March 20, 2009 In the Garden

• We are getting back into the ornamental garden here, after the summer hiatus. No planting of woody trees and shrubs yet (wait for the second lot of good rain in succession) but replanting bulbs, lifting and dividing grasses, trimming the formal hedges and repotting some of the container plants. We are even starting the major autumn clean-up round.
• Continue preparing ground for new lawns by levelling the area and push hoeing off the waves of germinating weeds that will attempt to colonise the bare earth. Don’t be tempted to sow grass seed until we get some consistent rain that penetrates more than a centimetre or two.
• Avoid feeding existing lawns in dry weather because fertiliser will kill the grass in sunny, dry conditions. Watch the weather forecast and wait until it is certain that we are in for a wet spell before heading out with the fertiliser. As always, remember that more is not better. If you are using a proprietary product, follow the instructions and err on the mean side, not the generous one. An overdose of fertiliser can cause all sorts of problems, including burning and death.
• Delay no longer on getting the winter vegetable garden in because you are running out of time and good intentions will not fortify you against high winter fresh veg prices or the somewhat dreary alternative of frozen vegetables from the supermarket. You can still get in plants or seeds of cabbages, cauli, broccoli, peas, winter spinach, silver beet, Florence fennel and winter lettuce. Most of the root crops (carrots, parsnips, swedes etc) take longer to mature and you will only get baby specimens if you put them in this late.
• Leafy green vegetables tend to be gross feeders so if you didn’t add plenty of compost, fertiliser or manure to the garden before you planted them, feed them now to encourage plenty of growth.
• If you are using manure, sheep, cattle and horse manure can be added directly to the soil but be a great deal more cautious with chicken manure (or mushroom compost for that matter). If you want to err on the safe side, put them through the compost heap to dilute them before you use them. Chicken manure is very high in ammonia and can burn plants in its fresh state. Seaweed is another natural resource which can be used directly onto the soil or composted as you wish. It does not need to be washed in fresh water first.
• Should you have a patch of common nasturtiums, if you can be bothered gathering the seed pods, when pickled they are almost indistinguishable from expensive capers. If you are desperate to be self sufficient, you can apparently dry the seeds and grind them up as a pepper substitute.
• The quote of the week is sure to appeal to middle aged gardeners and comes from Samuel Butler: “Youth is like spring, an over-praised season more remarkable for biting winds than genial breezes. Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers, we more than gain in fruits.”
A reassuring thought to one who had an unwelcome birthday last week!