Sunday, 3 March 2013

Summer summary '12-'13

Each season end I try to take some time to reflect on what's been happening in the garden and what I have learnt (or have failed to learn!). So here is the season summary for the summer of 2012-3, our first full season at Highfield.

Note for non-Australians - our summer goes from 1st December to 28th (or 29th February).

It's been a hot summer
Boy oh boy, what an introduction to our new place. The BOM (that's Bureau of Meteorology) has finalised it's report for summer and declared that it was the hottest on record. It was not only the hottest on record but most places in Australia individually achieved their hottest ever average temperatures. Our hottest day was 41c but we seemed to have weeks and weeks of temps in the mid to high 30s. The locals say that this certainly was hotter than usual but about as dry as a 'normal' ( non-drought) year. This made it a very difficult year to start a new vegetable garden...

Yes, well, it didn't take long for us to have our first introduction to threat from fire. The Mates Gully/ Tarcutta fire that flared up on a hot and windy day was projected to wipe us out totally if the models were correct and if everything that could  have gone wrong did go wrong. Fortunately  things went very much better than projected (for us anyway). We spent a comfortable day at Wagga Wagga Regional Library and spent the night in a Motel while Harriet went to cat prison along with most of the other refugee animals from the Tarcutta fire.

We were rain gauge-less for part of December but I can report that we  received a total of 160mm from 24th December to 1st March. The heaviest being a day which dumped 40mm very very quickly and which caused some considerable erosion gullies in our dirt roads and gave the tank a nice top up. We had a whole month with no rain whatsoever followed by 84 mm over a 5 day period. Consequently we have taken longer showers and washed clothes and the country has taken on a lovely green tinge.

a little too much run-off
And now to the garden...

something approaching soil
On arriving here in mid November once the boxes were unpacked, we set about making some temporary raised beds. Cardboard from the removal boxes, grass clippings, sheep manure sourced from under the shearing shed and a few bales of lucerne, a little water on essentially a silty base and  a few months and what do you get? Soil! and worms! Yay... but it has taken a few months to get here. I now have something that approaches a growing medium but as you can see, this fact combined with the heat and nothing really thrived over summer.

As can be guessed from above, a very Australian 'bugger all'. I have had some lovely small cucumbers, a small number of really tasty blueberries, radishes, some chillies, rocket, plenty of rocket, some tiny tomatoes, a small number of zucchinis, some very tiny eggplants, some spring onions, mint and basil and that's about it (except for peaches which deserve their own section). Now I have something approaching soil, things will get better.

Peaches -  the only glut I have had
the slip stone peach
What a pleasure the peach trees have been. I can take no credit for their care, they were here and had flowered and set before we arrived, but they did receive a handsome quantity of our grey water. They have taken all the weather that was dished out to them  Three of the four trees have already offered up all their produce. While they have varied in size and variety and while some were slip stone and some cling stone, all were delicious and before they were eaten or cooked they filled the kitchen with their heady scent. So far I have made a peach chutney, peach muffins, peaches in salads, loads of stewed peaches and lovely peach fruit pies. One tree is still to ripen.

Garden visitors/ pests
  • a mystery tip nipper that destroyed my bean crop - possibly earwigs but I wonder if anyone out there knows what a slater will do to new plants - I seem to have a lot of slaters, is that good or bad?
  • Wallabies  who have also left contributions to garden fertility - these have been gratefully recieved but they are in no way compensation for the produce stolen!

Gleaning and gifts
With little to no produce of my own, gleaning and gifts from others were most welcome.
This season I gleaned:
  • small red plums - these were eaten and made into a spicy plum sauce
  • small yellow plums -  these were eaten and made into a yellow plum puree
  • red apples of some sort - these have been eaten and stewed and made into fruit pies and I still have lots left over.

And here is what others have either  gleaned  or grown and brought over:
  • green cooking apples
  • lemons, lots of lemons
  • honey from bees kept on the next property
What I have learned about gardening and our patch
  • Soil takes time to build  -  I kind of knew that already, I guess I had hoped that the raised, no-dig  beds would be instant beds but  in reality, while they don't take long to make, the soil takes take longer to get going. The soil of course still has a long, long way to go but it is already  looking pretty good.
  • Shade is good -  when we had such hot days and such little water, the best way to protect the plants was  to stop evapotranspiration with a 70% shade cloth. 
  • How to be very efficient with watering.
  • Chillies are a gardeners best friend, they are the only plants that have survived all and given produce.
  • Wallabies eat everything but they especially like rocket, beetroot, radish and peaches green or ripe.
  • It is impossible to have too much mulch.
  • I have learned something of the plants on the property.
    Silver wattle babies
  • I have learned that kurrajongs and silver wattle will be great wind and fire breaks and the wattle will fix nitrogen. I have learned that these two lovely natives are relatively easy to raise from seed. I have learned how beautiful Red Box eucalypt leaves are, especially when they are dry.

In general I have learned so much about my new patch, the way the wind blows, the way the sun moves and the way the fires come.

Other learnings
I have learned a little tiny bit about:
  • 'dressing' rabbits
  • cell grazing
  • sheep husbandry
  • carbon sequestration
  • native pasture 
  • naturalising dams
  • leaky weirs
  • agricultural weed control
There is still much to learn.

How was your summer?


  1. I've loved summer this year. We've been camping, played in rivers, enjoyed the heat, my crops have been good and apart from the rodents its all gone remarkably well. As for the slaters I've never had them really damage much - I reckon mice might be more likely??? Or possums? Something furry anyway.

    1. I love camping and we normally do go camping over summer, but this year we were a little busy, but we have done plenty of river playing - in our own little creek. I am also looking forward to going camping on our own property some nights. We have already picked out a couple of nice spots.

  2. You made me realise for the first time that summer is officially over and now it's autumn! Gosh! Doesn't feel like it here in Adelaide. You've accomplished a lot in one season. Well done! Here's to autumn... Cheers!

    1. Yes, it doesnt seem to make a lot of sense in some parts of the country.

  3. You have done so much in your first summer at the new place! Like you I'm learning about the beneficial effects of a little shade with most of my better producing plants being in partial shade.

    1. It feels that I haven't come very far at all. I really am a convert to shade, so much so that I am thinking of planting my deciduous fruit trees in my permanent veggie patch to offer shade in summer. Do you think there is a good reason not to mix veggies and deciduous fruit trees in close proximity? Now veggie growing books seem to suggest it.

  4. Oh my goodness look at your thongs! I for one am glad to have summer behind me. It is too hot to have to work in but it does come with it's own benefits ie longer days, bare feet etc.
    I am amazed at how well you have done over one season it will be really great to see how well it is this time next year. I have just moved a rhubarb into the shade of my liquidamber and it is doing pretty nicely compared to melting in the almost full sun bed



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