The last week has seen the coolest weather for this winter spfar, -6; -7; -5 and soil temps have also dropped. Soil temps in my garden are hovering around 6 degrees. These low soil temperatures really limit seed germination. Soil temperature is probably the most important factor affecting seed germination, and seedling growth. Finding information about soil temperatures at which vegetable seeds will grow can sometimes be difficult and often not consistent. This is because there are different terms for classifying soil temps for germination purposes. There is the minimum temperature required for seed growth, an optimum temperature, and a realistic temperature. The minimum temperature is reasonably self explanatory. It is technically the minimum temperature at which germination is possible. On the other hand, the optimum soil temp is technically the perfect temperature for germination. However in between is the realistic temperature. This is somewhere between the minimum and the optimum temps at which germination and healthy growth can be achieved. This happy medium is suitable for beginning plant growth with the assumption that optimum temperatures will occur as the season progresses.
So for example, peas sown in soils with a temperature of 15 degrees take about nine days to germinate, while peas sown in soil with a temperature of 4 degrees about 36 days to germinate. By this time most of us will have given up. The other thing that can happen with this very long germination time is that seed often gets damaged and is far more likely to become diseased. However a soil temperature of around 10 degrees (the realistic soil temp) will see a much faster and better germination rate of about 70% and strong early growth.
To ensure success at this time of year it is much better to plant seedlings at this time of year while the soil temps are very cold. As the soil temperatures warm up by late winter to early spring much better seed germination rates will be achieved.
Don’t forget Wynlen House Urban Micro Farm is running its winter gardening workshop where you can learn all sorts of practical information about chemical free all season produce gardening particularly in a cold climate.
The long winter evenings are well and truly here. The days are becoming so short. All the animals are gathering at the gates by 4.00pm demanding to be fed and to be let into their housing. By 5.30pm it’s the same for me. Time for snuggling up by the fire, dinner, watching cooking shows and reading.
I find filling in the long winter evenings is always a challenge. One of my occupations is to scour through recipe books. The other is re reading gardening books and exploring new “small farm” thinking through the internet. At this time of the year when we start the winter pruning program I re-visit my fruit tree production books. One of my standard refer to texts is Fruit for Australian Gardens by Paul Baxter, first published in 1991, and I have a couple of classics from the 1940’s Practical Gardening And Food Production in Pictures and A Handbook for Fruit And Vine Growers by the Chief Horticultural Instructor, Dept Of Agriculture South Australia. These older books provide wonderful detail and ‘how to’ pictures / diagrams.
So on to pruning currants. Paul Baxter states ‘Red currants are generally grown as a multi stemmed bush with eight to ten main shoots per plant. Pruning then consists mainly of removing some of the four to five year old branches each year so that new shoots will grow in the their place, ...also remove those erect shoots that grow in the center of the plant.”
The aim of pruning is to keep the form of the plant, remove any diseased material, to keep the plant’s interior open and to maintain fruit production. This involves removing about a third of the old growth away from the plant. The oldest growth is the thickest branches with bark that is very dark to the point of being black. Also remove any branches that are weak or very low and any crossing and or rubbing branches (cut the weakest or oldest). These cuttings can create new fruit bushes. Trim to about 30cm, and pot. With a bit of luck you should get a fairly good strike rate.
It has been a beautiful moist week, with some rain, lots of drizzle and delightful mizzle, that lovely heavy mist that is not quit drizzle. The vegetables adore this weather. The big broad leaves of the brassicas capture large drops of water like small pools; the soil has turned dark with moisture and looks rich and renewed. It is great transplanting weather. However as the soil has cooled right down seeds at this time of year can be very slow to germinate. Much better to plant seedlings.
This time of year is great for all those maintenance tasks in the garden particularly pruning, feeding and mulching of the orchard and berries. Food producing trees and bushes need to be well mulched so as to keep the roots warm and moist at all times and to ensure continuous feeding of the tree. A regular feeding and mulching program for the orchard should commence in winter when weed and grass growth has slowed.
The application of nutrient and mulching material should extend out from the trunk in a circle that equals the growth of the canopy. This material should be pulled away from the trunk, to keep the trunk healthy and avoid rot.
A winter soil husbandry program for food producing trees and bushes should include:
Other news from the farm. Jennifer the duck is still recovering well and has returned to the flock part time.
May has finally seen the arrival of some cool weather and frosts. After the very warm April it is not surprising that we are feeling unusually cold with this change.
Just as we are feeling the cold so is the garden. While many vegetables can cope with the light frosts we are currently experiencing, it is beneficial to provide them with some support. Seaweed products (Seasol) can be used to to increase plant resistance to frost. Foliar applications take about a week to be effective and can also be helpful when plants are damaged by a frost, to stimulate healthy new growth. Regular (weekly) applications of a seaweed liquid fertilizer during our cold months can be a beneficial routine. While the use of seaweed foliar sprays can provide some support for plants during light frosts, to maintain healthy strong plants that keep growing though our extremely cold climate and harsh frost season, frost protection fabrics are essential.
Plastic can provide very good protection, but does not necessarily create a healthy growing environment as it does not allow for good air circulation or water penetration. In our low rainfall location and our current drought, preventing water penetration into the garden is not recommended. Agricultural fabrics overcome both air circulation and water penetration issues. There are a number of fabrics that can be used to provide adequate frost protection.
The first thing to remember is that we are not aiming to grow things out of season, but we are aiming to provide support and a level of protection to our winter crops. This support and protection includes;
I had planned to talk about the increased number of pests in the garden due to our very temperate weather through March & April but this week as the weather is cooling down and we have had a light frost, the infestation of aphids and white cabbage moth in particular will soon disappear. Although there will still be a need to deal with the progeny from the cabbage moth over the next few weeks. So perhaps it would still be a good idea to discuss the management of these pesky caterpillars.
The eggs of the cabbage moth are usually laid on the underside of the leaves; are quite small and white. These can be removed by simply rubbing them off. The eggs hatching result in small green munching caterpillars. Just as the eggs can be removed by hand so can the caterpillars. Picking them of can be a very effective pest management strategy in a small garden but can be a time consuming task in a large garden or with a very heavy infestation. Exclusion fabrics and decoys can be effective deterrents but if you have a garden bed of eaten brassicas these strategies come a bit late.
If they are eating your plants at this stage, you will need to consider some type of organic chemical control. Dipel is a biological control that is highly effective against most species of caterpillars. It is a bacterial stomach poison for all caterpillars, which is mixed with water and sprayed onto foliage. It is ingested by the feeding caterpillar, which dies 3-5 days later. It is totally safe to beneficial insects, bees and mammals. The active ingredient Bacillus Thuringiensis is broken down by sunlight within a few days. In my view dipel is a very good option as it has very little impact on any other insects, One or two applications at this time of year should resolve the infestation as cabbage moths disappear in the cooler weather. We have been regularly using dipel during the summer as the hotter it got and stayed the more the moths thrived. At one point Helen got totally over them and ran briefly out into the garden wildly spraying from a can of fly spray... needless to say the moths thought that was a bit silly -! Not even one looked a little bit sick!
We have had some well needed rain across the region, although the amount appears to have been quite variable. Our garden had 7mm and while this might sound very little to those outside the region, here where we have been in drought for nearly a year (total rainfall 450mm since April 2017) any amount of rain is significant. It was wonderful to go into the garden after the overnight rain to see the soil dark and damp and the plants glowing. There is nothing more nourishing than some long awaited rain.
Looking after your garden during this unprecedented hot and dry Autumn
It appears that the current warm whether and low rainfall is set to continue through to June with the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) stating that in South East Australia both day time and night time temperatures are expected to be higher than normal. While this can have some positive impacts in the garden it can also create a range of challenges that we don’t usually have to deal with at this time of year.
First and foremost the hot dry weather means that maintaining well mulched garden beds to retain soil moisture continues to be necessary and a priority. Water conservation has been an ongoing issue for some time in the Braidwood area, with rainfall remaining well below average resulting in ongoing water shortages and very dry soils. According to Roger Hosking our local weather data annalist we have been in drought since June 2017. Furthermore the Soil Dryness Index (SDI) which is used to determine soil saturation is currently at 115mm. (17 April) ‘...It is calculated daily and measured in millimetres with a scale from zero to 200mm’ Zero is when the soil is saturated. ‘As a general guide… pasture plant growth is suppressed when SDI is above 50mm; most shallow rooted plants have died when the SDI is above 100mm and young trees begin to die when the SDI is above 150mm.' As we drive around the area we can see that pasture growth is definitely being affected.
Keeping the produce garden watered will continue to be a challenge. Along with mulching garden beds, adding organic matter to your soil improves its structure, which helps it to retain moisture. Using watering practices that conserve water are also essential. These start with watering only if you need to. To check if you need to water, feel your soil. If it’s damp, it’s fine; if it’s dry, it’s time to water. Seep hoses or irrigation systems that allow water to drip or trickle into growing areas are very efficient watering methods. At Wynlen House we use in line drip irrigation readily available from most rural stores. Hand held hosing or watering cans are also very efficient but can be labour intensive. Reusing water is an option also well worth consideration. Household soaps and detergents are generally harmless to plants, and can also be useful in managing some pests. But don’t use water containing bleach, disinfectant, dishwasher powder or stronger cleaners, which can harm plants, damage soil structure and could also be a health risk.
The warm dry weather does have some benefits, however, including an extended growing season usually associated with more temperate climates. For the first time since I have lived here (2002) we have been able to field cure our pumpkins, and we are currently harvesting beans!
So with rain not predicted until the end of May prioritizing the use of water for food production will continue to be a must.
Unless yo are able to recycle your bathing water, less showering and more vegie watering will have to be the go.
Don't forget to keep an eye on those overnight minimum temperatures
Happy gardening until next time.
PS Roger Hoskings book All About Braidwood's Climate- apractical handbook and descriptive guide, is available from a number of shops in Braidwood.
Each year in the garden brings a greater depth of knowledge about the rhythms, the cycles, the seasons and the weather. Autumn is when we can experience the full weather cycle in one day, and the frosts begin. In Braidwood we had our first frost for the year on 27 March.
While it is a widely held view that our frost season starts on Anzac day and ends on Melbourne Cup Day, this is not actually true. According to Roger Hoskins our local weather expert, (Author - All about Braidwood’s Climate) the average date for the first frost of the year is 23 March, and the last frost is 22 of November. Last year, (2017) the first frost didn’t occur until 29 April. Is the occurrence of the first frost in March an indicator of a colder winter for this year? Last winter (2017) was one of the coldest winters we have had for some time with the number of frost days and the number of frost hours below zero for June, July and August being significantly greater than the long term mean. According to Roger “the 2017 winter was very much colder than normal by several measures”
We have had our first frost in late March, an indicator that this is an average year. However we seem to be experiencing some very warm April temperatures. Last years highest temperature for April was 21.9 This year we have had much higher temperatures than this for 10 days out of the 12 days of the month so far, with the highest temperature being 31.8. The Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) seasonal outlook April to June, states “Days are likely to be warmer than average for parts of southeast Australia” This is certainly true for Braidwood so far. Minimum temperatures have also been higher.
What does all this mean for the gardener growing produce? The change seasons (Autumn and Spring) are very busy in the garden. Autumn is the time when the garlic gets planted and when a great deal of planting and growing takes place to ensure produce is available through winter and early spring. The root vegetables for winter eating, carrots, parsnips and turnips, need to be planted. Lots of Brassica seedlings also need to be planted (from late Summer through Autumn); broad beans, a range of Asian greens (its the perfect time to plant wombok - Chinese cabbage) and other greens particularly English spinach. Autumn is also the time for harvesting, storing and preserving. Pumpkins are harvested and cured for winter storage. Fruits can be stored or preserved. Late plantings of potatoes will be dying off now and in our cool climate, will store well in the ground for eating over winter.
The warmer April weather provides an opportunity for extra plantings and more importantly increased growth before the cold sets in.
Happy gardening and keep an eye on the minimum temps and lets hope that we get some Autumn rain.
;It is a busy time on the farm and in the market garden at this time of year. The weather warms up the days get longer (especially with daylight saving) and there seems to be so much to do. Much of this activity is focused in the garden. Today for example, we removed all the frost protection covers; weeded, weeded and then even more weeding; planted broccoli, leeks, lettuces and radicchio; pumped water from our neighbours tanks as he doesn't use it; and sprayed the entire garden with "eco oil and a touch of pyrethrum to keep the plague proportions of aphids in check. At this time of year when the weather warms up and it is very dry, aphids are a major problem. They build up very quickly across the garden and start causing damage before their is enough time for the beneficial insects to be attracted to the garden.
Apart from the garden activity, there is also a lot happening with the animals. There are the two geese sitting on eggs and the gander is alternating between forlorn, loneliness and the aggressive protector. Every so often there is a cacophony of alarm honks as a chooks or a duck wanders near the nest. Speaking of ducks, our three girls, have taken to wandering the street as the drains are still offering some nice green grass. Then of course there are the turkeys. They are growing rapidly and today we moved them to some new grass. Amid all this activity there was a long roar of sound as our bees swarmed. Just another interesting day on the farm.
A note of caution to end on. With the warm weather it is very tempting to plant out the summer vegies, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkin, beans and so on, but there is still some cold nights and frost around. On Saturday morning we had a light frost forming a thin layer of ice on the water bowls. While the temperature did not drop much below zero, it is enough to kill or severely damage summer plantings . Be patient, in our cold climate it is better to wait until November for summer planting.
While it is necessary to track the weather in all its vagaries, farm and garden activity cannot stop while we ponder the meaning of it all. In fact this unpredictability means as farmers and gardeners we need to be flexible as well as responsive. It means we are not only managing the present but also rethinking the planning for tomorrow.
This time of year is always a busy time in the garden, preparing beds, planting seed and seedlings. The Spring and Summer plantings are significant, with the majority of cold climate food production occurring during this period. The current warm weather makes it very tempting to move the timing of our Spring planting forward and this may be an option. However it is important to remember that this burst of warm weather does not mean the end of our frost season and the majority of Spring and summer plantings are incredibly frost tender. Potatoes are the hardiest and can be planted out over the next few weeks. We generally plant our first crop of potatoes in mid October. At this time of year, mid September, we are mainly doing seed raising of the summer fruits - chili, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers. In early October we start the pumpkins - not in the ground but in seed boxes.
Throughout August and September we have been planting out seedlings of brassicas (cabbages, broccoli, kale) lettuces, Asian greens, leeks, onions, chard/silver-beet, beetroot, coriander, spring onions, radicchio, endive, late season broad-bean. Soil temperatures have been very cold. Radish and Asian turnips seeds have been germinating well for at least the last 8 weeks, however the soil has only recently warmed enough for the germination of carrot and pea seeds.
Growing peas is always a challenge in our cold climate. We generally start planting peas at the beginning of August, but this year we have only had germination in the last 2 weeks as the soil has remained quite cool. We will continue planting shelling peas, sugar snap peas and then snow peas through to November. In November we start planting beans and sweet corn and commence the garlic harvest.
The main responsive issues given the current weather are: managing the watering; protecting vulnerable young plants from wind; mulching all the new plantings in preparation for the continuing dry weather, and on the rest of the farm, securing buckets, watering cans and all manner of farm and garden paraphernalia against the wild winds.
Importantly, stay strong...this dry windy weather won't last forever.
This question is one that often causes much discussion amongst gardeners and foodies alike and is a regular topic of discussion at our stall. Technically there is no difference between silverbeet and chard with both having the Latin sub family name of Beta vulgaris.
Generally speaking whether we refer to these greens as silverbeet or chard is dictated by where we are raised. In Australia the greens from the Beta vulgaris family are most commonly called silverbeet, while in the States it is known as chard. The greens that we refer to as silverbeet grow as a cluster. The stems are broad and white and the leaves are fan like and have deep green crumbled leaves. The most common variety is Fordhook Giant, with Silver Ribs being another commonly grown silverbeet.
Many gardeners often differentiate between silverbeet and Swiss chard although they are the same species. Naming silverbeet as the green with white stems and calling the green with coloured stems and veins (crimson, red and yellow) as Swiss chard or coloured chard.
Silverbeet or chard is a very popular green with highly nutritious and flavourful leaves and stalks. Like many leafy green vegetables, silverbeet or chard are rich in an array of minerals and vitamins; high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, iron, potassium, vitamin A, zinc, copper, vitamin C, dietary fiber, and vitamin E. It is generally eaten cooked as the leaves and stalk have quite a thick texture. However young tender leaves are sometimes eaten raw.
Silverbeet or chard however is not the same as spinach. Spinach often referred to as English spinach has the Latin sub family name of Spinacia oleracea. It grows less vigorously and has smaller leaves than silverbeet. It is also softer and has a green stem rather than a large thick white or coloured stem. Spinach is a very versatile green and can be eaten both raw or cooked as the leaves are very tender. Spinach also has a different nutritional profile to silverbeet, containing more calcium and beta-carotene, around a third more iron, and folate.
Just to add more confusion to this discussion some states in Australia have in the past referred to silverbeet as spinach. Traditionally in NSW silverbeet has been referred to as spinach which is technically incorrect. While this misnaming is not as common as it once was it does still occur.
Silverbeet and spinach also require slightly different growing conditions. Silverbeet, in temperate parts of Australia, can be sown and grown during most times of the year, in cooler areas it is generally sown from Spring to Autumn. Silverbeet is reasonably frost tolerant although in our extremely cold region growth can be stunted and the stalks damaged by our continuous frost season. (over 100 frost days a year) Spinach on the other hand, is far less heat tolerant than silverbeet or chard requiring a cool soil for germination and is only planted in late autumn and winter and in very cold areas, early spring. Spinach generally has a far shorter picking season than silverbeet. Both silverbeet and spinach require a rich well drained soil high in phosphorous, nitrogen and potassium and of course plenty of compost. The most common varieties of spinach grown are Bloomsdale and Winter Giant.
Another green also referred to as a spinach is New Zealand spinach or Warrigal greens a native green in, New Zealand and Australia. It is not from either the spinach or silverbeet / chard family, coming from the Tetragonia genus. The plant is a ground cover and will form a thick carpet. The leaves are 3 –15 cm long, triangular in shape, and bright green. This leaf shape is similar to spinach hence the reference in the name. However the leaves are thick, and covered with tiny rounded fleshy lumps that look like waterdrops. It grows best in saline soils on the coast.
No matter what name we know these greens by they are highly nutritious and great greens to have in the garden. currently we are selling English spinach on our weekly stall at the Provisions courtyard; and in the coming weeks we will also have some lovely chard (silverbeet) including couloured chard.
See you there.