The September Garden
Subduing those spring urges
Spring does strange things to gardeners. Maybe its just the sap rising in the trees and the scent of blossom. It sends you out to plant things.
Don't. Plants that are placed in cold soil never do as well as those planted when the soil warms up. Tomatoes planted now will probably bear about the same time as those planted six weeks later- but the latter will be sturdier and bear longer.
Don't plant till the soil welcomes anything you put in. A cold bed and a cold welcome dismays plants as well as people.
Pests attack early plantings. Most pests start breeding at about 3C - most predators about 12C. Wait till the world is ready to recieve your bean seeds and capsicum plants- don't try to hurry spring along.
How do you know when to plant? One bit of folklore wisdom says to plant tomatoes when the soil is warm enough to sit on it with bare buttocks. In suburban areas use the back of your wrist. Another old saying is to plant corn when the peach blossom falls. I do this every year, and it works- unless of course your peach blossom happens to be frosted off.
On the other hands, there is also the 'spring flush.' This really exists- spring grown crops grow faster than ones planted later. You just have to use your judgement- get plants in early enough to catch the sprung tides- but not so early that they're stunted or frosted off.
Spring is the worst time for frost- the air seems warm but the ground is still cold, and new tender leaves and blossoms are more susceptible than plants in full leaf.S
Jobs for September
. This is the best time to browse the nursery for seedlings - planting a few punnets in spring will give you months of flowers or vegetables.
. Feed lawns now - stronger, well fed roots will help the grass stay greener longer. But don't feed lawns if they are very dry- you may do more harm than good. Wait till after rain then water fertiliser in well.
. Feed everything else too! Plants GROW in spring- and they need good tucker to grow well.
. If your mower won't work, ask the kind person at the repair shop to show you which bit is the spark plug, so that next time it fails you can take out the spark plug and just buy a new one. (Most sulky lawn mowers just have bung spark plugs!)
. Pick enormous bunches of sweet peas and inhale the scent ... or a note to plant sweet peas next year!
. If birds fly into your windows, dangle something in front of them- a stained glass parrot, a line of glass beads - anything to indicate to a fast flying bird that this isn't open space!
What to Plant:
The next three months are the main planting time for the year. You're planting the things you'll eat all summer, as well as many of the things you'll be eating through autumn winter and hopefully next spring as well. Many crops like silver beet, celery, leeks, spring onions, parsley, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, leeks, turnips, foliage turnips can all be planted in one go to see you through the year. ( If you're short of room however you can plant them over the next few months as space becomes available)
These are the 'year rounders', the crops you'll rely on as the foundation of your vegie garden all year round.
Other crops like pumpkins and watermelons are also one crop plantings- plant enough to pick and store.
Then there are the staggered croppers- beans,lettuce,peas, corn, tomatoes, zuchinni. I tend to plant a new succession when the first lot is just starting to flower.It works better than planting every two weeks, as, especially early in the season, early and late planted crops tend to catch up with each other and you end up with a glut.
Early summer can be a lean time when you're living from your garden- last years plants have gone to seed and the next lot are still too young to eat. Try some of the old peasant standbys (luckily we have a lot of peasant cultures to choose from- Australian 'backyard peasants' can have a much more varied diet any traditional peasant ever dreamed of).
. radish ( round red ones are ready in about a month and the leaves can be snipped for salads or steamed after two weeks- more will regrow) If you don't like the raw radish ( like me) try cooking them (they taste a bit like asparagus),
.Chinese mustard ( or chinese spinach or Bok Choi) can be eaten small and young, again in the same way you'd use spinach or lettuce. It's a very fast grower but resists running to seed when it gets hot.
.Tampala, or chinese spinach, is another fast grower. Use as soon as you can bear to pick the leaves, though the plant will eventually grow to about a metre tall, when you just eat the leaf tips.Tampala is very tender and delicate- much more delicate than silver beet and suits even conservative eaters.
.baby carrots, like Amsterdam Forcing. Don't thin them- just pull them as soon as they're big enough.
.Try cos lettuce- just pull off individual leaves as soon as they are big enough without pulling up the lettuce, so the rest eventually hearts. You can do the same with Prizehead Red- simply harvest a bit whenever you have a salad.Rocket also gives quick salads- but it is a bit pungent and smoky for some tastes. Try soaking in milk overnight before serving.
cutcelery- a celery used like parsley, very strongly flavoured.Seed can be sown all year round throughout Australia.
Rocket, rucca or eruca sativa can be sown all year round -it self sows with vigour. Eat the young leaves in salads - the older leaves are slightly bitter and smoky, loved by some but not me-or steam it.
purslane-an annual sown in spring in cool conditions, all year round in tropical to subtropical.Cook it or eat it raw. Cut the leaves at about 10cm high or less-soft and tender.
watercress- you can be eating this in a month, but beware of tiny snails which carry liver fluke- wash even home grown watercress in three changes of water.
silver beet- you should have your first picking in a month if you feed and water well.
chinese cabbage- don't try this in subtropical areas - it'll bolt to seed unless you grow it in a cool shaded place. In cooler areas you may be picking it two months from planting.
This is the best time for globe artichokes and asparagus. Every year I bless the time I put in asparagus and artichokes- they are wonderful delicacy, the first real sign of spring. It's ironic that in the month when fresh veg are scarcest two of the most wonderful crops appear in abundance. Don't be put off by asparagus's reputation - its almost indestructible and bears forever. Ditto artichokes. See page if you don't have any in now.
Broad beans should be cropping now. try steaming the whole small beans- like French beans- or simmering them in stock or lemon juice and olive oil. Pick the top leaves off, too, and cook them as well.
Pick brocolli every day so it doesn't toughen or go to seed- feed and water it well.
Hungry Gap Crops
This time of year used to be called the hungry season- the time when winter's crops were either finished or going to seed, and before summer crops were ready. Now that we can get golf ball tomatoes and pineapples any season of the year a lot of the old spring foods have been forgotten. Most people won't eat or harvest anything they don't recognise from the supermarket- and most of us now prefer much blander foods. (Bitter food was presumed to be a spring tonic in both European and Asian folklore).
Many traditional 'hungry gap' foods are all good, if unconventional. Try them before you reject them. If you baulk at eating prickly pear fruit, mistletoe jam or carrot tops, it's better than an elderly, well travelled tomato, that wasn't much good in the first place.
Flowers - see chapter
It may be a coincidence, but a lot of the early spring flowers are edible. Flowers are high in both vitamins (especially vitamin C ) and minerals- and advantage when a lot of the vitamins had vanished from long stored spring food.
Weeds- see chapter
While many weeds are edible most of the year round, they are only really good in early spring. After that their leaves get tough and bitter.
Many vegetables bits that we discard are as good as the main crop. Look for:
Cabbage stalks- peeled of their tough skin, steamed, and served like asparagus
Brussel sprout or brocolli leaves- shredded and stir fried (also good with sauteed apples in butter.)
Leeks that are going to seed- cut off the seed stalk, peel it, and chop into any vegetable dish
carrots going to seed- grate them down to the tough core; slice it off; then grate the rest. or add grated tough carrots to egg and wheat germ to make dog biscuits.
Celery going to seed- cut out and peel the seed head; serve it finely sliced like cucumber
.leave your cauliflower plants in the ground after you've picked them- they may produce new smaller hearts , a but like pale brocolli
. try brussel sprout leaves, shredded and stir fried like cabbage.
Eating Immature Vegetables
carrots tops- chop them finely like celery
Young celery leaves
Broad bean tips- steam them like silverbeet. This is also a good remedy if they've got aphids
globe artichoke stalks- peeled and steamed
Beetroot leaves- eat them like silverbeet- but not sugar beet leaves or golden beet leaves, which can be poisonous.
Hop or choko shoots, steamed with butter
stuffed or butter fried zuchinni or pumpkin flowers- also good dripped in batter and deep fried.
Chopped garlic leaves added to stews or salads
Chopped tiny radish leaves added to mashed potato, or dipped in batter and deep fried.
Add a few young sunflower or poppy leaves to salads (not too many unless you're also looking for a medicinal effect.)
As for the rest of the garden- try adding young citrus leaves to salads or to flavour custards; dry avocado leaves and crumble them and use them in stuffings- the flavour is rich and avocado like; pluck your bamboo shoots and boil in salted water till tender (this also helps control bamboo) pickle broom buds or hibiscus buds like capers, tap a silver birch or manna gum for its sweet sap, stew angelica or hibiscus stalks like rhubarb, bake green paw paws, slice your waterlilly stalks instead of cucumber, pickle tiny green apples or tiny citrus is a sweet pickle solution (eat them like olives), dig out bullrush roots and roast them like potatoes, make tea from mints and herbs. You'll be foraging in the best harvest traditions of our ancestors.
Stopping Plants go to Seed
. mulch heavily while the ground is still cold
.pick out the long 'hearting' stalks as soon as they form (eat them- most are tender and sweet)
. dig up left over root vegetables like carrots and beetroot before they toughen- store them wrapped in newspaper away from fruit (which will help send them to seed even out of the garden). They will gradually shrivel, but shrivelled carrots and beetroot often taste sweeter than plump ones- don't judge them till you've had a bite.
Just keep planting- the rest can wait.
Graft fruit trees just before bud burst but before the sap is flowing. The timing will vary from district to district.
Spring is pests big chance- few predators and lost of soft sappy growth. Try not to water spring crops, and don't fertilise them till the spring flush is over- and never give high nitrogen fertilizer.
.A heavy mulch now will not only slow down spring growth (no- I'm not crazy- this will both cut down on the danger of late frost and cut down pests attacks- and the plant will more than catch up later) but also slowly release the nutrients that your plant will need through the year. It also keeps down weeds competition, encouraged earthworms and stops moisture loss.
Let some vegetables go to seed and flower around your garden.This is perhaps the most important bit of spring advice there is. Flowering vegetables are one of the best ways to attract pest eating predators I know (most adult predators eat nectar from flowers- its only their offspring that are carnivorous- and most prefer the nectar from the plants their offspring will forage over for pests- in other words you vegies).
Letting vegetables go to seed will also give you a stock of home grown seed for next year- fungicide free and suited to your area.
Spring is the classic time of year for sap suckers like aphids. Make up the glue spray on page or just hose them off. If thrips are a problem in blossom hose them too- water kills thrips better than any pesticide- and next year plant low growing flowering ground covers to keep the thrips down there. (Thrips prefer to feed low down- they only start advancing in the world when the low growing winter weeds and flowers have finished.)
Seven Cool Blue and White Looks for Hot Summers
1. Plant an old watering can, jug, barrel or bird bath with blue lobelias or purple and white alyssum (sorry, birds!), or if water is scarce, the almost indestructible blue leaved succulents like 'Blue Jade' aeonium, 'Fanfare' echeveria, 'Mooonstones' pachyphytum. (Note: or can replace these by any blue leaved succulents available in good pics
2. Plant a sunny arden bed of lunaria, campanula, cynoglossom, blue salvias, delphiniums, cornflowers or nigella, or white cosmos, centranthus, malva, delphinium, gypsophila, white helichrysum. There are even packets of seeds around that give you a mix of white and blue plants. Or make a giant bed of blue and white gladioli.
3. Fill shady spots with blue and white too - white or blue torenias, or the mauve or white impatiens. Create an instant 'hedge' with pots of alternating blue and white petunias along your stairs or patio.
4. Paint your garden furniture, or even garden walls and fences cool while or blue.( A good project If you have bored kids and lots of newspaper)
5. Plant a jacaranda tree in frost free spots, or a blue wisteria to ramble along a (sturdy) fence.
6. Fill a waterproof barrel or giant pot with soil, water, and plant stunningly cool looking Japanese iris or rabbit ear iris (Iris laevigata).
7. And for total indestructibility, plant a long hedge of blue and white agapanthus, or surround the base of trees with aggies. Some of the new varieties like 'Perpetual Peace' will bloom from late spring through to autumn - far longer than the six weeks or so that the old fashioned aggies flower.
Dribbling, Dibbling, Nibbling and Pibbling......
This is a confession: I am a confirmed dibbler. I pibble and dribble a lot too.
'Dibbling' is digging small holes for seeds or bulbs, but you can 'dibble' plants too. Instead of digging up a whole new flower bed, just dig small holes in the grass and slip your plants into them, then mulch well so the grass dies.
'Dibbling' is a heck of a lot less work than digging, and it also helps keep moisture in the soil - digging really dries things out. In fact this summer is a great time to go dribbling, nibbling and pibbling too.
Dribbling...holding a hose may be okay for watering the flowers, but big trees need deep watering - and the soil may be just too hard for moisture to penetrate. This is where 'dribbling' is really great - either leave the hose on the LOWEST POSSIBLE drip over night, or, if this is illegal in your area, buy some 100 cm lengths of polypipe. Bury the ends about 30 cm deep near your trees - or along the back of your flower garden - and fill them with the hose every week or two. The water will slowly seep down deep where it's needed. Result: less water used, more water at the roots - and less hose holding.
Pibbling ..... Pibbling means 'covering with pebbles' - a great way to cut down on water this summer. Pot plants look stunning mulched with ornamental pebbles. There are a good variety at most garden centres. You can mulch garden beds with pebbles too, but remember that while large pebbles look good, it's easier to rake smaller pebbles to get rid of leaves and other debris.
Nibbling. Hot dry summers are NOT the time to be growing lettuce, but some salad crops tolerate heat and drought AND can be cut and nibbled again and again. Try heat hardy 'freckles' lettuce, or red cos lettuce - red lettuces are usually more heat hardy than green ones. Add some mitsuba, mizuna (You'll recognise them when they come up - they are in 'salad mixes' in the supermarket) and parsley plants and you'll always have something to nibble in the garden.
What to Plant in September
Frost free climates
Food garden : choko, lemon grass, sweet potato and passionfruit vines, Jerusalem artichokes, paw paw and Cape gooseberry seeds, also seeds of artichokes, asparagus, LOTS of basil (Try Thai basil and sacred basil too) beans, beetroot, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celtuce, chicory, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peas, peanuts, pumpkin, radish, rosellas, salsify, scorzonera, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, salad greens like mizuna, mitsuba, spinach.
PS. Don't forget rosella seeds - they make the world's best jam and are almost impossible to buy
Plants for beauty: Seeds or seedlings of ageratum, alyssum, amaranthus, carnations, celosia, coleus, cosmos, dichondra, echinops, erigeron, gaillardia, gazania, gloxinia, gourds, hymenosporum, impatiens, nasturtiums, phlox, salvia.
Very hot and dry gardens
Move a shade cloth to cover vegie and flower gardens now to shelter them from the worst of the heat, pull out tired plants that grew all winter, mulch and water twice a day if you have the energy. Concentrate on a few small bright patches of flowers rather than struggle with large areas.
Food garden: citrus, avocado, guava and banana trees, seed potatoes, sweet potatoes, choko, strawberries. Plant seeds of artichokes, asparagus, LOTS of basil, beans, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, burdock, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celtuce, chicory, collards, coriander, corn salad, cress, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, kale, kohl rabi, leeks, lettuce, melons, okra, parsley, peanuts , pumpkin, radish, rosellas, salsify. scorzonera, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, salad greens like mizuna, mitsuba, zucchini.
Food garden: Jerusalem artichokes, rhubarb, strawberries, go wild with spuds - red ones, blue ones, yellow fleshed ones - fresh spuds taste as good as fresh tomatoes. Plant seedlings of artichokes, asparagus, beans, beetroot, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, burdock, cabbage, capsicum, carrots, cauliflower, celery, celtuce, chicory, collards, corn salad, cress, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, fennel, kale, kohl rabi, leeks, lettuce, parsley, peas, , pumpkin, radish, salsify, scorzonera, spinach, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, salad greens like mizuna, mitsuba.
Flower garden (temperate and cold): achillea, ageratum. alstromeria, alyssum amaranthus, aster, balsam bellis perennis, bells of Ireland, brachycome, calendula, candytuft, Canterbury bells, carnation, celosia, Clarkia, cleome, coleus, coreopsis, columbines, cosmos, delphinium, dichondra, echinacea, echinops, erigeron, euphorbia, foxglove, gaillardia, gazania, globe amaranth, gloxinia, godetia, gypsophila, helichrysum, heliotrope, hellebores, honesty, lavender, marigolds, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, Flanders poppy, portulaca, rudbeckia, salpiglossis, salvia, scabious, sweet william, viola, zinnia, snapdragons.