CULTURE

In dry times, keeping moisture in the soil

The little rain we have had this winter, as everyone knows, is not enough to keep our gardens green. The best way to keep what little moisture there is in the ground is by covering it in such a way that rainwater can be absorbed but not allowed to evaporate. Bare soil is anathema in this respect, and large areas of lawn need far too much water to stay looking good – and the water stays at the surface of the soil instead of percolating down further into the soil. Low-growing vegetation adapted to dry climates is the best way to keep the soil cool, and there are several varieties of drought-resistant grass that can replace lawns. Prostrate or creeping plants can be used to cover soil on parts of the garden that are not walked over or needed for playing or entertaining. Good ground covers form a mat and prevent other plants (i.e. weeds) from growing up around them and water from evaporating from the soil. They can be broken up by paths or smaller areas covered in paving or gravel. Just a few suggestions for plants suitable for ground cover in the Mediterranean climate are Campanula garganica (Adriatic bellflower), which forms a dense mat up to 10 centimeters tall that does not allow weeds to grow; Diascias (twinspur), which does well planted in gravel and is recommended for ground cover in full sun where it flowers in shades of orange, pink and mauve; Artemisia arborescens, which has light silver foliage; and Arctostaphylos manzanita (emerald carpet), whose leaves stay shiny even in the driest conditions. A good source book for this is «Ground Cover Plants» by Margery Fish (David and Charles). Color photographs of excellent ground covers such as Thymus serpyllum (creeping thyme), Thymus hirsutus and many others including varieties of grass that do not need frequent watering can be seen on the Pepiniere Filippi website’s section of alternatives to lawn (http://perso.orange.fr/jardin-sec/index.htm). Many of the grasses that are good lawn replacements, such as Zoysia or Frankenia laevis, need watering only once a week in summer. Filippi’s also provides a mail order service. Landscape fabric Gravel is preferable to paving for paths as it allows moisture to sink down deep into the soil. The problem of weeds can be avoided by first laying down landscape fabric, a dark porous material that blocks out light and therefore prevents weeds from growing. As it does allow water to seep through to the soil, the fabric can also be used where sparse planting is desired. After laying the fabric on the soil, cut criss-cross slashes in it wherever you want to put a plant, fold back the four points to have a square large enough to plant in, dig a hole large enough for the rootball, then plant, water and flatten down the points of the fabric around the plant, leaving enough space to water it. When the gravel is laid down, the fabric will not be visible. Clear, illustrated instructions on how to do this can be found in «Create a Mediterranean Garden» by Pattie Baron (Lorenz Books, 1999). A landscape fabric commercially available in Greece, called Terram 1000, is sold by Isoren (www.isoren.gr or 210.240.2006) but any material is appropriate that is porous and permeable to water, but not woven, so that roots or shoots cannot force their way through by pushing the weave apart. The fabric can also be used when planting a new area to deter weed growth – by removing the upper layer of soil with the roots of unwanted plants and weeds, then laying the material and then a layer of fresh soil on top. Plastic is not suitable as it does not allow water to drain through. Recycled water Gray water, increasingly used in countries where water supplies are becoming scarce, is a term used to refer to household wastewater from the washing machine, shower and bathroom sink (in contrast to black water, which is that from the toilet and kitchen, where food and other substances are mixed with the wastewater). Using gray water, however, means no harsh chemicals such as chlorine can be used to clean bathtubs and sinks, and only organic detergents should be used in the washing machine. Most sources of information on gray water recommend using detergents and soaps with low salt and phosphorus levels so as not to harm plant life. Gray water should not be used on the home vegetable patch, however, as even the water we wash ourselves with contains chemicals from the personal hygiene products such as shampoo. Gray water systems are not feasible in city apartment buildings, but for a home in the countryside it is possible to have a separate pipe leading out into the garden, even if it’s just from the washing machine. Credibility of organic products market The organic certification organization DIO is holding an event titled «DIO and the Credibility of the Organic Products Market» tomorrow at the 20th Food and Drink Fair at Expo Athens in Anthousa, at 5.30 p.m. This is an opportunity to get answers to those questions you have about how organic food is actually inspected. To ensure a place, contact DIO at 210.822.4384 or visit [email protected]