It’s been a dry spring in Adelaide so far, and with the current El Nino pattern we expect more of the same. However, with plenty of supplementary watering, spring growth is coming along beautifully, and flowers seem to be more profuse than ever. Feijoas have burst into bloom, bringing a sweet bonus of edible petals, and huge numbers of grapes have set as the vines explode into an instant verandah of green. Birds are nesting, lizards mating, and both are looking for water and food in the garden. The upsurge of insects brings spiders to catch them. Honeybees are breeding up and in many places they are swarming, while in our garden the resident wattlebirds eat hundreds of them each day.
What to plant
I’m currently sowing seeds of pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers and melons. These all do well when direct planted. But with a recent outbreak of slaters taking a heavier than normal toll on tiny seedlings, I’m also hedging my bets by sowing a few seeds into toilet rolls clustered by the half dozen into plant pots and filled with potting mix. This way, once they have grown their true leaves I can plant them out in their decomposing toilet rolls with minimal root disturbance and a bit more resilience against the bugs.
Basil seedlings are nearly ready to go out around the tomatoes, which got a head start and are now setting their first fruit. I’m starting to plant out eggplant and chilli seedlings which were started in seed raising trays and then grown on in tubes.
Last year’s capsicum plants are scruffy but starting to put on new spring growth. Capsicum, eggplant and chilli can all fruit for several years in good conditions. Now is a good time to trim back old woody growth to where the new leaves are emerging. Gypsum provides calcium to help prevent blossom end rot. Consistent watering is important for the same reason.
Bush beans are starting to crop and succession planting will ensure a continuous supply throughout summer. Climbing beans take a little longer to start fruiting but continue over a longer period. Sow direct. Beans are well suited to container growing if space is limited.
Citrus trees, passionfruit vines and other subtropicals such as avocadoes and mangoes can be planted now, ensuring that soil is well prepared with organic matter and excellent drainage. They will benefit from initial shelter against hot sun and strong winds – particularly avocado and mango.
What an exciting time of year! Strawberries, some mulberries and loquats are ready for picking, with more ripening every day, heralding the beginning of a huge summer of fruit. Stone fruits are growing, persimmons, pomegranates, apples and pears starting to set, and some of these trees will need the fruit thinned or the branches supported to take the increased weight over the next few months. Asparagus and artichokes have also been productive.
In the vegie garden, I’ve harvested most of the potatoes and carrots that grew over winter, along with some of the garlic although it would benefit from a bit longer in the ground. I have left a few carrots and parsley plants to grow tall and go to seed, so that their flowers can attract beneficial insects like ladybirds, predatory wasps and hoverflies to help deal with the sap-sucking pests of spring and to pollinate the vegetables.
Lettuces have put on very rapid growth so it’s time for huge salads before they go to seed. The next round of lettuces will benefit from partial shade to help prevent sunburn and bolting to seed.
And don’t forget to…
- Take tip cuttings to propagate herbs such as rosemary, perennial basil, sage, thyme
- Grow flowers such as daisies, fuchsias and salvias from cuttings
- Grow mint, lemon balm and lemon thyme by layering (plants put down new roots as they grow along the ground, so pin them down and mulch around them, then cut off from parent plant when rooted).
- Weed out grasses before their dry seeds blow through the garden
- Deadhead flowers to keep them coming
- Enjoy the shady spots (and create more of them)
- Train grapevines, passionfruit etc to grow where you want them! Tie up main branches regularly and trim off extra side growth.
- Water deeply (e.g. one patch of the garden each day of the week), especially prior to hot weather.
- Have shadecloth or old curtains ready to protect plants at the onset of sudden hot weather.
Featured Permaculture principle: Use edges and value the marginal
Road verges are perhaps the perfect example of marginal land in urban settings, in the sense of having very poor soil and usually being neglected – or actively destroyed with routine herbicide spraying. They are also at the edge where road, footpath and private land meet, potentially a very busy place. And they constitute quite a large amount of land. So they can serve many functions. There are great design guidelines for verge gardens in the following article: http://communitygarden.org.au/2010/04/09/verge-gardens/
At our place, native shrubs on our front road verge add to our privacy, provide some bird habitat and serve as a windbreak from hot northerlies. On the side road verge, hardy fruit trees and herbs offer a harvest to share with the community, beautify the landscape and will eventually add shade for on-street parking. And a passionfruit vine prevents graffiti on the side fence while living off overflow water from the vertical garden on the inside. Margins and edges can be truly productive and multipurpose.