Everywhere I turn, weeds are happily springing up faster than I can deal with them. Certainly, many are edible. I make nettle tea, nettle soup and nettle pesto, for example. Many can be fed to the chooks, if your chooks are not as fussy as mine, who are not interested in chickweed or fat hen, despite their names suggesting otherwise. Most weeds make excellent compost or thrown down in garden paths (if collected before seeding) to rot away and improve fertility right there. The paths throughout my vegetable garden in spring are made up entirely of discarded weeds, trodden down by me, day by day, until, eventually, they become lovely compost, which I scoop up onto the beds after a few months.
Learning from Weeds
Weeds are also a source of information about your garden. I recently listened to a podcast by Nicole Masters about the information held in weeds. She said “….Millions of seeds land on the soil surface. It is the soil conditions that influence which seeds germinate and thrive….” Some weeds, such as that pesky, sheep sorrel, will germinate only in acid soils. If you have it coming up everywhere, then try adding lime. Thistles will practically push up through concrete, and compacted soils are no barrier to them but they dislike loose, friable soil. Other weeds prefer a soil low in fungal activity, yet others thrive where there is too much nitrogen or not much. The internet is brimming with information on deciphering weeds and by learning about weeds in your garden, you will be learning about your soil and be able to make adjustments to help your garden grow more and the weeds less.
Unpredictable and tricky until you find what works, basil is loved by everyone! Here is what I have discovered works for me: I sow in trays in December, only the large leaf varieties such as Genovese and Lettuce Leaf which grow fast in our climate and have fabulous flavour. The seeds take a while to germinate so be patient, keep the soil damp but not wet. Once germinated, water with a weak seaweed solution until they are big enough to transplant. I put several plants into each 20cm pot with a rich potting mix and keep them in my little green house, as they hate the cold. I like to have 6 pots, some sown early Dec. and some later. They don’t mind a bit of shade as long as it is nice and warm and if you live somewhere consistently warmer than my place they may be fine outside. Don’t overwater and do pick regularly.
This is the one thing that so many people get into trouble with. Hand watering is great for pots, seeds, seedlings and in times of infrequent watering. It is a pleasant morning or evening past-time but not the best way to irrigate a whole garden.
Tomatoes do not like wet leaves so they are best served by what I call finger drippers – more like a cross between a dripper and a spray, with coarse droplets radiating out like fingers to about 10 -15cms in diameter. These can easily be seen and have removable caps which can be easy screwed in or out to adjust the flow. I place one finger dripper between every tomato plant. If you followed my instructions last month then your tomatoes will be about 1m apart. These finger drippers are easily plugged into a run of 13mm black poly pipe. I put a click fitting on the end and connect my hose to this once a week for 1 hour. The water will soak in, the tomato roots will find it and grow nice and deep, where the even temperature and moisture will make for happy plants.
That far down, the soil will stay moist enough for at least a week, especially if you use a thick mulch. So, I will be giving my tomatoes deep watering once a week; not next to the trunk, but out about 30cms, preferably on 2 sides (between the tomato plants). Shallow, frequent watering, on the other hand, will ensure that your plants have a shallow root system, susceptible to the stresses of constant heating and cooling, and will grow a wonderful canopy of leaves, with little fruit, before succumbing to some disease!
Oh November and early December, how you batter my seedlings and developing fruit! A cold wind and days of showers are bad for tomatoes and any young seedlings, especially if the soil is bare and cold. To protect from the wind I surround the whole bed with walls of lace curtains from the tip shop. Lace curtains are a much under-utilised resource as they are also fabulous over any small or creeping plants, like cucumbers, to provide shelter but still let the light through. I use wire crates, often discarded from freezers etc, which I get from the tip shops. One edge of a lace curtain can be tucked under one side of a crate and a row of crates holds up the curtains from touching the plants, then the far edge can be tucked under the last crate. I also cut up curtains and just use a piece over one crate. Wire crates on their own keep birds off lettuce etc. I put a brick on top too, if possums or wallabies are around.
Look out for the Cygnet Seed Library in the New Year, which will be offering a small range of dependable seeds, perfect for sowing in summer. All seeds have been grown by local volunteers and will be free 😊 More info will be on our facebook page soon. Everyone is welcome to join us.
Sow seeds: beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, carrots, celery, lettuce, leeks, parsley, sunflowers, radish, parsnip, pumpkin, chicory. SOW WINTER VEG too (Brussel sprouts etc).
Sow seeds: Lots of winter veg benefit from early summer sowing so they reach a good size to plant out in autumn: fennel, Brussel sprouts, red cabbage, leeks, kale, beetroot.
Plant out: corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, other veg seedlings, potatoes, potted herbs, flowers etc
Basil: keep in greenhouse in good sized pots with rich soil and water well but allow to drain well before watering again.
Fill in spaces with flowers, comfrey, daisies, herbs and love.
Dec and Jan:
- Mulch vegetable garden well, preferably with old hay or old silage.
- Mulch fruit trees well, preferably with bark chips
- Feed food garden with seaweed solution for pest resistance and fish emulsion or home made worm brews.
- Harvest and enjoy!