December In The Vegie Patch

walking in the gate to the vegie patch at ediblebackyard

A daily stroll is your secret garden weapon this December. Catching problems when they’re small makes for simple solutions = a peaceful easy life. 

  • Pinching little laterals off your tomatoes and peppers leaves tiny wounds that heal in a flash and prevent viruses and bacteria getting in.
  • Squashing little groups of aphids or a few shield bugs each day can stay an epidemic.
  • Watering a plant that’s starting to sag catches it before it craps out
  • Sprinkling slugbait as soon as the carrots germinate prevents a mollusc midnight feast that leaves you empty handed.

December to do’s

bed of spring salads at edible backyard

December is all about succession crops – plant a few more of your favourites to keep the harvests flowing in.

Sow

Direct or tray sow another row of green beans and corn, and 1 or 2 more cucumbers or zucchini. Beware rats and mice with direct sown corn seed.

greenhouse beans
Dwarf beans

If you can’t be bothered erecting bean frames or live in a windy spot, grow dwarf beans instead of climbers. All you need is a stake at each end of the row and a bit of twine about the middle to hold them upright. The trick is to sow a new row every fortnight or month depending on how many you eat, cause they grow their little hearts out in a live fast, die young type style.

Direct or tray sow sow dill, basil, chervil, saladings, magenta spreen, beetroot,

Direct sow carrots and coriander.

ladybug on buckwheat
Buckwheat

Sow as many summer greencrops as you can find spaces for – phacelia, buckwheat, mustard, marigold or lupin. These begin as a much-needed rest for your soil, become nectar for the beneficial insects and end up as mulch or compost.

Plant

Plant out a few more tomatoes, basil and parsley plants.

newly planted tomato

Last call to plant out melons, squash, kumara and yams. If you want to get any of these guys happening you need to jump on it this week to have them ripe come Autumn.

Watermelons

mounds for melons
Laying out watermelon seedlings

Because I’m on a base of clay, I grow watermelons in mounds of homemade compost. Mulch with whatever you have – plants, old blankets or sacks – it makes all the difference. You don’t want these guys to dry out.

muched melon

If you only have a short season like me choose melons to suit, sugarbaby does well for us. I hedge my bets by growing a few outside and a few in the greenhouse up strings.

Flowers

Evening sun sunflower
Evening sun sunflowers – sow another lot this month to continue the joy

Keep the flowers coming on – they are such an important part of the whole. A succession of flowers not only makes your garden pretty for all seasons but more importantly, keeps our friends the beneficial insects fed.

Scatter some autumn flower seed about in December either direct or in a tray. Zinnia, gaillardia, cosmos, sunflowers, anise hyssop, cleome, mignonette, marigold – whatever your favourites are.

Summer compost

My favourite pants added to the compost pile!
The best ending for my fav pants – on the compost!

Make a pile or four of compost. So satisifying! And if you haven’t tried my easy peasy compost out yet – give it a go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to make a good brew.

Bring in the onions + garlic!

onion strings

The first onion and garlic harvest will be upon us this month. Be sure to have a supply of greencrop seed at hand to sow into the bed straight after emptying it.

Once the bulbs are formed on your garlics, get them up and curing. Test them by digging one up. If they are heading off to seed get them in right away – the bulbs wont fatten anymore from here. Here’s how (and when) to harvest garlic.

Harvest herbs

harvesting oregano for drying
Harvesting oregano

Mint, thyme, lemon balm, roses, chamomile and oregano are lush and ripe for harvest right now. Catch leaf herbs before they head up to flower, and flowers when they are at their height of perfection. Pick them in the morning after the dew has dried but before the sun burns off their oils. I dry them in my dehydrator.

They will dry perfectly well, hanging in small bunches or laying in single layers in baskets or woven trays, somewhere warm, airy and out of direct sunlight.

drying rose petals in the dehydrator

Jars of homegrown herbs are super useful for winter cooking, medicine and herb teas. They make lovely christmas pressys too.

Look after your soil

Its hot, its dry and its hard yakka growing all that produce – keep your soil in good nick for now and ever more with these three things.

Proper Watering

oscillating sprinkler

Proper watering makes a big difference to the health of your soil. Read all about it here.

Liquid Feed

soak nettle in a bucket of water edible backyard nz

I’m a big fan.

After a feed of seaweed the garden perks right on up that’s cos seaweed contains all essential minerals – the full spectrum. A balance of minerals is key to a thriving soil life which in turn is key to an abundant garden – you can’t do better than seaweed.

My whole garden gets a feed of seaweed and EM every month. And if there’s any extra pressure about (disease or pest) I’ll feed as much as weekly.

Mulch

yarrow fennel and parsley mulch
Nourishing yarrow, fennel and parsley mulch

Mulch is your soils shelter. It keeps the moisture in, provides a roof over the worms heads, and drip feeds the soil life. What a difference that layer makes! If all your mind can conjure at the word mulch, is pea straw then have I got news for you! Mulch is so much more than pea straw.

Mulching also doubles as weeding. When the weeds are too big for the hoe, just pile mulch on top. The weeds will return to the soil a la nature’s way, delighting the worms/ soil life beneath. You also are delighted not having to put your back or knees out.

The very best mulch, the one that gets the soil life humming and keeps the moisture in is a mixed mulch made up of garden debris. Homemade mulch knocks it out of the park. Failing that, any mulch is a good thing. Stretch your mind to sacks, old blankets or clothes that are no longer decent and hanging together by a thread.

Comments

  1. Just love your newsy informative letters. I forward them to my two daughters , one lives in Manly West Brisbane and is an enviromental scientist. . What i would like to ask is that for the first time in quite a few years I have a bumper crop of apples, Prima. Granny Smith and the fascinating Monty’s Surprise. Monty seems to be thinning himself out without any help from me. Is this the norm?

    Should I be thinning out the fruit on the others or just leave them? I mulch them with fallen leaves and lawn clippings and give them a bit of Blood and bone. Is this enough? And finally when should i cover them with netting? I have been getting the odd sodding possum this year!

  2. Hi Kath, can I use grass clippings applied lightly, not in thick dumps, as mulch around veges and flower gardens? I’m having trouble being able to make enough compost, fast enough!
    Thanks

    • oh indeed you can Carole. Before all my mulch maing herbs et all had established grass was my main go to. Increase the nutrition by letting it grow as long as you can before cutting. happy mulching!

  3. Hi Kath , Ten days ago my garden was badly damaged by the worse hail storm I have ever experienced.
    What should I do ? The blackcurrants are just bruised branches .
    Will they recover in time or should I cut them right down so they will grow fresh for next season .
    All the fruit has gone from all the trees .
    Have been able to replant vegetables , it’s what to do with the fruiting trees .
    So hard seeing the garden so sad and damaged .;
    Thank you
    I

    • It is hard seeing the garden damaged Inez – I feel your pain. Without seeing it, I recommend pruning back any shattered wood to good wood, and spraying with seaweed + EM, or similar straight after. Plants are incredibly resilient will move you with the way they rise up again. Keep a relaxed eye on your trees/ shrubs and trim out any wood that deteriorates. Don’t go for a wholesale hard prune at this time of year though ok, if you can avoid it. Bit hard to make this call remotely though. Once you are over the shock and disappointment, follow your gut here, Inez. All will be well, K x

  4. Shannon Hunter says

    Hi Kath,

    At the moment my yellow zucchini plants are not producing any male flowers, only female. I only have two at this stage with younger ones coming through. Do you know what might be causing this? They are otherwise healthy and started off producing male and female flowers so I have harvested some already. Also any tips on helping the garden survive while I’m away fro 10 days over Christmas? I’m planning to mulch up and try and entice a neighbour to water a couple of times.

    Thanks,
    Shannon

    • Hi Shannon, I’ve never grown yellow zucchini before, but all squash do a male, female swap about at times – give it time. There’s nothing else you can do here apart from keeping a new plant coming on every few weeks so that you’ve got a mix of male/ female flowers to keep the balance. Try heritage varieties to see if there is a difference.
      cheers Kath

  5. CHRISTINE MOORE says

    Hi Kath,

    Which EM product do you use? They all look a bit expansive.

    Kind regards,
    Christine

    • Love the apt typo. Yip EM costs a bit. Buy the concentrate is heaps better value. Garden concentrate 1. You can expand it which means add more water and molasses and warm it with an aquarium heater and turn 1 litre into 10, or 20 cant remember 🙂 All the info is on their website. The other way to get microbes going is activated compost – no idea if this is for sale I make my own, which obviously you can too. A couple hundred bucks to buy a ready made kit or if youre handy you can go online and find ways to make your own for next to nothing.

  6. CHRISTINE MOORE says

    I meant expensive!

  7. CHRISTINE MOORE says

    Thanks for your reply Kath. Are you able to do an article one month on activated compost? I enjoy getting your emails and always learn something new.
    Kind regards,
    Christine

  8. Annie Cochrane says

    I really enjoy your garden stories and information – Usually one of the first things I do each morning, often still in my PJs is to walk through the garden, pullling a weed here and there, tying up a tomato, watering, talking and enjoying. No longer. My morning walks are full of sadness for the twisted and curling tomato plants, the scrawny curling struggling capsicums, the dahlias growing knobs rather than leaves. I have been badly hit with killer compost (clopyrolid weedkiller poisoning). I did what I never usually do, and imported a big truckload of garden mix and mushroom compost to fill 5 big new raised beds. All to make gardening easier and more fruitful as I grow older. As I’d run out of my own compost I also put mushroom compost here and there in the rest of the garden. I know you and your other gardener readers will understand the devastation I feel. I find that many other locals here in Raglan have had the same problem, and others all over the country. Even Charles Dowding suffered it a while back and has put out two great videos on it. So I’m in touch with others, and hopefully, this time around, a stop can be put to the use of this poisonous spray that farmers use to destroy broadleaf weeds in their paddocks. Then they make hay from the grass which is sold to, say, horse stables. The horse manure is then sold to comercial compost/soil companies, who then sell their compost to garden supply stores, who sell it to us. Our local supplier, Raglan Landscape supplies, deny the problem, so wont research where it may have come from in their compost. And no reimbursement of the cost, or removal of the soil. And i’m looking at up to 4 years before the poison is neutralised. I’ll be nearly 80 by then. Sorry for the moan, just want to share my story so that others may be forewarned – and you may have come across this Kath and have some ideas. I’m doing test pots of red clover and keeping the beds growing as advised by Charles D. Looking at adding more biological activity also – EM etc, but its a lot of cost, for no veges. Dont want to eat what does grow, such as brassicas, as they will be contaminated even though it doesn’t show. May we be free of this poison soon!!!

    • Oh Annie my heart goes out to you. Its so unfair. I can easily imagine the heartbreak you feel. I’ve been wailing about pyralids for years myself having experienced it in school gardens nearly 20 years ago! Yes that long and still the problem persists. https://www.ediblebackyard.co.nz/the-ins-and-outs-of-choosing-bought-compost/
      Thanks for sharing your story – its the best we can do I is to keep talking about it and steering people towards compost suppliers that dont recycle greenwaste and that do give a damn that eventually suppliers who don’t care will fade away as no one will use them.
      Mustard and daikon radish are good to sow to help cleanse soil and atleast there is something growing. You can also get soil tested – an expense I realise but may result in fast tracking the repair. My knowledge is sketchy here.
      Will you grow somethings in containers? Or perhaps join a community garden?
      Love Kath

      • Annie Cochrane says

        Thank you Kath so much for your understanding response – just what I need at this time. I will take your advice and sow Mustard and Daikon. Yes, I’ll grow in containers and I do have some parts of the old garden which I think are clean. I’m growing red clover here an there as a quick turnaround test. The Hills Lab test costs $300 and sometimes comes back negative even though all the plants growing there show the signs of poisoning. When I phoned them they said that without knowing the exact chemicals involved it may not work. So I”ll continue to post my story where I can and perhaps dig out the soil from two of the five beds and put it on my verge which just grows grass. And go back to inground gardening where the contaminated soil was while leaving the rest growing crops as you suggest, and will test it again in Autumn. 20 years ago you had this!!! whew, horrifying. Thanks again!!

  9. Christine Moore says

    Hi Kathy, Thanks again. Most informative.
    Christine

  10. Hi Kath, always look forward to your monthly newsletter. This year has been very wet for us and for the first time I’m loosing all my carrot seedings to slugs :(. I have beer traps out and go squashing 3 times a week at night but i have not yet managed to get a crop of carrots. I notice you mentioned slug baits? I thought these were a no go for an organic garden so have been stubborn in not resorting to these to get a crop of carrots. Do you use any particular brand? are there any that are better than others in terms of not impacting the good guys etc. Cheers

  11. Lee-Ann Newton says

    Ngā mihi Kath, your garden is looking great! I came to a workshop before the world went crazy in early 2020. I was taken by a plant in your garden that you said is great in a bottle of water too….flower looked like a mini coreopsis and I think you said it was Mexican marigold mint? my friend and I thought we’d grow some for the school garden ( and ours) so purchased some seeds from Koanga nurseries called sweet hyssop marigold a.k.a Mexican mint which has aromatic anise leaves. For some reason I can’t recall if yours was this same plant – I thought yours might have been minty or lemony? Please are you able to tell me if it is sweet anise hyssop or if there is another plant🤔 wishing you a productive abundant Christmas and look forward to 2021 and seeing what you might doing workshop wise Lee-Ann Newton

    • Hey Lee-Ann – Tagetes lemmonii is its name proper. Also called mountain marigold, mexican marigold and lemmons marigold – the nicknames make it confusing dont they! Tagetes lemmonii will get you to the correct plant. And yes it is super delish in a jug of water to flavour it. Kings seeds usually sell it and sometimes I see plants on trade me and Edible Garden in ashurst sells the plants too. Have an abundant summer!

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