Shadecloth shelter on west side of box
Shadecloth shelter on west side of box

We are now in the hottest and driest time of the year. It is a tough time for our gardens and some plants will need help to survive. Tender young plants will need regular watering and protection from the sun especially on those hot windy days. If they are in pots, consider moving them to a shady spot such as the south side of a building or bush or under the eaves. I move my herbs under the outdoor table, on the 40 deg days, as we won’t be sitting there! Old net curtains and sheets can be pegged over veggie beds and bushes to create some shade. Just make sure they do not blow away when the change comes through!

February harvest
February harvest

You can help your food plants by remembering to harvest the fruit and veg as they ripen. After all that is why we put all that effort into planting and weeding in the spring! Keep a good eye on the tomatoes, peppers, zucchinis, cucumbers, beans and corn. They can soon get past their best if you let them. In general, the more you pick, the more they produce. However this does not work for pumpkins.

Jobs to do in my Ocean Grove garden this month:

  • Prune the apricot, plum, nectarine and peach trees when they have finished fruiting. I shall pick a day when it is cool and rain is not expected.
  • Apply weekly Seasol to the vegetables and citrus trees. Top up the mulch where it has become thin.
  • Remove the bean, corn, cucumber and zucchini plants as they stop fruiting. Check the soil ph in the empty veg beds and adjust if necessary.
  • Pot up the broccoli and kale seedlings and keep in a cool spot on hot days. Give them half strength liquid fertiliser twice weekly.
  • Keep up the watering. Give the new trees, citrus and shrubs a good soak twice a week. Soak any pots that have dried out in a deep bucket.

Learners Corner

Cucumber ready for picking
Cucumber ready for picking

Hopefully you have been able to harvest some beautiful, possibly oddly shaped, vegetables from your garden in recent weeks. Don’t worry if your tomatoes are still green when everyone else has red ones. Some varieties do not ripen until well into February.

Most vegetables that have produced over spring and summer will die over the next few weeks. As they die, just remove the plants. There is no need to dig up the roots, as they will disappear gradually. If the plants were healthy they can be composted, otherwise put them into the green bin.

While the bed is empty, it can be prepared for the winter crop. Now is the time to add manure, compost and/or organic fertilisers. Water well and cover with a garden mulch or straw. Now you can do your research into what to plant next. If you can possibly wait until late March or April before planting anything you will have a greater chance of success. Even though you may have no plants growing in you patch, it will still benefit from watering in hot dry weather. If you look under the mulch and can see movement in the soil, you are doing brilliantly and should be off to a good start in the autumn.

For the Experienced Gardener

New seedlings - potted up and labelled
New seedlings – potted up and labelled

If you have been nursing seedlings through January, they are probably big enough to pot up into small pots. They will still need to be moved to a cool spot on really hot days but should now be growing well. A weak liquid fertiliser will speed them up if necessary. Beware of giving them too much fertiliser as it makes them prone to aphid attacks.

Now is a good time to sow seeds for lettuce and herbs such as coriander and chervil either in seed trays or in pots for the patio or balcony. By the end of March they should be large enough to plant out into the garden. If the weather is mild, lettuce, silverbeet and spinach seedlings should do well out in the garden but they will need plenty of water and shade on those hot sunny days.

If you are lucky enough to have fruit trees, it is time to do some summer pruning. This is particularly true for stone fruit as they are prone to fungal infections if pruned in cold wet weather. There are a number of books and websites where you can get detailed information on how best to prune the different fruit trees and it is worth doing some research as methods vary for different fruits and the age of the tree.

Seeds to sow this month

Broccoli, fennel, lettuce, kale, silverbeet, spring onions, chervil, coriander, parsley

Seedlings to plant out this month

Lettuce, silverbeet, spinach, spring onions

The War Zone

As vegetable plants age they develop yellow and brown leaves. This can be due to diseases such as mildew or to lack of water. Removing these leaves encourages new leaves to develop and slows down the spread of diseases. Be sure to put these leaves in the green bin so the Council can hot compost them. This stops the diseases from spreading.

Roma tomato affected by bottom end rot
Roma tomato affected by bottom end rot

A few people I know have reported brown patches on the bottom of their tomato fruit. This condition is known as ‘bottom end rot’ and can also affect capsicums. It is not caused by a pest or disease. It is caused by a lack of calcium. Often the calcium is present in the soil but is not available to the fruit so adding calcium in the form of lime does not always fix the problem. It appears when the plants are watered eratically and can be caused either by too much water or not enough. The solution is to check the soil before watering. If it is very dry then water more often. Conversely if the soil is already damp, water more sparingly.

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