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THE EDIBLE GARDENER – Irrigate to beat the heat

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Although we’ve had quite a mild spring, you get the sense we may be in for a lot more heat in the coming weeks. As soon as the sun pokes its head out and there’s a puff of wind from the north, everything feels quite dry.

A well-functioning irrigation system is absolutely necessary if you are going to get the most out of your edible garden during the warmer months. Even if your patch goes without water for a couple of days when it’s warm, your crops will suffer substantially. Those short stunted tomato plants you sometimes get, or the crinkle-leaved cucumbers, usually aren’t a symptom of poor planting or a dodgy seedling. It’s generally that the soil on and below the surface is so dry that the plants cannot access any nutrients and so they go into survival mode.

It is thus very important that you spend the time and/or dollars to ensure your plants have access to a consistent supply of water and food. Install a drip irrigation system. It’s easier to do than you probably think. There’s also plenty of information around, and if you’re really stuck go down to your local irrigation supply store (P.I.P.E.S., Langford & Matthews, Reece) with a rough sketch or plan of your garden and they’ll be able to help you design a system and supply you with all the pieces.

Once installed, cover your drip-lines with a thick layer of straw mulch to reduce evaporation and check on it every couple of days at the start to make sure everything is done up tight and there are no leaks. During these warmer months you will want to water your crops at least every morning (if there’s no rain). Fifteen minutes at sunrise and another 15 minutes in the late arvo should provide your plants with adequate moisture over summer, and you can then knock back the watering to every second day as we approach the cooler months. However, the amount of moisture you retain in your soil will be dependent on the soil structure and how well you have prepared your soil.

It is still OK to plant some late tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, capsicum, chilli and eggplant. In fact, you can still plant most of your favourite warm-season vegetables, provided it’s not one of those belting weeks when you choose to get stuck into the garden.

Drew Cooper, Edible Gardens

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