GROW FOOD slow food Have your garden and eat it too. A practical guide to organic gardening in the sub-tropics with step-by-step instructions and delicious seasonal recipes. Come with me too on some of my travels in Australia, Europe, Asia and beyond.

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

  1. 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.

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.

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 happeningthen start planting.

4. WHAT TO PLANT IN APRIL in the SUBTROPICS My TOP TIP – get local seeds and seedlings.

  • Broccoli
  • Broad Beans
  • Brussels sprouts (take eight weeks to mature before picking)
  • Bok choy and other Asian greens
  • Bush Basil
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard
  • Coriander
  • Garlic
  • Kangkung/water spinach
  • Leeks (they take ten weeks from seed to planting out)
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Onions
  • Parsley
  • Peas
  • Potato
  • Rocket
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries (prefer a patch to themselves as they spread)
  • Tomato (in sunny, north facing spot)
  • Watercress (wet spot)
Flossie, enjoying her spot in the last of the petunias

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