The drought showed many that gardening in the future will be dramatically different. Every biological reaction in the garden depends on water, and five months without rain focused the mind on the interaction of climate and vegetation. Extreme wilting showed how the moisture loss in the leaves reduces photosynthesis – a sure sign of the degree to which climate change, and changing rainfall patterns, will disrupt gardening. With the unrelenting sun, extreme heat and dry air, many crops in my garden failed to thrive even with heavy mulching, a diverse planting of warm season crops and the use of shade cloth.
Then along came Covid 19, followed quickly by a Lockdown, which showed us that the most pressing need of people is to have healthy nutritious food grown locally. Home gardening was back on the agenda, but many who rushed out to buy every seedling in sight or grab handfuls of seed packets, soon found out that in gardening, like life, success requires preparation.
Many seedlings no doubt perished in their punnets and seeds failed to germinate. After months of drought the soil was dried out and cracked. Had people been developing compost heaps and worm farms, these would have provided much-needed material to improve the soil. But in many homes, all that household waste material that could have saved the day had gone to the tip.
Recent rain brought some relief, and now that your water tanks are full you can think about getting that suburban backyard into production.
When gardening, treat everything as an experiment, and begin with soil experiments because the quality of the food is dependent on soil quality. Just adding fertilisers does not guarantee they will make it into the plant. You need microbes (living organisms) in the soil to transform nutrients into forms the plants can use. Your waste strategy is directly related to the health of your soil. Compost bins and worm farms not only reduce your waste stream to landfill but they also supply much of the organic material your soil needs. At this time of year there is also plenty of seaweed, autumn leaves and grass clippings, as well as weeds, fish scraps, comfrey and nettles to make liquid manures.
A lack of space should not stop you from composting, as you can use plastic storage bins, spare rubbish bins and even buckets. Or simply trench your food scraps directly into the garden and use the seaweed, leaves and grass clippings as mulch. If you are eating healthily, most of your waste will be food scraps, so combine them with your paper waste and you will be well on the way to producing plant food of your own.
Seed sowing is not difficult. I use Green Smart self-watering containers with a seed-sowing mix. Asian vegetables, beetroot, broccoli, lettuce, peas, kale can all be transplanted out into the soil. Potatoes are also easy to grow and can go into buckets, tubs and containers if you don’t have garden space. Cut the eyes out of your favourite store-bought variety and experiment.
After the rain there will be a proliferation of snails and slugs, so while your seedlings are growing in the safety and shelter of a covered area, start your night patrols and handpick any slugs and snails that venture forth. Put out the black plastic containers that plants are sold in for the snails to hide in during the day and you will have no trouble collecting them. The cold weather will knock out the white butterfly and the whitefly.
Lockdown for some provided that rare situation of extra time. Time to practice growing food, time to talk about food and time to improve cooking skills. And perhaps best of all, it provided time for people to explore the unique ecosystems in which they live—the place they call home.