Grow Your Own Food articles are designed to help you with practical tips, photos and step by step instructions on growing incredible edibles at home.

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

Gardening in dry climate conditions can be really stressful but there are loads of simple strategies you can apply to make it easier. Many gardeners in Australia and around the world have been struggling to keep gardens alive and thriving. Drought, winds, dust storms, extended heatwaves and fires have been impacting plants, people and our wildlife.

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions | The Micro Gardener

Extreme temperatures and long periods without any significant rain in many places are some of the biggest problems. It’s no wonder many gardeners are giving up trying to grow an edible garden.

Yet a garden – no matter how small – gives us hope as well as healthy food. It feeds our mind, body and soul; provides wonderful stress relief; and is a welcome sanctuary to escape to. Even a single, well-cared-for plant can bring great joy and healing.

For many gardeners though, water – or lack of it – is our biggest issue. Struggling, water-stressed plants become magnets for pest insects as nature’s ‘clean up crew’ move in to feed. It’s natural to expect some casualties in hot and dry weather. Without sufficient water, crops can’t take up nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and fruit. Small container gardens also need more frequent watering.

So, what can we do to help our gardens survive and even thrive?

Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions and Hot Temperatures | The Micro Gardener

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

For years I’ve endured all sorts of harsh growing conditions in my gardens. By careful observation, applying Permaculture design principles and journalling where my gardens have been exposed to harsh dry or hot weather, I’ve learned how to grow a kitchen garden that not only survives but thrives! This has enabled me to help my clients who suffer similar problems but in different locations to get the most out of their edible gardens.

I hope by sharing some of these strategies, you will be able to enjoy an abundant productive kitchen garden too.

1. Audit your Garden and Make Tough Choices

That’s right! If you can’t save ALL your plants, prioritise and focus on keeping the most valuable ones alive. If conditions are really tough and you have limited water resources, concentrate on your high-value fruit trees, perennials and essential crops.

Turn thirsty, low-value plants into compost to feed your soil. Some plants may just have to survive without your help or be sacrificed to save others.

Collect seeds and take cuttings to pot up as a backup plan! You can always start again with these.

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

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17 Fast Growing Vegetables for Impatient Gardeners

Are you an impatient gardener? Eager to get some fast growing vegetables on your plate? Maybe you have a short growing season? Or want to fill a few spare pots. If you’re keen to find out which vegetables grow quickly, read on!

A list of 17+ fast growing vegetables for quick picks in 60 days or less. Includes leafy greens, legumes, roots vegetables + more for healthy 'fast' food! Plus 5 tips to help speed up your harvests.

Thankfully, there are plenty of fast growing vegetables like leafy greens, legumes, brassicas and root crops you can grow. So let’s dig in.

What do ‘Fast Growing’ Vegetables really mean?

Days to Maturity

While the time frame is open to interpretation, let’s assume you’re looking for foods that will be ready to eat in 60 days or less. You can find the average ‘days to maturity’ on seed packets and in catalogues. This is the time from when you sow seeds to first harvest. Often you will see this as a range e.g. 45-60 days. The vegetables in this list are based on the average harvest date from the time you sow seeds. If you start with seedlings, you can pick even earlier!

Vegetable Varieties

The vegetable variety you choose will play a part in how quickly they grow. So, for example, a small round baby carrot heirloom variety like ‘Paris Market’ that only grows to 4cm in diameter, will be on your table much quicker than one with a long root, like ‘Nantes’. Similarly, climbers will take longer to grow than bush or dwarf varieties. Makes sense right?

Seasonal Timing

It’s also worth remembering that plants tend to grow faster in warmer seasons and mature more slowly in cooler months. So WHEN you plant will also be a factor.

Other Plant Growth Factors

As there is so much variation in climate conditions, soil types, sunlight, moisture and seasons around the world, these suggestions are a guide only. Here in subtropical Queensland, Australia, I can grow year-round with only a relatively mild winter. Your climate may be different. Make sure you give your plants the sunlight hours they do best in if possible as this will speed up or slow down growth accordingly.

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40+ Best Shade Tolerant Vegetables

If you’d love a vegetable garden but your space has too much shade, don’t despair! There are plenty of shade tolerant vegetables to choose from that may be perfect for your space.

40+ Best Shade Tolerant Vegetables that Grow in Shade or Partial Sun

Whether you’re overshadowed by neighbouring buildings or trees, or your growing space faces the wrong aspect, there are still options. You may not be able to increase the sunlight, but you may be able to work with the shade you have. You may also try using your vertical space wisely.

Sometimes thinking creatively opens up opportunities to grow where you may not have thought possible. One of my clients has a heavily shaded small urban garden. LOTS of tall trees surround the two-storey house as a cool oasis in our warm climate. More like a rainforest!

How did Jenny grow a vegetable garden with such limited sun? I recommended pruning selected trees to let in more sunlight and growing vegetables and herbs that can tolerate low light conditions in this shady area. We also utilised vertical space by planting pots on the decks and growing climbers up trees or trellises to reach the sun. A mobile wheelbarrow garden also enables Jenny to move it where the sun is during the day. So don’t give up! The solutions to a shady garden may just require seeing your space through a new lens.

Sun and Shade Exposure

How much sun do vegetables really need and what can you get away with? The answer to this really depends on your climate and specific microclimates within your garden.

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Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather

Regardless of where you live, it’s likely you have some climate challenges to deal with when growing food. Here in my subtropical climate in SE Queensland, Australia is no different. During the year, we experience five seasons of different lengths. Some months are almost perfect food growing conditions and others are extremely challenging. It’s particularly difficult growing food in hot, dry weather.

Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather | The Micro Gardener

Growing Food in Hot Dry Weather

During our summer months – December through March – hot and sticky weather is typical. We can get sudden storms which often bring torrential rain and even hail, flooding the garden and potentially damaging plants or even destroying them. Hail damaged leaves, fruit and stems are more vulnerable to diseases as the plant tissues are exposed to pathogens.

During storm season, strong gusty winds can stress plants out, particularly if they are hot and dry. During storms, wild weather can cause stems and branches to easily snap or fruit to drop.

Baking hot days often result in heat stress and scorching temperatures can cause sunburn. Plants can suffer dehydration very quickly if exposed to strong sun and wind, without sufficient soil moisture.

Not to mention the pest insects and diseases that thrive in hot, humid and windy conditions! At times it seems like everything is stacked against us as food gardeners.

Whilst these conditions may be common, they don’t happen EVERY day. I find the best way to cope is to know what to expect in your climate and be prepared with suitable strategies.

Likely you have difficult weather at times too. So, what can you do to help protect your precious plants?

3 Ways to Protect your Crops from the Weather

1. Provide Windbreaks

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The Squash Family – How to Grow Curcubits

Zucchini, squash, marrows, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons and gourds are all members of the Curcubitaceae, Squash or Gourd family. These fruits and vegetables are also known as ‘Curcubits’.

The Squash Family - How to Grow Curcubits

They are delicious tummy fillers and worth finding a space for in your garden.

When to Plant the Squash Family

All curcubits are sun worshippers and suit warm climate conditions. Unless you have a very cold climate, you should be able to grow some varieties of these fruits and vegetables. In cool climates sow in spring, summer and autumn.

If you’re in the subtropics, this family grows with the least problems in spring to early summer and autumn through winter. In tropical climates, they grow most of the year but thrive during the dry rather than wet season, when they are hardest hit by fungal problems.

Where to Plant Curcubits

Cucurbits are best suited to a full sun position with soil high in organic matter and good drainage. Most varieties of these vegetables require ample space in a garden bed, although a few suit large, deep containers.

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12 Valuable Tips to Grow Healthy Microgreens

Do you want an abundant harvest of healthy microgreens? Whether you’re growing these nutrient-packed vegetables and herbs for your own health or to sell, these tips can help you succeed quickly.

12 Tips on How to Grow Healthy Microgreens

I’ve been growing microgreens for over 6 years and raised thousands of these tiny vegies and herbs in that time. Not only for our own use and good health, but also to share at public workshops and garden events to help inspire others.

I love these babies and have learned SO much about their needs. So, here are a few of my secrets to help you get a continuous abundance of healthy microgreens.

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Tour Through my 2017 Garden

Growing Food in a Challenging Climate

2017 was the worst and longest drought I have ever experienced. The growing conditions were the toughest I can ever remember. The rain just didn’t come for 7 long months. In fact, it was so bad in our local region, the Sunshine Coast of Australia, that thousands of people ran out of water for their homes and personal needs, let alone their gardens. Many had to get water and take showers in local parks. It was really, really dry.

As you’d expect, I had a few plant casualties. The grass was crispy. Sadly, an ornamental tree died and it wasn’t worth planting some of my favourite foods because the conditions were too unfavourable.

However, what delighted me was that through this entire time, my little kitchen garden kept feeding us. Not just now and then, but every day. Now you probably think I spent hours and hours every week out there planting and tending it. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never had a busier year. Some weeks, I was lucky to spend an hour or two – and that was harvesting rather than planting or maintenance. Take a look at a few of the foods we enjoyed this year.

2017 tour and harvests from my garden | The Micro Gardener

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Best Tips for Growing Root Crops

Do you love digging for hidden treasures in your soil, but sometimes feel disappointed in your harvest? If so, these tips should help make growing root crops much easier and more successful.

Best tips for growing root crops

Discovering an edible surprise is a bit like unwrapping a present, isn’t it? You get that feeling of anticipation as you unearth a handful of potatoes or pull up a bunch of crunchy carrots. Then you start dreaming up how you’re going to enjoy eating those tasty homegrown crops.

So let’s dig into some juicy tips on ways to get more of these delicious vegies and spices on your plate. (more…)

Choosing Fruit Trees for Small Gardens

Thinking about growing your own fruit trees? No matter how little space you have, there’s almost always room for at least one fruit tree.

The taste and satisfaction of picking homegrown fruit is one of life's pleasures!

The taste and satisfaction of picking homegrown fruit is one of life’s pleasures!

5 Tips for Fruit Trees in Small Gardens

I grow a LOT of fruit trees in a small space. Some in containers, others in the garden. It’s highly productive and I grow kilos of fruit every year. Some fruit trees are young and on their way to producing. Others are putting food on the table regularly!

Here, I grow a lot of tropical fruit trees like bananas, papaya, mango, mulberries, citrus and peaches. It takes time to get to know each fruit and how much space they require to be productive.

It can be overwhelming if you’re just starting out growing fruit trees, so I hope these tips help you avoid expensive mistakes.

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Easy Guide to Growing Basil

How to Plant, Grow, Use and Harvest Basil

Easy Guide to Growing Basil - How to Grow Basil + Planting, Using & Harvesting Tips

Why Grow Basil?

As a gardener and cook, I couldn’t bear to have a garden without Basil. This fragrant herb is not only grown for its flavour but also its many health benefits. I use it in our kitchen as much for its delicious taste as I do for its medicinal properties. Interested in growing basil? Try it in a pot, garden or on your kitchen bench as sprouts or microgreens. Every year, I allocate ‘prime real estate’ space to basil in pots, as well as around my garden. Read on for how you can use this versatile herb.

 

Basil Varieties – Which Basil should you Grow?

Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) is a member of the Mint family (Lamiaceae). Like its mint ‘cousins’, basil comes in a large range of aromatic varieties, with flavours to please even the fussiest taste buds. Annual varieties will last you a season and then provide you with free seeds. Perennial cultivars last much longer and are even better value. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Sweet Basil and Genovese are two of the most popular basil choices for pesto as they have mild sweet flavours.

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