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Gardening: The climes, they are a-changing!

Updated March 02, 2014

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March is an extremely busy time for gardeners throughout the length and breadth of this climatically diverse country of ours but times and weather patterns have altered drastically and there is much change to factor into the way we go about growing to our heart’s desire.

Top of the list is that, according to climate change predictions, we will have longer periods of dry weather, and eventually drought, between shorter and more intense periods of wet weather. Thus, garden planning, design and planting must take all of these into consideration. Planting on potentially ‘drought proof’ principles is highly recommended with, when it does rain, provisions for rainwater harvesting and flood protection included in regular garden work.

Going ‘drought proof’ means a variety of things: More reliance on drought tolerant, often indigenous species of plants is a prime and very basic necessity whether these plants happen to be edible or ornamental. Since times are increasingly hard, emphasis should really be on organic edible plant production of all kinds so that, if one species fails the climate change test, another is there to take its place. Much experimentation is required — varying from region to region — to discover exactly which plant species can be depended on to come through and take whatever the climate throws at it. But one thing is for certain: it’s time to completely stop planting imported, thirsty, inedible species it has become so fashionable to import from tropical and sub-tropical regions in the east where high humidity and tremendous amounts of water are such plants’ natural growing conditions.

‘Drought proofing’ should, out of necessity, also include the routine use of deep mulches to retain soil moisture when and as needed. When wet periods are forecast, this mulch will double its existing soil enriching/water conservation properties by helping to prevent soil — and plants — from being washed away. But, to prevent any water-logging as a result of the mulch being ‘drowned in a deluge’, it is also recommended that drainage channels, these need only be dug in the earth itself, which can be open and closed — a shovel full of soil or a sliding piece of wood making improvised ‘sluice gates’ according to weather conditions — are made in the growing beds with, even in ‘drought proof’ gardens, raised beds being another recommendation. Yes, I know it sounds complicated but, I promise, it isn’t!

Having got that ‘little lot’ out of the way, let’s move on to which edibles you can sow this month. Tomatoes, okra, aubergines, cucumbers, radish, lettuce, spinach, leaf beet, summer cauliflower — the purple headed ones are more heat tolerant than the usual white — loose leaved cabbage, courgettes, pumpkins, tindas, loki, capsicums, chillies, sweet melons and water melons can all go in now. The latter four can be sown, preferably, towards the end of the month or immediately when temperatures begin their annual climb. Herbs such as basil, coriander, chives, garlic chives, dill, aniseed and summer savoury can also go in now.

All of these are, naturally, going to require some water to get them going and which is where stored rainwater — correctly stored and covered so as not to provide mosquito breeding places — and recycled household water or ‘grey water’ as it is more correctly called, come into play if, that is, you have planned ahead. If you haven’t yet incorporated such ‘forward thinking’ into your gardening plans then please do so right now.

‘Gray water’ is the term used for recycled, almost detergent/soap free, household water collected from the washing of hands, clothes rinsing, vegetable washing, dish washing, etc. and can be used, without any adverse effect on all flowering plants, on leafy vegetables and herbs. But it is not recommended for use on root vegetables or species such as tomatoes and melons which have an incredibly high water content and in which, accordingly, any pollutants present in the water, will, over a period of time, build up.

For those of you with a preference for flower cultivation, it is a great idea to switch over from purely ornamental blooms to blooms that both look good and are ‘good enough to eat’.

Few people appear to be aware that every single part of daylily plants, from roots to flower and the green bits in between, are perfectly edible although, I must say, the beautiful flowers are the tastiest part. Picked off the plant just as they open, stuffed with a chunk of cheese, held closed with a wooden toothpick and lightly fried in olive oil they are a delectable treat as are, surprise surprise, courgette flowers — the non-fruiting male ones on long stems — too.

Other edible flowers to enjoy in your garden and your diet include the following: Roses, violets, violas, pansies, borage, sunflowers, globe artichokes (the last two being picked and eaten as fat buds before they open into flowers), calendulas, carnations, chrysanthemums, ‘kuchnar’, mallow, chive and garlic chive flowers and those, reach for the sky or dwarf, hollyhocks without which no garden is complete.

This month is also the time, for plains dwellers that is, to harvest the seeds of the winter-through-spring annual flowers which are coming to an end now and which will, as temperatures rise, burn up completely. Remember that you can only save the seeds of what are termed ‘heritage’ varieties: These are the original, usually open pollinated, species not any kind of hybrid, be it an F1 or F2 hybrid or whatever. The seeds harvested from heritage species produce plants that are the same as their parents — those saved from hybrids produce, if anything at all, plants of a much inferior quality and are not worth saving at all. This, truth be known, is the breeder/sellers idea as then you have no option but to buy new seed stock, at ever increasing prices, each and every year. Sticking with heritage ones makes far more sense, plus, the original of the species is usually far more tolerant to adverse climatic spells than are the more delicate hybrids.

Tip: Only save seed from the strongest plants and not from weak ones no matter how beautiful they are.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer will not respond directly by e-mail. E-mails with attachments will not be opened.