22 January 2014

What Survived, What Thrived and What Died During the Heat Wave

The heat of the last week was fierce. Temperatures over 41 degrees Celsius for four straight days, with Friday being the hottest at 42.3. And it was a dry heat, fed by a strong north wind. Step outside the house and the air wasn't only hot, it burnt; no need to stand in the sun.

So how did my garden fare? So-so. I was too sick to really care, although I did remind the family every morning to give it all a drink.

I've just come in from an inspection and for the most part everything is fine.

The climbing beans have a few burnt leaves, but their tendrils are still clinging to the posts and the beans are looking good.

The egg plant are going great guns. The heat seems to have given them a spurt, they've been a little slow this summer.

The beetroot are another matter, out of 2 dozen plants there are only 9 left. I'll put some more in over the weekend. They'll be a little late but beetroot will grow all year round here in Melbourne, they're just a little slower when it's cooler. We love slow roasted baby beetroot in winter with our roast. If I get them in now they'll be ready for the start of the cooler weather (they'll need about 12 weeks in the ground).

The cucumbers - well I just picked two huge cucumbers that will become pickled cucumber, I think they're too big to be nice for salads. The large leaves are singed on the edges but they did a great job of protecting the flowers and the tiny fruits. We'll have plenty of cucumbers in the next week or so and I've earmarked most of them for bread and butter cucumbers for winter.

The pumpkins are going great guns too. Not a singed leaf or fruit on any of the vines. They're in a sheltered spot that doesn't get the wind or the fierce late afternoon sun and that spot seems to suit them.

I was a little concerned about the lettuce. I'd just planted a dozen babies out into bags (no room in the garden). The bags seem to have given them the shelter they needed from the wind and the sun, they have grown a lot, almost double in size and I'll start picking a few leaves from each plant from tomorrow.

The bush beans didn't fare quite as well. Burnt leaves and wind blown, but I think they'll come back. There are flowers on all of them again, a good sign I'll get more beans from them.

The strawberries. Well I am amazed. They are big, red, sweet and juicy. I filled a pasta bowl this morning. I was sure that the extreme heat would slow them down. I was wrong.

My orange tree didn't take the heat very well, dropping more than half it's tiny fruit. The lemon and lime trees have a few singed leaves otherwise they look healthy enough and the mandarin trees look better than ever.

The biggest disappointment is the tomatoes. This summer has been shocking enough weather wise, with a cold start and then such a strong heat wave. The tomatoes are still green! Tomatoes need sun and heat to ripen on the vine. We had plenty of that last week and all I could find this morning was one slightly orange tomato. There are hundreds of green tomatoes on those plants, and I'm waiting for them to ripen to make sauce for the winter. If they don't ripen soon we'll be eating green tomato chutney and fried green tomatoes and skipping the sauce.

Why did the garden fare so well? I think because of the soil. It's well composted. Every time it gets planted it's composted and well turned over. And mulch. Lots of mulch. Mulching keeps the weeds down and the moisture in the soil. You can use just about anything to mulch but I use pea straw. It does a great job and stays put. It also breaks down really well when it's dug into the soil at the end of each summer.

My gardens get a double mulching. I mulch in spring, digging it in at the end of summer. Then I mulch again for the winter garden. It works like a nice warm blanket over the soil in winter, keeping it a little warmer for those plant roots and giving them a growth boost. And that gets dug in at the end of winter.

It's almost time to get the winter veggie seedlings started. That's on my list of jobs for next week as long as the weather stays reasonably nice. I've started collecting toilet rolls (empty ones of course!) to use as pots and sorting out the seeds.

I have cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, beans, beetroot (again) and silverbeet seeds ready to plant. That should get the winter veggies started and keep me busy for a day or two.

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