Gardening in December
As I am writing this article the sound of the keyboard is in symphony with the sound of rain on our tin roof. What a blessing to receive November rain! Despite the drought and subsequent worst water shortage in modern history we have been receiving weekly bits of rain for the past 2 months. Just enough to keep our gardens alive and our pavements green. Whilst this obviously makes the gardener smile, it also brings difficulty explaining to visitors that what they’re seeing is a “green drought”; and that the water shortage is as serious as ever.
December is bragging time for the gardener. This is when you get the chance to show off your green fingers, hard work and clever plans. Conversations around the braai or dinner table will inevitably lead to the weather, the drought and what plans you are making to save water and keep the garden alive. Now is the time to demonstrate your state of the art grey water system, battery of storage tanks and intelligent pumping system. Or you simply can tell them that most of the vegetables on their plate comes from your garden, carefully watered with buckets of soapy water caught in the shower.
Whilst many people take on the annual pilgrimage to the beach there are also many of us that choose to stay at home. That means gardening time! Get those pots and planter boxes looking really good this year – that way no one will see the dead looking lawn beyond it. This is the time to get creative – mix perennials, herbs and grasses with flowering annuals to make for an instant display. (A hand-crafted pot plant also makes for a great gift.) It is a good idea to mix some water retaining gel into the soil before planting – Stockasorb is a good one. Deadhead roses and flowering annuals regularly, strengthen your plants by a weekly feeding with a weak solution of foliar feed, keep on mulching (it is amazing how quickly mulch seem to disappear), mow the lawn at a higher setting, prune wind damaged shrubs and trees, re-tie tree stakes and keep an eye out for pests. Red spider mite can be a problem in this weather, and so can aphids, caterpillars, scale and thrips. I suspected some mildew problems with the regular summer rain, but I have not had any issues yet. The most important aspect of gardening is that you must enjoy it, especially now that we’re in the festive season. Don’t stress about the garden – if you do it is better to get some hired help in as soon as possible. Even if that means getting the kids digging.
I am well on my way to providing the bulk of our Christmas meal from the garden. Most of the summer vegetables are slow to grow and mature this year, but every day I see the promise of green beans, bell peppers, aubergine, tomatoes, squash and okra developing. Salad greens will battle in the heat, but it is still worth persisting with them in shadier parts of the garden. My berries look really promising this year and will be part of the desert. So will plums, apricots, peaches and the last of the strawberries. Vegetable growing is hard work – but it is the most rewarding part of gardening. Few things are more satisfying than bringing food from the garden to the table. Showing of preserves and jams made from home grown produce is even more rewarding. I try to make some apricot jam every year, those millipede damaged strawberries will turn into a jelly and I might just have enough peaches to can.