Jobs for the End of Summer

The hot weather has passed, there leaves are turning, and there are mild sunny days with cool breezes. So I’ve come out of my summer hibernation to get the garden ready for winter.

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Winter Veg

Autumn is such a carefree time to plant vegies. There are loads of things to plant. Around here that’s:

Autumn Sowings and Plantings
Greens (seed)
Brassica Greens (seed)
Brassica Roots and Fruits (seedlings)
Legumes (seed)
Alliums
Spinach Rocket Radishes Broad beans Garlic (plant cloves)
Lettuce Mizuna/Mibuna Broccoli Peas Barletta Onions (seed)
Endive (Broadleaf Batavian suited to cold weather) Tuscan Kale Cabbage Spring Onions (seed)
Miner’s Lettuce/Lamb’s Lettuce Mustard, Red Turnips  Leeks (seedlings)
  Kohl Rabi
 Cauliflower
Asian brassicas: tatsoi, pak choy
 * I haven’t listed brussels sprouts as they need a really long growing season with a good start in mild-warm weather. The Diggers Club suggests Oct-Feb in cool climates.

You don’t have to kill yourself watering, and there are (theoretically) fewer bugs. A lot of winter veg are really easy to germinate from seed (eg. brassicas, lettuces).

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Tuscan Kale. Very easy to germinate from seed.

And some things grow much better now than through hot summers (lettuce, silverbeet, and coriander).

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Silverbeet in yellow and red around the bottom of a very young madarin.

And some of the best stuff goes in now: garlic, broad beans, and peas, yum!

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Broad beans poking their heads up.

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Tasmanian Purple garlic shoots coming up about a week-ten days after planting.

Crop Rotation

Remember crop rotation for healthy vegies. Crop rotation can get pretty serious.  I like what Peter Cundall says in this nice article about winter vegies, that you can really do whatever you like with crop rotation as long as you don’t plant the same thing in the same spot two years running.  A really simple formula is: Fruits, Roots, Leaves. I’m planting brassicas in beds where garlic was sitting last winter, broad beans in beds where tomatoes were over summer, and garlic in beds where brassicas were over summer.

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Cabbage and broccoli in beds where garlic grew last year.

Soil Preparation for Winter Veg

I’ve added a bit of lime, and manure and compost to most of my beds. It’s a good rule of thumb at each change of season to add compost and manure.  Soil can get more and more acidic after adding compost and growing various things, so test it if you are unsure. Peter Cundall says he limes his vegie beds every few years due to pH creep. Brassicas are heavy feeders, and they prefer a soil pH  close to neutral, of 6.5 – 7.5, so adding lime is important if the soil is acidic. Phil Dudman who writes for Organic Gardener Magazine says you should add some blood and bone and some sulphate of potash for brassicas. Garlic and spinach also like neutral soil, and peas prefer a slightly acidic to neutral soil. And Peter Cundall suggests adding sulphate of potash to legumes to toughen them up.

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Bug Patrol

I noticed my brassica seedlings (kale, broccoli and cabbage) were being nibbled pretty quickly and on inspection found lots of evidence of I think the cabbage white butterfly on the under side of the leaves. I went around squashing all the eggy things and then put down netting:

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The little yellow blobs are cabbage white butterfly eggs on the underside of cabbage leaves.

These nets are really fine and don’t catch birds. They can’t even catch your little finger. l just use a system of hammering in stakes, upending jars over the tops (to prevent the net tearing) and weighting the net down with bricks. I’ll need to fix them up a bit to make the netting higher/taught, but they’ll do for now while the seedlings are small.

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My greens seedlings, germinated from seed, were also being munched, so out came the animal friendly(ish) snail pellets. Their active ingredient is iron in some form. I don’t know exactly how safe they are, but I’m assuming they’re the lesser of two evils. Maybe better than that. I know I couldn’t grow anything from seed without them.

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Brassicas (radishes and mizuna) growing from seed with the help of animal-friendly snail pellets and irrigation.

Poly Tunnel

I’d like to experiment with poly tunnels this winter. I’m assuming if done well it will help things keep growing over the shortest, coldest days. I’m thinking about making mini poly tunnels using the system I used to shade my greens over summer. It’s just wooden stakes with 17ml width irrigation line tied over it. Over summer I just pegged the shade cloth to it. Only thing I would say is that the irrigation line is a bit too bendy. Something more stiff, but not too expensive would be better.

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Compost

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Autumn is a great time for making compost (theoretically in my case, because I am hopeless at it). There are all the materials from your summer vegetable beds, all the clippings from your other plants, and if you’re lucky, all the leaves from deciduous trees.

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I’ve got a book dedicated to the topic of compost. It just confused me more. It deserves its own posts, but some basics I understand are:

  1. Make sure you have the right mixture of nitrogen rich (‘wet’) versus carbon rich (‘dry’) materials;
  2. The right total amount of materials;
  3. The right location; and
  4. It helps if everything is chopped up quite small. Which is annoying with things like dried out corn and tomato plants.
  5. Turn, turn, turn (I think this might be where we go wrong…)

I still have a big pile of dry ingredients to incorporate and I want to experiment with breaking it down with the second-hand mulcher I bought a year ago.

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Frost Hardy Evergreens

Autumn is also a great time to plant other evergreen things around here – so long as they’re frost hardy. If they’re not, you wait until spring. In places without frosty winters your choices are much wider and I’m a little jealous, because we seem to have warm springs and there’s not a lot of time for the plant to grow before hot weather sets in. I’ve noticed a lot of things thriving more since we’ve been getting shorter days and cooler temperatures (hardly any rain mind you, very frustrating).

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So I’ve just planted a feijoa hedge along our driveway – something I’ve been wanting to do for two years. Feijoas are fairly frost hardy – my bible on fruit tree growing states they are ok down to about minus 10 Celsius. The guy I bought them from says about minus 6 degrees Celsius. I don’t think we get much colder than minus 2 or 3 here. I planted two feijoas in the back garden last year. Although to be honest they have not been, er, a raging success. So I took some different steps here and remain hopeful. Full post on feijoa hedge to follow.

Other Plants

I picked up a few interesting new plants to try from Diggers when I went most recently:

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The cranberry I got for free because I spent so much, oops. Cranberries should like our climate, I think if planted in the right spot.  Diggers say it’s very thirsty and needs a very moist spot in full sun, so maybe a candidate for the edge of the vegie bed or another irrigated bed. It grows to about 20cm high and 1 metre wide. Interesting.

Siberian Chives  I got simply because they look slightly more robust in their form – strappy. I think they are reasonably thirsty though so not for a hot dry spot. Another candidate for the edge of the vegie bed I think.

Greek Mountain Tea caught my eye because I think I’ve seen it in dried form at a Greek deli in the city. I know nothing about it, but it looks a bit like Lambs Ears – silver, and fluffy and clumpy, and apparently thrives in mediterranean climates, so should do well with other similar plants in hot parts of the garden.

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Mytrus tarentina  – Diggers said this is an evergreen shrub that’s good for hedging but faster growing than box, which got me excited. I need some fast growing green things in this garden and I need them quick. Just gotta find a place to plant them….hmmm.

Sedum sieboldii  – this looks like it has a nice dark foliage and is suitable for hot, dry areas, so should make a nice contrast. And the flowers look nice.

Turmeric  – I am a bit confused about. Diggers says it’s ok for my region but then says it only tolerates light frost, which is weird because this region gets frosts all winter, and not necessarily light. I don’t think they should be labelling things like that as it seems to make that regions system pointless. Anyway, I’ll give it a try in in a sheltered spot and see what happens.

It’s so nice to get out in the garden and not be baked alive. The next jobs I’ll be thinking about are the overall garden design, fencing off an area for the chooks to free range in, and preparing some new beds for plantings from winter onwards.

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