While I like home grown vegies at any time of year, of the cool season crops (like broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and kale) and the warm season crops (like tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, eggplants and pumpkin), the latter are definitely my favourites. And with the ground starting to warm, now is the time to start getting ready for these mouth-watering summer favourites. It is the work we put into the vegie garden now that will determine the crops we get from December till April, so invest and your payoff will be abundantly bountiful. Spring is such a magical time in the garden, as the sap rises in plants and everything bursts back into life, putting on new leaves and fresh blooms. It is a time when even non-gardeners, or those with supposed black thumbs, get inspired to get out and garden. And something magical happens when we visit nurseries and garden centres too, as the sap seems to flow in us, with a rush of blood to the head, and we find ourselves in a plant buying frenzy, filling our trolleys with everything that looks pretty or has a big picture label. I know ………………..as I have already started this frenzy, but I am trying to remind myself that before I buy anything more, there are some basic jobs in my existing garden that I need to tick off my ‘to do list’. So here are the ‘must do’s before you get caught up with the ‘must haves’. 😊While I like home grown vegies at any time of year, of the cool season crops (like broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower and kale) and the warm season crops (like tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, eggplants and pumpkin), the latter are definitely my favourites. And with the ground starting to warm, now is the time to start getting ready for these mouth-watering summer favourites. It is the work we put into the vegie garden now that will determine the crops we get from December till April, so invest and your payoff will be abundantly bountiful.
The reality is that not only do weeds look unsightly, they compete with the plants we want to grow for space, water and nutrients, and with a dry, warm spring predicted, it’s worth keeping all the existing moisture in the soil for the things we want to grow. So, get the weeds under control now, early in spring, before they literally explode into growth and take over. Hand weeding is a great place to start, remembering to pull weeds out before they set seed as “One year’s seeding is seven years weeding”, or as is the case with many weeds, up to twenty years weeding!? Being an organic gardener, I don’t use chemical based herbicides like glyphosate, however I have used the organic herbicide ‘Slasher’ which kills weeds by burning their foliage. It is effective on annual weeds like winter grass and I have used it to control weeds in my paving. One application hasn’t been effective on couch however, as this is a perennial weed with a tough root system, yet an organic market garden south of Adelaide has achieved success killing a patch of couch with three applications over the warmer weather. I also mange weeds my mowing them to keep them low and stop them flowering or setting seed or smothering them. The latter is achieved by a process called sheet mulching and it’s how I have reclaimed most of the garden areas at my place from what was once a cow paddock. This process involves mowing the weeds down as low as you can go, feeding them with organic fertiliser and watering the area well. Then, using a generous layer of newspaper or non-shiny cardboard you smother the weeds and cover this layer with a thick layer of bark-based mulch or compost. The weeds try to grow in the dark, utilizing the fertilizer and moisture, however with no light they simply rot and within a period of three to six months, you can eliminate even the notoriously determined weeds like couch or kikuyu. The only time this hasn’t worked for me is when I was too impatient and planted before the weeds had died or where I didn’t overlap the layers of newspaper properly.
While I will talk about the details of what, when and how to plant your vegie patch next week, it’s important to understand that the success and health of your summer crops is entirely dependent on how good your soil is. So, taking the time to do some soil improvement now is ideal, even though you might not be ready to plant for several weeks. Soil improvement isn’t only vital for vegies, it’s worth doing for all plants other than local indigenous plants which are planted into local indigenous soil, as obviously these plants are suited to our natural soil conditions. There is saying that you should plant a $1 plant in a $10 hole, but when it comes to vegies someone once told me it should be a $1 plant in a $100 hole. So how do you improve soils? Clay soils benefit from the addition of gypsum in powder or liquid form and sandy soils can benefit from the addition of clay, in the form of a clay slurry made from dissolving clay in a watering can or bucket of water and watering it over the area. All soils can benefit from the addition of organic matter in the form of compost and aged animal manures. Adding organic matter turns your soil into a sponge, allowing it to retain water within the soil profile so your plants can take what they need, when they need it. It also encourages earthworms which are an obvious sign of healthy soil, and even though you can’t see it, the soil’s microbial activity will also improve. All these improvements improve your plants’ health, increasing their resistance to pests and diseases, and increasing their tolerance of heat and drought stress.
This is the time of year to feed the whole garden with organic based fertiliser. This does not feed the plants, but rather it feeds the soil, improves soil structure, and again encourages earthworm and soil microbial activity – the outcome is healthy plants in a healthy garden. Remember ‘Happy, healthy plants don’t get sick’ and they have fewer pest and disease problems. Feed your ornamentals, fruit trees, vegies, and lawn.
Winter-dormant lawns such as couch, soft leaf buffalo and kikuyu need a boost to get them back into growth, and now is the time to do it. My garden is suffering from neglect from my involvement in the Royal Show over the past month or more, and now when I do have a few hours free in the garden I am overwhelmed what needs to be done. There’s weeding, sowing seeds into jiffy pots, pruning and the list goes on, however my priority is to feed, as the organic based fertilisers will take four to six weeks to be available to the plants. Feeding now will mean the nutrients are ready to go as the ground starts to warm up and plant growth kicks in.
With talk of a warm, dry spring, much like last years’, it’s vital that you top up the mulch now, rather than wait till the weather gets hot. Currently many soils are still moist and mulching them will keep that moisture in the soil. Leaving earth uncovered and exposed however, even though the temperatures mightn’t be that hot, causes moisture to be drawn up and out of the soil, further drying the soil out. Mulching garden beds generously to conserve water is one of the most important parts of your garden’s summer survival plan. Mulch prevents the soil and plants from drying out as rapidly and reduces your plants’ water requirements significantly. Mulching also helps to smothers weeds and reduce weed seed germination, stopping weeds competing with your plants for water. There is no point weeding your garden, if you don’t then cover the soil with mulch, or the weeds will simply come straight back. Always be sure to use a coarse mulch such as pea straw or a bark-based mulch.
Once these jobs are done, then you can have fun planting, but be aware that even climate compatible, drought tolerant plants planted now will need to be watered for at least their first year until they are established. As discussed a few weeks ago, don’t be tempted to plant tropical or subtropical plants like citrus, passionfruit or frangipani yet as the ground is still way too cold. The ground needs to have warmed up sufficiently for those plants to get planted, and this is usually around mid to late October in Adelaide. Use seaweed-based plant tonics with everything that you plant to encourage root growth and help overcome transplant shock.