Gardening With Almost No Rain: Where There's Mulch, There's Life

It's been a tough summer around here for edible gardening this year - consistently hot hot days and very little rain. It's understandable that many have given up and are just waiting for the cool months to arrive. However I wanted to share that because of the perennial food system I have designed and created here, there's still a wonderful abundance of food in my garden and it looks lush. It really does work!

I've been out wandering through my garden observing what is still flourishing and where the garden is looking best considering such lack of water.  Yes, I've lost a number of things, but there's still such a diversity of leafy greens, spices, herbs, fruits and teas available. I even found a surprise bunch of bananas on the path this morning!

The surprise bunch I found on a back path this morning - had been watching a few others forming but missed this one. It's been a banana feast of a day!

We are conserving our tank water for house use, and because the river is so low, I am hesitant to use this source (reticulated to each block at Crystal Waters). The river ecosystem needs it more than we do!  There's platypus, endangered fish species ...

I am watering a little in patches, but not much, so what other strategies do I have for keeping my edible landscape not only alive but productive....

My first observation is that where there is mulch there is life. Places in the garden where there is thick mulch and/or living mulches the soil life is still alive and thriving. The plants in these places are doing well.  Check out this rocket/arugula. I'm appreciating this salad green. In areas away from the mulched zones I can certainly tell the difference. The ground is rock hard and dusty - even grass is dying.

Rocket/arugula going well in the fully mulched no-dig garden.

We live on a 1:5 slope and the main part of my edible garden is terraced. The terraces slow down any water or organic matter movement down the hill - retaining them as high up in the landscape as possible. Also it's a chance to build deeper richer soil right where I need it - to give the plants a better chance of survival during these drier times.

I really do prefer terraces than raised garden beds because runoff can be diverted naturally into the beds meaning they don't dry out so much. In addition, the terraced gardens maintain good drainage in wet times. It was a bit of an initial effort and investment, probably no more than constructed raised beds, but it certainly has been worthwhile. The evidence in this particularly challenging gardening season has shown this again to me.

The terrace close to my house - basil, corn, tarragon, turmeric, garlic chives, lettuce, sorrel and many more things growing well now.

Most of the perennial edibles I have in my garden I have tried and tested over decades to be tough, robust and resilient plants - in wet and dry times and without much care or attention. These are the plants which I noticed growing well year after year, and even thriving after working overseas for 9 months with no watering system in place.

Some of these include: Brazilian Spinach, Cranberry Hibiscus, Rosella, Sweet Potato, Parsley, Cassava, Tarragon, Tulsi, Sorrel, Pineapple Sage, Madagascar Beans, Lemongrass,  Aloe, Welsh Onions, Garlic Chives, Turmeric ...

Oranges forming.... I have many varieties growing to extend the harvest season.
Bananas forming nicely in the rich zone below the compost.

Society garlic - edible flowers and leaves.
There is no shortage of sweet potato shoots to eat at this time of year.

Under the shade of the citrus, the aloe is thick and plump - good in smoothies, juices, and of course on sunburn!
There are some things that just keep going even in the tough times. I find my self-seeding rocket, sweet basil, cherry tomatoes, curly kale, pumpkin, corn, chilli, even a few highly mulched cos and oakleaf lettuces are good for my lunch salad.

Keeping a close eye on the corn - I planted it very close to the house. 

Pesto coming very soon!

Most of my garden is set up as a food forest system. The dappled shade provided by the pioneers helps so much to keep things cool, as well as there being ample chop and drop materials to keep the mulch layer thick. The nutrient mining comfreys help to keep the soil open and healthy and the creeping ground covers (pumpkin, sweet potato) act like a second layer of mulch all contribute to a level of abundance that would not be otherwise possible in times like this.

There's passionfruit dripping off the vine, the mulberries are fruiting again, the acerola cherries just had a great flush, the figs are ripening, lots of banana bunches plumping up, oranges and mandarins are forming, the limes are already dropping and the Buddha's hand are ready.

I can't wait for the figs to be ready - watching these ones closely now.
The unusual Buddha's hand - lovely in a tea or finely grated into a salad or dressing. No juice, just rind and pith.

Our chickens are happy still laying well snuggled in the middle of this food forest. They get lots of shade and protection there - the clambering pumpkins filter the morning sun, the cassava hedge softens the midday sun, and the coppiced mulberries protect them from the hot afternoon sun. In the morning, they stay in their fully enclosed and mulched zone (which we built to protect them from predators like goshawk) and then in the afternoon (when we're home), they roam freely through the food forest.

The chickens have even taking to come down to the house for a chat and Blackie began laying on a chair near the door. With more of a food forest system in the veggie area too - less annuals, a thick layer of living mulch and bushy perennials - I find the chickens do not cause damage. Usually, when there are more annuals and freshly mulched garden beds around, I try to keep them out of this area.

I think this helps immensely. I was so encouraged by the response to my recent question (in Do you eat your pumpkin greens?) about what unusual plants, or plant parts you eat. On all the facebook groups, there was a great response from around the world describing an incredible array of fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and weeds that people eat. Such fantastic information was shared! A sustainable food future requires us to embrace these foods and keep asking what is edible beyond that which we have come to know, and are able to buy at the shops.

The Rosella flowers are forming! I can't wait for some more fresh Rosella tea. I have been rationing out the last jar of dried rosella tea from last year - my favourite, especially blended with lemongrass or lemon myrtle.

Edible leaves of the Rosella plant.

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