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!