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


Growing Your Own Vegetables – The Basics

Growing your own vegetables is an amazingly satisfying way to provide your family with the freshest, healthiest vegetables whilst saving buckets of money.
There are some fundamental guidelines which will ensure your success.
1. Grow the vegetables you and your family like to eat which are suited to your climate and to the time of year being considered.
2. Run your beds north and south. if, however, due to the shape of the and contour of your block this is not possible, at least run the rows that way.
This will ensure that the plants receive maximum sunshine.
3. Raise the beds – few plants can withstand wet feet. Beds can be edged with bricks, rocks or timber – we are currently using branches from the trees demolished in a storm last year (We planted these trees some 15 years ago as part of the re-vegetation of the creek which runs through our property – it eased the heartache of the destruction to put the timber to good use, especially as they were unsuitable for firewood)
4. Ensure that the paths are of a porous material and not concrete. Gravel, pebbles, wood shavings, saw dust or bark chips. We use the mulch produced from tree prunings.
5. Check that the pH of the soil is somewhere between 6.5 – 7. There are many kits on the market to do this. In Wooragee, our soils tend to be very acidic and you will need to add lime to each bed most years to increase the pH.
6. Practice crop rotation – do not grow vegetables from the same family in the same bed each year. A good rotation is legumes, which have the knack of fixing nitrogen from the air to their roots and so to your soil. This can be followed by one of the brassicas as they need a soil enriched by compost and animal manures and can utilise the nitrogen fixed by the previous crop. follow with a root vegetable or onions as these crops do not need a rich soil.
7. Feed your soil, maintain adequate moisture levels and keep the weeds under control – mulching with organic matter helps with all these tasks. We use autumn leaves and lawn clippings to mulch our vegie garden beds, always ensuring that each bed has a generous layer of manure and compost before being mulched.

Time to improve the Soil

Autumn is the time to really get working at improving your soil. Jack Frost has been visiting so it is now time to remove all those spent summer veggies and turn your thoughts to the spring growing season.
Now is the time to plant green manure crops – Tony & I have a bed of broad beans growing (from seed saved last year) which will be chopped down and allowed to rot back into the soil in spring.
The other soil improvement project we undertake at this time of year is to cover each empty bed with a layer of manure, compost,lime and then a thick layer of autumn leaves. These beds are allowed to fallow until November when we plant out our summer vegetables and, thankfully, there will be no weeds able to penetrate the layer of mulch!!!
This week’s big project has been to improve the soil around our lemon tree. This tree is nearly 20 years old but has been struggling with the recent dry autumn/summer weather.

Firstly, we added a border of rocks to hold the increased soil level. then covered the soil with a thick layer of newspaper to suffocate the Kikuyu growing under the tree and stealing all the water and nutrients. The paper was covered with layers of lucerne hay, compost, manure, autumn leaves and lastly some wood chip mulch. Over winter, these layers will slowly convert into a rich soil full of nutrients and worms to help the tree survive whatever Mother Nature wishes to throw at us next summer. The extra organic matter will help to retain soil moisture and the mulch layer will help to keep the soil cool and prevent competition from weeds.
The other, very important task for this time of year, is to establish the sites for any new, bare-rooted trees you wish to plant. It is very important to plan and prepare your site well ahead of time. This will help to ensure that your new trees are successfully established and will rocket into life in spring.
Select your site with care, taking into account the drainage, amount of sunlight and susceptibility to frost. Your new tree will be in this position for a long time! Dig a very large hole – at least twice the size of the anticipated root ball of your new tree. Now back-fill the hole with the removed soil mixed with well-rotted manure and compost. In this area, it will also pay to add some lime – soils in this area tend to be very acidic. Remember the old saying: “Dig a $50.00 hole for a $5.00 tree”. The better the preparation, the more your tree will thrive.

How to make compost

Making Compost
Want to do something good for the world and save money, too? Then stop buying fertilizer and make compost instead. This time of year is a perfect time to begin making your compost heap as their is such an abundance of autumn leaves, weeds and spent plants.
In the world’s wild places no-one improves the soil or spreads fertiliser, yet they are packed with plants. It’s one of the amazing things about plants and soils – they’re in perfect balance. Plants grow by extracting nutrients from the soil and the soil is replenished with material that falls from plants. Fallen leaves, bark, twigs, fruit and branches all rot back into the soil, breaking down into the original nutrients the plant took up in the first place.
You can encourage this natural cycle in your own garden by minimising the amount of plant matter you discard, returning it instead to the soil. The more compost you can add to your soil over time, the more fertile and well-structured it will become, and the less fertiliser you will need to apply.
Sweep & spread
Some material can be swept up and spread on the ground between plants – fallen leaves and small twigs, for example. Even leafy hedge clippings can be raked up and spread thinly around the place. Lawn clippings can be disposed of this way too, as long as you spread them thinly so they don’t form a thick, dry mass.
Larger pieces of plant material, such as woody branches take too long to rot as they are and may look unsightly if just stuffed between plants. They need to be shredded or chipped into smaller pieces first. Additionally, fallen fruit will smell as it ferments if spread in large quantities. It needs to be composted first.
If you don’t like the idea or look of raw material, no matter what it is, then everything can be composted first. Some people argue that placing raw material on the soil leads to nitrogen deficiencies in plants (nitrogen is consumed by the rotting process and can be drawn from the soil) but I have not experienced this with my regular, thin spreadings of small amounts of garden waste.
How to compost

Composting is the process of decomposition, which turns plant matter into a soil-like substance that’s nutritious for plants and soil organisms and good for the structure of the soil itself. You don’t need any equipment other than a garden fork and a tarp, although you can buy various bins which minimise the space needed for composting. You may think they look nicer than a heap, too.
Let the worms in
Whether you buy a bin or just pile up the material, make compost on the ground so that soil organisms, which help in the rotting process, can enter. Otherwise add some completed compost to an above ground bin.
Fine rots fastest
Add material to the compost heap or bin as it becomes available. The finer the material you add the more quickly it will turn into usable compost. Break up twigs or run them over with the lawnmower before adding. If you have a mulcher, pass branches through the mulcher first. There’s no point adding thick woody pieces as they will take years to rot.
Balance of ingredients
Good compost is produced by blending leafy ‘green’ matter with harder ‘brown’ matter. ‘Green’ matter includes grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and soft green prunings. ‘Brown’ matter is shredded woody branches, dried leaves, straw and shredded newspaper.
Try to add brown and green matter in layers, not making any layer too thick. If you put in too much green matter, the compost may go sludgy and smelly. Too much brown matter and it won’t break down quickly. With a good balance of the two, composting will proceed quickly.
Too much waste
One problem many gardeners face in making compost is that they generate too much of one material. Lawn clippings are a good example as they often make up the bulk of waste generated in a garden. If you just pour them into the compost bin they often do not compost properly and if you don’t have enough balancing ‘dry’ matter, you cannot layer the clippings as you should.
Compost tumblers were designed primarily for grass clippings as the tumbling action aerates the grass and assists in its rapid decomposition. If you don’t have one, either spread the clippings thinly over garden beds or pile them up separately, moistening them down between each grass-catcher load. Cover the moistened heap.
Excessive fallen fruit can be another disposal problem. Its moisture content will make compost bins sludgy if it is all tipped in so use some in the compost bin (preferably with other materials) and bury the rest in holes in the garden.
What not to add
Don’t add meat or fish scraps, or prawn or crab shells (dig a deep hole and bury them instead – they’re great for the soil). Likewise, dog or cat poo, or weeds with seeds attached to them should not go in. If you see flower heads either on the grass or on lawn weeds when you cut the grass, don’t add that lot to the compost or you’ll spread the seeds around the garden. Only add vegie scraps that do not include seeds.
Cover heaps
If you have a compost heap, cover it with a tarp to stop it becoming too wet with rain. In dry times, you may need to wet layers down as you add them as the heap needs moisture to work properly. As the heap grows, turn it periodically so that the outside matter is transferred to the centre.
The composting process
Both bins and heaps soon become alive with worms and many other creepy crawlies. By feeding on the material, these critters are helping to break it down into compost. They’re completely normal and useful. As the material you add rots, its bulk reduces dramatically making room for more. Only when the rotted material fills the bin or the heap can be made no bigger should you consider using the compost.
When fully decomposed the compost will have a pleasant earthy smell and you will see little or nothing of the original ingredients.
How to use
You can spread compost onto any garden bed as a thin mulch (about 5cm deep is ideal). Organisms in the soil will begin to feed on it and in doing so will drag it beneath the surface where it will eventually form humus, the vital ingredient of all fertile soils.
Fallen leaves
If your biggest ‘waste’ problem is leaves falling from deciduous trees, you can do several things with them. You can add them to a compost heap or bin as ‘brown’ matter. You can spread them directly onto the garden as a mulch (though they might blow around if the wind gets up), or you can stuff them tightly into big plastic bags, which can be piled up in an out-of-the-way spot. Make sure the leaves are moist when you put them in the bags and punch two to three holes in each bag to let air in. By spring, the leaves will have partly decomposed into leaf mould, an excellent mulch and soil additive.

Tasks to do in March in the Vegie Patch

• Choose positions for new fruit trees, start preparing the site and order the trees for winter planting
• This is an excellent time of year to start a compost bin or heap – there will soon be an abundance of autumn leaves which make wonderful compost when mixed with some manure.
autumn leaves
• 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 brassica plants for grubs – remove and squash them at the first sign to help minimize the damage.
• Pick pumpkins and melons. 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- but they won’t store well – use these ASAP.
• Continue to trim and tidy your herbs – don’t let the leaves get too old.
• Enjoy harvesting all your veggies and make lots of tomato sauce and pickles of all kinds.
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 hardpans
• 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.