Despite this week of real summer heat, the previous months of cold, wet and windy weather means that many of us are having trouble with our “summer” vegetables. I have self-sown miners’ lettuce, a cold season, salad green, coming up in my garden now when it normally comes up in autumn. There is not much we can do about the weather so I have decided to move on to attending more to the soil and to sowing winter vegetables.
Observe and Interact
This is the first principle of Permaculture. I have observed the weather and my garden and decided to take some action to work with, rather than against, nature.
Here is what I am doing to areas of my food garden that I have decided are never going to produce a worthwhile crop this summer. It is a ruthless decision but a good one. Excellent vegetables are available from our wonderful, organic, local market gardeners and small green grocers and I will still hope that my tomatoes will produce.
1. I push over all the plants so they lie in the one direction, flat on the ground. Then, using a sharp spade, I chop it all up and leave it on the ground, weeds and all (as long as they are not seeding).
2. I then sprinkle lime plus ash from the fire over as most of our Tasmanian soils are acidic and most of the winter veg we grow like alkaline soil. Ash also adds potassium and trace elements but has no calcium. Lime has calcium.
3. If you have homemade compost you can add it next. If not, then do not worry.
4. The next layer, when broken down, adds organic matter to a thin or hard soil, and is lucerne hay (Available locally. See her advert. in this paper). It is expensive but full of nutrients and you don’t need a thick layer. Pea stray would be great too. If you really don’t want to buy these, then newspaper could substitute, especially if your soil is already lovely and friable. Wet the layers of paper well as you go.
5. Then, separated from the lime by the lucerne or paper, I add mushroom compost or cow manure or pelletised chicken manure or sheep manure. (Manure should not be mixed with the lime or nutrient take up is affected. By the time the paper / lucerne breaks down, the lime has dissolved into the soil).
6. I will then add a thin layer of mulch such as ordinary straw. This keeps the soil life from the extremes of temperature as they break down the layers below.
7. Water well as you assemble the layers. That way any future rain will penetrate and start feeding your soil.
8. Plant out your seedlings into this in autumn.
What to sow now and why
At 43 degrees south the days shorten and the light softens to such as extent in winter that is seriously affects the growth of plants. Think of the leaves of, for example, kale, as solar panels. With short days and the sun low in the sky each leaf needs to be twice as big in winter as in summer to catch the same amount of sun to power the plant. To achieve this growth by the end of autumn we need to sow these big plants now!! Once we get to mid-May food plants need to be full size so we can begin to harvest them through winter.
Moreover, we need to sow twice as many now as we would coming into spring when days are lengthening, so that we can allow the plants extra time to regrow after each harvest.
Getting the soil to its optimum condition for this time by working on it now will ensure your winter vegetables flourish. There is nothing more beautiful than picking vegetables that are dusted with frost, when you are rugged up in boots and scarf, fingers cold and the light sparkling on every leaf as the ice melts.
So, in trays in a sheltered spot I am sowing all my favourite soup, casserole and roasting vegetables, to eat by the fire in winter while I sip my homemade raspberry ratafia, blackcurrant cassis and Tas. pepperberries in vodka!
Fire and the garden
The recent reminders in the news about the Dunalley fires need action. Is there anything we can do to help protect our homes from fire? Most fires are not as devastating as the Dunalley fires and we can do some things to help reduce the flammability of our surroundings. Lush, deciduous trees and shrubs can replace those closest to the house, which contain oils, such as gum trees and even rosemary. There are excellent flammability lists on the Fire Tas website: www.fire.tas.gov.au/publications/1709%20Brochure.pdf
Almost everyone I speak to overwaters everything!! In the Tasmanian climate only minimal watering is required, unless extremely hot days are forecast.
I stick my finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle (first knuckle for pots). If the very tip of the finger feels dampness, I do not water, unless I am expecting extreme heat.
This encourages the roots to seek water down deep, where the soil moisture and temperature levels are more constant. If a plant develops shallow roots, it struggles to manage on a hot day as the soil around its roots becomes hot and dry very quickly and appears to need more water. Train your plants well and they will be happy, like your dogs and children!
Brassicas, chards, kale, beetroot, fennel, parsnips and leeks for winter eating. Yes, sow now!
Tomatoes (summer might come late!)
Websites and books for summer reading
Book -Travels in Blood and Honey: becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo