Winter is a great time to check the vegetable garden’s infrastructure before being overwhelmed by the tasks of Spring. Five years ago when we moved into this property, we installed a tall fence around the perimeter of the garden. The base of the fence was then boarded, allowing mowing and brushcutting up to the edge, but the fencing wire was not buried. We should have known that the rabbits would keep finding weak points and enter by digging under the boards. Task number one is to rectify this problem. Time to call a working bee.
Last summer we installed hoops over half the garden beds, enabling us to attach shade cloth over the summer crops during the hot summer months. The hoops are made from ‘found’ reo ( metal reinforcing rods) which are cut into 1½ metre lengths then inserted into flexible poly piping. More hoops are required this season, to cover the remaining beds with stretchy cheap bird netting as a deterrent to the winter vandals, namely the cockatoos. These large birds love a winter raid. The guard cocky sits in the tallest tree, alerting his friends of our imminent arrival, though all our loud shooing and yelling has little effect. Down they swoop in large gangs, bombing any plant that they consider too tall, ugly or in the way. Last week the slow-growing broccoli plants became winter’s first victims. Some were sliced in half, others were pulled out of the ground. Just for fun! The 300 garlic plants are getting some height and look like the next target.
Keeping accurate rainfall records is an ingrained habit: we have records from this area dating back to the 8os. Winter rain tallies are important for many reasons. Melbourne can often be cold and dry in June and July, so watering becomes essential. This July we have received 104 mm, with a cumulative total of 491 mm for the year, comparing favourably with the figures from the July aggregate totals from recent years. (July’14- 340 mm, July ’13-300, July’12- 457, July ’11-537, July’10- 483). Let’s hope that the rain keeps up in Spring.
Our vegetable garden relies on dam water. The house is supplied by rainwater collected in tanks and is reserved for home use, topping up the swimming pool and emergencies, such as bushfire. We extended the dam, making it deeper and wider, soon after we arrived in our new abode. It filled quickly during a Spring downpour: we watched in awe as it went from empty to full in one afternoon, like a giant cappuccino in the making. During the dry months, water is pumped from the dam up to a 5000 litre holding tank on the ridge. The water is then gravity fed down to the garden, via underground pipes, as the vegetable garden is sited well below the tanks. Sometimes the lines get blocked or are slowed down and need the filters changed. This is another winter task.
Our beautiful Dexter cows, Delilah (the bitch) Sad Aunty Derry, Skinny Duffy and the boys, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy (the rogue), give us a bountiful supply of manure as do the chooks. The manure is layered into large bins, along with dry leaves (carbon), and green matter (kitchen waste and green clippings): the resulting ‘lasagne’ puffs away for three months until ready for use with each new season. We have around five bins in various stages of maturation. Well made compost is the answer to successful organic growing, along with adequate water, mulching, and siting the garden away from shade or large rooted trees. East and north sun are key factors, along with protection from the South West, the main source of our destructive winds.
Winter lettuces come in all colours and flavours. They are picked every few days, washed then spun and bagged. Unlike the supermarket packets of uniform ‘baby’ leaves, gassed and given a mandatory wash in bleach, home-grown lettuces are delightfully irregular, and often come with stems attached. The current mix includes Cos, butterhead, red oakleaf, red butterhead, rocket and baby radicchio.
Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out this month’s vegetable garden posts on Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective from Monday, August 3.