Sunday, 24 August 2014

Late Summer: A Time to Conserve

 Late Summer: A Time to Conserve

We're here on the island and have already had twelve guests staying with us, some for months, and we have another three expected in September. Good fun at times, but getting harder to come down in the morning to greet everyone with a smile. Takis and I are exhausted. So this is the time that we have to conserve every bit of energy we have.
Just like the garden, in order to keep going humans have to remember the need to rehydrate, replenish and resist doing too much!
The sweat is dripping down our bodies. It’s hard to work on the computer and I'm sure I'm making more mistakes.

And we try to keep smiling

Hot, but colour still happens, blue hybiscus

It’s Hot! And Humid




And Zinnias love the heat












A Time to Conserve in the Garden

In the summer in garden the heat depletes, and the water evaporates, the plants wilt and only a few hang on with some loving care.

A scond bloom of spindly roses


The end of the tomato harvest

Though the eggplants love this heat


And so do the peppers

Composting Waste
Waste disposal is an increasing problem because of a lack of space. Some studies have shown that up to 20% of waste going to urban recycling centres in Australia is vegetable matter. But it has to be done carefully. Unfortunately landfills are not the way to go, and rather than rot down into good compost they can just make piles of slime and give out unpleasant gasses.

But real compost is magical stuff. I have grown up knowing how important composting is for the health of a garden. My grandfather used to set out on his bicycle with a bucket and spade when a horse passed our gate. He would return sometime later jubilant, with a bucket full of horsey excrement for his allotment.

It is the result of a remarkable metamorphosis whereby leaves and stalks are transformed into a black crumbly mixture; a productive silt which when spread in the soil aids new life.
The idea of composting and mulching seemed to be a new idea to gardeners on the island. Anestis was sceptical when I asked him to build me two compost enclosures. But he was impressed to see how weeds and waste broke down by the end of a few months. The two compost bins he constructed for me were partially in the shade of a young olive tree, but this was OK and in the long hot Mediterranean summers I need some shade to assist by keeping the piles damp (I always water them on my way past, when moving the hose from one bed to another.) Then, usually just before we leave in autumn, Anestis digs out these bins and applies the well rotted vegetable matter to our clay soil.

Compost bins at the end of a path

Filled compost bins, ready for autumn emptying


Mulch is something else you have to think about in summer. It is necessary to protect roots from severe heat. Mulch can be hay, newspaper, dried weeds, empty almond shells, etc. It will not only protect the plant but also eventually rot down and compost the plant.

On the island mulch is hard to get hold of. I have to beg for bales of hay, and perhaps a farmer might sell me one bail for 30E Once I saw a passing gypsy with a truck of watermelons plus some bales. Takis was interested in the water melons but I was interested in the hay. We ordered three bails which he delivered the next day for 10E less that the farmer had charged me previous year. I used the hay to protect the roots of tomatoes or put it around the stone fruit trees to keep the soil moist between watering. 
If I could I’d do what I do in Australia and lay down newspaper and then cover it with mulch, to smother the weeds. I don’t see why this shouldn’t work here, though maybe the winter winds will make a mess. On the whole though I think we have enough rain on this island to keep it in place and wet enough not to blow away. This may sound strange to those who expect winter rain but I have an Australian friend, with a garden on another windy Greek island, who covered her flower beds with sea weed before she left. However, she got a phone call from a neighbour complaining about the way the winds had whipped up the dry seaweed and blown it over the neighbours houses and roofs. 

I also collect sea weed for mulch but usually I add it to the compost heaps. I’ll wait until there is a storm that piles it along the shoreline. It’s then easy to find and collect in a few large plastic bags.  I tip this onto my compost and let it all rot down together before applying it on the beds.

Greek Gardening Practices

In Greece, because folks are not attached to green parks or flowering gardens they do not see the need to preserve water or mulch plants.  I’m often horrified to see how much water is used just to clean a veranda, with housewives going out daily to hose them down. One year the island did almost run out of water, but on the whole folk here are not aware of how precious it is.

Unripe, ripe and very ripe figs

Greek sweets, pear compot and fresh figs


I water the plants about once every third day from late June until the beginning of September. By then the days are cooling and I can probably leave it a little longer. I water the pots on the terrace and the herb bed one day, the vegetable garden another day, and the most stressed out areas the next day. We have the well, but by mid July it is usually running low, and I have to intersperse well water with town water every other day. To put in tanks would be hardly worth while, we have to put gutters on the roofs, and with such a long dry spell (with rarely a summer storm to top them up) that water would soon be used. To try to use grey water would be another headache, with plumbing not set up for it, and no ecological washing powders available.
In Australia, behind the trellis, we have a 5,000 litre water tank

In Australia we have had to become very water conscious. Perhaps this is because we have developed a dependency on English-style gardens in a country that mostly has arid climate. Folk love their green parks and flowering gardens and keep looking for ways to keep them going.
In order to accomplish this there has been a big move to plant Mediterranean plants and to conserve water. Most people have tanks attached to their homes to catch rain water, and many reuse grey water, while mulching and composting is a must for any gardener.

This reminds me how lucky gardeners are in Australia, with most houses having water tanks, plus some houses fitted with grey water, tanks and mulch in a variety of mediums available at each local village and town.



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