by Hilary Rowley
Everyone I have spoken to about gardening had a bad year in the vegetable garden and in the glasshouse due to the wet summer last season. You know things are bad when you can keep up with the zucchini plants and hardly have any to give away. Unfortunately, climate change modeling points to us having a wet climate in future, so we shall just have to figure this one out.
This summer, however, is predicted to have an early El Niño system, meaning a dry spring and early summer. This will be nice for a change, as long as it lasts long enough for everyone to have a decent summer holiday.
Dealing with dampness in your garden involves a couple of strategies. Drainage can be achieved with raised bed gardens, installing drainage coil to take away excess water, or drainage ditches dug strategically (where you won’t end up tripping into them all the time). You can encourage lighter, more free-draining soil with the addition of humus. Adding gypsum to the garden will help break up boggy clay. We found that waste Gib board from our house build was perfect smashed up and dug into the garden as it is made of gypsum; in fact, there is a guy in Auckland who makes a living breaking up waste Gib board from Auckland building sites and turning it into salable gypsum.
Slugs are a big problem in wet years. I find that if we use mulch in a wet spring, we lose all the seedling to slugs who shelter comfortably under a nice shady mulch all day before venturing out at night for a feed. I have tried lots of organic methods and only a few seem to work reasonably well. A moat of salty beach sand works really well. It is the salt which does the trick, as it makes slugs dissolve if they touch it. However, there are a couple of down sides; the salt will eventually wash away and lose its effectiveness, and you may end up with a build-up of salt in the garden. I have never seen any sign of this, but it is possible. Beer traps work but they do need replacing frequently as they fill up with rain water. Hunting slugs at night with a torch and tin can of salty warm water is really effective and satisfying if you have been despairing as the little buggers eat all your beautiful healthy seedlings. At night hundreds of slugs can be seen sliming their way over your garden. All you have to do then is pick them up and drop them in the can. You need to do this fairly often as the population of slugs in a Blueskin Bay garden must number in the thousands.
Fungus will also be a problem in a wet garden, and I am forever ranting on about it in this column. I have so far concluded that a non-toxic, slightly acidic or slightly alkaline substance (a mild solution of vinegar or baking soda) sprayed on your plants should be just enough to deter fungus spores from spreading.
Avoid if you can plants that can’t handle damp conditions. This is a hard one, though, as each year’s weather can be so variable. Gardening is like life: you have to weigh up future possibilities using all the skills and knowledge at your disposal and then make, hopefully, the best decision. Oh, and not worry about it too much when everything turns to custard … or in this case mould, rot, and slug eaten stumps.
Don’t forget to prune your fruit trees and bushes and pick up all those sticks; if you leave them on the ground they will spread disease. Tie them into bundles and throw them in the back of your wood shed for some instant kindling next winter.