December In The Vegie Patch

into the garden

I began my food growing journey up Otaki Gorge, living down the drive from some of the best people you’ll find anywhere – Ray and Joan Moffat. Joan had a beautiful but practical garden and I learned many great things working alongside her.

The value of vigorous self seeders, the importance of ground-covers in the war on weeds and how stashes of garden tools about the place saves you miles. How having places to sit and rest makes sure you sit and enjoy and not to waste time being too fussy – take the kids to the river instead. To use what you’ve got to create the things you need, and the value of being in the garden in a little and often way to catch problems when they’re small.

Though it sounds too simple to be life changing, a daily walk and sort in the garden, will change your gardening life. All problems start small. Small problems make for simple solutions = a peaceful easy life. I don’t know about you, but this I love.

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. Liquid feeding at the first sign of a fading plant picks it up and boosts it along before it craps out. Sprinkling slugbait as soon as the carrots germinate prevents a mollusc midnight feast that leaves you empty handed.

Don’t be deceived by its simplicity – a daily stroll is your secret garden weapon.

December to do’s

greenhouse beans

Dwarf beans

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

Make room for them by chopping down greencrops and clearing finished crops or flowers. Or make a new area by laying cardboard and piling up compost or rotten straw or some such and plant into that. Or use boxes or pots.

  • Direct or tray sow a few more beans, corn, cucumbers or zucchini. Look out for rats and mice with direct sown corn seed. Train cucumbers up a trellis to save room and if you can’t be bothered erecting bean frames 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, cause they grow their little hearts out in a live fast die young type style.
  • Plant out a few more tomatoes, basil, parsley and salads. Read about my favourite tomato frames and tomato prep here.

newly planted tomato

  • Direct sow dill, basil, chervil, saladings, magenta spreen, beetroot, carrots, coriander.
  • Sow as many summer greencrops as you can find spaces for – phacelia, buckwheat, mustard 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.
ladybug on buckwheat

Buckwheat

  • 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 a ripe harvest come Autumn.
mounds for melons

Watermelon seedlings

I planted my watermelons last week. Mounds of homemade compost and never letting them dry out are the key to a good melon crop. I leave a little moat around each seedling at the top of the mound to catch the water and retain as much water as poss with grunty compost and by mulching them with old blankets or sacks. Or in this case leftover jute from the berry-house. If you only have a short season like me choose melons to suit, sugarbaby does well.

muched melon

  • Keep the flowers coming on too – 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 it 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.

ladybird-zinnia_EdibleBackyard

  • Make a pile or two of compost for Autumn plantings. 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.

It’s harvest time!

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. Here’s how (and when) to harvest garlic. For the first time in 20 odd years – I have no garlic to harvest because of garlic rust. Boo. There’s a lovely load of onions coming on though. The first red onion harvest this weekend if it’s dry, and good timing too as we’ve only got 6 brown onions left in store.

Herb Harvest

dehydrating mint

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 use my dehydrator, but you can dry them naturally by hanging them in small bunches or laying them flat on trays somewhere warm but out of direct sunlight.

Herbs are easily overlooked, but they are such power houses of goodness we should be eating them daily. Jars of homegrown herbs are super useful for winter cooking, medicine and herb teas. And 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. Get into the habit of checking your soil first, before you water. There is no point in randomly swishing water automatically every evening. Especially if your garden is heavily mulched and fully planted, all you do is get the leaves wet.

Poke your finger into the soil to see if it needs watering or not. As long as its moist at your finger tip its fine to go another day. Unless were talking seed or new seedlings, in which case it needs to moist at the very top. The combo of strong soil + mulch holds onto moisture longer than you think.

Water until your soil is nice and moist. Like barely moist. Not soggy.

Keep a nice rhythm of moist, letting it just dry out, then get moist again. Not only will your crops be better but you’ll use less water. Us gardeners have a big responsibility here.

I’ve written a whole blogpost on it already, you can read it here.

Liquid Feed

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 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 is the best. Failing that, any mulch is a good thing. Stretch your mind – sacks and old blankets are good as gold.

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Anne Young says:

    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!