It certainly feels like we have a traditional winter this year with crisp mornings, some lovely sunny days, and plenty of rain. The soils are banking much-needed moisture from timely cold fronts, and our established trees, shrubs and ground covers are looking more vibrant than they have for a while.
Also making use of these wonderful rain events are our cool-season vegetable crops. If you planted your brassicas, onions, garlic, peas and broad beans in mid to late autumn, you will have noticed their rapid growth and your garden beds will be filling out nicely. And if you haven’t quite got around to cool-season plantings yet, don’t fret. You can still plant seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beetroot, salad and Asian greens and peas, among others. It’s always good to experiment with late-season planting, not only to achieve successive crops of your favourite vegetables, but also to see the difference in the formation of certain crops. For example, you may find that late-planted broccoli still produces nice tight heads while late brussels sprouts and cauliflower become a little looser as the days become longer and warmer.
Oh, and while we are talking about this lovely rain, make sure you adjust your irrigation system to suit. Many of us will have a rain-sensor attached to the irrigation system that restricts the amount of water being supplied to our plants while it’s wet. If you don’t, knock back the number of watering days or switch to manual irrigation. In particular, you don’t want to be overwatering your deciduous fruit trees during their dormancy period.
You can, however, begin to prepare for the ‘waking’ of your deciduous fruit trees by cleaning up around the base of the trees, doing any necessary pruning and/or cutting back that may be required, and giving them a good feed and mulch. They will then have abundant food available when they shoot away again, giving them a real boost before flowering. Feed with home compost, local composted chicken manure or a ‘clean’ manufactured product, and mulch with straw or broken down mulch.
If you feel you need to protect your orchard from prevailing wind, winter is also a great time to get indigenous or native screening plants settled in ready for the spring growth flush. Planting the south/southwestern boundary of your garden will provide invaluable respite from the harshest of wind we experience down here on the coast, and you will find your trees maintain better shape and the fruit less damaged. Local plants such as tea-tree, moonah, dodonaea and drooping she-oak all do a good job, as does melaleuca nesophila, grevillea olivacea and grevillea winpara. Have a chat with your local nursery for further guidance.
Hopefully these wet-weather patterns continue to roll through to spring to help our gardens and the beautiful Peninsula environment around us.
Drew Cooper, Edible Gardens