In the Garden | After the smoke clears

I wish I had all the answers regarding how to deal with the smoke that is shrouding us all, creating so much fear and discomfort for those in the smoke zone, and terror, disaster and loss for those on the front line.

Regardless of how the fires started, why they are so bad and how long they are going to linger, there will be a fall out for many of our gardens.

The crisp dry heat we are experiencing, followed by weeks of smoke and heat, make keeping the garden in tip-top shape rather tricky, and as I write this we are only in the early stages of summer.

Many rural gardens are in the very difficult situation of running out of water in dams and tanks, along with bores that are running dry.

In town, most gardeners are trying to use water conservatively and cautiously and with the weather conditions we are experiencing, little bits of water are not enough.

In many cases, transpiration is faster than plants can uptake water, so plants are wilting quickly, especially young plants, and in some there is severe stress and potential death.

This is new territory for our gardens.

What I do know is that our local vineyards and more importantly, their grapes, will be seriously impacted by weeks of smoke.

Grapes can become 'smoke tainted', rendering the grapes completely useless.

Recent news suggests that the density of smoke we are experiencing is equivalent to 60 cigarettes a day.

Even hard core smokers would have trouble keeping up with that.

Like humans, plants will be affected by the fine particles in the smoke that include ash, partly consumed fuel, and potentially hundreds of chemical compounds such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons and small amounts of nitrogen oxide.

I imagine that prolonged exposure to excessive smoke, along with excessive CO2 and other gases, will possibly cause blockages that could lead to the plant suffocating if this lasts for a prolonged period.

According to my research, even short-term exposure to smoke can destroy chlorophyll in plants and reduce their ability to photosynthesise by as much as 50 per cent.

This will cause the plants to become oxygen-deprived and may cause wilting and ill thrift.

In this case, plants then switch to survival mode, causing fruiting and ripening to slow, reducing yield and potentially affecting the flavour of your produce.

One benefit of smoke is the reduction of intense direct sunlight, helping to prevent heat stress and sun scald, which I'm sure you have seen in your garden this summer.

Smoke diffuses sunlight, sending light to lower parts of the plant that normally miss out on sunlight.

Smoke can also provide the advantage of inhibiting fungal disease and insect pest activity.

Then there is the consideration of our pollinators.

Our bees are already compromised and smoke is their worst enemy.

Not only have millions of food producing hectares burnt but the ensuing smoke must be causing great hunger, confusion and death to our bee colonies.

Many bee keepers have stated that it may take as many as 20 years to return to any sense of normalcy in the bee communities.

When the smoke finally lifts and the heat comes out of summer it is likely our gardens will need a little extra care and attention, and some of us will need to replace plants that didn't make it.

I for one, will not be defeated by this catastrophe.

I will continue to plant thousands of trees and shrubs every year, hoping that my little bit will make a small difference.

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