Spring is supposedly just around the corner, actually it’s here! By Kathleen McCann

Kathleen McCann
Kathleen McCann – About Regional permaculture guru. By Ian Campbell

Are you set to get into spring and all that it entails – making your garden ready for the next few months of warming conditions? In some gardens on the south coast, plants (as well as animals and birds!) have already begun their explosion of flowers, perfume, and accelerated growth.

What to do?

Well, hopefully you’ve survived the challenge of a very dry winter. Some of the crops I planted were very slow to grow, but since the last good drop of rain a few weeks ago, my garden has started to pump again. I have broccoli, parsley, three types of lettuce and mizuna really taking off, keeping me in greens.

A little slow to start at first, the peas have finally come in and the broadbeans are also flowering and fruiting fast.

Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann
Broadbeans have really responded to our recent rain. By Kathleen McCann

But I’m contemplating what to do to get my beds ready for even more food.

I’ve got some horses that have moved in next door and my chickens are making an excellent pile of poo for me too. So it’s out in the paddock with a couple of big buckets and a shovel for the horse manure then I am raking up the chicken debris under the roost to help my garden along.

Usually, I would put both manures through my composting system – which I did throughout winter – but I am also going to put it straight onto the beds and lightly dig them in. This will give the micro-life in the beds a real boost, plus I am going to add some potash and dolomite and to top it off a healthy dose of mulch.

Choose your mulches wisely, if you are buying from a produce store make sure you enquire where the bales have come from. Organically grown or chemical free is the best to get – or slash your own if you can – as long as seed heads have not appeared, most grasses are good for mulching. I am lashing out and have bought a couple of organic sugar cane bales.

A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann
A mini hot house to protect fragile seedlings from cold late winter nights, with lady bird watching on. By Kathleen McCann

But rice straw, lucerne (horse food grade), wheat and oat straw work well too. Lucerne has more goodies in it because it is a nitrogen fixing plant. I steer away from pea straw as I have heard that it is sprayed with herbicide to make it easier for baling. It’s good to always check.

I’m making up seed trays out of old styrofoam vege boxes (free at the back of most supermarkets – goes straight to landfill otherwise).

My soil mix for planting seeds is two parts old sawdust, one part old manure, one part compost.

I’ve already got tomatoes going and springing into life! I placed a couple of old glass louvres on top to make a simple greenhouse – keeping the moisture and warmth in. As the weather warms overnight I will take the glass off.

Next to go in the boxes with be all my summer lovers – zucchini, cucumber, more lettuce, and maybe some extra different heritage tomatoes. I plant beans, corn, carrot and beetroot straight into the soil.

This year I am also experimenting with more subtropical plants – two types of sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and choko.

My garden - in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann
My garden – in need of a spring tidy up. By Kathleen McCann

I did plant some yacon one year, but it doesn’t agree with my belly! (A bit like Jerusalem artichoke). I’ve also planted more tamarillo and passionfruit as my older plants are on their way out now after 4 years of growth – both plants usually only last 5 years.

So get out there and get started!

Fruit trees have already started flowering, the soil is receptive for more planting after the good rain we’ve had so it’s an ideal time to get into it!

Happy playing and planting,

Kathleen

Words and pictures by Kathleen McCann – permaculturist, artist, good chick and number 1 worker at Luscious Landscapes.

Veges galore – What is the secret to an abundant garden?

It’s all about the base, ’bout the base, ’bout the base…the garden bed base that is. If you want to grow luscious healthy, strong and abundant vegetables, herbs and flowers, you are going to need good quality soil.

As well as good soils, a vegetable bed needs aeration, sunshine, water and lots and lots of food – if you want to have a continual abundance in plant life.

The soil itself can be made up of different types of sediments: clay, sand, loam or decomposed rock – a combo of all four is the best – lucky you if you have it!

Most of us in Australia have either a clay issue or a sand issue, but you can bring it to life with the following:

  • Broken down manure – cow, sheep, chicken, horse, alpaca
  • Some sort of organic mulch – like straw, broken down sawdust, seedless cut grass, shredded leaves
  • Compost – made at home if possible, the bagged stuff you see in stores isn’t that fantastic, so I’d steer clear of it if possible
  • Mineral enhancers – rock dust, potassium sulphate, dolomite
  • Moisture – not too wet, not too dry – consistency in moisture is the key
  • Worms and other good little helpers for decomposition

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned commercial fertilisers.

You can use them – blood and bone, pelleted chicken manure with additional minerals, etc, but these are commercial, processed animal products from who knows where and are often advertised as ‘organic’ but that can simply mean that the contents of the bag came from something that was once living.

You should look for the Australian organic label when buying processed fertiliser and always read the list of ingredients and mineral components on the back of the pack – some products contain elements of heavy metals.

The trick to continual good vege bed health and excellent cropping is regular top-ups as you harvest.

Most people don’t pull everything up in their home gardens at once, it’s usually a continual picking regime for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As you start to make space in your beds, you want to keep planting – add some more goodies if you can. Remember what you take out in mass (in terms of the size of your veg) you really should put that and a bit more back in as compost, manure and mulch. Aerate with a fork first if needed and then add the goodies.

Remember what you take out in mass (in terms of the size of your veg) you really should put that and a bit more back in as compost, manure and mulch. Aerate with a fork first if needed and then add the goodies.

Aerating works better than turning the sod over – biologists have discovered different microbes and small invertebrates live at different levels in the soil profile. Turning the sod means they are in the wrong place and can die, leaving your soil without little helpers for breaking down nutrients for the plants to eat.

I also suggest that you don’t put the same type of plant back into the same spot, a practice that helps to reduce the risk of disease. Follow a root crop with a leafy crop, follow a leafy crop with a heading crop, follow a heading crop with a vine crop. For instance, carrot then lettuce then broccoli then pea. All while keeping an eye on the seasons and what works best when!

I started off my vegetable garden with the no-dig method, mainly because my soils are clay-based and were rock-hard. From that start I have just kept up the layering, adding more and more good stuff and 4 years later I have a bed that sits around 15cms above the path. Fifteen to 20cms is a good depth for most vegetables.

Next bit is – should I go seedlings or seeds?

There are guidelines on most packaged seed. Root crops do better when sown direct into your bed, so do corn, peas, beans and cucumbers. Other seeds should be sprouted and raised in boxes or pots before planting out. Getting tomatoes off to a good start in a greenhouse or glass-lidded box is a good idea and some people start them off as early as June or July ready to be planted out when the frost has (finally) gone.

You could be like me and not worry about it and just chuck stuff (seeds) around randomly and hope for the best – it’s haphazard, works 70% – 90% of the time, and it does confuse the pests a bit too.

You can let plants self-seed and run wild through your garden, but sometimes you run the risk of inbreeding, stunted growth and bitter tasting veg as the plant returns to a wilder form.

I save the healthiest, slow to bolt plants for seed. Remember though that the one lettuce head can produce 60,000 seeds, yes you read right 60,000! Non-hybrid and heirloom plants are the best to collect seeds from.

Seedlings raised at home are generally strong and healthy. Commercially grown plants are often forced into growth to look good for the consumer and have little resistance to pests and disease.

Locally grown seedlings from your farmers market are generally better quality than from a supermarket or hardware store.

I always follow a planting out of seedlings with seaweed concentrate or worm juice, just to give the plants a feed to get over the shock of transplant. If a plant looks poorly, I will follow-up with regular liquid feeds every few days, till I see an improvement – if it doesn’t improve after 2 weeks, pull it out and start again.

Watering consistently will also help in vegetable abundance – early morning or late afternoons are the best times through the warmer months.

Splitting fruit and bolting to seed are an indicator that you are not watering regularly enough. Never be cuaght out with the notion that just because it has rained your vege garden will be okay – you should check the soil after rain to see just how far the rain penetrated.

Happy spring planting!