Use shade to beat the heat

By: Justin Russell | January 16, 2014

Shade Cloth Lettuces
Photo: Justin Russell

Summer 2013/14 has been a record breaker so far, and the bad news is that there’s still a month or more to go in most parts of Australia. In my garden I’ve been absolutely flat out just keeping plants alive. We’ve had little rain over the last six weeks, so every day I head outside in the morning and afternoon to give my precious food plants a drink.

It’s not hard work, but it is constant. And in 40° heat, it feels almost pointless. Only genuine heat lovers such as watermelons and eggplants are really comfortable in such blazing conditions, which means that everything else will benefit from the gardener’s hot weather standby - shade cloth.

I’ve collected lots of offcuts over the years, most around four or five metres square, some rectangular and others square. Most pieces have a 50 percent shade factor, but some in my collection are at least 75 percent. When a day is forecast to get hotter than 30 degrees, I simply throw a piece of shade cloth over vulnerable plants such as lettuces and leafy greens.

The shade created by the cloth cools the air below by as much as 5°, and for an extra bit of air conditioning during the hottest part of the day I often mist the cloth with cool water. Any breeze that’s around blows through the cloth, creating a cooling effect beneath. Late in the afternoon I usually remove the cloth to release any trapped heat.

The technique is dead simple and cheap, but works beautifully. This summer I’ve grown excellent lettuces using shade cloth, and have even managed to keep my kale and turnips going from winter. Give it a try in your garden. Shade cloth might be the difference between a shrivelled mess, and a garden that’s a bit sunburned, but still relatively fresh and full delights to be picked for the kitchen.

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