She's Leaving Home ...

wateringcanSummer's just around the corner (forget the fact the some of didn't have a spring this year) and the biggest headache of the season is approaching. It's not Christmas shopping and what to buy Uncle Jim, and it isn't how you're going to keep cousin Margaret away from the brandy on Christmas day. No – the biggest headache of the season (for those of us without urban high pressure water systems to operate automatic sprinklers) is: 'who's going to water the garden when we're away on holiday?'

Let's face it, the one thing none of us want is A. to take the seedlings on holiday with us (again) and B. to come home to a frizzled garden and lifeless glasshouse because the neighbour's kids (who you employed to water the garden) forgot to do just that on the two hottest days of the year. But don't panic! It doesn't have to get this bad, not with a little forward planning. I started mine a few weeks ago

Any seeds pricked out from the end of November went into containers filled with my special summer holiday potting mix. I make it by adding to my regular home-made mix one of the few commercial garden products I ever purchase – water-retaining crystals. These little beauts suck up to around 400 times their weight in water, slowly delivering it back into the soil as the earth begins to dry out. I also pricked the seeds into good sized pots rather than the usual recycled six-pack punnets. That way, they get lots of soil round their roots, and access to lots of water retaining crystals.

We've all heard of pricking out seedlings into cardboard loo paper tubes. I do it, too, but as well as loading the tubes with the water-crystal potting mix, I also pack them into a plastic ice-cream container and fill every nook and cranny around them with extra potting mixe. This keeps everything extra moist and also allows roots, once they grow through the cardboard tubes, to find more nutrients and moisture. It's a perfect way of ensuring plants can wait until you return home to transplant them into the garden.

Also at the end of November, I sow any seedlings which don't mind squashing in together, such as lettuces and silver beet, directly into the garden in small patches rather than into seed boxes. A well ventilated plastic cloche is placed over them so that, as moisture rises up from the ground in the heat of the day, it condenses on the plastic, and trickles back down onto the plants.

Out in the glass house, around the base of each tomato and cucumber plant, I scratch into the soil a few water-retaining crystals. I soak the soil well just before leaving home, cover the ground with a thick layer of moisture-retaining mulch such as semi-rotted straw, and water again.

On the deck, potted plants get the water-crystal treatment, too. They're given a good soaking the night before I leave home, and a mulching layer of fine gravel chip is poured on top of the soil (straw mulch is an invitation to birds to scratch it out).

With everything in place, all I need do to ensure a worry-free fortnight's holiday, is make sure the hose is attached to the outside water tap, and leave a note on the back door to remind the neighbour's kids what needs attention. Oh, and there is just one other thing. As an insurance policy, I always leave a large jar of jelly beans just outside the entrance to the glasshouse. If there's one way of ensuring a teenager doesn't forget to water the tomatoes, it's by placing an attractive food source close by!

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