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In The Garden with Alex



 

May is the last month of Autumn and this means getting a few tasks completed before winter hits. The nights and days are colder and deciduous trees are showing their lovely colours.



Things to do in May:

●  Good time to make compost with all the fallen leaves. Add a balance of wet and dry to keep the compost ticking along. If you have an open heap, you will need to keep it covered from time to time in cold wet weather.

●  Cut asparagus foliage to the ground and add to the compost.

●  Remove dead leaves and runners from old strawberry plants, tidy up and mulch with compost or rotted manure then hay or straw.

●  Cut finished raspberry canes - if they are the summer fruiting type, cut the canes that have fruited, not the new canes which won’t fruit until the following summer. If you have the autumn type, you can cut all the canes to the lower nodes just above the ground.

●  Lift and divide perennials.

●  Cut finished herbs to the ground and feed parsley.

 

SOIL

We are very fortunate to have good soil in the Kinglake ranges. The red soils have helped develop our agricultural heritage.

Potatoes, Strawberries and Blueberries have been grown successfully. Our red soil has a good structure and it overlays a clay bed. The depths of these fertile soils vary across the ranges, but it does give we gardeners a head start in being able to grow many plants easily.

Good soil depends on structure, nutrition and critically, its microbial content.The PH of our soil will vary. The red soils in the Kinglake area are largely in the acid PH range. The PH is important for plant growth because if soil is too acidic, that won’t suit growing onions, as an example, but Blueberries and Rhododendrons will thrive.

Vegetables like onions need an alkaline soil. Having the right PH enables plants to take up nutrients to live. If onions are planted in an acidic solid without liming the soil, their leaves turn yellow and the growth is stunted. It is helpful to purchase a soil testing kit, which is very easy to use. The colour chart will tell you what the PH is and if needed you can remedy the PH either with garden lime at a ratio of about 200 gms per square metre for loamy soil to increase the soil alkalinity or iron sulphate at a ratio of 60g per square metre to acidify the soil. Sulphate of ammonia can also be used instead of iron sulphate.

Soil PH is important for plants to take up minerals, here are a few signs that plants indicate certain mineral deficiencies:

●  Iron - the area between the veins on the youngest leaves turn yellow and the veins are a strong green colour.

●  Manganese - the leaves are yellow with very minimal green colour of the veins.

●  Nitrogen - The oldest leaves will be yellow but the younger ones will be green. The plant may fail to flower or fruit. Leaves will fall earlier.

●  Phosphorus - the older leaves develop a bluish purple colour and show some brown scorching on the leaf edges.

●  Potassium - looks similar to phosphorus deficiency, but the plant will be stunted, very poor flowering and fruit set. Potassium is crucial for strong cells which help disease resistance as well as good fruiting.

●  Molybdenum - is more common with acid soils. The brassicas, cabbages etc. show this deficiency on the oldest leaves with mottling, pale cup shaped leaves. Molybdenum is important for nitrogen fixing bacteria to ensure a healthy crop.

●  Calcium - can be deficient in acid soils. The tips of young leaves turn black and bend over, shrivelling up.Good compost is also very useful in remediating these deficiencies and compost tea is another way to help sustain nutrients through its microbial content.

 

Tip: Plant a green manure this month in some of the empty vegetable beds. You can use up old packets of seeds. After they have grown, dig in to enrich the soil for the next crop of vegetable seedlings. Another good green manure to use is mustard greens as they help control nematodes.

 

Compost - the good earth.

 

Compost is a living organism. It has organic matter, worms and microbes. To have good compost these three components are necessary: carbon, organic matter and air.

If you find your compost is a wet slimy mess with an acrid smell then it needs redoing. The acrid smell is an indication that the compost is anaerobic - no life. Compost does have a smell but it is a pleasant earthy one.

Putting kitchen scraps which can include everything that once lived into your compost will need the inclusion of dry matter - paper, cardboard, toilet rolls, paper towel and rolls and any old straw. This is carbon.

Not including these items will deplete your compost of nitrogen and the worms and micro organisms will slowly perish. A balance is needed. Just to make the information easier to work with, the ratio that I work with is 1 bucket of dry (screwed up newspaper or shredded paper, or 2 buckets dry old straw or 1 bucket of ripped up cardboard) to 3 buckets of organic material, either from the kitchen or lawn clippings. In my compost I add

●  All fruit and vegetable leftovers from the kitchen, pips and all

●  All citrus. Citrus can inhibit the breakdown but this is minimal.

●  Any meat, like leftover roast bits, fish bones and skin. Just make sure that the meat bits have been cut up or shredded, as this will break down sooner and avoid flies coming.

●  Autumn leaves are good but they are best shredded and this is done by running the lawn mower over them

●  Some weeds like the flat leaf that look a bit like dandelions before they set seed. Other annual weeds can be included but before they set seed.

What I would not add is manure from dogs, cats or pigs. Some animal manures can have antibiotics and worming treatments which will knock out the microbes and worms. Remove the plastic from cardboard as it has Buckleys of breaking down and you will find yourself spreading the plastic onto your garden.

I also put the residual fat/oil after frying into the kitchen compost bucket. As this is a small amount it has no impact on the breakdown. I have also used coffee grounds but they need to be sprinkled in layers.




Compost can be activated to speed up the breakdown. My two preferred ones are molasses and comfrey leaves. Microbes love molasses. Also Molasses adds vital trace minerals for the plants - iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. I buy animal grade molasses in a 5kg bucket. It isn’t easy to dissolve and takes time. I have 4 compost bins and use 1kg per bin.

Basically put the molasses in a bucket and fill up with water. Stir it around with a stick and when it becomes the colour of dark tea, pour it over the compost. There will be residual molasses in the bucket, fill it up with water, and repeat the process until you have managed to use it up. I will do this when the bin is full and left to breakdown.If you have comfrey in the garden, cut the leaves off and spread them in the compost. Comfrey has a deep root and it is very good at picking up the minerals from the soil. This helps to enrich the compost.

Getting air into the compost is essential, especially for the worms. I use the bin method for composting. It isn’t easy turning compost in one of these bins and I have a corkscrew gadget to turn it. It was effective but compost can be heavy and hard on the arms to lift.

I ended up getting a section of storm water pipe, drilled lots of holes if it wasn’t slotted and placed it from the ground up to just under the lid for each bin. It has worked very well with no turning.

I allow about 9 - 12 months for the compost to break down and this can be used for all planting purposes.

 

Tip: if you have a small kitchen compost bucket, put a couple of large newspaper sheets scrunched on the bottom so it reduces any sliminess. This adds carbon to the heap when you empty it.

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