Summer holidays is the time to get out in the garden and enjoy the results of your efforts made all year round
Well, here we are, just out of summer and, though we may not notice it, the days are getting shorter. That life-giving light is winding down to the short days of winter, so now’s the time to think of winter crops while nurturing the coming crescendo of summer vegetables still in the ground.
Cool climate: Potatoes will be forming fast, so hill up around the plants to prevent new tubers being exposed to light. Potatoes turn green in sunlight and become poisonous, so heap straw or soil around the plants to keep the sun off.
Temperate: Our magnificent cockies and rosellas love soft fruit as much as we do, so foil them with a quick cover-up. Pruning before you net makes netting trees far less stressful. Note that blackbird netting blends nicely with the garden, whereas white netting stands out.
Tropical: Take a plump, fresh sweet potato from the vegetable shop and cut it in half. Sit it in some water and place on a window sill. Once the shoots develop to about 20cm long, break them off and plant in pots. When these develop roots plant them in the vegie patch.
After a bumper season of summer vegetables, most plants will be looking worse for wear right about now but I’m sure some of you will have a few more good weeks left in the plants before you need to dig them into the compost bin. Either way, get ready to do an overhaul of the garden and prepare the soil for another planting season. Just what the doctor ordered for a healthy garden.
Cool: Turn your soil over and remove all spent summer vegies. Prepare your bed with some additional lime and turn over the soil at least twice in preparation for planting brassicas.
Temperate: Soils need sunscreen this time of year, so add a bit of extra lucerne or pea straw to keep the ground well insulated. Water long and deep so the fragile roots are encouraged to grow downwards into cool soil. Short sprinkles of water keep roots at the soil surface where they overheat, reducing plant vigour.
Tropical: The plentiful rain can wash nutrients out of the soil, so top up your beds with some blood and bone to keep plants growing vigorously. Use a seaweed spray to boost their health — the potassium will help to strengthen the plants’ cell walls, which will help them resist insect attack and fungal problems.
Pests and diseases
Seasons come and seasons go but many nasty insects just seem to hang around forever. Gone are the days when pests disappear as the cooler weather rolls in; it seems they’ve adapted to change just as we humans have, so it’s time to get out there and break the habit.
Cool: Black sooty mould on the leaves and branches are signs of the presence of scale on trees and shrubs. Control scale using a homemade garlic oil spray (see page 46) every fortnight.
Temperate: Fruit flies are still very active at this time of year. If you already have traps set up, inspect them regularly to ensure they are working properly.
Tropical: Grey mould and mildew develop quite rapidly during humid weather. Avoid having to spray plants with fungicides by pruning and thinning them out to provide better air circulation and sunlight through to the centre of the plants.
Things to do: April
To get the best out of your garden and never be short of produce, always sow your seeds in seeding trays using seed raising mix. Keep them in a warm location where they get plenty of sunlight and are protected from westerly winds. In next to no time they will grow into little seedlings ready for planting out in the garden.
Cool: It’s time to plant frost-resistant brassicas — cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and tasty kale — if you want them for the winter dinner table. Prepare your bed with some additional lime — they love alkaline soils.
Temperate: Cover your grafted eggplant and tomatoes by building a mini-hothouse around them using timber garden stakes and polyurethane plastic to keep the cooler weather out during the evenings. Tropical: While the weather is still warm enough, thin out summer crops by removing damaged or diseased foliage to get that extra bit of productivity.
No matter what time of the year it is, compost making should be in full swing in everyone’s garden, whether you bought a plastic drum, built your own timber frame or just dug a hole in the ground. Organic homemade compost is essential for a healthy garden.
Cool: Add extra greens such as grass to provide the extra nitrogen required to keep the heat up. Cover the compost with a lid or some soil to keep the heat in.
Temperate: Ensure that the compost is kept moist through the dry times by covering it with wet sacking or carpet and water it once in a while to keep the soil organisms active.
Tropical: Turn the compost heap on a regular basis — weekly if possible; good air circulation is vital to making healthy compost and stopping bad bacteria from developing.
Citrus trees provide wonderful aromas along with a great range of produce to eat and drink. Be sure to give your trees a good feed with compost or manure at this time of the year in preparation for a bumper crop.
Cool: Plant a citrus tree in the garden but if space is an issue, try growing one in a large (60cm) pot. Espaliering a citrus tree is a great way to help combat space problems without compromising fruit production.
Temperate: Thin out fruit that has set on your citrus trees. If more than five have set in a bunch, remove at least half of these small fruit. This will result in larger, better-quality fruit. It also helps those varieties of citrus that are prone to biennial bearing — huge fruit setting one year and nothing the next.
Tropical: Thin out branches to provide extra sunlight through to the centres of the trees to help set fruit, but be careful to not overprune as it may cause the tree to drop its fruit.
Pest and diseases
With so many insecticides and fungicides on the shelves at garden centres and hardwares, it can be hard to resist — or can it? Don’t compromise your health. Proper planning and a bit of pruning here and there will have these nasty insects under control.
Cool: Watch out for the white cabbage moth. Check under the leaves and rub off any eggs to avoid the population growing out of control. Drape mosquito netting over plants to prevent further attack. Temperate: Blossom end rot is very common. It shows up as black sunken patches on the bottom end of the fruit. It is caused by a calcium deficiency in the soil, usually made worse by an irregular watering pattern. Ensure plants are watered regularly and apply a handful of dolomite around the root system. Water in well and reapply in one month’s time.
Tropical: Keep a close eye on your plants and at the first sign of mildew or mould use a milk spray. Packed with natural enzymes and simple sugars, it will help clean up your fungal problems. Just add 300ml of full-cream milk to a litre of water, shake well and spray every 3–4 days on affected foliage.