April in the Vegie Patch (and how to grow Brassicas)

april cabbageThe summer crops are starting to slow down and look bedraggled, and fair enough too – they’ve slaved away for us all summer long. If they’re still producing, pat yourself on the back, it’s a testament to your good care.

It’s about now you really appreciate your successional plantings. For example my first zucchini has finished and  been chopped up for the compost pile, but the next two are still cracking on – avoiding a gap is a joyous thing.

How are your Brassica coming along?

The trick to good heads is fertile soils, and getting your spacings right (the instructions on seed packets are there for a reason!) It’ll be 30 – 45cm depending on variety. I prepare all my brassica beds with the broadfork to open the soil up so the roots can go straight down, as opposed to going sideways where they’ll compete for nutrients. I wait until seedlings have about 5 leaves before planting out, this way they’ve got a fighting chance against all the molluscs lurking in my garden. Give a lovely slow generous soak at planting, mulch well and check soil moisture once a week if there has been no rain.

Brassica’s love manure. Incorporate some into your initial bed preparation and side dress a few times through the growing season; or liquid feed weekly with your magic pooh brew.

Reviving dry soils

Summer is cruel on soil. Even with mulch, compost and all the good things you’ll be amazed at how dry your soil is. Before you sow or plant your next crops out, it needs reviving.

First, you must moisten it. Dry, dusty dirt has formed a skin which repels water. Penetrate this by opening your soil up with a fork or broadfork before watering. You may need to do this again after the initial water if your soil is  still refusing moisture beneath the top layer. The best time to do this is just before it rains. Once you’ve got the moisture level right you’re going to need to convince the microbes back. Do this with a layer of compost and/or rotten manure, a dusting of a full spectrum mineral fertiliser like Roksolid, and by trenching your foodscraps up the centre of the bed. Liquid feed is always useful when you need to stimulate a bit of action.

Whatever you add, let it settle for a bit before planting or sowing.

In the Vegie Patch

Keep your broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages growing fast with:

  • weekly liquid feeding
  • cabbage white control (either squash the caterpillars or spray with kiwicare caterpillar killer)
  • watering as required
  • mulching up around the stalks as they get top heavy. They’ll peg new roots down in this mulch giving them extra resilience.
  • Side dressings of rotten manure (a big gob beneath each plant will do it) every month.

In the next two weeks

  • Plant out lots of salad greens, parsley, silverbeet or rainbow chard to ensure loads of fresh greens through the winter.
  • Plant companion flowers like calendula, stock, larkspur, cornflower, primula.
  • Direct sow peas, snowpeas, broadbeans, corn salad, miners lettuce, salads (successional), spinach, coriander and rocket.
  • Tray sow globe artichokes.

To my mind it’s too late to sow carrots, beetroot and parsnip, but hey, don’t let me stop you! You never know how the season’s going to roll. Maybe it’ll stay warm for ages and you’ll get the crop to full maturity before the cold settles in. At the very worst they’ll get partway grown then stop with the cold and go again mid spring (or whenever it warms again).

I’ve one more lot of brassicas to plant out and depending on how cold the winter is will depend on whether they’re a mid winter or spring crop. I don’t mind either way – it’s always handy having a spring crop up your sleeve.

Stop the seat of your pumpkins getting wet with a bit of dry mulch. For long keeping and sweetest flesh they need to stay on the vine until the stalk is withered and dry.