Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Challenging Summer: Planting an “Insurance Garden”

Every year is different in the garden. Some things do well and others don’t. Amongst the mix, there are usually a few disasters and a couple of successes. This is one reason why it is so important to diversify. If one or two crops fail, you can focus your efforts on the other crops and still get by.
Disasters first
The pears looked great at the start of summer
This year was our driest summer since we have been keeping records (19 years). December rainfall was low and then the rains virtually dried up until the last day of summer, when we got some relief. It was also our warmest summer ever, so evaporation rates have been high too. The heat did not stop with summer, as Melbourne is likely to have its hottest March on record too. This hot, dry weather was very disappointing because at the beginning of December everything pointed towards a bumper season and harvest (See We have gone Crazy this Year!). Most of the apple trees were loaded with huge crops. It looked like we would be getting our best crops of avocadoes, macadamias, pears, nectarines, nashis and so on.

And so did the nashis
But then the big dry set in. We tried keeping up with the watering but as each week became drier and drier it became harder. By early February we had to let some plants go and survive the best they could. We didn’t have the time, were exhausted with the total workload (and heat) and had to maintain good quantities of water in reserve in case we had to deal with fire. Some areas of Victoria have had terrible fires again this year and they took weeks to get under control, so that possibility was always on our mind.

Our beautiful apple crop started dropping off the trees well before they were ripe, and our lovely crop of nectarines and plums started to burn and shrivel on the tree and other crops suffered too.
Five Crown is one of our most productive trees
Although all the apples trees did suffer, some managed better than others. The five crown dropped a large amount of fruit but kept perhaps 50% (about 20kg). The Opalescent once again produced a crop of large juicy red fruit and being on a dwarf rootstock we were able to cover it with bird netting. The Orange Cox’s Pippen produced its best crop yet. The fruit is not very big, but their flavour is delicious with a distinctive taste- almost a lemony touch. 

Our total apple crop would have amounted to several boxes of fruit, which was more than enough for our needs. There was plenty to eat fresh, stew and the hot dry conditions were perfect for drying. Our pantry has a good store of dried apples for use after the season finishes.
The clothes horse made a good drying frame
There was plenty of other good news too.
Most of our berry crops such as blackberry, blueberry and currents withered on the plants. However the raspberries came in, just before the hot spell with its withering, dry northerly winds, so we were able to turn our harvest into enough raspberry jam to last the year.

We planted 5 varieties of pumpkins and although 3 patches struggled to survive, we focussed on the two strongest ones. We kept the water up on these patches and they have produced a reasonable crop – enough to last us through to next summer. What we lack in variety we’ll make up for in quantity.

Our carrots, parsnips and beetroot are just springing out of the ground and we will have our best crops yet. Our two small successive crops of corn have kept us supplied with corn for six weeks now and there are quite a few cobs still left. Cucumbers grew almost faster than we could pick them. The self sown parsley has produced around one hundred good sized bunches (which we sell at our organic market) and is still going strong.
Our bean tepee was very productive
We have been feeding off our climbing beans for over eight weeks now. We planted 3 small crops about 3 weeks apart. We are just starting to pick the third crop and have already harvested about 20 kg. The first crop which was planted around a tepee frame is still flowering so we should be getting many more.
Nothing beats summer strawberries
Our biggest thrill though was our strawberry bed. Although only a fairly small bed we have had 3 or 4 feeds of strawberries every week for over around 2 months. They have been so flavoursome and delicious.

We planted 6 tomato varieties and over 50 plants. We lost a few and some did not come to much, but most produced huge crops. The two best performers were Tommy Toe (our favourite for salads) and Principe Borghese  (a first timer for us). Altogether we have had plenty to eat in salads, soups and other meals, as well as enough to bottle for sauces and soups during the year.

Prince Borghese tomatoes were a big success
Having diversity in the garden is great for variety, but it is also like an insurance policy. If extreme weather events are going to be more frequent, planting an “insurance garden” is a pretty good idea!


Fiona from Arbordale Farm said...

We havew had to oppersite issues with so much rain that everything drowned and died. However I now have beans and cucumbers coming on and parsley and basil going strong.

Heavenly Bodies said...

Oh I feel your pain, we had a garden two years ago that really took off, than there was no rain for weeks. While we were watering some insects lacking in water from their surroundings decided our garden was a good spot for a feast. Needless to say all was lost, but not just for us others also.

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Unknown said...

Sweet , hope will see u agina ;)
I back to hk already , but I will come back :)

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