Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wet Weather and the Balcony Garden

Overnight we have had rain, not a lot, just a light and steady smattering which means I won't have to water today and possibly even tomorrow (depending on if the sun comes out and if the wind stays away.) This gives me a good 20 minutes in my day in which to blog. With the final few memoirs for the thesis to be read and significant other work on my life has been busy. A little too busy for a regular blog and even too busy to remember to photograph things in a timely manner. Time management skills can only work for 24 hours in a day and until I master the art of getting 36 hours out of a day I will have to make to with these little snatches of spare time. But yay to now getting to post.

I love when it rains. Just look at the picture above of my lovely little chilli all covered in drops. Not only is the hand watering a non-necessity, I get to sit by my large windows and watch the rain fall onto the garden. Drops collecting on the green (and slightly yellow) plants, pooling into their soil. A few hours later they look taller, stronger, happier. Rain just has this natural boost for plants that they simply cannot get from tap and/or grey water. Mind you this summer has been the wettest on record, and it hasn't been that good for many gardeners and farmers. Some had their crops and top soil washed away while others like stone fruit growers were damaged by wind and hail. It has also caused a few problems in the little balcony garden, such as increased risk of powdery mildew, problematic pollination and issues with drainage. What are these problems, how have I gone about fixing them and what do these excessively watery days mean for balcony gardeners?

1. Powdery Mildew

In a warmish moist environment powdery mildew is pretty much a given. Zukes, Cukes and others in that family usually fall victim to it. The picture below shows the beginning of it on a yellow zucchini (if you strain your eyes.) White dots appears on leaves, under leaves and on stems. They slowly defoliate the plant and kill it.

Though hard to prevent it is pretty easy to control. I have always used a milk spray, one part whole milk (skim, lactose free which I have in my tea won't cut it, it has to be the full cream stuff) to 9 parts water. This ratio makes it work for my balcony garden though you might have to tweak it for yours. Spray all affected areas including the underside of leaves and stems on your plants in the morning and the evening and the powdery mildew tends to fix right up. It also helps to remove any really badly affected leaves and dispose of them (no composting of those or it wont help.) While the weather is favourable to powdery mildew you may have to keep spraying but it isn't too much hassle and the small amount of milk in it means it won't smell too bad.

2. Pollination Issues

Plants need to be pollinated to produce the good bits, the yummy bits, the foodie bits. The tassles from corn need to meet with the silks to make heads of corn. The eggplant and tomato flowers need to be shaken at just the right speed and at just the right time to mingle the male and female bits. For cucumbers and zucchinis you need to introduce Mr male flower to the bits of Mrs female flower (she is the one with the baby zuke or cuke attached) for anything to happen. Wet weather isn't good for this. Corn particularly wont set well in the rain. But what to do besides a backwards rain dance? The best policy is just to keep trying. Hand pollinate again and again. Perhaps save some of the bits like the corn tassles or the male flowers of cucurbits in the fridge overnight and then see if the weather has improved thus hand pollinate the next day. Rain doesn't completely stop pollination from happening, it just gets in the way. So when wet weather sets in practice some hand pollination and time it well, otherwise you mightn't get much from your balcony crops.

3. Drainage.

Drainage, good drainage that is, has to come from the very beginning. It can be rectified later on if needs be but it is tricky and some plants wont survive the move. My advice is make sure you have the right pot for the right thing, and make sure it is big enough. If it isn't a self watering pot make sure to include plenty of drainage holes. If these holes are only on the bottom then make sure the pot is up away from the ground or off a surface otherwise they get closed over. Make sure you have enough holes, but don't go overboard otherwise you will lose too much water. Plates underneath the pot are a great way to collect water but it is best to raise your pot off them again as otherwise it could lead to drainage issues.

The plant below, my lime tree, doesn't drain that well and at times the new growth will wilt when there is too much water (and indeed when there is too much sun but that is a whole different matter.) See how the supple green limbs are hanging loose in the picture below. That shows poor drainage.

In the bottom of your pots add things like stones or foam or something to add pockets for drainage. I prefer the latter as it is cheap, light and effective.

In this weather, for balconies, make sure your drainage pipes are clear of debris. Dirt, leaves and other bits a pieces can accumulate in them and black them making your balcony a virtual swimming pool and dooming your plants.

Overall these problems are seasonal, and not always a summer issue. But with the world's weather wildly changing it is good to know what to do in these times. Do you have any other issues that come with the wet weather? Any other solutions to the problems listed here?


Funkbunny said...
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice and solutions to probs. I'm trying to learn what I can about container gardening before I buy too many plants!