The sweet delights of the garden are something to be savoured as the cold days of winter rapidly approach. At this time of year the focus needs to be on harvesting and preserving crops and preparing the soil for winter production.
I generally leave the late season potatoes in the ground until early May and then dig them all up, not because they can’t be left in the ground longer, but because it’s easier to access them from a sack in the garage than it is digging them up when it is cold and raining. If you leave potatoes in the ground too long over winter, an unexpected warm spell could get them growing again.
Autumn is also the time for planting winter vegetables and cover crops. The brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower etc), silverbeet and spinach can provide welcome greens in the winter. Cover crops help protect the soil over the winter months and can be dug into the soil in late winter or early spring to aid fertility and soil structure. Lupins, mustard and barley are good cover crops.
On a field trip to a biodynamic farm once, I heard the farmer say the best fertiliser is the farmer’s footsteps. What he meant by this is farmers walk around their farms whereverpossible to observe what is happening. This helps them to plan future management strategies and to relate to and be inspired by the natural environment.
The home gardener’s organic science is also all about the observation of what is happening in the garden. Until I started writing these articles, I did not realise that there was a general pattern to how I approached my own work in the garden. Now I realise it is normally a three-stage process for me.
First I walk around the garden and assess what is happening; secondly, I prioritise my actions into some sort of plan; and thirdly, I put that plan into action, starting with weeding and a tidy-up. I then plant new crops where necessary.
Friends of mine have recently shown that you don’t need a large space to have a productive vegetable and herb garden. They recently installed three planter boxes (each around 1.2m x 2.5m) on their back lawn and filled them with organic compost. They soon had a wide range of fresh salad vegetables and herbs growing that added a lot of flavour to their meals. This was a great improvement on their previous garden at their last house, where the man of the house (of Dutch heritage) covered the vegetable area in plastic weed mat and planted seedlings into holes in the plastic. This is good for tidiness and weed control but it suffocates the soil and inhibits the life of worms. It is not a recommended organic practice. Fortunately the wahine of the house (Ngāti Kahungunu by descent) took control of the new garden and after getting him to do all the hard work establishing the new planter boxes, she has ensured a more organic approach is now being used (this gives new meaning to the term “companion planting”).
Small gardens are easy to maintain and with a focus on vegetables like lettuce, bok choi, broccoli, spring onions, herbs and tomatoes, it is possible to get excellent nutritional benefits, especially when they are freshly harvested. And it also saves money, much to the Dutchman’s delight. I will continue to observe this case study in bicultural dynamics and organics to see what else can be learnt in the coming seasons (as long as they don’t disown me after this article).
Managing the unfamiliar ecosystem of my new tunnel house has turned into a real challenge. I was too enthusiastic at the beginning in spring and forgot that I had planted tomatoes in the same soil as the previous season, so now the tomatoes aresufferingfromverticilliumwilt,which will lead to their early death. However, not without supplying a sufficient crop of tomatoes first.
I have also realised to get the maximum organic production out of the tunnel house, I will have to regularly replace the topsoil after each crop. The tunnel house also suffered a plague of aphids for a while, which I controlled with organic sprays until I realised the two pepino (melon) plants were acting as breeding grounds for the aphids. I dug the pepinos up and stuck them in pots outside. Now the aphids have virtually disappeared from the tunnel house. I also planted alyssum flowers in there and they have helped attract the predators of aphids into the tunnel house.
I have experimented with a new certified organic product over summer called Nature’s Curator, which is described as being the world’s first natural plant activator. The science behind Nature’s Curator is called biomimicry (from bios, meaning life, and mimesis, meaning to imitate). You spray a light mist of Nature’s Curator onto the receptor cells on the surface of leaves to trigger plants’ immune systems into action. They then produce a flow of essential oils that enhances the health, abundance and flavour of plants.
From trials in my garden so far it has resulted in a significantly better harvest of strawberries, with yields far above what would normally have been achieved. It has also visibly benefited the peas, broadbeans and zucchinis, though I am so far unconvinced of its benefits to the rest of the vegetable plants in my garden. However, it is worth the price just for the effect it has on strawberries alone, because if there is one fruit in the garden that can bring delight to all the family, it is fresh strawberries. And fresh organic ones simply knock the socks off the rubbish in shops. Autumn is a great time to plant out new strawberry seedlings for next summer’s delicious harvest and don’t forget to plant them with plenty of compost to help maximise production and health.
Website for Nature’s Curator: www.naturescurator.co.nz
For the next issue, TE KARAKA has one copy of The Tui NZ Fruit Garden by Sally Cameron (RRP$45) to give away. Simply answer what fruit was attracting aphids to Tremane Barr’s garden. Email the answer to email@example.com or write it on the back of an envelope and address it to: Te Karaka, PO Box 13-046 Christchurch 8141.
The winner of the Yates Garden Fresh Cookbook, companion to Yates Garden Guide, is Dene Whibley of Gisborne. Congratulations.