This weekend I was in Melbourne and for me one of the highlights was to be exploring every inch of the Royal Botanic Gardens, with the long suffering Hubby the Un-Gardener in tow. It was an incredible day. The sky was blue with not a cloud to be seen with a gentle breeze to ward of the heat of the day. Although the air resonated with a constant buzz – the sounds of the nearby Formula 1 racing, it somehow didn’t detract from the ambiance of the gardens themselves.
The gardens were a short walk from our hotel and immediately on entering the Queen Victoria Garden end, there was a huge sense of peace that conveyed a feeling of hushed tones that you would expect from a library. The magnificent trees had begun shedding their leaves for the autumn and the lawns were a carpet of green grass and brown leaves. The fountains and waterfalls tinkled and gushed adding to the ambiance. And dotted about throughout the gardens where people, soaking in the sun, or sheltering in the shade, reading quietly or listening silently through earphones. Couples in casual embrace and families having picnics punctuated the gardens with life beyond what the plants could provide. It was a lovely feeling.
As much as I would have loved to linger there, I was keen to see plant collections in the heart of the Royal Gardens I had heard so much about. And I wasn’t disappointed. Around every corner was a sight worth capturing – I’d say on film as it sounds so much more poetic, however I snapped away, filling my digital memory with a multitude of pixels. There were plants I’d never seen before and ones that were shown off in a new light. I was in my element.
After several hours of intentional aimless wandering, our hunger made itself known through increasing rumbles and it was a relief to stumble upon the café in the centre of the garden. While Hubby the Un-Gardener was ordering the tea and scones that seemed like the perfect sustenance to have in a garden, I made a quick check to see what the increasingly frequent notifications I had been receiving were all about. It was at this point we were completely dumbfounded by what was unfolding back home in our little corner of the world. It is hard to comprehend that something so horrendous could happen there. The unwelcome hate and ugliness of the world has entered our safe haven and caused harm to the very fabric of our nation. My heart breaks for the communities directly affected by it. They should have been safe and free to pray and worship, because this is the kind of place we have and the kind of people we are. Our national anthem, sung with pride carries the words:
“Men of every creed and race
gather here before thy face,
asking thee to bless this place
God defend our free land
from dissension, envy, hate…”
So, it was with shocked and broken hearts, we returned to the gardens, seeking peace and solace.
There are no more words to even comprehend this tragedy and all I can do is continue to pray.
Sarah the Gardener : o(
At this time of year, it is important to get the seeds of the new winter season off to a good start while the soil is still warm. But there is a bit of a problem with this. The majority of the seedlings that will grow well over the winter months are brassicas. They generally do better than then their summer compatriots as they are un-harried by the cabbage white butterfly as the cool conditions don’t suit their tender bits. It is so refreshing to harvest a broccoli in the winter without spending ages picking out the extra protein and then eating with caution – not that you tell the family… “Eat ya greens, its good for you!”
However, in these early days the butterflies are still flitting about as it is still warm enough for them and just one egg laid on a vulnerable seedling can grow into a caterpillar that can demolish the seedling in just a few days. But the butterflies don’t just stop with one egg per plant, your poor brassica seedling finds itself food for many, long before it becomes food for you.
I have struggled with this problem for years. I have used cake nets, kept seedlings indoors until the last moment. I did regular check and squish inspections. I’ve liberally sprinkled derris dust and I’ve been at my wits end.
The other problem at this time of year it is still too hot for tender seedlings in conditions where there is no rain and so the potential to fry seedlings in a moment’s inattention after weeks of tender care is huge. The only really upside to starting from seed at this time of year is things grow so much quicker than in spring so there is less of the ‘will they germinate’ angst and they appear long before you consider giving the soil a bit of a poke to see what is going on. And of course the obvious… you get things to eat mid-winter!
Now in my new garden I have the luxury of a nursery bed, one to grow these autumn seedlings beyond the confines of pots, taking advantage of the moisture deep in the soil and reducing the risk of pots drying out. I’ve always wanted one and am excited to have it. The soil is low nutrient as the seedlings don’t really need a heavy rich soil. What that means is I haven’t added compost and well-rotted manure or anything, but I may tickle it with a little bit of something, so it isn’t completely devoid of nutrients – other that what is in the soil. And it is fully irrigated, so the seedlings can have their thirst quenched easily.
So, I was all set to go with the seeds, but the butterfly conundrum held me back… and I gave the problem a lot of thought. I did buy a tunnel house to protect the seedlings, but it was too small for the bed, so space was wasted and it created gaps around the irrigation tubes, and I caught a butterfly in there and the few seedlings I was trying to protect ended up with holes in their leaves.
Then I came up with a crazy plan, that actually worked! I’m so pleased and now I can sow my seeds knowing not only are the seedlings safe from ravenous green creatures and are protected from the heat of the midday sun.
This is what I did:
Come again soon – the seeds are in and the will come alive once again.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: clicking on the images will give step by step instructions.
I always find this a strange turn of seasons. Especially because the transition is so vague. Spring is cut and dried. We are so over winter that we are happy to declare the 1st of September the first day of spring no matter how freezing and miserable it is. It is spring people and we just need to wrap up warm and get on with it. Embrace the cold, it won’t be like that for much longer. We are braver in spring. Each climbing degree is cause for celebration. Each slightly later sunset is a glimmer of hope. We get out there and do stuff because the growing season is upon us.
At the other end of the growing season there is a reluctance for it to end. Summer just flashed by in the blink of an eye, surely, we aren’t ready to enter the slippery slope down to the chill of winter again. I’ve only just warmed up. Well to be fair, I’ve overcooked. It was a hot summer and despite good intentions, I didn’t do as much as I wanted to do because it was too hot. The season we long for all year turns out to be just as unbearable at times as the one we loath. We just lie to ourselves because summer is better than winter, right?!
In autumn we aren’t as brave as we are in spring. The temperatures drop a couple of degrees and suddenly it is too cold. I saw someone say on social media the other day “apparently 21ᵒC is the new freezing!” Six months ago, I would have contemplated going swimming in temperatures like that. (I say contemplate loosely) and now I find I’m reaching for socks and complaining it is really too cold to do anything in the garden, not until it warms up a little.
Summer makes you soft! Well it makes me soft. I don’t feel as fit as I did in the spring either. The garden doesn’t actually require much physical work like digging in the spring (which is just as well as it is too hot!) And the food is good, so good, the desire to over indulge in another heaping bowl of fresh tomato pasta with homegrown onions and garlic and fresh basil and a cheeky glass of red to go with. To not eat the glut would be wasteful, but it turns out eating the glut can full the waist!
So here we are in this weird twilight of a season and I wonder if I wasn’t such a gardener, ruled by the seasons would I notice the change had occurred at all? Or has it? You see the weather hasn’t really changed. The end of a heat wave made the normal weather for this time of year take on a decidedly autumnal feel, but the sky is still blue, and the days are still long. Or long enough for this weary body to not notice the sun going down is closer to bed time, or is bed time getting closer to the sun going down? Who knows?! The days are still hot, most of the time – the afternoons can be positively sweaty!
And to make matters worse there is confusion as to when this change over happens. By the meteorological calendar the seasons change every three months on the 1st and for my control freakery in the garden this is perfect. But astronomically we are still in summer for another couple of weeks – Yay! But you can’t really have your bread buttered on both sides – can you? Start spring by the calendar and end it on the equinox? I suppose I could. It would help to ease my angst at all the gardeners in the northern hemisphere counting away my growing season as they countdown to their spring. They are very valiant sticking to their guns and holding out for the later astronomical spring start. I don’t have that kind of self-control!
But whatever season we are in, the garden is calling out to me to make a few changes and get it ready for the months to come. There is something in the air that makes this window of transition subtly noticeable, and as a gardener, in nature most days you become attuned to it. Like when you notice your best friend has changed her perfume or has a new pair of shoes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. For all you non-gardeners out there who barely notice the seasons: “The end is nigh!”
Come again soon – things are come out and things are going in.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Finally, we are at the end of my plans for the future of the garden. It will be such a relief not to have to think about it ever again. I have my notes and can refer to them each autumn and know exactly where I stand. Of course, there will be tweaking and changes going forward, especially when I find out how these summer crops linger in a frost free winter. Unless last winter was a one off and we get hit with a multitude of frosts from April to October!
Bed 16: was carrots and root crops – will be garlic
As I discovered in my original ponderings around this whole crop rotation conundrum, my carrots may be problematic for my early garlic. I have toyed with the idea since of moving the seedlings across now while they are small, but they hate being transplanted and at this time of year stopping them frying while they re-establish will require constant attention. Or do I just sow more in the new place now anyway. But then my parsnips will need to be relocated before the early garlic unless – I leave them both there for the moment and make one more attempt at mid-winter garlic once they are gone and worry about this problem next winter. That buys me a couple more months for them to mature and be eaten before the spot is needed. You never know the mid-winter garlic might just work this time. Or I could start the ones to go in the gap into pots… that worked last season when I didn’t have a garden. Hmmm options, options, options.
Bed 17: was potato – will be carrots and root crops
I still have half a bed of spuds tucked beneath the soil but only because I didn’t know how I was going to store them. But on my last trip to the supermarket on the weekend, I saw they had brown paper bags for 20 cents to replace the now banned plastic bags, so a bought a load, much to the bemusement of the checkout ladies when I wouldn’t let them pack my groceries into them. So now I can dig up the spuds, clearing the way for carrots.
Bed 18: was beans – will be potatoes
Potatoes normally go in around Sept 16 – 100 days until Christmas for those lovely spuds perfect for the festive table. But I have found I can plant them all year round here. Last year I grew them in containers. So, I think I’ll pop in a few into containers now to keep them going and if it gets cold, I’ll bring them under cover. But for now, the bed has beans. I’m not all that partial to fresh green beans but just found out one of my kids loves them and so I must try better as I’ve sort of denied him all but a taster for the first 13 years of his life. But for the most part the bed is filled with kidney beans and other dried beans that we use a lot in the winter and they are at the point the pods are beginning to turn so it won’t be much longer and then probably a mustard cover crop to sort out the soil in preparation for the spuds – apparently it can help with wireworm, not that I have it but it would be a good practice to get into to keep my spuds safe should they turn up in the future.
Bed 19: was leafy greens – will be beans
In the nursery bed I’ll pop in some more spinach and Asian greens in the hopes of getting to eat them before they bolt and then put them into the current leafy green bed. There is no point moving anything before then as the rainbow beet, the celery and celeriac will go all winter and the beans don’t like soil temperatures colder than 18C so for now things stay the same.
Bed 20: was cucumbers – will be leafy greens
I still have cucumbers doing their thing with no signs of stopping, although the gherkins are getting a bit much – there are only so many you can pickle before the larder is full. But while they are still going, I’ll continue to make the most of them and eventually they’ll die of exhaustion and I can prepare the ground for the leafy greens. Probably with a lovely nitrogen rich lupin cover crop.
Bed 21: was garlic – will be cucumbers
This bed currently has the 4th corn crop and if I have my timings right, I should get a lovely harvest of Painted Mountain Corn before it gets too cold and without any cross pollination from the other corns I’ve grown. I did give the bed a bit of love with compost and some other goodies between the corn and garlic, but it wouldn’t hurt to put a lupin cover crop to rejuvenate the soil for the cucumbers after so many heavy feeding crops.
And there you have it! But I can’t sit around all day admiring my handy work, I have things to do and seeds to sow and crops to harvest. I don’t expect I’ll be short of things to do this winter.
Come again soon – Autumn starts in a couple of days.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Following on from my deep and slightly obsessive thoughts about my winter crop rotation, today we are looking at cycle two. This is the biggest one as there are no permanent unmoveable crops in this group. So, it will be seven years before anyone is back where they started. No chance for disease to build up or certain nutrients to become exhausted to the point of depletion! Overkill I know, but just by moving the sign one spot to the right once a year saves a lot of headaches.
For the in between mid-winter period for many of these beds, the window of time for doing much more than just adding well-rotted manure and compost is the best that can be done. Ideally, I’d love to grow cover crops on all the beds to keep the garden feeling alive and doing good at the same time, but it just isn’t practical.
But one of the things I like to try and squeeze in over the winter is wheat, not so much as a cover crop, although it will lock in nutrients and therefore prevent them from leaching out in the winter rains, but to harvest and dry the straw to use a mulch. While this will eventually return nutrients to the soil, at the point of harvest – but especially if the straw is laid in a different bed, I will still need to enrich the beds before the next crop with well-rotted manure and compost and other goodies just as I would after harvesting a crop, which it is – in a way.
Bed 9: was pepper – will be onion overflow
If we don’t get frosts, there is no knowing, at this point, how long the peppers will keep going as they are perennials. Only time will tell. But I am hoping they will carry on long enough for a good harvest, yet finish up midwinter for the onions to go in. I may even just relocate them into their new bed as mature adults but having said that I like starting them from seed in spring – they are the first and it is a tradition…. But for now, I don’t know what I’ll do.
Bed 10: was sweetcorn – will be peppers
The sweetcorn is safely in the freezer ready to bring sunshine to a winter day and the bed has been planted with all my excess broad bean seeds. I only grow a couple, because I don’t like them that much, but as a legume it just made sense not to waste the rest of them in the packet and I’ll dig them in before they flower. Hopefully this will be before I relocate mature peppers if necessary or at a more leisurely pace in later on. Next year, because there is such a huge gap between the sweetcorn and the peppers it makes sense to grow wheat here instead.
Bed 11: was melons – will be sweetcorn
This bed is currently maturing some rather large watermelons and producing what seems to be an abundance of rock and honeydew melons. But I’d say there are only a couple of weeks left in this bed before the melons are gobbled up and it gets cleared away.
Bed 12: was odds and sods – will be melons
I have some ordinary popcorn in here that had nicely dried on the plant and can be harvested today. The okra has only just taken off so I’m hoping for an Indian Summer so I can even see a harvest. I do love a pickled okra. The peanuts can be dug up when the leaves go yellow, but they are still a verdant shade of green and still flowering so who knows when that will be. And at the end of this bed one of the eggplants is going strong and the other never really did well. The frost is supposed to take them out.
Bed 13: was salad – will be odds and sods
The salad succession was terrible. I need to improve. But as we wind down into autumn I want to try and get into the swing of things so will keep growing them for as long as I can.
Bed 14: was zucchini – will be salad
Powdery mildew has only just hit these plants and they are slowing down, but I have been making a lovely zucchini relish to make up for the lack of tomato relish that normally got us through the year bringing tomatoey joy until it was time to make it again. They will get to a point as the weather cools where they aren’t producing enough, but without a frost, I don’t know when that will be. But they will be whipped out at some point in the winter.
Bed 15: was onion overflow – will be zucchini
The final bed in this crop rotation is moving the zucchini to the where the onions were – but this is also where the leeks are still lingering and so I will need to seek out as many different ways to eat leeks to ensure they are gone before we need the bed in late October.
And that is the plan for the middle row of the garden. It would seem the worms have their work cut out for them dragging all that well rotted manure deep into the soil. But rather them than me! There is just one last group that needs to be discussed and then I can throw myself into the new season that is just days away.
Come again soon – to find out how I solved my carrot conundrum.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I spent the weekend with a nagging feeling in the back of my mind…. ‘I need to sort out this crop rotation cover crop thing. Once it is done, I’ll never have to think of it again.’ But there were other exciting things to occupy my time, so I pushed the reoccurring thought away. But with the start of a new week and a decidedly autumnal feel to the air I was reluctant to go out into the garden until things warmed up. It wasn’t cold on a normal cold scale, but when things plunge dramatically from the high 20Cs to the low 20Cs and late teens – you feel it. This is temperatures I would delight in, in the spring, but in summer it is all a bit of a shock.
So, I decided to sit down and figure all of this out in the ‘warmth’ of indoors until the sun warmed the garden. But I never made it outside as a wrestled with who needs what. But once it fell into place it all made sense and I wondered why it took so long and freaked me out so much. But I had to go through the process to make sure I got it right.
As this is more for me than anything else, so I have resource to refer back to, I wrote out lengthy explanations as to why I made the decisions I made so I wouldn’t confuse my future self. Which caused it to be quite long winded, so I have broken it up into 3 instalments for you, to make it light and interesting. The half of the garden that was to be explored is actually nicely divided into 3 crop rotation cycles, so it was easy to split my explanations along those lines too.
So today we are looking at what is going on in crop rotation cycle one and what will happen over the next couple of seasons. There are 5 beds that rotate in this cycle and so the brassica won’t be in the same place for 5 years. I’ve also avoided using mustard as a cover crop in this rotation to reduce the risk of club root disease and I only have one Solanaceae group here as well. All in all, the needs of each bed are varied. I hope it makes sense.
Bed 4: was squash – will be brassicas
This bed is currently home to butternut and buttercup squash and a baby bear pumpkin that seems to be loving it and there is less baby about it and more oversized adolescent! So much for the individual stuffed pumpkins I envisaged serving midwinter! These have maybe 3 – 4 weeks left as the leaves are still green and vibrant.
Bed 5: was onions (and popcorn) – will be squash
At the moment this bed has some red strawberry popcorn in as a catch crop after the onion came out. It is currently at the ‘tassels falling onto the silk’ stage and ideally, I’d like to let the popcorn dry on the plant, so this isn’t going anywhere for a long time.
Bed 6 was tomatoes – will be onions
The tomatoes were are complete disaster thanks to a late discovery of the Tomato Potato Psyllid. I made some headway in controlling it, but it was too far gone to really save my plants. There are a couple of plants still in the garden who seem to have them but seem to be coping well enough. They are the Yellow Pear and the Big Beef. I’ll be planting these resilient plants again. But they do look a little sad in the bed by themselves with 18 siblings and their pests evicted weeks ago.
Bed 7: Was peas – will be tomatoes
Right now, there is nothing in here, but the framework is still up. I am hoping today or during the week to take advantage of the much-needed rain we had over the weekend to sow an autumn crop and fill the freezer with fresh peas for winter days. I may even see how far I can take this crop into the winter if we don’t get frosts here. It will be interesting to see.
Bed 8: was brassicas – will be peas
This will continue to be brassicas for a second crop this season over the winter months – I’ll start them off in the nursery bed under a net, protected from the ravages of the cabbage white butterfly. I will have to turf them out early though, if I haven’t eaten them to make way for the peas in the early spring. I’ll re-enrich the bed before putting the new plants in.
Now that wasn’t so painful, and it feels so good to have it sorted out.
Come again soon – tomorrow I’ll have the next instalment of what is going where.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It rained in the night and will rain again today. This is a welcome relief and for once, a day out of the garden is no bad thing, I can still garden inside as I sit here looking out at the bleakness of the day. If it wasn’t for the heat of the day, even though it is still early, I could be lured into the belief that it was the kind of grey winter day I’m planning for. It sets the mood nicely and reminds me of the urgency of the preparation for winter in the way a sunny blue sky can’t.
So, I feel pleased with myself in that I know what is to be done with half of the garden and now I need to make plans for the rest. A good place to start is with what I want to grow. They are the stars of the next season and shouldn’t be lost to the reluctance of the summer crops to finish or the impatient spring crops to begin. The next season is winter and if I’m to get the most out of it then these will be my fruit.
I have made the first step in the right direction and have gathered together the seeds I need. Most were already sitting and waiting in my seed tin. I did have to go out a buy a few things as while I have broccoli and spinach in my selection, the varieties were summer ones and wouldn’t have done as well over the cool of the next season. It is important to have the right seeds to match the conditions to get the best outcome – something good to eat.
The seeds I will be growing this season are:
Peas – in order to catch the last of the warmth of the season before it gets too cold, I will be sowing these sooner rather than later.
Also to catch the lingering warmth but not expect a harvest until the other end of winter I’ll be sowing broad beans and fennel The refreshing crispness and lightness of flavour is so welcome in those early days of spring. The broad beans not so much as I still haven’t made my peace with their flavour, but growing the Hughey variety gives such lovely red flowers in late winter and early spring, so all is forgiven.
My brassicas need topping up. They are a crop that once eaten is pretty much gone – having said that you can eke them out a little longer by allowing side shoots to form instead of pulling out the whole plant at the point of harvest. And I need more kohlrabi. I love kohlrabi, it is so versatile. And I need more broccoli (a winter variety), Romanesco, and cabbage – savoy and red that were so successful this summer and there is still plenty of time to sow more.
I am also going to sow some tatsoi and buk choi in an attempt to take advantage of the cooling weather of autumn as in the rising temperatures of spring, they just bolted before I had the chance to use them. There is still time to sow these. They will also be joined in the leafy green section by some winter spinach as the summer spinach went the same way as the Asian greens and bolted too soon. I didn’t even get to make my ricotta, chicken and spinach stuffed cannelloni with fresh tomato pasta sauce. I still hanker for it even today.
I have the advantage of being able to grow spring onions, carrots, and beetroot all year round and so will continue to succession plant these for a continual supply. You really can’t beat a fresh carrot. Although it is important to check the planting times as some won’t be happy being started in the middle of winter.
I have to confess my summer salad succession planting was a complete disaster. I started off with a whiz and a bang with more lettuce than I knew what to do with but in the heat it soon bolted. It happened so quickly my supply dried up and seedlings from the garden centre took longer than expected to reach edible size. I sowed more seed several times but a moments inattention after weeks of nurturing caused them fry to a crisp in the midday sun. To be honest lettuce doesn’t like the hot weather, but we grow it because that’s when we like to eat it. It prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and autumn so all going well I will have delightful array of salads to see us as far into winter as possible. And hopefully beyond with the lambs lettuce that promises to be a superb cool weather salad ingredient.
Aside from trying to make summer last I am going to embrace the winter comfort and do some succession sowing of swedes and turnips. They are old fashioned crops not often seen and maybe that is for good reason, but we’ll see. They may surprise me in the same way other crops have in the past. Try everything once and the fun things twice.
Oh and not forgetting the onions and garlic that will be going in later on. I absolutely need to grow loads of elephant garlic – if not for the scapes alone – they were soo good!
And now all I have to do is fit these in somewhere. They will have homes to go to, but will it be the bed that was theirs or the one to be theirs? If only this season was as simple as the spring, everything has a predetermined place thanks to my summer crop rotation plan and so no thinking is required – just planting. But I’ll get there and next winter will be a doddle.
Come again soon – I have to figure out who goes where like determining place settings at a dysfunctional family wedding.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
After much deliberation I have a plan… of sorts. Outlined below is the first half. These are the beds where there will be no change really as they aren’t part of the crop rotation, so they are easy enough to deal with. So, this is what I’ll be doing with my permanent beds.
The Annual Herbs
Winter: I will try and keep all of these going as long as possible with succession planting of dill and coriander often to try and keep a continual supply but eventually the end will come.
Spring: At some point over winter will refresh the soil for the new season and sow new herbs from seed. I won’t be growing borage again – for all that it might look pretty in summer drinks, as a plant it is a rather large and self-seeds prolifically and I’m just not that much of a sucker for a pretty face.
The Perennial Herbs
Winter: I’ll give them a prune to control size – the thyme has gone nuts! I need to refresh the parsley with new seedlings as it has gone to seed and I’m still on the lookout for French Tarragon.
Spring: There’s no change really.
The Cutting Flower Garden
Winter: I will remove the spent annuals and refresh the soil. I’ll also remove the garish pinky orange gladioli and replace with something nicer.
Spring: I will look for new flowers to replace annuals and start them from seed.
Winter: Once the fronds turn yellow, I’ll cut them back and apply enriched compost to bed.
Spring: I’m looking forward to enjoying a few 2nd year asparagus spears and then go back to waiting for the real harvest next year.
The Bee Flower Bed
Winter: This very last bed needs to finish having the soil added. Maybe I’ll plant wheat as a cover crop to use as a mulch elsewhere, as most wild flowers don’t like things too nutrient rich so it should work well.
Spring: Then once I harvest the wheat, I just need to sow seed and enjoy.
Winter: Once plants die completely down, I can see what kind of harvest I have – if any and then, replenish the soil and re-sow with more yams in the hope of a better season
Spring: All I need to do in spring is weed, feed and water and repeat all summer long.
The Globe artichokes
Winter: There isn’t a lot to be done aside from side dressing the soil with enriched compost.
Spring: Just wait for the harvest – assuming there will be one – artichoke is delish!
The Jerusalem Artichokes
Winter: This didn’t go well last season. They died before they got started. So, I need to source new tubers. I think I know where I can find some.
Spring: Once I know they are alive, I will need to set up structures to support the tall growing plants.
The Nursery Bed
Winter: It is rather decadent to have a bed set aside to grow seedlings in but over the autumn it will come into its own as I use it as a seed raising bed for the winter crops.
Spring: I should use this bed like a cold frame to help harden plants off.
Winter: This is another set and forget plant and all I need to do is side dress with loads of well-rotted organic material and wait.
Spring: Finally harvest stalks after trying hard to follow the rules last season about not picking any in the first year. All I can say is the wind made me do it – if it was going to loosen them, then it would be a waste not to use them!
Winter: In an ideal world they would be part of the crop rotation – they are sooo big! So, I need to pay careful attention to make sure their soil stays healthy. So, once I harvest the pumpkins, I’ll re-enrich the soil and grow a cover crop – possibly mustard to clean soil. Adding loads of organic material to the soil will also help with moisture retention in the heat of summer.
Spring: I will dig in the cover crop 6 – 8 weeks before I need the beds (which is about 6 – 8 before the last frost – if we get them) or before the cover crop flowers – whichever comes first to allow the organic material to rot down and become incorporated into the soil. In the meantime, I’ll start the new pumpkins from seed under glass.
The Bonus Flower Bed
Winter: This was an unexpected bed in front of the chicken coop and last season I just dumped in my left-over flower seedlings. This time I need to decide what to actually do with it to make a nice display at the end of the garden. I know I want sweet peas so will sow them in winter.
Spring: I will put my master plan for this garden into action and sow seeds and source plants – maybe a rose or two with a nice smell and fat hips.
And in the Fruit beds:
The Raspberries and Boysenberry
Winter: I used to have a raspberry that fruited in summer and autumn but the pruning technique was confusing so when I got the opportunity to get new ones I got 3 summer ones and 3 autumn ones and so all I need to do is cut the autumn ones back to the ground and take the canes out of the summer ones that have already fruited and the same for the boysenberry. Then all they need is a side dress with enriched compost.
Spring: As they grow, I’ll just tie them into the trellis and wait for an abundant crop.
The Currants and 1st Year Strawberries
Winter: The currants will need a prune – damaged and crossed branches and to train it into a nice open shape with good airflow. The strawberries just need a tidy up and remove the runners. These will become next year’s 2-year-old plants. Then I’ll side dress with enriched compost for all the plants in the bed.
Spring: This will entail weeding, feeding and watering and before the season is out there will be gobbling up delicious berries.
The 2nd & 3rd Year Strawberries
Winter: Although technically they aren’t 3 years old yet, I will remove the plants with the 3rd year strawberry sign and replace them with runners to create next year’s 1-year old plants. It might seem harsh, but you have to start somewhere to get a rotation cycle going so you only have 1st, 2nd and 3rd year old plants all performing at their optimum. Then I’ll clean up the 2nd year plants and remove runners. These will become next year’s 3-year olds.
Spring: I’ll weed, feed, water and gorge myself on big fat berries until I can’t take it anymore!
The Blueberries and Gooseberries
Winter: These may need a prune, but they are young and small so probably not. Then I’ll clear the spent cape gooseberries. They self-seed terribly but are good to eat so it is best they stay put from year to year. For the sake of everyone in this bed the soil will get a side dress and a jolly good re-enrich.
Spring: In the hopes of a fabulous harvest I will weed, feed, water and sow new cape gooseberries to go with the ones that will inevitably pop up on their own.
And now I know what I will be doing with half of the garden, I need to take a deep breath and work out what need to do with the other half.
Come again soon – for the next exciting installment of my new season planning.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Ok so I’ve done some thinking…. About how I will tackle the next season. But I’d like to say that this is as convoluted as getting my head around crop rotation in the first place! Once I realised this, I decided I’d do it once and do it right, and then each autumn I can come back here as all the thinking necessary will have been done.
What makes it complicated is several factors. Firstly, which summer crops are lingering about and how long will they remain there, eking out their last ounce of productivity. I could be ruthless and say, “I need the space, out you come!” but that would be at the expense of one last zucchini or tomato. After a season without a garden I am certainly not going to waste a single opportunity for some fresh homegrown goodness, and as we don’t get frost here… who knows when that will be.
The next question is, when do the new proper season crops go in? (you know… the spring ones, because growing during the winter is just killing time really – but you didn’t hear that from me!) The last crops to go in in the spring will be the ones that really need it to be warm outside, the beans, peppers and melons are generally on the slow side.
But some go in rather early. For example, I’m putting my new garlic in in April because I want to avoid the risk of rust. My early garlic last year did really well without any orange dots dusting their tips. The mid-winter ones were hit in the last month of growth and came to nothing. They didn’t even get to bulb up! If I hadn’t have grown the early ones, I would have given up on growing garlic altogether.
This causes a bit of a problem I hadn’t foreseen when I did my crop rotation. I wish I had. Because the garlic follows the carrots and the carrots can go all year round, so now I have to decide do I plant my next successional row in the current carrot bed, and find I hold up the garlic, or do I start them off now in the potato bed – that still has potatoes in it, but only because I haven’t decided how I am going to store them this winter, and so have been digging up meal sized amounts at a time. It feels too early to be rotating crops. But any carrot seeds sown today will be ready in early June. Ok so the spuds need to come out and become the new Carrot and Root Crop bed. Although I’m not sure about the ones I sowed a few weeks back… They may not be ready in time…. and this is a classic example of how every little thing you do in the garden needs to be examined as to how it fits in the big picture. And this is just the garlic, carrot, potato conundrum. Don’t get me started on the pea, brassica, squash problem!
Then I need to decide what I actually want to grow over the winter. So, I poured over every available source of winter crops and decided everything I can and actually want to grow is already on my list and in my seed tin. Some of these are a one hit wonder – grow it once and its gone and others can be successionally planted between now and when the temperatures drop and growth all but ceases. So, I need to figure out how much of each I want to grow for now and for later. Bearing in mind the later could impact the planting of the spring crops. The thought of waiting all winter for something only to have to rip it out because sweetcorn is more exciting.
Once I know how much space I need for what I want, then I need to think about where to put it, taking into consideration the window of opportunity in some of the beds. I also need to decide to keep it in its normal crop rotation slot and put it in the old bed or in the new bed… hence the carrot conundrum. Or do I put it somewhere else where it won’t impact other crop rotation issues, like planting too many brassicas seasonally close together to build up disease in the soil.
Once I figure out where the winter crops will go – fitting them in around the old and the new summer crops, I need to decide what to do with the empty beds. Cover crops are a great idea to get a green manure thing going on so I can enrich the beds naturally and replace the goodies in the soil that was taken by the previous crops. But even this creates time issues. You need to allow 6 – 8 weeks prior to needing the bed for the new crops to ensure all the organic material dug into the soil is well rotted and incorporated into earth.
The other issue to give some thought to with cover crops is – which one? Legume crops like lupin and Lucerne has nitrogen fixing abilities through its root nodules so would be great after a hungry crop like sweetcorn. Other cover crops like oats are more carbon rich and will help to add structure to soil once dug in. Mustard is another great cover crop and is said to be able to heal and restore the soil, especially after a crop that was plagued with disease, like the rust in the late garlic. But you need to look twice before you cross the street with this one – was there a brassica in the bed, or in the one before it or after it as you really don’t want to increase the risk of club root. If you get that you’ll never be able to grow brassicas again!
I also like to grow wheat in some of my spare winter beds to use the straw as a mulch, but it generally isn’t ready for harvest until late September, so it is finding the right spot for it. And for some beds nothing seems to work and there is no time to plant anything, so these ones will probably just end up with a thick layer of manure for the worms to work in, with possibly a bit of help from a fork if they don’t work hard enough in the time allowed.
So now I know what needs thinking about and why, I think I need to get out a piece of paper and a pencil and try and make it all fit together in a logical plan. I’ll let you know what I come up with.
Come again soon – I may need a wee lie down after I figure this out.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Today is hot. There is a gentle breeze coming off the sea, but in the microclimate of my garden, the wind speed monitor is turning lazily without a care in the world. The hot sun beats down on the black sand paths, bouncing the heat from the dark surface, making it impossible to walk across barefoot. The golden brown of the spent grasses on the hillsides and the intense blue of the sky all work together to make the garden seem like a scorching hot zone, where gardening is, for the moment, undesirable. The best times to make the most of the garden are first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and early evening.
Fortunately, there isn’t much to be done in the garden – well nothing of great urgency. The weeds are under control with my weekly routine of staying on top of the little ones. The watering, thanks to the swamp soil I bought with me only needs to be done every 3 – 4 days and can go even longer at a push. The harvest is great, although due to everything going in later than I would have liked isn’t really at that glut status yet, and I suspect the best I will end up with will be in the realms of ‘manageable’. I have great hopes for next season when everything will go into the garden in a timely fashion.
But what I am beginning to see, while I certainly don’t feel it, is the beginning of the end of summer. For example, I harvested my sweetcorn the other day and vacuum sealed it and popped it into the freezer to bring sunshine to a winter day. Sweetcorn is always such a dramatic crop to grow and at its height, it dominates the landscape of the garden as it towers above everything else. However, once the ears are plucked, there is no reason to leave it there and so it makes sense to chop it down. The result is the garden no longer looks the same. There is something missing. Like when someone you’ve always known to wear a moustache suddenly shaves it off. It doesn’t look or feel right.
There are still plenty of crops in the garden and many will be there for sometime to come, like the pumpkins who will be there until the bitter end, as their leaves dry up and wither away. The peppers should keep going until the frost takes them out, and to be honest they are really only just getting started now. Having said that, we don’t get frosts here. I wonder if that means they’ll just keep going. I’m looking forward to testing this one out!
But slowly and surely the crops within the garden will be either eaten and enjoyed like the brassicas and the beetroot or give up the will to live after producing a bountiful harvest for months on end like the cucumbers and zucchini. This inevitable end will not only mark the passing of the season, but create empty beds. But the thing is nature abhors bare soil and will seek to colonise it immediately and the golden seed heads from the grasses on the hill have probably be eyeing up my fertile soil all summer long. I need to do something to protect my beds over the winter.
The first thing I can do is grow more crops. The winter crops aren’t half as exciting or as numerous as the summer selection, however I have the space and can ensure my winter diet need not be stodgy. I need to make a plan. I need to check the seeds I have and see if there are other exciting-ish crops that can fill my beds and make my winter gardening experience delightful.
Realistically it won’t be possible to fill all the beds. There is only so much cabbage one can force ones family to eat. And then there are other things to consider, will a bed filled with winter cabbage, mostly uneaten… run into congestion problems in the spring. Will my poor family be eating cabbage in every meal so their space can be cleared in time to plant the new season peas? Or could I get away with putting a long season crop in a bed destined to be occupied by the peppers that can be planted up to two months later than the peas? This all needs to be considered.
Of the remaining beds, the decision needs to be made – what to do with them. Growing a cover crop is a great way to keep the beds weed free, give winter interest and by digging them in 6 – 8 weeks before needed, the soil can be enriched and ready for the new season. But which bed suits which cover crop? It doesn’t make sense to follow brassicas with mustard, although a popular cover crop, as it can contribute to long term risk of club root disease as it is also a brassica. Not just any old cover crop will do. A legume crop will be ideal for replacing all the goodness the sweetcorn took from the soil creating those tall plants. This needs a bit of thought.
So, while I’m holed up inside on a hot and sunny day, waiting for the temperatures to drop, it makes perfect sense to decide what I’m doing next.
Come again soon – this summer isn’t going to last forever and I have plans to make.
Sarah the Gardener : o)