The early bird catches the worm. If you fail to plan – you plan to fail. These are two common phrases that reflect that for some things it is important to be organised, think ahead and then you will succeed. Vegetable gardening is just like this.
Now is the time to be planting vegetables to maximise the remaining warm temperatures of late summer and early autumn. Planting vegetable seedlings now will ensure your plantings get some good growth on before cooler winter temperatures arrive in a couple of months.
Vegetable that are not planted till later will be caught up in the cold weather of winter and not mature until a lot later.
Vegetables don't need a lot of room - the use of pots and containers and raised portable gardens such as the recently released Vege Pods allow gardening almost anywhere.
Vegetables to plant now include beetroot, broccoli, broccoflower, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, leek, lettuce, pak choi, spring onion, silverbeet and spinach. These are best planted as seedlings from the garden centre at this time so they are ready for harvest during the winter months.
Seeds that can be sown now direct into the soil include broad bean, carrot, pea, radish, swede and turnip.
Replenish the soil in your vegetable garden when planting. So often, when looking at reasons for plants succeeding or not, it comes back again to the quality and condition of the soil. The vegetable garden can often leave newer gardeners puzzling why the first couple of plantings did well and subsequent crops have not. The reason is usually that while crops have grown and been harvested, nothing or little has been added back to the soil from which the life of the plant grows. A gradual depletion of soil fertility and structure has occurred. It is recommended that every time you plant a new crop, organic matter should be added and mixed well into the soil. Use products such as Yates Dynamic Lifter, Natural Bark Poultry Compost or Mushroom Compost.
Often a response is to throw some fertiliser around; while this helps, it is also important that both structure and fertility are addressed.
Different soil types have varying amount of natural reserves so will need different treatments. If your soil is light or sandy, the addition of compost or other organic matter will need to be more frequent and side dressings of fertiliser such as Ican Vegetable Food or Ican Blood and Bone will benefit it. Adding any type of organic material (such as compost and leaf litter) increases the "life", or soil microbial activity, in your soil.
For those with areas of garden they are not planning to use during the winter months, an option is to "rest" a patch of soil and improve soil structure and fertility by growing a green crop.
A green crop is grown to be dug back into the soil. It is a natural method of soil maintenance; when dug into the soil it will boost and replace lost nutrients. This will also encourage earthworms and other beneficial micro organisms to your garden.
For a successful green manure crop, simply apply the seeds at the recommended rates. Then in early spring before the plants flower (but while the stems are still soft and watery) dig your green manure back into the soil. After digging it in, it is best to leave the ground for up to three weeks before planting your next crop. If you have access to it, the addition of animal manure before digging it in will hasten the breakdown of your green manure.
There are four main varieties of seed commonly used as green manure crops: lupin, barley, oat and mustard.
Lupin: This is a good one for maintenance of a soil's fertility. Recycling lost nutrients from your subsoil coupled with adding vast amounts of "free nitrogen" which is readily available to your next crops. Sow at a rate of 25g per square metre, let the green crop grow for about 7-8 weeks, then dig in well. Although lupins can have a beautiful flower, to get the best from your green crop it should be dug into the soil when the stems are green and soft, before it flowers.
Mustard: This aids in the control of wireworm, nematodes etc, which are often problems associated with root crops (for example, carrots and potatoes). Mustard also reduces the chances of any soil-borne diseases within 40 days of digging in. (Note: If club root is a problem don't plant brassica crops after mustard). Leave for 7-8 weeks then dig in well. Then leave for three weeks before planting any vegetables.
Lupin, mustard and grain mix: This green crop in particular is great as it helps with the prevention of wire worm and adds nitrogen and organic matter to your vegetable garden. Sow at about 35g per square metre, let it grow for 7-8 weeks, then dig well back into the ground.
About two weeks after a green drop has been dug in, the soil should then be re-dug before planting your new vegetables. The addition of garden lime at this time is beneficial.
If you have a smaller garden and would like year-round production then regular additions of some or any of these products will be much benefit.
Sheep pellets are a natural plant food and contain nitrogen, phosphorus and potash plus trace elements. It is an excellent soil conditioner and will increase the water holding capacity and earthworm population of your soil. It is suitable as a base and side dressing for vegetables and is also a good additive to improve your home compost.
Yates Dynamic Lifter is another pelletised organic fertiliser and soil conditioner containing composted manure, blood and bone, fish meal and seaweed. These ingredients are great for vegetable beds. Apply prior to planting and then every six weeks during the growing season.
Liquid fertiliser Ican Fast Food is a great quick-releasing feed to give plants a quick boost and promote plant growth, flowering and fruiting.
Mushroom Compost contains rotted straw and compost, as well as gypsum, blood and bone, lime. This will grow fantastic vegetables.
Natural Bark Poultry Compost is a nutrient rich blend of composted poultry manure and rotted sawdust. This will improve the soil structure and add nutrient to the garden, and ensure your flowers and veggies are the envy of the neighbourhood.
Have a good week.
* Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre