Last month in Ligaya Garden Nov/Dec 2019

The weekly updates were proving a bit tricky, so I’ve opted to do a bigger, monthly update from now on…

All of the posts will be listed here on this page for your elucidation and convenience.

Catching up

The entrance is much more open and inviting

Things got a bit out of whack in the garden over the last month.

We’ve all been preoccupied with our own stuff of late, along with a good dose of climate and social activism. This meant that the plants got a bit neglected – not ignored, just neglected.

We had a lot of dry, Northerly winds and warm days (by warm now, I mean over 35°C) that dried out the garden and surrounding country.

To keep ahead of the Summer, we’ve changed all of the front irrigation to either wicking beds or drippers. If you add that to the weather, you get a decided lack of humidity. There may be moisture in the root zone but there’s little floating around in the air.

We were late mulching too this year because finances were short. We mulch as we go throughout the year but I do like to add a nice, thick blanket before the heat hits and get it nicely watered in.

Add to all this that we were letting a lot of plants go past their prime so that they could self seed to save us work next year and things got out of hand while nobody was looking.

Tipping points

It seemed obvious that a tipping point had been reached and the proven resilience of a garden full of a diverse group healthy plants with good nutrition and adequate water had given way to pests. Somewhere, somehow, one of the complex systems that compose a garden had gotten out of kilter, giving advantage to one or more opportunistic species.

Spider mites & Whitefly

Spider Mites over took the garden!

Less moisture in the air and free veggies were a lure too hard to resist for Spider mites who saw all of this as an open invitation to crash at our place. My recent distractions allowed them to get a strong foothold and conditions favoured them. The next thing we knew, literally every soft green plant was showing yellow spotting and, within a brief span, fine silvery webs.

On a positive but puzzling, pest related, note though – we don’t have many Earwigs and Slugs around.

We can add to the Spider mites some other pests that seem dominant this year. We usually get a small problem with Whitefly which start off on the Warrigal Greens and make their way to the tasty Brassicas. This year, they’ve been more widespread. I’ve actually removed the patch of Warrigals that was in the centre of the garden. That was a hotbed of Whitefly reproduction.

Usually, at this time of year, there are lots of predators around (Hoverflies, Lacewings, and Ladybugs) to take care of any imbalance in pest numbers because of the change in the seasons. They’re here this year but in drastically reduced numbers. Even the flight space over our Crassula plants (which we use to lure Hoverflies) is nearly empty. Normally, as the Crassulas flower, the Hoverflies make a party of it. Bees seem fewer this year too…

On a positive but puzzling, pest related, note though – we don’t have many Earwigs and Slugs around. All of our local gardening community  is suffering an almost Biblical plague of Earwigs but I had to hunt around the garden to find one for a pic in an upcoming post.

Earwigs… Grrrrr!

Birds

The overall dryness in the countryside has bought a lot of birds into the garden. That’s usually a good thing but they’ve an eye for succulent seedlings this year and Sparrows even stripped the Pepino of leaves!

Blackbirds have been at it as well, redistributing mulch and pulling up seedlings. Funny thing is though that they don’t eat them, just pull the newest ones up.

Rats

Rats too are making their presence known. Sleek, bright eyed, well fed creatures, snacking on our aquaponics veggies at night. They come from a neighbour’s block and head straight to the leafy greens. They trashed a whole crop of Lettuce seedlings and are now making their presence felt in the aquaponics). They’re being dealt with this year with commercial baits. We usually make our own baits but they are slower acting and we need to knock the the issue on the its head before things get worse.

What can we do about it?

remove the infected materials

All of the affected and sickly looking plants have been removed. The freshest looking stuff went to the chooks, the worst went to the green bin. To save some of the organic material from being exported from the garden, I’ve put a lot of infected and damaged plants into black plastic bags which will sit in the full Sun this week to kill off whatever nasties are included. When it’s finished, it’ll go onto the worms and to the chooks who think that all their Christmases have come at once with all of this food and scratching material.

add water

Watering is being done (temporarily) by hose to keep washing the plants, giving the Mites and Whitefly the message that they need to move on. This might raise the humidity a bit and deter other Mites from dropping by.

home made pest spray

A whole assortment of home made pest sprays

Also, I’m doing a daily spray of Garlic and Chili spray, or soapy water, For the first time I’m using White Oil to reduce pest numbers.

Spraying is our last resort pest control tactic as it kills predatory insects as well, but we need to get things under control quickly. Once numbers have dropped below ‘swarm’ level, I’ll back off a bit and encourage a balance to happen. We may even buy some ‘beneficial insect’ packs to restock the garden.

Netting

Everything’s draped in white nets

This year, we’re getting ready ahead of the birds for the fruit harvest. We’ve netted the smaller trees – the Nectarine, Peach and Pear. The Almond and Plum and Sicilian Nectarine trees, being much bigger are being netted piecemeal. This year, we’re determined to get enough fruit for ourselves!

I made some frames for the aquaponics from old electrical conduit and some that I had to purchase. That has been covered with bird netting. To double down on the bird protection, we’ve hung CDs from branches and trellises to deter birds from the fruit and the Owl is back in flight.

mulch – with a little help from the rain

The recent rained recently and I took full advantage of it to shore up the garden with fertilizer and mulch. I used both home made liquid fertilizers (pigeon poo, nettle tea and Bokashi liquid) and purchased seaweed liquid.

Then the rain came to soak it all in. After the first rain, we got some sugarcane mulch, some well rotted hay and pine needles from out mate, Greg, who has a property nearby. I also cleaned out the deep litter from the chook run and spread that around.

All this was spread over the garden, along with a light spray of liquid fertilizer before the second rain came to wet it all down.This mulching should go a long way to remedying the humidity issue and protect the soil during the upcoming heat.

The hay from Greg’s went into the chook run for a couple of days to get rid of any hitchhikers, then it’ll be spread around too. The girls have been having a great time going through it with a fine toothed comb.

Water is an easy guess when it comes to choosing the what will be most important thing to affect all gardeners in the foreseeable future. There will be reductions in water availability, both through town services and rainfall.

Did we learn anything?

We were very lucky that we’d just tucked away a little Christmas money. That was enough to get some advanced seedling to replace the eaten ones, rat bait and bird netting. We quickly managed to create or source the materials we needed. Written up in a post like this, it seems like a lot, an overwhelming wave of conditions. In truth, it’s not proving that hard to get over. If we’d had no money nor a supportive community though, we’d be back to the markets for our food for a while.

Of course, I’m kicking myself for being less observant but life has a way of getting in the way of gardening. We’d always considered our gardening tactics to be providing a diverse, healthy ecosystem capable of shrugging off the worst. Maybe it did, the worst happened when we weren’t paying attention and we only saw the tip of the iceberg and the plants and critters in the garden managed to take care of the worst of it.

The future

Water is an easy guess when it comes to choosing the what will be most important thing to affect all gardeners in the foreseeable future. There will be reductions in water availability, both through town services and rainfall.

Water conservation strategies will become vital to master as time passes and while we cant create our own water on a usable scale, we can make sure that what arrives to our properties is used multiple times before it leaves (hopefully as food).

A family with a garden near Gawler where we experiment with sustainability.