Escaping the midday heat inside, after a morning of gardening, and I wonder, as a sudden gale throws buckets around ... is a change in weather always accompanied by violent gusts of wind, around here? Was it that way in the Blue Mountains, where I grew up? Maybe I never noticed because one doesn't, when growing up, and then in cities one is buffered from the extremes of weather by sheer numbers of houses.
Or maybe it's just how things are, around here ...
The wind is the bane of a gardener's life, here. It drives moisture from the soil within days, scours the ground bare of anything vaguely friable, and throws dust everywhere. With the clay and eucalyptus roots sucking nutrients and moisture from beneath, and the wind taking it from above, the only things that survive are those with deep root-systems; things that can tap the moisture and food in the clay.
Shallow-rooted plants, like perennial herbs and veggies, barely stand a chance. Now I understand why the tank-beds are the only ones that do well - they've got a solid two feet of good soil before hitting the ground, and a lip of another hand-span or so, which prevents the wind removing the topsoil. They're the only beds where mulch is a benefit, rather than a quicker killer ... exposed mulch around here dries out and becomes hydrophobic, just like the soil, but much less inclined to let water through. At least the bare soil absorbs water under the sorts of rain onslaughts we tend to get here.
So, how to keep my desperate food plants alive over a dusty, hot, wind-borne summer?
- Use strawbales around the edges of all the gardens, to provide wind protection.
- Use non-chippy mulch like straw or the lovely green mulch the electricity contractors have left in gigantic piles down the road (we're up to three uteloads and still going). I figure it will break down fairly quickly and therefore let liquid through.
- Mix water crystals into everything before planting. And lots of them. No amount of compost seems to improve the soil structure at the moment, so I might as well use artificial aids until the soil is deep enough to survive on its own (maybe in five years' time, sigh).
- Do more greenhouse planting. Although even the bed in there is showing signs of compaction, hydrophobia, and drying out!!
- When creating garden beds, put some kind of barrier between the clay and the soil above it. I've just been digging gypsum into the ground, but this evidently isn't enough; a double layer of straw "biscuits" or something similarly compostible but water-retaining is more like it. I've just bought "solid water" packets to put next to my citrus trees; I wonder whether they make them in garden bed size???
- Water more frequently. This last has been this morning's exercise and is the topic of a separate post, I think ...
Now I just need to judge that fine line between "too hot to work" and "too cold to work" ... weather changes so violently and abruptly around here and the changeover can be a matter of minutes!! Particularly as the wind coming through appears to be a roaring southerly (cold), but the sun temperature is still a lovely 27C. This sort of discrepancy just makes one's wrists ache ...