December In The Vegie Patch

into the garden

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.
  • 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.

December to do’s

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, cause they grow their little hearts out in a live fast, die young type style.

Direct sow dill, basil, chervil, saladings, magenta spreen, beetroot, carrots, 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. Read about my favourite tomato frames and tomato prep here.

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 grow a few outside and a few in the greenhouse to hedge my bets.

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.

ladybird-zinnia_EdibleBackyard

Summer compost = autumn supply

Make a pile or four 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.

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.

It’s been another year of garlic rust at my place and my harvest is pathetic to say the least. I may save myself the heart ache and leave it to our friends on the east coast to grow. Rust, it seems, adores the conditions here.  

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 them flat on trays, somewhere warm but 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. 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 be 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. Never 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.

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 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. 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!

  3. Inez Wilson says

    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

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