Get a good head start

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

BY NOW, most gardeners will have acquired their seeds for this year’s garden. You can keep better track of seeds by filing them 

Super Duper Compost

Build a pile four-feet high and four-feet in diameter, alternating the following in six-inch layers: leaves, weeds (no seeds), herbaceous prunings, manure (can be fresh), grass clippings, spoiled hay, seaweed, lake algae, sawdust and chicken litter. Make it “Super Duper” by adding leaves from comfrey and nettle and strands of dried horsetail, if available. These plants contain valuable nutrients that make high quality compost. To prevent problems with rodents, do not include food waste.

in a shoebox and separating them into three sections: cool weather, heat loving and winter food. Filing seed packets in alphabetical order and using recipe cards as dividers makes them easy to find and if you return leftover seeds to the shoebox, you won’t reorder them by mistake next year.

Adding the “Four Secrets of Successful Soil Building” – compost, manure, leaves and seaweed – to the soil at the start of the growing season makes an incredible difference to the success of the food garden. In turn, feeding the soil web of life feeds plants growing within it. The best part is that all four of these organic soil amendments are free and freely available. If the beds are compacted, turn them under and wait four weeks before planting the garden to allow these amendments to become incorporated into the soil.

While the soil is moist, I do a major weeding around the garden, which prevents weeds from setting seed and makes the gardener’s work so much lighter. At the end of the season, you can smother any new weeds with a thick layer of mulch – what I refer to as an organic weed and feed. This year, buttercups had crept up on me so I had to dig up and rework the entire area, incorporating lots of compost for better drainage.

Whereas March and April used to be good gardening months, we now have to wait for warmer conditions in June or July to plant or seed the garden. To get a head start on the season, I am grateful for my greenhouse, but if you don’t have the luxury of a greenhouse you can improvise using cold frames or cloches. These can be made inexpensively from recycled wood and glass windows or 6ml. greenhouse plastic.

Container gardening is a good way of surviving a poor summer. Heat loving plants such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplant and basil fare well when grown in planters in full sun. Success depends upon a well- drained and fertile growing medium. Once roots fill the containers in late summer, weekly feedings of compost tea or liquid seaweed make a big difference to the yields.

I grow my food garden together with hedgerows of ornamental shrubs, flowers, grasses, herbs, small fruits and berries, all of which attract wildlife in large populations.

For good reason, monocultures don’t exist in nature; they prohibit all the beneficial relationships between plant species. Large-scale monocultures attract pests and diseases fast, which is why ever-increasing inputs of pesticides are necessary. Moving related plants around in rotation prevents the build up of pesky problems by breaking the lifecycle of potential pests or diseases.

There’s a lot to do in the garden this month now that the blossoms and the green violet swallows have finally appeared. The sprouted potatoes have been planted and the late season russets are being “chitted” (sprouted in a container before planting). All the cool weather plants – broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, onions, leeks, lettuces, salad greens, beets and chard – are up and growing. The peas are in the ground now and climbing up their bamboo supports. Now’s a good time to plant berries and fruit trees; divide perennial food plants such as globe artichokes, rhubarb and lovage; repot root bound mints; and feed container plants with your own version of Super Duper mix.

Happy gardening chores.

Carolyn Herriot is author of A Year on the Garden Path: A 52-Week Organic Gardening Guide. She grows Seeds of Victoria at the Garden Path Centre where she teaches The Zero Mile Diet – Twelve Steps to Sustainable Homegrown Food Production and Growing an Edible Plant

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