As a kid growing up in bayside Brisbane, my family always hit the road at Easter in search of adventure. We’d sometimes go boating for the long weekend, but usually we’d pack the tent or the caravan and go camping. In theory April should be the nicest time of the year to camp, but in reality, we got rained on more often than not. One year we almost got trapped in a farmer’s paddock on the Albert River. Some fancy rally driving by dad got us out of that one. Another year we almost got washed away by a rapidly rising Mary River near Kenilworth. Rain and Easter became synonymous in my mind as a kid, but as an adult all I can remember is Easter being dry.
That’s all changed this April and it feels like my enthusiasm for the garden has been reborn. We haven’t had a massive amount of rain but it has been persistently wet since the start of the month. I’ve been spared from watering all the cool season vegies I planted last month and dust has been washed from the atmosphere, producing crystalline skies and some of the most heroic sunsets I've ever witnessed. To say I’m itching to get out into the garden at every opportunity is an understatment.
My priority this month is to set the garden up for winter. I desperately need a dry spell so that I can tame my out of control lawn, and this is likely to be the last major mowing before our first frosts hit late this month or early the next. Some of the chemical free clippings will be thrown to the chooks, who eat some of the grass but mostly relish scratching about for bugs and seeds. The rest will be thrown onto the compost heap. Lawn clippings are high in water and nitrogen, so to stop them going foul in cool, wet weather, I’ll balance out their volume with about 10 parts brown, dry material. The heap will slowly rot down over winter.
Flea beetles can be a big problem at this time of the year, and some of my leafy greens are being hammered. The beetle’s calling card is dozens of little holes punched through the leaves (see the photo above), especially of brassicas, and at first glance it’s tempting to blame slugs. But look closely and you’ll probably spot tiny beetles on the surface or underside of the leaf. Control is possible with pyrethrum, but to be honest, I don’t have a reason to deliver cosmetically perfect produce, a few holes in the leaves won’t change the flavour, so I leave the spray bottle holstered. Plus, the beetles tend to become scarce as the weather continues to cool, so it’s just as easy to let nature take her course.
Leaves are starting to turn, and fall. I hate the way many gardeners treat fallen leaves. Why on earth would you want to blow them away with a fossil fuel powered machine when you could heap them into a pile, throw on some blood and bone, and create leaf mould over winter. As organic gardeners we need to start seeing waste as a precious resource. Oak leaves in particular rot down magnificently.
In northern Australia it’s likely to start drying out toward the end of the month. This is your cue to pay special attention to your watering set up. I find daily irrigating tiresome, and this summer started to lay out dripper hoses for plants that need a regular drink. I’m especially partial to porous weeper hoses made from recycled car tyres, though these don’t work properly if you have low water pressure. If you’re relying on gravity and don’t have a header dam or overhead tank to provide decent pressure, try drip tape (commonly used in market gardens) or wobble sprinklers.
Finally, April is a great time to get out and visit other people’s gardens in search of inspiration. Open Gardens Australia, the organisation that has for decades opened the nation’s best private gardens to the public is winding up at the end of June, so this month will be your last chance to see many gardens in their full autumn splendour. Take along notebook and a camera. Chat to the owners if you get a chance. But most of all, soak in the atmosphere and collect ideas for improving your own patch of paradise.
By: Justin Russell
First published: April 2015