We have just had some very weird weather. Six months of intense heat, dryness, devastating bushfires and lately, floods – one years’ worth of rain in ten days – more than 800 mls. All of this plays havoc with our food gardens and precious soil.
HOW: The heat and dryness means that microbial soil activity slows right down – the soil becomes ‘dead’; and then the flooding rains leach all the goodness out of the soil – which just compounds the problem. So let’s do some troubleshooting and get things happening again so that we can do some autumn planting because, as I keep repeating – THE ANSWER LIES IN THE SOIL
- TREE ROOTS Here is my autumn-spring kitchen garden made as a NO-DIG BED. Why here? Because it was a redundant piece of lawn and importantly faced N-W to maximise the winter heat and light. I made this over three years ago and it has got wider and deeper – mainly to compensate for the ever present tree roots that travel 20m from a cassia tree to suck the life out of the soil and drive me crazy. If you want to find out how to make a NO-DIG BED – go to this link. https://growfoodslowfood.com/2011/07/21/no-dig-gardens_20/
In spite of my best efforts to stop these tree roots, by sinking 50cm pieces of hardwood timber into the ground (offcuts from my sons’ arborist business) – the sneaky blighters now travel an extra 10m around the back, under the paving and grow in from behind! A gardeners’ lot is not always a happy one!
2. WEEDS What did I have in this bed? Not too much in the way of weeds – nothing that the chooks wouldn”t be happy with – but I did have some persistent bits of NUT GRASS which, as any gardener will know, is awfully difficult to try and get rid of once it takes a hold. The outbreak in my garden came in with some mulch I bought – grrrrr!
Are you, what I call, a SNATCH AND GRAB weeder – you know the kind that just grabs all the green stuff on top of the soil and DOESN’T DIG THE ROOTS OUT? (I have employed a few of these in my time – not for very long!) If you are, you will pay the price with NUT GRASS because it has runners, coming out from the main roots, with a ‘NUT’ SEED at the end of the runner – hence the name. A new plant will grow from every one of these NUTS. I don”t feed these to the chooks – in case they don’t eat all the nuts and then spread – but drown them in a bucket of water (with a lid on – mozzies!) and when they have totally rotted down I pour the slurry onto the garden and cover it in cardboard and mulch – just to be on the safe side
3. FEEDING THE SOIL to FEED THE PLANTS I noticed that some of the plants in this bed were turning yellow – if they are yellow all over, it’s a sure sign of NITROGEN DEFICIENCY – an essential element for good growth and ‘greenness’ in all plants. However, it is normal for the lower leaves, on most plants, to turn yellow and drop off – especially when coming into winter or when they are reaching the end of their life span if they are annuals – like most vegetables. My basil plants were pale yellow all over – an indication that the recent heavy rains have leached the nitrogen out of the soil. Just to be on the safe side though, my grandson and I did a pH test first – just to make sure there was not an underlying problem with acidity/alkalinity. Acidifying of the soil is common after heavy rain. Having the right pH is a good indicator of anything that you feed the soil will be able to be taken up by the plant roots. What you are aiming for is 6.5-7 – neutral – in this case it was spot on. Go to this link to find out more. https://growfoodslowfood.com/2020/02/02/understanding-soils/
This bed will be ready to rock and roll after a top-dressing of AGED COW MANURE, some HOMEMADE COMPOST and MULCH. I’ll water it in with some COMPOST TEA just to get the MICROBES happening – then start planting.
4. WHAT TO PLANT IN APRIL in the SUBTROPICS My TOP TIP – get local seeds and seedlings.
- Broad Beans
- Brussels sprouts (take eight weeks to mature before picking)
- Bok choy and other Asian greens
- Bush Basil
- Kangkung/water spinach
- Leeks (they take ten weeks from seed to planting out)
- Mustard Greens
- Strawberries (prefer a patch to themselves as they spread)
- Tomato (in sunny, north facing spot)
- Watercress (wet spot)