by Hannah Zwartz, Green Gardener
It’s still peak growing season, through until midsummer solstice on Dec 22. After that, days start shortening and plants put less energy into lush foliage, and more into making flowers and fruit.
In the midst of this lushness, it’s time to prepare for the driest months of the year. Irrigation is always best installed at planting time – it can get tricky later once plants have grown. Burying upside-down plastic bottles, with the bottoms cut off, next to plants like tomatoes encourages deep root systems and hugely simplifies watering. Terracotta pots with the holes sealed up (ollas) can also be buried as slow-seep reservoirs. Laying seep hoses through beds is massively easier while plants are still small. Cover seephoses with mulch, attach a tap timer and you’ve got a simple, turn-it-on-and-walk-away watering system.
It’s good to cover the soil surface – whether through close planting, mulching, or infilling with sprinklings of seeds such as phacelia and calendula. As well as stopping the soil drying out, this means less weeding over summer.
Well-prepared vegetable gardens can last a week between waterings. For a free workshop on summer-proofing your garden with irrigation and mulch, come to Kāpiti Community Centre Monday 7 December, 12-1.30pm.
Early summer in the garden:
Keep planting summer vegetables like tomatoes, beans, cucumber, zucchini and pumpkins. Things are still growing fast. Planting another round of zucchini and beans in midsummer will extend your harvest into late autumn.
Mulch as you plant, to keep weeds away and stop plant roots from drying out. Lay soak hoses and watering bottles through beds at planting time too – it gets harder later.
Fruit trees will drop their young fruit if the roots dry out. This is the crucial time of year to water them for a good crop (If they dry out later in summer, fruits will be smaller and have a more concentrated flavour - but if they dry out now it will reduce the crop.) Water well then mulch deeply around fruit tree roots, keeping mulch away from the trunk itself.
If you can’t get around all the weeds, slash down those that are going to seed. Slashed annual weeds can be smothered with newspaper/ cardboard and mulch.
Make liquid feed by soaking comfrey or seaweed in a bucket of water. Water it on every week or so; you’ll notice a big difference in the health of your plants.
Keep making compost – even if you never get around to turning it, it will be ready for autumn plantings.
Enjoy the garden! Long evenings and early dawns are made for being outside. A few minutes of planting or watering make great stress relief over the silly season.
Plant out: Tomatoes, cucumber, beans, peas, potatoes, corn, lettuce, silver beet, pumpkin, squash, red onions, leeks (for winter), basil and other herbs.
Sow seeds: Salad greens, carrots, beetroot, radish, zucchini, pumpkin, cucumber, corn, beans, peas, silver beet, sunflowers.
Plant of the month: magenta spreen, supergreen!
(aka Tree spinach, Lambs quarters, Goosefoot, Chenopodium giganteum)