Thursday, December 15, 2016

Protect your garden investment

It happens to gardeners everywhere. We spend months tending our precious gardens, anticipating an abundant summer harvest, only to abandon post at the height of summer so we can go away on holiday. And we never know what state our garden will be in when we get back.

This week I gave Di from Radio Rhema my top five tips for protecting our vegetable gardens so we do have something to come back to.

1. Simple glass bottle irrigation system
This is a trick I picked up a few years ago. Just fill a glass beer or wine bottle with water, and stick it upside down into the soil next to a plant you want to keep watered. If the soil is wet enough, the water will remain in the bottle, but if the soil dries out, plant roots will start wicking water out of the bottle and using it to stay hydrated. It's very efficient, with plants only taking what they need, when they need it.

2. Seaweed mulch to stop slug and snail attacks
Seaweed around this passionfruit has stopped slugs and snails.
Slugs and snails die if they crawl on salt, so it makes sense to protect plants with seaweed, which contains salt along with a whole host of other trace minerals that plants need. Take a big plastic tub to the beach at low tide and fill it up with seaweed, then spread it around the plants that seem to be catnip for slugs, ie. lettuce, cucumber, courgette, passionfruit, basil, broccoli, kale, beans and peas. 

3. Stake climbing plants
Tomatoes tied to bamboo stakes and a trellis.
If the weather turns rough, we don't want to lose climbing plants to strong winds, or to have them break under the weight of their own fruit. Tie tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and other climbers to stakes, trellises or any sort of climbing frame that will hold them upright and in place. I cut up old cleaning cloths, nylon stockings or t-shirts to make my tying strips, and I raided my neighbour's bamboo patch to get my stakes (with his permission of course).

4. Mulch around plants
Pea straw and lucerne mulch around plants.
Who knows what the weather will do while we're away? It might rain and rain, but just as likely it might not rain for your entire holiday. Either way, mulch will help any garden. If it rains, the mulch will absorb water like a sponge, holding it in place until plants need it and protecting your plants from having the soil washed away from their roots. 

Mulch will then prevent moisture from evaporating back out of the soil so plants can survive longer between downpours in fine weather. Mulch also protects worms and other microbes in the soil and suppresses weeds from getting a handhold in the garden. As if all that wasn't enough reason to use mulch, it also improves soil structure and feeds nutrients into the soil. I like using things in the garden that have multiple functions. Mulch is the queen multi-tasker. 
Pea straw and lucerne is an excellent garden mulch.
For my established fruit trees, I use wood chips as it lasts a long time and I don't need to top it up too often. For vegetable gardens, where I want the mulch to break down reasonably quickly and softly into the soil so new seeds can take root, I use pea straw and lucerne. It has the advantage of feeding nitrogen into the garden. If using seaweed around plants, you don't need straw where the seaweed is - it might just provide a path for the slugs to crawl over and eat your plants.

5. Harvest what you can before you go away
Silverbeet and spinach getting cleaned and de-stemmed for blanching.

With steps 1-4 in place, hopefully we'll return to a garden full of healthy, happy plants. But if everything does fall apart while we're away, we'll be glad to have preserved some of our homegrown vegetables before we left. Canning, drying, cold storage and freezing are all wonderful methods of putting crops aside for later use.

I find freezing the easiest method of food preservation, so it's the one I use the most. Zucchini is wonderful grated and frozen in ziplock bags, because it can be quickly pulled out and added to soups, curries, casseroles, pies, etc. I reuse the same ziplock bags over and over. Tomatoes can be frozen whole, but I like to blanch and freeze beans, broccoli, spinach and silverbeet.

There you have it. My five tips for protecting your garden investment. Can you think of anything else to help gardens take care of themselves? 

1 comment:

  1. great tips Emma, particularly staking, it can be quite a shock to find plants doubled in size in a few days, so worth giving them some support before you leave!


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