Spring has been challenging for our gardens, with a week of incredible wind in September, followed by a week of snow and ice then never-ending rain in October and November. Finally, we have sunshine, which may verge on hot this week! Is it any wonder that some of the seedlings you may have planted out in October or November are not going well? It is not too late to replace young plants now. I have been getting beds ready but keeping most fruiting plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers and pumpkins, in my mini greenhouse until now.
Flowers, seeds and more
All the winter vegetables have stopped producing food for us and are wanting to reproduce themselves now. Brassicas, chard, chicory, winter fennel, lettuce, asparagus, daikon and more are all sending up flower stalks. These flowers and old plants either attract beneficial insects directly or they attract aphids, scale and other so called “pests”, which actually are the food for the emerging beneficial insects. Always leave a few old plants of each sort, to provide the diversity we need in our gardens so they can maintain the balance, without us needing to interfere. For example, I tie one or 2 to a stake, removing some of the bottom leaves, so I can plant new things nearby. I can honestly say that I rarely have a problem with pests or disease because I always make sure I have every stage of plant life represented at all times.
Obviously, you can also save some of the mature seeds to sow next season. Only save seeds if the plants were healthy and produced well for you first time around! Wait until the seeds are brown on the plant before picking them. Put the dry pods or whole heads into a paper bag, labelled with the date, the name of the plant and variety, if you know it, for about a month. From experience, let me tell you that you will NOT remember it later! After a month, shake or rub the seeds off or remove them from the pods etc and store in jars, once again labelled.
If you would like to learn more about seed saving, come to the Cygnet Seed Library’s “Seed Celebration - an afternoon of seed saving demos & community fun”, Sunday Dec. 12th , in the garden behind ‘Cuckoo’ (17 Mary St., Cygnet). Seed saving demos from 2pm, shared picnic dinner from 5pm. Details on facebook and our website. All welcome.
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 Cygnet they may be fine outside. Don’t overwater and do pick regularly.
Plant out in the damp soil
In early December, sow and plant cucumbers, zucchinis, corn, sunflowers, salad greens, herbs, flowers and everything you can get your hands on. After rain is the best time to get plants going. Even though the soil is still damp, always water your seedlings in. Why? Because every tiny root hair needs to be in contact with the soil to work its magic and extract nutrients from the soil. Watering in is the only way to ensure this happens.
Tomatoes, corn, other fruiting vegetables and flowering plants – water the roots deeply only once a week, even if it is hot. In very general terms, water soaks in to about 10 times the rainfall. Once your tomatoes reach Christmas time, they will be down (and out) about 30cms so you need to give them 3cms of water.
That far down, the soil will stay moist enough for a week, especially if you use a thick, hay mulch. So, I will be giving my tomatoes 3cms water once a week; not next to the trunk, but out about 30cms, preferably on 2 sides. Shallow, frequent watering, on the other hand, ensures 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.
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. (I plant the tomatoes about 1m apart). They are easily plugged into a run of black poly pipe. I put a click fitting on the end and connect my hose to this once a week for 1 hour.
Sow seeds: beans, zucchini, cucumbers, basil, carrots, celery, lettuce, leeks, parsley, sunflowers, radish, parsnip, pumpkin, chicory.
SOW WINTER VEG too.
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!