Late winter is all about preparation: getting seeds ready, building up soil and making plans so you can hit the ground running next month.
Winter time is Daphne time
- Moving: Soil is wet, so plants that are in the wrong place can be moved without too much shock. Stake and mulch them well afterwards.
- Weeding: One reason weeds are so successful is they start growing a wee bit ahead of many garden plants. Staying on top of weeds saves a lot of work later in the summer; catch them before they seed and you’ll also notice fewer weeds each year. (Also, baby weeds without seeds are better material for the compost heap). At the moment soil is moist, releasing roots easily, and the gaps where weeds are pulled out heal quickly (in my gardens, ‘good weeds’ – other self-sowers like calendula – will rapidly grow to fill in any bare patches, forming a live mulch.) Cover any other gaps with other sorts of mulch (see below).
- Planting: There’s just time to get shrubs in the ground to get roots down by January, when things get dry. Add something water-retentive to the planting hole: wet newspaper, seaweed or compost, to hold water around the root zone.
- Fruit trees: Finish pruning grapes, figs, roses and pipfruit. Prune citrus, and feijoas if you missed them in autumn. Mulch with good compost or seaweed. Plant the last fruit trees. If you had leaf curl last year on stonefruit, spray with copper before they blossom.
- Mulch up around the stems of brassicas (eg broccoli, cabbage), especially if they’re rocking around in the wind. Mulch any gaps in your beds – it keeps away weeds, feeds worms, protects the soil from rain and slowly melts into humus.
Sow: Prepare seeds for spring sowings. You can start seeds off in August if you have shelter (a cold frame or greenhouse): peas, any greens, early tomatoes and beans. Start carrots and beets under a cloche. Grow microgreens on a sunny windowsill.
Plant: Garlic, borage, calendula, greens – bok choy, silver beet, lettuce, miners lettuce, land cress, silver beet.
Matariki is the start of the year, a time for new beginnings.
Our instinct can be to hide indoors in winter, but it’s a great time for soil building. Manure, leaves, seaweed from winter storms, dead plants, grass clippings, weeds (preferably without seeds or roots) – all these can all be piled up to rot down over winter and be ready for planting in spring. This technique can be used to fill a raised bed; on top of an empty bed; to make a new bed, or to make smaller mounds or puke, ideal for planting pumpkins or kamokamo into in November. These need lots of room, but the puke provide a pocket of good soil for roots- allow about 2m between them for plants to spread.
Building a no-dig bed or puke:
- Prepare the area: If it is grassy, scythe or trample the grass; if there are pernicious weeds like dock or kikuyu, dig them out. You can make a no-dig bed on top of gravel or concrete. Edgings are good, though not essential – driftwood or sleepers are good.
- Gather materials:
- Cardboard and newspapers to lay under the bed.
- A pile of greens for nitrogen: grass clippings, manure, vege scraps, green leaves, green weeds (without seeds), blood and bone.
- Roughly twice as many dry browns for carbon: hay, dead leaves, old ponga or bracken fronds, seaweed, straw, lupin or tagasaste branches.
- Completely cover the area with wet cardboard/ newspaper.
- Layer materials, starting with a thick layer of browns (twigs and branches, even logs are good), then a thinner layer of nitrogen and so on. The higher the better.
- End with a carbon layer, sprinkle with lime and water well. Cover with sacks or an old blanket or sheet (not necessary for puke,) leave about 8 weeks to break down a bit.
- For puke, start with a small pile of twigs or hedge trimmings and layer on grass clippings, seaweed, leaves and manure.
- Plant: In spring, make holes in your no-dig garden/puke, and fill them with compost or garden soil. Plant seedlings into these pockets of soil. Gather the carbon material back around the seedling to mulch. Water well and watch it grow!
Matariki is also the time for hui or gatherings to share food and seeds. There are lots of opportunities for this coming up:
This third documentary from New Zealand’s Localising Food project addresses the impact of industrialised food monopolies and why our food security is now reliant upon local community-scale seed systems. Learn about a range of inspirational seed saving and seed sharing initiatives happening throughout the country, which can be replicated and adapted anywhere.
This film addresses the severe decline in seed varieties, the rapid rise of corporate control over our food and seeds, and the legislative implications of the recently endorsed Food Bill and the still-possible TPPA. It shares how New Zealand grassroots seed-saving initiatives are making a difference, through inspirational models of seed swaps, seed exchanges, seed libraries, seed banks and family seed businesses all around the country.
Themes running through the documentary are that sharing seeds regenerates community, seeds carry cultural heritage, home seed saving is at the root of change, and seed sovereignty is vital for local food security and bioregional resilience.
To view trailer (and other Localising Food mini-docos) visit: www.localisingfood.com
As we’re hunting out woolly slippers and draught-proofing windows, it’s time also to think about shelter in the garden. Just as the most effective winter clothing involves layering – merinos, scarf, waterproofing – the best shelter in gardens is also built up in several layers.
Like a chink between trousers and top, an undefended gap between trees can make life uncomfortable all winter. Provide good shelter, on the other hand, and you could be cutting not only wind, but also your power bills – it’s another layer of insulation round the house.
Creating layers of shelter to protect your garden from winds means using combinations of trees, hedges, screens and shrubs to give protection where it’s most needed. It might seem counterintuitive but open fences, screens and hedges create more shelter than a solid barrier like a brick wall. Open shelter filters and slows down wind, while solid barriers create eddies downwind – which is why the windiest areas are often found at the corners of fences or buildings. Sometimes simply planting one shrub or flax bush in these wind tunnel spots can shelter a whole yard.
Any barrier creates shelter behind it for a distance of 5-10 times the barrier’s height. So a 2m hedge can shelter a 10-20m courtyard. Increase that by adding a few taller columnar plantings such as cabbage trees- these can cut wind without creating shadow, and frame a view without blocking it.
Areas needing maximum shelter, like a sitting terrace or vegetable garden, can have added layers of protection. For veges, this could be a knee-high fence or hedge of lavender, rugosa roses, sage, and other useful herbs and insect-attracting plants. For a sitting area it could mean trellis or screens, supporting vines like sweet peas or grapes.
Try and find plants that serve more than one purpose- such as feijoas, which provide fruit as well as shelter, taupata to feed birds, or rosemary, which attracts bees.
Give support at planting time as root rock (plants wobbling in the wind) can be fatal. A solid, low tripod of stakes gives plants support in all directions. Heavy rocks or bricks on the roots also provide stable anchorage. Mulch well and make the most of winter rains to water in your plants.
In the edible garden:
Prune in June:
- Grapes: Prune hard, to a structural framework of vines with just a couple of buds on each lateral (branch). They fruit on new wood.
- Roses: Prune out the oldest wood, then prune to an outward facing bud.
- Figs: Prune hard over winter if you want to reduce the size, then pinch out tips over summer to create a many-branched tree. They too fruit on new season’s wood, so an unpruned tree may have lots of fruit but they’ll all be up in the air for the birds to eat!
- Apples and pears: fruit is borne on ‘spurs’ on two-to-three year old wood, so be careful not to take these off. Prune off the oldest wood, diseased wood and any branches that are crossing or rubbing. Winter pruning promotes a big response of new growth in spring, so new shoots may need thinning out mid-summer.
- Plums: Don’t need heavy pruning- just thin out unwanted or inward-growing branches.
- Citrus: Prune these any time through until September: take out the oldest branches and criss-crossing growth. Try to create good airflow to reduce fungal diseases. Pruning over the colder months reduces the chances of lemon tree borer entering the wounds.
June 17: How to Prune Fruit Trees: Kath Irvine workshop, Edible Backyard, Ohau.
Other June jobs:
Mulch, mulch mulch: Feed that soil life! Now is the time to create your soil for next summer. Build it up with layers of wood chip, seaweed, straw, grass clippings, manure…
Seedlings: If you allowed a few plants to go to seed over summer, seedlings of lettuce, borage parsley, mizuna and other self-sowers will be popping up everywhere. Move them to a suitable spot (or pot up for your local school or community garden).
- Weed the bed thoroughly, fork in lots of compost and a dusting of lime
- Poke a hole with a stick about 5cm deep and pop in cloves so the tip is just below the soil.
- Water well and mulch with straw or seaweed to keep weed-free.
Broad Beans: One of the few seeds that germinate at low temperatures, these are among the easiest veges to grow.
- Poke into the soil 10-20 cm apart, 2-5cm deep
- Put a stake in each corner of the bed, wind string around as the plants grow.
Not well-known, but gardeners who grow it will rave about how it comes back each winter with no effort. A Californian native, it was a staple food for gold miners (hence the name). It’s a hit with kids and adults alike, being soft and mild in texture and flavour, more like a bright green spinach rather than crunchy lettuce. Great for winter salads as well as spanakopita, soup, pasta etc.
Sow: It’s getting too cold for many seeds, but you can sow broad beans, and onions in trays to plant out in late winter. Grow microgreens on a sunny windowsill.
Plant: Garlic, beetroot, winter greens (bok choy, mizuna, lettuce, miners lettuce, land cress, silver beet, parsley.)
As we humans reach for extra layers of clothing and bedding, spare a thought for your soil. A protective layer prevents damage from winter wind and rain. This could be mulch, a compost heap, seaweed or a cover crop… for more ideas click here. Remember, if you don’t cover up your soil, Mother Nature will do it for you – with weeds!
Can be planted throughout May or June (the earlier you plant it, the earlier your harvest and the sooner you can use beds for other summer crops).
Prepare beds by weeding well, adding compost and a dusting of lime and potash or wood ash. The more you put in to the soil, the better your crop will be.
- Choose the fattest, healthiest bulbs you can find – spindly ones will never come to much.
- Space 10- 20cm apart. Poke a hole with a stick and pop in the bulb so its tip is just at the surface (make sure you get them the right way up).
- Mulch with a light airy mulch like pea straw
- Liquid feed with seaweed once a month.
Last year Kapiti gardeners struggled with rust on their garlic, due to the wet summer. Rust, which causes rust-coloured spots on foliage, is spread by spores and thrives in humid conditions – and there’s not a lot we can do about the weather. But there are some things you can do to prevent rust this season:
- Grow garlic in a different bed – last year’s beds will be full of rust spores. This crop rotation may not eliminate disease, but at least puts you one step ahead.
- Ideally, use clean cloves. I am using last year’s garlic as seed, but because it had rust (though not enough to stop a decent crop), I’ll try soaking the cloves for a few hours before planting in some liquid seaweed, mixed with organic fungicide.
- Space the bulbs out well, to allow plenty of airflow. Imagine the fattest garlic bulb you have ever seen, then double that distance between cloves. (Maybe about 15cm, for those who prefer precise measurements)
- Add plenty of compost- garlic is in the ground a long time, so it needs lots of food. Feed monthly with liquid seaweed or comfrey from springtime on.
- Keep the garlic weed-free. Use straw mulch over winter to keep weeds away, but don’t mulch heavily in spring as this can encourage fungi.
- Kath Irvine of Edible Backyard, a fount of garden knowledge, has written an e-book about garlic, available to download on her website for $6. If you haven’t seen her website or been on one of her courses, check them out – I’ve learned so much from her. [Click on this link to see the book: Grow Great Garlic]
In the edible garden:
Sow: There’s a small window left for sowing carrots and beetroot. Sow lettuce, miner’s lettuce, coriander and broad beans. Grow microgreens on a sunny windowsill. Sow green crops like lupin in any spare ground.
Plant: Fennel, garlic, beetroot, celery, winter greens- bok choy, lettuce, miners lettuce, land cress, silver beet. Snow peas and Asian greens such as mizuna and bok choi are more cold tolerant than their relatives, fat-pod peas or cabbages.
Strawberries: Plant now for early crops.
Broad Beans: Anzac Day is the traditional time to sow broad beans (according to my grandfather). These cold-season plants are pretty bombproof and make a great beginner’s crop from seed. They also enrich the soil by `fixing’ nitrogen from the air. Plant 5cm deep, 15cm apart, in rows 30cm apart.
Mon 12 June| 10-12am |Community Centre Ngahina St Paraparaumu
Green crops and soil building. Winter is a great opportunity to build up organic matter in your soil – pile on seaweed, manure, leaves and grass clippings. Even better, grow your own soil and mulch in the form of green crops/green manure. Find out how (Indoors if wet). For more info and to book, call 04 902 3240 or visit www.kcc.net.nz/workshops.
Root crops like carrots do well over winter (hiding from the wind!) Plant now, covering seed with sawdust if you have some, to keep it moist while germinating
Building soil: Autumn and winter is a good time to be building up soil to feed your plants over the next growing season.
Good soil is rich in organic matter. Powdered fertilizer might provide chemicals, but can’t improve structure in the way compost does: holding water, providing pathways for roots, slow-release nutrients, and food for worms which aerate the soil.
Good soil is alive: Not just with worms, but with a million creatures invisible to the naked eye: bacteria, yeasts, fungi, actinomycetes and other microbes. These creatures all interact with plants to create a healthy rhizosphere (root zone).
Good soil holds moisture: Compost can hold up to 20% water without becoming waterlogged, so a 10cm layer of compost on your beds is like having a 2cm deep reservoir.
6 things you can do for your SOIL over winter:
Grow broad beans: they can get nitrogen from the air and convert it into plant material. Plus you get a crop in spring!
Trenching is the simplest form of composting: dig a trench, at least a spade’s depth, across your bed. Add vegetable scraps as you get them, covering with soil as you go. Things planted on top of the covered trench will have all that food at their roots
Pile seaweed across the bed (or around fruit trees) and let it rot down. Lots of nutrients and no weeds!
Collect up autumn leaves and grass clippings to build a compost heap on top of the area where you are going to grow next year’s tomatoes: Come October, just collapse the heap sideways and plant on in.
Sprinkle seed: Green manures such as lupins, oats and mustard can be dug in or used as mulch.
Cover with mulch. Arborist’s chip is a cheap and long-lasting way to keep away weeds, feed worms and build soil.
April in the garden:
The seasons have turned: It’s well and truly autumn, and with or without rain, cooler nights mean more soil moisture. The ground is still warm however, making April the best month to re-sow lawns. It’s the start of the planting season for trees and shrubs, while seedlings of lettuce and other greens are less likely to be fried to a crisp now things are cooler.
Compost fodder is abundant for soil building. Pile it into heaps, or lay directly onto beds to keep weeds away and rot down over winter.
Lawns: Now is the time to rejuvenate lawns, as new seed will sprout well before the soil gets too cold. Fork over tired areas to aerate, rake on compost for top dressing. Look for drought-resistant types (eg tall fescue)
Plant shrubs and evergreen or subtropical trees like citrus, feijoas, natives, shelter belts… Split clumps of perennials like alstroemeria
Garlic and Strawberries: Both can be planted over the next couple of months (get them in early for early crops.) Fork in a 5cm layer of good compost before planting. Pine needles make a good mulch for strawberries
Keep planting brassicas/ leeks/winter greens/green manure crops/broad beans. Snow peas and Chinese greens like bok choy are more cold tolerant, so grow better over winter, than their relatives the fat-podded peas or European cabbages.
Mulch: Check the soil is wet at a spade’s depth before mulching. Even though we’ve had some heavy rains, they can take a while to sink into parched ground.
Green crops: A handful of seed can turn into a great layer of mulch- grow your own soil! Find out more at the Green Gardener workshops or on this website.
Plant: Brassicas, silver beet, lettuce and other salad greens, red onions, fennel, beetroot, strawberries.
Sow: Coriander, rocket, calendula, alyssum, miner’s lettuce, peas, broad beans, peas, green crops (direct); lettuce, spinach, silver beet, peas (in trays).