Gardening in March 2018

Gardening in March 2018

The drought and accompanying water shortages are still with us. We did get some encouraging figures coming through in recent weeks – agricultural consumption has dropped, households are doing their bit with daily consumption in Cape Town falling to the lowest levels in recent years, the dam levels are dropping very slowly – almost staying constant. There has also been a massive “donation” of water from private dams in the Palmiet River agricultural scheme. All of these have bought us some time, and it is now official that “day zero” is an improbability with the date moved back into June; by which time we should be in our rainy season.

We have also had some rain! The absolute elation and gratitude we experienced during the 2 downpours we’ve had sure put a smile on my face. Even though it barely registered in the rain gauge it brought hope and optimism to a parched community. Ever being the optimist, I am going to go long on rain this year. I did the same last season, but I am not one that is easily discouraged! So, I suggest that you get ready for the rain. Stock up on some organic slow release fertiliser – there are plenty of products available – go for something with higher P and K levels – a 2:3:2 for instance. Agricultural lime is a good addition to the lawn and vegetable garden. Order a load of mulch and well rotten kraal manure. Just make sure that the manure is well decomposed – you don’t want to add flies to your irritation. And then as soon as the forecast for rain gets really confident, go out and make the most of it. A true gardener will be out dancing in the rain anyway; why not dance around with your fertiliser bag slung over the shoulder? I am also going to stock up on some cover crop seeds and try to get these in the ground early this season. Digging in a green manure in spring helps the soil on so many levels, with water retention at this stage being the most important. Lupins, fava beans, vetch, clover, cow peas, rye, wheat, mustard and even spring flower mixes are all good choices. Seeds of these are often difficult to come by, ask a farmer friend to help you out.

Other tasks that can fill your Saturdays include getting ready for the rain that we’re all praying for. Empty out the gutters, make sure the tanks are clean, clear gulleys and catch pits and make sure that storm water has a way over or through your property without washing away any topsoil. Also take a closer look at your trees. Some branches might have died back and there might also be some wind damage that need attending too. Tree surgeons often gets very busy during the winter – get them in early for an appointment. You have probably done what you could to catch and store rain water. Another area where we can do a lot to save water is in our soils. By increasing the organic matter in our soil, we also increase the water holding capacity. A 1% increase in organic matter means an additional 15 litres of water stored per square meter. That, coupled with reducing evaporation by mulching and providing shade and wind protection, can make a big difference next summer.

Winter crops can be sown now. Get your cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower seeds into your seedbeds as soon as possible. Direct sowing of the first peas and broad beans can be done towards the end of the month. Pick tomatoes, beans and fruit regularly. Rotting fruit on the ground is a bad idea, but they can make a very beneficial ferment to be used on fruiting and flowering plants. Simply throw all damaged and fallen fruit into a bucket, fill with water and leave out in the sun for a few days. The strained “tea” is a great tonic for all plants, especially those in bud or fruiting.

My kitchen is a very busy place in autumn. Tomatoes are turned into pasta sauce, excess beans get blanched and frozen. Hanepoot grapes and ripe figs are turned into jam. Shiraz grapes will become the most amazing jelly. I see I have a tree full of apples for the first time ever – I might even be making some cider this year.