Fernglade Farm – Mid Summer (January) 2013 Update

What a difference six weeks has made to the food forest here! The change in climate between cool and wet to hot and dry happened in less than a week during early October and since that time there has been no significant rainfall. The rain probably won’t fall here now until about April based on past experience and records.

The abrupt change surprised me and I took a while to come to accept that the climate had altered here that quickly, but after this realisation I undertook to heavily mulch all 300+ fruit trees. The purpose of this is to keep the plants’ root systems cool and reduce the evaporation of ground water. The mulch does have the adverse effect of scavenging nitrogen from the top soil which causes further stress to the fruit trees, but this is only temporary and the impact is much less than the stress caused by the loss of ground water due to evaporation.

Many of the days have been well in excess of 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) with strong winds and this has had a drying effect on the plants. Twice now this season because of the extreme weather I have had to provide about half a bucket of water to each fruit tree. Water supplies are limited here as the soil is too well drained to hold water in a dam or pond. As an interesting side note, where bentonite is used to line dams to assist with the retention of water, yabbies (a native freshwater crayfish) move in and dig their burrows, which then ends up draining the dams.

The only fruit trees which have died here so far are the very young which were planted in wet conditions and just don’t have the established root systems which can effectively forage for water and nutrients in these drier conditions.

The sunset shows just how much smoke particles are in the air due to bush fires

Some of the berry beds have had to be abandoned because I’ve found that the raspberries in particular are too water intensive and I am also at fault because they were established too late in the season for their root systems to have fully developed and the mulch just wasn’t deep enough.
The herbage under the trees in the food forest has died back. Some exceptions to this include plants of the borage family which are companions to many fruit trees here as well as the more ‘weedy’ species such as plantain, dandelions, cats ears and sow thistle which all seem to be quite hardy and are providing fresh greens for both myself and the visiting wildlife.

Predation of the fruit has been extreme this year and I have virtually donated my entire crop of several hundred nashi pears plus stone fruits to the local wildlife as they are clearly also struggling with the drier conditions. It was fortunate for the wildlife that it has been a bumper year for most of those fruits. Apples, citrus, berries and olives are some of the remaining fruit which has avoided this predation. It is the long term design here that the food forest forms a dense canopy which will make predation more difficult for the local bird population.

Some of the berries have produced bumper crops of excellent tasting fruit including: jostaberries; gooseberries; strawberries and currants. However, because of the extreme heat, some of those berries are starting to ferment on the bushes if not picked in time.

The herb garden and raised vegetable beds are doing very well in the heat, although they are the most water intensive plants in the entire system. Some of the vegetables do however have a tendency to bolt to seed and I have been kept busy removing the flowers and seeds to get a bit more life out of them. Other plants such as the guavas (pineapple and strawberry), tomatoes and geraniums (pelargonium species) are enjoying the hot conditions!

It has been a mixed bag really, however, the stress to plants in the food forest is increasing. Some hard decisions have been made and it would be nice just to get some rain.