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How to prepare for summer organic gardening

How to prepare for summer organic gardening

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Summer in the organic garden can pose its challenges, particularly in hot areas. PHIL DUDMAN shares a few tips for staying cool and keeping crops productive.

Moisture loss, heat damage, pest control and rampant growth are just some of the challenges you may face in the summer organic garden. With a bit of early preparation and forward planning, many of the problems that test your cool can be resolved.

Watering and conserving moisture is a big one. Plants dry out so quickly in summer, and without adequate and regular moisture, vegies can become tough and bitter and fruits can be dry, split and even fall prematurely. Start getting into the swing of checking soil to determine whether it needs a moisture top up… a quick dig around will soon tell. Vegies will need a good deep soaking at least 2-4 times a week in summer, sometimes more in hot periods, and fruit trees at least once a week in dry times. Be sure to keep plenty of organic mulch on hand… it breaks down quickly in summer, so keep topping up where it gets thin. Maintaining a good cover of mulch will save you lots and lots of water and help to keep soil cool and moist, which means better crops.

Sunscald is a big summer issue. Just one or two stinking hot days can destroy your harvest… wilting leafy greens to the point of no return and burning out huge lesions in sensitive fruits such as tomatoes and capsicum. This kind of heartache can easily be avoided with a little shading, so be prepared! Make sure you have a good stash of shade cloth and/or old net curtains on hand. Draped over your crops on a 30 degree plus day reduces the intensity of sun’s rays and cools the atmosphere around vegetables, reducing wilt and scald. It’s also worth setting up some kind of frame now to support your fabrics… doesn’t have to be fancy, just a few lengths of bamboo or timber stakes tied together is all you need.

Keep an eye out for caterpillar damage. A daily check will reveal where the culprits are active. Be ready to squash what you can, spray with soap spray or use a preventative such as Dipel where necessary. Fruit Fly is a major summer pest in warmer areas and is already active. Put some pheromone fruit fly traps on your trees or craft your own traps using small PET bottles. Make a small entrance hole 2-3mm wide half way down the side and fill with a dilute solution of vegemite and water, or 1:1 fruit juice and water… and be sure to clean out and renew baits every week. One of the best things you can do to protect your fruit is to create a barrier by covering them with paper or cloth bags secured with clothes pegs. Tomato bushess and other low growing soft fruits can be covered entirely in fruit fly proof netting.

Everything grows like mad when summer kicks in… so make sure you give your secateurs and lawn mower a good service now. Be prepared to put all those prunings and clippings to good use too, and make some extra space to pile them up into giant compost heaps. Piles made of one cubic metre in one go will create a ‘hot compost’ that’s hot enough to cook diseased material and bulbous weeds as well… not to mention creating a beautiful soil conditioner ready for cool season planting.