We haven’t had any rain in absolutely ages. In January we had 40mm of rain and while it felt like it was a wet and miserable summer only 10 rainy days were actually wet and most of it came from one day that had 23mm. February had 20 days without a drop and the other 8 days shared out 11mm between them! March wasn’t much better. We had a weeks’ worth of days with rain giving us 25mm of rain, however 14mm of that came from a tropical cyclone that wasn’t worthy of the name! April has only had one wet day … until now. And even that wasn’t much.
Essentially, what I am trying to say is – it has been very dry. Most farmers would love for it to be declared a drought so they can have their struggles this summer financially acknowledged. I have great cracks opening up in my ground. Keeping the plants happy and healthy has been a real effort. Although it has been lovely to bask in the late warmth of an autumn reluctant to cool down.
So I decided to do something yesterday that I didn’t realise would make me single-handedly responsible for breaking the drought. I had all my winter seedlings sitting on a shelf waiting to go into the ground. But it was so dry, that I wasn’t sure they would get the best start. Then I remembered the hydroponic system I had been given by a wonderful friend in the spring. I had been so busy with writing the book that I didn’t find the time to use it over the summer. There it was sitting in the greenhouse, and what better way to grow plants in a drought but to have cooling water running constantly through their roots!
I’ve never used a hydroponic system before, so I stretched my memory back to the advice I was given back in the spring and with the instructions on the nutrient bottles I prepared the water. The advice was clear about making sure the pH was around 6, and most veggies like to grow in the 6 -7 pH range. Having mixed in the chemicals it was impossible to tell by looking if it was ok. I tried to think of ways to figure out how to tell if it was just right. I did see something on the internet once about using beetroot as a pH indicator, but that would require a load of pfaffing about. Then I remembered Hubby the Un-Gardener had some indicator test strips to test the quality of the water in the swimming pool and conveniently there was a pH indicator in the right range for my water. And best of all – I had it spot on. Hubby the Un-Gardener no longer has test strips for the swimming pool, however I have a lovely set of hydroponic test strips in my garden shed!
Once I got the water sorted and had it running through the system, sounding like a relaxing water feature but looking a little utilitarian, I turned to my seedlings. I had being so smug in having my brassicas safe from the white cabbage butterfly, secured under their cake net cover, that I wasn’t looking at them as closely as I should have. I mean what harm could come to them under there?
What I hadn’t counted on was APHIDS! Loads of the little buggers! So I gave my brassicas a good wash – a kind of luxury spa treatment. I started out with a power shower with a blast with the hose which dislodged most of the bugs, then I submerged them in a bucket of water and massaged the leaves to remove any hangers on. Then left them to soak in a clean bucket in the hopes of drowning any stubborn ones. I have to say those aphids are a determined bunch, as after all of that, deep in the crevices there were still some tenacious insects still clinging on. I had no choice and I whipped up a batch of pyrethrum. I’m not growing these brassicas to be insect fodder!
After basking in the warm sun for a while the brassicas perked up and were looking a lot better, so I did what seemed to go against all best practise for treating tender wee seedlings. I washed off all the lovely rich soil from around the roots and popped them in to the little pots and held them in place with tiny rocks and put them in their new home – in a plastic channel.
I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I packed up for the day – with all that water running past their roots I shouldn’t have to worry about them coping in a drought, although I will increase the pest watch – a lesson has been learnt there – don’t be complacent.
And I wake up this morning and what do I see? – rain! Not a deep heavy rain, but that annoying misty stuff so I checked out the ten day forecast – the heavy rain should be with us later in the week! The drought has broken. Just think – had I not set up my hydroponic system then this much needed rain may not have come for days or even weeks!
Come again soon – I shall have find my raincoat and do some wet weather gardening!
Sarah the Gardener : o )