What a different spring this has been from last year, when summer’s scorching heat arrived so early. This time spring has lurched along indecisively, giving us sudden huge downpours and even peppering one of the few really hot days with enormous hailstones (which thankfully missed our patch). It seems to have had the same effect on local grasses as on distant cereal crops, bringing them to a spectacularly seedy late finish and boosting gardeners’ hayfever and allergies in the process. The chooks have delighted in a long-running thistle supply to fuel spring egg production, while we humans have been treated to snowpeas galore and countless sweet, fragrant, curled feijoa petals foraged from the tree for dessert (just mind the earwigs inside).
Although spring days have been only slightly cooler than average, recent springs have been much warmer – and this time the nights have been significantly cooler, helping to keep soil temperatures down and slow seed germination. So – many plants that were already well established have had their spring growth boosted by the extra rain, while vegetables planted from seed in spring have had a slower than usual start.
The peach and nectarine trees have changed from their badly curled leaves, a symptom of the excessive humidity, into a fresh coat of new growth, but there is still some clean-up to be done of fallen leaves and fruit to reduce re-infection for next year.
Some poor plants really didn’t appreciate so much spring rain. My lavender, a dry Mediterranean herb, has sulked since its clay soil has been saturated and responded by yellowing off in patches. All the citrus trees have had an extra dose of gypsum to help the heavy soil around them to regain structure and drain more effectively.
Strong winds have begun to dry out surface soil, so although there is plenty of moisture deeper down, new seeds and seedlings will now need regular watering until their roots get down deep. With the likelihood of a likely warm December ahead of us, we have only a short time to get vegetables moving – a task well worth doing, considering that the flood damage to market gardens north of Adelaide as well as hail damage to Riverland fruit could result in big shopping bills for fresh produce in the coming months. Since our vegetable plants haven’t had time to get well established and hardened off, they will be vulnerable to sunburn and wilting when daytime temperatures start to spike this month, so it would be wise to set up some shadecloth to protect them, or plant in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.
Tomatoes that have put on good growth and set fruit are now ready for fertilising to keep them growing and producing well over summer. Add some basil around them at the same time. To get some quick returns in the vegetable garden, plant bush beans in between climbing beans – the bush beans will fruit sooner, and when finished they can be cut out to allow good ventilation between the climbing beans. Radishes, rocket and lettuces will yield salad in a short time, with the lettuces growing happily under the shade of the climbing beans.
If you have saved seed from the silverbeet and rainbow chard that have bolted in the last month, soak the dry seeds and replant some each month through summer – they cope with the heat much better than English spinach. Treat beetroot the same way, and pick a few outside leaves for salads. Carrots are slow growers but seed can be sown between radishes, allowing them more room to grow as the radishes are harvested. Parsley, coriander and spring onions can all be replanted from recent seeds and will benefit from partial shade as the weather heats up. As coriander bolts to seed quickly, sprinkle a few more seeds in any gaps in veg beds as you pick the mature vegetables.
Chilli, eggplant and capsicum like a long hot summer and those planted now may fruit well into autumn. Plants that have over-wintered should now have put on fresh growth and be starting to flower. In warm positions they may do well for 2-3 years.
Pumpkins, zucchini and cucumbers are coming along well. They can still be planted from seed this month. Watch out for mildew (white furry leaves) and spray with milk spray at the first sign.
The window of opportunity for planting citrus and subtropical fruits is closing fast, squeezed between the cool soil temperatures of spring and the hot days of summer just ahead. Enclose trees with shadecloth if they are in an exposed position, and give regular doses of seaweed solution to aid root development while they settle in. Established citrus and passionfruit will benefit from frequent small doses of fertiliser throughout the warm months, always watered in well. Grapevines and passionfruit are putting on rapid growth and need to be trimmed and trained to shape, with support from a strong trellis or heavy-duty wires. Take care when pruning to not expose stems to sunburn – if concerned, a light-coloured water-based paint is useful as a lasting sunscreen to reduce heat stress.
Overgrown aromatic perennial herbs such as peppermint geranium, bay, lemon verbena and rosemary all benefit from a good haircut now – while their trimmings are ideal for use in hayfever and allergy remedies. A bunch of these leaves in a clean old sock, along with some lemon-scented gum leaves, has provided welcome relief from congestion around here – just tie off the top of the sock, scrunch and sniff or keep on the pillow at bedtime. Replace the contents with fresh leaves daily.
With Christmas approaching, strawberry plants that have finished their first flush of fruiting can now be potted up and liquid-fertilised ready for gift-giving. Most will put on perky new growth and have a second flush of fruit later in summer. If you are looking for a small live Christmas tree, consider the coastal woolly bush, Adenanthos sericeus, which has foliage much softer than it looks, and fits nicely into a native garden after it has served its seasonal duty in a pot. And pomegranate branches with their spectacular flowers and bauble-like fruits would make ideal Christmas decorations.
Our last market day for 2016 will be Thursday 15th December at Organic Corner Store market. 2017 calendars and gift vouchers are available, along with plants and seeds.
Wishing you (and your garden) a happy festive season and a new year full of growth xx