically designed unglazed terracotta urns that get buried under the soil, and then filled with water. Evaporation is minimised, but the plant roots can access the moisture in a very slow 'as needed' way.
Wicking beds are becoming really popular in New Zealand, and the vegetable beds where I live in Tuakau are a wicking bed system. I'm not 100% convinced yet.... but if you want to stay connected with how I manage these wicking beds through the seasons, then join my weekly gardening-by-the-moon email list.
Ideas for innovative edible gardening solutions using biodynamic methods to make exquisite compost is what New Zealand needs right now. To see the full range of online courses go to blueborage.teachable.com or get in touch by email at email@example.com