I can’t put it off any longer. While the days are full of heat, the kind we haven’t seen all summer, and the air is thick with the sounds of cicadas, finally able to bask in the kind of temperatures they prefer and the skies endlessly blue, this morning when I woke up, I found myself reaching for my slippers. It wasn’t cold as in brr cold, but that easy comfort of waking up and walking across the floor in bare feet was sullied by a coolness that offended my early morning senses. Autumn is knocking at the door, demanding a turn, with no regard whatsoever to summers late appearance.
Even if we were to get an extended summer, I can’t really put off starting my cool season crops now so I don’t miss the window of opportunity as plants have their own sense of timing and often it is different to what I’d like it to be. It is quite humbling to remember that the plants are the ones in charge of things, as the gardener I am just doing their bidding, and enabling them to grow. It’s a bit like kids really, we brought them into this place, and given them what they need, fed them, trained them and then eventually their personality and their way of being is what results in their fruitfulness. I’m feeling a little sentimental today, as today I find myself with my first teenager, who is confident, determined and happy and ready for the next season in his life. It doesn’t seem that long ago he needed all the nurturing of a tiny seedling in the warmth of a greenhouse. Where does the time go?
It seems to race by and each day that passes is making me painfully aware winter will be hot on the heels of this impatient to get started autumn, like my teenage child, so I need to prepare the ground and sow seeds so the winter will be a fruitful and bountiful place. So I studied my plan of the garden and tried to make sense of it all to get the most out of it.
Fifteen beds are immediately eliminated from the winter garden planning as they have permanent crops in them. That is just under half of them which makes things a lot less daunting. Things like strawberries, rhubarb, artichoke, asparagus, the berries and the herbs. They will need things done to them over the next few months but the beds aren’t available for planting and won’t lie barren over the coming seasons.
Most of the things I want to grow over the next few months and can actually grow fall into the brassica family and I’ll pop them into the existing brassica bed. They should all be done and dusted by the time I need the bed again in the spring for all my odds and sods and exciting crops. It isn’t ideal to plant brassicas in the same place year after year, to avoid the build up of club root disease in the soil. However, in my crop rotation cycle, there won’t be brassicas again in this bed for seven years so two crops in one year shouldn’t be too much of a problem. The kinds of brassicas I’ll grow are pretty much the standard stuff – the things we’ll actually eat. After all these years of growing, the weird and the wonderful start to lose their allure as the excitement gained in the growing is often lost in the kitchen, when you are overloaded with things you aren’t entirely sure what to do with and hate to admit you don’t actually like the flavour. I won’t be growing tomatillos again.
So in the brassica bed I’ll plant cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, turnips, kohlrabi and to take advantage of the cooling weather some radish. Having said that I am going to try a Wombok cabbage which is similar to a Napa Cabbage to see what all the fuss is about.
The bed the odds and sods were in over the summer, still has peanuts, okra, eggplant and tomatillo thriving there. They can take their time and the first frost will probably take care of them. I’m in no hurry for the bed as the onion overflow will take their place when the time is right. This is generally my leeks and shallots and varieties I want to try that don’t fit in the main onion bed. I like to try to grow enough onions to last the year.
Meanwhile the leeks in the old onion overflow bed can stay put so we can eat them fresh throughout the winter. The beans will go in there next season but they do best sown directly in soil about 18°C, so we have plenty of time to eat the leeks. I’ll pop in some more spring onions too as they are so versatile for that mild onion flavour.
In the past I’ve sown autumn sowings of carrots in their summer bed, but then find I’ve no room in the spring for the salad that can be started earlier in the season and after a winter of comfort food are often craved for their crunch. So this season I have started sowing the successive rows in where they will be next year – where the potatoes were. Well technically still are as I’ve popped in a sneaky couple of rows hoping for a late crop. I’ll put some fennel and beetroot in here too as they normally cohabitate with the carrots with no problems at all and grow well over our mild winter months. The hardy varieties of salad will stay in their summer beds as they are such a quick crop on the grand scheme of things they won’t hold up the new season brassicas at all.
The pea bed had some broccoli and painted mountain corn in it over the summer months and the broccoli is ready to harvest the corn isn’t far away so the timing is perfect to sow some autumn peas. This is their old bed and their new bed will be where the zucchini and butternut squash is still doing their thing. And call me a sucker, but I may pop in a few broad beans.
The last seeds to consider are the onions and garlic, which generally go in mid winter and will go in where the peppers and tomatoes currently are. All going well they will last until the frost, so there isn’t much time to do anything fancy with the beds to prepare them other than spread them with some well-rotted manure that my lovely farmer friend brings me in his tractor. The rotted manure will also go in the squash bed as the peas that will go in there next season get an early start and so I wouldn’t want to hold them up with a crop. I’ll just lay it across the top and let the worms do the work.
I’m still undecided about what to do with the pea bed once it’s finished – whether I use more manure to enrich the bed to prepare for the following seasons tomatoes or sow mustard to clean the soil, just in case there are problems lurking there. The old carrot bed is a tough one too – as the parsnips smack bang in the middle get eaten over the winter and so it is jolly inconvenient to have them there in terms of future prep. I may just have to keep this bed weed free and enrich it in the spring.
Where hungry plants like the corn, leafy greens and cucumber are now – I’ll plant lupin… having said that the silverbeet lasts all winter… hmmm, not sure now. It’ll give something back ready for the next crop when I dig it in before it flowers.
And finally I’ll put wheat in the mixed bed and pumpkin bed as these are in ground and not raised so it will help to hold their place against the encroaching weeds, as wheat is allopathic and will deter other things from growing there and it will give me some mulch for the rest of the garden in the summer. I’ll also pop some wheat where the zucchini and squash will go as they don’t need the bed until it is really warm in the spring so there will be plenty of time to get a good crop.
So now what I need to do is create a nursery bed – possibly in an unused corner of the leek bed as it is far too hot to grow seedlings in the greenhouse and wait patiently for summer to come to an end so I can put these plans in place.
Come again soon – there are seeds to sow and plenty to harvest.
Sarah the Gardener : o)