Gardening and DIY: The big dry

By Janet Luke

Photo / Getty
Photo / Getty

Ripe for the picking
New season apples and pears are plentiful along with rock melons and dessert grapes. Kumara, both red and purple are also available. Early autumn brassicas such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are also ready to harvest.

Vege garden
Young autumn seedlings require a constant water supply to ensure a steady growth and formation of a strong root system. When young plants are starved of water they go into preservation mode and shoot to seed.

It will take a few good weeks of significant rainfall to return parched soils to moist vegetable patches again.

In the meantime here are some simple ways to conserve water:
Only water your garden in the early morning or late evening
Mulch the garden thickly with an organic material such as straw, pea hay, compost or even shredded newsprint
Form swales between your rows (swales are shallow trenches which help to slow water run off and pool water for the plants roots to uptake)
Disconnect any down spouting from your roof so that any dew or rain can drain onto the ground or into a water butt
Drape old net curtaining, or wind cloth, over tender seedlings such as lettuce or spinach to protect them from the scorching sun.

Seedlings to plant now include broccoli, lettuce, mesclun, rocket, kale, broad beans and peas.

Herbs

Galangal
This is a member of the ginger family and is native to South East Asia. If you enjoy cooking Thai you need to grow some of this!

The plant looks similar to wild ginger and forms a clump of roots which are used in recipes. Galangal grows best in light shade in a warm space. A greenhouse is ideal. Provide it with rich compost and regular water.

Kaffir lime

This plant grows as a small tree, 5-10m tall, with aromatic and distinctively shaped "double" leaves. The fruit it bears are rough, bumpy and green. This lime tree requires a frost-free site in your garden or conservatory and grows well in a large pot on a sunny balcony or patio.

Both the leaves and fruit rind are used for cooking. Place the plant somewhere so you can brush by it and release the wonderful fragrance from the leaves. Like all citrus it requires regular feeding with compost, worm vermicasts or liquid fertiliser to maintain vigor.

Urban orchard
Fig trees will be fruiting now. Hang old CDs or tin lids in the tree to deter raiding birds. Figs do not mature off the tree so ensure they are soft before picking.

When picking, avoid getting the white sap on your skin as it can cause itching for some people.

Figs are high in calcium and fibre.

Citrus trees need feeding around their drip zone to nurture the developing fruit. I prefer to use blood and bone, sheep pellets or my rabbits 'bunny berries' as an organic feed. If you are hand-watering your citrus trees give the trunk and underside of leaves a forceful squirt with the hose as this will help to wash away any young scale insects.

Cut back to the ground any old fruiting canes on your raspberry or current bushes.

Urban livestock: City chooks

With the heat of summer many poultry have stated to moult.

During this time they require a high protein diet to help them grow new glossy plumage. With the ground so dry, many insects may be hard to find. A good trick is to place some planks of untreated wood or tree stumps in some shady corners of the garden and turn over for the chooks occasionally so they can feast on any hiding insects.

Faverolle

This unusual looking bird has a feathered beard and muffs and five toes. This French breed has been bred as a meat bird but is also a good layer, laying around four light-brown, medium-sized eggs a week.

This breed is very docile and quiet making it perfect for a town flock. They can be bullied in a mixed flock so it is best to keep them with other docile fowls such as Light Sussex or Barnevelder, rather than the feisty brown shavers.

They are popular as pets, especially for children due to their gentleness.

Eco tip
Cut a fresh lime in half and apply under your armpits each morning as a natural, chemical free deodorant. Keep the lime in the fridge (labeled well!) and discard after four days.

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