Gardening is not just a hobby for me, and it’s not just a career. It’s my absolute passion, and every single day I Grow Inspired by the magic that happens in the soil. Read on to hear my tips, insights and upcoming events and please feel free to add your comments – I love to hear what you think!
Continuing with our Tomato Success Series, I share my advice to nourish and maintain your tomato plants throughout the summer for a bountiful harvest all season long.
What should I feed my tomato plants for optimal growth?
Potassium is the number one nutrient you need to focus on increasing in your soil when growing tomatoes. Good amounts of potassium give you higher yields, juicier tomatoes with higher acidity, and more even ripening.
Did you know that potassium is required for lycopene, which is the reason your tomatoes are red?
If you are still having fires, save your wood ash (known as potash), as this is fantastic as a side dressing to boost this key nutrient. Just water it into the soil periodically during the summer.
Calcium and magnesium are also essential for your tomato growth. For calcium, I tend to use Nano-cal from Environmental Fertilisers, which is available from Kings Plant Barn. Magnesium can be obtained by watering with Epsom salts, which is really known as Magnesium sulphate. This is available in 20kg sacks from any good farm shop. Remember to add a good balance of these and apply them regularly throughout the growing season, especially when the flowers form.
Maintaining your tomato plant – creating airflow and improving strength
As your plant grows, it will produce laterals which appear next to the stem and above a leaf join. These look like miniature tomato plants and will produce tomatoes. I tend to nip mine off in the first 50cm or so to give my plant more strength.
My advice from years of growing is to remove as many leaves as possible as your plants grow, to enable good airflow. As long as your plant has a third of its leaves, you can remove the rest. The best way to do this is by snapping them downwards. I never use anything metal near a lot of my plants especially tomatoes, as this can cause a negative reaction within your plant.
Regularly check your plant for signs of early blight, especially if there are long periods of rain and humidity.
My top tip for you is to collect all these leaves and put them in a bucket and pour water over them, leave for a day and then pour the water back on your plants and discard the mushy leaves. Honestly, your tomatoes will love you for this!
Regular spraying for optimal health
As part of my fortnightly spray programme, I feed my tomatoes with Effective Microorganisms and Liquid Kelp which maintain the strength and health of the plant throughout the growing season.
These are both fantastic tonics to boost plant and soil health, increase pest and disease resistance, support the plant structure through climatic stress (excess heat, drought, wind etc.), and they will even increase the shelf life and nutrient-density of the produce! Bonus!
I increase spraying both when the plants come into flower and when fruit forms.
Remember, a healthy plant vibration will repel and prevent pests and disease – removing the need to deal with them. However, as we all know, tomato plants can be prone to a lot of pest and disease and the most common pests that can attack tomatoes are whitefly, cutworms, psyllid and green shield bugs.
Remember, as the weather heats up, to be observant at all times!
Good luck with your tomatoes this season – I wish you a bountiful harvest all summer long!
Who doesn’t love to grow plump, juicy tomatoes, that can be plucked fresh from your backyard or even balcony, ready to add straight into a refreshing summer salad?
Almost no one! And that’s why, at this time of year, I am flooded with questions about how to grow tomatoes well. So I’ve re-established my beloved Tomato Success Series as we head into summer, to help you achieve the best tomato harvest you’ve seen yet. Keen? I thought so…
PREPARING THE SOIL FOR TOMATOES
I find that a spade depth of friable soil in the garden or a deep pot or container works best.
Tomatoes love sandy loamy soil above all others. If you are stuck with clay soil like me, it will require some extra work to prepare. Well-rotted compost or sheep pellets are a must, plus Bokashi to create the perfect mix for tomatoes.
Tomatoes turn their noses up at dry soil or water-logged soil, as they much prefer a balance in between, with moisture-retentive soil. Tomatoes like a neutral pH of close to 7, so not too acidic or alkaline. If your pH is too low, you can add a couple of handfuls of lime and this should do the trick to raise the pH, but be sure to water it in.
What nutrients need to be in the soil for growing tomatoes?
Soil with high amounts of potassium will produce a juicier tomato with higher acidity, plus this essential nutrient maintains balance and water in your plant. A lack of potassium can cause uneven ripening.
High levels of potassium have been proven to give much higher yields, so it is really a no-brainer – if you do nothing else, remember to add your potassium!
One nutrient to watch for is nitrogen – tomatoes require lower levels of nitrogen in your soil, as too much can cause rot.
BEFORE YOU PLANT TOMATOES
If you have grown your tomatoes from seed, wait until they have four good strong leaves before transplanting them into the garden.
If you have bought yours as a seedling, please inspect it carefully to ensure there are no yellow leaves and also check under leaves to make sure there are no egg sacks of nasty insects hiding. Don’t be the reason pests or disease are introduced into your own garden!
If you have leaves that look a bit suspect, nip these off with your fingers and dispose of them. The idea is to have a happy healthy tomato plant go into the ground at the start.
HOW & WHERE TO PLANT TOMATOES
Tomatoes can tolerate being planted deep, and my recommendation is to plant in the soil right down to the first two leaves. This will give it a fine start in life, and give it more stability in the long run.
Top tip: Put your stakes next to your plant as soon as it is planted to avoid going through the roots later on and damaging them. The stake will then be ready to give your plant stability as soon as it is tall enough.
I tend to make a bamboo frame, either in a tepee shape or, at the back of a bed, I put the stakes into the soil and then tie stakes across in a grid. This is a particularly great shape as, later on in the growing season, you can train some of the laterals along these horizontal stakes.
If you are growing normal tomatoes, not dwarf or bush, then they like to be a minimum of 40cm apart. This will give them good space to grow and enable airflow when the humidity comes.
For sweet tomatoes, plant them in an area where they will get at least 6-8 hours of sunshine a day.
As soon as they are tall enough, your tomato plants should be tied up with a soft tie or an old pair of tights – anything soft and stretchy so as not to rub on the tomato and damage the stem. Tie at every possible opportunity to protect your plant in its rapid growth and prevent it from getting top heavy and falling over onto the soil.
Next month, the Tomato Success Series continues with feeding and tending to your tomato plants. Stay tuned!
Spring has ‘sprung’ in the Southern Hemisphere, with flowers bursting forth, buds swelling and the birds becoming active. But these bizarre, autumnal-like weather conditions are challenging our gardens and, for many of us, our patience too! There are three key steps to take in the garden to best manage the impacts of this unfortunate spring weather.
#1 – Preventing pest and disease is a job for spring
For the second year running, the persistent spring rain prevails, creating a humidity in the air that can give early rise to pest and disease.
Vigilance is critical during such weather patterns. This may well save your summer crops! Check as regularly as you can for early rust on garlic, and black aphids on the leeks, chives and spring onions. Let’s get on top of these pests now, before they infest our plants! Spray with a good organic oil and feed your plants regularly to boost their health and resilience.
#2 – Sow only when the temperature is right
While it is typically time to start sowing our spring/summer seeds, I urge you to remember that summer seeds love a constant 20+ degrees for optimal success.
If you are too keen to wait for warmer weather, start them off indoors or in the greenhouse. Only prick out when the first true leaves are formed, to avoid leggy seedlings that will struggle later on.
#3 – Build and care for your garden’s eco-system now
It is a great time to sow your flower seeds to provide food for the bees and to attract beneficial insects. They will also be a key tactic to protect your garden from future pests.
Turn the compost now, ready to use on the garden when your new beds are formed, or to use as a side dressing for your establishing plants, like garlic and leeks.
Healthy soil creates healthy plants; it grows nutrient rich food, which in turn gives us good gut health and energy – exactly what we all need!
All in all, it is prime time to give love to your garden and plan for the summer months to come.
A message to all gardeners this spring:
To all gardeners that are feeling disheartened by the seeming ‘delay’ of spring weather – please remember that this is the way gardening goes… We are subject to the challenges of the weather and sometimes we might not get the crop we desire.
Never give up hope and rise to the challenge, as growing food is so important in this new world, where food shortages and price rises are appearing everywhere.
Take care of yourselves, and your plants, and I hope you grow inspired.
Nourishing the soil is the foundation of organic gardening.
Healthy soil is vital because it is the ultimate source of any food production, providing the optimum nutrients for growing food. Remember, if a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t be in our food.
More than this, nurturing your soil helps maintain biodiversity and actively prevents pests and disease.
We can and should harness biodiversity in our own gardens by growing a wide variety of plants that benefit the whole garden, the way nature intends without human interference.
It is the most effective way to manage and proactively prevent pests and disease.
A polyculture creates biodiversity, where there are a variety of different species planted together to bring nature back into balance. In a polyculture, all parts of the land are used in a balanced way to consume and also replace the soil’s nutrition with different plants using different parts of the soil. Even weeds play their part.
In organic gardening, we replicate nature as much as we can. There are no quick fixes and no chemicals, and this is why nurturing a healthy ecosystem is your best line of defence against problems BEFORE THEY START.
A major principle to organic gardening is to feed the soil and the soil will feed the plants. To achieve this, a regular organic spraying of natural fertilisers and minerals are all that is required. Synthetic fertilisers are more expensive and offer a quick fix in the short term, but destroy the soil and pollute our waterways.
Soil regeneration is another fundamental element of growing a healthy, thriving garden without pest and disease trouble. But it will fix even more than this…
Do you suffer drought in your area? Creating a healthy, active soil sponge is the key to holding water in the soil.
What is a healthy active soil sponge?
When your soil is restored to optimum health with the right bacteria, fungi and humus present, the soil becomes a sponge that can soak up all the water it is given and stores it within its structure, so it is available to plant roots as required.
Healthy soil sponges help with droughts and floods alike, as the soil is able to absorb water rather than have it run-off, away from your garden.
Top tips to care for your soil:
#1 Feed it with the good stuff. Artificial fertilisers destroy microbial life. Organic matter, such as vermicast from your worm farm, enhances microbial life, helping your plants to grow.
#2 Death is part of life. If a plant dies, don’t cut it out. Allow it to break down and return to the soil, adding its nutrients back into the mix. It will help feed the next plant.
#3 Support and protect its structure. I always apply a good layer of mulch over my soil, as this suppresses weeds; boosts water retention and prevents the soil from eroding away from the weather.
#4 Rotate your crops to get the most out of one area. Different plants should be rotated in the one soil space, because this enables different parts of the soil to be used by the roots of the plants. For example, if you first plant lettuce and follow this with carrots, the root systems are really different and use different depths of the soil. This enables the plants to maximise use of the nutrients in the soil, and it also prevents diseases in the soil.
#5 Give it a rest. Just like every living thing, it needs a break from time to time. Do this by planting a green manure crop to help replenish the soil. Legumes are really good nitrogen fixers and usually deep-rooting, so help to open up any compaction within the soil. Also when cut down and dug in, they become a great carbon source.
Please remember to take care of your soil, first and foremost. When the nutrients aren’t in the soil you grow in, they won’t be in the food you’ve grown.
At the Grow Inspired Academy, an online one-year course, I teach the essential skills you need to be able to harness biodiversity in your own garden, combat pests and disease, and create your own healthy, nutrient-rich soil.
Learn at your own pace, as we cover the five key elements to creating this success for yourself – save time, save money and most importantly, save your sanity from trying to grow and always discovering your efforts are attacked by one pest or another.
Doors open for new members – visit https://www.growinspiredacademy.com
With food shortages imminent, the responsibility shifts to each of us to feed ourselves. A fantastic way to do this is growing food that can feed us throughout the season and beyond.
So, this month let’s focus on my top picks – potatoes, kumara, pumpkins and jerusalem artichokes. These fantastic crops will grow with little care and store well in the pantry, feeding us for longer. Tubers are fuss-free, simply needing to be fed, mulched and watered, and the magic of Jerusalem artichokes is that they can be left in a permanent, dedicated bed and harvested when needed.
Now is the perfect time to start to prepare your ground with well-rotted compost for your summer sowing of pumpkins and potatoes. Remember – take the time and effort needed to properly prepare your growing beds because, if a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t be in your food.
Early potatoes can be planted now, with your main crop going in over the following couple of months.
When choosing your potato varieties, it is good to check whether they are a main or early crop. This is because early crops are best for consuming over the summer months, and main crop varieties will store over winter months, if treated to the right conditions.
There are also some delicious maori potatoes available for planting that offer a tremendous depth of flavour and creamy insides, just perfect for the summer salad.
When planting potatoes, it is always good to remember to mound them up with dried grass, soil or straw, as this will encourage more potatoes to form. You can also grow them in a tub or big container and mound as you go.
Potatoes are ready after the flower turns backwards; then it is time to cut the stems off just above ground level and leave for a few weeks, as this will help the skins harden off before harvest.
Now is the time to put your kumara tubers into a sand box for them to grow kumara tupu. Tupu are rooted shoots which grow from the parent kumara and can be pinched off and planted out to form a kumara plant around late October-early November.
Kumara can take anything from 120-150 days to mature. A good indication of maturity is when the leaves start to turn yellow. Bush beans act as a great companion for kumara, as they fix nitrogen to the soil for the kumara to lap up.
Seeds for pumpkins can be sown already in warmer climates.
I tend to only plant two varieties of pumpkin as they can cross-pollinate. I select one that is a short-keeper like a butternut or buttercup, and one that will store well over the winter months. For this, I like the Queensland blue, as it produces reliable fruit year in year out and stores well, under the right conditions.
When choosing your location for your pumpkin plants, be sure to give them some afternoon shade if possible, as they can suffer with extreme heat. If your garden sees little shade, I recommend planting near a taller plant like corn or climbing beans that will provide shade for your pumpkins. Remember also that you only need to water at the planting point, and not the whole plant.
Jerusalem artichokes like to be planted about 10-12cm deep and about 30cm apart. It is best to have a separate, permanent bed for these and just dig them out when required to eat, as they don’t store well once out of the ground.
They grow well in big pots, if you don’t have too much space, and are delicious roasted. In the late summer, they reward you with sunflower-like flowers. After flowering, cut just above ground level and wait for the stems to start to die back; then dig as required.
After you have finished harvesting, put a good layer of compost on and mulch and then the following year they will pop up when they are ready.
For more gardening coaching and advice, discover the Grow Inspired Academy – our signature course designed to teach you everything you need to know to grow your own nourishing food. Doors open soon!
This time of year is the opportunity to replenish your soil. One of the most important ways to nourish your garden beds prior to spring planting is to sow nitrogen-fixing plants over winter.
Which crops will fix nitrogen in my soil?
Peas and broad beans are wonderful plants – they are not only delicious crops to eat, but they have the magical ability to fix nitrogen to your soil.
I love to plant an early spring crop of peas and a late crop of broad beans that will be ready in time for my first spring salads. I find these crops such fun to plant, as they really don’t need much care and they give me immense joy at the end when I open the crunchy pods or eat young peas in their shells. For this reason, they’re great to plant with kids – such reward.
Peas and broad beans can tolerate the cold and produce the first flowers of the season for the bees. Depending on your area, it might be time to plant them this week or next!
With the unpredictability of the weather all over the world, the way that we grow food and the seasonal window within which we can have success will no doubt continue to change markedly with each and every season ahead of us. I am certain that we will need to learn the art of patience for continual trial and error until we hit that magic window of time for success in our region.
When should I sow peas and sweet peas?
I tend to sow my peas in the months of July, August, September and October. However, if you are in an area that gets snow or hard frost, I recommend pushing these sowing times out by one month.
When I am nearing my first planting in late winter / early spring, I tend to cover my areas with thick cardboard weighed down with a rock to enable the soil to warm up slightly. This is a nifty little trick for raised beds especially! Be sure that this cardboard then goes in the compost after planting.
Five tips for success with growing peas
- Peas like to have something to climb up, like chicken wire or netting, as the tendrils that come out of the peas hook around the netting and hold the pea firm, enabling it to grow much quicker. It is always best to do this prior to planting – otherwise if you decide to do it when the peas are growing, you can too easily damage and snap the plants. They are delicate, especially in the early stages of growth.
- Peas like to be direct sown into the soil, about 5cm apart. I recommend pushing the seeds into the ground about 2cm deep. You can sow seeds when your soil temperatures are above 6 degrees and they should take approximately 21 days to germinate.
- If you want to speed up the process, I advise soaking them and sprouting them indoors first, before you plant them. However, be very mindful not to damage the sprouted part when you plant them.
- You can soak the seeds for 24 hours in water or soak them in water and a few drops of EM (Effective Microbes) before planting, which will aid even faster germination.
- Peas like to be continually picked so – I encourage you – please don’t be shy in picking them! You can even eat them when they have hardly formed any peas, and they are sweet and delicious – devour the entire thing, shell included! The more regularly you pick them, the more peas they will continue producing for you. This is exactly the same for sweet peas, which will produce more fragrant, sweet-scented flowers the more you pick them.
Top tip: Remember, peas are of great value in your garden, as they fix nitrogen to the soil. So when your peas are spent, cut them off and use the top parts as a pea straw to mulch around your plants and dig the roots up and turn them under the soil.
Peas contain copious amounts of vitamin K, vitamin C, fibre, manganese, vitamin A and folate. Go on, plant some peas today…!
Growing broad beans
I like to plant a late winter crop of broad beans as well. Don’t you?
I do this for the young pods with the tiny sweet beans inside, as I just love to eat these raw.
Or you could let them grow big and fat and make delicious falafels out of them. If you’ve never tried them yourself, check out this online recipe for inspiration!
I also use the above ground part of the plants as a summer mulch for my tomatoes and cucumbers.
It’s the time of year to think about citrus tree borer – an irritating pest that can cause havoc with your lemons! Over the past month, I have received so many questions about this little pest that I felt it was time to revive an older blog post I wrote with my tips on how to tackle it.
Borer grubs are dormant for the next couple of months, so it is an ideal time to cut out and remove any borer. This is your time to act! Really, when it is dormant is the only time to cut it out, otherwise the grub will lay eggs on new cuts and then they will bore into the new growth of your tree.
Here are the signs you need to watch for and what you can do about it.
What do borers look like?
Borer grubs are quite big in size, and if your tree is quite young, they can take up nearly the width of the whole branch! They are fat and juicy, and half the thickness of my pinky finger, no wonder they do so much damage!!!
How can I tell if my citrus tree has a borer infestation?
A major sign to watch for is that your tree will lack vigour and have holes along the branches. In some cases, you will even be able to see mounds of sawdust on the branches and down the stem.
One of the easiest ways borer can get into your lemon tree is through a small cut on the lower trunk from a weedeater. Honestly, time and time again I have seen this, which becomes an entry point for pest and disease. If this happens to your tree, be sure to paste the wound to help it heal and to prevent pest and disease from entering.
How can I treat my citrus for borer?
The totally organic way of dealing with borer is to insert a G string from a guitar down the hole to pierce the grub, however this could take some time (and patience!).
At Grow Inspired, we typically use a squirt of CRC down the hole, as this smothers the grub and causes it to die, without harming the trees.
Following this, apply pruning paste over the holes or wounds to protect them from further infestation.
TOP TIP: It is so IMPORTANT to remember to either burn or dispose of your infected branches.
Borer can kill citrus trees if left untreated.
You can also keep your tree alive by removing the dead wood and keeping an eye on your tree, looking for new sawdust trails.
When pruning the borer out of your tree, this is an ideal time to give your tree some shape and let the air flow through the middle to prevent a wee microclimate happening, where pest and disease thrive.
How can I best take care of my citrus tree right now?
Remember to feed your tree over the winter period as it will be striving to grow, produce fruit and get ready for the next season’s growth.
Over the winter months, it is also a great idea to build up a good mulch around your citrus trees. This will help keep the water in the soil and prevent it from drying out when spring comes, as citrus have roots very close to the surface. However, remember to leave a breathing space around the trunk and to mulch right out to the drip line of your trees (where the outer branches are).
You can also grow a living mulch around your citrus. The benefits of a living mulch is that they will also attract beneficial insects, which in turn will fight the upcoming pests of spring.
An ideal living mulch for citrus include comfrey, borage, lemon balm, nasturtiums and parsley. We have just dedicated an entire bundle in my Grow Inspired Academy to growing fruit trees, where we also talk about living mulch. If you’re keen to grow or improve the health of your fruit trees, find out more here as the doors to the Academy will re-open again later this year.
As gardeners, we get so excited when we plant our seedlings, tucking them into their garden beds and whispering sweet promises of the growth they will see. It’s only to be expected, then, that we get downright disheartened to find holes appearing, and are forced to stand by and watch as the plants we so lovingly nurtured are assassinated before our very eyes.
The culprits for this chain of criminal destruction? Two white butterflies – one small and the other rather large, producing two different kinds of cunning caterpillars. These butterflies are vagrant wanderers, and will happily lay eggs on all brassicas. The eggs can be hard to spot, especially on the green varieties, but are easier to detect on red cabbage.
Watson! Pass me my magnifying glass!
The caterpillars from the small butterfly are the general green variety, whereas the large butterfly caterpillars are hairy, yellow and black. I wouldn’t be surprised if you notice both on your brassicas!
Like many pests, the butterfly lays its microscopic yellow or white eggs underneath the leaves. The sneaky tactic of this villain is to camouflage them by also laying along the stem, which makes them almost invisible to the eye.
Vigilance is imperative, with regular inspections on the underside of brassica leaves to identify any potential eggs before they hatch. These scoundrels work fast and will evolve into very hungry caterpillars before you can even whip out your spray gun! Run your finger along the leaves and wipe the eggs off to scupper their plans.
If you buy your seedlings, I must also remind you here that it is vital to inspect your plants before you purchase them. In my 30+ years of experience, I have found around 80% of these seedlings bring pests or disease from the garden centre to YOUR garden. Don’t unwittingly make it so easy for the baddies.
How to stop this criminal mastermind from destroying your brassicas
There are two ways to successfully grow brassicas without falling victim to caterpillar carnage.
- Bring in some protection:
Net your plants when they go in the ground. A micro mesh is better than bird netting, as the cunning butterflies can make themselves small enough to slip through to achieve their dastardly end goal of laying eggs.
- Enlist the help of a true heroine: Mother Nature herself
The other way is to craftily balance nature out by attracting beneficial insects, most specifically the mighty parasitic wasp, who are known to penetrate the butterfly larvae and suck the goodness out.
There are many plants that attract parasitic wasps – take your pick from Yarrow, Zinnias, Fennel, Dill, Queens Anne Lace, Alyssum, Cosmos, Statice and Thyme. Now is the perfect time to plant Alyssum, Fennel, Yarrow and Thyme, and in the spring months, you are able to plant the remaining ones.
You will discover for yourselves, as you combine your vegetables with beneficial flowers, that Mother Nature truly is the only heroine you need on your side. When nature starts to balance out in your garden, the pests begin to take care of themselves, and so you can go back to watching your favourite crime series…
Remember when the flowers go to seed, just let them do their thing and they will start to repopulate themselves.
Happy Crime Solving – I mean, Happy Gardening!
Us gardeners are a resilient bunch. We boldly face the changing weathers; we shrug off the plants that never took; we learn the lessons from battling pest infestations.
We take note, we grow wiser and we get ready to plant once more.
We even courageously embrace the sadness as summer slips away and the darkening days creep in. We get busily planning and planting, ready for the next cycle of homegrown food in our winter gardens.
And then comes a peculiar plight that affects many a gardener.
The impatience of the winter garden-to-table gap.
It can plague even the most accepting of us growers with a frustrating impatience, while we wait and wait for our next harvest. Winter veg can admittedly take a while to grow – but so can some summer crops. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunshine fraying our mood, or the challenge of adjusting from summer growing to winter ‘slowing’.
Over my 30+ years of gardening, I have found that there is a way to transition from summer to winter without enduring the irksome winter garden-to-table gap.
It can be tricky to plan, further complicated by the weather and a lack of space in the garden, so here are my top tips for managing this like a pro!
- The key is in the variety you choose to grow, paying particular attention to the timespan from sowing to harvest. Choose at least some veg that are quick to grow and produce like asian greens, bok choi, pak choi, rocket, miners lettuce and coriander. This helps fill the gap of garden-to-table while the others are maturing.
- Commit to growing beyond your comfort zone this winter and try growing something new! Do you like casseroles or stews? If so, why not plant swedes and turnips, which are easy veg to grow. Florence fennel is easy too and so delicious in a salad or lightly sauteed. Peas make another good option, which will produce over autumn-winter if you live in warmer parts of the country.
- As ever, you will need to choose depending on your climate. Think a little creatively into the future gaps you may have. For example, if you are in a subtropical area, a winter starting crop of potatoes will be delicious by spring to go with fresh picked peas.
- It is important we grow crops that will keep in our pantry and can feed us throughout the year, as well as crops that keep coming up year after year. Shallots and garlic are pretty easy to grow and give you a crop at the end of the season that you can eat over the next 9 months. If your family is small, shallots might be just the ticket instead of onions. One shallot plant will give you between 4-6 in return and they will keep for 9 months if stored correctly. The same applies to garlic.
- Aside from vegetables, it is vital to grow flowers, providing food for the insects and bees over the winter months too. Pansies, poppies and calendula add that extra pop of colour to your green garden, as well as a food source for insects/ bees.
The key is to only grow what you will eat, otherwise it is a waste. Whatever you choose to grow, I urge you to plant something at least and enjoy fresh food over winter. Eat well, eat in season and give thanks to the garden for its abundance!
With the daylight hours on a rapid decline, it is time to think about planning for winter. A winter food garden can be just as rewarding as a summer garden and, with food prices up 7% already, it is definitely worth having a garden all year round.
Growing in winter can be a lot easier than in summer too, as there is no stress about water and definitely not so much stress about pests, because most of them like to overwinter until the following spring.
Juicy heads of broccoli, that perfect cauliflower, leeks for a hearty winter soup, delicious sweet carrots and roasted beetroot. What’s not to love? Yum yum!
Step one – take time to plan your bed rotations
Before clearing your summer garden away, make a note of what has been growing there and if it did well or not. Then plant the next rotation plant in its place.
If you have had leafy producing and above-ground plants, it would be great to plant roots next, like beetroot, carrots, and garlic. Garlic particularly likes to go where tomatoes have been.
Remember if planting carrots, they will not need any more compost or fertiliser, as this will cause them to grow in mysterious shapes.
Also, if you have planted beans this year, remember they are a legume and will have fixed nitrogen to the soil for you, which will affect what you decide to plant next.
Want to know more about the importance of crop rotations? Discover my blog on Five reasons why you should be rotating your crops.
Step two – clear and dispose with care and consideration
When clearing your garden, make sure you dispose of infected plants and do not put them in the compost. This will only spread disease – unless you are making super-hot compost or processing via bokashi.
Fungal diseases will not die in your compost pile, so I urge you to be careful in particular with blight on tomatoes and potatoes. I completely avoid putting any tomato or potato plants in my compost, just in case they take disease with them. I ferment everything via bokashi in barrel with a lid and then, after 30 days, I add this to a compost heap where it will go through another process, just to make sure. This is my second year doing this and, so far, it has been working well.
As an aside, I have had a pretty good year for tomatoes with minimum blight, especially given a La Niña climate. My tomato plants went in the ground in November, after my return from overseas, so they didn’t have to suffer the weather of the early spring. I did experience a bit of blossom end rot, for which I have fed liquid calcium and the plant has come right and is producing greatly.
Step three – plan ahead to replenish your beds
Take the time while planning your winter garden to decide which beds you will rest over winter. Also decide which beds you will plant with a green manure crop to replenish their soils.
With the beds that have suffered serious fungus like powdery mildew, I would always recommend planting a quick mustard crop as this cleans the soil of harmful fungi.
If you choose to be a summer gardener only, take notes on where you have planted this summer to enable a good rotation next summer, and remember your garden will benefit from a green manure crop over the winter period.
Learn more about green manure crops in my past blog, Focus on green manure crops – what are they and why do they benefit my garden.
Step four – don’t let anything go to waste!
I urge you to gather and enjoy every single fruit and vegetable that your garden blesses you with. For example, a glut of tomatoes can be a marvellous thing and I am just about to embark on making my green tomato chutney with the tomatoes that were blown off in the cyclone. Waste not want not, as food security has never been more important! Put some love into your garden gluts and make sauces and chutneys that can continue to feed you all winter long.