June in the Veggie Patch

It has been all systems go around here preparing the garden beds for winter. The most important task at present is soil improvement, readying the garden for next summer’s bounty. At this time of year, all vacant beds are given a dose of lime, a big helping of compost and a layer of manure followed by a layer of mulch and then a covering autumn leaves – a nice thick blanket for the winter. The beds are then left to the worms so that they can do their best work mixing and turning the soil so that by planting time next spring, all we have to do is clear a space through the upper layer of mulch and plant into the rich, moist soil below.
The importance of adding well-made compost and mulches to your vegie patch cannot be over emphasized. As you constantly harvest your vegetables, nutrients are removed from the system and these must be regularly replaced and routinely adding compost and manures to your garden is the most effective way of doing this. This also helps to prevent nitrogen deprivation which can occur if only mulches are added.

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Among many benefits, a mulch on the soil —
* Significantly reduces weeds. This is true of annuals although mulching does not generally prevent the growth of perennial weeds.
* Significantly reduces the evaporation of moisture from the soil surface and is therefore an essential part of water conserving gardening.
* Reduces soil erosion caused by wind and rain. This is a fantastically important benefit
* Moderates the top-soil temperature. So in the winter a layer of mulch can prevent freezing, and in hot- summer climates, prevent the top soil reaching temperatures that inhibit plant growth and improves the habitat for worms and other soil biota.
* Adds organic matter, enormously increasing the moisture retaining ability of the soil.
* Is aesthetically superior to the sight of bare soil and irrigation pipes.
Suitable mulches for an organic garden are: autumn leaves, grass clippings, straw, Lucerne etc. It is best not to use mulches which contain viable seeds as this will only add to your weed burden.
The “to do” list:
• Check moisture levels in the compost heap or bin – water if too dry, turn & cover if too wet
• Sharpen tools – secateurs & pruning saws need to be readied for fruit tree pruning, shovel, spades, hoes etc. need sharpening and all wooden handles need to be rubbed down with linseed oil
In the veggie patch:
• Feed brassicas, lettuces, Chinese greens etc fortnightly with liquid manure and seaweed emulsion to keep them growing quickly
In the perennial garden:
• Prune currant bushes, brambleberries, blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries. Add lots of well- rotted manure, compost and lime and then mulch. Then enjoy lots of berries for Christmas!!
• Plant rhubarb crowns in soil enriched with well-rotted manure, compost and blood and bone. Give established plants a mulch of compost, manure and blood and bone and pick regularly.
• Cut asparagus foliage to the ground once it turns yellow and add it to the compost. Cover crowns with a layer of manure and then straw/lawn clippings or Autumn leaves to protect them over winter
In the Orchard:
• Prune fruit trees so that the branches form a cup shape. This ensures that the centre is open and airy and sunlight can easily penetrate all parts of the tree.
• Spray fruit trees & vines to prevent insect and fungal diseases that could infest the tree later.
E.g. Use lime sulphur on peach & nectarine trees to prevent curly leaf and use pest oil to prevent scale
• Select & order the trees you want to plant and decide where they are to be planted. Remember to investigate pollination requirements and consider multi-grafted trees as a possible solution.
Prepare the site well in advance of the tree’s arrival (minimum 2 weeks) – always prepare a $10.00 hole for a $1.00 plant. Dig a patch about 30cm deep and 45cm wide. Mix compost and well-rotted manure or blood and bone through the soil. Two – three cups of gypsum will help break up hard soil. Consider establishing a mound for your tree, if the area is not well drained.
What to plant now:
• Onions can be planted unless the ground is frozen. Onion seedlings are small and slow growing and can get choked by weeds. Try laying clear plastic on the bare ground for a month before planting out the onions. The weed seeds will germinate in the warmth and moisture, and you can rake them away. Otherwise mulch like mad. (If you can get hold of oak leaves for mulch they’ll suppress weed seed germination, but won’t affect the onion seedlings.)
Don’t feed onions too much- you’ll get leaf but no onion. If your soil is poor, scatter blood and bone or old hen manure on top of a low nitrogen mulch like sawdust, old leaves, or old hay
• Plant broad beans, beetroot, cabbage, winter lettuce, peas and snow peas, radish, silverbeet, spinach and fast maturing Asian vegetables like tatsoi, pak choi, mizuna and mitsuba.
• Asparagus and rhubarb crowns can be planted now into well prepared sites. They will be in that spot for a long time so careful preparation pays huge dividends.

Happy Gardening Mary

Tasks to do and what to Plant in May in Wooragee

What to plant now: Don’t be tempted by blue sky and warm breezes. If you live in a very frosty area stick to onion seedlings and broad beans and lots of seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. In less frosty areas plant seeds of radish, onions, winter lettuce, silver beet (or rainbow chard), spinach, broad beans, peas, snow peas, spring onions, parsnips, fast maturing Asian veggies like tatsoi, pak choi and mizuna. Also seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, leeks, lettuce, onions and spinach can go in now.
• Cut asparagus foliage to the ground and add it to the compost. Cover crowns with a layer of manure and then straw to protect them over winter
• Prune old or weak raspberry canes, black currant bushes and gooseberries
• Remove dead leaves and runners from old strawberry beds and mulch plants with rotted manure or compost. Plant new strawberries in good soil and mulch with pine needles (best if available) or straw
• Keep adding weeds and autumn leaves to your compost heap along with plenty of manure and ash from the fire
• Clean up your fruit trees – remove any dead twigs and mummified fruit, band apple trees with grease or corrugated cardboard or old wool to help control codlin moth and oriental peach moth, and clean up old ladders and fruit boxes where moths may be sheltering. Let hens scavenge round the orchard to pick up old fruit or insects on the ground.
• Prepare sites for new fruit trees

• Pumpkins for storage must be mature and have firm thick and unbroken skins. Pumpkins are subject to injury from cold, like other warm-season plants, therefore attempt to harvest them before the first heavy frosts. Pumpkins store best, after thoroughly drying them, if placed on wooden shelves on their sides in a cool dry well aired area. Inspect regularly.

May in the Veggie Patch

Autumn is a busy, busy time in the garden and this glorious weather is just perfect for gardening.
As well as being busy harvesting all our produce – chillis, the last of the tomatoes, basil. pumpkins, pears, quinces etc.; we must be preparing our beds for winter and spring crops. It is also the perfect time of year for review, assessment and planning – what areas are working well, what needs rejuvenating, where to plant any new trees – it is nearly time for bare-rooted trees and shrubs.

It seems we are going to need every spare minute the “lock-down” has generated!
This is the time of year to be preparing for future crops – ground preparation for next spring’s crops is well underway and suitable spots for any bare-rooted trees you wish to plant this winter should be selected and preparations begun.
There are several ways to prepare beds for next spring’s crops. My preferred method is, after removing any old plants and weeds (to the compost heap!!), treat the soil with lime, add a thick layer of manure and cover thickly with straw. This bed is then fallowed to allow the worms and soil microbes to process the manure into the soil and it will be ready for planting in October/November. The layer of straw prevents the growth of weeds and will prevent loss of moisture throughout next summer. When ready, the straw is simply parted enough to allow planting. The manure ensures that the soil does not become deficient in nitrogen – blood and bone or pelletised chook manure will serve the same purpose. However, these beds are not suitable for growing root crops such as carrots as too much fresh organic matter will cause forking and twisting of the root. For these vegetables I choose a bed which was heavily manured or composted for a previous crop such as beans and set this aside without adding extra manure, only straw.
Another method of soil improvement suitable to use over winter is the growing of a green manure crop. A green manure crop is really just anything you grow for a short while and then slash or dig into your soil before it gets a chance to set seed or fruit. Green manures are usually trampled down and dug in once they reach about knee-high. You want to do this while the plants are still soft and sappy, before they go woody. You definitely want to dig them in before they set seed, or you’ll have a whole new crop of weeds to contend with!
The simplest and cheapest green manure crop is to just buy a bag of organic bird seed. Read the back of the packet and find one with the mix you want. A good combination would include millet, sorghum, wheat, oats, barley, rye, corn and sunflowers. Bird seed will be chemical-free and fresh (since they don’t want to kill your pets!), and very cheap. It’s available at any supermarket.
You can add any out-of-date vegetable seeds you have left over from last season as well. Legumes like beans and peas are especially good, since they’ll fix nitrogen in the soil, but anything else you have will help. Just scatter the seed around your garden bed, about two handfuls per square meter. Then lightly rake it over to get the seeds into the dirt, and water it in well. You may need to cover the bed with a net if the birds discover the free feast you’ve laid out for them.
When the time comes to dig in the green manure, make sure you use a sharp spade. Trample the plants so they’re lying flat, and slice down through them with the spade. It is best to work in spadefuls of about 10 cm (4 inches) thickness, digging to one spadeful deep. Turn the soil as you dig, so that the greenery ends up buried and the roots are near the surface, to make sure the plants won’t keep growing.
If this seems too much like hard work – another method is to simply slash the crop at ground level and cover thickly with mulch – compost, lawn clippings or straw will all work. Some regrowth may occur but this can easily be weeded out.
Happy gardening,Mary

Growing Rhubarb

Now is the ideal time to establish a rhubarb plot in north-east Victoria.
Why grow rhubarb? Well, because you can!! This plant virtually grows itself – our plot is now 20 years old and booming!! Once established you will always have something for dessert or for stewed fruit with breakfast.
Rhubarb prefers a well-drained, rich soil but is very tolerant – it is a tough survivor but the better the treatment the nicer the stems and the more prolific the crop.
This is what our rhubarb patch looked like in early March, after our long, hot summer:
rhubarb in summer
However, after the recent rains, we are harvesting copious rich, red stalks of rhubarb:
Rhubarb now
Rhubarb is a cool season herbaceous perennial; the best stem colour is produced at 10°C. A leafy plant, reaching a metre in height, with thick red stalks. It requires a cold winter and can be hard to grow in areas with very hot summers so choose a spot with full winter sun and shade in our hot summer afternoons.
Careful preparation of the plot prior to planting will reap multiple benefits – Plants will be in place for a long time so elimination of problem weeds, such as couch, sorrel, Kikuyu, before planting is important and will save a lot of heartache/effort later. Then add plenty of compost and manure and dig the area thoroughly. The best planting time for crowns is May to October. Plant the crowns just under the surface, 90 x 90 cm apart.
Rhubarb is usually grown from crowns and plants will need careful watering for the first year or two so that they become well established. After that, they simply need a good feed of compost and manure each year and you can enjoy those delicious stems in numerous ways.
Only the rhubarb stalks should be eaten and they must be cooked. Rhubarb is rich in iron, and vitamins A and C. It is used as a ‘fruit’, and can be baked in pies and crumbles, it combines well with apples and ginger.
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and should never be eaten or fed to livestock or poultry. Please be very careful when disposing of the leaves.
Pick your rhubarb by pulling the thickest, healthiest stalks off gently, do not cut them and leave a stub. Do not take more than half the stalks from any one plant.
There are numerous recipes for rhubarb available on the internet but my favourite method is as follows:
When eating rhubarb, I prefer to see chunky, lovely red pieces rather than amorphous gelatinous blobs so I bake my rhubarb rather than boiling:
Place the chopped rhubarb stalks into a casserole or other oven proof, covered dish. Sprinkle with sugar – I find that brown is best – to taste, cover to prevent any exposed ends from drying out but do not add any water. Bake in a slow oven for 1 hour. The rhubarb pieces will keep their shape perfectly and will be swimming in their own juice – DELICIOUS!

Cut up 1 kg of rhubarb leaves, boil in 3 litres of water for 30 minutes. Strain through a cloth or old stocking. When cool, dissolve 30 grams of soap flakes in 1 litre of hot water. Add this to the mixture. Use as a general botanical insecticide spray against aphids, white-fly and caterpillars.

April in the Veggie Patch

As the heat of summer fades away, it’s time to get things set for winter, Autumn is always a busy time for reaping the rewards of your labour, but whilst enjoying the harvest, you must not lose sight of the tasks needed to prepare for winter and spring gardening.
With the change of season comes plenty of old crops and dead vegetation, which means there is a wealth of fresh material for the compost heap and this year there is also heaps of grass clippings as an added bonus.
Plant seeds of: broad beans*, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, coriander, kale*, kohlrabi*, lettuce*, onion* (mid-season) silverbeet*, spinach*, swede*, turnip*.
*sow these direct into garden, others into punnets for transplanting later.
Plant seedlings of: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, celery, lettuce, leeks, mustard, and silverbeet/rainbow chard & spinach.
Tasks I intend to complete this month include:
1. Liquid Manure: With the colder soil in winter, plants do not absorb nutrients from the soil as readily as they do in warm weather. Plants such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, leafy greens will all benefit from the addition of liquid manure. This provides much needed nutrients in a readily available form boosting growth rates and ensuring a tastier product. Liquid manure is easily made by soaking a cloth bag of poultry manure in a tub of water for 2-3 weeks. Remember to always dilute the liquid manure 1 part to 10 parts water – it should have the colour of weak tea before using each week on your winter vegetables.
2. Asparagus: When the leafy growth has turned yellow, it should be pruned off to ground level and then the crowns need to be fed with blood & bone, manure and compost as these plants are gross feeders. Then the plants need to be covered by a layer of straw, grass clippings and/or autumn leaves to protect the crowns from frosts. Lime should also be added to increase the soil pH.
3. Brambleberries: These berry canes are very vigorous growers and an effort is needed to keep them contained. Long canes which are in contact with the soil will produce roots and start to produce another plant and the canes which are underneath will die off creating a mass of dead tangled canes under the productive canes. Every 2-3 years we trim the canes completely away from one side of the trellis, this reduces the crop slightly the next season but is essential to allow control of the plants. The next year the other side of the trellis is pruned off, then the canes are allowed to grow for the next 2 years except for trimming off any canes which come into contact with the ground.
4. Raspberries: Old raspberry canes need to be trimmed off but it is essential to leave the new canes intact as they will produce the next year’s crop. Apply lime, manure and compost to keep the plants vigorous and productive. cropped-raspberries05.jpg
5. Green manure crop: When the tomatoes are finished cropping, we intend to plant a green manure crop. This involves tossing in seeds of broad beans and mizuna into the loosened soil and raking over the soil to cover the seeds. The plants are then allowed to grow until their flowers begin to form and then they are chopped off at ground level leaving them to mulch down into the soil ready for the first crops in spring. This is cheaper than constantly buying in mulch and doesn’t introduce new weeds.
6. Mulch and Manure: As the other summer crops, such as the sweet corn, finish; these beds will be covered with a layer of manure, compost, some lime and a layer of autumn leaves. This will act to revitalize the soil as well as suppressing weed growth.
7. Clean up: Collect all fallen fruit from under fruit trees and prune away any mummified fruits. This prevents the carry over of disease-causing organisms. Trim away long grass from under trees and, if possible, allow poultry access to the area around the trees to clean up grubs and other pests from the soil. Adding grease bands to apple trees will act to capture codling moth grubs as they move down into the soil for the winter. Grease bands also help prevent ants from assisting scale in citrus trees. Don’t forget the importance of collecting any fruit which has formed on ornamental trees such as Japonica – these fruits can act as an over-wintering site for the dreaded fruit fly.
8. Tidy the herb garden by pruning back the chives, oregano and sage. Plant coriander now (it tends to rush up to seed in the hot weather). Coriander repels aphids so plant near broccoli.

March in the Veggie Patch

Now that the summer heat is going, it’s time to get serious about raising seedlings. This time of the year is the best for getting them started, provided they’re in the shade during the heat of the day, otherwise they’ll dry out too quickly. I’ve sown lettuce, mustard, pak choy, tat soi, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage. While it hasn’t been hot, I’ve been watering them each morning to make sure the seeds don’t dry out during germination. I keep them well fertilized to ensure rapid growth and will shortly plant them out into the garden beds as space becomes available.
At this time of year I like to do some serious fertilizing, both with our homemade compost, animal manures, liquid manure, and other organic materials you can buy such as, blood and bone and potash. I also try to establish some green manure crops as it helps replenish the soil after the previous season’s busy efforts.
Green manures can provide outstanding benefits for the soil, crop and you, the gardener by:
• Increasing organic matter, earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms
• Increasing the soil’s available nitrogen and moisture retention
• Stabilizing the soil to prevent erosion
• Bringing deep minerals to the surface and breaking up hard pans
• Providing habitat, nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and reducing
populations of pests
• Improving water, root and air penetration in the soil
• Smothering weeds
Growing a green manure crop is as easy as throwing out a handful of seed onto freshly cultivated ground, followed by raking to cover the seed.
“Digging the crop in” at the end isn’t necessary, as by cutting the plants at the base while still green and lush, usually just as flowers form and leaving the green manure crop on the surface you have ‘instant’ mulch. This is cheaper than constantly buying in mulch and doesn’t introduce new weeds. A combination of a legume and a grass works well, the legume providing nitrogen & the grass, such as oats in winter or Japanese millet in summer, the bulk of the organic matter in the form of large quantity of roots. Broad beans are an excellent legume to use for this purpose especially if seed has been saved from last season.
The soil should never be left bare, vulnerable to erosion and weed invasion, always put in a green manure crop or cover an empty bed with a layer of manure and then autumn leaves or lawn clippings.

This month’s “To Do” list
 Pumpkins and melons will be ripening now. Test melons for ripeness by sniffing them, (a fruity smell indicates ripeness) and by tapping them to see if they sound hollow. Don’t pick pumpkins till the stems turn dry near the base of the pumpkin, then let them ‘cure’ or harden on a hot roof or dry cement for a week or two. This will help stop them rotting in late winter. Store them on their edge on open shelves. Pumpkins that aren’t quite ripe will still be sweet- they can be cooked and eaten or roasted and stored in the freezer for later use but they won’t store well.
 The time is ripe to plant the winter garden – broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas and snow peas, turnips, parsnips, leeks, onions and garlic; as well as all the Chinese greens. An extensive planting of carrots now will provide carrots for the entire winter as well as the early spring.
 Start to prepare for frost now- work out which plants are vulnerable, like passion fruit, citrus, tamarilloes, and start building shelters for them – frames of poly-pipe covered with shade cloth work well.
 Choose positions for new fruit trees, start preparing the site and order the trees for winter planting
 Check plants (esp. citrus) for scale- spray with white oil on a cooler day, if necessary.
 Keep a close eye on cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and other brassicas plants for grubs – remove and squash them at the first sign to help minimize the damage.
What to plant during March in Wooragee
Plant seeds of: Beetroot, Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Broad beans (watch carefully for aphids on early crops), Cabbage, Carrot( a larger planting now will keep you supplied though the winter), Endive, Florence Fennel, Kohl Rabi, Leeks, Lettuce, Pak Choy, Parsnip, Radicchio, Radish, Silver Beet, Spinach, Spring Onion, Swede, Tatsoi, Turnip, Wong Bok
Plant seedlings of Broccoli, Brussels Sprout, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Endive, Garlic, Leek, Lettuce, Radicchio, Rhubarb crowns, Shallot bulbs, Strawberry runners

October in the Veggie Patch

At our place we are currently enjoying loads of freshly picked asparagus, kale, rainbow chard (silverbeet), lettuces, rhubarb, cabbages and broccoli. Soon there will be broad beans, strawberries, peas and loads more!

The “to do” list:
• Sow seed and plant seedlings of all herbs now, including basil later in the month. Many herbs make excellent companion plants for your vegetables e.g. Basil and tomatoes go well together. Also garlic planted near tomatoes will help deter aphids.
• Plant seeds of beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, carrot, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, endive, kohl rabi, leeks, lettuce, parsnip, bush and climbing peas (earlier in the month), spring onions, radish, rocket, silverbeet, spinach. Seeds for frost sensitive plants such as pumpkin, tomatoes, melons, capsicum, chilli, eggplant, zucchini etc. can be planted in pots in a sunny window or other warm, protected spot – they can’t be planted out into the garden until after frosts are finished and the soil has warmed up – usually after cup day in Wooragee.
• Feed veggies with liquid fertilizer fortnightly to keep them growing especially the leafy ones. Don’t liquid feed tomatoes until the first flowers appear – we want fruit not leaves here. I use a mixture of liquid manure (home made) and Sea-sol and sometimes I add a small spoonful of trace elements.
• Pick off or brush off any caterpillars, aphids and other insect affecting your plants. This reduces chemical usage and saves water.
• Protect seedlings from slugs and snails by using home-made traps such as saucers of beer. Rows of crushed egg shells or sawdust will make it uncomfortable for snails to travel across.
snail ban
• Always use seed well before its use-by date check the packet for the sowing time in your area.
• Spray fruit trees with a preventative spray such as lime-sulphur for healthier fruit trees.
• Mulch strawberries and rhubarb now, and cut off any rhubarb heads going to seed. Mulching now prevents leaf disease later.
• Start preparing sweet potato tubers to produce the offshoots needed for this summer’s plants. Do this by burying the tubers into moist sand and keeping them in warm place until shoots appear. Snip the shoots off when 6cm long and plant into pots of rich soil and allow to continuing growing until the weather allows them to be planted into the garden.
iStock_Sweet potatoes