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Winter Garden Update

Thursday, 02 Jun 11 23°C / 73°F

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We are having beautiful mild early winter days with plenty of sun so I’ve been catching up on a few tasks in the garden of late as well as harvesting plenty of yummy food. Here’s an update:

PICK ‘N’ PLUCK GREENS: I always have mini gardens of salad greens growing. I succession plant these for continual harvest year round. These include rocket, lettuce, mustard greens, baby spinach and other varieties of spinach leaves, sweet potato (grown just for salad leaves), herbs like basil and parsley and tatsoi. These varieties allow me to pick leaves from the outside of the plants rather than removing the whole plant at once. This still leaves them with enough leaves (solar panels!) to photosynthesize and keep growing. Non-hearting varieties of lettuce are best for this. I rotate which ones I pick from so they can recover and keep planting new ones every week or two as required. I also apply a weekly tonic of seaweed, E.M. (effective microbes) and molasses to keep the microbes happy in the soil and boost production. As required, I top up the micro beds with more compost, worm castings and lucerne mulch to keep feeding the plants in addition to the organic fertiliser.

KEEPING NEW PLANT BABIES WARM & SAFE: Now the nights are cooler, I am insulating my little seedlings in their polystyrene box gardens by topping the box with another one the same size. I’m also paying attention to retaining heat in the soil to keep growth happening by adding a ‘doona’ of mulch, snuggling the baby plants up and helping them stay comfortable with the fluctuating temperatures. Putting a ‘lid’ on the babies at night is also effective to regulate temperature. Polystyrene is a wonderful thermal insulator and helps protect against frost as well as keeping any night flying moth mothers from laying their eggs and starting their families on my little babies’ leaves. This is an easy pest control method that I find very effective and costs me nothing but a moment to put the babies to bed by putting their garden lid on each night and removing the next morning. It’s also an effective protection against heavy rain or hail as the lid takes a battering and not my delicate seedlings.

PUMPKIN PATCH: The pumpkins have been sucking up the nutrient dense compost and have been our sweetest yet. I pay a lot of attention to adding a balance of minerals, organic fertiliser, manure, worm castings, molasses and E.M. The soil life devour the food scraps from the bokashi bin in our kitchen within a week quickly turning this into a source of food for the pumpkins. We have plenty growing at various stages of maturity and with winter here and pumpkin soup on the menu, the leeks are also being harvested along with loads of parsley, chillis and spring onions to flavour it up.

WINTER VEGIES IN: I have found it most productive to plant winter vegies at the beginning of the season rather than late because sometimes an early onset of spring means never harvesting the best of the crop as pests start to wake up and get active before harvesting. Have put in cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, leeks, a range of greens, snow peas and sugar snap peas and plenty of beans. Beetroot and carrot root crops are also in. Soon I’ll be making tepees for the climbers and staking our cherry tomatoes. There are several varieties of capsicum still fruiting and cherry tomatoes are doing well so we have some lovely colourful and tasty additions to our salads. The cucumber have finished but cropped extremely well this year due to a lot of love in the garden soil and being planted near the chia, which attracted a hoard of pollinating bees each day.

HARVESTING CHIA: Planted chia from seed about six months ago and it rocketed up to about 3m tall. Bloomed with the most gorgeous purple flowers and now they are drying off and are ready to cut and process. Chia seed is a wonderful source of protein and energy, has a huge array of health benefits and makes our homemade bread rise to a third higher with a much lighter texture. I could go on for ages about this amazing seed. I also grow my own as it is quite expensive to buy – it makes sense to save cents! I am cutting off the dried flowers and putting them all in a box to fully dry, before screening them to obtain the seeds. I use a sieve to do this and it doesn’t take long. More free health food from the garden! Find out more about Chia from Isabell Shipard’s wonderful herb website at http://www.herbsarespecial.com.au/free-herb-information/chia.html.

PASSIONFRUIT VERTICAL GARDEN: Planted 6 passionfruit vines last year and with loads of compost and organic vegie scraps constantly dug into the bed along our fence boundary, they grew into healthy vines quite quickly. Although we lost a lot of flowers earlier in the year due to the rain and lack of bees, they are now heavy with fruit that are ripening and we are awaiting our harvest. If you want to find out how to make the most of vertical space in your garden visit: http://themicrogardener.com/category/vertical-gardens/.

HERBS & FLOWERS: Our herbs (both medicinal and culinary) are always on the go. Aloe vera always comes in handy for burns and skin complaints and is a soothing moisturiser. Perennials seem to love their sunny positions and others like basil, are more needy – with constant tip pruning of flowers required. Some I let go to seed or take cuttings and replant elsewhere. Replanted woody cuttings of Mini Greek basil with great success and would be happy to share how to do this. I am allowing my lemon basil go to seed at the moment to build up my seed bank. This fragrant herb is divine on homemade pizzas and particularly with seafood dishes. Oregano is growing well as a creeping living carpet of ground cover which helps stop weeds. A totally low maintenance herb which I love! The sweet basil plants are about to be harvested to make a big batch of pesto which I will freeze. Saves a lot of money when a small jar is over $4! I can make my own including the parmesan cheese, nuts and olive oil for about 70 cents. Giant parsley has gone nuts and I’m wondering how to use this so thinking I might give a parsley pesto a go and add to soups and winter casseroles. I can then freeze in ice cube trays for easy dispensing.

Pineapple sage has the most stunning red flowers that really brighten up the garden as well as having useful leaves for salads and drinks. Marigolds and nasturtium flowers (and leaves) also are tasty and colourful additions to our salads and garnishes. I’ve found in practice that flowers and flowering herbs are best interplanted around the garden to bring pollinators in where I need them to fertilise my fruiting edibles.

POTTING MIX: Making another batch of potting mix today which is very handy to have on hand ready to go for when I plant my seeds and seedlings on a weekend. Sometimes I have to reinvigorate my micro garden beds as they are so intensively planted that the soil can tire out. You can read how I re-use old potting mix at http://themicrogardener.com/frugal-gardening-re-using-old-potting-mix/. I use a simple recipe of natural low-cost ingredients that provide the right structure and growing medium for any edibles.

Well, that’s enough for now. More hedge plants to put in today and some baby spinach to put in a new micro garden so will touch base again soon for more of an update. If you’d like to follow more of what I do and techniques I use in my garden, visit my blog at www.themicrogardener.com.

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