Days are getting slightly longer, warmer and spring is in the air. Assuming that Mother nature is granting you the luxury of a sunny corner, you can hide from the rest of the world indulging yourselves of a warm cup of tea. Stroll through, take notes, prune, apply manure and raise plants from seeds and take cuttings. In early August winter fruits and vegetables hold the catwalk. By late August though, they are ushered away by a faction of frost tender seedlings, an armada of sun loving solanaceae, cucurbitaceae and fabaceae.
On rainy days, be wary of walking or cultivating moist or waterlogged soil. What about trading the gumboots for a pair of walking shoes? Most of the native wattles are in full bloom this time of year and what a spectacle it is.
Look after yourself and hold the fort during those long dreary days, soon your patience will pay off. For the time being stay in low gear, spring is close, but not quite there yet. The danger of frost still weighs heavily.
Gardening is one of the best therapies against the winter blues. Humankind was not designed to spend most of its time indoors. Our wellbeing requires healthy and varied food combined with regular physical exercise. If you think that supplementary vitamins will do the trick, you are a fool. Instead, think seasonal fruits and vegetables. Salads are not restricted to summer time and can be turned into delicious winter salads with roasted vegetables, a little bit of fried bacon, nuts and beans are just as nice. Greens can also be added to any soups, a handfull of spinach here and there. In cold weather, we often look for snacks, gnaw on nuts, as they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Herbal tea satisfies most cravings.
At the mention of physical activities most people raise their eyebrow, esquise a cynical smile on their lips and project themselves at the gym. It is an insane concept where you work hard, sweat for no tangible outcome and you have to pay for it. Why not tend to your garden? The physical exertion required to prepare a new garden bed will suffice to challenge your lung capacity. After days of indoor play, the kids will be dying to get their little hands in the dirt and spend some time out with you. Fruits and vegetables taste better when locally grown and will give you good excuses to knock on your neighbours door to share what is in excess. Whatever your excuse is, and we would love to hear yours, do not pile on the kilos watching television and feeling terrible about yourself, you can improve the troops morale without having to plan for a gym outing. It is all at your doorstep. If you live in an appartment, look around for a communal garden, help an elderly person with their garden and borough a little corner to grow your own, or become an extremist and start planting a nature strip.
Boredom is not in sight, as there is plenty to do in the vegetable patch. You can plant in-situ beetroot, carrots, leeks, lettuce, mint, mustard green, onion, parnsnip, peas, potato, radish, rocket, snow peas, spring onion, strawberries, sunflowers and all hardy herbs. A little trick with growing carrots is to prepare a fine till, to let the weeds germinate and to pull them out before sowing your crop.
Starting sowing tender crop under cover for a late spring planting, capsicum, tomatoes, watermelon, eggplants and so on. However, it is best to hold off for another month if you live in a cold climate. If in doubt, visit www.gardenate.com.au, it tells you what to plant, when and where.
August is THE month of the potato. In the third week of August, start planting your potato seeds, which are really small potatoes. Most gardeners have their own little tricks to grow potatoes. After weeks of intensive research (1h if I did not have the kids with me), 3 methods are worth mentioning.
The first one is the traditional method and is rather labour intensive. Plant your potato seeds in a well prepared garden bed, as the new shoots appear mound up the soil until the depth of the bed is about 50cm, this will increase the root expansion and the number of potatoes you will harvest.
With the second method, you will literally build a potato tower consisting of 3 to 4 star pickets planted in the ground and loosely held together with wire all the way to the top. In the centre place a layer of 15-20cm of hay, 5cm of manure, a hand full of blood and bone, 30cm of hay, place your potato seeds, 30cm of hay, 5cm of manure, a hand full of blood and bone, 30cm of hay, place more potato seeds and so on to the top. Water from the top or have a line of slow drip irrigation whirling in between the different layers.
The third method sounds too good to be true. It does not even matter if the soil is poor and hard, as long as it is well drained. Simply place your potato seeds on the ground 30cm apart and in rows 60cm apart and cover them with at least 50cm of hay . Then water well, sprinkle with blood and bone and add a couple of shovel of manure per sq metre, water well. Weeding prior to the event is not necessary, so they say. I say yes, yes, yes it is bloody necessary, if there is couch and kakuya grass you will have to weed prior to the event. That is all you need to do. A couple of months down the track, lift the corners of the bed and harvest the biggest potatoes. It is a great way of preparing a new garden bed effortlessly, while picking an abundant harvest of potatoes. As the worms work they way through the hay and the manure, you potato bed will be rich and ready to plant with a new crop the following year.
I prefer not to mulch in winter and leave a bare soil to annoy the slugs. Otherwise, they party all year round under a warm carpet of decaying matter. Bare soil reduces the slugs habitat. It also warms the soil up on sunny days, bearing in mind that tomato and capsicum roots favour a warm soil. I do end up with a few weeds, but with the cold weather they grow at snails pace, giving you plenty of time to pull them out.
Transplant shrubs and young trees that are growing in the wrong place. There is still time to plant native tube stock. Doing so in June would have been better though. So if you decide to plant them now, you will have to keep a good eye on them through summer.
Native plants are fantastic, but planting natives that occur naturally in your area is best and finding the ones suited to your terrain an overwhelming victory. Allow me to explain. Australia is a large country and plants growing in Queensland are used to higher rainfall, more so than plants from outback New South Wales for instance. So selecting natives adapted to your area is important. Then find out where they naturally occur: in gullies, on rocky outcrop, in plains and match plants specific growing requirements to your situation. Take a stroll through the bush as close as possible of where you live, take pictures of plants you like and show them to you local nursery, which can help with identification, purchase or find an adequate substitute.
Pruning that was not done in July is still ok now. Cut back Salvia, seaside daisies, catmint, prune geranium and pelargonium. However, roses should have been pruned in July, the first week in August is your last chance. Apply manure to plants that are regularly pruned, a way of giving back what you have stolen from them and keep the healthy. Be careful not to prune shurbs that have already formed their fruit and flower buds, or else it will be a long wait until the following year.
Repot container plants before the growing season starts, earlier in the month with quality potting mix and water well with liquid fertilizer. As soon as the weather warms up, leave your plants alone. In the third week of August, feed them with slow release fertiliser.
Prepare soil for sowing new areas, if you have not done it in June. Dig the soil up to a depth of 15cm, rake well and wait for weeds to germinate. Once most have emerged spray with round up, wait for 3 weeks, rake again to prepare a fine tilt. You are now able to sow your seeds.
You may be as tardy as ever to prepare the soil in your vege patch and to dig new garden beds, but as the saying goes, ‘better later than never’: Early to mid August is your final call. Organic matter is at the boarding gate, ready to take its first class seat. Surprisingly, if If you cannot get hold of some, well I guess slow release fertilizer will have to do for now. Use fertilizer rich in potassium to promote plants health and vigour. Keep the nitrogen rich ones for later in the spring, as they promote plant growth and frost on new shoots can be a rather bad news. If your soil is not alkaline, apply lime to thyme, lavenda, rosemary, sage, salvia, clematis and cherry trees. Follow the pack instructions, about half a handfull (female hand) for small plants and up to 2 large handfulls around more established plants.
If you have not do so in June, and this is bad, turn your automated watering system off. When watering is required, do it in the morning to give time to your plants foliage to dry, thus avoiding the development of fungual diseases.
Do not over water pot plants, as they have a reduced water need and excess water may cause root rot. How will you know if you can or cannot water them? Stick your fingers in there and feel how dry your soil is.
PESTS and DISEASES:
Start watching for signs of Pests and Diseases as the days are getting longer and warmer. If your plant looks particularly sad do not reach for the chemicals quite yet. If you have not done so, apply a generous amount of manure and be patient enough for spring growth. Struggling and/or stressed plants are often attacked by pests and diseases. Your plant may also be an old thing, has done its time and needs to be replaced.
If your instinct urges you to spray chemicals, you can find this piece of information all by yourself.