Summer usually means extremes – keep the garden happy with regular watering and keep out of the heat by gardening in the cool of the day
Cool & Temperate
Gardening in mid-summer doesn’t have to be strenuous but it is important to keep an eye on the garden each day. Set aside time in both the morning and evening to water and tend edible crops. As you water, check plants for pests, remove emerging weeds and harvest fruit and vegetables that are ready. Many of summer’s garden problems can be avoided by providing shade on very hot days. A temporary screen prevents sun damage and reduces the effect of hot, dry winds. On heatwave days, move potted plants into a shaded spot, check vertical and hanging gardens and cover nearby hard surfaces to stop reflected heat damage. It’s important to make sure tomatoes are well watered to avoid blossom end rot in fruit. If some crops are failing to form fruit — particularly cucurbits including pumpkins, squash and zucchini — try hand pollination (transferring pollen from male flowers to receptive female flowers). Regularly liquid-feed all edibles, especially leafy greens. Sow seeds or plant seedlings of lettuce, dwarf beans and cucumber to keep the harvest coming into autumn.
Grass and weeds are growing apace after summer rain. Mow or weed around fruit trees. If rain is scarce, deeply water trees, shrubs and vines at least once a week. Fig trees, however, love hot, dry conditions and don’t need additional watering. Thin developing apples by removing several fruit in each cluster to encourage larger fruit. Apply fertiliser to fruiting trees and shrubs including apples, apricots and blueberries. Continue to protect ripening fruit from birds as our feathered friends attack fruit before it is fully ripe. Use nets or reusable fruit baskets that snap over fruit clusters to protect crops against birds and bats. If using nets, only use white knitted nets that are less likely to snare birds, bats and reptiles. Stretch nets so they are taut. Avoid overly large nets that pool on the ground where they may trap small reptiles and regularly inspect nets to free any trapped animals.
Compost & soil
Keep soils clear of weeds, especially around vegetables, by hoeing between rows. Cover bare soil with a thin (2–5cm) layer of organic mulch to help deter weed growth. Weeds steal water and nutrients from other plants and also harbour pests, so they need to be kept under control. Chop up green prunings and seed-free weeds to add to compost heaps layered with dry leaves. Compost is developing well at this time, so regularly use compost from the heap, spreading it over soil as natural mulch. This protects soils, keeps them cool and deters weed growth. Compost heaps should be moist but not too wet. During extended periods of heavy rain, cover heaps with old carpet or cardboard to stop them from becoming too wet. Conversely, if the weather is hot and dry, compost heaps can dry out and may need to be watered and turned. Keep worm farms in a cool location as hot spells can
Harvest crops frequently so vegies are picked while they are small and tender. In the heat and humidity of the wet season, crops such as zucchini and cucumber quickly become over-mature. Leafy crops, too, become tough and bitter as they age, so always harvest these regularly. Large, seedy, watery or bitter vegies are best fed to the chooks! Replace mature crops with fresh sowings to keep vegies coming along through summer. Shade new plantings to protect them from both heat and heavy rains. Use shadecloth or rely on tall plants such as sweetcorn and sunflowers or trellises of climbing crops such as Ceylon spinach or beans that can provide natural shade. Keep powdery mildew at bay with regular applications of milk spray (one part whole milk to 10 parts water). Pull out badly affected plants.
Keep harvesting summer fruit including avocado, custard apple, mango, pawpaw and passionfruit. Hand-pollinate passionfruit flowers if fruit is slow to form. Check flowers regularly for ripe pollen to transfer to the sticky female part of the flower. Use a dry brush or cotton bud to transfer pollen. Bottle, freeze or dry excess crops. If fungal diseases are evident on fruit or foliage, apply a copper-based fungicide approved for organic gardens. Also, keep organic fruit fly baits fresh by regularly reapplying and protecting them from rain. Apply fertiliser to avocado, banana, custard apple, jackfruit, loquat, passionfruit and pawpaw, especially after periods of heavy rain, which leaches nutrients from the soil.
Compost & soil
Heavy summer storms leach nutrients from soil. Counteract this by renewing mulches or simply laying down chopped-up prunings including palm and fern fronds to protect the soil. Reinvigorate soils with applications of slow-release fertilisers. Apply a fertiliser containing potash to rapidly growing vegetables and fruiting crops. In fallow vegie beds (those without crops), plant a green manure crop to add fertility to the soil in time for dry-season planting or cover soil with a layer of mulch. Use the cooler evening to do vigorous work such as digging, spreading mulches or turning the compost heap.
Originally in Good Organic Gardening, Volume 7, Issue 6