29 March 2009

Drought Update

What can I say? Still no rain. I'm just back from a week in Cape Town teaching a programming course, and still in recovery. Business trips to CT seem to knock me out totally for about 2 days after I return... I've hardly even looked at the veggie garden since I returned -- just been out there to take a look and water the seed trays.

It's disheartening, to say the least. I estimate about 4kl of water left in the dam -- just enough to keep the tadpoles and Chillis alive. The Brandywine tomatoes are dead, along with Lime Green Salad, all the green-beans, and the Galapagos Orange and Resi Gold are on their last legs. I'll try and keep the Resi Gold going awhile longer if I can -- perhaps with the bathwater. Plants that I've watered with washing-machine water have not fared well. I think the surfactants and shit in the detergents are just too harsh for most veggie plants. The fruit trees seem to handle it better.

Right now I should be planting seed trays of Onions and Cabbage Tribe, and direct sowing Peas, Chickpeas and Broad Beans, and preparing Winter beds. There's no point. The weather forecast for the coming week predicts a 20% possibility of Trace Amounts of rain on Wednesday. Or, in other words, an 80% of sweet Fanny Adams.

So Thank You All, those of you who have been so kind as to send me wonderful new Chickpea seed, new Brassica varieties, Wonderful Winter Grains,... you're stars! But it may be a while before I get to grow them... I'm not prepared to squander these gifts unless they stand at least some small chance of success. I keep planting seed-trays for Winter, using varieties where I have a plentitude of seed, in the vain hope that the drought may break by the time they need to be transplanted. No such luck, so far; I've tossed any number of seed-trays of otherwise-thriving seedlings that don't stand a chance.

I know that sooner or later this drought has to break. (Or does it? Says who?) But right now it's depressing. And I'm bored! No beds to dig -- the ground's too hard. Not much to harvest -- the drought's killed the fucking lot! The best I can do is try to mulch the few empty beds that remain un-mulched (for lack of mulching materiel.)

The only bright light in all of this is that it's a great time to weed and hoe!

07 March 2009

More Drought

Despite a brief respite in February, the drought continues in full force. Total rainfall for Feb was 63.5mm -- just about bang on average for February (as if the weather takes any notice of our arbitrary calendrical fantasies!) But this doesn't tell the full story...

Most of that most-welcome rain fell in a single week-long wet, with a few additional useless dots of rain spread through the remainder of the month; rainfalls of 2, 3 and 4mm, which simply cause more harm than good.

None of the rain was sufficient to begin recharging the dams or the soil in any meaningful way, but it does mean that the house-water tanks got topped-up, so we're quite relaxed about our domestic water. Even so, we're very conservative in our water use... baths are ankle-deep, and we all bath in the same water, and then use that water to fill the toilet. (I keep flirting with the idea of a composting toilet setup a la the Humanure Book, but haven't quite got there yet.)

To compound the problems, we're in the middle of the hottest days we've experienced in a very long time: Temperatures up into the high 30's, and even into the 40's in some places. (That's Celsius degrees for the unmetricated.) The Brandywines don't like it and are dying. Some Rattlesnake Bean plants simply burned to a crisp the other day, as if they'd been blasted by a blowtorch.

It is interesting to see, though, which plants show greater drought-resistance. All of the Tomato varieties we're growing have cracking fruits due the irregular and inadequate water supply, and in the excessive heat I'm losing a wholte lot of Tomato fruits to sun-scald. And there are not a whole lot to begine with, since they were so short of water during their flowering that many of the flowers aborted. I just noticed this morning, as I was watering them by hand, that the Tomato varieties that seem to be fairing best are the dark ones -- Russian Purple, Black Cherry, and Cherokee Purple. Very interesting! It would seem that the genes that impart the dark colour may also be tangled-up in imparting some degree of water-stress resistance. More thinking on this needed...

Ruminating on this for a bit led me to the stray thought: I wonder if I could breed/select/test for some varieties that would perform better for me into Winter, since we don't have to worry about frost in Winter, but we do have to worry about the very fierce UV conditions we experience in mid- to late-Summer (i.e. Right Now.)

For example, I seldom get a really good performance from Tigerella (which I love for their prettiness and flavour.) If it comes to harvest early -- say late-Jan or Feb -- it tends to get attacked by blight, since that is usually a very humid and hot time of year. March harvest sees the fruit blasted by the Sun, as the foliage is not very lush and shade-making. Perhaps if I could get it fruiting in May or June I might get luckier. Maybe it's not too late to give it a try this year, already.

Assuming the water situation improves and I can keep enough water to get seedlings established!

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