Now is the time to dig back into the soil any autumn-sown green manure crops such as mustard, oats or blue lupins and give all your planting areas a going over with a fork. Adding nutrients now in the form of compost or well-rotted manure will ensure you are ready for action when all those seed packets you’ve ordered arrive. Its time to load up compost bins with garden and kitchen waste so you have some much needed compost and mulch for reinvigorating tired beds in late summer and autumn. Keep bins and heaps covered to maintain warmth and keep out rain. Collect large plastic juice bottles for recycling as seedling cloches and store jam for the summer flow of honey if you have bees.
Ensure rows of leeks are weed free by using a sharp-bladed hoe to sever any seedling weeds as and when they appear. Don’t go too close to your leeks though or you may damage their shallow roots or accidentally cut the stems. Leeks are hungry feeders so sprinkle some blood and bone meal or well-rotted compost on the soil’s surface around your maturing plants and cover with a thin layer of mulch. If you have a dog, keep an eye out should they wander into your veg patch as they love to feast on pungent bone meal. If you are vegetarian you might use sheep pellets as an alternative. Earth up your leek seedlings so you end up with pale tender stems – but keep soil below the bottom leaf or you’ll fill your leeks with soil. If seedlings are still skinny enough you can drop an empty toilet roll centre onto the stem of each plant and this will do the job for you.
Seedlings in trays and punnets should be protected from the worst of the weather in a cold frame, on a greenhouse shelf or a sunny windowsill. Its not just frosts but heavy showers can also decimate a tray of young plants.
Digging over beds before planting often unearths clusters of slug eggs that will be eaten in no time by resident birds. To encourage birds into your garden put out the odd apple, handful of grains or oats to encourage rather than fully feed them. Their appetites are what you want so they’ll go hunt for slugs and snails. Bird baths are also a great bird attraction.
Wash early infestations of aphids from leaves and heads of cabbages, broccoli and kale with a spray of water from the hose - if its just one or two then you can easily rub them off with your fingers.
Check that fruit trees are securely staked and tied to prevent damage during any bouts of wild winter weather. Stakes should be strong enough so that you can’t easily snap them.
If you planted brassicas – broccoli, Brussles sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, kale – celery or beetroot a month or so back then now is a good time to spread some extra well-rotted manure, compost or a light dusting of blood and bone meal around these hungry plants to give them a boost.
Now is a good time to make some liquid seaweed that should be ready for use on hungry tomatoes and capsicums in a few months’ time. See our video on How to make seaweed
Turn your compost over every few weeks to encourage decomposition. Place an insulating layer of old carpet, folded tarpaulin or empty compost bags on the top to help keep the temperature of your heap warm.
Beds that are cleared and prepared for future planting can also benefit from an application of lime which is a real benefit to many of the leaf crops – spinach, cabbage, spinach, kale, broccoli and silverbeet - you’ll be planting over the coming months. Worms love it too.
Feed soil in beds with a scattering of blood and bone meal – about three handfuls for every square that is a stride by a stride, or square metre. You can also give soil a dusting in between rows of seedlings and maturing plants. Once you’ve applied the bone meal simply rake into the top layer of soil and cover with a layer of mulch. This slow-release fertilliser will sustain the growth of seedlings and maturing plants for up to 4 months.
Mulch soil between plants to suppress weeds. Using a mixture of rotted manure, pea straw, straw, shredded newspaper lawn trimmings compost etc., spread a layer of mulch on any bare soil alongside rows or in between plants to about a finger’s depth. This will feed the microbiology of the soil - worms, bugs, centipedes and smaller organisms – that in turn breaks down nutrients and makes them available to plants.
In cooler areas keep soil warm for plantings over the next few months by laying some polythene sheeting, old carpet, unfolded cardboard boxes or empty compost bags (if beds are small). Anchor with a few boards, logs or bricks to stop sheets blowing away. This insulating layer will also help to prevent soil from becoming water-logged.
Keepany areas of empty soil warm for plantings over the next few months by laying some polythene sheeting, old carpet, unfolded cardboard boxes or empty compost bags (if beds are small). Anchor with a few boards, logs or bricks to stop sheets blowing away. This insulating layer will also help to prevent soil from becoming water-logged.
Keep chicken enclosures from becoming muddy during wet weather with regular applications of fresh straw, woodchips or pine needles – raked up leaves and lawn trimmings can also be added. Put a shelter in your chicken enclosure – somewhere for the birds to gather during heavy rainfall. Check your coop to see there are no leaks. Make sure your chooks are getting enough food – if your coup has open access then you can be sure that hungry local birds will be swooping in to feed too.
Check hives are stable and not letting in water – may be worth slightly angling them forwards so that driving rain does not pool on the entrance and hive base. A concrete block on the top of ahive lid can help to keep it sturdy and able to resist strong winds. Check frames for mould or damp and remove and replace if you have enough bees. Put up wind breaks if necessary (not in flight path) and insulate hives where heavy frosts are a frequent winter event. Might soon be time for another varroa treatment – depending on how early you got the first one in during autumn. Remember not to repeat the same type but vary your strips to prevent breeding resistance in varroa mites you may have in your hive/s.