It’s been hot! It’s probably even been hot enough in some parts of the east coast to cook an egg on the footpath. Has anyone tried doing this? I would love to know.
There are plenty of plants, especially Australian ones, that thrive on scorching weather just like this. Many Australian plants have leathery leaves which have a high oil content to protect themselves from the heat. Can you think of tricks that other plants such as succulents have to cope in hot, dry weather?
The problem is that vegetables aren’t quite as well adapted and don’t do very well in hot weather unless they get a little extra water and a bit of TLC.
The leaves of most veggies and are large and juicy which is what makes them so delicious but this is also why they struggle so much on a very hot day. Their leaves are made up of millions of pockets of moisture called ‘cells’ that are so tiny that your eye can’t see them but during a heat wave the moisture in these cells evaporates causing the plant to wilt.
It’s easy to tell if a vegetable is wilting. The leaves go very floppy and can’t hold themselves up. If you touch them, you can feel that they are drying out and that they aren’t as juicy as they should be. When a vegetable starts to wilt, you have to act quickly as the damage is already being done.
The first thing to do is to get out the hose and water the vegetable garden a lot! In fact, start at one end and water all the way across then go back and do it all again to make sure that the soil is full of moisture for the roots to use to fill up the cells again.
Once the soil is nice and moist, the plants will start to recover quickly but in a few days there might be some damaged leaves on the veggies which turn brown. Cut these off because they aren’t edible and the vegetable won’t be able to repair them. It’s much better if it puts its energy into growing new leaves instead of repairing the old leaves.
Another problem that you might see in leafy vegetables such as lettuces is that they ‘bolt to seed’. This means that a few thick stems shoot up from the middle and flowers form on the top. The plant does this because it thinks that it is just about to die from the very hot weather and so it produces flowers which drop seeds so that baby plants will grow. This is very clever but the problem is that the leaves of the mother plant will turn bitter and won’t be very nice to eat. If veggies have bolted to seed in your garden after a heat wave, pull them out and put them in the compost and plant some new seedlings.
One of the best things to do during summer to help vegetables to cope with heat waves is to water them every week or two with seaweed extract which you can buy at a garden centre. Seaweed extract isn’t a fertiliser but it helps to thicken the walls of those cells which hold the moisture and because of this, the plant doesn’t wilt so quickly.
Of course, just like you need to drink a lot more water in summer because you get thirsty, so do vegetables. Ask mum and dad to check that the reticulation is working well on the veggie patch or get up a few minutes earlier in the morning and give them a good drink before you head off to school. If the soil looks a bit dry when you get home, give them another drink and while you are at it, stick the hose on yourself! Why should the veggies have all the fun?