ready for spring

Forward Thinking for the Spring Season

Being mid-winter, July is usually a rest time for the garden and gardeners and a good time to get ready for spring. Growth is slower, plants need less water and even pests are inactive. Take time to plan for the new season, taking into account the successes and failures of the past season. When August arrives you will be ready to make the changes.

What worked and what didn’t?

Whether you made records of every crop or flew by the seat of your pants, this is the time to review last season’s performance so that you can get ready for spring.

Things to consider:

  • Did you over-plant or under-plant?
  • Was the timing right or were some crops planted late or early?
  • Was everything planted in the right place in terms of sun, shade etc?
  • How well was the space used? Did some veggies overgrow others?
  • How efficient was the watering system? Was it water-wise or was there wastage?
  • Pests and diseases: Which plants were susceptible and what were the possible causes (insufficient sun, soil problems, over-watering, under-watering, no pest management programme…)?

Are you happy with the layout of your veggie garden?

Research different options: raised beds offer better drainage, narrower beds or keyhole beds are easier to work in, eco-circles are good for wise water use. Changing the design of a vegetable garden not only offers new options (vertical elements, mixed herb and flower planting) but also invigorates the soil. The digging of new beds aerates the soil, while additional compost adds nutrition and improves the texture to help you get ready for spring.

Decide what you want to plant

Plant what you like to eat and what grows best in the type of soil available to you. With heavy soil, steer clear of beetroot, carrots and other root crops that prefer free-draining, sandier soil. Try new varieties of favourite vegetables. The availability of heirloom vegetables has made vegetable growing so much more interesting. For a well-balanced garden consider a mix of fruiting, leafy, root and legume vegetables.

Veggie gardens in frost-free areas

In warm coastal areas and inland subtropical regions it’s all systems go. This is when the best vegetables are grown. Succession sowing continues in July, especially of tomatoes, brinjals, squashes, Swiss chard, beetroot and carrots. Watering goes further because of the cooler temperatures. Mulching helps to keep the soil moist for longer. While pests are less active, still be vigilant for aphids and snails. Watch out for opportunistic insects like grasshoppers as well as birds and monkeys, which are attracted to the soft, sappy new growth. Feed leafy vegetables with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser.

Pick the leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis

Kitchen garden projects for a sunny windowsill Some veggie gardens are shaded in winter, but that doesn’t have to deprive you of fresh greens.

Try out these ideas:

  • Grow mustardy Asian greens (tatsoi, pak choi, mizuna, ‘Red Frills’ mustard) and herbs like parsley, chives, thyme and coriander in pots on a sunny windowsill. Use good-quality potting soil, keep the soil consistently moist (but not waterlogged), and feed with a liquid fertiliser once a week. Pick the leaves on a cut-and-come-again basis.
  • Sow a mix of beetroot, baby spinach, cabbage, radish, rocket and wheatgrass for a microgreens crop. Sow densely in seed trays, using a heat pad if needed (for germination). A sunny windowsill is fine, but move the trays away from the window in the evening because the temperature generally drops too low overnight and in the early morning. The leaves are cut within 10 – 14 days of germination, when they have developed 4 – 6 true leaves. Sow a new seed tray every week.
  • This is a novel idea that comes from the United States, which has very long, cold winters. Cut the bottom 5cm from a bunch of celery and ‘plant’ it, root-side down, in a saucer of water or in about 6cm of moist sand or potting soil. Leaves and stalks will start to grow. Once the stump is well rooted, transplant it into a larger pot and continue harvesting the stems.

Get the timing right

Your planting plan needs to factor in the last frost date, which is usually in early September. Delay sowing so that newly germinated seedlings won’t be killed by the frost. Alternatively plan to start sowing indoors for planting out after 15 September. The first frost date (usually in May) is also important to know. The last sowing date should be 3 – 4 weeks before that.

The Gardener