Thursday, 21 February 2013

Planning for Autumn Food Gardening

The following notes are a summary of the information presented by Seila Hierk at the Planning for Autumn Food Gardening Workshop held at the NLFG in early February.  Planting guides for February and March appear at the end of this post.

Seila presents his overview of Autumn food gardening at the NLFG
  • Plan your food gardening around the seasonal equinoxes.  The Autumn Equinox falls on March 21 and seedlings should be in the ground to allow enough time (and sunshine) for a June harvest.

February Jobs
  • Garden maintenance in February includes pruning, putting a handful of compost at base of plants, creating compost and ‘renovating’ beds (compost, manure, ‘no dig’ strategies where needed).
  • Powdery mildew is caused by humidity and lack of air flow and often strikes zucchinis and pumpkins.  It can be controlled with a copper spray.
  • Mark perennials such as artichoke, rhubarb, asparagus, sorrel and cannas before growth disappears for winter.

On Composting, Manure and Mulch
  • Chicken vs. Cow – Chicken manure (high in phosphates) should be used for fruit and root crops, whilst cow or sheep manure (high in nitrogen) should be used where leafy crops are to be planted.
  • Harvest leaves from parks/streets to create your own compost throughout Autumn.  It is good to munch these up a bit (run a mower over the top) for quicker composting.
  • Grow your own mulch/green manure: alfalfa (lucerne), broadbeans, fenugreek, linseed, lupins, mustard, oats and vetch, can be ‘chopped and dropped’ when just about to flower.
  • It is cheaper to buy lucerne, straw etc. from pet suppliers rather than nurseries.
  • When adding organic matter:  for established gardens add compost/manure of top of soil, but for poorly performing gardens layer compost, lucerne, manure, dynamic lifter in layers (using a no-dig strategy) or alternatively 'trenching' (as per the NLFG) whereby  organic matter has been added to the soil by burying chopped up broad bean stems and leaves and other garden material in trenches alongside growing areas.
  • Creating a 'hot compost' is also ideal at this time of year which can be done by massing at least a cubic metre of chopped up garden material and organic material in an area of the garden.

Crop Rotation
  • Seila recommends using a ‘photo diary’ to manage your crop rotation.
  • Crops should be rotated in the following order:

eg. silverbeet
eg. tomatoes
climbing beans
broad beans
  • Pumpkins, corn and zucchinis are heavy feeders and should be followed by legume crops.
  • Enriching your soil with generous amounts of compost or manure at the end of each growing season can bypass the need for crop rotation.

Growing Tips
  • You can extend your growing season throughout Autumn for summer vegetables by covering plants with a mini hot-house (sticks and clear plastic covering).  Individual plants can be ‘hot-housed’ by using two sticks and a plastic bag.
  • Capsicums, chillis and eggplants can remain the in the ground over winter.  Cover them with a piece of shade cloth to protect from frost over winter (plants can be transplanted into one area about 40cm apart).  Plants can be uncovered in Spring and you will start next summer with established plants and therefore reap fruit much earlier!
  • It is ideal to grow brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower etc.) where climbing beans have grown.
  • Protect your brassicas from cabbage moths by meshing them.
  • Seila uses a short/medium/long term interplanting system

4 months
2-3 months
6 weeks

  • Due to the lower angle of the sun in Autumn/Winter, crops needing increased sunlight, such as onions, can be planted on the outside of garden beds with the short term crops that need to be accessible.  Medium and long term crops can be planted in the centre or towards the rear of beds.
S – Short term crops such as spinach, lettuce as well as root plants, onions and spring onions.

  • Contain Jerusalem artichoke in a pot buried in garden beds or it will take over.

Seed Saving
  • Look out for plants that you will let go to seed or collect the seed from.  The strongest plants should be saved for seed and the weakest eaten!  Save the seeds from at least five different plants for genetic diversity (or swap some with a neighbour).
  • Garlic can be grown cheaply from Australian head of garlic (not imported garlic that may have been treated so as to not sprout).  Eat the small cloves and save the large ones for planting out in March.

Planting Guide

Planting guides by Angelo Eliades.  Used with permission.

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