Dry, dry times

I’ve spent a bit more time in the garden over the last few weeks.

It’s been disturbing just how dry the soil has become, despite regular watering, so I have started the project of installing irrigation to various areas of the garden.

The initial project was the front garden which is quite contained and really gets the intensity of the sun. After four years of living here, we have finally settled on the front garden being a citrus garden with various low growing natives.

The raised garden bed and the grape vines were next.

I thought about how I was going to get around the rapid water loss from the raised garden. What could I do about it now? And with what resources?

It came to me sooner than later. I had mulched some wormwood and peppermint trees a few days prior. There was a lot of wormwood still growing that could be mulched. I decided that although it might not look aesthetically appealing initially, mulching the raised garden bed as well as installing reticulation, would be sure to solve the problem. After all, I knew I had to just keep the moisture in there. If there was moisture and a food source for worms, they would come and they would stay. I wanted food production more than I wanted aesthetics.

Garden bed soil after light rain and hose watering. A quarter inch underneath is powdery dry.

The image below is of the very top of the smaller bio-reactor. There are worms right at the surface. They are enticed there because I keep the material covered with an old woolen blanket that I wet as I’m watering the garden. There is also plenty of food. So the worms are active right throughout this compost pile. You can see I’ve also dropped in a few avocado seeds to get them germinating as I’ve found worm farms to be a fantastic way to get these seeds germinating – and it’s super easy to carefully extract the seed if the tap root becomes a little too long.

The organic matter right under the surface of this mulch pile is damp and full of worm activity.

So, this is working. And working really well. Now I just had to impart a little of this wormery magic to our raised garden bed to mitigate the drying spells of the black easterlies. I wasn’t expecting it to become magical overnight, but I didn’t think it would take too long.

The other thing I did to fast track the whole exercise was to remove a bit of the top layer of the bio-reactor – worms and all – and ‘seed’ the raised garden bed with it. There were some worms in the garden bed already, but now they had company!

In retrospect, I should have seen it coming this sandy dryness. Any garden I’ve worked in Albany has been sand. Even this garden had a lovely top soil to it when the oak and the lilly pillies were standing. Once they got removed for the renovations the soil really only lasted a year or two before the sand crept back up. With all the organic matter I’ve added over the years, it too has gradually been removed from the soil by harvesting produce and not managing to replace enough organic matter. So now we start in earnest. With a top hedge of wormwood that I will gradually remove so I can plant a few trees, I can mulch the hedge and mulch more of the garden. Surprising to me also is that the worms appear to love the wormwood, which I thought might be a little strong for them. The leaves are tender and thin and I think break down quite quickly, so from a worms perspective I can see the attraction. I do mix it up with a blend of peppermint tree, tagasaste, Brazilian pepper (which is growing as a weed, but makes a great mulch) and whatever branches we find on the ground at the park.

I could fast track this process even further by buying mulch in, as I have in the past. I don’t like this for several reasons. The cost and the transport are a consideration, as is the labor of moving it, but it is also a resource that I am going to have to keep replacing every few years. At least here I have had the foresight to plant stands of wattle trees, tagasaste, peppermint trees and coprosma as pioneer species as a means of being sustainable in our mulching practice. All of these trees are now maturing enough that I am removing lower branches or branches that are interfering with neighbouring trees. These branches were being mulched and added to the swales. Now I am focusing on adding the mulch to the garden beds instead.

There is nothing much I can do about the Black Easterlies, they are an element of our sectors that we need to account for. But I can do something about how they affect the garden.

5 thoughts on “Dry, dry times

  1. The chips of some of the trees in your region, which were imported here, inhibit weed growth, particularly if insufficiently composted. That is an advantage for inhibiting weeds, but can interfere with growing vegetables from seed. Some of the trees that are native here do the same thing. However, I have not had any problems with vegetables growing through their chips. Some vegetable plants are just naturally resilient and weedy. I do not doubt that some are inhibited, but I have not met them yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re on the money Tony. I was cautious about using the Peppermint Tree as mulch because it has similar volatile oils like the eucalyptus. Peppermints don’t appear to be too bad once matured as compost or mixed with more herbaceous based mulch mix.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, I see now. Peppermint tree is Agonis flexuosa! I thought that it is Eucalyptus nicholii, which is completely different. That makes more sense. I am unfamiliar with the species, and have met only a dark bronze cultivar in nurseries.

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      2. Yes, that’s right Tony – you also reminded me of the bronze leafed cultivar which we have here also, but given that Agonis flexuosa grows literally like a weed here, it is the most common variety found. The Ringtail Possums are very much at home in the larger mature trees.

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      3. The cultivar that I noticed most recently has strikingly dark bronze foliage. Prior to that, the only commonly available cultivar was a rather plain bronze. The difference was comparable to the traditional bronze dracaena palm and the modern dark purplish bronze cultivars, although, I find that I actually prefer the lighter bronze for some situations. I do not believe that I have ever seen a green cultivar for sale in a nursery, although I have seen a few older specimens in landscapes in Southern California. The first specimen that I can remember was the tree at the Brady Residence of the Brady Bunch, but it has been gone for a long time now.

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