What to grow in December 2018

December and January are very busy months for most people, and many of you won’t have a lot of time to spare for gardening, or even watering the garden. Setting up some shade for your garden beds now, will provide protection in the hottest part of the day during summer’s hot weather, and prevents sun-scald of fruits and vegetables. A shade cover also reduces the amount of watering you need to do as it traps humidity around the plants and prevents wilting in extreme heat. See: Sun and heat protection.
If you aren’t able to provide some shade, mulching all garden beds will keep soil cooler and prevent moisture evaporation, saving you time from watering.
For those who have a some time to spare this busy month, the following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be sown or planted during December in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2017), and e-book (Booktopia, Dymocks, Kobo and Amazon 2017).

* 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 ZONES
If your area has a wet season in the next few months, it might be wiser to not sow sweet corn this month, as heavy rain will prevent good pollination. Corn of any variety can be sown as a green manure crop, though, because green manure plants are cut down when about knee high.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, silver beet, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cow pea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, Japanese millet, millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, eggplant and pumpkin can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, rock melon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, radish, and watercress can be sown directly into beds. Banana passionfruit, lemongrass, passionfruit and dandelion can be sown or planted out, and banana, mango, pineapple and mint can be planted. Cuttings of mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, sow a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum, tomato and watermelon can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, lemon grass can be sown or planted out, and mango planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, silver beet, dill, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds. Leek and spring onions can be sown as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, millet, Japanese millet, or sorghum.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds. Capsicum, cauliflower, cucumber, eggplant, rock melon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds. Banana passionfruit, passionfruit, dandelion, lemon grass and watercress can be sown or planted. Banana, mango, pineapple and mint can be planted. Cuttings of marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

COOL CLIMATE
In cool climates, there is still time to plant fast-maturing varieties of pumpkin, rockmelon and watermelon. Seed for these can be ordered from Phoenix Seeds in Tasmania (PO Box 207 Snug, Tasmania 7054).
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, silver beet, tatsoi, dill, and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, mung bean, soybean, cereal rye, millet, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leek, lettuce, spring onions, sweet basil and parsley, can be sown or planted our. In warmer areas, NZ spinach and nasturtium can be sown directly into beds, and in colder areas bulb fennel, open-headed Chinese cabbage, and mizuna can be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, as well as suitable varieties of pumpkin, rockmelon and watermelon (see notes at beginning of post). Cauliflower, cucumber and zucchini can be sown or planted out, as well as summer squash in warmer areas only.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, and radish can be sown directly into beds. Dandelion, pyrethrum, sage, and watercress can be sown or planted out, and mint planted. Cuttings of rosemary, thyme, and watercress can be taken.

What to grow in November 2018

Give tomato, capsicum and chilli plants regular deep watering and a light application of complete organic fertiliser as they start to flower. If soil is too dry tomatoes won’t be able to absorb enough calcium for healthy skins and your tomatoes will form black patches on the part opposite the stem (Blossom End Rot).
Garlic should be getting close to maturity now. Slowly reduce irrigation as bases mature. Garlic needs to be harvested in dry weather, so keep an eye on weather predictions. It will dry (or cure) more quickly if you harvest after the Full Moon when sap flow is lower in the foliage part of plants.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted during November in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in the diary section of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, 2012 (with moon planting to the end of 2022).

* 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 CLIMATES
Advice to sow sweet corn in Warm climates this month will apply only to those areas that do not have almost continual rain in January – February. Pollination of corn is poor in wet weather, and the crop could be lost. However, corn of any variety can be sown as a green manure crop, though, because green manure plants are cut down when about knee high.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, suitable lettuce, silver beet, NZ spinach, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as well as a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, pigeon pea, soy bean or millet, Japanese millet, mung bean or sorghum. Parsley, spring onions and sweet and purple basil can be sown or planted out.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, eggplant and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and pumpkin, rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, radish and sweet potato can be sown directly into beds, and banana passionfruit, passionfruit, pawpaw, pineapple, lemongrass and watercress can be sown or planted. Banana suckers can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Sow a green manure crop of adzuki bean, cowpea, lablab, pigeon pea, soybean or millet.
During First Quarter phase, sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, eggplant, tomato and watermelon can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, radish and sweet potato can be sown directly into beds. Banana, passionfruit, pawpaw, pineapple, and lemongrass can be sown or planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, rocket, silver beet, NZ spinach, dill, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of cowpea, mung bean, pigeon pea, soybean, millet, Japanese millet, or sorghum. Leek, spring onions, basil and parsley can be sown or planted out.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and capsicum, cucumber, eggplant, pumpkin, rockmelon, rosella, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot, potato, radish and sweet potato can be sown directly into beds, and banana passionfruit, passionfruit, pawpaw, and watercress can be sown or planted out. Asparagus seedlings, banana suckers, mango, pawpaw, mint and lemongrass can be planted.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, headed and open Chinese cabbage, bulb fennel, grain crops, mizuna, rocket, silver beet, NZ spinach, tatsoi, dill, nasturtium and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of mung bean, soybean, barley, cereal rye, millet or Japanese millet. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, leek, lettuce, parsley, silverbeet, spring onions and chamomile can be sown or planted out.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and cauliflower, cucumber, suitable pumpkin and rockmelon varieties, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown. In warmer areas, capsicum and eggplant can also be sown. In colder areas, sow suitable broccoli varieties.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, carrot and radish can be sown directly into beds. Asparagus seed, chives, oregano, pyrethrum, rosemary, sage, thyme and watercress can be sown or planted out. Blueberry, cherry guava, mint, and evergreen shrubs, trees and vines can be planted. In colder areas, parsnip and lawn seed can be sown.

Banksia rose

This lovely climbing rose is a popular addition to many gardens. The Banksia Rose, (Rosa banksiae) or Lady Banks Rose, originated in China, and is named after the wife of famous botanist Sir Joseph Banks.
An evergreen rose with few, if any, thorns, it is a dense climber to about 6 metres – perfect for covering a fence or pergola. Masses of creamy yellow or white flowers are produced on long canes from spring onwards. The flowers have a delicate fragrance, some say reminiscent of violets.
PLANTING
This vigorous rose needs a well-drained soil in full sun or part shade where it won’t crowd out other plants. First fill the planting hole with water. This is important for two reasons. How quickly the hole drains indicates whether drainage is good or you will need to plant the rose in a raised mound. If the surrounding soil is not damp when you transplant, the water you apply after planting will be drawn away from the root ball into the surrounding dry soil, and the plant will look stressed several days after planting. The addition of compost to the planting hole, and a 5 cm layer of organic mulch to the soil surface, is very beneficial. Keep the mulch one hand width from the stem.
It is a hardy plant but it should be watered weekly for the first couple of months after planting if weather is dry. Then, only water when the top centimetre of soil is dry.
PRUNING
Climbing roses are pruned after flowering. Banksia roses are usually pruned by late summer when the main flowering flush has finished. As these roses flower on last season’s wood, just remove any damaged canes, and shorten the rest of the canes by one third. Hard pruning results in no flowers next spring. Prune new roses during First Quarter phase when sap flow is higher and growth response will be faster.

Citrus gall wasp

Galls or stem swellings on citrus trees need to be removed by pruning by the end of August, as very tiny black wasps emerge from the galls in September and October ready to lay a new batch of eggs in citrus stems. Because these wasps are poor fliers, they tend to reproduce on the same tree unless blown by wind to a new host.
Unlike many other wasps that assist pollination or are pest predators, the citrus gall wasp is a true pest. Eggs are laid in young stems of citrus trees, particularly lemon and grapefruit varieties, and the native finger lime. The larvae remain within the stem, stimulating the growth of cells, and causing a gall or swelling to form on the infested stem by early summer. Trees that are repeatedly attacked will become weaker and produce less fruit.
Originally, only coastal gardens of New South Wales and Queensland were affected, however, this wasp is spreading to other areas of Australia.
Do not add galls to the compost heap. Burn them, or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. It is very likely that the gall in the photo missed last year’s pruning because it is unusual for galls to reach that size in one season. As you can see, the tree in the photo is also affected by scale, and it is more common for citrus gall wasp to attack stressed trees. After pruning, water the tree thoroughly, and feed it with a complete organic fertiliser and as much compost as you can spare. A drink of seaweed extract tea will help it to resist further pest and disease attack.

Purple potatoes

Not only do organic ‘Midnight Purple’ potatoes add interest to a potato salad, purple potatoes are very good for you. Like richly-coloured berries, purple potatoes are full of anthocyanin pigment, an excellent anti-oxidant that we are told is important in maintaining good health. Purple potatoes also contain chlorogenic acid, which is beneficial to the health of our blood vessels and, of course, important fibre. There is a range of purple potatoes now available, with varying degrees of colouring. I particularly like the Midnight Purple ones as they are an intense purple all the way through.

 

If you would like to grow your own, Green Harvest have a good selection of purple potatoes, see: Green Harvest potatoes.

Advice on how to grow potatoes can be found here.
Growing potatoes.
Other ways to grow potatoes.

Leaf-eating ladybird

This ugly little creature is the larva of the leaf-eating ladybird. Stressed plants in prolonged hot, dry conditions attract these pests. The larvae become almost black as they reach pupa stage. Both adults and larvae of leaf-eating ladybirds are particularly fond of the Solanum family (tomato, potato, eggplant) and the melon or squash family where they do a lot of damage to leaves.

 

The adult leaf-eating ladybird has 26 or 28 spots in rows across its wing covers. They are slow moving and drop to the ground when disturbed. In summer, if you see the adults on leaves in your garden, be sure to look under the leaves for their eggs. Remove small leaves containing eggs and, on large leaves, use a knife to scrape the eggs into a container. As I dislike spraying my garden, I just squash the adults and larva with a gloved hand.
Unfortunately, the damage done by these ladybirds and their offspring have resulted in many gardeners spraying other species of ladybirds that are voracious pest predators. Both adults and larvae consume a considerable quantity of pests such as aphids, scale and mites, and one type of ladybird feeds on fungus. Peter Chew and his family have an excellent website, Brisbane Insects and Spiders, where gardeners can easily identify which creatures are beneficial to their gardens and which are pests, and includes a Ladybird Field Guide.
The photo below shows both larva and pupa stages of the 28-spotted ladybird.

Blossom end rot

A common problem affecting otherwise healthy tomato and capsicum plants during heat waves is blossom end rot, where partly formed fruit develops a dark, sunken patch furthest from the stem.
This is caused by calcium deficiency, and is not a disease. Like us, plants need a good supply of calcium to form a strong structure. Hot and very windy days increase transpiration (water loss) from plants in the same way we perspire to keep cool, and calcium can only be absorbed by plants as water-soluble, electrically-charged ions. This problem can also affect zucchini, pumpkin and melon plants.

During heat waves, daily watering rarely solves the problem. A deep watering a couple of times a week is more beneficial. If soil around plants is mulched to keep roots cooler and reduce water loss, an efficient way to water quickly is to place juice or soft drink bottles, neck down, beside plants. See: Watering in drought conditions

Other causes of blossom end rot are:

• Erratic watering
• Soil is too acidic (soil pH less than 6)
• Poor fertilising routine
• Overuse of fertilisers high in nitrogen or potassium, including some seaweed fertilisers
• Rarely, in very alkaline soil where calcium becomes insoluble.

Winter tomatoes

  There is nothing like the taste of vine-ripened tomatoes, and this is how my neighbour, Cheryl, keeps her tomatoes cropping through winter on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. The tomato plants self-seeded in the rose garden in front of her north-facing verandah and, as they grew, she trailed the foliage across the verandah surface. The plants get plenty of sun during the day and the verandah roof keeps the plants warmer at night and protects them from frost. This clever idea has worked very well and Cheryl has so many tomatoes, she has been giving them away.

Tomatoes can also do well during the colder months in pots on a protected north-facing verandah, as the potting mix in black plastic pots stays warmer than soil in garden beds. Fruiting on tomatoes depends on warm air and tomatoes do not need bees for pollination. Don’t forget to water the plants regularly, and give them a light application of complete organic fertiliser as flowers start to form, to ensure a sweet-tasting crop.