With a number of hot weeks of weather ahead and limited rainfall, keeping the veggie patch productive can provide some challenges. However, for those who planted veggies in Spring, harvesting is one of the delights of this period and with careful management, a bountiful range of produce can arrive. Here are some tips to ensure a good harvest.
If you haven’t already, mulch around your veggies and herbs to help keep moisture in, roots cooler and to prevent weeds. Consider a ‘wet’ mulch, such as mushroom compost. Straw also provides protection – in particular, fava bean (aka broad bean) straw lasts a long time and doesn’t grow shoots like wheat straw does. Unfortunately, fava bean straw can be difficult to find and is more expensive but, in my (Helen Simpson’s) opinion, it is worth it.
Water in the cool of the mornings and evenings to limit water loss from evaporation. After you have watered, check the soil to see how far the water has penetrated. If you have mulched, you will need to water enough to penetrate the mulch layer.
For particularly hot days, consider putting shade cloth over plants to protect them from the heat. Rig up shade cloth above the tomato stakes and also drape it down flat over the climbing beans with ends tied to the tallest part of the bean’s support. A shade cloth ‘sail’ protects the zucchinis, with ends tied by rope to the nearest high point (e.g. a tree branch). Whilst it can be tiresome to remove the shade cloth once the heat abates, shade cloth left on over many days can affect the plant’s growth, so it is worth making the effort.
4. Succession plant
If you have any room left in your veggie patch, now is a good time to succession plant. Try cherry tomatoes (they should carry through to June), lettuce (in a spot with some shade), rocket or herbs (such as basil or chives). Chillies can still be planted and, depending on how long the summer lasts, you could try a second planting of cucumbers, zucchinis, capsicums and eggplants. However, get them in quickly to ensure a harvest before the cooler weather arrives.
Plant seedlings, rather than seeds, at this time of year to maximise growth before the weather cools down in April.
If your veggies and herbs have been growing for some months, or are in pots with lesser access to nutrients, now is a good time to fertilise. Liquid fertilisers are handy at this time as they can be watered straight in. You may be fortunate enough to have access to ‘worm juice’ or make a brew yourself from animal manure and/or green manure – the internet abounds with fertiliser recipes.
Many people’s least favourite task! However, if you don’t bend down to pull out the few weeds that appear through the mulch early, all of a sudden you will be faced with too many of them and they’ve taken the nutrients away from the plants that you are growing. So best get in early.
7. Maintain your plants
Help climbing beans to find their way up trellis/wire.
Cut laterals from tomatoes (if you like to do this – some people don’t).
Train pumpkins where you want them to go, or they can easily attach themselves in non-desired locations.
Ensure cucumbers don’t have fruit growing along the ground.
To avoid attack by grubs, check plants regularly for pests and, if rain is due, be prepared with your preferred snail avoidance method. Snails tend to dislike gritty items, so anything like coffee grounds, sawdust or eggshells around plants can help.
Watch zucchinis, cucumbers and pumpkins for powdery mildew on the leaves – watering from underneath rather than above can help avoid this – you can also try cutting affected leaves off the plant or use organic methods for prevention (gardening writer Jackie French has a number of suggestions).
8. Plan for the surplus
Whilst you may be picking limited amounts this month, come February and March, you may have more produce than you can deal with. Produce can be stored in a variety of ways, including bottling, drying and freezing. Try making pesto with basil, boil down tomatoes and store in the freezer as a base sauce for pasta dishes, make fruit into jams and chutneys, create fruit leathers and juices.
Hire our Fowlers Vacola Preserving Kit for free – very handy for preserving excess produce.
Find your local food swap and swap your produce for something you don’t have.
Visit your neighbours and share your bounty!
And finally …
If you are growing tomatoes, you may be interested in the Great Tomato Taste Off’ event that will be held on Sunday 6th March in Montmorency. Here you can taste some unusual varieties, enter your own for tasting, and vote for your favourite. Last year there were so many varieties (including a few unnamed delicious backyard varieties) that it was a challenge to fit them on the tasting tables.