Let’s just say July didn’t go entirely the way I had planned. First, the incredibly inspiring, sustainable-living folks I was really, really looking forward to meeting on our winter family holiday couldn’t be there after all. Next, I couldn’t be there either, as both a pet and a family member needed TLC around home while recovering from accident and surgery respectively. So I waved goodbye to husband and child on the first day of school holidays and pulled my boots on. I thought, on the upside, having a relatively quiet 10 days here would provide me with the ideal opportunity to catch up with my garden to-do list, starting with distributing a small truckload of compost and mulch – compost for the fruit trees and mulch for the garden paths – after I cleared out the tonne of soursobs. With plenty of tea breaks, of course, and a little pruning along the way. But…
…it turns out I didn’t quite get the ratio of work and tea breaks right, and by the time my dear ones returned from their happy road trip, I was well on the way to developing what I’ll just refer to as ‘gardener’s back’. The rest of the month has been painful, and my lack of productivity more painful still. A reminder to me that by the time you notice you’ve overdone it, it’s too late. I’ll be resting up and taking things extra-carefully over the next few weeks while this gets better.
Meanwhile, as forecast at the beginning of this month, it’s been a very warm and rather dry July, especially warm nights. I’m sure mid-winter in Adelaide isn’t meant to involve t-shirts and fans at night but there you go – some of our July nights had temperature in the teens that could be mistaken for daily maximum temps. Usually our gardens slow down at this time of year thanks to the low soil temperatures and reduced daylight hours, but this winter the lack of water is as much to blame. Locally we’ve received 138mm of rain so far this year compared to a long-term average of 264mm (Jan to July)*. Plenty of confused deciduous trees haven’t known whether to drop their leaves, bloom, fruit or sleep and so have tried a bit of each. It’s worth reviewing irrigation that would usually have been stopped for winter to see whether your fruit trees and veg need a bit more regular water between showers.
National Tree Day has been and gone, with schools, councils and community groups continuing revegetation work around the country, including the sand dunes at Seacliff (Holdfast Bay council) and the Oaklands Wetlands (City of Marion and Friends of Sturt Creek). Native plants that might usually get established over winter with just rainfall may also need some irrigation this time around.
Fruit and nut trees have been a big focus for many home gardeners. The Rare Fruit Society‘s grafting days have been as popular as ever, and it seems everyone has been planting or pruning deciduous trees. At home, my aim for this winter has been to give all our trees a good dose of well-prepared compost, gypsum, and blood and bone to set them up ready for strong spring growth and summer production (hmm, refer to paragraph 1 for how well that’s going). Thankfully the garden has just had good overnight rain to help plants to access those goodies and to keep the soil microbes active. (PS. check out the Rare Fruit Society’s new website here and join up if you’d like to be able to access all the extra members’ info on a huge range of fruit varieties.)
With help from Mum, there has been some more experimental grafting going on here: she has been top-working our front garden peach trees to include self-fertile almond, while I put various bits of apple and nashi on a not-so-tasty Tropical Beauty apple tree out the back. While Mum is terribly brave with the ultra-sharp grafting knife, I have been very hesitant to put my thumbs on the line, so have opted for a handy little ‘garden grafter‘ tool. This cuts the pieces into neat matching shapes to fit well together, but gives a rather smaller area of cambium contact and a mechanically weaker join than a well-made manual whip-and-tongue graft – so I’ve compensated by splinting some of my grafts and tying over the grafting tape with string to hold them steady until they knit together. (Mum still has a few places left in an upcoming grafting workshop – contact her at email@example.com.)
Elsewhere, all the garden tasks have involved shifting this and that to places where they can be more useful – pruning deciduous trees and using the cuttings as scions, stakes or mulch; trimming overgrown reeds and saltbush to mulch around dormant trees; transplanting self-sown borage to grow under trees that will bloom when the borage starts to flower and that will benefit from bees attracted to the borage’s irresistible blue flowers.
Tasks yet to be completed around here include pruning the grapevines (cut back new canes to 2 buds each for seeded grapes and 6-10 buds each for seedless varieties, removing excess canes altogether); using the grape cuttings for propagation and weaving; training young vines (using 25mm irrigation clamps to hitch the young canes onto tight wire cables – the clamps can be moved for the following season by twisting to undo them); distributing finished compost and relocating compost bins next to hungry trees (e.g. those citrus that are looking a bit yellow); cutting down a spent banana stem and relocating any wayward pups; fixing up irrigation leaks before regular irrigation recommences in spring; planting out some deciduous ornamentals and native groundcovers on the road verge; filling gaps in the garden with flowering companion plants (e.g. daisies, salvias, alyssum, calendulas)…and before spring arrives I’d really like to make a batch of small wicking containers for more mobile veg growing – so I can move them with the seasons. But I’ll have to pace myself!
As we move into August, consider sowing/planting: artichoke (seed), asparagus and rhubarb (crowns in well-manured soil), basil (seed in punnets), beetroot (punnets or direct), cabbage and kale (seedlings into beds), capsicum, chilli and eggplant (seed in punnets with bottom heat), celeriac, chicory and endive (seedlings into beds), celery and chives (punnets), dill, fennel, parsley and coriander seeds (direct into beds), kohlrabi (punnets), leek (seedlings into beds), lettuce, spinach and silverbeet (both seed and seedlings for continuous harvest), seedlings of mizuna, mustard, onions, spring onions, swedes, turnips and pak choi, peas and potato tubers (direct), radish and rocket seeds (direct), and finally get the tomatoes going in trays with bottom heat – and don’t be tempted to transplant them to the garden until that soil has properly warmed up!
The local Hove/Warradale Living Smart course is under way! If you’d like one in your local community have a look here, get a few neighbours together to express interest, and share the link with your local council’s sustainability or community engagement teams to see what they can offer.
Parsons Grove reserve, Park Holme, now has a little grove of citrus and almond trees for community use, thanks to City of Marion. It takes a bit of collaboration between various council departments and residents to get experiments like this happening, but the enthusiastic response from locals says it’s worth it. It was fun to meet with the neighbours and let loose with the secateurs. Followed a couple of days later by a pruning tutorial for Marion staff in the ‘Green at Work’ team, shaping up fruit trees around the council chambers.
Have you been reading RetroSuburbia? So many Australians (and our libraries) have jumped on it that it’s into its second printing already – and reading groups are springing up to help digest all the goodies inside. If you’re keen, take a search through RetroSuburbia Community on facebook, maybe get a few folks together and adopt the framework offered in the files shared there by Steve Burns, or tag me if you’d like to set up something together in SW Adelaide!
Climate change has been in the news regularly, and Red Cross has been offering training for people interested in taking community action and raising awareness about the need for adaptation. Early talks are under way in Adelaide towards holding a community conference focusing on what households need to understand about the near-term climate forecasts for our region and how we can adapt our homes, communities and lifestyles to cope. To participate in training or help out with conference planning, contact Dani Austin firstname.lastname@example.org
We are back at Organic Corner Store market on the first and third Thursdays each month, 9am-1pm, with Nadja’s Garden stall: plants, seeds, garden design samples… and the Sewing Circle, where everything from thermals to teddy bears to the dilemmas of the modern world can get stitched up with love and laughs.
And to kick off Spring I’ll see you at Linde Community Garden at 10am on Sat 1st Sept for the first workshop in the Sustainable Garden Awards 2018 series – Retrofitting Suburban Gardens: getting the most out of your patch. Follow the link to book (free).
*Climate statistics from Weatherzone for Adelaide Airport