Renew Your Veggie Garden for Spring
Whether August is cold and windy or warm with a sense of spring, tasks in the veggie garden remain the same: prepare, prepare, prepare. This is the month to lay the foundations for the new season and renew your veggie garden for spring. Be thorough and you will be rewarded with healthy plants and satisfying harvests.
Regenerate the soil
Most garden soil becomes acidic over time as a result of fertilisers and rainfall leaching out nutrients, especially calcium, magnesium and potassium. Acidic soil inhibits the ability of plants to take up essential nutrients like nitrogen, and is low in calcium, which strengthens the cell walls, helping plants to be more disease resistant. No matter how much fertiliser is applied, it will not have the desired effect. Lime in the form of agricultural lime or dolomitic lime makes soil more alkaline.
Garden lime tends to act faster than dolomitic lime. When preparing a bed, dig in a handful of lime per square metre. Adding bonemeal and well-rotted manure or rich homemade compost will add to the soil’s fertility. Do this a month before planting, which is why August is the month to do it. Compact, heavy soil that doesn’t allow water and oxygen to the roots should be aerated. Mix in large amounts of organic material, which will also have the effect of raising the level of the bed by 30cm. Drainage is improved, and the roots can spread easily. Another way to make soil more friable is to add gypsum, which is often used in agriculture. However, its effect is not long lasting and the soil reverts to its former state after a while.
Plan your planting, if you haven’t already done so
It’s easier to feel inspired to plan for summer and renew your veggie garden when spring is in the air. Draw up a planting schedule based on your needs and what the family will realistically eat. Factor in space available, succession planting, crop rotation, soil suitability (beetroot and carrots don’t like heavy soil), and the growing time required for different crops.
- Many veggies are available in seedling trays. Planning can include veggies to sow from seed and bought seedlings, especially chillies and peppers where germination can be tricky, or lettuce which is easy to over-sow.
- Once you know what you want to plant, see how that translates in practice. Set aside enough space for spreading crops like marrows, walls or fences for vertical planting, and make sure that taller crops won’t shade lower ones, unless the purpose is to shade lettuce and Swiss chard to extend their growing season.
- First in the ground will be cool-season crops such as lettuce, cabbage, peas, spinach, beetroot, carrots and radishes. Except for carrots and radishes, it is possible to kick-start the cool season crops by germinating them indoors. Place seed trays on heating pads (from a vet shop for reptiles) or a hot tray set on low.
- Beans and longer-season crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggfruit and squashes need warmer soil to germinate. They can also be germinated indoors in August and planted out after the last frost, towards the end of September.
Sort out structures and tools
- Trellises are very useful in a garden, especially against walls or as room dividers. Check out the state of existing trellises. Varnish or treat the wood if necessary and replace rickety trellises.
- Homemade tepees add height to a veggie garden as a support for runner beans and even cucumbers. Placed in the centre of the bed they act as a focal point and leafy greens can be planted around them. Start looking for suitable poles, sticks or branches that can be tied together.
- Consider other frameworks for training tomatoes, runner beans and squashes. Buy the materials and install them at the same time as you recondition the soil.
- Sterilise seed trays and pots by washing them with Jik and hot water. • Clean garden tools and implements.
Optimise the composting
If you haven’t set up a wormery or a bokashi bin, investigate which system suits you and your budget when you renew your veggie garden for spring. There are various composting options too: bins, tumblers, durable bags, and the straightforward compost heap. Get a system going – it will save money on bought compost, which also can’t match homemade compost for nutritional content.