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Valley Gardening Tips - Mark McLennan

Tips to help make your garden grow.


February 2014

As is typical of our Valley summers, we have had a dry and hot summer.

This is similar to Mediterranean climates that also experience the cold wet winters that we get.

Hence the suitability of our climate to the majority of Mediterranean plants.

You should or could have pumpkins that are ripening, an inordinate supply of cucumbers and zucchinis, beans coming out of your ears, corn fresh off the plant into the steaming pot, tomatoes so plentiful you are  running out of space and the last of a glut of strawberries and summer berries.

With summer comes those super hot 40˚ days that can last for several days.

Indeed the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting longer, hotter and dryer periods with the changes in climate.

Whether you believe in ‘climate change' or not, the science (that is based on fact) is where they collect this data and certainly the last decade seems to have had some changes.


Watering - an ingredient to success

Of course with these hotter, dryer periods it is essential that we ensure that our plants are well prepared for these temperature fluctuations.

Plants need lots of different factors to ensure good growth, but water is of course fairly critical. However, you can’t just stick a plant in a tub of water and expect it to thrive.

Plants need 'adequate' amounts of water but just like us excess water leads to a loss of nutrients and not enough water does not allow for optimum growth.

Some plants, like blueberries, love lots of water, other plants like beans don’t like too much water. So know what your plants like.

In most cases though the majority of plants like what we might call a 'standard' amount. I heavily prescribe and encourage to the philosophy of excess mulch on your garden. I have talked about this in some detail in previous articles but hope by now that you have a deep bed of mulch in your garden. Watering can only have so much of an impact as you are collecting the water from (in most cases) a ground source.

Ultimately plants need the nutrient rich form of atmospheric water, and best of all in medium doses - e.g. 50mm of rain in a 24 hour period. This allows deep penetration and soaking of the soil without excess runoff.

But how can you ensure your plants are getting enough water between rainfall events?

Well, there are lots of strategies, and personally I find the simplest methods often the best as they allow for modification or easy removal.

Drip irrigation and stem micro sprinklers are great but can be costly and require a long time to put in.

My personal favourite solution to easy watering is to have a 24 hour water timer on a tap, with a hose that leads to a irrigation sprinkler (you know the ones that go chuga chuga chuga). This does mean that water is lost to evaporation, but it also means that you can easily move it to a different location and if you get a irrigator of which you can modify the radius, you can maximise the coverage area to garden.

Just by doing the maths, the timer (get a good brand not the cheap one, trust me!) cost $65, the hose $30, the irrigator $15: you have a $110 watering setup that (until the batteries go flat) you can walk away from and are guaranteed it will water your set area. Yes, there are lots of other alternatives but this is hands down the cheapest, most time efficient means of watering a garden.



I talked about this in November but perhaps its worthy of a re-mention.

Tomato plants have the potential to produce huge amounts of fruit that can become overwhelming.

They are so rewarding to grow, and taste great. Tomato plants are like teenagers though, they need lots of structure and constant discipline.

At the peak of summer the plant and the fruit can grow very quickly. This means that without some training you can end up with a plant that more resembles a tangled heap on the ground with rotten fruit hidden throughout. A sturdy post, like a star picket, or a strong trellis will hold several kilos of tomatoes, provided you use gentle ties like stockings. But make sure you check every couple of days during the peak of summer to support new growth by tying up to your trellis or post. My absolute favourite is using either gates or rio-mesh through which to intertwine the plant. Not only is it strong and resilient, it is really quick to lace the plant through and also avoids breaking the plant when tying to a stake. Tomato plants can grow to a couple of metres high, so ensure the support reaches this height.

Kangaroo Valley is a fantastic place to grow tomatoes because of our often very hot summers. To get the best results from tomato plants, grow in full sun, well drained soil , with regular watering and protection from poachers (bower birds).

In our household we deep freeze excess tomatoes till we have enough in supply that we can make a batch of preserve - e.g. pasta sauce, salsa, chutney, relish, to last us through to the next summer season.