Seedlings – like human babies – outgrow their cribs not long after birth, and have to be put into a proper bed or face decline.
The cucumbers above could have gone out at six weeks after sowing, but here we are at seven weeks and the inevitable must happen, no matter what is happening on the rest of the property (and that’s another long shaggy-dog story…)
The real problem has been a week of hot weather (40 degrees centigrade, or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit). The seedlings would never cope with that much direct sunshine and heat, no matter how frequently I watered them, so they have been covered for most of the working day with heavy-duty shade cloth, waiting for cooler weather to start their new lives.
Firstly, the water melons need to go in, as they are bigger and their garden bed has been prepared weeks in advance. The planting technique is simple, and has been explained last week when the zucchinis went out. So that was the easy bit, and helped postpone the cucumber plant-out for one more day while cook and gardener gathered their strength and got things sorted on the rest of the property.
The next garden bed to be opened up, for the cucumbers and the rest of the seedlings, has dried out since winter and the soil must be ‘woken up’ and brought back to life by applying water some weeks in advance. This is expensive, and 44,000 litres of water (over 11,000 US gallons) have been used in this past fortnight alone to bring the garden through the heat wave. This, despite very slow and careful irrigation via drippers laid under mulch.
The chickens have worked over this moistened strip of soil and tilled it to a fine tilth while cleaning out any resident insect pests. Now they are pushed to the outside of the fence, and ‘gutter guard’ mesh has been tied along the lower edge to keep them from sticking their heads through to destroy the seedlings (cucumbers have to be planted close to the mesh to allow them to climb up it).
So the cucumber seedlings are planted at 45 cm spacing, then surrounded by barley straw mulch. The upper part of these seedlings are almost buried in the straw; this will allow them to lie dormant for the next week (forecast to be in the cool twenties) with their leaves out of the sun for much of the day while their shocked root systems recover and get a new grip on their very own piece of rich dark soil.