Thursday, October 23, 2014

HOW TO: PREPARE THE GARDEN FOR SPRING



Hi there readers! Dave here, with another garden instalment. 

So, we’re half way through Spring (in the southern hemisphere); some of you may have thought about reviving that old neglected patch of remnant vegetables / weeds to something of its former glory, but you can’t quite recall how you went about it last time. Well, this post is for you - a quick refresher on preparing your garden for spring!

It may seem odd to be writing a “prepping your garden for spring" post half way through the season, and while you are absolutely right, I have five good reasons why you are also wrong!
  1. Gardening is very climate related, so where you live it may not yet even feel like spring
  2. In most parts of sub tropical and temperate Australia, there’s a good case to be made that we should probably have between 6 and 8 seasons rather than the good old 4, with the most flux occurring in the period between winter / spring and spring / summer
  3. There is an old chinese proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is now”. That is, even if you’re late, you should start now anyway!
  4. UK gardening legend Monty Don likes to say “Don’t worry, what you lose in time at start of the season, you make up by the end.”
  5. With the effects of climate change already among us (most gardeners would attest to this), the seasons are already a little messed up anyway. Where we live, it’s felt like summer, spring and winter all within the space of a month, and not in the order you would expect!
Convinced? Let’s get started.

Deciding which plants to keep for seed / flower / beneficials attraction

Having annual vegies that self seed in your garden each season is one of the coolest things - they get started when the feel like it and you don’t have to transplant them. Alternatively, you can pull them before they drop seed and collect it yourself for sowing next year (also totally cool). Typically annual herbs are a pretty good one for this, along with brassicas like kale, broccoli etc. A further bonus is the great array of flowers that will show for a good period before setting seed. They look amazing and attract beneficial insects to your garden for pollination and pest control.

Look for the strongest plants of each one you’d like to keep and let them go to seed. Pull the rest and put them in the compost pile or feed them to the chooks / rabbits.

Reviewing previous planting rotation

A good crop rotation plan is key to keeping on top of pests and disease. If you haven’t already, make a note of which plants were planted where and be sure not to plant the same family of plant there (i.e. tomatoes and potatoes are both from the solanaccae family so shouldn’t be repeated. Similarly, brassicas (cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage etc) should be rotated). There are some forms of bed preparation where this is less important but on the whole for regular "tilling the soil" vegetable gardening it should be followed.

Remove weeds

Weeds, along with all other plants will really start to take off with the warmer weather so try and get these out ASAP. As the old adage goes, “One years seeding equals seven years weeding!”

Consider a break crop / green manure

As a bit of food for the soil, you might like to consider a “break crop” and / or green manure. A break crop gives the bed a quick rest from hardcore production and might be something like micro greens / mustard that you could eat for salad and then dig in. Even better for the soil is a legumeous nitrogen fixing crop that is grown and dug in before it sets seed, keeping in the soil all of the nitrogen that the the nitrogen fixers have absorbed from the atmosphere. A mixed crop like cow pea / buck wheat and millet will provide the nitrogen along with some good mulching material to break down. 

You can do this for a small part of a garden bed or an entire bed, but it will probably need around 6 - 8 weeks to mature (i.e. you lose that bed for other veggies in the meantime). 

Adding back - feed the soil, not the plants

Each time you plant something new it is necessary to add back to the soil what the plants have extracted in producing vegetables for you to eat. Remember that you should feed the soil (it is a living breathing mass of micro organisms, fungis and bacterias) not the plants.
There is a whole heap of soil science that you can get into here, but really it all boils down to compost and manure - it's hard to go wrong with those two.
Some manures like chicken poo should be composted well before applying directly to beds that you want to plant immediately (it’s high levels of nitrogen will burn new seedlings), others like rabbit poo can be put straight on. Nurseries typically have a large range of composted manures to choose from, but if you’re on your game, your compost piles from last year will be right on cue to add back to the beds now!

Plant perennials!

Consider planting a heap of perennials! They are better for soil building and will winter through meaning you won’t have to replant next season. If you can get a little fruit / nut orchard going all the better - in a small yard you can espalier them; they will produce fruit after the first few years with little to no help and outlast you by decades! A true investment in the future. 

Raising seedlings vs buying

It really doesn't matter! I typically do a combination of both. Don't get bent out of shape over it; do whatever you need to ensure that in a couple of months you’re eating veg from your own garden! 

Mulching

Finally, get into the mulching! Bare soil is the nemesis of the organic gardener (and should be of the broad acre commercial farmer but we won't start down that road). Amongst other things, good mulching feeds the soil, stops evaporation of nutrients, retains moisture for your plants (critical in a dry australian summer) and provides protection from heavy rains. Don’t even think about not mulching; lucerne hay, straw, sugar cane mulch, lawn clippings, dry leaves - get that mulch over the soil.

There you have it! Happy gardening!

May your efforts be prosperous, your crops be strong and fruitful, and the sun shine warmly on your back!

12 comments:

  1. This is just what I needed to read this morning! We're finally getting our butts into gear, & are preparing our garden this weekend. Can I ask what you're planting this season? We're branching out from the usual herbs and cherry toms, but are stuck on what to plant next.
    Cheers
    Sar

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    1. hey sarah!
      i reckon plant what you like to eats lots of / what you often buy. not including existing plants, perennial or flowers, I've planted a bunch of different varieties of:
      - tomatoes
      - eggplants
      - beans & peas
      - carrots
      - pumpkins
      - cucumbers
      - chillies
      - radish
      in a small space it' often not worth planting niche veggies that you rarely eat... but whatever gets you in the garden!
      dave

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  2. Thanks Dave. Perfect timing for this post! Hope to see more of these posts in the future.

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  3. You have inspired me to get outside this weekend and tackle those weeds :P

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    1. yeah! get into those weeds and get it prepped for planting!

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  4. I am so happy I came across blog, which I have stumbled upon recently trying to find inspo about how to tackle my garden. Thank you for the advice. Legend. Rosie x
    www.rosedogandco.blogspot.com.au

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    1. glad to have helped rosie! i hope you find continued inspiration when you get out there too!

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  5. Yay to more gardening posts! We've bought an old house with a massive (for us!) garden in the Hunter Valley and we're tackling it purely with a bit of trial and error so I've definitely taken notes and we hope to get a vegie garden started soon and get the kids involved. Any pointers Dave for the easiest veg and herbs to plant in a hot dry climate, we have scorcher days here in summer!

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  6. Hey Lucy,

    Glad you enjoyed it! I'd say you would want to go with Mediterranean / arid type plants... herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano would probably all do well. Pumpkins / squash don't mind a bit of heat but they are gross feeders so you need to ensure the soil is very well manured prior to planting and during growth. Tomatoes also will do well.
    Capers and olives should thrive along with grapes obviously. In terms of fruit trees; pomegranates, citrus (with good watering). When you are considering plant options, look for varieties that can handle arid conditions.

    Depending on your aspect and what else is surrounding you, you could create quite a nice little micro climate that protects from the extremes. Mulching heavily will also keep the soil quite damp meaning you could probably grow most veggies. If you know of super hot days coming, just ensure you water really well leading up to them and cover any beds with some shade clothe if possible.

    Hope that helps!

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    1. Thanks Dave that really helps. We've found mulching the whole garden the key to our success. Off to purchase some of your herb and veg suggestions this week. : )

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  7. Great post, Dave! It's spurred me to make the most of our new little apartment garden - most things will be in pots or self-made garden beds, but luckily the previous tenants here left us a range of already blossoming herbs to get us going. Our neighbour in the next apartment started a community compost bin for the block, as well as planting loads of veg and fruit trees. Looks like we found a lucky spot to start with! Thanks for the inspiration. :)

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Thanks so much for your words of encouragement, advice and solidarity.

xo em