GARDENING in some regional areas can be a challenge, with the biggest hurdle for most country green thumbs being a lack of water.
It's a problem that has been particularly noticeable for many gardeners this year as the agricultural region endured a very dry summer and start to the season and only recently have most areas had decent rainfall.
In a time when dams have been empty, creeks dry, tanks running low and endless water carting, having a watered garden is likely to go to the bottom of priorities.
But as Liebe Group members learned last week at the Ladies Landcare Luncheon at Dalwallinu, there are sustainable, low-cost ways to have a beautiful garden and thriving vegetable patch with minimal water usage.
Gaia Permaculture owner Fiona Blackham, Chidlow, shared insights on how people in low rainfall areas can maximise the elements they have on their property for their garden.
Like many farming areas, water is scarce and a valuable resource at Dalwallinu, so in order to have a garden or vegetable patch, it has to be water efficient.
Ms Blackham said permaculture design was about working with the energy (sunlight, wind and water) in a sustainable or regenerative way that mimics the natural environment.
Techniques such as water harvesting from infrastructure and catchment areas, using a grey water system and reverse osmosis can be useful for saving water.
But the best place to start is with your soil.
"Soil is the best place to hold water," Ms Blackham said.
"If you are in a dry area, only plant in winter.
"Try to keep any vegetation/ organic matter so you are not losing anything from the soil."
For those who want a garden with not just fruits and vegetables, Ms Blackham suggested native plants and that it's best to research what plants are native to your region and try to purchase them from a nursery in your region as they will be best suited for the local environment.
Diversity of organisms in the soil should be the aim as it will create a biodiverse micro environment that is rich in nutrients and using organic matter such as crop stubble or manure (which farmers most likely have easy access to) is a great way to achieve this.
"Soils should be made up of 25 per cent air, 25pc water, 45pc mineral particles and 5pc organic matter," Ms Blackham
While having a reticulated spraying sprinkler system is common for city gardens, for those with limited water availability, a drip system is much more effective, specifically one that can control the amount of water going to certain plants - that way it is based on the plants' requirements.
Spray sprinklers are susceptible to wind blowing water away from the plant, whereas drip systems deliver water directly into the soil.
Using wicking beds is an even more effective way of maximising water usage and saving water.
They can be constructed from materials that are likely on the farm or easily accessible and work as a self-watering garden bed.
Ms Blackham said composting was an excellent, sustainable way of increasing the nutrients of your soil.
Again, diversity is key to composting as a variety of microbes and macrobes are needed to break down the organic matter.
On acreage properties that perhaps have an orchard or chicken coup, she suggested having multiple composts and placing them in convenient locations for your gardening, such as one in the chicken coup, orchard and garden near the house.
Then you need to decide what method of composting works best for you.
Lasagna composting or hugelkultur is a technique where a mound or garden bed is constructed of wood debris and other compostable biomass plant materials.
Essentially it is a working compost that can be planted into and subsequently helps improve soil fertility, water retention and soil warming.
Producing your own compost tea or having a worm farm to produce worm urine are additional sustainable ways to increase the productivity of your soil.
"By increasing your soil diversity, you will reduce pests and disease in your garden and produce more nutritious and healthy plants," Ms Blackham said.