Dish­ing the dirt on soil so­lu­tions

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - HOME - Peter Cun­dall

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.

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