In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden


Preparing Your Garden for Cold Weather

When winter comes around, it might be tempting to let everything go dormant — from your garden, to your compost, to productivity, to anything that requires you to step outside into the frigid weather. Personally, if I had the choice, I would prefer all chores to be done for me while I lay cozy in bed until spring rolls around again — but unless you’re a grizzly bear, that’s not really an option.

Getting things in order before the snow falls, however, is the best way to make sure winter gardening goes off without a hitch — not to mention, a better chance at success when everything comes back to life again in a few months when the weather starts to warm up again.

compost bin
Photo by Pixabay

Composting

Because food scraps don’t stop when it starts getting cold outside, keeping a compost pile or bin during the winter might take a little more effort than during the warmer months, but you’ll still be able to rest well knowing leftovers from the kitchen aren’t just going to waste in the trash bin.

One of your first steps is making sure the compost bin is airtight to allow the microbes inside to remain warm and active. If they freeze, not only will it slow down the composting process and possibly kill the necessary microbes, leaving you with a frozen block of scraps until spring comes around to thaw them out. Be sure to avoid allowing snow and other unnecessary moisture into the bin, and the chemical reactions inside will keep themselves warm.

dead leaves on tree branch
Photo by Pixabay

Second, be sure you’re balancing “green” scraps (nitrogen) and “brown” scraps (carbon). Use dead, dry leaves from fall as sources of carbon to balance out the nitrogen of the kitchen scraps, and methods for keeping your leaves dry and crunchy throughout the cold season. Not only do the leaves provide a balance to the chemical reactions occurring inside, they also help absorb any extra moisture that would otherwise leave your compost soggy and useless.

Some people also opt for an indoor compost bin, located somewhere out of the way like the garage. This way, you’re not forced to brave the cold to deposit scraps or turn the already-existing compost. However, indoor bins like these can cause some of their own problems, namely, an unwelcome aroma, as well as the possibility of a messy floor. When it comes down to it, neither is necessarily a better choice than the other; it just depends on your personal preference.

small container garden
Photo by Pixabay

Preparing the Garden for Spring

Other than deciding whether or not you want to let your plants go to seed or clean up after them, there’s a lot more to be done than just letting the ground freeze and deciding you’ll pick up again only when it warms up.

While it’s fine to let most non-food garden plants go to seed and rest there over the winter, it’s another story for many fruits and vegetables you have perfectly lined up in garden rows: If you don’t clean up well enough at the end of the season, your garden risks contracting late blight, an infectious organic disease that can travel on the wind, even between neighboring gardens.

The blight is strong enough to survive through the winter, meaning it’s critical to cut away and quarantine, or dispose of all plants that might have been vulnerable to the disease, as to avoid any possible issues in the next season.

fallen dry leaves
Photo by Pixabay

After cleaning away dead plants, smooth out the remaining soil either by hand or with a portable rototiller, depending on the size of your plot. Next, spread a layer of new soil and/or mulch, to boost the garden’s nutrients for next spring.

The end of the season is also the best time to expand your garden, especially since you’ll be laying new soil anyway, so take some time to decide if you think you’ll be planting more, or new things come spring. You might also consider planting some winter cover crops, which are sown in fall and then harvested in the oncoming spring.

Don’t forget to gather as many fallen leaves as possible for your garden’s mulch layer, as well as for your wintertime compost stock — chances are you’ll have plenty lying around, so don’t wait until the last minute. The leaves might go soggy any day now, which makes them useless for storage!

kale in green smoothie
Photo by Pixabay

Enjoying a Mini Indoor Garden

Falling snow doesn’t mean the end to gardening — at least, not completely. When your large plot outside hibernates for the winter, consider growing another indoors to keep you company. Smaller plants, ranging from basil to green onions, make perfect indoor companions and mean you’ll have plenty of fresh herbs and spices to use on the stored harvest from the outdoor garden.

Even if you don’t want to go the route of growing more vegetables or fruits, consider a small family of succulents, flowers, or other easy-to-grow plants, to remind you of the warmer weather to come again. Especially if you suffer from illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) brought on by the low light of winter, keeping plants indoors is proven to help boosts spirits, even if just a little bit, just like keeping a larger plot during the warmer months can help ease things like depression and anxiety!

fresh produce
Photo by Pixabay

Whether you choose to take a break during the winter months like a grizzly bear, or continue on your journey of composting, gardening, and preparing for spring, there’s so much you can do — even during the cold months to keep your thumb green. Those things could range anywhere from growing things indoors with you where it’s warm, to dreaming of the things you’ll plant in a few months when the sun comes out again.

Either way, it’s a time to appreciate all the work you did the season prior, and enjoy your harvest of tasty, fresh fruits and vegetables!


Noah Yarnol Rue is always looking for where his next trip will take him. When he's not traveling the world, he's writing articles on all the new things he learns!

6 Tips for Successful Raised Bed Gardening This Fall

Summer’s almost over, and several regions are already feeling the drop in temperature. For home growers, this means it’s time to get ready for fall gardening. 

This prep work is important but it can be challenging during the late summer months. Any crops that need time to germinate and mature have to be seeded early. However, your soil might still be nutrient deficient from your last harvest or dried out from the heat.

These problems can get in the way of a bountiful autumn harvest, but they’re surmountable! Put these fall garden prep tips to use and enjoy a productive growing season.

Make Space for New Crops

Harvest your summer crops as soon as possible. If you have veggies still growing in your raised garden bed and plan to grow cool-weather crops, it’s time to say goodbye to them! It’s important that you harvest and remove early-season crops from the garden in a timely fashion to make way for autumn plants, which often need to be planted during the summer.

Vegetables can take longer to grow during fall because of reduced sunlight hours, which means limited growing days. As a result, you may way want to start sowing fall seeds as soon as mid to late summer, depending on their respective maturing time. 

Remember to remove crops that didn’t mature in time and those that bolted (i.e., when plants prematurely enter the seeding stage). 

After clearing your garden of early-season crops, pull out the weeds as well. You want free, open, healthy soil that will allow your seeds to germinate. Weeds may crowd your seeds, preventing them from taking root.

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Loosen the Soil and Refresh Nutrients

Once you’ve harvested your crops and weeded your beds, it’s time to revitalize your soil. Soil will compress over time and past crops will soak up nutrients, possibly leaving it depleted for future plants. Fortunately, both problems are easy to fix and normal for a garden.  

Loosening compressed soil helps the soil become quick-draining so you don’t have to worry about soggy roots and potential water damage such as root rot. To loosen, simply fluff the soil with a garden fork. You don’t have to do major tilling; you can stick the garden fork at 8- to 12-inch intervals across the beds. Doing so will loosen the soil adequately without any backbreaking work.

To know if your soil needs nutrients, pick up a soil test kit online or at your local home & garden store. That said, it’s always a good practice to add a layer of compost seasonally to replenish soil nutrients. If you’re feeling diligent, you can mix in the compost while loosening the soil but simply laying it on top of the soil after you finish is perfectly fine.

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Choose the Right Crops

The success of your fall garden largely depends on the vegetables you choose to grow. You want crops that will be able to tolerate the cold temperature and maybe even some light frost. Fall is the season for growing a rainbow of hardy greens, such as arugula, Brussels sprouts, and spinach, among others. (Here are 10 great fall garden plants to grow.) 

Fast-growing root crops, like carrots and turnips, and several spring-grown vegetables also thrive in autumn. Some of these even mature sweeter and crisper in cool temperatures. 

Make sure you get the planting timing right. Check the number of “days to maturity” on the back of the seed packet, then add a week or two to account for shorter, cooler days with less sunlight. This information will help you calculate when best to plant. 

Group your crops according to their soil, sunlight, and water requirements to make caring for them easier.

Carrot 5 copy

Provide Some Cover

If you’re sowing fall seeds mid-summer, you may need to shield your crops from the hot sun. Cold-weather crops like lettuce and spinach won’t germinate when the temperature is too high. You can provide cover by building a hoop house over the garden bed using a shade cloth or cold frame. 

The shade shields your seeds and seedlings from the harsh sun, helping them take root even in mid-summer. The cover prevents water evaporation in the soil as well, which keeps your plants well-hydrated. It can also protect your plants from frost when the temperature drops.

The hoop house is another reason you should group your plants accordingly. Plant all the cold-weather crops in the covered area to make tending to them easier. 

Mulching also helps your plants stay cool during mid- to late summer. Apply a layer of hay, straw, or leaves on the surface of soil between plants. The mulch helps hinder weed growth as well.

Ensure Plants Have Good Irrigation

Water, it’s essential for any garden to grow! For all seasons, fall included, you’ll want to ensure your plants are watered well. Plants in a raised garden bed are often densely planted, so ground-level garden watering systems, like the Garden Grid™, can be a big help to reach and sufficiently water all plants. 

A good test to make sure your plants have enough water is to dig your index finger into your garden soil, down about 2 inches. If you feel moisture in your soil, you should be good on watering. If not, and the soil feels dry, it’s probably time to water.  

Garden Grid watering system soaker drip watering kit planter raised garden system copy

 

Plant Cover Crops

If you’re planning to sit this growing season out, don’t let your garden sit bare, especially through the fall. Soil exposed to harsh winter can break down and compact faster than protected soil.

Cover crops or green manure bring nutrients back into the soil, reduce erosion, and even fix the nitrogen in your soil. You can plant them during fall, allow them to grow, then forget about them until spring. Some will go dormant during winter, while others will die due to the cold weather. Either way, the plants will provide cover for the healthy microorganisms in your soil during winter.

Winter rye, crimson clover, and buckwheat make good fall cover crops for raised beds.

A big part of growing a great garden can come down to simply having a good action plan. If you keep your soil healthy, understand how your seasonal temperatures change, and know the sun, temperature, and water needs of different plants, your garden will have the best chance of thriving in fall, and the following seasons to come!

Homemade Herbal Liquid Feed

Liquid feed is the weekly tonic your hard working food garden needs, like a Berocca for your plants! It’s super easy to make and homemade is just as good if not better than bought because it’s fresh + plastic bottle free. Make a fresh batch each month for regular supply.

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Get Setup

You need 2 buckets - one bucket with holes in the bottom that will neatly sit inside another bucket that has no holes, like a steamer in a pot, so liquid can drip through from the top bucket to the bottom one.

Choose a spot in the semi shade — a bit of gentle morning or afternoon sun is good and somewhere very little rain penetrates. I tuck my liquid feed buckets under a dense evergreen Michelia Figo tree.

You also need a weight to sit on top of the buckets – stones or bricks are perfect for this.

Fill the Bucket

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Fill your top bucket with herbs. I use comfrey for the bulk of my mixture. It’s rich in potassium, just what fruiting plants need. You can use a mixture of whatever nutrient dense herbs you have – dandelion, stinging nettle, chamomile, lemon balm, yarrow, echinacea, borage, tansy — as long as the plants are lush, green and spray free.

Pack the bucket to the brim and place it inside the bottom bucket.

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Put stones or bricks on the herbs.

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Cover it to keep the bugs out but let some air in. This hessian hat works really well.

And that's it!

Brew + Use   

Leave it alone to brew for about 6 weeks. You’ll be stoked to know this is completely pong-free.

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It’s ready when 99% of the raw ingredients have turned to black sludge and there’s a lovely puddle of black goodness in the bottom. From this 30 litre tub of herbs I get about 2 to 3 litres of concentrate.

Recycle the rotten herbs as mulch under some deserving, fruit-producing plants or add them to your compost heap.

Get the best out of your concentrate by using it all up in one go, as soon as it’s ready. If you need to wait a bit, store it in the shade.

Dilute 1:10 or 1:20 — somewhere in that range, in a back pack sprayer or a watering can. Spray/ pour all over the soil and foliage weekly and watch your garden flourish!

The Spring Veggie Patch, A Handy Tool + Spuds in Buckets

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What to Sow and Plant in Early Spring

Take your vegetable garden next level and check your soil temperature before planting or sowing anything this spring. Nature is finely tuned to temperature, and the closer we can match our plants to the right soil temp. the better our crops. At this mo the soil in my veggie patch is 11 degrees C. Here’s what I can plant and sow.

Plant out celery, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, silverbeet, parsley, salads, onions, leeks, potatoes.

Direct sow carrots, kohlrabi, turnip, parsnip, rocket, chicory, endive, spinach, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, bok choy, kale, snopeas, peas, broadbeans, fennel, dill, coriander, shallots, spring onions.

Tray sow celeriac, salads, silverbeet, parsley, chervil.

Companion flowers: Direct, or tray sow, or plant as many as you can cram in! Calendula, cornflower, poppy, nasturtium, borage, sweet pea, viola, larkspur or hollyhock.

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Early Spring Greenhouse

Tray sow greenhouse crops like tomato, chilli, pepper, aubergine, zucchini, cucumber, melon. Use a heatpad/hot water cupboard or cozy fireside spot to keep your seed raising tray at 20 degrees C.

If you don’t have a greenhouse and live somewhere cool, don’t rush into summer crops—patience grasshopper! Heat lovers need to be planted when it’s hot. I plant outside tomatoes once the soil is 18 degrees C and the nights are 13 degrees C. Growing crops in the right soil/ air temperature means less stress + less pests + more crops = happy gardener!

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Direct sow dwarf beans, salads, beetroot, courgette. The bonus of a greenhouse are these  early crops. I won’t be sowing outside beans until the soil is 15 degrees C.

Begin kumara shoots.

New Potatoes for Christmas

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Having spent a good portion of my life coaxing vegetables from soil, I’m weather wary. Between now and the arrival of summer there will be days for shorts, days for raincoats, and days for beanies. I’m cautious with the planting out of tender crops like potatoes.

So my first lot of spuds go into buckets, a great use for cracked or broken buckets. Sacks are another good option.

Choose fast growers like Rocket, Swift, Liseta or even Cliff Kidney.

Make holes in the bottom for drainage and line with about 10cm of compost. Homemade compost is best because it’s not rich and fine like bought stuff. If you are using bought stuff, bring air with pumice, rotten sawdust or good soil.

Lay your seed potato in (one per 10litre bucket), on top of a few bits of seaweed if you’re lucky enough to be seaside. Top the bucket up with compost, straw, or old hay—or a mix of the above—to bury the spud, and you’re off!

Move the bucket among shrubs when the weather warms up. Keep the soil cool but leave the tops in the light.

Spuds in buckets aren’t as productive as in the ground, but it means those of us on cold/wet ground can have Christmas potatoes. I’ll do another lot of spuds in a few weeks time – in buckets if the soils still cold, or in the ground if things have warmed up. Little and often plantings, make for little and often harvests—achievable, and so very useful.

What to Plant in the Winter Garden

A journalist once asked me “Whats the best time of year to start a garden?, and I said “Anytime!” There is not one food growing season, there are four!”

Let’s take a look at what to plant in your veggie patch in winter. I encourage you to take this leap into year round gardening to bring homegrown vegetables - the best of all food! - to your table everyday. Such a thrill! And for the triumph you feel, when though its cold and wet you went out and got on with it!

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Leave Wet, Heavy Soil Alone

If you are on wet, heavy and therefore cold soil your winter garden will be best in pots. Over time the addition of organic matter, gypsum and mulch will transform the glug into the free draining humus heaven you need for year round planting. For now though, the best thing you can do is mulch soggy soils and leave them alone until they dry out again.

Learn Your Place

Understanding your unique growing environment is essential. There is a lot of advice out there and not all of it is going to apply to your patch. The only way you learn your garden’s limits are by mucking in and doing it! This here is what I can plant in winter. Tweak it to suit your place and your palate.

Winter Vegetables to Plant or Sow

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  • Plant broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage for late spring harvest.
  • Plant bok choy or kale for late winter harvest.

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  • Plant garlic, shallots, spring onions and onions for summer harvest.
  • Plant globe artichokes for spring harvest.
  • Plant asparagus crowns for future springs (about 3 years before you can harvest, but oh so worth it)

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  • Direct sow legume greencrops, as heavy feeders like broccoli come to an end. (Now you’re really thinking like a food gardener – preparing your ground for future crops.)
  • Direct or tray sow rocket, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, spinach, raddichio, sno-peas, peas and broadbeans for spring/ summer harvest.
  • Direct sow parsnip, radish, kohlrabi, swede or turnips.
  • Direct sow a mustard greencrop, after greenhouse tomatoes and peppers to cleanse the soil.

Plant Salad Greens Under Cover

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Keep fresh leafy salad reens coming on through winter in the greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, fake up a bit of warmth - be creative! Make a cloche with a sheet of plastic, rig up an old window or car windscreen or plant into pots tucked close to the house on the sunny side. Do whatever you can to warm the air and soil.  

Good Things Take Time

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It’s important you understand the truth of how long from seedling to harvest. Good things take time. In the matter of a broccoli you’re looking at 3 months, a lettuce 6 weeks, garlic 6 months. Add some frosty cold weather and everything slows, almost grinding to a halt. So when I say planting the winter garden – it’s just that – planting. The food you’re harvesting now was thoughtfully planted in autumn.

How to Plant and Prune New Fruit Trees

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Deciduous fruit tree planting time is here! Before you get planting, be sure of the best spot and appropriate spacings.

Dig

  • Dig a 20 litre hole
  • Open clay soil by puncturing the bottom of the hole with your garden fork.
  • Hold sandy soil by lining the bottom of your hole with wet newspaper
  • Mix the excavated soil 50/50 with compost.

Plant

Soak potted trees in a bucket of water until bubbles no longer appear. Remove the stake and tape – these are pot support only. Slit the bag open and lightly tease out the roots. Trim overlong ones back to match the others.  

Plant bare-rooted trees right away. Create a hump of soil in the hole for the roots to rest on and sit the tree on the hump. Trim any roots that are too long roots for the hole.

  • Position the tree in the hole, so it’s standing straight. Ensure the graft is above the soil line.
  • Backfill with the soil mix. Use your fingers to push the soil in firmly around the roots.
  • Give the tree a tug to be sure it’s well planted.

Stake

Drive a robust stake into the ground about 20cm away from the trunk on the windward side. Affix the tree to the stake with soft stocking tie – firmly, not rigidly. Allow a bit of freedom to move to stimulate root development. More roots = the ability to source a wide range of nutrient and support giving it the best shot at being drought proof, wind proof and heavy crop proof. Remove the stake when the tree’s holding its own after 2/3 years.

Trees on dwarf rootstocks need permanent stakes, which is why I prefer a bigger rootstock – independence is a character I do so admire.

Feed + Water

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  • Spread a little compost on top, add a full spectrum mineral fertiliser plus a handful of gypsum.
  • Water gently until the soil is barely moist.
  • Liquid feed with seaweed.
  • Lay cardboard and spread mixed woody mulch on top.

Remove the label!

A plant label is a strangle hold moment if left wrapped about the trunk. Whip it off and attach it to the stake or tie until you sketch it onto your plan.

Prune

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Cut your tree at hip height or about 1m, above a bud. I know you’ll find this hard, but this easy, simple cut is what is going to have your tree be reachable, compact and full of fruit in a small space. So go on – be brave. If your tree is close to this height already – just leave it be.

Remove any branches. The new ones that grow over summer will all be of the same age and have good balance.

You find this scary because you think this is the end, but my friends – it’s just the beginning! The first scaffold of branches and the leader will spring from this point for a nice low centre of gravity. Trust me here.

For more help on how to train and prune your fruit trees – check out my pruning book.

Brighten Your Home with a Holiday Cactus

The schlumbergea is a small family of cacti found on trees in the Brazilian rainforests. They grow in pockets of leaf debris where there is a split in the tree branches. These flowering epiphytes have thin flat green segments that can spread 12 feet. This plant is easy to grow indoors and will live for many years.

Blooming Holiday Cactus
Photo By Desiree Bell

Three years ago, my mother gave me a cactus start that she propagated from her plant, which is 20 years old. Her cactus was a cutting from her mothers' plant that was many years old. The schlumbergea can easily be propagated by twisting off two or three connected segments. Allow the moist end to dry for a few hours then plant in a small pot filled with sandy type soil.

Researching I discovered that the cactus past down to me is a Thanksgiving Cactus. The Thanksgiving Cactus, schlumbergera truncate, has pointy edged leaves and tends to bloom in November. The Christmas Cactus, schlumbergra x buckley, has more rounded edges on the leaf stem and blooms in December. 

Budding Holiday Cactus
Photo By Desiree Bell

Place in medium light as to much sun causes the stems to take on a reddish color, and low light levels will prevent flowering. Fertilize throughout the spring and summer months. Darkness in the autumn season for at least 12 hours is necessary to induce bud formation. The cactus's flowers are not symmetrical in shape; they have different right and left halves and come in a variety of colors.  

Give a holiday cactus as a gift this season and enclose this downloadable word search about the plant.  







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