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Pip Brains Trust

Question for the Pip Brains Trust? Email editorial@pipmagazine.com.au

My cucumber seedlings wilt every day in the hot sun. They come back to life every evening after a good water, but is this ideal? Should I have planted them somewhere shadier? [Nicole, Umina Beach, NSW]

When plants lose more water than they can take up from the soil, the pressure inside their cells is reduced which leads to wilting. Generally plants have stopped growing before wilting is visible and there is a point beyond which plants cannot recover. Cucurbits like pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber have large, broad leaves and it can be difficult to prevent them from wilting on hot days, even with good soil moisture, but they usually bounce right back as you’ve observed. It’s not ideal, but they will probably be fine. In hot weather, I give my cucurbit seedlings some partial shade (e.g. placing an old milk crate over the top) while they get established, and you may find they perform better in a position with some afternoon shade. [Kat]

What are some permaculture hacks to reuse and repair goods instead of throwing out and replacing? [Zoe, Geelong, VIC]

A good permaculture approach is taking time to research and select high quality things that are durable, fixable and ethical. It may cost a little more initially, but in the long run it’s better for your pocket and the planet. My rule of thumb is that clothes, bed sheets and towels must be able to go in the compost at the end of their useful life, or be fed to the worms (choose natural fibres, as synthetics don’t biodegrade). Have a few really good tools that are strong and fixable. Have a tool day: sand, clean and re-oil handles. Cheaper tools often have handles that cannot be replaced, and are made of cheap metal that bends and breaks easily. Buy the good ones and maintain them well. My older ones have lasted the best of all! [Morag]

I’m planning to build a shadehouse with a north/north-west aspect to raise seedlings, vegies, trees etc. What is the best percentage shade cloth? [Diane, York, WA]

Shadehouses protect delicate species from sun damage, and hothouses promote growth. Propagation activities like raising seedlings and cuttings is best done in a hothouse; subtropical and shade tolerant species are best kept in a shadehouse. In most parts of Australia, a north/north-west orientation is pretty hot in summer but lovely in winter. I always like to design infrastructure with versatility. It’s common for commercial propagation facilities to have shade cloth with a choice of blockout percentage. Ideally you would have your materials on a roller system so you can easily add more shade when needed. I’d recommend a 50–60% blockout for the hot summer months to protect the plants, and a 20–25% blockout for the cooler months to maximise the sunlight you get. [Justin]

LETTERS TO PIP

I’m looking for ways to inspire my 12 and 14-year-old kids. I wonder if there’s a project that would get the kids connected as we move through the teen years. [Nicole, Eltham, VIC]

Create a shady hangout niche—a great place where older kids can go for some quiet time or chill with their friends. It could be a simple log circle around a fireplace, or you could get them to help design and build a raised platform with a roof. Invite them to choose the fruits, flowers or herbs they want to grow around it. How about making a cob oven together; an opportunity to have their own pizza oven. It would be a great place to go out at night and see the stars too. Set up some solar lights or lanterns, and make a pathway with handmade stepping stones. Make sure the space is not directly visible from the house, so it feels a bit private, as no teenager wants to be overlooked. [Morag]

I have a first-year lemon tree covered with buds. Can you strip the buds before they open or is there a reason to wait for fruit? [Ariel, Mansfield, VIC]

I like to let the tree flower, as it contributes to the bigger picture of biodiversity. The flower provides nectar to bees and other insects, and this invitation into the garden can contribute to other plant species in the garden being pollinated by those same insects. And yes, let it set fruit, just to fingernail size. Benefit is bees get the nectar but the tree doesn’t waste energy in producing full sized fruit and uses that energy to produce new growth instead. [Justin]

What are the best plants to encourage bees to grace my garden, without having a hive myself? [Jess, Yackandandah, VIC]

Firstly, plants that attract bees for nectar and pollen include many common food plants, so having a thriving, productive permaculture garden is a great start! A quick list of bee forage plants would include herbs like lavender, borage, oregano, sage, thyme and lemon balm, flowers such as alyssum, cosmos, echiums, sunflowers and daisies, fruiting plants like apples, berries, citrus, persimmon and plums, and many native flowering trees like grevilleas, eucalypts and banksias. Bees seem to preference blue, purple and yellow flowers, and flowering brassicas are a favourite. Whatever you choose, try to design your garden to have a few different plants flowering in all seasons. Bees (and other wildlife) will also appreciate a source of water, ideally with protruding rocks or branches so they can land safely. Bee friendly: A planting guide for European honeybees and Australian native pollinators by Mark Leech is an excellent guide with recommendations for different climate zones across the country, and is available as a free pdf from agrifutures.com.au. [Kat]

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