Australia is arguably the most extreme continent on earth, and to really get the full picture of how extreme things can be, you need to drill right down to the level of microclimates. Every location has its own quirks, and there will even be microclimates within the smallest of gardens. South-facing garden beds are likely to be cooler and damper than north-facing beds. Open patches of ground will be more prone to frost and wind than a cloistered courtyard. The top of a slope is sure to be drier than the bottom.
The best advice I can offer is work with your microclimates rather than against them. Use them to your advantage. A loquat tree casts shade over half a bed in my vegie patch, so I use the cooler conditions to keep lettuce and other greens going through summer. Where it’s scorching hot, I’m planting capsicums. Getting these kind of decisions right means I use water and other resources more efficiently, while maximising the productivity of my plot. Scrutinise your garden and make considered decisions.
November is the prime garlic harvesting month across most of eastern and southern Australia. I’ve already pulled some of my earliest varieties, but this month I’ll lift the remainder, taking care to cure them properly before storing. First, I lay the harvested bulbs on the ground in the sun for day (if it’s very hot I skip this step). Then I put the bulbs into airy crates, and place them under an old carport. Here its shady, but lots of airflow around the bulbs hardens them off, making them less susceptible to rot. Finally, the cured bulbs go into a cool, dark shed until ready for the kitchen, or autumn planting. You can use a similar process for onions and shallots.
My tomatoes are powering along. This year I’m growing them according to the single stake technique, which means I’m being diligent about pinching off almost every side shoot that forms between a main leaf and the stem. This reduces production slightly, but it enables more plants to be grown in a compact garden bed. While I’m tending to my plants I like to apply a drink with seaweed extract. I pour this over the leaves as well as the soil. This has a dual effect, stimulating beneficial soil microbes (which help resist pathogens in the soil) while strengthening the foliage against fungal disease.
Zucchinis are coming into full production. The key to a long harvest is twofold: firstly, pick as often as possible, palming off extra zucchs to neighbours and family; and secondly watch for mildew diseases. These can be prevented to some extent by taking care not to wet the leaves while watering, and with a spray made from one part milk to nine parts water, applied weekly.
In the orchard consider underplanting trees with beneficial plants. Things like borage, achillea, comfrey, buckwheat, nasturtium, lucerne and artemisia provide a range of benefits to fruiting trees. Some attract pollinators, others attract predatory wasps, while others mine nutrients from the subsoil and bring it to the surface. It’s a much better strategy than simply applying mulch, and I’m gradually in the process of converting all of my trees to this “guild” style planting system.
Weeds getting you down? Take heart, there are more options than ever for controlling them without the need for toxic chemicals. I’ve had great success with vinegar and pine oil based herbicides, and in wetter seasons than this, I fire up my flame gun and nuke the persistent weeds that infest my gravel paths. The key to success with either strategy is to hit the weeds during the hottest part of the day when flames and desiccating liquids will be most effective.
By: Justin Russell
First published: October 2017