18 July 2010

Welcoming ‘Sprinter’ in our gardens

I've been thinking to write an article titled "How is your garden growing?", with some suggestions on how we can be tending and caring for our gardens, soil and plants through this restorative and restful period of the year. I was planning to share with you how over-grown and neglected our little garden space has been over this period and how desperately we needed to get out into our yard and tend to our gardens. But as I now do actually sit here to write, there has been a shift in our gardens. Haven't the last few days been very unseasonably warm? Yesterday, our family actually frolicked around in the yard in short sleeve tee shirts! Dare I say that we may be approaching that un-official season of 'Sprinter'? I think it appears that we may well be heading into this time of our year.

My plan for this article was to share with you one of the primary focus’ we should have in our gardens at this restorative time of year. Our soil. Sustainable Gardening Australia (SGA) has a beautiful section on soil; Healthy Soil - boring, but important!

Haven't we had a very wet Winter? One of the wettest I remember for a long time. And whilst this higher rainfall is wonderful for our commercial farmers around the country, it has made getting out and about in our own little patches, for those home space gardeners of us - a little difficult, especially if you have a yard like us, that has turned into a mini swimming pool with all this rainfall!

Over the past few days whilst amongst our garden space; removing spent plants, pottering and tending to the renewing of this space - I have discovered many little Winter treasures that have been quietly growing and producing along their way through Winter. We have dandelion chicory, rocket, sorrel, geraniums, cape gooseberry, mandarins, spinach and chards, winter salad leaves, beets, a few missed pumpkins from our Autumn harvest that were hiding under the over grown Winter garden, brassica's that are finally looking like they may produce some veggies for us (after nearly being wiped out by multiple attacks of the white cabbage moth caterpillars!), some wonderful winter shallots, beautiful celery, various Winter herbs and a MOUNTAIN of worm wee! Isn't worm wee just the most amazing nutrient boost for the gardens! We have a very basic, but very effective homemade worm farm and I am planning for you, that the article following this one, will be a piece about how to create your own worm farm with free materials! You will need to purchase the correct type of worms for your farm, but there are quite a few folk on our local LETS community that offer a tub of worms for a very reasonable shell rate. Around 20 shells I think when at most local hardware stores, the worms to start the farm (just the worms by themselves, no farm materials) are around $100, from what I have been told. If you do not as yet have a worm farm yourself, but would like to use some of this nutrient rich worm wee on your gardens during this restorative time - to feed your soil, then there are also many folk on the CC LETS network that offer a 1-2L bottle of worm wee for around 2-4 shells. If you are not a member of LETS - why not? It is such a wonderful community where you can share in a very generous, friendly and supportive community of folk, and have access to many new and exciting things one may not otherwise be aware of. Just this week we ate our first yacon from a community member and have some tubers to plant once they sprout!

So, I have digressed...let’s get back to the topic at hand… restoring our gardens during this restful time of year. I once heard some very wise words "never feed your plants - only ever feed your soil" - and soil is what it is all about in this restorative time of year, well, it's always about the soil I guess, but in this restorative time of year, we need to put the focus of our energies into this aspect of our gardens. The SGA website has a wealth of information about soil. The link to their index of soil info is here.

I have a great little book simply titled 'Grow Vegetables' - this Australian version is wonderful. My favourite part is the section that has a month by month plan of what the home gardener wanting to produce their own vegetables, needs to be doing at that particular time. At the moment, as you would guess, most of the advice stems around restoring our patch and nourishing our soil. Some of the mid-Winter suggestions are; clear away remains of any plants that have finished cropping, spread well rotted compost over beds, PH test soil (some great info here on SGA about adjusting the acid/alkaline balance of our soil), cover selected areas with whatever material you prefer to start warming the soil and avoid soil becoming water logged, dig over garden beds. If we have been hard working little home gardeners, we may well be harvesting; cauliflower, brussels, leeks, kale, radishes, salad leaves, cress, mibuna, mizuna, parsnips and celeriac, along with other Winter herbs. To stay on track with our produce, now is the time to; plant garlic, sow onion seeds, plant out our first shallots and onions if it is not too wet, buy seed potatoes and start to 'chit' them, 'force' rhubarb and order seeds. The SGA site has a great month by month section as well, which details tasks to undertake at the relevant time of the year. Check out June and July to see what we should be doing now in our gardens and once you've accomplished all that, have a nice warm cup of herbal whilst you read and prepare for the tasks of August!

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