Is there anything more wonderful than Easter Weekend? Four glorious days off to spend with family, friends, and chocolate! And for those of us with green thumbs, the Easter Weekend really does mark the beginning of the Autumn gardening season.
Each year we attend the Meadows Easter Fair with our close friends. This annual country fair is held over the four day Easter Weekend in the tiny hills town of Meadows, which becomes inundated with visitors from the city. We arrive early so we can find a park, and usually leave by about 1 p.m., which is about the time that everyone that has slept late starts to arrive in droves. There are certain things we do every year, by tradition and rule: we buy freshly picked apples, dried fruit, crocheted hand towels, marshmallow rabbits, zucchini pickles, my kids have their names burned on a stick, and hot cinnamon donuts from the Rotarians. This year, in addition to the donuts, they were also selling heirloom sweet pea seeds called ‘Surprise.’ Sweet peas are my favourite flower, so I had to buy them, and the man told me to plant them now. So there you have it folks: if the Rotarians at the Meadows Fair say it’s time to plant sweet peas, then Autumn gardening season is officially on.
Saturday, March 31
Before I could have the fun of planting the sweet peas and everything else I had ready for the Winter vegie patch, I had to do the very boring stuff. Weeding, tidying up, and watering a very dry and sad yard that is desperate for a drink. This Summer has been extremely dry in South Australia, and the soil in our front yard is parched and very unhappy. I have established fruit trees and herbs, and they are mostly surviving, but it is hard to plant anything new, and I have lost a couple of the more delicate plants. Violets, some creeping thyme, and a couple of rhubarb plants that have survived previous Summers have given up the ghost.
The soil in our front yard is generally not great. I am offering up this plea to anyone considering a weed mat to deter weeds: do not do it. It does not prevent weeds, and it does prevent you from building good soil with organic matter because you can’t dig deep enough to fork in compost and manure. Weeds are shallow rooted, so they just happily grow on top of weed matting, while plants worth growing struggle to form a deep root system. Moreover, weed matting deters mud nesting native bees from taking up residence in your garden because they cannot dig a hole through the weed mat to build a nest. Many of the native bees in Australia are endangered because they cannot find food or nesting places in overly landscaped Australian yards (think golden diosmas, strappy grasses, hard paving, and artificial turf). Weed matting is just another barrier to stop bees like the blue-banded bee from finding a safe place to land and reproduce.*
The previous owners of our land installed weed matting and black plastic before dropping a (relatively thin) load of clean fill and then gunmetal gravel on top. Over time that soil has become hard and water repellent.To restore the soil to the point that I can grow much of anything on it has been a labour of love. I am going to engage in a metre-by-metre soil restoration project for the rest of the year, starting in the top corner of our large, sloping front yard, and moving down. My plan is to essentially create an enormous ‘no-dig’ garden on top of the sad soil that is there. That will be expensive and time consuming.
Happily, the soil in our backyard was left to its own devices and is rich, loamy, and healthy. We have found that everything we plant in it grows with almost minimal effort. There were however many shallow-rooted weeds that popped up over the past few weeks, so I spent a warm Easter Saturday afternoon weeding, turning compost, and digging over the soil. Then I watered both front and back extensively, ready for planting on Easter Monday.
Finally, I picked more eggplant and pumpkin ready for Easter Sunday roast and a curry on Easter Monday.
Monday, April 2
How much planting do you think one person can do in a single day?
The answer, apparently, is a lot.
I started with a quick trip to Bunnings to pick up some sheep poo, blood and bone, and mushroom compost. Although the soil in the backyard is healthy, we grew a lot of vegetables over the Summer, and I wanted to dig through some soil conditioners to boost the health of the soil. In some spots where I am growing nitrogen-fixing crops over winter (broad beans and peas), I did not dig through any manures, but in areas of the garden where I am planting greens and garlic, I dug through the sheep poo and mushroom compost. My own compost is not ready yet, so that stayed in the bin after a turning on Saturday. Hopefully it will be ready for Operation Soil Repair in the front yard in a few more weeks.
Today I planted:
- Parsnip Hollow Crown – this is a classic heirloom variety of parsnip. I love, love, love parsnips and have had great success with this variety. It is seed leftover from last year though, so may not germinate as well. Ideally, parsnip seed should be very fresh for successful germination;
- Carrot Heirloom Mixed and Carrot Early Harvest – homegrown carrots taste really amazing, and I love to grow them for my niece and nephew, who get very excited about pulling a carrot from the ground at Aunty Mand’s;
- Coriander (a.k.a Cilantro) – some people hate it, my family loves it, except my brother, who despises it. That’s OK – more for us. It can only be grown in the cooler months around here, or it bolts straight to seed;
- Leek King Richard – I have not grown leeks before; I am excited to see how these go;
- Pea Purple Podded – these are an heirloom variety I grew last year, and I saved seeds. They were delicious and prolific, although my kids ate most of them off the vines before they got to the table;
- Pea Dwarf Snow Pea – I hope these grow well. Again I am not expecting many to get to the table;
- Broad Bean Crimson Flowered – Fresh broad beans are a lovely spring delicacy and like peas, are good for the soil;
- Silverbeet Fordhook Giant – You can’t really go wrong with the classic Fordhook Giant. It grows like a weed, really;
- Beetroot – a red variety, the name of which escapes me, and Golden Burpee;
- Asian Greens – Pak Choy, Choy Sum, and Tatsoi;
- Broccoli – Romanesco and Green Sprouting;
- Garlic – I went a little crazy with the garlic and planted about 100 cloves of garlic! Melbourne Market, Cream, and Purple Dynamite. These are all late harvest varieties. I may have been a week too early though, as the temperatures are forecast to be 35 degrees centigrade next week! Garlic does not like to be planted in too warm weather. But how was I to know that we would have Summer weather in literally the middle of Autumn? The start of this year has been far too warm and too dry, and I think we are in some trouble if it continues like this;
- Sweet pea – American and Matucana;
- Bulbs – Sparaxis Violet and Allium Drumstick;
- Viola – Heartsease.
I lost the cauliflower and kale seedlings I planted earlier to cabbage moth caterpillars. As I do not use any poisons in my garden, I built a miniature greenhouse to exclude the white cabbage moth from laying any eggs over the brassicas I planted in the raised bed. I am hoping that this will stop the moths laying their eggs long enough for the seedlings to grow large and strong. If not, I will just have to do it the old fashioned way: by pulling them off and squishing them. Nature is red in tooth and claw, after all. Or in this case, green.
*Why yes, I am a little obsessed with bees.