The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 

After the Rain

Now that some proper rain has fallen there are some things we can do to make the most of it.

Where did the water go?

The first thing to do after the rain is to check where the water pooled and ran around the garden, house, shed, property etc. Paths, driveways and other hard surfaces create places for water to gather and then run. Plantings with heavy mulch create places for water to gather and soak. Merging these two spaces can provide passive water to your garden by redirecting the runoff into these areas.

Running water will be evidenced by flow patterns, leaving behind telltale signs of debris, sand and soil. The best time to witness flow is when its actually raining, if you don’t mind getting damp. These flow lines can be noted and utilised in your Hydrology Design. Slowing the flow is the first objective. The second objective is to redirect the flow into garden beds, paddocks or dams.

The top of your system is the place to focus your energy, slowing water before it gets any speed or power. The efforts at the top can be subtle and creativity here will reflect in a beautiful and functional space. 

Sometimes reshaping the surface of the earth is the best way to get water going in a new direction, but it can take work and planning. Simpler methods can be installed using rocks or fallen timber. New garden beds can be built to take advantage of the flow and your watering requirements will be reduced in these trying times. 

Gardens at the top of hills are difficult to keep hydrated. Placing your market garden at the top of the hill is foolhardy to be sure. Gravity is our friend and water will always obey this law and flow downhill. The optimum position for your home and garden is therefore halfway up the hill, so you benefit from gravity and still get a view. If you have trees at the top of your hill, the natural cloud harvesting will increase soakage between rain events. The wind and fire threat is also reduced compared to building on top of a hill.

Soakage

In order for water to soak into the land, it must first make contact with the surface of the soil. The surface and composition of your soil makes a vast difference to the soakage available on your plot. Soil full of organic matter, microbes and fungi will accept and hold more water than compacted, spent, sunbaked dirt. Sunbaking makes the soil hydrophobic repelling water as it passes.

How long the water contacts the soil is critical to the amount of soakage available to your land. If water is running downhill, it picks up speed and power dependant on the obstacles in the way. If your space is smooth, freshly mown, or ploughed, there will be little resistance to the passing water. Debris and topsoil will be collected into the passing water to create an abrasive solution, very effectively creating erosion as it travels downhill.

If you have naturally patterned vegetation across your property, the water is slowed, the debris settles and the water has a chance to soak in. 

If you left some stripes of scrub, grass or trees, as touched on last week, the water would have some chance to spread across your block and soak into the earth where the plants need it most. Replanting paddocks with hedgerows/shelterbelts on contour, would do a lot for increasing productivity, reducing wind speed, holding more water and providing shelter for stock. It’s a longterm plan with plenty to gain.

Hedge rows create thick mulch layers around them hosting microbe colonies to enhance the fertility of paddocks. With the added above ground feature of habitat for critters to help control pests without effort from you. 

Re Mulching

The best time to reapply mulch is after a good watering. Skywater is the best watering so take advantage and apply fresh mulch now.  

Old beds

The sugar cane mulch on my veggie beds is about 3 months old. The layer is thinning and some of the compost is becoming visible. Redress with sugar cane mulch to 100mm, roughly applied around plants keeping the microbes safe and happy. As a general rule, refreshing beds with sugar cane mulch is a quarterly task. Whenever you see exposed soil reapply mulch to cover. Exposed soil is a gateway to water loss.

Trees 

Woody mulch, Edition 178 (hyperlink please alex), is best applied annually for the first 2-3 years then biannually once the leafdrop and mulch layer compound. A sprinkling of worm casting and a hit of bioreactor can be applied between the old and new layers of mulch to invigorate the existing microbe party. Continue this mulch out past the drip line to prevent any competition from grass.

Refreshing beds 

Beds that have been producing tucker, will need to be refreshed every two years with my No Weed Veggie Bed system. In my garden for best cropping and division of annual labour, I am refreshing an old tired bed every 6 months, ready for a feeder crop. There is always a bed available at one stage of the 2 year cycle. 

Watering

A heavily mulched bed provides protection to the soil from the sun and wind, but it also reduces the rains ability to reach the soil surface in dry times. A small rain event of less than 10mm will wet the mulch layer but not penetrate to the surface of the soil. I suspect The Canberra Gardener publication, went from recommending 200mm mulch in 1960 to 70mm of mulch in recent years because of this reason. 

If the ground underneath was wet before heavily mulching it wont be a problem for a month or more. Regular rain events will normally do the job to wet the earth, however this season, regular watering is required. Getting water to thirsty vegetables is paramount to growth, so watering under the mulch is the key, but how best to get it there?

You can install drip irrigation under the mulch if you have the money and persistence. You can choose to hand water or think about other creative ways to get water into the earth under the mulch.

I am currently hand watering with a wand. I inject it into the mulch next to the seedling. This injection pushes past the mulch and into the soil underneath. A few seconds in a spot, delivers water deep without disturbing too much soil. Its and art form more than a science so pay attention and check your work. 

This week

Plenty of mulching and refreshing beds, harvesting Cauli & Broccoli seed. Isolating Spinach from Beets, isolating Parsley from Parsnips, Carrots and Celery, and watching Tomatoes ripen. Ive planted another block of Corn, harvesting the last of the Broad Beans and I’m eating the first of the Raspberries and Blackberries.

So much to do, but my timing is spot on for a change.

Everyday is a school day,

Stay Awesome

The Gordon Gnohm

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