October has heralded some glorious spring weather. We have had the best rain for nearly a year, mild temperatures and no frosts for weeks. Our frost covering have been lifted for a month and now we have started to remove the cloche frames. Even if we get a late frost now, it is unlikely to be hard one and the plantings we have in the garden should not be affected.
While the temperatures have been mild and without frost for a few weeks the soil is fairly cool. In our garden this week the soil temperature has just reached 16°. This is still quite cool for the germination of the majority of summer seeds. See attached file
Beans will germinate at 16° but pumpkins, chilies, peppers, eggplants… all require warmer soil temps for good germination. The summer seeds we started in the cold frame and under plastic particularly the cucumbers and pumpkins are ready to plant out and consequently bed preparation is our current highest priority. Our early October potato plantings are just starting to germinate and we will continue potato plantings up to early December. We will be moving the hot house within the next week and well established plantings of tomato, peppers, eggplants, chili and basil seedlings will be in the ground, in the hot house by the end of November.
This time of year is also when the garlic (early season Turbans) mature. Bulb development commences around 8 weeks prior to harvest. The only way to check whether bulb development has commenced is to move the dirt away from the stem down to the roots. If you do this gently you will not cause any damage to the plant. The appearance of the scape indicates that harvest is only 2 to 3 weeks away. If you would like to know more about when you garlic is ready to harvest you can purchase our mini guide.
We are looking forward to the first garlic of the season.
I hope you enjoy the photos of our garden at the moment
Reconsidering watering practices in a drought
While we have had some lovely misty rains in the past few weeks, this does not mean that the drought is over. Our total rainfall so far this year is still less than 50% of our average annual rainfall.
The two most water conserving watering methods are hand watering and drip irrigation systems.
First, your soil needs to be well worked as this aerates the soil allowing for good water penetration and it is necessary to use a watering can with a very broad rose a or a rose type attachment for the hose. This type of hose attachment allows the water to fall gently on the garden bed, packing down the soil in the bed less, and the plants are not hit and damaged by a hard water spray. If you choose to point the fan downward, stand as far away from the plants as possible and/or keep the water pressure adjusted to a low point to minimize soil compaction and water damage.
The advantage of hand watering over drip irrigation is that dust, grime, and insects are washed rom plant leaves and it also creates a deliciously moist atmosphere conducive to good plant growth and thriving microbial life. With hand watering, water needs can be tailored for each crop. Every plant receives the specific amount of water it needs which results in better growing conditions and more productive harvests. Freshly seeded beds are watered lightly and more often, established beds are watered more deeply. Some crops are watered daily, others every second or third day, or as the weather dictates.
To determine how much water to give a bed each day, strive for a 3 to 15-second “shiny.” When you first begin to water, a shiny layer of excess water will appear on top of the soil. If you stop watering immediately, the shiny layer will disappear quickly. You should water until the shiny layer remains for 3 to 15 seconds after you have stopped watering. The actual time involved will differ depending on your soil’s texture. The more clayey the texture, the longer the time will be. A newly prepared bed with good texture and structure will probably have enough water when a 3-second shiny is reached. A month-old bed (which has compacted somewhat due to the watering process) may require a 5-to 8-second shiny, and beds 2 to 3 months old may require more than that. Note: It is important to realize that we are watering the soil, so that it may thrive as a living sponge cake. We are not watering the plants. The soil in turn then “waters” the plants. Keeping the soil alive will help retain water and minimize the water consumed.
When you water is also an important aspect. Watering is best when the heat of the day first subsides. This is about 2 hours before sunset during the summer and earlier during the winter. Also, plants do a significant amount of their growing at night, and this ensures they will have plenty of water to do so. If you water early in the morning, much of the water will be lost in evaporation caused by the sun and wind, and the watering will be less effective. By watering in the late afternoon, the water can percolate into the soil for 12 hours or more before the sun and wind reappear in strength. When they do, the bed will have a good reservoir of water from which the plants can draw before their next watering.
(reference: How to Grow More Vegetables, John Jeavons)
Drip-irrigation systems are efficient because the water is delivered drop by drop over a long period of time, and this provides plant roots time to absorb waterborne nutrients gradually and continuously.
Our current watering practices at Wynlen House is a mixture of both hand watering and drip irrigation. We are hand watering beds when they are first planted for about 6 to 8 weeks depending on plant growth. Once plants have grown to where they are covering the bed and little soil can be seen we are using our drip irrigation system.
In this picture we are still hand watering this bed, however we have the drip irrigation system in place for when the plants are larger
The rain over the last 3 weeks has been very gratefully received and a welcome relief for everyone.
This time of year can be a confusing time in the garden with wonderfully warm, heading towards summer days, followed by light the fire and shivering back into winter. While the warm days make us think that we can start planting for summer, the soil temperatures are still quite cool and summer seed germination is still some time off. However while it is too early to plant summer seeds into the garden it is a great time to get summer plantings started as seedlings in a protected spot, hot house, cold frame or the window sill.
This variation in temperatures can also cause vegies that have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter to suddenly burst into flowering. While this is not ideal it does not mean that these plants are inedible. While the flower stem can become woody, this usually takes a few weeks. Leafy greens that have suddenly shot up can still be harvested for their leaves, turnips and some other root vegetables can still be eaten for 2 to 3 weeks after the emergence of the the flower stalk. The only exception to this is with leeks. As soon as the flower stalk starts to emerge the leek is no longer edible as the flower stalk creates a very hard core within the leek.
It also an exciting time in the garden as the winter dormancy is over and everything is bursting with the joy of life. The fruit trees are blossoming, and the hum of bees fills the air. Finches, wrens and willy wagtails flit and sing in the burgeoning garden growth. And of course hand in hand with all this wonderful garden growth are the weeds. Just as the vegies have been sitting quietly in the garden through winter so have the weeds. Managing the weeds needs to be a priority as these too are bursting into flower and seed.
Our favourite weeding tool for this heavy weed infestation of early spring is the stirrup hoe. But even with good hand tools, this year (the year of the nettle at Wynlen House) with the huge nettle infestation we are having to do much weeding by hand.
On a final note I came across this really interesting article in the Guardian about drought in our dry continent. Well worth the read.
Bronwyn Richards has cared for animals and has been growing vegetables successfully all her adult life. She is principle gardener for Wynlen House Farm