Blessed are the flexible as they won’t be bent out of shape

When it comes to gardening, this is so true. As gardeners, we are constantly adapting and modifying our plans, trying to work with the seasons which change from year to year, the conditions within our gardens, and our schedules.

While there are ideal times we should try and do certain jobs in the garden, I think its important to use these as ‘guides’ and not get too bent out of shape if we can’t do things on time. For example, we ‘should’ sow sweet peas on St Patrick’s Day, plant garlic in April – May and prune roses in July to name but a few of the garden timings that apply to Adelaide and The Hills, but these ‘shoulds’ are to be used as a guide and not an absolute.

Recently I read a local post on social media where someone made a statement, rather than a suggestion, and it concerned me. No doubt I have been guilty of this in the past too, as I have been writing for this publication alone for over 25 years, however I will be more aware of this from now on.

As a working mum of five aged between 14 and 20 years old, I get a lot less time in my garden than most people imagine. As I write this, I have spent several hours in the garden this afternoon and managed to only tick off only one job off my list of 20+ things that all need to be done now. I am sure I am not alone in feeling that there is always more to do in the garden than I get done. As a result, many of the things I plan to do, don’t get done when they should. The interesting thing is that, in most cases, they still work anyway. I could say I plan to do things late as this garden is my ‘dirt lab’, and I am experimenting with just how late you can be doing things before they don’t work…………………… but that would be a lie, trying to justify me running late.

Last year I sowed sweet peas in June (2-3 months late) and they bloomed a treat in spring. This year, some that self-seeded have already germinated in my garden and have been up and growing strong since early February. I was running late with garlic planting last year too, and it went in in late June early July (2-3 months late) and the bulbs still grew. Perhaps they are not quite as big as they would have been if I had done it sooner, but really it did not matter. I have been known to miss pruning the odd rose till September and they still bloom in spring, albeit a bit later than they would have if I had done it on time.

So, as we head into autumn and many people get ready to plant cool season crops, let me not make statements, but instead suggestions. It is great if you can start planting in March while the weather is mild (we all hope, even though we can get 40-degree days this month) and the ground is still warm. However, if you haven’t yet done good soil prep, take your time to do it properly before you plant, as the quality of your crop is determined by the quality of your soil. Just like a good house needs to be set upon good foundations, the soil in your vegie patch is the foundation for that season’s vegies. Racing to do an early planting of vegies into ordinary soil will not give you a good harvest. Crops of vegies like broccoli which are planted now will be ready to pick in 8 weeks so late May or early June under ideal growing conditions. Then when you cut the main stem, some varieties like ‘Belstar’ and ‘Imperial’ develop side shoots and these smaller heads to keep cropping for you for several more months. Avoid varieties like ‘Marathon’, ‘Prophet’ and ‘Romanesco’ if you want these side shoots as they only produce a large main head. It is quite a good idea to plant an early crop of one of the sprouting or broccolini types, whether it be the Chinese, ‘Kailaan’, ‘Baby’, ‘Brocky’ or another similar small headed forms, as these will give you your first harvest.

Instead of just planting only once at the start of the season, I try to stagger my plantings and plant something every month while in season. So, I plant more of the ‘once-only harvest’ vegies like cauliflower, cabbage, and kohl rabi each month, and cut and come again vegies like broccoli every couple of months.

I do the same with lettuce, spring onions and Asian greens which are the staple crops in our household. Every now and again, I read that Asian Greens are cool season crops and need to be planted in March, but that is not my experience. I plant bok choy (3 punnets so 18 plants per one metre square wicking bed) every month of the year with great results and usually have a bed of it ready for harvest each month. I start by harvesting smaller ones and thin out the planting, so larger varieties get more space to spread out. Growing any brassica over the warmer weather (September to May) does need a strategy to manage the cabbage white butterflies, or more particularly their hungry green caterpillars, and exclusion netting is my chosen method – see https://sophiespatch.com.au/2020/07/30/cabbage-white-butterflies-2/.

Now for longer, slower crops like leeks I do a big planting every few months, as I can harvest the smaller ones first and thin out the planting, while those that remain bulk up over the next few months. For cut and come again crops that can be harvested multiple times like kale, I plant every few months when the plants start to run out of puff and lose vigor. Spinach can be repeat harvested and as its only a cool season crop, one planting is usually sufficient and with silver beet or chard, while the plants can actually go into the second year, I find that their leaves decrease in size and vigor, so I have a new crop ready to take over when the first one gets past it. For Brussel Sprouts I do try and get an early start, but actually, these plants are best planted back in November to get sprouts in early winter. These plants will crop for several months so you might like to do a subsequent planting in early autumn.

So, what is this ramble all about? For me, it’s about reassuring you (and myself) to be flexible and have a go whenever you can, within reason. Don’t get too concerned if you can’t do a gardening task, or plant something, at exactly the ‘right’ time. Do it when you can, and you never know, you might even find that it works better. Discover what is possible in your garden, and only take advice from local sources who are keen, experienced gardeners.