Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The hand you're dealt

You know how at Easter, after stuffing yourself silly on chocolate, you swear never again! Until the nausea is forgotten about, and you're back to eating the regular 4 squares of chocolate, a day? Yes, I really do that. The 4 squares, that is. I don't gorge on chocolate at Easter any more though - not like I used to. Yet there are other vices, which still manage to catch me out.

Like doing online research, and learning how to use computer graphics programs, in new and interesting ways! I had a binge session recently, followed by the swearing off technology, until my senses returned. Hence, the sudden silence on the blog front.

But I have stuff to share, you funky let's get to it!


Remember this stuff? It's meant to fall from the sky during our summer rainy season. But decided to skip it entirely, and make a late appearance, in autumn instead. I wasn't going to mention the first storm. Or the second. The one with large hail. Ultimately though, I was expecting the storm activity to disappear. Thankfully, it decided to love on our property a while longer, with steady, all day rain.

So that now...

 It's accumulating

...puddles are begging to form in the swales again. This sight always makes me so happy. But after this year, I recognise a swale of itself, is only as useful as the rain falling from the sky. So I look upon it, a little more soberly. Extremely grateful however, we still got a reprieve from the dry.

So now life can slowly begin to emerge around the new water source again.

Sweet cycles

I caught a couple of dragonflies, dancing around the pooling water. Teasing it with their feet and tails, as they dipped in. I had to follow them, up and down the swale. Because their iridescent wings, didn't want to stay still long enough, for my camera to focus in.

This is part of the tantilising orchestra though, which always emerges after the rain settles in. I couldn't resit chasing the dragonflies, in the rain, as it felt like forever - since hearing the delicate whisper of their tiny wings.

 Hello there

The resident kangaroos were feasting on the new greenery, which they had waited for the rain to bring, also. October last year, was the last flush of decent greenery they got to enjoy. Now her gaunt facial features, from the summer drought, are just starting to fill out again. Which also makes me very happy to see.

But again, I reflect soberly. How quickly it can all change.

 Remember these, hugelkultur mounds?

This was mostly dust, not that long ago. The paths are slowest to respond to the moisture, with all that compaction. Yet how quickly the greenery emerges elsewhere, after the rain. I was beginning to wonder if we would see it, before winter came again.

It's still not the kind of rain we're used to dealing with - the reason we built all those swales and ponds to begin with. But we could still feel the soil take a deep breath, it desperately needed.

 Like a sponge

With the dwindling heat of autumn, the moisture still has time to break down the plentiful supply of wood material. I've already seen several blooms of fungi emerge. While hopeful to see at all, it's still not as plentiful as normal years. But really, what is normal nowadays?

The weather patterns are changing, and maybe this is the new normal?

Human ingenuity

Unlike our dry-stone retaining wall, which is pretty permanent and predictable - nature has been fluctuating to more extremes. More heat. More time between drinks. Even more rain when it does fall, which causes more erosion.

Really the jostle is to find some kind of medium, on this ever fluctuating scale of normal. Is drought normal, for this particular 10 year cycle. Or is it, the wet? In the wet, is a great time to get plants established. In the dry, it culls a lot of potentials and breaks your heart.

Like night and day

When everything starts to green up again, the casualties, really begin to stand out. This hardy native, Westringa (right) is cactus now. Yet the Brazilian cherry on the left (also known as Surinam cherry) was able to pull through. Although, the cost was not seeing any fruit flushes, all growing season. There just wasn't the rain to spark that particular event.

Still, it lived. Which cannot be said for some of my other fruit trees.

Bupkis baby

I've lost all my bananas, an avocado, and surprisingly a mulberry tree. These are normally, the most bulletproof edible fruit trees I've come across. This one was planted in the lowest gully, which normally floods. It hasn't happened for well over a year now, but I thought surely this specimen had the best location for survival?

The dry slopes are much less forgiving. Yet the oldest mulberry we have, lives on those very slopes, and managed to pull through.

Original mulberry (centre)

It's extremely sparse on the leaf front, as it's normally covered in leaves. But it's also an older tree by several years, than the one which died recently. It was established in a flood too, so had the opportunity to send it's roots down deeper.

I also credit it's survival, from being planted on the berm of a swale, as well as stacking functions around it. While I think it looked like the flooding gully, was giving the other mulberry more water, it wasn't being held up as much, as the swale was doing, for the surviving mulberry. The directed water in the swale therefore, really encouraged the tree roots to go down deep, in the years we were receiving rain.  

The observation I take from this particular drought, is while water is indeed the crucial factor here, large amounts (passing by) are no indicators of success. It's "directed" water, held back, which really sets up the roots better for extended dry periods. So I need to identify how to concentrate water, when it does fall from the sky, and place my edible trees around it.

 Lush and green again

The clear winner though, has to be the grass. An annual which seeds itself quite readily, is the quickest to respond to water. It all but browns off at the surface, and we never scramble to save it. Yet it completely overtakes the garden, as soon as the rains return.

The heavy seed-heads are bent over, when they're laden with water too. So it carpets the ground, to hold-in more moisture. I know it looks unruly and unkempt, but we hardly scramble to control the grass either. For starters, there's just too much of it, but it also has a vital cycle to perform, setting seed for the next drought. So it can emerge quickly, after the rains return again.

 An early morning, walk in the bush

How do I feel about it all though? Grateful. Sober from the experience. And finally, hopeful in a new directed purpose. Not that swales are the be all, and end all. Especially when it comes to establishing plants (short term) in a drought. Seriously, they're useless when it comes to that! But you've got to cop it all on the chin, and be realistic. This is nature, we're dealing with here. It's not made to please us, or our ideas of what a garden is meant to be. It's there to make us better gardeners, whatever the season.

So set up your infrastructure, regardless, to take advantage of the wet cycles. For me, it's swales and ponds. But be prepared to find the best medium, in the drought cycle too. Whatever that happens to be. We're talking decade investments in a garden for resilience, not annual returns. Although they're always nice to have, and I will always "try" to glean some kind of annual edible harvest. Greenthumb nirvana cannot be based on that premise alone though, or its likely to bring disappointment.

Because annual plants are short lived, and designed to expire quickly anyway. Throw in an extreme event, and they're the first to fail. It's more disappointing for me, when my perennial trees fail. But I've got to cop that on the chin, also. If I choose, I can accept the feedback delivered, and work with it. That's what nature's going to be doing, without me anyway - so why not become a willing student in the process?

I hope your gardens are delivering treasures, whatever they're being subjected to, at the moment. I know we don't always get, how we desire it to be. We can still play the hand we're dealt though, to the best of our ability.


  1. Chris, that puddle picture was literally jaw dropping. I can't help but feel excited for you! Such good advice to be diligent to prepare for the worst. Drives life's lessons home, doesn't it?

    1. Yes, I think we get awfully optimistic sometimes, but then flounder when the worst happens. But it's all just part of the cycle that comes around eventually. Still got to find a way to function and make life meaningful once again. I really enjoyed the photo of the dragonfly, when it did manage to stop still, lol.

  2. Lucky you! (For the rain, not the chocolate!) We've had 3 very dry months here...only a few mm this month and only a quarter of Jan and Feb's normal rainfall. Thankfully the temps have dropped and there's not so much stress on the plants but all the same it's disheartening to see the shrivelled and curling leaves. I've had wallabies coming from properties much further away....I knew they were there but have never had them come this far before....and they've stripped all the lower leaves from the fruit trees, not only that but breaking down branches as they tug at them. I'm hoping that when the rains come they go back to their usual abode and stay there! I'm only used to protecting plants from rabbits....wallabies are another thing!

    I've bought a lot of new fruiting plants and they need to be planted before they outgrow their pots but the soil is just too dry. It's the worst I've seen it here in 20 years. We often have one dryish summer month but not 3 in a row. At least there are no weeds!

    1. I hope your plants pull through this downturn, Bev. I've had both the kangaroos and the neighbours goats attack my growing trees before, and the kanagroos are always more forgiving. A goat will eat everything down to a stub. But the kangaroos leave the trunk and some branches. I've not yet had a kangaroo munching, kill a tree. They seem to bounce back when conditions improve. So fingers crossed.

      I just surveyed the damage in my greenhouse this morning, and I've lost almost all the plants I was expecting to get in the ground with the summer rainy season too. Including a rather expensive macadamia tree. Just didn't have the water (at the time) to take care of the greenhouse. We were counting down the weeks until we had to pay for water delivered to the house. Luckily, that didn't have to happen. But I feel your frustration. Everything seems to go on pause, until the rain arrives. I hope it happens for you soon too.

      PS: we didn't have to mow all summer, due to the drought, so that's a plus. But I think I'd much rather be overrun by weeds, lol.

  3. So glad to hear you received some life saving rain Chris. Everything looks so much better after rain as your pictures show.

    No rain here unfortunately, but I am still hopeful. We have been watering trees and shrubs that are years old to keep them alive. They were starting to show signs of stress so we made the decision to water them rather than lose them. They have drippers to make the job easier.

    I have always wondered how swales would go here...I often mention it to hubby, but he doesn't take the hint!

    I am happy with the garden now the weather is a lot cooler, but there were days when I considered throwing the towel in. Not sure what will happen if we continue to not get rain. It has been well over six months since the last rain, and even then it wasn't a lot.

    I enjoyed reading through your post and what you have observed about the land and the weather. I am always interested in what others discover :)

    Have a great weekend!


    1. Sorry for the long pause in replying, Tania. I wanted to take the time to reply properly, and my brain was flying in different directions, lol. I hope by this time though, you've now received some rain in your region. I'm glad your trees are making it through with the additional water. They're worth it, as mature trees can be so productive!

      I've got some good news about the trees here too. I will have to get my act together, and do a post about it. I'll also be providing some photographic evidence, you can show hubby about the benefit of swales. Significant evidence. Coming soon too! I swear. Swales aren't always necessary, on wet sites or those with high water tables. So there are cases, you wouldn't want to install them. But it doesn't hurt to experiment with one swale, to see the difference (or not) it makes.

      Autumn weather has been cooler here too. But thankfully, not winter cold. My husband says, that kind of chill traditionally shows up, around Anzac Day. So it's just around the corner now. I hope you enjoyed the Easter period, just past and thanks so much for patiently waiting, for me to reply. :)

  4. I wonder too what the new normal is, Chris. I lost my avo tree and quite a few other things too because the continuous heat and lack of rain was just too stressful for them. (My avo tree was poorly to start with so we decided not to waste any more water on it.) The sound of rain on the roof and running into our tanks was music to my ears here in suburbia too. I went out and splashed in a few puddles! I love how the Earth and plants respond after rain too. Meg

    1. Sorry too, for the late reply Meg. I really wanted to get back to you and Tania, and now have the time! Oh but-yes, the sound of rain when it hasn't fallen for a while. Also, standing on the verandah, and drinking in that smell that only comes when rain wets the ground. Apparently, my husband even knows the name for that. Petrichor! Yes, the smell of rain has a name. Who knew? Not me! That splashing in puddles, must be our human way of responding to the earth and rain, when it arrives too. That carefree act of splashing, is invigorating. Glad you got some, but sadly too late for the avocado. I know the feeling of having to let them go.


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