Time to plant spring bulbs

Just a reminder that April is a good time for planting spring-flowering bulbs in most areas. Gardeners in warmer climates can put bulbs into the vegetable crisper of the fridge for a month’s chilling before planting in May.
Add plenty of compost and some complete organic complete fertiliser to the planting area. Nutrients will be absorbed by the plants during the growing season and withdrawn into the bulbs as the foliage dies back to ensure good flowering the following season, so remember not to remove foliage before it becomes brown. Bulbs are normally planted at a depth twice the width of the bulb. In warm climates, plant suitable bulbs up to twice as deep as indicated on the packet. After planting, mulch the area in early morning when the soil is cooler and keep the planted area just damp until growth appears, then water regularly. For moon planters, Full Moon phase is the best time to plant bulbs. This year (2014) the Full Moon occurs on 15th of April and May.

Scallions or Spring onions

True scallions (Allium fistulosum) that originated in the Far East do not form a bulb. Also known in Australia as spring onions or green onions, these onions are a versatile herb that are used as raw or cooked vegetables In some areas they are sold as shallots, however, true shallots (Allium aggregatum) form a light brown bulb. Scallions are harvested as required as they cannot be stored for long periods. Their pencil-thick stems and hollow green leaves provide a mild flavour used raw in salads, or cooked in many Asian dishes. Chinese herbalists value them for various medicinal properties.
Scallions are easy to grow in all climate zones in Australia, and can be ready to harvest in 8 – 10 weeks. Young seedlings respond well in a compost-rich soil and an application of weak, fermented manure tea watered in several days after transplanting.
Seed of green onions does not keep for long and seed collected for sowing next season will produce a vigorous crop as this seed will have come from plants that have adapted to your local soil and climate conditions. Leave several of your green onion plants to produce seed from their globular flower heads (umbrels).
To save seeds from your spring onions, see Spring onions – saving seed

Excess figs

Brown Turkey Our ‘Brown Turkey’ tree has produced lots of lovely, sweet figs this hot, dry summer – far too many for the two of us to eat. Not wanting to waste any of these delicious fruits, I searched my recipe books for a way to use the excess figs and came across a recipe for fig and ginger conserve. With a slight variation in the method from the original recipe it produces a thick jam that is scrumptious on crackers with some Brie or tasty cheese.

FIG AND GINGER CONSERVE
1 kg ripe figs
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sweet sherry
1 1/2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cups sugar

Gently wash figs, remove stems and chop roughly.
Combine figs, juices, sherry and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, until figs are soft (about 15¬20 minutes).
Stir in sugar over simmering heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring mixture to the boil, reduce heat to simmer and stir continuously to prevent sticking until mixture is quite thick.
Transfer mixture to hot sterilised jars, and seal.

Strawberries – starting new plants

strawbrrs

Vigorous, young strawberry plants produce the best berries. As strawberry cropping slows, plants produce long horizontal stems (runners). Along each runner a small plantlet begins to form and tiny white roots will appear at the base – see photos below. Vigorous runners can produce two or three plantlets along each runner. If you remove mulch from the area under each new plantlet and anchor plantlets to the soil surface by placing a stone on the runner on the parent side of each plantlet, you can produce many new plants for your strawberry patch. Anchoring plantlets in this way allows the crown of the plantlet to sit on the soil surface. (Strawberry crowns will rot if buried.) If your strawberry bed contains plenty of organic matter, all you need to do is give the bed a drink of seaweed extract tea to stimulate root growth and build disease resistance, and keep the soil damp. Otherwise, add a handful of mature compost to the soil surface under each plantlet. Each parent plant will provide nourishment to the new plants until they develop enough roots to grow independently.

strawbrnr1 strawbrnr2

 

 

 

 

 

When plantlets are well established in autumn, the runners connecting them to the parent plant can be cut, and the new plants can be left where they are or transplanted to a new spot.
Tip: While strawberries are still cropping, place a marker beside the plants that produce the best berries and only use the runners from these plants to improve the quality of produce in your strawberry patch.

Heat wave protection

Some parts of Australia are enduring extremely hot weather and, apparently, there is more to come this summer. Periods of intense heat can cause scorching in many gardens.
Although European-based garden texts recommend full sun for most vegetables, where summers are hot and air pollution is low, full sun can result in sunscald. While Australian natives have evolved to restrict loss of water through leaves in hot, dry conditions, very hot plants, especially those that originated in cooler Northern Hemisphere regions – such as most of our vegetables and fruits, lose a lot of water through their leaves in an effort to keep cool, in a similar way to humans perspiring.

A bit of shade
shdeclth Providing some light shade during the hottest part of the day can prevent sunscald on susceptible crops, and, by keeping the plants cooler, reduces their water consumption, an important consideration where water restrictions apply. We use lightweight, knitted shade cloth, supported by arches made from 38 mm irrigation pipe attached to garden stakes or star stakes, or you can use old light-weight curtains or sheets.
Each canopy is positioned to allow morning sun to reach plants, yet not restrict air flow around them. Poor air flow (such as in fully enclosed areas) can produce conditions suitable for some fungal diseases to establish. Instructions for making these can be found in the post Sun and heat protection.
However, in an emergency, any old curtains or pieces of lightweight fabric will do. Tie the corners to garden stakes to provide some relief for garden beds during the hottest part of the day.
If possible, move potted plants to a shaded area of the garden, and group them together. This provides more humidity around the plants, and reduces their water requirements.

Water is essential
wtrbttle.jpg Adequate soil moisture is essential for your vegetable garden to maintain good growth during heat waves. Mulching garden beds is very helpful. A method that we have found very helpful to water mulched beds is to use plastic soft drink and juice bottles to funnel water directly to the root area of susceptible plants. This is a quick and very efficient way to hand water during water restrictions, heat waves or windy weather. Limp tomato seedlings will freshen up in about 10 minutes after watering by this method.
Simply cut off the base of each container, remove the lids and bury the necks of the containers about 8 cm deep near outer edge of the foliage of plants. Large shrubs may require several containers. Pour water into the container until it begins to drain slowly – an indication that you have dampened the soil in the root area.
Seedlings and pot plants are usually the first to suffer during heat waves, and you can find advice on how to revive stressed pot plants here: Pot plant stress

Water for wildlife
Birdbath Don’t forget to provide water for birds and bees that visit your garden. A bird bath, or containers of clean water positioned where cats and dogs can’t reach them will provide relief for the insect-eating birds and the bees that pollinate your crops. Chlorinated pool water is toxic to these helpful creatures. A container of water under shaded foliage will be appreciated by your resident frogs too.

Yellow leaves – potted citrus

irondeficiency

A reader wanted to know what what is causing yellowing of new leaves in her potted, dwarf lemon tree. From the photos she e-mailed, it does look like this tree has an iron deficiency, as yellowing is showing in the young leaves. This can be caused by a number of conditions:


a) potting mix (or soil) that is too alkaline from excess bio-char or calcium in the mix or fertiliser containing a lot of poultry manure
b) cold and wet soil or growing mix
c) if there is a build up of fertiliser salts from synthetic fertilisers, or
d) where there is an excess of potassium from synthetic fertilisers or over-use of seaweed liquid fertiliser.

The first thing to do is check that your pot has ample drainage. Large pots should not sit directly on a hard surface. While smaller pots usually have ample drainage holes around the sides at the base of the pots, large pots often have only one large hole in the base and this can easily become blocked resulting in poor aeration and/or a concentration of fertiliser salts if synthetic fertilisers have been used. Large pots should have pieces of tile placed under the pot to allow a small space between the base of the pot and the verandah or paving. If you notice crusting around the top of the soil line (fertiliser salts), flush the plant with clean water, once drainage has been improved.

The next step is to check the pH of the mix with a test kit. A suitable pH is important to all parts of your garden as the pH in soil or mix controls the availability of nutrients. Test kits are very economical to use and readily available from larger nurseries. If you find that the pH is above 7.2, you could repot the tree using an organic-registered potting mix as organic matter is an important source of iron. However, to do so may result in the loss of this crop of fruit.
The addition of flowers of sulphur (elemental sulphur) is the usual way to reduce pH in soils, but it is easy to overdo this in potted plants. You can apply iron chelates (the form of iron in organic compost) to the mix in the pot at the recommended rate. Citrus trees do not absorb iron chelates well through foliar spraying. Or, you can fertilise the tree with a weak solution of Multicrop’s Ecofish. This is an organic-registered liquid fertiliser that contains soluble iron and has a low pH, qhich will help to reduce the pH in the pot. Ecofish contains iron, manganese, sulphur and zinc (trace elements needed by citrus). Manganese deficiency is also caused by high pH or poorly-drained soil.

Windy weather

Transpiration Garden beds dry out very quickly in windy weather, including those beds protected by mulch. The reason is that plants maintain some humidity around them by drawing water from the soil and releasing it through tiny holes in their leaves, a process known as transpiration. As strong wind constantly removes the moisture, more and more water is drawn from the soil in an effort to maintain humidity. As soil dries out, cells collapse in the soft tissues of plants causing drooping of plants and possibly death of small seedlings.
A way to avoid this problem in windy weather is to use plastic soft drink and juice bottles to funnel water directly to the root area of susceptible plants. This is a quick and very efficient way to hand water during water restrictions or windy weather. Limp tomato seedlings will freshen up in about 10 minutes after watering by this method.

wtrbttle.jpg Simply cut off the base of each container, remove the lids and bury the necks of the containers about 8 cm deep near outer edge of the foliage of plants. Large shrubs may require several containers. Pour water into the container until it begins to drain slowly – an indication that you have dampened the soil in the root area.

For plants that are generally sensitive to wind, filtering the wind rather than blocking it provides better protection for delicate plants. A solid cover or wall causes wind to whirl around on both sides of the screen, but a lattice trellis or product called ‘Windbreak’ on the side of the prevailing wind reduces the impact of the wind, as indicated below.
windbreak

Red-shouldered beetles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The warm, dry weather has enouraged this small native beetle (Monolepta australis) to move into gardens. As their common name suggests, these yellow beetles have a bright red stripe across their shoulders and a red spot on their wings. They arrive in a large swarm and choose one or two stressed plants to feed on. We have noticed that they frequently choose plants with white flowers. Although these beetles are only 6mm long, their sheer numbers enable them to skeletonise small to medium shrubs in a very short time before moving on to another property. Monoleptas are difficult to control because sprays that will kill the beetles will also kill beneficial insects visiting plants at the same time.
If the plant being attacked is not too large, you can get rid of these beetles by using a stick to knock them into a container of soapy water. Because of their fondness for the colour white, many beetles will drown themselves in a white container full of water left near the target shrub. (Don’t add soap to this water or it will kill bees that stop by for a drink.) The only way to protect your garden from attack by these beetles is to keep shrubs watered during dry spells, and keep the garden surface mulched to prevent moisture loss through evaporation.

Lime Sulphur

yellrose1 Agricultural lime or elemental sulphur are recommended to modify soil pH to a range that suits healthy growth of particular plants. A reader recently asked me if “Lime Sulphur” was suitable to use around roses in her organic garden.
‘Lime Sulphur’ or ‘Lime Sulfur’ is a fungicide/pesticide formed from reacting calcium hydroxide (made from adding water to quicklime) with sulphur. It is usually applied when roses are dormant as it can burn foliage.
Hydrated lime is very reactive and should not be used where plants are growing. Lime Sulphur solution is quite alkaline (pH 10.5–11.5) and corrosive. Gloves, goggles, face masks and protective clothing must be worn as the pesticide is very irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory passages. See the Material Safety Data Sheet for this product.

Plants are affected by diseases when they cannot get enough of the elements (including sulphur) they need for a healthy immune system either from inadequate fertiliser, or an unsuitable soil pH (because pH controls the availability of different nutrients to plants), or soil that is either too dry for the roots to absorb the nutrients, or is waterlogged and very acidic.
Although some sources state that Lime Sulphur fulfils requirements of organic gardening groups, the ‘Australian Certified Organic Standard 2010‘ lists Lime Sulphur as a restricted product and notes that it has a potential impact on beneficial insects.
My advice is to maintain a moderate amount of well-made compost in your topsoil, where compost holds all nutrients (including sulphur) close to plant roots; adjust irrigation and soil pH, and provide suitable amounts of complete organic fertiliser. In the meantime, if your plants have a serious fungal problem, I suggest you use Organic Crop Protectants’ organic-registered ‘Eco-fungicide’. It won’t damage your plants or your soil, and it is kind to beneficial insects.

Cabbage butterfly update

cwbdecoy Cabbage white butterflies have had a lovely time with my broccoli this year. There are several conditions that make brassicas very attractive to these pests and the brown cabbage moth. See Cabbage white butterfly.
My problem was that I inadvertently added some very alkaline compost to that area of the garden, (See recent post on Compost pH) and it is taking a while for the soil to get back to a neutral pH.

After spending a week or so removing eggs, squashing tiny caterpillars, or feeding larger ones to the chooks, I remembered a tip someone gave me long ago to deter these pests but have not needed to use before. The tip was to slip the plastic clips that seal loaves of sliced bread onto the edge of some of the Brassica leaves. White seals to deter the C W butterfly and beige ones for cabbage moth. The theory being that the adult butterflies and moths will “think” that eggs are already being laid on these plants and they look for another food source for their larvae.
My broccoli plants are looking healthier already and I have not found any more eggs under the leaves, but I don’t know if the seals are working or the pests are no longer present in our area. Has anyone else tried this tip?