Saturday, January 22, 2022

What I learned in a heat wave


It has been hot here, and for a long time.  Perth has broken its record for the longest stretch of days over 40 degrees Celsius, as it swelters through one of its hottest summers on record. Little over halfway through summer, Perth has also broken the record for the highest number of days over 40C between December and February.  So far, 10 days have broken that mark this summer.

Summer is only beginning- we have the months of February and March to go through yet.

The beach is a lovely way to start the day -but we don't stay after 9 am as it is too hot and too hard to stay safe from UV rays. Even though we are only 7 km from the beach, the wonderful 'sea breeze' which is so famous in Perth for racing in after a hot morning, to cool things down, has been weak and hardly made it to our place, for about a week now. 

DH and I have been remembering how things were when we were kids -in those days people had no insulation in their houses. They used to sleep outside on hot nights, or just put the sprinklers on and let the kids run around in their bathers all day. Some people who live in rentals are still in houses that are poorly set up for hot weather, and that makes it very hard.

Here are some things I have learned during this heat wave: 

1.. Most of the garden has survived on it's regular watering, but you get some emergencies. There is one chilli plant in full sun which got very shrivelled, but a couple of days or watering has brought it back. Please note -chilli won't germinate unless it is over 30C, and it generally looks fabulous in hot weather, but this is weather is extreme.   Roses are pretty cheery too, even if the flower crisps and dries in one day. The grapes are fine with the hot weather. I have been giving the eureka lemon some extra water because it really was stressed. Don't know if it is going to pull through.

We are still harvesting blueberries, and some eggplants, and herbs, grapes and rhubarb. 

The little pond in the wine barrel, tucked in shade under the patio, still loses a lot of water through evaporation! I am topping it up every 2 days. 

WORMS - I nearly lost all of the worm farm, but read about a technique of putting bottles of frozen water in the farm to cool things down and so far they are still alive. I also throw a wet hessian coffee sack over them to try to keep them cool. 

We have had tiny ants trying to get in the house -and anywhere else they might find moisture and coolness. It takes a bit extra diligence to make sure there are no places they can make ingress.

The local birds are heat stressed! We have a lot of water bowls out for them, and in this weather we need to refresh them in the middle of the day. Birds I don't normally see are now coming into the garden for water. These big trees to the west of us, in the Council owned walkway, are wonderful! In the late afternoon, from about 4:30pm, they cast a shade over the house and bring the temperature down immediately. Mature trees and green spaces help to cool communities by as much as 10 degrees and the shade they provide cools our homes and streets. 

Our older cat is not really interested in eating much at the moment. I guess I understand that! She is sleeping in the coolest place she can find. 

2. We probably will need a RCAC  or some other kind of air conditioning soon. Up till now, with Perth's usual pattern of just a day or two of extreme heat before a cool change, the passive cooling strategies we have taken have kept us pretty comfortable. In a week of hot weather, however, the house just heats up, and it doesn't get cool if the overnight temperature doesn't drop very much. We have shade sails, we have a grape pergola on the north side, we have extra insulation, we have thermal curtains. We operate this house like a yacht- we open to the breeze, we close against the heat, but it isn't enough.  

This may in fact be the new normal for Perth- climate change is making every extreme 'more extreme'. Cold is colder, hotter is hotter and for longer. Drought goes on and on, or rain brings floods. 

Of course the very worst time to try to buy airconditioning is during a heat wave! There are no stocks in the shops, due to transport problems due to COVID, and the installers are flat out. We are thinking of installing a split system to service just our bedroom and our daughter's bedroom, as it is the heat overnight which is really debilitiating. If we can do that, then a "swampy" - an evaporative air conditioner- would be something we would add to the rest of the house at a later date. I am swinging wildly in opinions about the best options here, and continue to do research. I need some quotes for installing systems which will work here before I decide. 

3. It is better to stay busy than think about the heat! I have a new book about preserving the italian way, and have made some pickled onions as one of the first things to try. I am also working on my quilt.  Reading is a way of escaping into another world, and my local library is a treasure! 

4. When it is hot it is OK to cut yourself some slack. I allow myself to buy bread rather than making it (I just feed the starter and hope for the best). We sometimes have sandwiches for dinner! I cook a roast chicken in the slow cooker to avoid heating up the house with the oven. We want salads, watermelon, icecream. Sometimes a risotto or a quick pasta is OK but no-one has much energy or desire for hot food. I have read that heat kills more Australians than any natural disaster, so it is important to take hydration seriously. 

5. Respite can be lovely -we went to the local pool today, and the other day we took Mr 7 to the local cinema. A few hours in airconditioning is a lovely thing, to escape the hottest time of the day -our son and daughter in law invited us over to their place last night, where the evaporative ducted air conditioner was working to perfection. 

Escaping to a library, shopping centre or museum is a bit more complicated as our COVID situation makes some indoor settings problematic, but so far it has been OK. We got our third vaccine shot -the booster recently. 

I found some good stories here, that you may wish to check out

Self seeding plants -they come up by themselves! 

A lovely story of permaculture in indigenous communities in our North West of WA Here 

Surving in the heat -don't make these mistakes