Category Archives: Drought

Gardening in a changed climate

When the Met Office Hadley Centre for Climate Science and Services was opened in 1990, they predicted that within 30 years the UK climate would have changed. They were exactly right, the climate has changed. There are more severe storms, periods of drought, unusual weather patterns and more. So, what does that mean for gardeners who grow food?

The 2019-20 winter was very wet with flooding in many parts of the country. It was followed by a long warm dry spell and drought in the South. Now it is back to cool and wet with cold northerly winds. Some will argue that there is nothing unusual about that, but the difference now is that weather swings from one extreme to another and weather patterns can last for weeks.

This is for Friday 5 May 2020 – click image to see an animated jet stream forecast from netweather.tv

The jet stream moves around more and breaks up. It used to be relatively stable flowing from east to west over the Atlantic. It did sometimes go further north or further south but was generally more stable for longer periods. Now it breaks up and ‘kinks’ often pulling air down form the Arctic with cold northerly air stream across the UK.

Gardeners are used to adapting to the vagaries of the British weather but sudden switches from warm to cold in summer are different. This week saw a near 20C drop in temperature with cold winds and nighttime temperatures in single figures. Add in the rain and the plants sit in cold wet soil which slows down or stops growth.

We need to change the way we grow or risk losing more tender crops. For us that has involved covering potatoes and dwarf French beans with solar pods overnight. The climbing French are more difficult to protect but at least we can try to keep the wind off them by making a tent out of old bubble wrap and fleece. The lettuce table is covered to avoid flooding from the heavy rain.

Unfortunately it looks like we have lost half of the Blueberry crop. There are three bushes, early flowering, mid season and a later variety which keeps us going for three to four months. The early bushed flowered and the fruit set so it looks like a good crop. Probably less than half the fruit set on the mid season bush and most of the flowers on the late bush have died.

Next year we plan to stick to the dwarf varieties and maybe try some more hardy runner beans. Also, we might well decide to plant out in late June which will shorten the growing season but could avoid cold spells. What ever happens gardeners are a resourceful and resilient bunch and will find ways to cope!

Drought and what to do to save your plants

There is a drought, no rain for weeks, expect hose pipe bans soon say the water companies. But what about gardeners? What can we do? The answer is to mulch.

The graphic says it all, there should be no bare soil in the garden as it dries out very quickly.

Mulches
If you make compost then use it as a mulch, it does not need to be perfect so not need to sieve.
The RHS say you can use:  wood chippings, processed conifer bark, well rotted manure, straw (for strawberries), spent hops (poisonous if eaten by dogs) and seaweed. Some of these will not be easy to get!

Cardboard could also work but not corrugated as there is concern about the toxicity of the glues used. Do not use old carpet or plastic sheet which can have very toxic breakdown products,

The basic advice is to cover the soil and water sparingly without using a hose pipe in areas where they are banned.

Watering
We also need to be aware of the best way to water plant see this page.

My grandfather was a master gardener. He was born in Australia but moved to Lincolnshire. He had a huge vegetable garden on superb light soil which was prone to drying out. For watering, he used a galvanised bucket and an old food tin, like a big baked bean tin although I doubt very much that he knew what they were. The idea was that you walked along the row of veg giving each plant half a tin of water at the roots. There was no mains water available, so his irrigation methods had to be frugal. It was a good lesson to learn. (CS)

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