April Garden Notes

Italian eggplant - beautiful and tasty

Italian eggplant – beautiful and tasty

Autumn is always a busy time in our garden. There are beds to prepare, seeds to sow, seedlings to tend and plant, weeds to pull and pests to monitor. The summer vegetables have finished except for the capsicums and eggplants. The stone fruits are a distant memory but we are really enjoying the figs! At last we do not need to water the garden so frequently but it is still necessary some weeks. Also the sun can get quite strong and it may be necessary to shade tender plants especially ones that have just been planted.

Wind Anemones blooming in autumn

Wind Anemones blooming in autumn

Trees and shrubs may need trimming, pruning and fertilising. Much of the garden waste can be turned into compost. This time of the year the worms are very active and the compost seems to make itself. Since I have been more careful with watering my compost it has been much more successful. The presence of ants indicates that it is not wet enough, a bad smell that it is too wet. I use a compost turner (looks like a large corkscrew) to mix up the dry and wet patches. The worms don’t seem to mind!

Jobs to do in my Ocean Grove garden this month:

Globe artichokes appreciate a feed in autumn

Globe artichokes appreciate a feed in autumn

  • Clean out the remaining zucchinis, cucumbers and tomatoes that have finished fruiting.
  • Prepare the beds for the next crop by cleaning out the weeds, adding manure/compost/organic fertiliser and water well.
  • Sow carrots, beetroot, peas and broad bean seeds.
  • Plant early maturing garlic in the bed prepared last month.
  • Plant out the lettuce and calendula seedlings that have been growing in pots on our balcony.
  • Give the globe artichoke and rhubarb plants a generous dressing of manure and cover with mulch.
  • Give the camellias a dressing of slow release fertiliser.
  • Tip prune the natives that were planted last year.

Learners Corner

If you have never grown vegetables from seed before, now is a good time to start. Broad beans and peas are large seeds and require little in the way of fertilisers. However if you grew a crop in the patch over summer, a light sprinkling of an organic general purpose fertiliser, before sowing the seeds, would be a good idea.

Mature peas holding onto their support

Mature peas holding onto their support

Sow the seeds (5cm apart for peas, 10cm apart for broad beans) in a row about as deep again as their diameter. Cover the seeds and press down lightly with the palm of your hand. Give them a light watering then no more until the plants appear. If you have blackbirds in the garden, support a bird net over the row so that the birds cannot scratch and dig up the seeds. The plants should start to emerge in a week or two. Unless they are dwarf varieties they will need some sort of support. Broad beans can be tied to 1 metre high bamboo stakes. Peas require something to climb up such as a piece of plastic lattice supported by a stake at each end. Two strong stakes string tied between them in rows approx. 10cm apart will also work.

Be aware that nothing much will grow through the winter on the shady side of the peas or broad beans. However you could plant some lettuce and silver beet seedlings on the sunny side and they should all get along fine.

For the Experienced Gardener

For the next few months while the soil is warm, it is easy to get seeds to germinate directly outside. There is a much wider choice of plant varieties to choose from when you grow from seed. Seed companies like Diggers and New Gippsland have some interesting heritage lettuces that make for beautiful salads. Some of my favourites are Freckles (green with red speckles), Amish Deer Tongue (pointed velvety leaves) and Rouge D’Hiver (dark red cos).

Young watercress plant nearly ready for picking

Young watercress plant nearly ready for picking

To add more colour and texture to your salads it is worth growing rocket and some of the Asian vegetables such as mizuna and tatsoi. Just be aware that these belong to the cabbage family and may need protection from the green caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly.

Another vegetable that can be used in salads or on its own as a garnish is watercress. It has very fine seeds and needs to be kept damp. I have found it easy to grow in pots and it you hide the pots under a bench or table, the cabbage white butterfly leaves it alone and it is shaded from the sun so needs less watering.

Seeds to sow this month

Asian greens, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, endive, fennel, lettuce, kale, parsnip, peas, radishes, silverbeet, spinach, spring onions, watercress, chervil, coriander, parsley.

Seedlings to plant out this month

Asian greens, broccoli, fennel, garlic, globe artichokes, kale, lettuce, rocket, silverbeet, spinach, spring onions, coriander, parsley.

The War Zone

Deadly nightshade develops small black berries that are poisonous

Deadly nightshade develops small black berries that are poisonous

Aphids and caterpillars can be a problem through autumn. These were discussed in the March notes. Try to avoid chemical sprays if you can as this gives the predators chance to build up their numbers and do the job for you. If this does not work the SGA (Sustainable Gardening Australia) have lists of recommended products on their website. http://www.sgaonline.org.au/green-product-guide/crazy-critters/

Now is the time of year when the weeds start to grow. Watch out for deadly nightshade as the berries look nice to eat but they are very poisonous. The plant is in the potato/tomato family and is often found growing in vegetable gardens. Please pull these weeds out and put them in the green bin if they have berries on them.

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