Tag Archive: soil


IMG_7289The nights are squeezing the light of day, despite sunshine there’s a chill in the air, and mornings are often shrouded in mist and fog. October marks the real onset of autumn, I think – here are a few important things to do in the garden this month.

1. Leaf litter pick

Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly, including rose leaves, to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering – don’t compost these leaves. Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material or a separate ‘Leaf mould’ bin if you want to create this wonderful material – stuffing leaves in black plastic bags is another option.

Using black bags for leaf mould making

Using black bags for leaf mould making

 

2. Cut backs

Cut down stalks of perennials that have died down, unless they have some winter or wildlife merit. Clear overhanging plants away from pathways and prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering, tying in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.

3. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns. This is also the time to move trees and shrubs, and plant hedges.

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

 

4. Come in out of the cold

Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse or other frost-free place. Lift Dahlias and Begonia tubers and Gladiolus corms to store in the dry (removing the dead leaves before storing them). Cannas, Pelargoniums/Geraniums and fuchsias can also be lifted before any proper frost. Trim back soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, potting them into multi-purpose compost and keeping them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free place.

5. Food – strip, store and plant

Strip: Apples, pears, grapes and nuts can all be harvested as can squashes and pumpkins before the first frosts. Finish harvesting beans and peas and once finished cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil as these have nodules on them that have fixed nitrogen from the air and will slowly release this as the roots break down. Any plants with green tomatoes or peppers remaining can be hung upside down indoors to ripen.

Store: Check over any  stored onions, garlic and potatoes and remove any rotten ones immediately. Try to improve air flow around your stored veg to prevent rot e.g use onion bags or hessian sacks.

Plant: spring cabbages, garlic bulbs and onion sets. Reuse old grow bags by cutting off the top and sowing late salad crops – cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass or a cloche. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees – alternatively order fruit trees now in preparation for spring planting.

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

 

6. Sourcing seeds

Collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Order seeds for next year.

Save money by saving seed

Save money by saving seed

 

7. Spring loaded

Plant spring bedding such as wallflowers, Bellis, Primulas and winter pansies. Now is the ideal time to plant Clematis. Finish planting spring bulbs such as Narcissi and Crocuses – Tulips can wait until November.

 

8  Grassy act

Finish off essential lawn maintenance to avoid water logging and compaction over winter (see September tips for more detail).  Fresh turf can still be laid now – Autumn rains (assuming we have some) should ensure the turf settles in.

9. Odds and …..

Remove netting from fruit cages to allow birds to feed on any pests and invest in bird baths and bird feeders if you don’t have them – the birds you support will help you keep pest numbers down.  If you haven’t already done so, turf out the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers etc. from the Greenhouse and clean and disinfect it. This will allow more light in and prevent pests and diseases over-wintering. Set up your greenhouse heater if you have one in case of early frosts. Empty and if possible clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Maybe install a new water butt ready for next year? Check tree ties and loosen if they are too tight around growing stems – and add stakes and support for young trees and shrubs to avoid them being ‘wind rocked’ during the winter.

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

 

10. …Sods

Prepare your soil for next year – start digging in leaf mould, compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it, though if your soil is on the sandy side, like mine, richer material like compost and manure is probably best left until the Spring when it’s nutrients are needed and they will not have leached away in the winter wet. However, if your soil is heavy, then pile it in now! It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting that much easier.

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

Save

Advertisements
Now's the time to harvest blackberries- though I've been doing this for couple of weeks already!

Now’s the time to harvest blackberries- though I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks already!

With the new month comes the beginning of autumn – meteorologically speaking. September ‘usually’ brings generally cooler and windier conditions than August, and the daylight hours are noticeably shorter. It is the time to reap the remainder of your summer harvest in the veg and fruit garden (and begin with the autumn crops) and for gently coaxing the last few colourful blooms from your summer flowers. It can be a time of special interest if you have grasses that turn to a golden brown and which combine well with ‘prairie’ style plants that bloom on into autumn along with Asters, Sedum and so on. It’s also a time of transition, as you bid farewell to this years growth and begin to prepare for next year with seed collecting, planting, propagation, lawn care and general tidying up. Here are my top ten tips for September in the garden.

1. Continue harvesting fruit and veg

Especially autumn raspberries, plums, blackberries, the first apples and vegetables such as main crop potatoes. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about storage (including freezing) of some of these for winter use. Root vegetables should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Leave parsnips in the ground for now, as they taste better after being frosted. Onions and shallots should be lifted (but do not bend them over at the neck as they won’t store as well) – if the weather is not wet leave them to dry on the soil, otherwise bring them into a dry shed. Any outdoor tomatoes (including green ones) should be picked before the first frost and brought indoors to ripen (placing them next to a banana will accelerate the process). Or you can remove a branch with them still attached and place the whole truss in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.

2. Careful watering

Be selective in watering new plants, those that are still looking green or are flowering or have fruit and veg you have yet to harvest. At the same time start to reduce the amount of water you give house plants. And make sure that established Camellias, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas are well watered in dry periods, otherwise they won’t produce the buds that will form next year’s flowers. Ensure trees or shrubs planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this should be kept clear of grass which could prevent essential moisture getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will also help.

3. Collect and where appropriate, sow seed

Save seed from perennials and hardy annuals to get a start on next year. Continue to sow over – wintering veg seeds such as spinach, turnip, lettuce and onions.

Keep your cabbages covered

Keep your cabbages covered

4. Net work

Put nets over ponds before leaf fall gets underway, to prevent a build up of leaf litter and nutrients in the water and also cover vulnerable Brassica crops with bird-proof netting.

5. Greenhouse switcheroo

Once you’ve finished with your greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers etc. give it a good clean out (and cold frames too). Prepare it for over – wintering tender plants you want to bring inside such as Fuchsia or Pelargoniums before the first frosts. It’s worth insulating it with ‘bubble wrap’ as well as providing a form of heat to ensure the temperature never falls below 5 – 10 degrees C. After the first frost, lift Cannas and Dahlias and after removing the top growth, washing off the roots and drying them, store the tubers in a sandy compost mix in a greenhouse or other frost – free place. Alternatively, if they have been planted in a sheltered spot where frost, cold or wet conditions are rare you can try to leave them in the ground – but cover them with straw, bracken or a mulch of compost.

Save seed from plants like Echinops

Save seed from plants like Echinops

6. Nature nurture

Clean out bird baths and keep them topped up with water. Continue to put out small bird food (avoid peanuts and other larger stuff which is a risk to baby birds in the continuing breeding season). Resist the temptation to remove seed heads from plants such as Sunflowers, as they provide a useful source of food for birds (of course you can still remove some seed for your own use). Put a pile of twigs or logs in a quiet corner of the garden and this will become home to lots of wildlife – and perhaps make a natural feature of this area with primroses, ferns etc. Consider making or buying other wildlife ‘hibernation stations’ for hedgehogs, insects and other critters.

7. Prolonging the show

Continue with dead – heading and weeding so that you extend the flowering season and ensure soil nutrients and moisture benefit your plants and not the weeds.

8. Propagate, plant and prepare

Divide any large clumps of perennials or alpines. Most plants can be separated into many smaller pieces which can all be replanted (or given away) – discard the old centre of the clump. Buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs – Narcissus, Crocus, Muscari and Scilla especially, but wait a couple,of months before you plant Tulips. September is also a good time to plant out container – grown shrubs, trees, fruit bushes and perennials. Always soak the containers well before taking the plant out and fill the new hole with water before putting the plant in its new home (having ‘teased out’ the roots if it’s pot bound). Plant out new spring bedding such as Wallflowers, Primula and Bellis. Now is your last chance to put in new strawberry plants and pot up any rooted runners. Remove any canes that have fruited from summer fruiting raspberries and tie in the new canes, if you haven’t already done so.

dividing perennials

Divide perennials

9. Improve your soil

Sow green manures where the soil used for food growing would otherwise be bare over winter. If your soil is heavy clay, start digging it over now whilst it is still relatively dry. Add plenty of organic matter to improve the quality, and pea shingle to improve the drainage. It can be left over the winter when the cold will break the lumps down, making spring planting easier. Keep your production of compost and leaf mould going from the tidying up you are starting now. For compost, remember the rule of mixing 50% ‘green’ material and 50% ‘brown’ (including shredded paper and cardboard).

10. Lawn care

September is the ideal time for lawn repairs and renovation. First raise the height of the mower and mow less often. You can sow or turf a new lawn or repair bald patches or broken edges in an existing one. It is a good time to scarify (either with a long tined/spring rake or powered scarifier to remove the thatch and other debris) and aerate (by making holes all over the lawn with a fork or powered aerator). Then brush in, or spread with the back of a rake, sieved compost/loam/sand (depending on your ground conditions) and you can also add an autumn lawn feed (one high in phosphate to help root development). This can all be hard work, but you’ll notice the improved look of the lawn next year! If you have large areas of lawn, you could prioritise this work for an area that’s especially visible or near the house, or perhaps rotate around different areas of grass so that you give each one a periodic ‘facelift’ once every two – three years.

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

Save

WP_20160421_10_36_32_ProMy latest session at Blickling was spent in the Walled Garden, once more. On my way I stopped to look at the wonderful display of Tulips in the Double Borders, caught in the early morning sun.

As I arrived it was clear that a lot had happened in the Walled Garden since last week- mainly that the grass paths had been turfed. These really look great, and I also saw that the first prototype metal arch had been installed at one end of the central path… this will eventually be a ‘fruit arch’ covering the entire length of this path.

One group of volunteers were set to weeding in the Parterre garden, whilst the two Petes and a new volunteer, Chris and I were detailed to path edging (Norfolk Pete) and digging (yes, you guessed it!) and mulching some borders which will be home to an array of cut flowers, all ready and waiting to go in from the nearby cold frames.

We moved over to one of the quarter beds and dig some double digging- the three of us in line. Or rather, ‘bastard digging’ (!) , so Mike tells me as he says ‘double digging would involve incorporating some organic matter in the trenches before turning in the next spit of topsoil.

Norfolk Peter- a bolting we will go...

Norfolk Peter- a bolting we will go…

‘Norfolk Pete’ spent the day bolting in some joining plates for the metal edging, which appears to be nearly complete. I saw a large pile (some 120 tonnes) of Carr Stone in the orchard, which is waiting to be put down as the base for the hard paths , which will have peas shingle laid on top. A bit of path near the potting shed had been finished off as a trial run and it does look neat. mike said we may spend next week laying and raking this gravel over the rest of the paths, the Carr stone having been rammed hard. Carr Stone (the gingerbread coloured sand stone found in West Norfolk), when broken down, provides a perfect sandy path sub surface; it binds together well and is hard wearing.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

The Black Garden with its newly gravelled surface -one of the best views in the garden

View across the Black Garden with its newly gravelled surface; the ‘classic’ view of Blickling

It’s Thursday, so it must be …digging at Blickling!

My latest session involved working with ‘Aussie Pete’ in preparing the soil on some of the paths, ready for turfing next week. you may recall that there are two areas where grass paths cross two of the quarters of the Walled Garden? I’ve lost count of the times we seem to have moved soil, dug it over etc, but after being trodden and barrowed over for a few weeks, it certainly needed ‘fluffing up’ to ensure the turf, when it’s laid, takes easily to the soil underneath.

Aussie Pete 'fluffing up' the soil for some grass paths

Aussie Pete ‘fluffing up’ the soil for some grass paths

‘Norfolk Pete’ was off putting in the remaining lengths of metal edging around the Walled Garden, whilst the remainder of the volunteers were set to weed and aerate the soil in the border beds which are being used to grow cut flowers. Gardener Rebecca was confined to the potting shed sowing trays of veg which are starting to fill the greenhouses.

Weeding in the Cut Flower border

Weeding in the Cut Flower border

During the day we met three new volunteers who will join us next time (assuming they haven’t been put off!) and ‘Aussie Pete’ disappeared for an hour or two in the morning to do some initial training as a ‘Garden Guide’- one of those volunteers that take people around the gardens and give them useful information on its history, layout and challenges. I’ve thought of volunteering to do this as I enjoy meeting the public, but for now my schedule doesn’t allow this…still in a year or two, maybe?

Having made pretty good progress with the soil forking over, I think Project Manager Mike must have felt sorry for me, as he asked if I’d like to do some work on the newly planted soft fruit bushes. I do enjoy pruning and tying in, and so this was a welcome relief from the digging.

You may recall that a week or two ago I mentioned some oak trunks being taken to a local sawmill to be turned into posts and other items? The posts will secure wires that these fruit bushes will be trained against, and Mike was keen to get them pruned and tied in to temporary canes to begin their ‘basic training’. So, I set to work on three varieties of gooseberries, and some redcurrants and wine berries (volunteer Pam says these are gorgeous). Some of the plants are being grown as straight cordons, others as fans.

Though a bit fiddly (I’d succeeded in cutting my finger with a bread knife the day before, so my elastoplasted finger wasn’t the most nimble), this was an enjoyable task that took me up to lunch time. After that ‘Aussie Pete’ returned and we continued to finish off fluffing up the soil for the grass paths …so we will possibly be turf laying next time….

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

Portland inspiration between the paving Ernst Fuller GardensBefore starting to lay foundations for a paved area, decide on the position of plants around a terrace or patio and in planting pockets within the space and leave the areas free of foundation material and paving (wooden shuttering can be used for larger areas). Once the works are over, replace the topsoil of the planting areas with John Innes number 3 compost (and grit if you’re putting in things like Thymes). This will ensure a weed free growing medium with the right nutrients so plants establish quickly.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Old School Gardener

‘Carry, & spread dung & compost.’

John Evelyn 1686 (published 1932)

Old School Gardener

Inspired by recent examples of ‘capturing the essence’ of things by crystallising them into a dozen or so objects, I thought I’d do something similar for gardening. So, here’s the first in a new weekly series of my personal take on gardening essentials (in a sort of logical order)…

compost-heapThe humble compost heap doesn’t look much, but it symbolises gardeners’ efforts to maintain or improve their soil and to help meet the nutritional needs of plants. Home made compost is just one, important source of organic material that both enriches the soil and improves its texture- whether your soil is light and sandy or heavy clay (the former being ‘the least back ache, the most heartache’ and the latter, vice versa!).

Do you make your own compost? I do, but don’t really have enough for a garden the size of the one here at The Old School!

I tend to use my two cubic metres a year  on the plants that are the hungriest- principally fruit bushes, canes and strawberries- and supplement it with manure (for roses, rhubarb etc.). And I do get a pretty good supply of leaf mould, which, though relatively low in nutrients, is a good winter mulch to protect bare soil, and can be turned in at spring time to improve soil texture.

Compost bins, like the one pictured, can be made from ready-to-buy kits or from recycled pallets and other wood. It’s useful to have removable slats at the front to make it easier to turn the pile and remove the finished compost.

Old School Gardener

rhs compostMulch- a layer of natural material spread thickly over the soil cuts down the need for watering, reduces weeding and protects and improves the soil. Mulch matting is also available from most nurseries and garden centres and can be an effective way to conserve moisture and prevent weeds.

Six types of loose mulch

  1. Bark chippings- attractive, but expensive (unless you have a supply from your own felled timber or know a friendly tree surgeon who will give you a load for free). Large chunks will last a long time and don’t blow around, though deep wood chips won’t rot quickly. Use chippings that are at least a year old as the early rotting process will ‘rob’ the soil of nitrogen.

  2. Cocoa shells- pricey but has more nutrients than most mulches. They bond together when wet so they won’t blow away.

  3. Garden compost, manure and leaf mould- free, but soon rots away. Can spread weeds unless well broken down. Compost and well-rotted manure add goodness to the soil as well as improving and protecting it, leaf mould acts as a protective layer and improves soil texture, but is less nutritious.

  4. Grass clippings- free, but turns yellow and can introduce weeds. In wet weather, they can become slimy.

  5. Composted bark- attractive, but can blow around and may support wind-borne weed seeds. Does not last as long as chipped bark.

  6. Gravel- attractive, and long -lasting, but does not add organic matter to the soil. Various grades available.

Oh, and straw can also be used around vegetables and of course strawberries (to conserve moisture and protect ground laying fruit), and if you can get hold of it, shredded paper also works!

Shredded paper mulch around dahlias

Shredded paper mulch around dahlias

No-Dig gardening, Sheet Mulching and Hugelkultur

Sheet mulching, No-dig gardens and Hugelkultur have a fair bit in common; basically using organic matter in large quantities to provide a rich growing medium without the need for digging. It depends what school of gardening you’re from as to what your preference is, coupled with your conditions.

No dig gardens rely on adding copious layers of organic material over the soil without digging it, allowing the mulch to break down and form a rich top soil, into which vegetables and fruit can be directly planted. You need lots of organic material.

Sheet mulching

Sheet mulching

Sheet mulching (or ‘lasgane gardening’) has a similar premise to no-dig. Smother the undesirable plants, mulch heavily, make a ‘lasagne’ of carbon and compost, and plant lots. A good initial burst of energy brings minimal labour further down the line!

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur

Hugelkultur (‘hill culture’) are no-dig raised beds with a difference. They hold moisture, build fertility, maximise surface volume and are great spaces for growing fruit, vegetables and herbs.

Effective mulching

Apply at the right time- mulches need to be in place by mid spring when the soil is at its wettest but is no longer cold. There is no point applying a mulch in dry summer conditions because it will stop moisture from getting to the plants and they will require even more watering than usual. Applying compost or well-rotted manure to fruit bushes and trees in the autumn and early spring will give them a boost, and applying leaf mould to bare soil in Autumn can be an effective protective layer to reduce the leaching away of nutrients in the soil during wet winters.

Apply the right thickness- to ensure effective weed control, apply a minimum thickness of loose organic material or gravel of 5cm (ideally 7cm) straight onto the soil surface.

Feed and water plants- add fertiliser before applying a mulch in spring time. Lay a seep hose under mulch matting so that you can supply water easily if needed.

Mulch in rows- when planting vegetables or bedding plants in rows, lays strips of mulch matting along the bed between the plants rather than planting them through the matting.

Problems with Mulches

  • Some mulches can be unsightly or troublesome when scattered by foraging birds

  • All mulches provide refuge for slugs and some types are a refuge for snails

  • If mulches are laid in direct contact with tree stems they can cause it to soften, making it vulnerable to disease

  • A build up of mulch can produce a hard layer, which is difficult for water to penetrate. Avoid this by only replacing mulch when it has rotted away or fork the remaining mulch into the soil

The outcome of piling mulch up around tree stems- 'volcanoes'

The outcome of piling mulch up around tree stems- ‘volcanoes’

Sources and further information:

‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

RHS- Mulches and mulching

RHS- Fruit Trees- feeding and mulching

Milkwood blog– S is for Sheet mulching

Permaculture – Hugelkultur

Proper mulching- no mulch volcanoes

Old School Gardener

compost-trench-after‘Trench & prepare ground with compost – sow as yet all sorts of greenes.’

John Evelyn 1686 (published 1932)

Old School Gardener

drought-headerThe impacts of climate change on gardening around the world are becoming clearer, though of late perhaps the emphasis has shifted away from global warming, the associated changes in the onset and duration of the seasons and the conditions for growing different plants. The recent focus has been on prolonged extreme weather events like peristent wind and rain in the UK, drought in pacific north America and ice and snow in the mid west and eastern seaboards.

In this second of a series on climate change and gardening I’ll set out a few ideas for ‘being prepared for the unpredictable’.

I originally wrote this article in March 2013, whilst looking out on a sunny but cold day – temperatures were hovering around freezing and a biting easterly wind reduced the temperature feel by a few more degrees. The ground was cold, spring flowers were struggling to make headway and some of my seedlings were battling to stay alive, let alone get to the potting up stage!

Once again, this year in my part of the UK (central Norfolk), we seem to have escaped the worst of the most recent bout of severe weather. Elsewhere in the country where there was deep snow on the ground last year (some drifts were over 4 metres deep and there was talk in the press of ‘the coldest March for fifty years’ and ‘the longest winter since 1962’), this year, as Spring knocks on the door, we’ve had a relatively mild winter, but one which has brought severe flooding, wind and other storm-related damage (such as ‘sink holes’) to many parts of the UK.

Professor Sir John Beddington
Professor Sir John Beddington

As the retiring UK Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Beddington warned in an interview last year:

“The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are going to have more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms…These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale”

So, it looks like many (if not most) gardeners face the challenge of seasons tipping between unusual weather patterns including long periods of drought, flood and frost.

Wild flower meadows can be a more sustainable option than frequently mown lawns.
Wild flower meadows can be a more sustainable option than frequently mown lawns.

My first article in this series about climate change and gardening looked at what the forecasts said, based largely on models of climate change produced about ten years ago. Last year the Royal Horticultural Society and University of Reading linked up to publish a new research report  which is based on new forecasting models and which includes the results of a survey of gardeners on what they perceive to be happening and what measures they have already taken or are preparing to take. This survey revealed that two-thirds (62%) of British gardeners feel optimistic that they can adapt to the challenges climate change may bring, while 70% believe changes in gardening practices can help them garden successfully in a changing environment.

So, we all know that in the short term we can do certain things to avoid the worst excesses of the weather and I’ll be reviewing these in my next article. In this post I want to set out a few ideas for some more strategic measures we might take to ameliorate the impact of abnormal weather events.

So, what are we trying to achieve?

It might sound obvious, but I guess we’re trying to create the right growing conditions for the plants that stand a good chance of growing (if not flourishing) in what are the underlying climatic conditions for where we live. 

In the UK, ‘maritime climate’ is a disarmingly simple term which refers to what can, at the best of times, mean very variable weather conditions from region to region and from month to month. Overlay the effects of climate change on this and the (unexpected) variability can be that much greater. We need to look at ways of managing and manipulating the ingredients for growing success – or if you like, putting in place measures that can maintain the right ‘micro climate’.

This is nothing new. The Romans harvested winter rains for use in their parched summer gardens. The ancient Tiwanaku people of South America developed an ability to manage the growing environment for their crops. They lived between Lake Titicaca and dry highlands in present – day Bolivia. The area near the lake provided key resources of fish, wild birds, plants, and herding grounds for llamas. Further to the east in the Altiplano area is a very dry, arid land. Here, the high altitude Titicaca Basin provided less promising growing conditions and resulted in the development of a distinctive farming technique known as ‘flooded raised field’ agriculture (suka kollus).

 

This consists of artificially raised planting mounds separated by shallow canals filled with water. The canals supply moisture for growing crops, but they also absorb heat from solar radiation during the day. This heat is gradually emitted during the bitterly cold, frosty nights, providing ‘thermal insulation’.  Over time, the canals were also used to farm edible fish, and the resulting canal sludge was dredged for fertilizer. The fields grew to cover nearly the entire surface of the lake and although they were not uniform in size or shape, all had the same primary function. Though labour-intensive, suka kollus produce impressive yields. Significantly, experimental fields recreated in the 1980s by Alan Kolata and Oswaldo Rivera of the University of Chicago suffered only a 10% decrease in production following a 1988 freeze that killed 70-90% of the rest of the region’s production.

So, as we can see, the Tiwanaku engineered fields that were specialised in coping with seasonal variations and were able to ameliorate otherwise frosty local conditions. It is this sort of approach – ‘working with nature’  rather than attempting to control it – that is the key to coping with the impacts of abnormal weather events in our gardens.

What can we do to get our gardens prepared for climate change?

home made compost
Home made compost – try to create as much as possible to improve soil structure and fertility

Soil

  • Organise home composting and leaf mould creation, if at all possible. Organic matter added to all types of  soils will improve water absorption, aeration and fertility. Double (deeply) dug beds with plenty of organic material incorporated will be a great help. Likewise adding gravel to heavy soils can help to loosen up the structure.

  • Add mulches of organic materials to beds to help conserve moisture or otherwise use ‘cover crops’ to avoid areas of bare earth which will dry out more quickly.

  • Raised beds will provide well – drained growing conditions  and an annual layer of organic material may be all that’s needed to keep the structure and fertility up to scratch (and can be extended further with alternating layers of different materials such as newspaper to keep weeds down and improve structure and moisture retention when needed – so called ‘Lasagne gardening’).

  • Make sure you adopt ‘healthy practices’ when preparing growing media and containers so that you minimise the risk of harmful diseases – wash out pots and seed trays. And remove all those little potatoes from a plot where you grew these to avoid encouraging blight.

Rain gardens can provide a solution to gardens with excess water
Rain gardens can provide a solution to gardens with excess water

Water

  • Don’t pave over large areas of open ground for parking, patios or other reasons, unless the materials used are permeable to allow run off. Likewise use permeable materials for paths such as gravel, bark chippings or in combination with pavers and/or ensure runoff into surrounding beds and borders if the ground can take the surge of heavy rainfall.

  • Could your garden (or perhaps an area of lawn) benefit from improved drainage? Apart from installing a system underground, you can improve aeration and absorption in lawns by annual spiking with a fork (or if the area is large a mechanised version of this) plus scarifying the surface with a spring rake. Better still, reduce the area of lawn or remove it altogether – in  some areas people have replaced even front garden lawns with food growing beds.

  • For temporary flood protection, try ditching the boundaries of your plot to hold and possibly divert excess water to places where it can be better coped with – for instance you could create a pond or pool to capture excess water and possibly also provide a ready source in times of drought and help to attract beneficial wildlife to help control pests. And think of the Tiwanaku and their frost preventing raised field planting – creating bodies of water near frost pockets can help to reduce the impact of cold weather.

  • Look for opportunities to use excess water to add new planting areas to your garden – bog or rain gardens where planting can be adjusted to make use of the wetter ground conditions. See this link for further ideas on storm water management.

  • And alongside this have water harvesting measures in place to capture rainwater so that it can be stored and used when needed – barrels, butts or tanks fed from downpipes – even underground storage tanks are now available.

  • Consider using weeping hoses, automatic irrigation systems or simple measures like short lengths of pipe/open ended plastic bottles inserted in the ground alongside plants to ensure watering is efficient, reaching the roots rather than evaporating on the surface.

Efficient watering can be simple
Efficient watering can be simple
Make your own greenhouse from recycled plastic bottles
Make your own greenhouse from recycled plastic bottles

Temperature

  • Think about the mix of planting you have and if hot weather is likely to be an issue, ensure that shorter, smaller, more sensitive plants are sheltered at the hottest time of the day by some shade from other overhanging trees, shrubs or other planting.

  • Likewise, more permanent structures such as pergolas, arbours and the like can provide not only an interesting growing feature but can provide shade for plants underneath or along their edges.

  • Greenhouses, polytunnels, conservatories and even light rooms in the house (where temperature and humidity can be controlled) can provide a protected environment for over – wintering plants that would otherwise perish in cold spells. Heating your greenhouse adds greater flexibility, and can be ‘green’ if you harness the earth’s thermal energy through some sort of simple heat exchanger that taps warmth below ground.

  • Use cloches, larger plant covers or cold frames to provide mini controlled environments which can enable germination of seeds, development of seedlings and possibly protection of less than hardy plants during times of frost or prolonged cold. The growing season (especially for food crops) can effectively be extended through such methods. See this video for information.

wind breaks can reduce the impact of strong winds

Wind breaks can reduce the impact of strong winds

Planting

  • Use wind breaks of trees, hedges, other planting or permeable barriers of suitable man-made material fixed to posts to reduce the speed and force of winds which can cause dessication (drying out) of plants  as well as structural damage. These measures can be used on the boundaries of the garden as well as inside it to create pockets of  still air which can also raise temperatures.

  • Choose plants which can cope better with weather extremes; look out for indicators of resilience on plant labels and especially accreditations such as the RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’ (AGM- I’ll be covering this in more detail in my final article of the series).

  • Plant for the future, using trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant or damp-loving – whatever is suited to the conditions in your garden or parts of it.

  • Avoid long-term planting in flood areas, unless you are trying to create different growing conditions like bog or rain gardens.

  • Avoid clearing slopes of vegetation as this may cause erosion problems.

  • Encourage biodiversity and beneficial wildlife through your choice of plants (as well as the other measures that you can take to create different habitats) so as to help control unwanted pests. Planting a native species hedge for example can encourage wildlife and provide shelter from drying winds or storms.

  • Think about increasing the proportion of perennials you grow, including fruit and vegetables, as these are less demanding of fertility and CO2 emission in their propagation etc.

A garden pond can help with capturing excess water and improve biodiversity

A garden pond can help with capturing excess water and improve biodiversity

And finally, think sustainably when considering the overall impact your garden and gardening practices will have on the world. Gardens are enormously valuable in the fight to reduce CO2 emissions and by reducing or removing the use of powered tools (especially those used in lawn maintenance) we can further increase the beneficial impact we have.

In my next article in this series I’ll turn my attention to gardening techniques and short term measures we can take to manage the impact of abnormal weather patterns. In the meantime, if you have any direct experiences of climate change or any other comments I’d love to hear from you.

Other articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Further information:

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

Vanha Talo Suomi

a harrowing journey of home improvement

How I Killed Betty!

The Diary and blog on How to Tackle Depression and Anxiety!

Bits & Tidbits

RANDOM BITS & MORE TIDBITS

Rambling in the Garden

.....and nurturing my soul

The Interpretation Game

Cultural Heritage and the Digital Economy

pbmGarden

Sense of place, purpose, rejuvenation and joy

SISSINGHURST GARDEN

Notes from the Gardeners...

Deep Green Permaculture

Connecting People to Nature, Empowering People to Live Sustainably

BloominBootiful

A girl and her garden :)

gwenniesworld

ABOUT MY GARDEN, MY TRAVELS AND ART

Salt of Portugal

all that is glorious about Portugal

The Ramblings of an Aspiring Small Town Girl

Cooking, gardening, fishing, living, laughing.

aristonorganic

"The Best of the Best"

PetalPushin

Thoughts from a professional Petal Pusher

Free Spirit Publishing Blog

An idea exchange for kids' education

GarryRogers Nature Conservation

Wild Plants & Animals Advocate

Focused Moments

Photography by RACHAEL TALIBART

Lightning Droplets

Little flecks of inspiration and creativity

%d bloggers like this: