Monday, 13 June 2016

Wind protection

Wind-scorched bean seedling
Where we live, wind is the harshest challenge to plants. It's just a very windy part of the world and we are less than a mile from the sea. By the time we realised what serious damage wind can do we'd already lost all of our summer raspberries in the spring gales and most of our brassica seedlings were a sorry sight.

We have since evolved a wind defence strategy:

  • Growing lots of hedges - around the whole perimeter and subdividing larger paddocks with additional hedges
  • Copious use of windbreak fabric fences
  • Using individual seedling protectors

Wind-scorched quince tree
Wind-scorched catmint
Two and half year-old hedge

When you see wind scorch it looks alarming, like you've got some serious disease on your hands. It also varies in appearance from plant to plant. Sometimes leaf edges turn brown, sometimes there are brown spots and other times the leaves turn white or have white blotches. This is not usually covered in the 'diseases and pests' section of vegetable gardening books. So when you see any of these and you've had some windy weather, don't worry about disease but get those plants protected.

Windbreak for the hedge
Hedge planting is a wonderful long-term solution, but with a long lead time. After just two years though our first planted hedges are looking quite respectable and, more importantly, are providing shelter that improves every year. We use windbreak fabric to protect the hedge plants. They have a better start in life that way. The size difference between protected and unprotected hedge plants of the same age can be considerable.

Specially erected windbreak fence
We run the windbreak fabric either on the windward side of an existing fence (i.e. the side facing the prevailing wind) or we make up a special windbreak fence between fence posts, running the fabric on alternate sides of the post and affixing it to each post with a batten.

Raspberries behind fabric
Once the hedges have reached 'critical mass' we'll probably take down the fabric. We now use windbreak fabric on all newly planted hedges, to protect our soft fruit and to protect tall crops such as Jerusalem artichokes.

Unprotected amaranth seedling
Protected amaranth seedling

Rusty bucket protecting a quinoa seedling
The windbreak fabric does slow down the wind considerably, but we also find it necessary to provide additional protection for small seedlings. This year we've started using three-litre plant pots with the bottoms cut out to protect all our brassica, squash, asparagus and grain seedlings and whatever else seems in need, for example the sunflowers. Not only does this protect them from the wind, it also creates a warm little microclimate for each seedling and protects against other hazards, including cats, birds and slugs.

The effect is amazing, the plants are much happier and faster growing, even the squashes haven't suffered any transplant shock. We remove the protectors once the plants peek well over the top and can cope on their own but while they're still small enough to fit through the pot.

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