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;
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 few weeks since I have posted, but July is annual leave at Wynlen House.
We are nearly at the end of July and what a cold month it has been. Its the 26th day of the month and we have had 23 frost days. It is the first frost season for a number of years where we are using double layer covering. A single layer of insulnet is just not enough. Our plantings through June and July have really felt the affects of daily frosts and temperatures hovering between -5° to -7° and below. the double layering has allowed some minimal growth to continue.
we have been incredibly impressed with the Japanese and asian greens we have been growing through this very cold winter. And yes, note I have used the word growing, because these amazing salad and stir-fry greens have continued to grow right through this extremely cold winter. We even have some joi choi happily pottering along uncovered and totally exposed.
Last weekend we ran our winter vegetable growing workshop and it was wonderful to have our students inspired by our growing winter garden. Of course the section on what can be planted now and through August was of great interest. At Wynlen House we continue with our intensive bed planting right through winter. The planting in an intensive bed includes:
While it is of interest to know what can be planted I think it is also useful to know what we are currently harvesting or is ready to harvest:
So yes our winters may be the harshest in Australia, except for the Alpine regions, but gardens can still be productive and we can enjoy some of the best cold season vegetables; nutrient dense and intense with flavour that can only be achieved by a good winter frost season.
Happy gardening and keep warm
We have passed the winter solstice and the daylight hours are very slowly extending. The winter solstice marks the shortest day and in many cultures and across many different histories it has been seen as a day of significance. It is often referred to as mid winter, however this is only the case in countries and cultures that define the seasons astronomically. This is when the seasons are delineated by specific points in the Earth's trip around the sun.
In Australia where we use a meteorological definition the winter solstice or shortest day does not mark mid winter. In Australia June 1st is the beginning of winter therefore the shortest day is not considered to be mid winter. This is particularly so if you live in the cold climate area of the Southern Tableands, where we are located, as we still have the coldest part of winter to come. So while the day light hours start to increase the temperature continues to get colder.
Interestingly, even though we still have some cold weather to come, you will probably start to see an increase in egg production. Hens are one of the many creatures who have a physiological response to the length of day and night. Egg production drops significantly in late autumn and usually begins to slowly increase after the shortest day. This is more evident as a chicken matures. Other birds respond too - especially migratory birds who need to travel vast distances to breed or feed en mass. Many of your farm animals are not as responsive, apart from a thickening of their autumn coats you wont see much change.
So, the daylight hours may be gently increasing we still have many frosty mornings to go with frozen water troughs and very active chickens and water fowl. During this coldest part of winter the gardening day cannot begin until the frost has abated and the garden warms up. I like the slow start to the days this brings, sitting by the fire drinking tea while waiting for water to become liquid again in the animal's water bowls.
Each season has its own rhythm and characteristics. It is easy to see why so many cultures attached ritual and celebration to mark these changes.
Keep warm and enjoy the slow lane in the garden - we have planted lots of vegetables over the last few weeks - now we get to watch them very, very slowly grow.
I find the winter garden a fascinating place to be and so different to the summer garden. There is more time in the winter garden, the life energy has slowed down and there is a gentler pace to everything. I love weeding in winter because once you have removed the weeds they take months to grow back. The soil also responds differently. While it may be dry it does not take much water to make it moist, and we find that a hand water is sufficient during the dry periods of winter, whereas in summer this is totally inadequate. In winter, while we may have periods that are quite dry the soil remains very cool and evaporation is at a minimum. According to Roger Hosking our local Weather Data Analyst “Soil water / soil dryness is a complex function of rainfall, temperature, evaporation and vegetation type” and I find this most evident in the winter garden.
Frost of course adds another dimension. According to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) "Frost occurs when the ground and ambient air cools down by the loss of heat to the atmosphere. This most commonly occurs under clear skies and with little or no wind. Clear skies favour the escape of radiation (heat) from the earths surface to space. Frost s a deposit of ice crystals formed on objects exposed to the air. Water vapour in the air freezes upon contact with an object that has a surface temperature below 0°C. Frost begins at ground level and gradually rises to higher objects. Crop covers can be used to manage the risk of frost by preventing the loss of heat during the night."
At Wynlen House we use crop covers to great affect in our garden. As I have said in an earlier post It’s officially Winter and your veggies Know it, there is about a 3° air surface temperature difference between our covered beds and uncovered beds. In light frosts this temperature difference can provide complete protection, of course temperatures below -3° will affect plants even if they are under cover. Cold temperatures and frost can freeze the cells in a plant, causing damage and interrupting the pathways for nutrients and water to flow. Cold hardy winter vegetables are less vulnerable and can withstand very cold temperatures and some frosting. Mind you our extended frost period of over 3 months (109 frost days) does provide some challenges to even the most cold hardy vegetable. The aim of using crop covers is not to grow vegetables out of season but to ameliorate the impact of severe frosts and enable some growth. The majority of winter or cold season vegetables will continue to grow at temperatures as low as 4°.
At the moment we are growing a range of Japanese and Asian greens that are doing extremely well (Ive got some photos of these below) and coriander also thrives in these cooler temperatures. We find that many of our customers are surprised that Asian greens cope well in the cold assuming that they require warm climates to grow. I often think about the Chinese who came to this area during the gold rush era who find their niche as market-gardeners. What vegetables did they grow? How did they provide crop protection? Were they growing the same vegetables that I am growing today?
It may be cold but a winter garden has much to offer including the time to ponder the practices of our market gardeners in times past and wonder about their response to our cool winter climate.
Our workshop in July deals with cover cropping, among other practices. You are most welcome to enroll.
According to the Climate Glossary on the Bureau Of Meteorology (BOM) website:
“In Australia, the seasons are defined by grouping the calendar months in the following way:
So June 1st is the officially start to winter. A quick count shows that we had approximately 14 frost days in May with the lowest temp being -3.7° and a total of 22mm of rain for the month. A cold and dry end to Autumn.
I took the soil temps in the garden this morning at 8.30. The official temperature (BOM) was 0.9°. The soil temp in an uncovered bed was 6° and the surface air temp was 3°. Under the cloche covered with insulnet the soil temp was 7° and the surface air temp was 6° . While these temperature variations between the covered beds and uncovered beds may not seem great they can be significant. Of the winter vegies there is only a very few seeds that will germinate below a soil temp of 7° (peas 5° and Lettuce 4°). Carrots, radish and members of the Brassica family will germinate at 7°. The reality is at these low soil temperatures germination will be very slow and not reliable. The only seeds we plant in our garden over winter are radish, which we grow under cover and peas at the end of winter (late July). During the winter months you will have greater success in your garden if you plant out seedlings as this gives you a head start.
What you plant now as seedlings you will be eating in Spring (September). The produce you harvest from your garden at the beginning of winter (June) is what you planted in late summer and early Autumn (February and March). We must fully understand this if we are to harvest produce from our garden all year
As I have already noted in a previous blog Colourful Autumn, Frosty mornings…cool season planting guides are not necessarily accurate for our very cool climate region. Often as gardeners we therefore look at information from the Northern Hemisphere (England, Canada, USA) which can experience much colder winter temperatures than ours, for further guidance.
While many countries popularly use the equinox and solstice dates to "start the seasons" this is not the case in Australia. There are two ways that mark the season, one is to by weather, summer is the warmest time and winter is the coldest and secondly by the solstice and equinox dates. Meteorologists around the world use start of the season dates, and this is the convention that we follow in Australia.
The winter solstice is the day of the year that has the least daylight hours of any in the year and usually occurs on 21 June but can occur between 20 and 22 June. This is also known as the mid winter or Yule solstice. The equinoxes represents the two times of the year when the Sun crosses the plane of the Earth's equator and day and night are of equal length. While we may not use the equinox and solstice dates to mark the beginning of the seasons it does not mean that these events do not represent important markers in both the garden and our lives. Many cultures have developed traditions of celebration and thanks around these events for obvious reasons; blessing the crop, storage of the harvest; passing of the shortest day; celebrating the awakening of spring and glorifying the longest day. Let’s face it who doesn’t like to have a party!
If you are interested in some practical hands on experience in a winter produce garden, Wynlen House is currently offering learn / work exchange opportunities. Minimum work is 3 hours a day. Contact wynlenhouse @bigpond.com. We also have our Cool climate All Year Round Vegetable Growing Workshop in Late July. This is aimed and helping you have great produce on your table even in the worst of winter.
Happy gardening and do keep warm out there.
Autumn is in full swing, the leaves are falling, the days are sunny and the mornings are getting crispy. The frost season has started in our cool climate region of the Southern Tablelands. This is not uncommon for this part of the state known as the Capital region. The Capital region, the Alpine regions of NSW and Victoria and many parts of Tasmania are the most extreme cool climate regions in Australia. Apart from the Alpine regions which experience heavy winter snow falls, the Capital region (and Tasmania) is the harshest frost region in Australia. We experience on average 109 frost nights per year. Our frost season officially begins on 23 March through to 22 November, although we can have a frost outside of this time frame. While this high number of frosty nights can mean some very cold starts to the day it also means we have an equal amount of bright sunny joyous days.
While Braidwood experiences a long frost season we rarely experience snow.
Other frost prone cool climate regions of regions of Australia experience between on average 20 to 50 frost nights per year with an average minimum temperature of 0 ° (The Central Tablelands, Central West, Northern Tablelands and some parts of the Darling Downs). In the Capital region our average minimum temperature is -5 °. This is why we find that most cool season planting guides do not seem "right" in our region. Cool season planting guides are based on climate conditions of the more "moderate" cool climate areas, which form the majority of cool climate regions in Australia.
Frosts and low temperatures can have a detrimental affect on plant growth and development, however there are some plants that require a period of cold to be fully productive. Garlic is one such plant. The Turban varieties (Monaro Purple) are generally planted in Autumn (April) with early pre winter growth focused on root development. Growth continues through winter and it is the increasing day length and warming soil that stimulates bulb development in early spring. Other cool season vegetables include members of the Brassica Family - cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale to name a few. However there are some traps for the unwary with some members of this cool season plant group. Our very low temperatures (average minimum -5 °) while not having an impact on plant growth, will burn the developing heads of both broccoli and cauliflower. This is when you need crop protection. It can be as simple as a plastic plant pot placed over the forming head each night to provide protection or for a larger number of plants, agricultural fabrics can used to cover entire rows.
At Wynlen House we use agricultural fabrics with a metal cloche frame to provide crop protection. The material we mostly use is a knitted permeable plastic polymer (polypropylene) called insulnet. Thermal Fleece is another product and these permeable textiles allow water to pass through and the plants and soil can breathe. Shade cloth can also be used to provide reasonable crop protection. Agricultural fabrics limit light frosts but do not provide complete protection particular from hard frosts. More importantly, they ameliorate the overall impact of very low temperatures enabling plant growth and development to continue, maintaining soil temperatures and air temperatures up to 3 ° warmer than unprotected garden sections.
The use of row covers or even very simple low cost plant protection strategies enables all year vegetable production in the low temperature extremes of our cool climate region.
Insulnet is available from Redpath Australia http://www.redpath.com.au/
Thermal fleece is available from Weed Gunnel http://www.weedgunnel.com.au/