Mzansi has already started the countdown to #keDezembaBoss, but home gardeners aren’t exactly looking forward to the festive heat. High summer temperatures can be tough on vegetable and herb home gardens.
Just ask “ghetto gardener” Ludwe Qamatha from Khayelitsha, the largest township in Cape Town. He runs a community garden in Lilitha Park and knows exactly how merciless the December weather can be.
“Summer is tricky,” he tells Health For Mzansi. “As I look out into my garden right now, eish, I am just thinking about that heavy heat and the hot wind.”
With his summer tomatoes ripe and ready for picking, stringing (also known as vining) has become his go-to method for summer protection. This is when you support so-called vine vegetables like cucumbers and pumpkins to keep the plant and fruit off the ground. The method also reduces rot and sunburn.
This is also a technique that is typically used in commercial greenhouses, Qamatha says. Meanwhile his potatoes are buried deep in the soil to ensure optimal protection from the harsh Mzansi sun. The potatoes will be ready to harvest in about ten weeks.
Battle against nature
All it takes is a little planning and good timing skills to protect home gardens in the summer, says Stephanie Mullins, coordinator permaculture community organisation SEED. “In a harsh summer there are various ways to protect your plants.”
Since 2000, SEED has championed outdoor classrooms on the Cape Flats, growing food in various communities. Mullins says no matter how hot the summer, there are some simple measures gardeners can take to counter the heat and keep their gardens blossoming.
A go-to trick for 63-year-old Mavis Mdevu, also from Khayelitsha, is to build a tent-like structure using bamboo sticks and shade cloth.
“All you can really do is make sure you feed your plants. Take care of your crops,” she says. “You can find bamboo sticks that are sold by people along the roads. You put them around your garden and then add shade cloth, this gives your produce some shade.”
Growing hedges or trees is also ideal for supporting your shade cloth, according to Qamatha. But if you have limited space, some tree branches will also do.
WATCH: Mama Mavis Ndevu picks up her harvest at the Sinovuyo Senior Club in Khayelitsha.
A shade cloth is temporary but it can block the harsh sunlight. “Covering your plants with shade cloth lessens the amount of evaporation,” says Mullins.
Homemade shade cloth can be made using fish net with strips of cloth woven through, and strung up temporarily over your vulnerable crops. Care should also be taken to ensure that the cloth structure can withstand wind and won’t harm the plants by falling on them.
Use water wisely
Also note that the hot summers sun can dry surface soil quickly. A water saving trick Mullins suggests, is working with Mother Nature – and use rain water to water your garden.
“Saving water requires planning. It is rainy season in some parts of the country, you can save water by putting a bucket under your gutter pipes and use it later. This will lessen your water usage.”
You can also adjust the times you choose to water your garden, choose early mornings or when the sun sets.
The more sprouts the merrier
Planting sprouts could also protect your veggies from the harsh sun, Mullins says.
The first line of defence against hot weather and the windy conditions that can dry surface soil is to apply mulch* around the plants, Mullins advises. This protects the soil from direct sunlight, keeping it moist at the surface, she says.
“Use wood chips or a straw to cover the surface of your soil and then that holds in moisture, making watering very efficient” says Mullins. Mulch also reduces weeds, kitchen garden expert Bill Kerr tells Life is a Garden.