Kitchen Garden Guides

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

September 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

Rain, cold and sun…. and roots

After one of the driest winters for decades, south eastern Tasmanian is now well and truly wet. But dig down beyond a spade’s depth and, here and there, the soil is still dry so let’s hope it keeps raining for a while yet. While the garden is coping with very dry then wet conditions, it is also having to cope with regularly very cold nights plus frost and snow. On top of that, warm spring air is arriving in fits and starts and the notorious, spring winds are picking up. Despite all this, fruit trees are blossoming and we are all hoping for good fruit set. How does nature cope with all this and how can we help?

Latest research is showing that the brain of plants may well be in the roots. Below our feet is more life than above and, as well as roots of plants, this life primarily consists of the first inhabitants of the earth, microbes. The roots of plants, in particular the root tips, are the interface that can sense roots of other plants (and even know if they are related!) as well as work with the rest of the soil life to extract minerals to feed to the plant parts that are above the ground. I went to a fabulous talk about this last weekend at the Botanic Gardens. So extensive and complex is soil life that one theory is that, as with mushrooms, the above ground plant parts are simply the fruiting body for the “real” plant below the surface and all this is controlled by millions of tiny root tips!

What does this mean for our food gardens? It means that keeping the microbes in the soil happy is the primary thing to do in order to develop delicious, nutritious, healthy fruit and vegetables, able to ward off disease. During this burst of every-weather-in-a-day, the soil needs deep mulch to regulate temperature and stop heavy rain pounding the surface (microbes are fussy about getting hot and cold, dry and wet). Have a look at a forest floor; mulch covers everything and no-one fertilises it.

Onto vegetable beds, sprinkle a thin layer of compost, then 10cms of fluffed up, soaked hay, then another thin layer of compost then another 10cms of soaked hay. Check every week and keep this rhythm going right through summer. Keep some large tubs scattered through the garden to make it easy to throw half or more of a bale of hay in and fill with water, to soak for at least an hour before topping up the hay bed.

To plant seedlings, make a hole in the hay, add a good handful of compost and plant into that. The hole does not need to go all the way down to the soil. Water in.

For trees, use the same method but use mixed bark at half the depth (or rain may not penetrate at all). Wetting as you go is important. If you have a grass problem, lay wet newspaper or thin cardboard and extra compost before the bark chips. Sticks and leaves and branches can also be added on top. Woody material encourages fungi and, in a forest, fallen branches and trees are everywhere, rotting back into the soil and encouraging more life.

Pumpkins in every garden

Soon everyone will be thinking about growing pumpkins. Our local gardening groups, collectively known as Gumboot Gardeners, want to encourage as many people as possible to grow pumpkins this year. We will be having a community stall at the Cygnet Market on October 15th where we will be distributing seeds of as many different pumpkins as we can muster as well as giving pumpkin growing advice. The idea is that then, in autumn, when pumpkins are ready to harvest, we will have another stall, with competitions for size, shape, creative dressing and decorating and cooking! Individuals, families, schools and groups are all invited to join in. Maybe the police station, fire station, medical centres, community garden and council parks will grow pumpkins too, as they do in Incredible, Edible Todmorden, England!

If you have pumpkin seeds to share please would you contact me asap so we can build up a great seed bank for our project.

War and seeds

Have you ever thought about what happens to the heirloom seeds saved for generations by traditional farmers when they become caught in war zones and their crops destroyed or abandoned? The rich diversity of crops can sometimes be lost forever and a community devastated by fighting may never regain the foods that had graced the tables of the community for thousands of years. Spare a thought for the chaos around the world and the seeds being lost, along with the lives.

How lucky we are to live in peaceful, beautiful Tasmania.

Indoors to transplant later
Outside (late Sept if very cold)
Celery, celeriac (love it wet, lime)
Capsicums, chillis
Onions, long keeping (lime well)
Kales, especially Squire and Blue Curled
Herbs (NOT basil yet!)
Brassicas (if you are prepared with netting to keep the cabbage moths off)
Lettuce + other salad greens
Still a bit early for cucumbers and pumpkins if you have late frosts.
Chit or Plant out
Divide and plant out
Potatoes (leave to chit or sprout if frosty where you live.
Plant out later)
Globe artichokes

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