By Toni Salter
Summer 2011/12 True Natural Health Magazine
This is the third of a series of articles on growing your own veges. It is written by Toni Salter of Narellan, NSW, who presents garden workshops, online workshops, seminars and consultations on home veggie growing.
Summer in the Garden
Summer is a really busy time of the year in the productive garden for temperate and cold regions. Not only are you harvesting your first fruits, but you’re also looking ahead to sowing the seeds of some cool season crops (yes already!). This is the time of year that pests and disease are at their worst, so keeping on top of this as well as maintaining consistent watering during hot weather is necessary, although it can all get to be a bit heavy going.
This is the time to be most alert, but in reality the opposite generally happens for most of us, especially if we decide to take a holiday. Gardeners in tropical and sub-tropical areas have a bit of respite now as they prepare for the wet season ahead after a busy few months in the garden. Here’s a few tips to keep it all together.
WHAT TO SOW
In temperate and cold regions, start sowing the seeds for your winter crops this month (December). These include all the cabbage family plants, like cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and Chinese vegetables. By the time they’re a reasonable size for transplanting, the weather should be starting to cool down. Carrots, beetroot, parsley, celery, leek and silverbeet are all winter crops so they can be sown now too. Continue sowing the seeds of warm season plants like tomato, cucumber, zucchini, beans, lettuce, sweet corn and herbs so that you can harvest them before the cold sets in.
Tropical and subtropical regions will take a break from sowing any seeds from now, so you can prepare for the approaching wet season.
Take special care whenever you’re planting out seedlings over summer to make sure they survive the heat. I plant my seedlings out with cardboard milk cartons around them. This gives them a bit more protection from critters and gives a bit of extra shade. Be vigilant with daily watering in really hot weather.
In tropical zones you can create some wind barriers for young plants in the same way. A bit of extra compost now on tropical gardens means less chance of leaching with heavy rains.
You should be able to harvest a few ‘new’ potatoes now if you can’t wait. New potatoes are the young ones just under the surface; simply forage around under the top layer of soil and pick off a few. The bigger ones can be dug up all at once after the tops die off later on.
If you got in early and planted tomato seedlings in spring, they should start to fruit from now on. They’ll stay green until the weather is consistently warm to ripen the fruit. If you had put in some early plants, you’ll have lush red tomatoes for Christmas lunch.
Mulch around tomatoes and corn to give them consistent water and nutrients. Keep picking veggies like cucumber, zucchini and leafy vegetables to encourage more cropping. You can almost watch zucchinis growing before your eyes!!
Successive planting means planting out seedlings every month to get a continual supply of veggies. So even if you have a few plants producing a crop now, still sow whatever you can to extend the harvest for a few more months. An easy way of getting another tomato plant quickly is to take a cutting from a mature plant. Snip off one of the ‘laterals’ (side shoots) with a clean cut, dip it in some rooting powder, stick it in a small pot of seed raising mix, give it some water, tie a plastic bag over the top, and wait for about a week. Roots develop quickly and you’ll have a new plant ready for the garden in a short time.
Pinch out the growing tips of cucumbers, pumpkins and squash to encourage side shoots. These side shoots produce more flowers and keep the plant contained.
Give regular liquid feeds to all of your veggies, especially leafy crops. Steep some chicken manure in water and use that for your leafy crops, since it is full of nitrogen. But remember to dilute it to the colour of weak tea and apply it only after you’ve watered the garden, otherwise you risk burning the roots.
Take care of your precious work in the garden by ensuring that a neighbour or friend can do some watering if you go away. Make sure the garden is heavily mulched with at least 5 cm (or preferably 7 or 8 cm) of straw, sugarcane mulch, compost or pea straw. Keeping the garden covered in a thick layer of mulch will reduce the need for watering so much, and will also keep out the unwanted weeds.
Soak all your pot plants for several days leading up to your departure and place them in a shady part of the garden before you leave. Grouping your plants together will provide protection from sun and wind and increase humidity while you’re away. You could rig up some shadecloth temporarily over sensitive plants or over areas of the garden where there are plants you are concerned about.
And don’t mow your lawn too low before you go, otherwise you might find it completely dead by the time you get back.
Summer Pest and Disease Control
You know it’s summer when you step outside to be greeted by the smell of a barbecue cooking somewhere, then immediately the need to swat a blowfly that is hovering nearby. Just as barbecues and blowflies go with summer, so, too, do powdery mildew and fruit fly go with the summer garden.
Just when we’re getting ready to harvest a bumper crop, we’re often disappointed by the onset of pests and diseases at the same time. Powdery mildew on cucumbers or zucchinis and fruit fly in tomatoes and stone fruit are common enemies of our work in the garden. These are all common in many parts of Australia now. Here are some measures that we can take to safeguard against them.
GOOD SOIL FERTILITY
The most important step you can take in preventing pests and diseases is to grow your crops in nutrient-rich, friable soil to achieve strong healthy growth. The better growth and health your plants have, the more resistance they will have to pest and disease attack. Sometimes all you need to do to keep an affected plant growing well is to lightly prune it and give it a bit of liquid fertiliser (like fish emulsion or worm juice). Concentrate on growing rather than killing!
There are various on the market now and they’re terrific for building the plants’ resistance to attacks from pests and disease. Gardeners often mistake a seaweed product for a fertiliser, but it’s not – it only gives minimal nutrients. Instead, it stimulates growth of the plants cellular structure, providing a thickening of the cell walls to toughen up that soft sappy new growth that becomes vulnerable to attack. You can use seaweed and worm juice together, diluted with water in the same watering can for best results.
Mildews occur when humidity is high, so hot temperatures and damp conditions make it worse. If you grow trailing plants on a vertical support, you can reduce the severity of mildew by eliminating contact with moisture in the soil. A trellis for cucumbers can often mean that unaffected fruit develops on the higher parts of the plant, outgrowing the mildew that tends to stay lower down. Vertical growth also allows for better air circulation around the plants and reduces the incidence of the disease.
Make up a solution using a half teaspoon of bicarb soda and with a few drops of vegetable oil mixed in a spray bottle filled with water (about 450 ml). This turns the pH of the leaf alkaline, preventing the fungus from growing. Treat it early and continuously every week or after rain if the outbreak is severe.
Early removal of any leaves affected by disease can halt the progress of fungal attacks. Keep a close eye on damage and remove it as soon as you can so as to stop fungal spores spreading onto nearby plants. Don’t compost this material because you’ll just spread it through the whole garden.
It’s also important to remove any fruit that has fallen to the ground. These fruits can harbour disease or eggs and larvae of fruit fly. Any affected fruit on the trees should also be removed and destroyed.
Fruit fly is becoming more and more prolific across Australia with two species being the offending pests – Queensland fruit fly and Mediterranean fruit fly. There’s a great website especially for controlling fruit fly in the home garden: www.preventfruitfly.com.au.
I encourage every gardener to view this site and put these principles into practice. Many home gardeners don’t even realise they have a problem, let alone how to control it. This neglect has made the problem worse, particularly in our cities. The website gives full instructions on prevention and control in specific areas.
CONTROLLING FRUIT FLY
Here’s a summary of some techniques discussed on the website:
- Choose early cropping varieties to avoid the ‘peak’ season for damage.
- Use exclusion bags around your fruit – ‘pestguard bags’ from greenharvest.com are especially good for tomatoes and dwarf fruit trees. These are special bags that can be placed over the fruit from the moment they start developing. They also keep out birds and grubs.
- Traps can be hung near the tree to lure male flies and sometimes female flies with pheromones. Once inside the trap, the flies cannot escape.
- Baits use a protein to attract the fly and a low-toxicity biological chemical to kill them once they make contact with the bait. The bait is sprayed on the trunk or lower foliage of a plant, avoiding contact with the fruit. Bait can even be sprayed onto a timber fence nearby or a non-productive plant close to the fruit tree or vegetable garden. Some are certified organic pesticides. Some products available in the nursery that are suitable include ‘Nature’s Way’ by Yates and Eco-Naturalure.
A diligent gardener who is vigilantly looking out for pest and disease damage and acts quickly is the one who is most rewarded with bountiful harvest year after year.
TO LEARN MORE …
To inquire about the author’s workshops, seminars and consultations, visit www.theveggielady.com.