Welcome back, my old friend May, with your drizzling rains and your shorter days! With your soft sun inviting me out to play!
Other old friends are back too, like soursobs and thistles – they do no harm, but to maintain clear paths I like to pull them out before they flower. The soursobs can rot down to sludge in a black plastic bag to later be added to compost, and the thistles are a chook’s favourite breakfast. But try not to dig deeply in a soursob-infested patch as it just makes them multiply! (Says me, always wanting to plant at this time of year). This season I’m experimenting with a stirrup hoe to slice them off at ground level with less effort.
May is a good time for planting broad beans as a green manure. If you want to grow them for picking beans, you can wait until late winter and still be picking a crop around the same time – but for green manure start early and get them dug in before they flower, and prior to planting your spring vegies. Also in the vegie garden, plant broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, coriander, corn salad (mache), dill, endive, garlic, kale (multiple varieties for pest resistance), kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mustard greens, onions, pak choi, parsley, peas, radish, radicchio, rocket, shallots, silverbeet, snowpeas, spring onions, spinach, swede, strawberry plants and turnips.
Fine netting such as VegeNet or old net curtains can be used to keep cabbage moths off the brassicas and leafy greens – or use land cress as a sacrificial companion plant. Peas require some support, especially climbing varieties, and like to be soaked before and during planting and then left to germinate without further watering (this helps to prevent them rotting in the ground). Successive plantings of peas every month keep the supply going until well into spring, and there is nothing better than a handful of home-grown crunchy snowpeas every day!
You know the old carrot planting trick – mix the seed with a cup of dry sand so that you can sprinkle the seed more evenly along the rows and avoid clumps that need early thinning. Keep them moist while they germinate. This is contradictory, because they’re good companions for carrots, but require different germination conditions. So you could put the peas in a little earlier or later than the carrots to avoid keeping them too wet. I had no sooner sown my autumn veg seeds than a well-meaning friend came to visit and her dog hopped up to explore the raised bed. My friend, retrieving the dog, placed her foot right in the middle of my row of pea seeds. I stopped her before she could disturb the rest of the bed by trying to smooth it over. And what do you think happened? The peas in that patch germinated and grew faster than any of the others. Next time I think I’ll get her back to walk over the whole patch…
Flower seeds planted now can bring a profusion of colour to the garden in late winter and through spring. Sow viola, wild pansy (heartsease), calendula, marigolds, stocks, dianthus, foxglove, hollyhock, larkspur, lupin, nasturtium, poppy, sweet pea. In very frost-prone areas you could either wait until the risk of frost has passed, or use light, coarse mulch for frost protection over seed beds (e.g. old dry herb stalks heaped roughly to provide some insulation while allowing seedlings to wriggle through to the light).
Featured Permaculture principle: Use and value renewable resources and services
Seeing the great, snaking buttress roots of a Moreton Bay fig tree near a Sydney beach, I was impressed with the depth of soil and mulch that they could hold back – nature’s original retaining walls! They don’t need concrete or steel or drainage channels, and they are self-replacing. Plus they function as a shade structure and a source of food and shelter for many birds and animals, not to mention offering timeless beauty.
See you this Wednesday night at Marion Cultural Centre for “Productive Gardens: a permaculture approach”, where I’ll be exploring gardens as ecosystems and our role in them. It’s a free event – click this link to register.
And Mum and I will be at this Thursday’s Organic Corner Store market. Don’t forget to enter the Mother’s Day competition on the OCS facebook page – and we’ll have plants, flowers, consultation vouchers, jams and seeds for your green-thumb Mum.