Limit frost damage

Some gardeners may not be sure whether they are in a Temperate or Cool climate and, where frosts occur, the position of a property within a neighbourhood (the microclimate) can affect how much frost may affect your garden. The diagram below indicates where frost is more likely to affect parts of your garden.
The position of garden beds can also have a marked effect on the amount of plant damage that frosts cause. Cold air, like water, always flows downwards; anything that blocks the downward flow will result in frost damage in that area. Buildings, solid fences and shrubbery, and flat land at the bottom of a slope can all allow cold air to pool, and plants in these areas are more likely to be damaged by frost.

frostareas

In temperate climates areas that can be affected by frost, gardeners may find it helpful to use the guide for ‘cool climates’ in autumn and winter and use the ‘temperate climates’ guide in spring and summer because the world’s climate is changing and we have recently experienced harsher winters and hotter summers. It appears that the standard climate zones may have to be adjusted slightly in future. If unsure about what to plant at a particular time of year, a reputable local nursery will have suitable plants in stock and be able to advise you on what is best for your local microclimate. Be cautious though when buying seedlings from Australia-wide nursery chains, as some tend to send the same seedlings to stores in all climate zones.

By the way, advice to orient beds in a north/south direction to allow plants to receive ample sunlight comes from northern hemisphere gardening practices and only applies to very cool climates in Australia. Most areas of Australia get more than enough sun to ripen crops. In fact, plants can benefit from some relief from harsh afternoon sun in warmer climates during summer months. It is more important to position beds across any slope in the ground to ensure that all plants in a bed have equal access to water. Avoid placing vegetable garden beds under trees, as trees are very competitive for both moisture and nutrients.

All about moon planting


Several new readers have asked me about ‘moon planting’, and some are confused by the differences between a biodynamic method (leaf days, flower days etc.) and the traditional moon planting methods used in this blog.
I am re-posting the explanation on how moon planting works because the original was posted several years ago, and may not be easy for readers to find. – You can find the current moon phase and advice for what to sow in the “Aussie Organic Gardening Moon Phase” panel on the right hand side of my blog home page. 

Traditional Moon Planting is an ancient agricultural practice that has been used by farmers for several thousand years, as far back as the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians. It is based on the synodic period of the Moon from one New Moon to the next, an average period of 29.5 days.
Over time, farmers observed that all aspects of farming were affected by the interaction of the gravitational forces between the Sun, the Moon and Earth. These are the same gravitational forces that affect ocean tides around the world. Because the Moon is closer to Earth, its effects are more noticeable. Scientists have more recently confirmed that variations in sap flow, biological functions in plants, and subtle changes in Earth’s electro-magnetic fields, correspond to the Moon’s gravitational pull. After comparing the various methods of Moon Planting over ten years, I came to the conclusion that the traditional method, although the simplest, works best for us and is still used by many farmers and gardeners around the world. The basic rules, or principles, are described below.

The Lunation Cycle
Each lunar month the Moon passes through four phases – New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon and Last Quarter. The number of days between each change of phase can vary from 6 3/4 to 8, so to make it easier for you, the current moon phase and its duration is shown on the right side of this page. Please note that Moon phases are given in Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), which applies to gardeners in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. Gardeners in South Australia and Northern Territory should subtract half an hour from the given times, and gardeners in Western Australia should subtract 2 hours. New Zealand gardeners should add 2 hours to the given times. Adjustments will have to be made for Daylight Saving when it applies.

1. Avoid sowing, planting or taking cuttings from 12 hours before to 12 hours after the exact change of moon phase.
The twelve hours immediately before and after the exact change of each phase is not a good time for sowing, planting, or taking cuttings. We have found that the increase or decrease of unfavourable energy is gradual and it will not have an obvious effect if you run an hour or so into this period when you have a lot of sowing or planting to do. While this is not a good period for sowing or planting, this time can be used to prepare beds, compost heaps, apply mulch, etc.

THE WAXING MOON
During the New Moon and First Quarter phases, the Moon is waxing or increasing in light. In these two phases, sap flow increases in the above ground parts of plants, and these are the most suitable phases for sowing and transplanting annuals (and biennials). Flowering annuals, grains, melons and spring onions do well if planted in either phase but, generally, New Moon phase is best for leafy annuals and First Quarter is best for fruiting annuals. Liquid fertilisers will take effect more quickly if applied during the waxing phases. Shrubs and trees can be pruned in First Quarter phase when you want to produce new growth quickly, such as pruning spring-flowering shrubs or summer pruning of roses. When pruned while sap flow is high, sap is quickly diverted to the lateral shoots. When sap flow is low, regrowth is slower and dieback is more likely to occur in some plants. The same principle applies to lawns. If you want to encourage fast regrowth, mow during the waxing phases. First Quarter phase is also good for grafting and budding because these require a high sap flow for successful results.

2. NEW MOON PHASE – the best time to sow or transplant leafy annuals (we eat the leaf or stem), and flowering annuals. Also sow annual grasses, green manures, and apply liquid fertilisers. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant fruiting annuals.

3. FIRST QUARTER PHASE – the best time to sow or transplant fruiting and flowering annuals (we eat the fruit or seed bearing part), and flowering annuals and grains. Also sow annual grasses, and green manures and apply liquid fertilisers. Prune to encourage growth and deadhead roses and flowering annuals. Carry out grafting and budding. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant leafy annuals (we eat the leaf or stem).

THE WANING MOON
During the Full Moon and Last Quarter phases the Moon wanes or decreases in light and sap flow in plants is more concentrated in the root area. As sap flow gradually slows during these two phases, Full Moon phase is best for sowing and planting because germination is lower, and regrowth slower, during Last Quarter phase. Because sap flow is lower in the foliage part of plants, crops or seed harvested for storage or drying are less likely to rot if harvested during the Moon’s waning period.
Full Moon phase is best for the sowing and planting of both root crops and perennials (plants that live longer than two years). All trees, shrubs, vines (including fruit trees and vines), globe artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, herbaceous perennials, bulbs and lawn grasses are perennials. The reason that these plants are planted (or sown) in the root vegetable phase is that perennials have a different type of root system to leafy and flowering annuals. Roots of perennial plants have, like root vegetables and garlic, the ability to store carbohydrates and nutrients through periods of dormancy, and this type of root system is important for the longevity of perennials.
Because Full Moon phase favours root growth, this is also an excellent phase for taking cuttings, or for aerial layering, because root growth must form to support new foliage growth. This is also the best phase for dividing plants for the same reason.
Prune dormant plants during Full Moon phase. Last Quarter phase is best for cutting back rampant shrubs and vines, – regrowth will be less vigorous.

4. FULL MOON PHASE – the best time to sow or plant out root crops and all fruiting and decorative perennials, including fruit trees. Also sow lawns or lay turf, harvest for storage, take cuttings, divide plants, prune dormant plants and apply solid fertilisers. Mow lawns to slow growth.

5. LAST QUARTER PHASE – no sowing or planting during this phase. This is a good phase for attending to your soil; weeding, applying mulch, making compost, preparing manure teas, applying solid fertilisers and digging or ploughing, if necessary Prune to restrain growth, and mow lawns to slow growth during this phase.

Fertile and Barren Days
These are a further refinement that has been added to moon planting principles through the ages. Traditional moon planting divides the zodiacal belt into 12 equal 30° segments, each named after the constellation closest to it. Although scientists have tended the disregard this part of moon planting, I believe it is related to the subtle changes in the Earth’s electro-magnetic field because seeds and plants can only absorb the minerals they need for growth as water-soluble, electrically-charged ions. Each 30° segment has been given a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ rating, and these ratings used in traditional moon planting vary from those used in astrology.
Fertile days, i.e. when the Moon is in the fertile (negative) signs of Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces, or the semi-fertile days of Taurus, Libra and Capricorn, are considered to be of extra help for sowing, grafting, taking cuttings, pruning to encourage growth and planting bare-rooted perennials. Barren days, i.e. when the Moon is in the barren (positive) signs of Aries, Leo or Sagittarius, or the semi-barren signs Gemini, Virgo or Aquarius are considered to be of extra help for weeding or harvesting crops for storage. If digging is unavoidable outside Last Quarter phase, it is best to do it on barren days.

Watering your garden
Some moon planting guides will tell you to only water on barren days, while other guides will tell you to only water on fertile days. After keeping rain records for many years, I’ve noticed that Mother Nature does not comply with either of these rules. The truth is that you should water your plants when they need it.

Moon Planting Guides
A list of fertile and barren days is outside the scope of this post but a  lot more information on moon phases, eclipses and best gardening days to the end of 2017 can be found in my book, Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting – Revised Edition 2012 (with moon planting 2017–2022), so that Australian and New Zealand gardeners can plan ahead. This practical handbook contains a full moon planting guide advising what to do when in all sections of your garden each month for all Australian and New Zealand climate zones. Or, you can purchase a colour-coded moon planting calendar by clicking on the links on the right hand side of the Aussie Organic Gardening home page.

Pot plant stress

Forecasters are warning of more hot days to come. During heat waves, pot plants become stressed more quickly than plants in garden beds, and your pot plants may not getting as much water as you think.
If potting mix dries out, the first sign may be complete collapse of a plant. If you water dry potting mix in the normal way with a hose or watering can, your plants may not be getting as much water as you think. This is because potting mix shrinks slightly when it dries, leaving a narrow gap between the mix and the pot. When you water, most of it runs into the gap and out through the drainage holes, leaving the mix around the roots still dry. Seedling punnets and smaller pots can be thoroughly watered by immersing the entire pot in a bucket half filled with water, or use a laundry tub if a lot of pots need reviving.
Water should come over the top of the pot. Leave the pot in the water until bubbles cease to rise. Short term immersion won’t hurt the plants. Then lift the pot allowing it to drain into the bucket or tub. This method of watering also works very well when your water supply for plants is strictly limited.
For pots too large to be immersed in a container, fill some large soft drink or juice containers and insert 2 or 3 neck down into the potting mix. Provide support if necessary and allow them to empty slowly into the mix. Re-fill the bottles and repeat watering until water is being drawn into the mix very slowly. If heat is likely to continue for some time, place some mulch or stones on the surface of the potting mix to slow evaporation.
Potting mix can become incredibly hot when pots are in full sun. During extreme heat conditions move pot plants to a cooler spot, including under trees. Grouping them together helps retain humidity around the plants and reduces water loss through the leaves.

Passionfruit – hand pollination

Passionfruit vines rely on bees to pollinate their flowers because they have a large gap between the pollen-bearing male parts of the flower and the female part. Only when the female part of each flower receives passionfruit pollen can the flower form a fruit. If you don’t have a lot of bees around your passionfruit vine, or if you have a young vine with few flowers, you can pollinate the flowers by hand.

All you need is a small, soft watercolour paintbrush for the job, and this short video by “woodyfriendron” demonstrates the practice beautifully:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eicamZk1qis

Root knot nematodes

Nematodes that damage roots in the vege patch, are minute worm-like creatures, also known as eelworms. The female nematodes penetrate plant roots causing lumps to form on the roots, which affect the water-carrying ability of the roots. (These are not to be confused with the nitrogen–fixing lumps that form on the roots of legumes, see Fixing nitrogen). Root knot nematodes are more likely to occur in warm climates in soils that are low in organic matter, especially where a proper crop rotation has not been practiced.

Treatment
Each female nematode can lay up to 2000 eggs, and numbers can multiply quickly. Give affected plants a foliar feed of seaweed extract tea. Seaweed contains plenty of potassium that helps to strengthen cell walls and improves plants’ resistance to pests and promotes root growth. Remove all weeds. Some weeds are hosts to these pests and can transfer viruses to plants.
Affected plants must not be allowed to become water-stressed. Badly affected plants will have to be removed. Make sure the soil is damp so that soil clings to the roots. Place plants (with attached soil) into a garbage bag. Seal the bag, leave in hot sun for a few days, then place it in the garbage. Do not compost these plants. Once the crop is harvested, proceed with methods for prevention (see below).

Prevention
Allow 3 years between growing any member of the tomato/potato or melon/cucumber families in the same patch of soil. During this break, grow a green manure that is a ‘bio-fumigant’. ‘Bio-fumigants are green manures that release a gas that is toxic to nematodes. They are grown to knee height and chopped up and mixed through top soil, then covered with mulch. Green Harvest have seed for BQ Mulch (sown in cooler months) and cowpea (sown in warmer months) that control nematodes. Indian or brown mustard (Brassica juncea) and non-GM rapeseed (Brassica napus) are also effective bio-fumigants. Forget marigolds, they are more effective against northern hemisphere nematodes. During the 3 year break, brassicas or corn can be grown in the treated bed, if you have limited garden space.
When preparing beds, add a 5 cm layer of organic compost to the bed surface and cover it with organic mulch. Beneficial organisms in compost are pest nematode predators, and mulch keeps compost damp to allow microorganisms to work on restoring soil to health.

Greenpatch Organic Seeds

With some women it’s shoes or handbags, but with me it’s seeds, so I have to practice restraint when I go to Greenpatch Organic Seeds, as I did recently. Greenpatch supply a wide range of open-pollinated, organic seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and grains, grasses and sprouts. You may have seen their seeds for sale at nurseries. Organic, open-pollinated seeds are not hybrids or GM seeds, and that means you will be able to save seeds from your crop for next season. Open-pollinated vegetable seed varieties are grown for flavour and vigour rather than shelf life.

Many of the seeds are produced at Greenpatch, but where cross-pollination can be a problem, other varieties are produced by local growers. I like buying organic seed that is produced in Australia because the seed comes from plants that have adapted to Australian soils and seasons. Previously, I had found that imported seed did not perform particularly well, and I achieved better results from seed I saved from those plants. We do save seeds from some of our crops but saving seed from all our vegetables and herbs can tie up garden beds for long periods while the seed matures, and being able to buy locally-produced seed makes life much easier.

Greenpatch also has a huge selection of fruiting plants, herbs, cottage garden and aquatic plants. Neville and Sophia have been producing seeds and plants on their farm for 20 years, and you can order seeds and plants by mail but, as Greenpatch is just off the freeway at Taree and only a short drive from our farm, I enjoy paying a visit and browsing through their stock for plants to add to our collection. You can see their catalogue at Greenpatch Organic Seeds.

Spring bulb reminder

When spring bulbs have finished flowering, don’t forget to allow the foliage to die back before lifting bulbs. It is important to leave the foliage because the yellowing and fading occurs as the plants withdraw nutrients from the leaves to store in the bulbs for next season’s growth. Depriving spring bulbs of this essential part of their growth cycle will result in poor, or no, flowering next spring.

Avoid digging near fruit trees

A reader has found that the soil around his fruit trees has become quite hard and has asked should he dig around the trees to loosen the soil.

It is not a good idea to dig around fruit trees as citrus, for example, have very shallow roots. Digging around these and stone fruit trees will damage roots and quite often cause suckers to grow from the root stock. Avocado trees deeply resent any root disturbance.

Hard soil can be a problem in extreme weather conditions, particularly if the soil has not been covered with mulch. If the area is weedy, cut off the weeds at ground level rather than pulling, or digging, them out. Plants obtain most of their energy for growth from light. As you are going to deprive them of light with this method, you can leave the roots to break down and add organic matter to the topsoil.
If grass has covered the area, cut it short and, with a sharp edged spade, cut through the runners 20 cm outside the ‘drip line’ of the tree, which is the area of soil directly below the outside edge of the foliage canopy of the tree – so called because it is where rain drips off the foliage canopy and the feeder roots of trees lie in this area.
Apply a light application of organic complete fertiliser to the soil surface in the drip line area and give the tree a thorough watering, but not close to the trunk. Immediately after watering, cover the soil surface beneath the tree out to the drip line with a 3 cm layer of compost, keeping the compost at least a hands width from the trunk. Compost contains microorganisms (and often earthworms) that will help break down the weed roots and make the soil more friable.
Then cover the compost with a 5 cm layer of organic mulch to keep compost damp and deter weed growth, keeping the mulch well clear of the trunk and extending it to 20 cm beyond the drip line of the tree. Don’t use compost as mulch, as it will dry out and you will lose most of its benefits.

Kid’s vege patch

Primary school children have opportunities to learn about sustainable gardening at school, including the Organic School Gardens program provided free to all Australian school students by Biological Farmers of Australia, but younger children can also have a lot of fun learning to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Although they have a shorter attention span, very young children learn quickly when copying adults especially when they have a small patch of soil or some large pots for their own organic garden. International research has shown that children are more likely to enjoy eating vegetables that they have grown themselves, or helped to grow.

Vegetables that mature quickly or are miniatures are appealing to small children. Small lettuces such as heat-tolerant ‘Little Gem’ or ‘Mesclun Mixed’ and cherry tomatoes: “Tiny Tim’, ‘Tommy Toe’ or ‘Yellow Cherry Cocktail’ are fast-maturing. ‘Butter Bush’, ‘Provider’ and ‘Strike’ produce small pods of beans with good flavour. ‘Little Finger’ carrots mature quickly and ‘Bolthardy’, “Bull’s Blood’ or ‘Golden’ beetroot harvested as baby beets are rich in health-protecting antioxidants. ‘Golden Nugget’ is a small bush-type pumpkin and children enjoy digging for ‘chat’ potatoes in summer.

In cooler weather, ‘Di Cicco’ broccoli, ‘Snowball’ cauliflower, ‘Sugarsnap’ and ‘Oregan Snow’ peas, milder flavoured ‘Bloomsdale’ English spinach and baby leeks harvested when 2 cm thick can all be appealing to children.
Strawberries, melons and corn all take longer to mature but are popular with children. ‘Minnesota Midget’ rockmelon and ‘Sugarbaby’ watermelon are fast-maturing; ‘Golden Bantam’ sweet corn and ‘Golf Ball’ or ‘Ontos’ popcorn usually produce multiple cobs per plant. Corn is a whole grain, and organic popcorn is a popular and healthy snack food for kids. (See Growing popcorn)
Seed varieties mentioned above can by obtained from Eden Seeds or Greenpatch Organic Seeds.

Pumpkin problems

Karen has had disappointing results from her Queensland Blue pumpkin vine which produced pumpkins with very little flesh and she wants to know how to avoid problems in future.

Karen, if the seeds are soft and immature, you may have picked the pumpkins before the ‘fruit’ has fully developed, and pumpkins are fruits although we call them vegetables. However, if the seeds are mature, a common cause of this problem is hunger, and this can occur in several different ways even though you may have thought that the plant was well fertilised.

If soil is not damp, nutrients can’t be absorbed by the roots. If soil pH is too acidic or alkaline plants will go hungry because the soil pH controls which nutrients are available to plants, and pumpkins need a soil pH of 5.5-7 for good growth. Pumpkins vines can produce an enormous amount of foliage – and it is a huge task for the roots at the base of the vine to provide moisture and nutrients through the whole plant. When pumpkin vines are allowed to wander over soft earth, they will usually put down extra roots along the vines to assist with water and nutrient absorption.

You can encourage the formation of extra roots, see Assisting root growth.

Pumpkin flowers are pollinated by bees and occasionally a flower or flowers can be pollinated by pollen from a cattle pumpkin, which usually results in fruits that are tough and pretty tasteless. (If your neighbours are growing cattle pumpkins, you may have to hand-pollinate pumpkin flowers).

I’d advise you not to save any seeds from pumpkins that have little flesh or tough flesh as any vines grown from these seeds will probably produce poor quality crops. Only use seed from your best home produce or purchase seeds from a reputable supplier.

Pumpkins thrive on compost, so make compost through the winter ready for next season’s vines. Turning the heap a couple of times a week will keep you warm, keep the heap aerated, and speed up the composting process. If you live in a cool climate, put some black plastic over the top of the heap to help absorb heat. Use the compost to get your pumpkin vine off to a flying start in a different spot in your garden when soil warms in spring.