Don’t waste the bounty of late summer in February. What can’t be eaten fresh can be preserved, dried or frozen to enjoy over the cooler months ahead.
Cool & temperate:
Mozzies spoil time in the garden, especially around February and late summer. In addition to wearing long sleeves and repellents for protection, regularly empty water that’s collected in containers. This removes breeding grounds and reduces mosquito numbers. Water put out for pets, poultry, native birds and bees should be replenished daily to avoid mosquitoes using it to breed in.
Productive crops need daily watering at this time of the year. They’ll also benefit from liquid-feeding each week. Use organic plant food. Leafy crops such as lettuce, coriander and parsley may bolt (that is begin to flower and seed) if they are allowed to dry out, become heat stressed or lack nutrients.
As hot days continue throughout February, shade crops to prevent sun damage and to allow new plantings to become established. Seedlings are particularly vulnerable to sudden hot temperatures or drying winds. Continue to make the most of the cool of the morning and evening to tend crops. Search for 28-spotted ladybirds and pumpkin beetles that skeletonise leaves on pumpkins, zucchini and squash the adults, larvae and eggs. Stay on top of pests, diseases and weeds by inspecting the vegie patch daily. Take fast action when anything damaging is seen.
Reduce fruit fly by rigorously finding and removing fruit-fly-affected fruit. Soft fruit such as peach, nectarines and plums are very vulnerable to attack. If damaged fruit is left on the plant or lying on the ground, larvae can pupate in the soil, mature and start another generation.
Look for fruit that shows signs of stings (small punctures) on the skin or fruit that is rotting due to the action of larvae feeding inside. Pick up all fallen fruit. To destroy the larvae in the fruit place the damaged fruit in a clear plastic bag and leaving it to stew for a few days in the sun. It can then be buried (do not put it in the compost). Poultry feeding in orchards can help reduce fruit fly numbers.
In cool areas watch for a recurrence of pear and cherry slug, which skeletonises foliage on pear, cherry and peach trees. Dust with lime, ash or a registered organic insecticide. After harvesting summer crops, remove and store bird exclusion nets and lightly prune trees. Feed citrus trees now using a citrus food or organic fertiliser. Water trees well after applying fertiliser.
Compost & Soils
If soils have become hard to wet (a condition often referred to as “water repellent”), apply an organic soil-wetting agent. With the assistance of this material, the water should once again penetrate the soil rather than run off. Check after watering to see that water has soaked in.
Once soil is moistened, cover lightly with a fine layer of compost topped with a layer of coarse organic mulch. Don’t mulch too heavily as this can stop moisture from reaching the soil. A 5cm layer is sufficient. Continue to water regularly to avoid repellence reoccurring.
Check the compost heap and if necessary damp it down with a spray of water from the hose. Use a spade to turn compost heaps to keep them working efficiently. Thin layers of grass clippings and green weeds laid over the heap can help increase temperatures to encourage faster composting. Where areas are dry and water is limited, grey water can be used to water fruit trees, but don’t store untreated grey water for longer than 24 hours (as harmful bacteria can build up in the stored water) and don’t use on leafy vegetable crops.
The high humidity and heavy storms of the February wet season may be taking their toll on vegetables. Regularly remove spent crops or those badly affected by diseases such as powdery mildew. Bury diseased and pest-infested material — don’t put it into compost heaps.
Where vegetables are not doing well in the ground due to poor drainage, consider creating raised vegetable beds for improved soil drainage. Grow herbs that need dry conditions in containers such as terracotta pots. Move pots into a sunny spot that’s sheltered from heavy rain. Keep a supply of leafy greens for salads and stir-fries by sowing seed or planting seedlings of Asian greens, kang kong, silver beet and amaranth, which thrive in the heat and humidity of summer. Pick small tender leaves and edible shoots.
Visit a local farmers’ market to look for new and unusual crops that grow well at this time of year. Also plant cherry tomatoes for an autumn harvest.
Fertilise all citrus trees using an organic plant food formulated for citrus. This fertiliser contains high proportions of potash than is found in fertilisers for leafy crops. Apply according to the recommended rates on the container, spreading around the root zone, and water in. Over-fertilising not only damages plants but is also wasteful as nutrients are leached away and may enter watercourses, leading to pollution.
Also feed other productive plants not already fed this summer, including passionfruit, bananas and pawpaw.
Continue to bottle, freeze or dry excess crops, or search out a local produce swap group to share your crops. Also collect and dispose of spoiled fruits. Poultry can help clean up fallen fruits and reduce pest problems, so allow them to free range around fruiting plants, but keep them out of the vegie garden unless you want the entire area cleared for replanting.
Compost & Soil
February is the perfect time to improve the moisture-holding ability of soils by adding organic mulch such as compost or well-rotted manure. Dig it into new growing areas to prepare for dry-season planting. These materials can also be added as surface mulch and left for the earthworms do the work of turning it into the soil. This has the benefit of preserving the soil structure and protecting the soil from the weather.
Continue to chop or mulch up green and woody material before adding it to the compost heap or bin to help it break down faster. This organic material can also be spread as mulch over non-productive garden areas such as around trees, palms and shrubs. Don’t allow it to build up around trunks or stems as it may encourage rots. Keep wood-based mulches away from structures as it can provide cover for termites.
Written by Jennifer Stackhouse
Originally in Good Organic Gardening Volume 8 Issue 5