FIRST PUBLISHED DEC 2014 (Viv Kershaw); UPDATED DEC 2015 (Viv Kershaw)

Now that the plants have put on their spring growth we need to prepare for the heat of summer. With a busy month ahead, it will be harder to find the time to look after the garden. It is not such an easy time of the year to get new plants established.

Soldier beetles - looking for aphids to eat
Soldier beetles – looking for aphids to eat

School holidays are looming so you may want to think about projects that you can do with younger gardeners. My grandchildren love watering the garden with either a hose or small watering can. They are very good at finding plants that look sad and need a drink! They are also excellent at spotting bugs and snails.

Jobs to do in my Ocean Grove garden this month:

  • Top up the mulch round the fruit trees and native plants except for the banksias and proteas.
  • For perennial plants and shrubs that have finished flowering (e.g. camellias) give them a light prune to tidy them up. Follow this with a feed of organic fertiliser, manure and or compost before watering well and mulching.

    Spinach protected from the hot sun by shade cloth
    Spinach protected from the hot sun by shade cloth
  • Remember to cover the lettuces, spinach and silver beet with shade cloth or old lace curtains on the hot sunny days.
  • Keep up the watering – carry it out before 10am or after 4pm to minimise loss by evaporation. Give the fruit trees a good soak twice a week. Plants in pots and green veggies will require daily watering and others every second day.
  • Check the zucchinis and pumpkins early every morning. Assist with fertilisation if bees are in short supply.
  • Continue to tie up the tomatoes as they grow to protect them from the strong winds.
  • Net the fruit trees to prevent the birds and possums from stealing the fruit.

Learners Corner

December is a busy month for most people so it is important not to neglect any plants that you already have growing in the garden.

Healthy looking tomato plants
Healthy looking tomato plants

Concentrate your efforts on maintaining your existing plants. You will need to water more frequently in the hot weather, possibly in the early morning and again in the late afternoon or evening on the really hot days. It is worth teaming up with a friend so that there is someone who can do this for you if you are too busy. Your plants will appreciate a weekly watering with a liquid fertiliser such as Powerfeed and a seaweed tonic such as Seasol. Worm juice, if you have it, is possibly the best of all. It needs to be diluted by a factor of 8 to 10.

Hopefully you are getting some vegetables for harvesting. The best time to harvest lettuces and leafy vegetables is early in the day before the sun makes them wilt. Fruits such as tomatoes and zucchinis seem to taste best when harvested late in the day. Tomatoes will continue to ripen in a bowl but lose their flavour when refrigerated. Zucchinis will not ripen any further after picking but will keep well in the fridge for a week. They will grow into marrows if left on the bush.

For the Experienced Gardener

Now is a difficult time to start seeds for planting outside, as the weather is too hot and dry through January and February for tender young plants.

Radish, Cress and Linseed micro greens after 4 days
Radish, Cress and Linseed micro greens after 4 days

If you love growing plants from seed, may I suggest you try growing some micro greens. These can be grown in a shaded spot in the kitchen, bathroom or laundry. They will grow in about 1 cm of seed raising mix in seed trays placed inside a larger container such as a washing up bowl or a cat litter tray.

The easiest seeds to try are linseed, cress, radish and mustard. Be sure to select seeds that have not been treated with fungicides or other chemicals.

Just put 1cm seed raising mix into seed trays, water well, and then sprinkle the seed thickly. Cover with a newspaper or towel until the seedlings start to emerge in 2 or 3 days. Then remove the cover and water gently when the surface dries out. After another few days they should be standing tall with long stems and a pair of leaves on the top. Harvest by cutting with scissors. They make great decorations for party platters and salads.

Seeds to sow this month

Lettuce (hot weather varieties such as Cos, Oakleaf & Tango), spring onions

Seedlings to plant out this month

Cucumber, lettuce (Cos), spring onions, sweetcorn, zucchini, basil, Thai basil

The War Zone

Aphid damage on Pat's cabbage
Aphid damage on Pat’s cabbage

Aphids thrive in hot dry weather and seem to appear overnight. They do have several predators such as ladybirds and soldier beetles so it is highly possible that they will disappear just as quickly. If they are a nuisance, they can be removed by hosing with water or spraying with pyrethrum. Please bear in mind that pyrethrum will also kill bees and the good bugs so try to use it at the end of the day when the bees are no longer active.

Snails and slugs are likely to be a problem after rain so that is the time to sprinkle snail bait. An organic solution that works well is to patrol the garden after dark and tread on all the snails – but don’t tell the children!

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