Forget summer, I’m going straight to autumn!

I’m completely “over” this summer. Most of my veggies and herbs are dead, and the rest are barely in survival mode. Many of my flowering shrubs are burned off and spoiled. People all over town are resorting to strange looking structures to try to save their plants.

Constructions saving favourite plants from fierce summer heat.

I’ve decided to face reality, stop wasting water, and pull out the dead and struggling summer plants. My efforts will be better spent preparing the garden for autumn. I’ll allow a couple of garden beds to rest over the winter, and sow them with “green manure” and soil fumigant seeds. I’ve never tried this before, but I’ve done some research, and here’s what I’ve learned.

Oats, barley, wheat, buckwheat, and rye amass high levels of carbon in their foliage. When dug into the soil, the carbon compounds in their foliage feed soil organisms, creating humus. They’re a natural and inexpensive substitute for bulk fertilizers. They improve soil structure and water retention, will stabilise soil and prevent nutrient leaching in heavy rains (if we get that lucky!).

Legumes such as field peas, beans, vetch, clovers and lupins have root nodules that support the bacteria which take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the tissues of their host plant.

Legumes- lupins, clover and vetch

Mustard, a soil fumigant, makes sulphur available in the soil, which reduces fungal diseases and nematodes, to which tomatoes are particularly prone. For more information, see my recent blog post at Top Tomato Tips.


Mustard, the bio-fumigant

It’s important to cut and dig in the green manure crop at, or just before, flowering. Then allow 5 to 6 weeks for the soil micro-organisms to break down the plant tissues. Once the material has broken down you can plant out seedlings or direct sow into the rejuvenated bed.
There are several brands of domestic green manure seed mixes available. Diggers Seeds autumn green manure mix contains pea, oat and vetch seeds. The Seed Collection’s autumn mix contains a multitude of seed types, including buckwheat, millet, vetch, brassica, alfalfa, broad bean, barley, turnip, radish, rye, clover, fenugreek, dill, pea, rocket, mustard and oats. A different mixture of seeds is used if planting a spring green manure crop.

As I’m going to plant green manure into my tomato beds, if I use the Diggers Seeds mix, I will add in mustard seed, to fumigate the soil.
That will only leave two beds for my autumn and winter crops, so I’m going to grow the more expensive vegetables, to get the best bang for my buck out of the reduced garden space. I’m thinking of trying some of the following.

Cauliflower, garlic and turnips
• Garlic- a day length sensitive plant. As the days shorten, garlic initiates vegetative and root growth. Once the days lengthen following the Spring equinox on 21/22 September, bulb formation and flowering is triggered, with the bulbs ready for harvest in early summer.
• Brassicas- apparently seed planted now will “bolt”, so it’s best to plant seedlings of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli or kale, and they will establish themselves before the cooler months.
• Onions- seeds of spring onions, leeks, early white salad onions and shallots. I’ve grown lovely onions here in Mudgee in the past- they do take a very long time to reach the picking stage, but they’re worth the wait.

Beetroot and carrots
• Root vegetables- beetroot, carrot, parsnip, turnip and swedes can be sown in early March. I grew turnips successfully here a few years ago, and discovered the joys of baby turnip and potato mash!

What do you think of my plan? I’d like some feedback from anyone who has an opinion one way or the other!



9 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I really like the idea of rejuvenating the vegetable garden in these difficult times, but I don’t think I can pull up any of my flower beds, especially as they’re made up of perennials, which are managing quite well despite the difficult weather. I have put a lot of water on them though. At the end of last summer I planted seeds in seed trays and they were very slow to reach the stage where they could be planted out, so I think buying seedlings later in the season is a good idea.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Jane! You have the right idea with the perennials- and I’ll be following your example on that, having read your recent blog post on the subject. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Catherine Neill says:

    Hi Jane. Sorry you’ve had so much trouble with your veggies and herbs this summer. Sometimes you have to just let it go and wait for autumn, it’s a climate fact! When you find plants that survive, save their seeds and stick to them! Garlic is always a winner. I’ve had green manure crops with mixed results, and find that generally the more you grow, the better the soil. If I leave a bed empty, then I dig in compost and mulch it well, as the soil seems to remain healthier that way. If left to rest with no cover over the heat of summer, it quickly becomes hydrophobic and takes a lot of work to improve enough to plant out again.
    I recently sent lots of plants and cuttings with friends to the coast, and they duly planted them out and stuck them in etc. Then they had the hottest weather in years, high 40s. They reported back to me that their own coastal gardens had wilted alarmingly, but my plants were all sitting up happily soaking it up. If it doesn’t cope, get rid of it.
    My veggies always did best with an automatic watering system set to twice a day, early morning and early evening.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Catherine- great to hear of your experience and you obviously have things well in hand in your garden. That whole hydrophobic soil issue was new to me until recently and it’s definitely a major problem here. Well done with those cuttings- it is amazing how plants do seem to acclimatise. Thanks for your advice!

  3. janesmudgeegarden says:

    I noticed on your facebook post that someone mentioned planting bulbs, and I remember reading somewhere that bulbs are the ultimate drought-hardy plant. perhaps we should be planting more of them (visit to Lambley catalogue coming up). Of course, Garlic is a bulb too, so an obvious choice for the veggie patch.

  4. My Dream Garden says:

    Hi Jane, that sounds like a very good idea. I’m keen to try growing garlic. A friend told me that garlic grown in harsh conditions develops the best flavour, so it should go well out here!

  5. tonytomeo says:

    My opinion of your plan is irrelevant. You know more about the situation than any of us do. However, I will say that I have done the same with spring vegetables that get cooked by the warmth of summer. The growing season for them is just too short here. I know that is different from your situation with ‘atypical’ heat.

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