Dishing the dirt on soil solutions
THE hardest part of growing vegetables is the preparation of the soil. The rest of the work, sowing and planting is the easy part. Like many others in Tasmania I have been frustrated by long weeks of incessant rain and massively saturated soil that was often too wet to be cultivated.
I still managed to do some quick, opportunistic rotary hoeing during a brief break in the weather, but even then I bogged the machine several times. At least I got my spuds in, and most are now up and growing fast.
In fact, many of the potato plants are growing so strongly I have already started mounding up the soil around the stems. This disrupts competing weeds while preventing developing potatoes from becoming exposed to sunlight and turning green and toxic.
A week ago I took a risk and planted out a dozen or so tomato plants. So far they haven’t moved much but at least they haven’t died of cold or wet feet. In fact, all the plants – many of which are rare, unusual varieties obtained from the Botanical Gardens annual spring plant sale – are looking surprisingly healthy.
I did include a few of my own favourites too, including the always- reliable Moneymaker, perfect for heavy crops of superbly flavoured tomatoes, and Oxheart, because I like the solid, sweet, virtually- seedless flesh.
Every tomato seedling was given an extra bonus in the form of a tight fistful of sulphate of potash, scattered over the surface over the root- zones. This induces earlier fruiting while keeping the plants firm, stocky and diseaseresistant.
Don’t mulch tomato plants until the temperatures rise above 20C almost every day.
It is important to allow the sun to fully warm the soil first. Then use any kind of straw spread thickly around the plants and tucked in closely.
If mixed with sheep manure and kept moist, it becomes a feeding mulch and stem roots will emerge to take up extra nutrients and ensure even bigger, better yields.
Tasmanian tomatoes are by far the best flavoured in Australia because of our relatively cool climate. An ideal ripening temperature is just below 25C. This is why they are best harvested just as they start to turn slightly pink.
They are then brought indoors to finish ripening, always well away from windows or direct sunlight.
Last week the soil in the rest of our vegetable patch had dried out sufficiently for more cultivation. I was still amazed by the speed at which most of the other vegetables were sown and planted.
They included two long rows of Manchester Table carrots ( brilliant eating), a row of parsnips ( from seed I saved last summer) and a long row of Bull’s Blood beetroot.
During the same period I also planted seedlings of a range of brassicas including 10 seedlings each of cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and kale. All these went into a heavily fertilised bed with an extra helping of sheep manure.
These plants will never look back because immediately after being planted they were given a good watering and then had a night to settle in, so are less likely to collapse in sunlight.
During the next few weeks I’ll also be keeping a sharp eye out for any signs of attack from cabbage moth grubs. The tiny brown moths can be seen fluttering around brassicas late in the day. That’s when I spray them with pyrethrum for an instant kill. Unfortunately they insert their eggs inside leaf tissue which keeps them safe from all sprays.
So I also use Dipel, a type of bacteria that kills grubs and caterpillars, sprayed over the leaves just as they hatch out and start to feed. This stuff stops them in their tracks.