August in the Vegie Patch

Tasks for this month

The “grass crunching” frosts we have been experiencing lately certainly make an early start in the garden an unlikely event; however, the crisp, clear weather later in the day makes gardening a pleasure.

• Plant the last of the deciduous trees & rhubarb and asparagus crowns if you have not already done so. Time is running out for this task, so this needs to be done sooner rather than later.

• Spray peach & nectarine trees at bud swell with lime-sulphur for early control of curly leaf.

• Check plants for scale – particularly a problem for citrus and olives. These plants are prone to attack by scale and the subsequent sooty mould. Sooty mould is nothing more than scale or aphid droppings gone mouldy. Get rid of the underlying disease and you get rid of the mould problem.
The best way to kill scale insects is by using white oil emulsion, or pest oil, to suffocate them.
An economical white oil can be produced with this recipe:
Pour a cup of cheap cooking oil into an empty, litre size plastic water bottle. Add half a cup of water and three to four drops of washing-up detergent. Then put the cap on and shake vigorously. The liquid will turn white – this is white oil emulsion (the detergent acts to prevent the oil/water mixture separating). This simple mixture works perfectly as a scale killer when diluted with about 40 parts of water.
Spray it under and over infested leaves, branches and trunk. It acts by sealing the edges of the little scale humps thereby suffocating the insects hiding underneath. Use the spray two or three times over the next few weeks and watch your plant’s health improve each day.

• Common problems for pear and cherry trees are the pear and cherry slug (which can rapidly skeletonise the leaves) and pear scab. Both can be controlled by spraying the foliage in late spring and early summer with a solution made by dissolving a big handful of builders’ lime in a bucket of water. Alternatively, throw fine wood ash over the leaves.

• Pruning: This month is an excellent time to prune deciduous fruit trees such as apples, pears and plums. Pruning is not essential for fruit production but it will ensure that your trees will remain a manageable size and still produce a reliable crop of acceptable size and quality with a minimum of disease

• Plant seedlings of onions, broccoli, kale, mustard greens, peas, salad greens like mizuna, mitsuba (Japanese parsley or Garden Betty) and spinach.
Peas can be planted – but coat the seeds in cooking oil in case they rot in cold soil. Dust them with white pepper after oiling if you’re worried by snails.

• At this time of year your winter vegetables will be starting to come to an end. August is a good month for you to start to decide what vegetables you are going to want to grow in spring. Some good vegetables to consider are carrots, lettuce, leeks, onions, spring onions, peas, tomatoes, melons, zucchini, pumpkins Asian vegetables and beans. Cold winter afternoons can be happily spent, by the fire, exploring seed catalogues and ordering your seeds in plenty of time for planting in later spring. When planning your spring/summer garden the important things to consider are:
1. What do we like to eat
2. How much space/time do I have
3. How much water will I have for my garden.

Happy gardening till next month


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.

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.

July in the Vegie Patch

July in the Vegie Patch

Some may view winter as a time of dreary days, freezing temps and plenty of rain (hopefully)– but gardeners see it as an exciting and perfect time for preparing garden beds for spring and winter crops. This is the time to prepare new beds and especially important for establishing new asparagus beds,rhubarb plants and bare-rooted fruit trees.
Asparagus crowns can be planted now but, as they can remain in-situ for decades, it is critical that the site is thoroughly prepared beforehandasparagus shoots
Many people have never seen Asparagus growing but it is dead easy.
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. They love soil with a pH of about 6.5 to 7 so add plenty of lime. Dig a deep trench, about 75 cm, 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 they will absolutely lap that up. Harvesting should be very light for the first 1-2 years.
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.
Existing crowns should have any remaining ferny growth removed and be covered in a rich layer of blood and bone, compost and manure and then mulched with straw or autumn leaves.
We find that our crowns need to be protected by a cloche during September and October to prevent the shoots from frost damage.cloche
The “to do” list:
• Continue to feed brassicas, lettuces, Chinese greens etc fortnightly with liquid manure and seaweed emulsion to keep them growing quickly
• Plant broad beans, beetroot, lettuce seeds or cauliflower and broccoli plants in raised beds with a cloche for winter warmth
• Break up clumps of chives and shallots and replant offsets – I have plenty of chives for anyone wanting to start a clump.
• Sprinkle and water-in a small handful of complete fertilizer around herbs such as oregano, marjoram, sage and lemon balm. Dissolve a tablespoon of sulphate of ammonia in half a watering-can of water and sprinkle around parsley plants to promote lots of green leaves.oregano
• Cover empty garden beds with some lime, a layer of manure and compost and then some mulch. This will keep the “no dig” layer replenished and ensure healthy crops for next season. Alternatively plant green manure crops for digging-in early in the summer.
• Purchase your seed potatoes now and store until ready to plant. If you leave it too late, most of the interesting varieties could be sold out.
• Keep a close eye on your stone-fruit trees and spray with lime-sulphur at first signs of bud swell and again a fortnight later to prevent leaf curl. Prevention is the only cure for this problem.

kale chipsIf you have some extra Kale growing; consider baking some Kale chips as a very healthy treat for everyone.
1. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Place on an oven tray covered with baking paper.
2. Bake in a moderate oven until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes. Enjoy!
Happy Gardening. Mary Prowse

April in the Vegie Patch

April in the Vegie Patch

As the heat of summer fades away, its time to get things set for winter, Autumn is always a busy time for reaping the rewards of your labours, 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’s 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, coriander, kale*, kohlrabi*, lettuce*, onion* (midseason) silverbeet*, spinach*, swede*, turnip*.

*sow these direct into garden, others into punnets for transplanting later.

Plant seedlings of: Brussel sprouts, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery, lettuce, leeks, mustard, and silverbeet.

The to-do list

  • Add weeds and fallen leaves to the compost heap
  • Watch young brassicas plants (broccoli, cabbage etc.) for signs of grubs from the cabbage moth – remove and squash regularly, spray with garlic spray if the attack is serious.
  • Onions can also be sown now and right through the colder months. Cold weather means bigger bulbs. Summer onions are all green tops and no bottoms. Start putting in the brown skinned long keeping onions now till the end of winter.
  • Lift and store potatoes – place in cardboard boxes or cloth sacks in a cool (but frost free), dry area.
  • Allow pumpkin stems to dry before picking and storing for future use
  • Apply grease bands to apple trees (captures codling moth grubs as they move down into the soil for the winter).
  • 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.

This is the time of year for maintenance of the perennial vegetable plants:

  • Rhubarb needs to have all the weeds, old leaves and flower stalks removed, followed by a generous dose  of manure, compost and lime and finally a top up of the mulch layer. This will ensure a delightful crop of fresh red stems in the spring.
  • Raspberries and brambleberries need to have all the old canes removed, new canes trained to the trellis, weeds removed, manure, compost and lime added and then mulching.
  • Blueberries and currant bushes need to be pruned and suckers removed, fallen leaves cleared away, weeds removed and fertilised appropriately before mulching. Remember Red currants should only be given a dressing of compost every 2-3 years and blueberries should never be given lime. Blueberries fruit on two and three year old branches. The aim of pruning is to keep a good supply of new branches whilst removing any four year old wood which has finished fruiting. In the first two or three years prune only any weak growth or very low branches which are pointing downwards. Pine needles make excellent mulch for blueberries.
  • Strawberries need to have all the old leaves and any runners removed, weeds eliminated and then some manure and compost added before mulching. Pine needles also make excellent mulch for strawberries as these tend to be acidic, this is another plant that does not require lime. Strawberries should be renewed every three years, planting out new runners into a fresh bed every three years will ensure a bountiful supply of this luscious red fruit.
  • Asparagus foliage should be trimmed off, almost to ground level, once it has turned yellow 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.
  • All of these plants can also be planted at this time of year. Site preparation is critical for these varieties as they will be in position for many years. Remove all weeds, particularly the perennial weeds such as couch, add lots of manure and compost building the soil up to improve drainage. Only add lime if the plant requires a higher soil pH – do not add lime to blueberries and strawberries.

Another important task at this time of year is to make sure your garden is ready before Jack Frost spreads his silent white killer. The best defense against frost is to plant your vegie patch on higher ground because hot air rises and cold, moist air (which creates frost) lies in the lower portions of your garden. Sheltered positions in the shade of buildings and trees also help to protect your plants from the ravages of frost. Any particularly frost-sensitive plants can be protected by simple covers such as cloches or by building a small support and covering the plant with shade-cloth when a frost is forecast.

Happy gardening, Mary