What to grow in March 2017

  Australia has experienced the hottest summer on record and, in NSW and Queensland, we have a repeat of the end of summer’s very wet weather. Avoid gardening in water-logged soil, as it will only damage the soil structure and make it easier to spread soil-borne diseases.
Nutrient deficiencies often appear on citrus trees in early autumn, particularly magnesium (yellowing in older leaves) or iron (yellowing starts in young leaves) deficiencies, and these deficiencies will affect the quality of your crop. To correct any problems, see: Pale citrus leaves
Passionfruit vines that have produced a good summer crop will benefit from a light application of complete organic fertiliser tucked under the outer edges of the mulch.
It is also time to select your spring-flowering bulbs for planting through autumn.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during March in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009, 2012, also now available as an e-book).

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list at any time this month, although you may find germination is weaker when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATESouth of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, bulb fennel, cabbage, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, radicchio, rocket, silver beet (pre-soak seed), tatsoi, chamomile, coriander, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of strawberry or white clover, Japanese millet, oats, field pea or triticale. Celery, leek, spring onion, sweet basil and parsley can be sown or transplanted.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, bush and climbing beans and peas can be sown directly into beds, and tomato and zucchini and can be sown or transplanted.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds, and cauliflower, early season onion, swede turnip, turnip, lemon balm, lemon grass, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, thyme and watercress can be sown or transplanted. Globe artichoke suckers, strawberries, avocado, citrus, olive and pineapple can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of Japanese millet, lablab, oats or triticale. Cabbage, leek, silver beet (pre-soak seed), spring onion and chamomile can be sown or transplanted.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, and bush and climbing beans can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, cucumber, egg plant, pumpkin, rock melon, summer squash, sweet corn, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or transplanted.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip and radish can be sown directly into beds, and lemon grass and oregano can be sown or transplanted. Citrus, pineapple and strawberries can be planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, bulb fennel, cabbage, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, radicchio, rocket, silver beet (pre-soak seed), tatsoi and coriander can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of red or strawberry clover, faba bean, field pea, barley, cereal rye, oats, triticale or wheat. Leek, silver beet , spring onion, chamomile and parsley can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, celery and chickpea can also be sown. In colder areas, also sow English spinach and sow Brussels sprouts directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, cauliflower can be sown directly into beds, and broccoli can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, peas can also be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, radish, swede turnip and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and early season onion, globe artichoke, lemon balm, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and watercress can be sown or transplanted. Globe artichoke suckers, strawberries, avocado, citrus and olive can be planted. In warmer areas, parsnip, mango, and pineapple and oregano can also be sown or planted.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, headed and open Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, English spinach and tatsoi can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of clover, faba bean, field pea, cereal rye, oats, triticale or wheat. Leek and spring onion can be sown or transplanted. In warmer areas, cabbage, radicchio, coriander and rocket can also be sown.
During First Quarter phase, suitable broccoli can be sown or transplanted in warmer areas.
During Full Moon phase, radish, swede turnip, turnip and garlic can be sown directly into beds, and strawberries, mint and watercress planted.

What to grow in February 2017

Extreme weather conditions may continue this month, with heavy rain in some areas and fierce heat in others. Gardening efforts may be limited to collecting the fruits of your labour and taking advantage of cooler parts of the day to prepare beds for gardening in more pleasant conditions. If hot weather is predicted to continue, delay sowing lettuce until later this month or it is likely to run to seed.
If you have to net your sweet corn or popcorn crop to protect it from birds, wind flow is reduced and, as corn is wind-pollinated, you may have to hand-pollinate a small crop. Instructions can be found here:
Improving corn pollination.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be sown or planted during February in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, leek, sweet and purple basil can be sown or planted out, also celery, spring onions, in late February. Cabbage and silver beet (pre-soak seed), can be sown directly into beds (also lettuce in late February), as well as a green manure crop of millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Capsicum, cucumber, tomato and zucchini can be sown or planted out, also broccoli, cauliflower and spring onions in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato (Brisbane and areas south), radish, swede turnip and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress, avocado, banana, mango, and pineapple can be planted out.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, or Japanese millet can be sown.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum and tomato can be sown or planted out in suitable areas. Sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, radicchio and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of cowpea (early), mung bean, barley, Japanese millet, oats, or triticale (also cereal rye late in February). Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out (also bulb fennel and celery in late February). Sweet basil can be also sown in warmer areas.
During First Quarter phase, bush beans can be sown directly into beds (also sweet corn in warmer areas), and broccoli, cauliflower and summer squash can be sown or planted out. Peas can be sown in colder areas in late February.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds. Dandelion, mint and watercress can be sown or planted out. Also avocado, potato, mango, and pineapple can be planted in warmer areas (- best time late February or early March this year).

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or oats (plus barley late in February). Leek, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed), spring onions and parsley can be sown in punnets or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow or plant out Brussels sprouts (early), and radicchio. In colder areas, also sow or plant out open Chinese cabbage, mizuna and tatsoi, plus English spinach in late February.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli can be sown. In warmer areas, cauliflower and peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, radish, swede turnip, and turnip can be sown directly into beds, and watercress can be sown or planted out. In warmer areas, also sow parsnip directly into beds. In colder areas, also sow garlic directly into beds.

Heat wave help

recycled juice bottle

 

With high temperatures predicted for many areas of mainland Australia this week, I would like to remind you that you can find tips on helping your garden to survive extremely hot temperatures here: Heat wave protection

What to grow in January 2017

Wishing all our readers a very happy, healthy 2017.
lettuce.jpg At a time when we enjoy freshly picked lettuce in our salads, Aussie temperatures can be too high for lettuce to germinate. Keep packets of lettuce seed in a zip-lock bag in the vegetable crisper until ready for sowing. Choose heat-tolerant varieties of this fast-growing vegetable and, to prevent them running to seed in hot weather, keep them well-watered and provide shade for them through the hottest part of the day. Or, try growing them in a large pot of the south side of the house where temperatures are slightly lower.
Before the Full Moon in January is a good time for gardeners in temperate and cool climates to get broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower started. These varieties need warm weather and rich soil for early growth and cold weather to mature well. Sow seed in punnets, tubes or small yoghurt containers (with lots of holes added to the base). Keep them in a protected area for planting out when 7-10 cm high.

The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during January in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2012), and e-book (Booki.sh 2012).

Moon planters may like to use Aussie Organic Gardening’s Moon Planting Calendar for 2017. Click on the link on the right side of the home page.
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list for your climate zone at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, silver beet (pre-soak seed), and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cow pea, lablab, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Leek can be sown in late January.
During First Quarter phase, eggplant, rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, and watermelon can be sown, also cucumber in late January. Bush and climbing beans, and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass, mango, pineapple and watercress can be sown or planted out. Beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, potato and radish can be sown directly into beds, also seed potatoes in Brisbane and areas south.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum can be sown in suitable areas. Sweet corn can also be sown as a green manure crop, and slashed when it is knee high.
During First Quarter phase, sweet corn can be sown directly into beds where heavy rains will not damage pollination.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass and mango can be sown or planted out.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek and spring onions can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, suitable lettuce, and silver beet (pre-soak seed) can be sown directly into beds, (also nasturtium and sunflower in warmer areas), as well as a green manure crop of cow pea, millet, mung bean, pigeon pea, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Cauliflower, cucumber and leek can be sown or planted out, also rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon, and zucchini in warmer areas.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip and radish can be sown directly into beds, and lemon grass and watercress can be sown or planted out. Pineapple, potato and mango can also be sown or planted out in warmer areas.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, spring onions, sweet basil and parsley can be sown or planted out. Cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, silver beet (pre-soak seed) and dwarf sunflower can be sown direct, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean or millet. In colder areas, bulb fennel, open Chinese cabbage, dill, mizuna, and tatsoi can also be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini can be sown or planted out, and bush and climbing beans can be sown directly into beds (also peas in colder areas).
During Full Moon phase, beetroot (pre-soak seed), carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds, and dandelion, mint, sage, and watercress sown or planted out (also pyrethrum in colder areas).

Aubergine (eggplant)

eggplantwht Have you ever wondered why they were called eggplants? This variety is the reason. The small white fruit, which look like hens’ eggs hanging on a bush, has a delicious flavour but has been very difficult to find in recent years and I was delighted to finally find some seeds. Yates has ‘White Star’ and there is a variety called ‘Easter Egg’ available from an Australian grower on eBay.

Aubergines (Solanum melangena) are a member of the tomato family and require a similar position, soil preparation, and soil pH. However, they require warmer conditions for germination than tomatoes and are usually sown 1 cm deep in small pots in a warm, protected position. The small, white variety produces a compact bush and can be grown in beds or pots. Aubergines need staking because the stems are brittle, and they appreciate a light application of poultry-based, complete fertiliser as buds form. Regular harvesting increases production. Cut fruit from the plant with a 2 cm stem when the skin is firm and shiny.

Gall wasp reminder

gallwasp For gardeners on the east coast – don’t forget that it is a legal requirement in some areas to remove galls from citrus trees by the end of August. Gall wasps lay eggs in main stems or fruit stalks. This forms a swelling and gall wasp larvae weaken trees. As trees may be forming blossoms, delay in pruning may reduce next year’s crop. If you haven’t done so, check citrus trees (especially grapefruit and lemons) this week and prune off any galls before adult wasps emerge to lay eggs in new shoots. Burn affected prunings or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. See: Citrus gall wasp

Frost damage

frostonplants Last night was unusually cold, and we had frost where we had not had any for many years. If plants in your garden have been damaged by frost, please resist the temptation to prune back the damaged parts. They may look unattractive, but there are probably more frosty nights to come, and the damaged parts will protect the plants from further damage. Pruning damaged plants is best done in spring after the weather warms.
If you have plants that are frost intolerant, you can protect these with a temporary cover. See: Cold and frost protection.
Seedlings are very sensitive to frost. You can provide protection for these by making a simple cloche. See: Cloche for seedlings.

Compost – bins and tips

Compost Bins

Compost can be made in a variety of containers. The examples below show a double bin made from recycled timber, a double bin made from recycled, heavy gauge bird wire covered with knitted polypropylene shadecloth, and a commercial single bin. Double or triple bins are best as you can turn the compost from one bin into the next, with the third bin used to start a new heap.
dblcompost compostbins2
Compost tumblers (below, right) do the work of aerating the mixture. They are suitable for composting small quantities of fairly soft ingredients quickly, for people who are not able to turn compost easily, but the mixture may not generate enough heat to kill diseases.
SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503 SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503
Homemade containers don’t require skilled carpentry. What goes into the compost container is more important than how it looks. The main points to remember in deciding on the size and site of your compost container are:

  • When ingredients form one cubic metre (i.e. 1 m. x 1 m. x 1 m.), aerobic bacteria will generate enough heat to kill diseases and weed seeds.
  • Open-base bins that are in contact with soil allow earthworms to enter the mixture (when it has cooled down) and provide worm castings to the mixture while they help complete the composting process.
  • Recommendations to position compost bins in full sun do not apply to many parts of Australia, as too much heat can kill off composting organisms. A shaded spot is ideal.
  • Compost bins need a cover to prevent the ingredients becoming sodden in heavy rain.

Some Composting Tips

If you are new to compost making, don’t be intimidated by statements of the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in compost making. Most recommended ingredients contain a mixture of both. With a little practice, you will quickly learn to identify and correct any imbalances.

  • Chop up tough items using shears, a shredder, or a sharp spade (spread items on soil or grass first to prevent jolting). This assists faster decomposition as bacteria work on the surfaces of organic waste. The more surfaces you can provide – the faster they can work.
  • The secret to making compost quickly to turn it regularly to keep it aerated, and to keep it damp as aerobic bacteria that commence the process require nitrogen, air and moisture to process the carbon.
  • The secret to fast composting is regular turning and mixing of the ingredients. Weekly turning while the ingredients are generating heat will produce mature compost very quickly. As the compost breaks down, the mass is reduced.
  • You don’t have to wait until you have a cubic metre of ingredients – turning and mixing ingredients will get the bacteria working.
  • If the pile looks grey or contains ants – it is too dry. Turn and mix the ingredients, while adding enough water to dampen the mixture.
  • Don’t be concerned about slaters in your compost heap. They feed on semi-decomposed organic matter.
  • If the pile is black with an unpleasant smell – it is over-wet. Air has been forced out, and anaerobic composting has begun. Turn and mix the ingredients, while dusting with agricultural lime every 15 cm, and adding some straw to the mix. Protect pile from rain.
  • If the pile seems inactive – it may need more nitrogen. Turn and mix the ingredients, while adding some manure every 20 cm. If manures are unavailable, you can substitute a generous sprinkling of poultry-based, organic-allowed fertiliser.
  • Your compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbly, with a pleasant earthy smell and ingredients, apart from pieces of egg shell, are no longer recognisable. A 5 cm layer added to topsoil provides your garden with all the minerals that plants, animals and humans need for good health.

Compost materials

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Compost is made by combining organic waste than provides nitrogen and/or carbon. The advice to make compost from waste that is green (provides nitrogen) and brown (provides carbon) is a bit confusing when manure contains a lot of nitrogen, but most of it is brown. When suitable dampened materials are combined in a heap that has contact with the soil, heat is generated and millions of aerobic bacteria get to work transforming the fuel into a compost-making factory.

Good Fuels

  • Manure from animals that eat grass (lots of nitrogen)
  • Chicken manure (lots of nitrogen)
  • Weeds without seed heads (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Lawn cuttings that have wilted (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Green prunings – shredded (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Raw vegetables and fruit – chopped for fast break down (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Uncooked kitchen waste – including tea bags and coffee grounds (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Old plants – chopped for fast break down (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Bedding straw for animals that eat grass or seeds (lots of nitrogen and carbon)
  • Straw and hay (lots of carbon)
  • Cardboard boxes and egg cartons – shredded (carbon)
  • Undyed wool, feathers and hair (nitrogen and carbon)

In Small Amounts

  • Newspaper and waste paper – separate sheets crumpled or roughly shredded (carbon)
  • Woody prunings – shredded (carbon)
  • Wood shavings – (very slow to break down and tie up a lot of nitrogen)
  • Seaweed – well-washed (helps factory work faster)
  • Herbs – comfrey, yarrow and chamomile (help factory work faster)
  • Egg shells – crumbled (keep compost smelling sweet and earthy)

Do Not Add

  • Plastic or foil containers, wrapping or disposable nappies
  • Fruit or vegetables that have been attacked by fruit fly or codling moth (larvae can pupate in factory)
  • Plants with diseases
  • Cat, dog or human faeces* (these can spread diseases through compost)
  • Rats or mice* (can spread diseases through compost)
  • Grey water (upsets pH balance and slows process)
  • Soil – makes compost heavy and harder to turn (amount clinging to weed roots is sufficient)
  • Earthworms – the initial heat will kill them. Earthworms know when to move into a compost factory.
  • Synthetic fertilisers (delays process and deters earthworms)

If you only have small quantities of organic waste to recycle, a worm farm would be a better solution. See Compost Worm Farm.
For information on how compost makes garden soil healthy, see Compost.
** Cat and dog faeces, and vermin, can be composted anaerobically in a small pit or container, but this compost should not be added to garden beds.

Compost

compostbins2 Composting recycles organic waste into a product that makes garden soil healthy. Mature compost is a dark brown, sweet-smelling material that can be added to topsoil.
There are two ways to make compost – aerobic, which requires aeration during the process, and anaerobic, which is a slow, rather smelly process. Mature aerobic compost can be produced in about 6–8 weeks in most areas of Australia.

How does compost make garden soil healthy?

  • Compost keeps soil more moisture-retentive, yet better-drained.
  • Compost provides food for earthworms that increase the depth of fertile topsoil by leaving digested food along their deep tunnels.
  • Compost provides food and a home for the many helpful bacteria and fungi that help protect soil from soil-borne diseases.
  • Well made compost has a pH of 6.5 – where all plant nutrients are fully available, and the perfect pH for the majority of plants.
  • Compost buffers plant roots from an unsuitable pH in surrounding soil.
  • It also insulates plant roots from temperature extremes so that soil stays cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Compost contains all the minerals that plants, animals and humans need for good health, most of the soil’s nitrogen, plus lots of humus that forms the most stable part of recycled organic waste.
  • Humus and the minerals that plants need both carry a weak electrical charge. The electric charge holds the plant food minerals close to plant roots and prevents them from washing away in heavy rain.
  • Humus is able to control the release of trace elements needed in tiny amounts, and block absorption of poisonous metals in soil so that they do not end up in our food.
  • Humus stores carbon in soil for very long periods of time.
  • Humus, in compost, provides a habitat for a soil community of billions of beneficial bacteria and fungi that perform important functions.
  • Some bacteria species in humus make a ‘glue’ that is able to hold soil particles in a way that improves the flow of water and air through soil. This improves the structure of soil so that plant roots grow more easily. Strong roots help plants to resist the effects of drought and storms.
  • Mycorrhiza fungi in humus stick like hairs to the roots of plants, helping them absorb water and nutrients in exchange for sugars produced by plants during photosynthesis. Some 95% of perennial plants rely on mycorrhiza for healthy growth.