How I lost my vegetable patch in one hot dry week

Brown dry lawns devoid of grass.

Trees that have dropped their leaves in an effort to conserve energy.  

Deadpan earth devoid of life and hard as concrete.  

These signs of dry and drought conditions are all too familiar in my part of the world, and are a dispiriting sight for any gardener.    

In an effort to live more sustainably, I have been trying to grow a small crop of herbs and vegetables at home. In some ways growing food is very simple and in other ways it is incredibly difficult.  

Of all the challenges a gardener faces in south east Queensland, where 30 degree Celsius days are considered pleasant, the importance of water has resonated with me more than any other.  

I’ve lots of strategies in place to combat the water challenge. On a tricky block, garden beds are positioned to try and get as much sunlight as possible in winter, whilst seeing the bare minimum of sunlight in summer. And the soil has been build up with lots of organic matter to help it retain as much moisture as possible. In the height of summer shade cloth is hung over the beds to protect the plants from the harsh summer sun.  

But despite these humble strategies to keep the vegetable patch alive hand watering is required every second or third day, simply because we go very long periods without rain. Without hand watering the vegetable patch would die.

I was recently lucky enough to go away on a week long holiday, and while I was excited about the holiday I was quite concerned about how the patch would manage without me.  As the holiday drew nearer I was regularly checking the weather forecast hoping that there might be just a little bit of rain. Just enough to stop my plants from dying in the harsh sun. I wasn’t asking for miracles.  But alas, clear sunny days with temperatures of 30+ degrees Celsius were forecast every day. You’ve got to love summer in the sunshine state!

Of most concern were cucumbers that were close to fruiting and some baby rhubarb that hadn’t quite established itself yet.    

To help the plants in the garden beds survive on their own for the long hot dry week, they were given a thorough water and covered with a shade cloth.  All pot plants were collected under the shade of the deck and watered thoroughly.

Fingers crossed…

The holiday was wonderful.  

Upon returning most of the pot plants survived the long dry week without too much damage.  The basil was very wilted but came good after a good water.   

My vegetable patch was not so lucky.      

The only thing to survive unscathed was the sweet potato that is in the shade of a large tree.  

Of the three baby rhubarb I had growing, only one survived and barely.  The other two have completely disappeared. Shriveled into oblivion by the sun.  

Everything else was so damaged by the dry conditions that the leaves had mostly burnt and there were no flowers or new growth.  I lost all hope that any of them would fruit.  

That night, the night I returned from holidays, it rained. It was glorious rain that went well into the night. The kind of rain that you dream of. Slow steady rain that penetrates the hard earth and soaks deep.  The kind of rain that replenishes the earth and gives the flora just what it needs to keep growing.     

The next morning whilst tending the sun damaged patch it was encouraging to see that the glorious rain had in fact penetrated deep into the ground. There is hope that some of the plants may recover and even fruit to provide a modest harvest.  

For the remainder of summer, the hottest parts of summer, I’ll plant a cover crop in each of the garden beds to protect and replenish the soil. As the weather cools I’ll try my luck with some quick growing crops before the winter months set in.       

Next time I go on holidays in summer I think I’ll try some form of slow release watering system – though I’m not sure what type yet…

How do you protect your plants when you are away on holidays?