What a wonderful soaking we have had! About 80mm at our place over two big rains in the past week. How are your tanks looking? Don’t have any tanks? How about digging a few swales to catch rain this winter and recharge the soil? It sounds like there will be plenty more on the way!
Now is a good time to top up mulch on paths, to protect soil from erosion, prevent mud being trafficked everywhere and to suppress weeds (works best with a layer of cardboard underneath).
It’s also a great time to work on soil improvement with a view to planting out native trees, shrubs and ground covers during autumn and winter, deciduous trees in winter and then evergreens such as citrus and subtropical fruits in spring. On all Adelaide soils this means adding organic matter (well rotted compost and/or farm manures), or planting green manure crops such as peas or broad beans.
On sodic clay soils, adding gypsum will help to improve soil structure to enable rainwater to penetrate more effectively and to drain adequately through the soil rather than leaving it saturated and drowning plant roots. Sandy soils, on the other hand, might need a bit of clay along with the organic matter to help moisture and nutrients bind to the sand particles instead of leaching away too quickly.
Here’s Sam at Folk of All Trades preparing soil for vegetable beds (one in a series of regular facebook live workshops).
Whatever you do with your soil, don’t leave it bare – nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum – she’ll find a way to fill it, probably with weeds that you’d rather not have.
If you do already notice “weeds” coming up (and who hasn’t, with all this moisture meeting warm ground?), try to identify them and see what you can use… e.g. nettles in home-made green pasta or in tea either for drinking or for fertilising the vegetable garden; chickweed (‘fat hen’) as a treat for the chooks or in a salad for the table; dandelions for coffee; marshmallow in spanakopita; purslane in salads, and all the self-sown vegetable seedlings can be potted up and shared with new gardeners.
And then there’s soursobs, which cause many gardeners so much frustration as they seem to take over during winter and have such persistent little bulbils that are triggered into growth when the soil is disturbed, including by digging or pulling them out…
Well, I have made peace with mine. Like all things annoying, they do pass – they are seasonal and in six months they will be dying off as the weather warms up. Their flowers feed bees. They present minimal competition around perennial plants but shade out most of the more troublesome weeds. Chooks like to dig out and eat their bulbils. In the vegetable garden they’re not that hard to hand weed (in a packed bed) or hoe out (between rows) as they appear. The only place where I find them very persistent is along my mulched garden paths. So every couple of years I get ahead of them by laying more cardboard and mulch, and in between I sometimes take ten minutes a day for a few weeks to get down to their level and just pull out a patch at a time. And I swear that that’s the most meditative, inspiring, heart-opening time that I ever spend in the garden, the source of all the best ideas – so I inevitably end up quite grateful to the little buggers for getting me down there in the first place.
OK, having cleared a bit of space, what vegetables shall we plant? A friend asked online the other day and this was my list:
Seedlings of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, chicory, endive, kale, leeks, lettuce, mizuna, mustard, onions, pak choi, spring onions, swede and turnip. Most of these could still be grown from seed too – but they tend to be more at risk from pests while they are tiny and also need to be thinned out ruthlessly after germination.
If you can get seedlings, you have a head start before the weather cools down and growth slows. The more of a root system they get established while the soil is warm, the more progress they can make over winter, though they will slow down. I would still put in a few carrot and pea seeds too (sow direct in the bed). Garlic is still worth planting out, and potatoes, though less productive at this time of year, are valuable as a staple veg.
Seed supplies in Australia haven’t run out, but suppliers have been challenged in keeping up with unprecedented orders – so what better time to learn how to save (and swap and share) your own seeds. Kirsten of Milkwood demonstrates how to save some of the easier seeds.
Good Life Permaculture’s Crisis Gardening video series continues to inspire, educate and amuse, with lots of great tips for immediate action, especially for new food gardeners.
Hopefully good rains in areas affected by this summer’s bushfires will be starting to support soil recovery and regrowth from surviving vegetation and seedbanks. For those in affected areas such as Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island, Sophie Thomson’s Gardening After Fire series of videos may be useful.
SA Bushfire Garden Revival continues to accept plants and to support gardeners in and around Adelaide to grow plants for rebuilding fire-affected gardens.
There is a lot of talk of easing restrictions and cranking the economy back up in the weeks ahead. But the old ‘normal’ may be just a memory for a long time, with some aspects of distancing set to continue for months.
Before we snap back to ‘normal’, what aspects of this time might we like to hold onto? What have we found valuable, that perhaps we previously lacked? Maybe…
- More family time
- Less commuting
- Growing more food
- Connecting with neighbours
- Being more able to accept help and generosity
- Knowing how to give what’s needed
- Gratitude and appreciation of nature, of our strengths, of each other
- Voluntary simplicity
- Less consumption
- More observation of and familiarity with natural cycles and patterns
- Wiser understanding of the impacts of human exploitation of the natural world
- More localised and equalised economies
- Stronger focus on household and small neighbourhood as the units of change
A great way to explore how to make these lifestyle changes stick is to participate in a Living Smart course. The next course in Adelaide is starting online from May 19 and tickets are available here. (NB if fees present a barrier, do contact the organisers.)
Time for me to get back to learning, gardening, family baking and community connecting… to keep in touch please connect via facebook, and to find more step-by-step support to start your garden in Adelaide, download the free book here – no strings attached, no app required, no personal data collected, no subscription needed! 1700 copies have gone to gardeners already 🙂 Happy gardening!