Getting ready for winter
for another two or three weeks, watering them regularly. This holds them back so they head up later and you don’t have a mass of red cabbage ready at the same time. After all, you can only eat so much coleslaw in a week.
Miner’s lettuce is a winter staple and I leave each year’s crop to go to seed. It is just starting to regrow among the dying tomatoes now but the first two leaves are long and thin and look nothing like the normal fat, round, juicy leaves. As with everything that pops up in my garden, I wait for the second set of leaves so I can identify it before pulling anything out. I don’t transplant my miner’s lettuce – it just happily grows wherever and I let it take over a whole bed.
TUCK THEM UP
We can get heavy frosts in the first week of May so I’m already preparing any precious, frost-tender and small plants to withstand the cold.
First defence is a couple of sprays of seaweed tea every three weeks, to strengthen up existing growth, and then withholding any nitrogenous feed, which would induce fresh autumn growth that would be frost tender.
Then I use a collection of frost cloths and heat sinks. Over the years I’ve tried everything from biodynamic sprays to bubble wrap, but my best strategy has been to mulch the soil well, place two 20L containers of old oil on the south side of the plant, and throw a frost cloth over the lot on clear evenings.
The mulch holds warmth in the ground and the drums absorb heat during the day and release it at night. Frost cloth creates a little cocoon of warmth during the cold early morning hours. Frosts only happen on clear, still days, so the cloth is opened up in the morning to allow maximum light and heat to be absorbed during the day. When it’s wet and windy, the cloth is left to one side as it can do more damage than good.
It may not look as if your garden is doing much over winter, but underground it’s preparing for a burst of energy in spring. It actually takes 18 months for a fruit bud to form, so good nutrition now will affect not only next year’s crop, but also the one after.
Since I compost in situ – ie lay weeds and mulch around the base of my trees and leave my pet worms to do the work – it takes time for these nutrients to work through the food chain and become available to the tree.
Now is the time to lay this down so everything is ready for the spring flush.
Anything can be used as
This column is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get growing, from New Zealand Gardener magazine. For gardening advice delivered to your inbox every Friday, sign up for Get Growing at: getgrowing.co.nz a compost mulch as long as it is a mix of nitrogen and carbon – nitrogen being anything green (weeds and lawn clippings) and carbon being anything brown (wood chip, stable sweepings, straw, cardboard or newspaper). I prefer to lay the nitrogenous green waste (weeds) down first and cover it with my wood shavings. This traps in the nitrogen, stops it from being sucked from the soil by the carbon and looks tidy. But if your carbon matter is in danger of being blown away, reverse it.
My tomato crop was dismal this year. Thank goodness my parents had excess. My plants grew well enough, but it was the green vege bugs sucking the juice out of them and turning their inner layer white and hard that ruined them.
I tried to catch and squash the little blighters (a smelly job) but finding them among the dense growth of my bush tomatoes was tricky.
I’ve now pulled out all the plants, tied them into rubbish bags and am leaving them to rot in the sun. I’m all for composting but I want to ensure those vegetable bugs are well dead.
I also threw some quince tree prunings that looked like they had fireblight on the fire. The tree has had a good feed of compost and a spray of copper to sanitise it.
Disinfect all tools after working with diseased matter and ensure it is removed and or destroyed in such a way that the bacteria or fungus is killed. Unless you do super-hot composting, this is not usually enough and can spread the problem around your garden. Burning and bagging are my favourites or this, the one instance when I would advocate taking matter to the greenwaste dump.