Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Reflections on the end of 2019 - my garden

Toothless surrounded by Clare's plants
And so the year ends and possibly a decade too. I say possibly because these markers are the subject of debate.

When the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed on 1 January 1901, it was a nation for a new century. You see the century and hence that first decade began in 1901. 1900 was the last year of the nineteenth century, not the first year of the twentieth century. That reflected then counting techniques.

Today when we talk of the start of a decade or indeed century, it's generally the 00 not the 01 that marks the start. So 2020 marks the start. I will go with that while maintaining my in-principle support for the purist position!

This has been a tumultuous mixed up year at multiple levels, one in which I have found it difficult to concentrate on other than immediate issue including especially my return to Armidale. My writing has dropped away as a consequence, It follows a decade that has been troubled in both a personal and professional sense.

I don't feel much like talking about all that. Instead, I want to focus on a more important topic. Clare and I have developed a new rivalry beyond writing, gardening. She is again in front even though she does not have a garden as such!

When I moved back to Armidale I was determined to start a new garden despite the water restrictions. Just before I came back, the Council introduced new restrictions forbidding any use of water on gardens beyond gray water. I complained at the time because I thought that the restrictions were draconian, short sighted and likely to have perverse results. I stand by that view, although I am somewhat more sympathetic now. I hadn't realised all the demands on the town water supply, especially with the fires. Still, despite all the media hype about the city's water supply problems, with current water conserving techniques in place and assuming no further rain, we have 373 days water to "Day Zero." 

Note that in talking about gardening, I am not talking about even hand-held hoses, just the use of buckets or watering cans to keep small patches alive. It's possible to use very efficient water conserving gardening techniques, but only if you can apply water at certain critical points. For example, you can't use mulch effectively if you cannot first wet the ground to be mulched  and then wet the mulch to set it. Otherwise, it blows away. And you try creating a compost heap when you cannot apply any water.

I said water restrictions create perverse results. In the interests of conserving water, I have cut both the frequency and lengths of my showers. All I need to do to get the minimum water I want is to move to longer and daily showers with a bucket in the shower. I am then not breaking any restrictions, but can modify my shower routines to give me my minimum water requirements. I have talked about this before, but I wonder why Councils have to be so prescriptive? I would trade off my showers and other water usage if I could use the the water on the garden.

Despite all the problems, I did get a tiny veggie patch going with Rosemary (this is critical in cooking), mint and coriander. The mint bolted to seed because of the heat . but I did get a small crop. I started a compost heap using leaves around the property, nothing is decomposing because of the absence of rain combined with heat, but this blew away in the wind as did my attempts at mulching. I guess at that point I kinda gave up, accepting that I would just have to import water via my supermarket purchases.

Clare's gardening efforts provided a new incentive. I will do better despite the constraints.

Over November and December we had enough rain to cause the grass to grow. Looking out from where I write, you would not know that there was a drought compared to the brown, crunchy, stuff that I walked on when I first moved in.

A few days back, Dave (my next door neighbour) kindly mowed my back lawn. They have been very kind, something that I will talk about in another post. Suddenly, I have a pile of grass clippings large enough to form a proper compost base. Then, under Clare's influence, I bought more seeds, seedlings and lucerne mulch. Sugar can mulch is cheaper, but not so good.

We are not talking a huge garden. I am working in tiny patches, but I want to do it properly in a way that will really save water while improving the very bad soil.

There are things that I can do to further save water, For example, putting a bucket outside when it rains. The house has no tank. Tanks largely vanished in Armidale under previous council rules and are slowly coming back with changed rules, but there is no way that the owner of my property will pay to install a a tank because that would be dead money for him. But a bucket outside would give me a little extra water.

Beyond this, I think that the answer lies in more showers or even a bath. And while I cannot wash the car even with a bucket, I can wash the car windows. That is allowed for safety reasons. I have done so once. The windows are very bad. If I do that once a week, that's a bucket a week.

I have quite a lot of hard surfaces in the family room, the entrance area, the wet area. I sweep them all the time, but they do get dirty, dirt that is being tramped onto the carpets. I have mopped them, cleaning the mop under a running tap. That wastes water. If I clean them using a bucket, then I can put the bucket water onto the garden.  Those hard surfaces need cleaning once a week, each clean involving several buckets.

To compete with Clare, I need set-up water. After that, it's care and maintenance.  I think that I can find enough water within the rules, if with a bit of an effort. Of course, if the water position gets worse then I may have to prune, change my approach. I do accept the need for restraint. After all, I have been here before.

Postscript 3 January 2020

Following the start of the year Armidale had another 14 mils of rain. I just sat there on the front verandah, letting the storm sprinkle my feet, Looking out the window, it no longer looks drought ridden, although the deciduous trees lining Queen Elizabeth Drive give the lie to that. While green, the leaf growth is patchy, straggly.

Going out yesterday morning to the little side garden by the laundry door, I found the soil damp, a contrast to the baked earth when I first came up. This allowed me to plant my seedlings and mulch the small cultivated area.

 A friend used to laugh at me when I said went out the back door waving scissors saying that I was going to harvest the water cress. The current equivalent is cutting mint to add to the carafe of iced  water in the fridge.   


Tikno said...

Hello Jim, happy New Year 2020. Wish you all the best.

I hope that the problem of forest fires in your country can be quickly resolved. That also became a problem in my country Indonesia some time ago. We got protested by neighboring countries Singapore and Malaysia due to the smoke crossing into their country.

Amazon Forest too. Maybe this is a sign of nature about climate change.
Reflections for mankind towards 2020.

Jim Belshaw said...

Happy new Year, Tikno. It was lovely to hear from you. I hope that things are going well for you and yours. I was aware of Indonesia's fires. In Australia's case, the smoke from the fires has reached New Zealand, staining the glaciers on the South Island. The fire position won't be resolved in full until we get some rain. Or, I guess, when there is nothing less to burn. :( I would be reasonably sure that the Australian fires are linked to global warming via climate variability.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim and HNY to you and yours.

In response to your kind email, all is ok with me now, except for no power, hence limited/no ability to reply to you.

Have a great 2020 year - and vision as well :)


Anonymous said...

Was just sent this by a client. There was the odd tear...

...harrumph. Now get on with it!


marcellous said...

Take baths rather than showers; siphon the greywater. Better than a bucket in the shower, though I suppose open to the criticism this conforms to the letter rather than the spirit of water restrictions.


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Adam said...

Interesting that Armidale has had some water in November and December. Uni of Newcastle didn't record any rain between November 27th and January 6th. I was away from the 9th of December and was somewhat unnerved by how brown everything was on my return on the 5th January. Everyone is saying how they have never seen anything like it. Full grown eucalypts and turning completely brown! We've had roughly 1.4 mm of rain this week and are set to get a downpour on Friday so I look forward to the re-greening of the Hunter.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi kvd. Thank you for the update and also the email. I am so far behind. I really liked that Youtube video and circulated it quite widely.

I have been thinking of baths, marcellous! The only problem with a bucket in the shower lies in a certain danger because there is not a lot of room. Ah well! Now that we have been getting a little rain I have put out buckets etc to collect water.

Hi Adam. i can't remember how much rain we got in November and December. December was still below average if higher than the record minimum for December. So far in January, till 8 tonight, we have had 55.8 mills. The long term average for January is 87.9. With more rain forecast over the next few days, we have a pretty fair chance of passing our average. Because of the storm patterns it's very variable.

Hopefully you will get rain in Newcastle and beyond! Both the coast and the Hunter have been desperately dry.