Planting Asparagus


July is the month for establishing perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb and globe artichokes. Perennials, which can stay in the same spot for many years (e.g. asparagus for 20 years) need to be given a separate area in the garden and appropriate soil preparation. The first step is to ensure that all perennial weeds have been thoroughly eliminated from the chosen area.
Asparagus likes deep, friable, rich soil. If you’ve got heavy, clay soil, you’ll need to mound the plants up or dig in plenty of organic matter so that it becomes nice and well drained. The same process will work for sandy soils too! Asparagus loves soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7 so in most parts of Wooragee you will need to add lots of lime each year. Dig a deep trench, about 75cm, for the long roots – the deeper the better. Then add organic matter. Asparagus is very hungry and needs plenty of organic matter such as cow manure, sheep manure, or old chook poo. Scatter it thickly down the bottom of the trench because the plants will absolutely lap that up. Then 2/3rds fill the trench with a mixture of compost and the soil from the trench. Once the area is well fertilized, it is time to go shopping for your asparagus crowns – these are readily available in most nurseries at this time of year. To plant the crown, make a little mound, like an anthill, in the trench.
asparagus crowns planting
Sit the roots of the crown nicely on top of the mound. Plant about 40cm apart. If the roots are damaged cut them back because they are quite fleshy and will come again easily. Backfill the trench and water well, once planted, so the air pockets get away from the roots. Then in spring, little shoots will appear. Feed regularly with diluted liquid manure and/or blood and bone. Do not pick any shoots for the first couple of seasons to allow the crowns to develop a really sound root system – this will ensure a very vigorous plant for many years to come. Apart from slugs and snails in spring there are few pests and diseases that trouble this plant.
When Asparagus is about four years old the fronds will have produced good, thick, strong roots and a good plant. They will then go yellow in autumn and that’s the time to cut them back to ground level. The Asparagus bed will be bare until spring, and then spears of Asparagus will pop up all over the place.
We find that we have to protect the first spears with a cloche made from poly-pipe and plastic to protect the tender shoots from late frosts. We usually put this in place in August. Asparagus is high in potassium, great for fibre, low in salt, and a terrific, healthy vegetable to grow. There is nothing nicer than growing your own crop and taking it fresh to the table.

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May/June in the Veggie Patch

These glorious sunny days we have been enjoying of late certainly encourage one out into the garden. However, the lack of decent rain in the last few weeks means that subsoil is still very dry. This has serious implications for our fruit trees in that it can have a very adverse effect on next season’s fruit production. At this time of year, fruit trees are forming the buds which will eventually develop into those beautiful spring blossoms. Dry soil now will greatly reduce the number of buds forming. A thorough deep watering of fruit trees now will pay big dividends next season by increasing the number of buds forming.
Another important task in the orchard at this time of year is the spreading of lime around the drip-line of fruit trees. Soils in Wooragee tend to be very acidic and lime needs to be added every 2-3 years as it is regularly leached from the growing area of your trees, also the drip zone of a fruit tree will be expanding as the tree grows. Fruit trees will also appreciate a feed of blood & bone and compost at this time of year. Weeds should be removed from around the trunk as these will provide homes for pests and diseases. Mulch layers should also be topped up – this will act to protect surface roots from our severe frosts – but be sure to keep the mulch clear of the trunk.
Grease traps around the tree trunk should also be refreshed now – these bands prevent insects climbing the tree to lay their eggs and also stop ants accessing the tree. Allowing your hens access to the orchard at this time of year is also a very important strategy for containing pests such as codling moth as they will scratch around the base of trees removing the pupae that are trying to over-winter in the ground below the trees.DSC01489
Remember, the best preventative is an absolutely clean, hygienic orchard. Remove any rubbish, old pots, and pieces of wood etc. which provide harbour for disease causing pests.
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 (Cauliflower may need to be grown in protective cloches in colder areas.). 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 vegies like tatsoi, pak choi and mizuna. Also seedlings of beetroot, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, leeks, lettuce, onions and spinach can go in now.
TO DO LIST:
• 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 to protect them over winter
asparagus foliage yellow
• Dust wood ash over areas where you’re going to plant broad beans, or in between the rows to help prevent brown spot
• Prune old or weak raspberry canes, black currant bushes and gooseberries
Raspberries05
• 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
• 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.
• With the hottest days long gone, we can now start planting winter lettuces, spinach, coriander etc. without the worry of them bolting to seed. Also remember that onions grown over the winter will develop much firmer and larger bulbs.
• Keep topping up the compost heap with those wonderful autumn leaves, weeds and lawn clippings and then add lots of manure or blood and bone and ash from the fires if available.
• Bare rooted fruit tree time is almost upon us, so start preparing beds for these guys now. Lots of organic matter (compost, well-rotted manure etc.), a bit of moisture and some mulch will see the soil in perfect condition by the time your trees are ready to go in!
• Top up mulch on your vegie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. A hot tip is to mulch after watering the patch; to a depth of about 7cm. Remember to keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings.
• Green manure crops, including oats, wheat, faba beans and field peas (or use some organic bird seed) are good to grow now… improve that dormant vegie patch, and get ready for next season’s heavy feeding plants!
• Cold wet days mean a bit of shed time and an excellent time for some maintenance on those garden tools – sharpen spades, hoe etc. and apply linseed oil to all the wooden handles. Happy gardening: Mary

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 April

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 vegies.
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.

5. 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.
6. 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. 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 which appears to have arrived in several gardens in Wooragee this summer.
7. 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.
8. Pick and store your pumpkins:
SIGNS OF PUMPKIN RIPENESS
Look out for signs that the plant is ‘dying off’. This includes the leaves turning paler and then browning at the edges
Give the pumpkin a little ‘knock’, like knocking gently on a door. If it sounds hollow, it’s a good indication that the pumpkin is ripe.
The colour of the skin gives another indication of ripeness. If the fruit has developed a rich colour and is becoming covered in ‘warts,’ the pumpkin is ready to harvest.
Smell the neck of the pumpkin (where the fruit meets the stalk). If it smells ‘pumpkiny’, that’s a good sign it’s ready to pick.
HARVESTING AND STORING PUMPKIN
When you harvest a pumpkin, always leave a length of the stalk attached – like a handle – but don’t carry it by the stalk as it could rip the top of the pumpkin.
Check the pumpkin for damage as only unblemished pumpkins should be stored.
Harden the pumpkins in the sun for a week before storing in a cool, dry place.
Always store pumpkins on their side, to prevent moisture collecting.
Pumpkin

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.