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.
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