Thursday, May 6, 2010

Windy and dry

Every week, I spend a couple of hours at a primary school, helping out in the school garden.

It was during the dry season when I first visited the garden. We've had no rain for more than 3 months. All the trees and shrubs looked parched and miserable. The gound was bare and hard like concrete, even grass couldn't survive.

The first thing I did was to order a truck load of top soil to spread over the flower beds. Luckily the weather took a turn for the better and it began raining every week. The grass turned green and the trees flourished.

We began growing edibles in the once barren backyard. We planted lettuce, bak choi, spinach, brinjal, lady's fingers, radish, corn, turnips, onions and so forth. Something was soon troubling us. Many of the seedlings couldn't survive despite constant watering. The fluffy layer of topsoil soon became very dry and compacted. Some of the hardier plants like sweet corn, sweet basil and brinjal could survive, though they weren't exactly flourishing.

We sowed some cucumber seeds in two identical planter boxes placed side by side. The seedlings on the right box began growing very quickly and were soon creeping up the trellis.

The other one (below) fared badly right from the start. We couldn't figure out why though I had suspected it wasn't getting enough direct sunlight.

While working in the garden one day, it suddenly dawned on me that the garden is exposed to strong winds from the beach nearby. No wonder! The wind has been affecting the development of our plants.

The planter box of cucumbers on the right is protected by a large wall whereas the one on the left is not. That explains why they are developing so differently.

For me, it is an important discovery. I don't spend enough time at the school to understand the conditions. Even in my own patio garden, the amount of direct sunlight I get changes throughout the year, affecting the crop that I grow.

Now I know why the soil in the school yard is so parched. The wind strips away the moisture from the leaves and soil. It stunts the development of the plants.

The wind keeps bashing the sweet corn and lady's fingers until the roots are exposed, making the plants unstable. Needless to say, our spinach and lettuce couldn't survive at all. Only the sweet potato, yam and turnip seem pretty unaffected for now.

I'll have to rework the garden. Unfortunately, when it comes to growing edibles in a harsh environment like this, the choices are rather limited. Rosemary comes to mind but that area is probably too shady.

So we're working with shady, dry and windy condition here. Pretty hostile if you ask me.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.


  1. Would blocking certain areas with a black netting in order to reduce impact from the wind helps? Just an idea that came up upon reading your posting, Ting. I have not much of an experience in growing edibles, but I am keen to find out how the vegetable garden in the school will be growing. Keep up the good work in offering to help out at this school garden!

  2. Hi JC, there is a gap between the fence and wall that creates a wind funnel which channels the wind in the direction of our garden.

    It's difficult for me to erect anything inthe school garden as that is really beyond my scope. I have read about gardeners who wrap the pots and flower beds with a plastic cover to retain moisture, that is an idea.

    Or I could grow some taller trees/shrubs to block the gap and reduce the flow of wind coming in. But trees take a long time to grow.

    We'll have to work around the situation and try growing different things until we hit the jackpot!

  3. How about building a small pond or having fish tanks at the places you wanna grow the herbs? This would help to increase the humidity around the area. hth

  4. Hi Chawanmushi, incidentally they already have a rather big pond at that area. When I was there yesterday, the situation looked so much better. There was no wind and with the constant rain, the plants have suddenly shot up. It was a relief, but still we mulched the flowerbeds to help retain moisture in the soil.

  5. next year you could try growing some sunflowers, they grow quickly enough to be big enough to slow the wind some until you could get some stout trees going in the coming years. I would think that four or five rows may be enough to slow the wind if it is funneld into an area, maybe less if it is not very strong but just constant. My land also has wind constantly (although not usually strong)and plant my tomatoes and peppers behind my corn so they arent impacted as bad as without shelter. If I don`t they tend to get beat up a bit. Hope this helps.

  6. Hi crawler, thanks. We tried growing sunflowers but they don't do well because the soil is too dry. Now I'm trying to grow the seedlings at home so that I can transplant them at the school garden when they're older.

    Trouble is, the snails keep eating up my seedlings!