Starting A Survival Garden
In even the Humblest Garden Grows, far more than Herbs and Flowers.
Kind Thoughts, Contentment, Peace of Mind and Joy for Weary Hours.
Adapted from “A Poor Mans Garden”
by Mary Howett.�
In times of economic uncertainty and rising food prices, its always a good idea to have a vegetable garden to provide extra food for you and your family.
The First Steps
#1) Evaluate Your Land – You will need to evaluate the land that you are going to use. Is it big enough? Does it get enough sun? Will you need to put up a fence to keep wildlife away?
Learning as much as you can about your soil will help you decide what needs to be done to make it ideal for the plants you want to grow. If you can learn about your soil’s texture, composition, drainage, acidity, and mineral density, you will avoid, up front, the disappointing results that can occur when your soil is unsuitable for growing in.
Testing your soil
You can test the texture of your soil easily by checking it in wet and dry conditions. If the soil is hard when dry and sticky when wet, it is likely to be clay. If it is light, easily drained and easy to dig, it is probably sand or loamy sand. For a more precise test, take a small amount of soil in your hand and wet it. Knead it into a smooth paste and then roll it about between your hands to form a ball. The following results will reveal the soil texture:
- Sticky and gritty – loam, the perfect soil
- Easily rolls into a ball, but feels rough – clay loam
- Easily rolls into a ball, shiny when rubbed, but still gritty – sandy clay
- Easily rolls into a ball and becomes shiny but not gritty – clay
- Doesn’t roll into a ball well, and feels gritty – sand
- Easily rolls into a ball but it falls apart easily – loamy sand
- Feels slippery and silky – silty loam
Vegetables for Acid and Neutral Soils
- Beans – all types – Brussels Sprouts, Cucumbers, Marrows, Courgettes, Parsley, Parsnips, Peas, Radish, Swede, Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Turnips.
Vegetables for Alkaline Soils
- Asparagus, Beetroot, Carrots, Cauliflowers, Celery, Leeks, Lettuce, Onions and Spinach.
Vegetables for the more Acid Soil
Soil Test #1: The Squeeze Test
One of the most basic characteristics of soil is its composition. In general, soils are classified as clay soils, sandy soils, or loamy soils. Clay is nutrient rich, but slow draining. Sand is quick draining, but has trouble retaining nutrients and moisture. Loam is generally considered to be ideal soil because it retains moisture and nutrients but doesn’t stay soggy.
To determine your soil type, take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil from your garden, and give it a firm squeeze. Then, open your hand. One of three things will happen:
It will hold its shape, and when you give it a light poke, it crumbles. Lucky you–this means you have luxurious loam!
It will hold its shape, and, when poked, sits stubbornly in your hand. This means you have clay soil.
It will fall apart as soon as you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.
Now that you know what type of soil you have, you can work on improving it.
Soil Test #2: The Percolation Test
It is also important to determine whether you have drainage problems or not. Some plants, such as certain culinary herbs, will eventually die if their roots stay too wet. To test your soil’s drainage:
Dig a hole about six inches wide and one foot deep.
Fill the hole with water and let it drain completely.
Fill it with water again.
Keep track of how long it takes for the water to drain.
If the water takes more than four hours to drain, you have poor drainage.
Soil Test #3: The Worm Test
Worms are great indicators of the overall health of your soil, especially in terms of biological activity. If you have earthworms, chances are that you also have all of the beneficial microbes and bacteria that make for healthy soil and strong plants. To do the worm test:
Be sure the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees, and that it is at least somewhat moist, but not soaking wet.
Dig a hole one foot across and one foot deep. Place the soil on a tarp or piece of cardboard.
Sift through the soil with your hands as you place it back into the hole, counting the earthworms as you go.
If you find at least ten worms, your soil is in pretty good shape. Less than that indicates that there may not be enough organic matter in your soil to support a healthy worm population, or that your soil is too acidic or alkaline.
Soil Test #4: Ph Test
The Ph (acidity level) of your soil has a large part to do with how well your plants grow. Ph is tested on a scale of zero to fourteen, with zero being very acidic and fourteen being very alkaline. Most plants grow best in soil with a fairly neutral Ph, between six and seven. When the Ph level is lower than five or higher than eight, plants just won’t grow as well as they should.
Every home and garden center carries Ph test kits. These kits are fairly accurate, but you must make sure you follow the testing instructions precisely. Once you know whether your soil Ph is a problem or not, you can begin working to correct the problem.
If you find that you’ve done all of these tests, and amended the soil as needed to correct the issues, and your plants are still struggling along, the next step is to contact your local cooperative extension service. They will tell you how to go about collecting a soil sample and sending it into their lab for analysis. They will return a report that will alert you to any mineral deficiencies in your soil, as well as steps to correct the issues.
These tests are simple, inexpensive ways to ensure that your garden has the best foundation possible.
#2) Clear The Ground/Design – You will need to clear rocks, obstacles and all other plant life from the plot of soil where you plan to plant your garden. It is especially important to try to eliminate any weeds before you begin. Weeds will choke the life out of your young plants. Decide on the type of beds to be used and which way to face the garden.
Advantages of a Raised Bed Garden
Aside from avoiding the issue of gardening in poor soil, raised bed gardens offer several advantages:
- Raised beds warm more quickly in spring, allowing you to work the soil and plant earlier.
- Raised beds drain better.
- The soil in raised beds doesn’t get compacted, because they are constructed with accessibility in mind.
- It’s easy to tailor the soil for your raised bed to the plants you plan to grow there.
- After the initial construction process, raised beds require less maintenance than conventional
- Reduce frost damage in cold climates
No Dig Gardens �
At the risk of being obvious – a no-dig garden is one you don’t have to dig. It sits above the ground and doesn’t have soil. But it contains plenty of other good stuff – such as layers of organic material – which form the perfect growing environment for vegies and herbs as they break down. �
Esther Deans pioneered the no-dig-gardening concept in Sydney in the 70s because her heavy clay soil was terrible for growing vegetables. Since then Esther’s idea has become popular with new gardeners, old folk who have a hard time bending over, and with the “lazies” amongst us. �
It also makes perfect sense for a garden like the one we are filming in Perth, which has gutless, water repellent sandy soil and lawn that the tenants don’t want. �
No-dig gardens are easy to make. �
* Pick the spot – look for somewhere that gets plenty of sunlight and that’s flat. You can construct it over lawn, existing garden beds, or even concrete. �
* The plan for the one we are making is round with a keyhole access path through the middle and a perimeter path around the outside to make picking vegies and herbs easy. But you can make any style you want.�
* For the bedding you will need: straw, compost, blood and bon and sawdust or mulch for the paths. �
A no-dig garden consists of eight 10cm layers – apart from compost and manure which should be 5cm. Remember to water each layer thoroughly as you go. �
* First layer is woodchips, followed by a dressing of blood and bone. �
* Next, a layer of green weeds or grass clippings with no seeds or runners and apply lime. �
* Number three is dry deciduous leaves or straw, followed by more blood and bone. �
* The fourth layer is sheep manure, but you could use cow. Lay it on 5cm thick followed by some lime. �
* Layer five is lucerne and blood and bone. �
* Layer six is more manure – laid 5cm thick and lime. �
* Layer seven – more lucerne and blood and bone.�
* And layer number eight is compost -just like icing on the cake. �
To make the paths, spread wood chip mulch or sawdust along the pathways and the perimeter. �
After making these layers the no-dig garden bed should be sitting about 60cm above ground. But it will settle to half this size over a week or two. It’s a good idea to wait for this to happen because the decomposing materials are better to plant into. �
But if you’re itching to plant, use potting mix to get seeds and seedlings started. Just create little planting pockets, fill these with potting mix and sprinkle with a little blood and bone and rock minerals, and plant and water immediately. Most vegetables and herbs can be grown in no-dig gardens. Just look for what’s in season at your local nursery. But you will need to occasionally keep the bed topped up with compost, lucerne and manure just to ensure it stays at about 30 to 40 cm high. Try a drip line for watering – it works well. Just wrap it around in loops about 30cm apart. Alternatively hand water first thing in the morning – either way, no-dig beds have excellent moisture retention.�
Garden tools come in many shapes, sizes and varieties with the most commonly used being digging and other cultivating implements. Most gardeners own the basic rake, fork, spade and trowel, but if you want your gardening to be as easy and trouble free as possible, you might want to expand that tool selection. There are plenty of variations on the basics that can really help.�
One of the best implements you can have is the hoe. The push hoe is sharpened on the leading edge so as you push it through the ground it disturbs the soil and chops off weeds, minimising growth. By disturbing the soil it will become aerated and stop any cracks from forming on the surface. It’s really a form of mulching and should be done regularly. �
Another form of hoe is the chop hoe or Dutch hoe which is used in a downward chopping motion. This is good for weeding in harder ground as it really loosens it up and you can use the tapered edge to get close to plants.�
For spreading mulch around the garden, you can’t beat the old iron tined rake. And, once you’ve forked over the garden bed, turn it over and smooth the soil to create a fine seed bed. �
The round-mouthed, long-handled shovel is a heavy-duty tool offering plenty of leverage. Because of the bowl-shaped blade it’s good for moving lots of material. There are also lightweight shovels available with smaller mouths, making it easier to pick up lightweight materials like compost, mulch and sawdust.�
Another type of shovel has a lightweight pointed blade making it much easier to push into the ground. This shovel is ergonomically designed so that, once filled with dirt, it’s easily lifted. Its handle is angled giving greater leverage and relieving pressure on your back. �
The reason we call a spade a spade is because it’s not a shovel! A spade’s a lot easier to use than a shovel because firstly, it’s got a flat blade”. Spades are a bit smaller and lighter to use. For small garden beds you might want to choose a border spade. These are smaller and lighter, and are perfect for digging narrow trenches. There’s also stainless steel spades which never rust and are easy to keep clean, as the dirt never sticks to them.�
A mattock is best if you’ve got difficult soil such as heavy clay. It takes a fair bit of effort but it does an excellent job. �
Forks are useful when preparing garden beds as they break up the soil. There are stainless steel forks available that are ergonomically designed with a tread which assists when pushing them into the soil. Alternatively, a pitch fork is great for shifting light weight material such as mulch, hay or straw. If you’ve got a garden and you want to make your job easier, buy the right tool for your body size, your weight and the jobs you’ve got to do, and you’ll find it’s a breeze.
#3) Improve The Soil – It is almost a certainty that you soil will need a boost. Trying to grow a garden without improving the soil is a difficult proposition at best.
Add organic matter to your soil. Putting in layers of compost, decayed leaves, grass clippings, or old manure on your garden should give your soil the boost it needs.
Amending Your Garden Soil – Making Good Soil out of Bad. First it should be pointed out that dirt is always called soil in gardening. Soil is arguably the most important component in a successful garden, so not calling it dirt is a show of respect. However, it is still dirt when it gets on your clothes.
What is Good Garden Soil?
Soil is generally evaluated on fertility and texture. Fertility is a combination of essential nutrients and a pH that makes these nutrients available to the plants. Texture refers to the size of the soil particles and their cohesiveness.
The three primary nutrients used by plants are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
Nitrogen is largely responsible for healthy leaf and stem growth. In the soil, nitrogen is made available to plants by nitrogen fixing bacteria which convert nitrogen into nitrates, a form plants can use. Nitrogen does not remain in the soil for long. It gets used up by your plants and by decaying matter in the soil. It is also water soluble and can wash out of the soil rather quickly. Even so, an excess of nitrogen will cause a lot of foliage growth at the expense of flowers and fruit.
Phosphorus is very important for root growth. Flowering bulbs and root crops can always use some phosphorous. That’s why bone meal is often recommended for fall bulb planting. It also is crucial for producing flowers and you will sometimes see fertilizers with a high phosphoreus content advertised as flower boosters.
Potassium is needed for overall plant health. It keeps the plants growing and aids their immune systems. Like nitrogen, potassium is also water soluble and needs to be replenished from time to time.
Besides the three primary nutrients, there are several trace elements that are necessary for good plant health like: calcium, magnesium, zinc, molybdenum, etc.
A lot is made of soil pH. In laymen’s terms, pH is a measure of the soil acidity or alkalinity. The scale goes from 1.0 to 14.0, with 7.0 being neutral. The lower the numbers go from 7.0, the more acidic the soil. The higher they go above 7.0, the more alkaline. The reason soil pH matters is that nutrients in the soil are only available to plants if the soil pH is within a certain range. Many plants like a pH in the low acid to neutral range (6.2 – 6.8), but that’s not true for all plants. Rhododendrons, heathers and blueberries favor very acid soils and lilacs and clematis will thrive in alkaline or even chalky soil. The only sure fire way to know where your soil’s pH falls is to have it tested. Keep in mind that it takes time to alter soil pH and your soil will tend to revert to its old pH over time, necessitating repeated treatment.
UNDERSTANDING SOIL pH
pH is a measure of the acidity and alkalinity of the soil using a scale from 1 to 14; where 7 is neutral, less than 7 is acid and greater than 7 is alkaline. Fresh, clean water is neutral with a pH of 7, lemon juice is very acid with a pH of 2.6 and baking soda is very alkaline with a pH of 8.5. It is important to remember that pH is a logarithmic scale, so the difference between a pH of 7 and a pH of 6 is ten times the acidity, between 7 and 5 is a 100 times the acidity and between 7 and 4 is a 1000 times the acidity so it is obvious that this will have a major impact on the ability of plants to grow. pH is used as an indicator of the availability of other nutrients in the soil but only hydrogen ions are actually measured.
Acid soils with a pH of less than 6 commonly have deficiencies in:
Acid soils with a pH of less than 4 commonly have toxic amounts of:
alkaline soils with a pH of more than 7 the following nutrients may be unavailable:
The addition of agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) or dolomite (magnesium carbonate & calcium carbonate) will increase pH (decrease acidity) of the soil. Agricultural lime is cheaper to buy than dolomite. Dolomite is only a good idea if your soil is deficient in magnesium. Many of the acid soils in SE QLD are already too high in magnesium, adding more is a waste of money and can cause the ratio of calcium to magnesium to be out of balance.
Sulphates of iron and ammonium, elemental sulphur and organic matter are used to lower the pH (increase acidity) of the soil.
Gypsum (calcium sulphate) does not alter the pH of the soil but can improve aeration and reduce compaction in a clay soil.
The texture of the soil eg clay or sand and the amount of organic matter present will affect the quantity of material needed to alter the pH. Clay soils need a much greater amount of lime to shift the pH than sandy soils.
The addition of organic matter is always beneficial to the soil whether added as manure, compost or by green manuring. Organic matter will generally ‘buffer’ plants against the impact of acidity so that a soil with a lower pH range will still successfully grow plants.
Plants vary in their desired pH range and this is to with the pH of the soil type they evolved in. For example lavenders are native to the limestone soils of the Mediterranean and so prefer an alkaline soil.
Soil texture is a little trickier to amend than soil fertility. Texture refers to the size of the soil particles. Sandy soils have very large particles. Water, air and plant roots can move freely in sandy soils, sometimes too much so. At the other end of the spectrum is clay. Clay particles are so small they pack together tightly and leave little room for water, air or roots. If you’ve ever tried to garden in baked clay you know it also leaves little room for a shovel blade.
An easy test for soil texture is to make a ball of damp garden soil. If it breaks apart when you tap it, it’s sandy. If you can press it between your thumb and finger and make a ribbon, it’s clay.
Most soils are somewhere in-between. What you are ideally going for is called a sandy loam. It should be light and allow for air and water movement, but have some tilth, a kind of fine bread crumb like texture, which usually occurs when there is plenty of organic matter in the soil.
Don’t try to change your soil texture by adding sand to clay or vice versa. That is a recipe for cement. Some amendment recommendations for clay do include a portion of very fine sand, but there are better ways to change your soil texture.
Organic Matter �
Like soil pH, organic matter gets a great deal of press. Organic matter is dead plant or animal material. There is always some organic matter in your soil, but usually not enough for a plant’s needs. Decaying organic matter, or humus, will help give your soil tilth. It helps sandy soil by retaining water that would otherwise wash away and it corrects clay soil by making it looser, so that air, water and roots can penetrate. In all soils, it encourages beneficial microbial activity and it provides some nutritional benefits. Humus is natures way of feeding the circle of life. Animal Manures Basics
This is the best information I could find, on using animal manures. The more I looked into it the more it started to burn out my mind. Yourd think putting shit onto a garden would be easy. Afraid that’s a yes and no answer. No, in that the type of manure affects the PH levels, NPK levels and acidity which I never new, down to ecoli infections etc. �
Basically Cow and Horse manure are usually the easiest to find just by driving around horse studs and farming properties. Its just sitting there by the front gates for a few dollars a bag. What I liked to do is place it into a 44 gal drum and apply water, then use the resulting water or tea as some refer to it and left over sludge after its broken down as a liquid fertilizer. As a solid base fertilizer I prefer Aged Sheep manure, being closest to nuetral PH as possible.
Cow manure… add to your soil if it is too alkaline (above 8)
Chook manure, add to your soil if it is too acid (below 6)
Sheep or goat manure is close to pH neutral add if your soil pH is close to were you want it �
Everything you ever wanted to know about Manure
Animal manure road test
Manure is the solid waste from animals that feed on vegetable matter. Containing organic chemicals from the gut of the animal, it makes great compost. It also contains micro-organisms which are essential in helping plants break down and digest nutrients. The manure of animals which are not fed on hormones and other chemicals can be used safely – although you still need to wear gloves while handling it.�
The benefits from using manure on your garden include adding water-holding capacity to sandy soils and opening up clays. Manures are mild sources of nutrients. Naturally pelletised manure such as that of rabbits and sheep resists breakdown and makes good mulch. Manures are good accelerators to aid in the breakdown of composting plant material. Use between 10-20% manure by volume. Once aged, manures encourage earthworm activity in soil. Fertiliser can be made from fresh manure added to a barrel of water and left to brew for four weeks. Break down the liquid to the strength of weak tea and use as a general-purpose fertiliser all around the garden.�
On the downside, manures tend to be bulky in comparison to manufactured fertilisers, they can contain weed seeds and salts and they can burn plants, particularly if they are applied fresh in direct contact with roots. It’s always best to age fresh manure. Just pile it high and leave it to weather for 3-6 months, covering it to keep flies out. �
N-P-K (Nitrogen/Phosphorous/Potassium) ratios are low in all manure. Even poultry manure, one of the richest, only has 1/8th the nitrogen content of blood and bone. Bird manures are a particularly good source of phosphate for organic gardeners who do not want to use chemical fertilisers. Caged birds like canaries and cockies produce a manure not unlike chicken manure which tends to contain uneaten seeds. This can lead to a weed infestation if the manure isn’t properly aged, as can free-range chicken manure. Pelletised poultry manures have been composted and sterilised so they are safe to use immediately.�
Cow manure is relatively poor in nutrients but it will slightly improve soil fertility. Sheep and rabbit manure make superb mulch and are so mild-acting that they can be used without ageing. With nitrogen contents running at less than 1% they are unlikely to damage even fresh seedlings. �
Most pig manure comes from high-tech farms. It’s been separated out in centrifuges so the resulting manure is highly concentrated and needs ageing before use. Horse manure tends to be very fibrous from the straw that’s found in stables, which means that once it’s been aged it makes an ideal mulch. Horse manure works well in vegetable gardens.�
If you’re treating domestic dogs against worms, it’s important that you avoid feeding their droppings to a worm farm because it will bump those worms off as well. Instead, add them to the manure ageing pile or the vat of water. �
Worm manure or castings are very easy to use and there’s no unpleasant smell. Just add them directly to the garden – there’s no need to age them. Bury them under the surface so that they don’t dry out.�
When it comes to adding body to the soil there’s nothing like natural manure as a soil conditioner. It’s a preferred option because, as the manure breaks down, it adds valuable humus to the soil and this helps to store nutrients and water. �
Whether it’s cattle in the paddock or free-range chooks, any critter with a diet of grass or vegetable scraps, will produce manure that reflects the nutrient balance that plants need from the soil. �
Manures are available in many guises. Ideally you can collect it yourself but there are also packaged products from the nursery and manure which can be bought from the farm gate. All are fantastic for building up organic matter in the soil. But it’s critical to realise that there can be great variation in nutrient content between different manures. �
The three most commonly available manures for your garden are: �
* Cow manure, which tends to have a low nutrient analysis because, like sheep manure, it comes from animals grazing on grass. This makes it great as a general purpose soil conditioner; and great for phosphorous-sensitive native plants when it’s well rotted. �
* Horse manure tends to provide a step up in nutrient levels because these animals are often fed supplements. This makes it a great tonic for vegetable and flowerbeds. �
* Chook manure usually has the highest nutrient content because of the intensive nature of the diet. Laying hens are often fed calcium supplements, to strengthen the eggshells, and that makes their manure particularly good as a clay-breaker. Remember that farm gate chook manure is often mixed with bedding materials, such as sawdust, which greatly dilutes nutrient levels. Chook manure always has a higher nitrogen level, making it great for fertilising lawns and for use in the vegie garden. But it also has a higher phosphorous level, so using it long term on native plants, such as banksias, grevilleas and waratahs, can kill them.�
Can you use dog poo or kitty litter in the garden? Unfortunately it’s not a good idea – particularly in the vegetable garden – because their droppings often contain pathogens harmful to humans. �
If you’re lucky enough to have a source of fresh manure then you need to be careful because it can have salt levels high enough to burn plants. A tip to make it more manageable is to put the manure into a plant pot, run some water through it and this will dilute the nutrient levels. (It also allows any weed seeds in the manure to germinate, and they will quickly die before you’re ready to use it.) And what’s left is beautiful liquid manure. Dilute it so it looks like weak tea and you’ve got a wonderful tonic for your flower or vegetable garden.�
When using manure, dig it into the garden as soon as possible. If it’s left sitting on the surface, much of the nitrogen, particularly from chicken manure, can be lost as ammonia gas. Just fork it into the topsoil, and the nitrogen will be available, in the short term, for any leafy vegetables, but the beautiful organic matter will break down and build up the nutrient and water-holding capacity in the soil. It’s good stuff.�
#4) Dig Up The Soil – Churning up the soil enables the roots of your new plants to penetrate more easily. It can be very difficult for your plants to penetrate ground that is very hard or very dry. Not neccessary if using a No-Dig Design. I prefer a No-Dig design for the following reason. To build up a raised garden bed by say 12 inches. Work out the ammount and weight of soil required to move, to fill up a bed thats 4 metres x 2 metres x 30cm. Then compare that to the weight and cost of moving straw and organic fertilizer. Thats roughly 4 tonn of soil. Then times that by how many garden beds required for a rotation system talked about later. 4 beds equals 16 tonn of soil that needs to be moved.�
#5) Pick Your Seeds/what to Grow – This can be a tricky part. Each type of plant has different needs. Many grow better in some climates than in others. Some grow better in different areas of the country than others. “Victory Gardens” were grown during World War I and World War II as a way of relieving food rationing and shortages. The common plants used were;�
BEANS (6 varieties): Black Turtle, Bush Blue Lake, Commodore, Fordhook Lima, Old Homestead Pole and Pencil Pod Black Wax
BEETS ( 2 varieties): Chiogga and Early Wonder
BROCCOLI (1 variety): De Cicco
BRUSSELS SPROUT (1 variety): Long Island Improved
CABBAGE (2 varieties): Early Jersey Wakefield and Red Danish
CARROTS (2 varieties): Amsterdam Minicor and Autumn King
CAULIFLOWER (1 variety): Early Snowball
CELERY (1 variety): Golden Self Blanching
COLLARD (1 variety): Georgia
CORN ( 1 variety): Golden Bantam
CUCUMBER (2 varieties): National Pickling and Tendergreen Burpless
EGGPLANT (1 variety): Black Beauty
GOURD (1 variety): Ornamental Small Mix
KALE (1 variety): Dwarf Blue Curled
KOHLRABI (1 variety): Early White Vienna
LEEK (1 variety): American Flag
LETTUCE (5 varieties): Black Seeded Simpson, Buttercrunch, Freckles Romaine, Gourmet Salad Blend, and Mesculin Mix
MELONS (2 varieties): Jenny Lind and Sweet Passion
MUSTARD GREENS (1 variety): Southern Giant Curled
OKRA (1 variety): Clemson Spineless
ONION, BUNCHING (1 variety): Evergreen White Bunching
PARSNIP (1 variety): Hollow Crown
PEPPERS (4 varieties): California Wonder, California Wonder Gold, Jalapeno and Long Red Cayenne
PEAS (3 varieties): Early Frosty, Mammoth Melting Sugar and Sugar Daddy
PUMPKINS (1 variety): New England Pie
RUTABAGA (1 variety): American Purple Top
RADISH (2 varieties): Easter Egg and Crimson Giant
SPINACH (2 varieties): Bloomsdale Long Standing and New Zealand
SQUASH, SUMMER (4 varieties): Dark Green Zucchini, Golden Zucchini, White Patty Pan and Yellow Crookneck
SQUASH, WINTER (2 varieties): Butternut and Spaghetti
SWISS CHARD (2 varieties): Lucullus and Ruby Red
SOUTHERN PEA (1 variety): California Black-Eyed
TOMATO (6 varieties): Besser, Big Red, Giant Beefsteak, Homestead 24, Pink Brandywine and Roma
TURNIPS (1 variety): Purple Top White Globe
WATERMELON (1 varieties): Sugar Baby
HERBS (10 varieties): Basil, Chives, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Marjoram, Oregano, Parsley, Summer Savory and Thyme�
The varieties have changed much since then, but try to stick to HEIRLOOM seeds as these were the original seeds that the newer types were breed from and will tend to re-seed better than hybrids. Below are a current list of vegetables, their sowing time or the time of the year they are planted followed by their harvest time or how long they take to grow before being able to pick for use.�
Beans climbing������������������������ Sep-Jan��������������������������� 10-12
Beetroot��������������������������������� Jun-Feb��������������������������� 10-12
Carrots����������������������������������� Jun-Mar��������������������������� 12-16
Choko�������������������������������������� Jul-Sep���������������������������� 18-20
Cucumbers������������������������������ Aug-Jan���������������������������� 8-12
Herbs������������������������������������� Jun-mar���������������������������� 12-20
Marrows��������������������������������� Sep-Jan���������������������������� 8-14
Melons������������������������������������ Sep-Dec���������������������������� 14-16
Onions������������������������������������� Feb-Jul���������������������������� 24-32
Spring Onions�������������������������� Jul-Apr���������������������������� 8-12
Parsnips���������������������������������� Jun-May���������������������������� 18-20
Peas���������������������������������������� Feb-Aug��������������������������� 14-16
Pumpkins��������������������������������� Aug-Nov��������������������������� 14-16
Radishes��������������������������������� Jul-May���������������������������� 6-8
Shallots���������������������������������� Feb-Jun���������������������������� 12-14
Spinach���������������������������������� Feb-Jun����������������������������� 8-10
Squashes�������������������������������� Aug-Nov���������������������������� 12-14
Swedes����������������������������������� Jan-Mar���������������������������� 12-16
Sweet Corn����������������������������� Aug-Jan����������������������������� 12-16
Sweet Potato�������������������������� Sep-Nov���������������������������� 18-20
Tomatoes�������������������������������� Aug-Nov���������������������������� 12-20
Turnips������������������������������������ Jan-Apr���������������������������� 10-12�
If you dont have a backyard or a place to grow your own vegetables. You can always try Guerrilla Gardening.
Hints from Jackie Clay-hardcore Homesteading
Three Sisters Gardens�
These incorperate Corn, Squash and Beans to provide the 8 amino acids that the body cannot produce itself and a complete protien from vegetable matter. These should be grown before anything else.�
Fruit All Year Round- Temperate Climates
Late cherries in cold areas, peaches, nectarines, plums, late apricots, early apples like gravenstein, passionfruit in warmer areas, black and white mulberries, gooseberries, early grapes, early almonds, cape gooseberry, valencia oranges, lemons, Hass avocados, babaco, pawpaw or mountain pawpaw in warm areas, strawberries, mid-season raspberries, loganberries, fruit from flowering prunus (good for jam), red, white and black currants, blueberries, banana passionfruit, and mangoes in hot areas. �
Brambleberries, raspberries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, apples, passionfruit, mulberries, gooseberries, cape gooseberries, hazelnuts, almonds, grapes, figs, babaco, pepino, pawpaw or mountain pawpaw in warm areas, orange, lemon, avocado, strawberry guavas, strawberries, pears, early melons, tamarillos, and banana passionfruit. �
Olives, oranges, lemons, cumquats, figs, late peaches, late nectarines, apples, passionfruit, pepino, babaco, pawpaw or mountain pawpaw in warm areas, sapote, mulberries, hazelnuts, almonds, orange, lemon, tamarillo, strawberries, raspberries, brambleberries, early quinces, early persimmons, pears, melons, pecans, bunya nuts, late grapes, and banana passionfruit, and in some areas custard apples, cherimoyoya, lychees, star fruit, custard apple,. �
Pomegranates, medlars, valencia oranges, lemons, early limes, olives, late figs, quinces, Granny Smith apples, passionfruit, tamarillos, late grapes, chestnuts, walnuts, persimmons, grapefruit, guava, feijoa, strawberry guava. late strawberries, raspberries, bananas, avocados, Irish strawberry tree fruit, melons and pecan, and in some areas custard apples, cherimoyoya, lychees, star fruit, custard apple. �
Early mandarins, limes, pomegranates, late apples, late valencias or early navel oranges, tangellos, citrons, cumquats, tamarillos, early kiwi fruit, late passionfruit (high up on the vine), late raspberries, late strawberries (if grown on a high garden away from early frost), olives, persimmons (if the birds haven’t finished them), feijoa, bananas, dates, avocados, banana passionfruit, elderberries, medlars, olives, melons, sapotes, and guava, and in some areas custard apples, cherimoyoya, lychees, star fruit, custard apples. �
Apples (Lady Williams), feijoa, navel oranges, kiwi fruit, limes, mandarins, citrons, grapefruit, bananas, avocados, late �
passionfruit (high on the vine), banana passionfruit, guava, strawberry guava, medlars, olives, late tamarillos (above the frost), a very few late raspberries, and winter rhubarb, and in some areas custard apples, cherimoyoya, lychees, star fruit, custard apple. �
Apples (Lady Williams), navel oranges, kiwi fruit, limes, mandarins, citrons, grapefruit, bananas, avocados, tangelos, medlars, alpine strawberries, winter rhubarb, and cape gooseberries grown in a pot or sheltered spot. �
Navel and late valencia oranges, lemon, tangelo, mandarin, kiwi fruit, grapefruit, avocados and limes, early banana passionfruit, late tamarillos, and early rhubarb. �
Navel orange, lemon, limes, tangelo, mandarin, avocado, small alpine strawberries (not the large new varieties that fruit later), cape gooseberries (if they haven’t been frosted off, autumn’s will mature now), tamarillos (same as for cape gooseberries), and rhubarb. �
Loquat, navel orange, lemon, lime, tangelo, mandarin, avocado, early strawberries, very early raspberries (in warm areas), rhubarb, banana passionfruit and tamarillos (ripening from last season). �
Cherries, early peaches, early nectarines, early apricots, small early plums, Joaneting apples (late November to December), loquat, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, strawberries and raspberries.
Late cherries, peaches, nectarines, plums, late apricots, early apples like gravenstein, passionfruit in warmer areas, mulberries, gooseberries, early grapes, early almonds, cape gooseberry, valencia and blood oranges, a few mandarines, lemons, avocados,babaco, paw paw or mountain paw paw in warm areas, strawberries, mid season raspberries, loganberries, fruit from flowering prunus- good for jam, red, white and black currants, blueberries, banana passionfruit, mangoes in hot areas�
#6) Put them in the ground – Make sure to consult the directions for your particular seeds regarding how deep to plant them. If you plant your seeds too deep they will have trouble sprouting, but if you plant them too shallow they could get scorched by the sun or you may encounter other problems. Some seeds also need to be placed the correct side up. always double check this. Presprouting some varieties also reduces the time required to grow.
#7) Water Your Plants – This step can make or break your garden. All plants need water, but different types of plants need different amounts of water.
#9) Keep Going And Never Give Up – Success in just about anything comes to those who refuse to quit. Perhaps your first experience with gardening will be a disaster. Perhaps it will be a smashing success. Whatever the case is, if you keep working and you don’t give up you will have the best chance for success in the long run.
#10) Plant Nutrient Deficiencies-Identifying Plant Problems
Not all plant problems are caused by insects or diseases. Sometimes an unhealthy plant is suffering from a nutrient deficiency or even too much of any one nutrient. Plant nutrient deficiencies often manifest as foliage discoloration or distortion. The following chart outlines some possible problems. Unfortunately many problems have similar symptoms and sometimes it is a combination of problems.
Be sure you eliminate the obvious before you kill your plants with kindness.
- Check first for signs of insects or disease.
- Foliage discoloration and stunted plants can easily be caused by soil that is too wet and drains poorly or soil that is too compacted for good root growth.
- Extreme cold or heat will slow plant growth and effect flowering and fruit set.
- Too much fertilizer can result in salt injury. Your plants may look scorched or they may wilt, even when the soil is wet.
Plants require a mix of nutrients to remain healthy. Nutrients that are needed in relatively large amounts are called the macronutrients. Plant macronutrients include: nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, sulfur and magnesium. There are a handful of additional nutrients that are required for plant growth, but in much smaller quantities. These micronutrients include: boron, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.
All of these nutrients are taken in through the roots. Water transfers the nutrients from the soil to the plant roots. So one requirement of sufficient plant nutrition is water. A second requirement is the appropriate soil pH for the plant being grown. Each plant prefers a specific pH range to be able to access the nutrients in the soil. Some plants are fussier than others, but if the soil pH is too acidic or alkaline, the plant will not be able to take in nutrients no matter how rich your soil may be.
Plant Nutrient Deficiency Symptoms
- Symptoms: New leaves are distorted or hook shaped. The growing tip may die. Contributes to blossom end rot in tomatoes, tip burn of cabbage and brown/black heart of escarole & celery.
- Sources: Any compound containing the word ‘calcium’. Also gypsum.
- Notes: Not often a deficiency problem and too much will inhibit other nutrients.
- Symptoms: Older leaves, generally at the bottom of the plant, will yellow. Remaining foliage is often light green. Stems may also yellow and may become spindly. Growth slows.
- Sources: Any compound containing the words: ‘nitrate’, ‘ammonium’ or ‘urea’. Also manure.
- Notes: Many forms of nitrogen are water soluble and wash away.
- Symptoms: Slow growth and leaves turn pale yellow, sometimes just on the outer edges. New growth may be yellow with dark spots.
- Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘magnesium’, such as Epson Salts.
- Symptoms: Small leaves that may take on a reddish-purple tint. Leaf tips can look burnt and older leaves become almost black. Reduced fruit or seed production.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘phosphate’ or ‘bone’. Also greensand.
- Notes: Very dependent on pH range.
- Symptoms: Older leaves may look scorched around the edges and/or wilted. Interveinal chlorosis (yellowing between the leaf veins) develops.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘potassium’ or ‘potash’.
- Symptoms: New growth turns pale yellow, older growth stays green. Stunts growth.
- Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘sulfate’.
- Notes: More prevalent in dry weather.
- Symptoms: Poor stem and root growth. Terminal (end) buds may die. Witches brooms sometimes form.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘borax’ or ‘borate’.
- Symptoms: Stunted growth. Leaves can become limp, curl, or drop. Seed stalks also become limp and bend over.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘copper’, ‘cupric’ or ‘cuprous’.
- Symptoms: Growth slows. Younger leaves turn pale yellow, often starting between veins. May develop dark or dead spots. Leaves, shoots and fruit diminished in size. Failure to bloom.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘manganese’ or ‘manganous’
- Symptoms: Older leaves yellow, remaining foliage turns light green. Leaves can become narrow and distorted.
- Sources: Compounds containing the words ‘molybdate’ or ‘molybdic’.
- Notes: Sometimes confused with nitrogen deficiency.
- Symptoms: Yellowing between veins of new growth. Terminal (end) leaves may form a rosette.
- Sources: Compounds containing the word ‘zinc’.
- Notes: Can become limited in higher pH.
#11) Managing Nitrogen
Nitrogen gas makes up about 75% of the gas in our atmosphere. It also happens to be one of the three most important nutrients for healthy plant growth.�
The three most important plant nutrients are phosphorus for strong roots, potassium for fruit and flower development and nitrogen, which promotes lush growth – large leaves and thick stems. Nitrogen is essential for producing proteins and chlorophyll and it’s very important to give plants the right amount.�
Too little nitrogen means plants get yellow leaves and stunted growth. In a lawn, the presence of clover is an indicator there’s too little nitrogen. The older leaves on Jerry’s Cinnamon bush are nice and green but the new leaves are yellow. This indicates an absence of chlorophyll, which is what plants use to manufacture the food which allows them to grow. Jerry says, “If I don’t address this problem the new leaves will become stunted.”�
Correcting Nitrogen Deficiency�
The organic gardeners’ holy trinity:�
* Animal based manures – including things like chicken manure and blood and bone.�
* Plant based additives – such as lawn clippings which, Jerry says, “Are the most abundant source of nitrogen in any garden.” Another great plant based additive is seaweed which contains small percentages of many nutrients necessary for growth.�
* Garden compost – a gardener’s way of recycling all the nutrients in the garden.�
Jerry says that he “could use chemical fertilisers, such as sulphate of ammonia, which is a very rich source of nitrogen or a mixed fertiliser, but I choose not to use artificial forms of fertiliser. They’re so rich they can burn earthworms.” Also, chemical fertilisers can add lots of nitrogen quickly which may be lost into the soil, water and atmosphere. Organic sources of nitrogen act gently and release the nutrients slowly.
To fix� Cinnamon bush, mulch it with compost and feed it with seaweed, at the recommended rate.�
* Mulching with compost adds nitrogen and other minerals whilst improving the soil. Jerry applies a four centimetre deep layer and prevents the compost from touching the base of plants.�
* Foliar feeding with seaweed is a quick fix because plants take up the nourishment directly through their leaves. “In about a month this plant should be restored to good health with large, deep green leaves.”�
Nitrogen problem with his sweetcorn – but this time there’s a surplus.�
It’s quite common to have a nitrogen surplus in the garden. Having a lot of old poultry manure which was in big lumps, work it all in when feeding the sweetcorn.� “Sweetcorn, bananas and citrus are really hungry crops and you’ve got to add extra nitrogen but I added too much to the sweetcorn and I’ve got rank growth.” That means the stems are long, thin and weak, and need to be staked and tied for stability.�
Another negative in adding too much nitrogen is that pests like aphids, caterpillars and grasshoppers can smell it and are attracted by it. �
Correcting Nitrogen Surplus�
There’s nothing you can do when you add too much fertiliser. “You’ve just got to allow the plants to take up what they can. A little bit of nitrogen is good, too much is bad and you can never take nitrogen away when you’ve added too much.”�
Nitrogen application is a juggling act. Key tips for striking the right balance include:�
* Never apply nitrogen when plants are dormant because they won’t use it.�
* Apply it little and often, so they use it all and none of it goes into waterways or up into the atmosphere. �
* Make sure you apply it when the soil is moist. If you use seaweed fertiliser you can apply it as a foliar feed or water it in so that plants derive an immediate benefit from nitrogen.�
* The result is a lush garden, full of strong, robust plants and very few pests and diseases.�
#12) Crop Rotation
Growing the same vegetables in the same spot each year can lead to problems. Soil living pests and diseases, which thrive on that particular crop, can build up in the soil to epidemic levels. Vegetables also have various mineral needs and continuous cropping of one particular crop can lead to the levels of nutrients in the soil becoming unbalanced. To prevent the build up of pests and diseases in the soil and to help the vegetables in their nutrient needs, your crops need to be rotated. It is a fact that vegetables prefer to be grown in soil that has been used for a different crop previously than in soil that has been used for one of their own kind.
Vegetables have various soil and mineral needs. These needs can be broken down into 3 categories of each.
Nutrients – Heavy Feeders Medium Feeders Light Feeders
Soil – Acid Neutral Alkaline
By grouping together vegetable plants that have the same ‘needs’ you will be able to manage the soil better and by splitting your growing area into separate areas or beds, you can condition the soil to suit each grouping. For instance, Sweet Corn is a very heavy feeder; it likes a neutral to acid soil, a lot of nutrients and plenty of moisture. By digging in plenty of manure or compost it will help to feed the plant and retain the moisture for the plant to use. On the other hand Brassicas prefer to be grown in a more alkaline soil. It is obvious that the two will not grow in the same soil conditions, therefore one of them will suffer and give poor results. By rotating the vegetables the soil can be brought into a condition to suit both their needs.
The 3 Bed System
The most common system used is the ‘3 Bed’ rotation system. This name is slightly confusing though as the system actually uses 4 beds.
Basically you are divide the growing area into four sections or beds. They would then be treated as follows: –
The First Year.
Dig over as normal and feed with a general fertiliser such as Bonemeal, or, if you want to be organic, Blood, Fish and Bone. You would then plant all the root crops in this bed. This includes Beetroot, Carrots, Jerusalem Artichokes, Parsnips, Salsify, Scorzonera.
Dig over as normal and then apply a general fertiliser as above. Depending on the pH of the soil, which you are advised to check (see soil pH section) you would apply the necessary amount of lime. In this bed you would plant all your Brassicas which include Cabbages, Broccoli, Cauliflowers, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Radish, Swede, Turnips, Kohl Rabi.
Dig as much manure or compost as you can into this bed over the winter or very early spring. Approximately 2 weeks before planting, feed with a general fertiliser. In this bed you will plant the very heavy feeders such Potatoes, Beans, Peas, Celery, Sweet Corn, Marrows, Courgettes, Spinach, Outdoor Tomatoes, Leeks and Cucumbers.
This bed is the anomaly in the system. Great thought will have to be given in the siting if this bed initially as it will contain ALL your permanent crops. These will include Rhubarb, Strawberries, Raspberries, all fruit bushes and all fruit trees. If starting your plot from scratch, it is wise to thoroughly prepare this bed before planting as it is not going to be rotated like the other 3 beds and is going to be there for a long time. It is for this reason that the system is only referred to as a 3 Bed System.
The Second and Third Years
In the following years the system moves the beds along in rotation as follows: –
In the fourth year the system is back to where you began.
The 3 bed system is not the only system of Rotation. Where space is available a 4 bed system can be used. This is basically the same as the 3 Bed system except the 4th bed is not used at all and left fallow. This is only a viable proposition if you have plenty of space and can afford to let the ground lie idle for a season.
Some gardeners have even more complex systems where they use 5 or 6 beds.
The Five Year system theory is:
First Year: Potatoes. They need lots of manure, which helps to feed the fertility for the rest of the cycle. Grow outdoor tomatoes here.
Second Year: Leeks, onions. Another group needing lots of manure or compost. Also include squashes (pumpkin, Courgettes, Marrows) in this area because they have similar needs.
Third Year: Legumes – Peas and beans. Also grow sweetcorn with this group again because they have similar needs. They also fix Nitrogen in the soil ready for the next crop.
Fourth Year: Brassicas – Cabbages, sprouts, cauliflowers, broccoli, turnips, Swedes, radishes. They get the benefit of the nitrogen fixed in the soil by the legumes.
Fifth Year: Roots – carrots, parsnip, Beetroot, celeriac.
Lettuce and salad crops are used as catch crops wherever there is a spare space.
The Six Bed System
This scheme is based on Lawrence D. Hills rotation scheme using their
Natural orders. This may sound complicated but in practice it is not.
1. ROOTS: Carrot, parsnip, Beetroot, chicory, spinach beet, chard, and celeriac
2. ALLIUMS: Onions, garlic, leeks, and shallots.
3. LEGUMES: Broad beans, runner beans, French beans, peas
4. BRASSICAS: Cabbage, cauliflower, sprouts, broccoli, Swede.
5. SOLANACEAE: Potatoes, tomatoes
6. CUCURBITEAE: Courgettes, Squashes, and (Sweetcorn)
Salad crops can be fitted in around the others as catch crops.
All this may sound very simple in theory but, in practice, it tends to be a bit more difficult, especially if space is at a premium.
The average gardener will probably need a lot more space for things like Potatoes and Sweet Corn than for Beetroot. It may be that you can only erect a frame for climbing beans in a particular area to avoid it shading other crops or it is not possible to move it each year.
These plans are only a guides really and do not have to be adhered to strictly. As long as soil is well prepared each year for the necessary crop there is no reason why you cannot grow beans in the same position for a few years on the run. The only vegetables to avoid growing in the same area each year are Brassicas. These are very susceptible to Clubroot Disease. This disease is spread by spores in the soil and if given chance to build up, can devastate a crop.
Compost is the cornerstone of all healthy soils but making it is not always as easy as it should be.�
Compost is simply rotting vegetation and includes anything organic; animal, vegetable or mineral – anything that can be consumed by worms, bacteria or fungi. In order for the organisms to do their work, the correct environment is essential. Gardeners often have rotten, smelly composts and this is usually because they’ve deposited a whole lot of kitchen scraps and left it.�
Perfect compost depends on maintaining a good balance of carbon-containing ingredients and nitrogen-containing ingredients. An easy way of remembering which products contain carbon and which contain nitrogen is to simply think that ‘brown’ ingredients are carbons and ‘green’ ingredients are nitrogen.
Carbons: Autumn leaves are brown and they are one of the carbon ingredients, as are pea-straw, lucerne hay, sugar-cane mulch and moistened cardboard. Egg cartons and pizza bases are other examples and these can be collected, moistened and put into the compost. Shredded newspaper is also fantastic but glossy magazines should not be put in the compost.
Nitrogen: Lawn clippings are a perfect example of greens and will rot down beautifully, bringing nitrogen into your compost. Garden prunings, leaves, kitchen scraps, citrus peelings, egg shells, tea bags, coffee grindings are other great examples of compost greens.
You may have read it’s best to use a carbon, nitrogen ratio of 30:1. Jane says it’s not imperative stick to that. “If I look in my compost and it’s too wet or dry, I fix it.”
Wet compost: Compost needs to be moist but not wet. If it is too wet it becomes sludgy and won’t break down. To fix this simply add some dry ingredients such as cardboard, shredded paper or pea straw. Try to mix this through.
Dry compost: On the other hand, if your compost is too dry it can be solved by adding more green ingredients such as lawn clippings or kitchen scraps. A small amount of water can also be added to your compost for moisture. Ideally, you want to achieve fine compost that’s light and frothy but not too moist.
A common problem when composting is that there’s not enough oxygen getting into the middle. Air is important because the worms and other little creatures need oxygen to survive. Three or four times a week you need to aerate the compost by simply turning it over with a fork. Alternatively, PVC piping can be used, as can rolled-up chicken wire by inserting them into the compost at the start and piling the ingredients around them. Another way to get air to the middle is to push a crowbar into it.�
Another problem can be the size of the compost materials. People often don’t chop things up small enough. Eggshells are great in compost, but you need to make sure they are crushed up as fine as possible as they may not rot down.�
Many people question the use of citrus peelings. It is best not to use too many due to their acidity but if you crush or cut them up, they really make quite good compost and the worms don’t mind them. If you have vinegar flies hanging around there may be too much citrus. To get rid of vinegar flies add some dry material on top. �
Unless you have an enclosed compost bin, it’s best not to use meat scraps or cheese as they attract vermin. If you’re the kind of composter that only has kitchen scraps, keep some sugar cane mulch or a bale of pea straw by the compost bin. Every time you go down, empty the kitchen scraps in and then put two handfuls of sugar cane mulch or the pea straw in too. �
#14) Green manures
Green manures are a simple, cheap way to:
- improve the fertility of your garden soil;
- enhance its drought resistance;
- suppress the germination and growth of weeds?
Green manure crops are crops grown, not to be harvested by the grower, but to be incorporated into the soil before they reach maturity to contribute to the care and feeding of the soil. It is an old technique of soil management that has unfortunately been forgotten by many farmers and gardeners who are no longer aware of the proven benefits of such crops benefits that come at the low cost of the seeds for the green manure crop.
Green manure crops contribute directly to the fertility of the garden through the supply of important plant nutrients. Legumes in particular supply a valuable amount of nitrogen since their roots form an association with soil-borne bacteria that can transform nitrogen from the atmosphere into nitrogen compounds that can be used by plants. This is quite a complicated feat and one which can save you the cost of fertilisers. Different nutrients such as phosphorus are supplied by other green manure crops.
Green manure crops contribute indirectly to nutrient supply as well. The process of decomposition of the crop aids in making further nutrients available that are already present in the soil but in a form that cannot be used by plants. It is believed that this happens through the actions of decomposition products including carbon dioxide and organic acids. An example of this indirect contribution is a barley crop. Bennett (1979) recommends growing a green manure crop of barley before a crop of tomatoes, since tomatoes have a high requirement for phosphorus and barley somehow increases the uptake of phosphorus in crops following it.
When incorporated into the soil, green manure crops can supply vast amounts of organic matter. Organic matter can also be supplied through mulches as well as through the incorporation of a green manure crop, but this usually involves greater expense. It can also be difficult to locate a source of good clean mulch such as straw that you know has not been sprayed with any chemicals, whereas, as an organic gardener, you know your crop is clean and does not contain unwanted chemical residues.
A good healthy soil should contain approximately 5% organic matter. While this may seem to be a small component of the soil, it is a vital one. According to the La Motte Soil Handbook “No other constituent plays such a major beneficial role in the soil environment and gets so little credit as does the organic fraction”. Indeed it was the emphasis placed on organic matter in the soil by the early proponents of organic growing that gave our method of agriculture its title.
Why is organic matter so important? Because decayed organic matter, or humus as it is called, is the key to soil structure, nutrient supply and the biological vitality of the soil.
The presence of humus in the soil also increases the amount of water which can be held in the soil. This is critical in making a garden drought resistant. In a dry season water applied to a garden is wasted if that water runs away and does not stay near the root zones of the plants.
Drought resistance can also be improved in another way by the use of green manure crops. Many of the legumes used as green manures, such as alfalfa, lupins and sweet clover, are very deep rooted crops. Their roots can penetrate the subsoil and open it up which is an important improvement in compacted soils. Subsequent vegetable crops can use the channels in the subsoil to allow their roots to reach deep into the subsoil and obtain water from the lower levels. It is worth remembering that many common vegetable crops are capable of putting down a large root system if the soil is loose enough. For example, in a deep, well structured soil, tomatoes can put roots down 150cm with the main root zone down to about 55cm and pumpkin and sweet corn roots can reach down to 180cm, with the main root zone down to about 60cm.
Crops can also obtain plant nutrients from the subsoil once it is opened by deep rooted green manure crops. Sourcing nutrients from these deeper levels of the soil has proved a major benefit for crops grown on farmland where the topsoil has either been eroded or has been worn out from overcropping. It is important in young gardens where the topsoil is thin. The clay subsoil in many parts of the Canberra region for instance can provide an excellent foundation for a soil building program provided it can be opened up for the crops grown in it.
Another benefit of a green manure crop is that while the green manure crop is growing it prevents weeds colonising the bare ground left after the previous crop has been removed. In general it helps protect the soil surface from erosion and leaching of nutrients.
Green manures can be grown in three ways:
- As a crop during the main growing season, which, however, has the disadvantage of taking up valuable space at the most productive time of year.
- As an undercover crop grown with the main crop, but planted after the main crop is established. This is an extremely useful method for gardeners in areas with long cold winters where there is not time to plant a green manure crop after the summer harvest. It is an interesting area of research in vegetable growing and for more information see Eliot Coleman’s “New Organic Grower”.
- As an over winter crop, which is the most common way they are grown. In the Canberra region, autumn is an ideal time to plant green manure crops in beds emptied of the summer harvest. There is usually time to establish the crop before winter.
When establishing a garden, a green manure crop can be grown whenever a bed would otherwise be left vacant over winter. The only exception is preceding an onion crop, since onions seem to do best with no preceding green manure crop. Care should be taken with most root vegetables which do not appreciate soil with a lot of organic matter, so bulky crops should be avoided, as well as those high in nitrogen.
Once a good fertile soil has been created in the vegetable garden, it should only be necessary to replenish the supply of organic matter once in every four years, and the green manure crop can be grown at the end of a four year crop rotation such as:
Year 1: Tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants, leafy greens
Year 2: Onions, garlic or peas, beans, followed by brassicas
Year 3: Root crops
Year4: Cucurbits, Sweet corn followed by a winter green manure crop, then returning to Year 1 in the rotation.
The green manure crop can be dug in in Spring prior to planting crops for next summer. Having dug in a green manure crop you need wait only 4 to 6 weeks before planting summer crops.
However, if you consider digging in the green manure a difficult chore, you will be pleased to hear the results of a study by US Department of Agriculture scientists: Apparently they found “that amounts of nitrogen released from residues of alfalfa, wheat, and sorghum hardly differed at all whether the plants were tilled into the soil or just left there, untilled and unchopped on the surface”.
It seems therefore that you don’t have to dig it in, but incorporating it into the soil may lead to a speedier decomposition of the organic material. A satisfactory compromise is to partially chop up the crop, leave it on the soil surface, but cover it with straw to give protection to all the micro organisms who will appear to feast on the organic matter and convert it into humus in the soil.
The following Table is a list of suitable green manure crops for autumn for this region, along with brief comments which may help you decide which crop to plant. It is important to vary the types of green manure crops grown as they have different attributes and disadvantages. It is often a good idea to grow a mix of crops in the one bed to get the best results.
Autumn Green Manure Crops
Legumes: (fix nitrogen)*
Broad Beans: Produce a large amount of organic matter. Can be sown late in Autumn.
Will stand some water logging. Sow 35gm/sq m
Field Peas: Similar to above
Lupins: Effective phosphorus gatherers. Contribute lots of organic matter.
Not usually susceptible to fungal diseases which may affect peas and beans. Sow 16gm/sq m.
Sub Clover: Very effective nitrogen fixer. Not large amount of foliage. Sow l gm/sq m.
Tic Peas: Cheaper alternative to Broad Beans
Vetch: Large bulk. Competes well with weeds.
* Some lucernes may also be suitable
Barley Vigorous grower. Increases uptake of phosphorus in following crop.
Bennett (1979) recommends planting 2 cm deep, 3 cm apart, 15cm between rows.
Oats Grows in wide range of soils. Doesn’t mind acidity.
Tolerates very cold weather. Broadcast 10 gm/sq m
Rye Large amount of organic matter. Drought resistant. Sow similar to oats.
Alfalfa, a nitrogen fixer, is a suitable cover crop for large gardens or orchards. It requires a full season to mature. Alfalfa roots deeply, so use it to break up hard soils. You can plant alfalfa in the spring in cold climates, or in the fall in mild climates.
Like alfalfa, buckwheat requires a full growing season before you can dig it in. Buckwheat doesn’t fix nitrogen, but it does attract bees and predatory hoverflies, so plant it beside an adjacent garden to reap these benefits.
Red clover is an adaptive cover crop, tolerating shade, acidic soils, and poor drainage. Nitrogen-fixing red clover is low growing, so you can dig it in with a spade rather than a tiller
Fava beans not only enrich the soil, they also provide the organic gardener with a crop he can eat at the end of the growing season. Even if you don’t like the taste of fava beans, save some seeds for future cover crop sowings. Fava beans act as nitrogen-fixers, and withstand cold temperatures well.
Mustard is a brassica, which means it’s in the same family as cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Therefore, you shouldn’t use mustard as a cover crop if you plan to plant vegetables in the brassica family in your garden to prevent pests and diseases that attack these plants. Mustard grows quickly, so you can use it as an interim cover crop between summer and fall vegetable crops.
Ryegrass tolerates cold conditions and grows quickly, so you can plant this as an early spring cover crop before you plant your summer garden. Make sure you plant the annual variety, not the perennial variety used in lawns.
You can plant winter vetch, a nitrogen-fixing crop, in the fall and till it under in the spring. This crop can get woody if you allow it to grow too large, so cut it down with a mower as soon as the ground is workable and give it a few days to wilt before you till it into the soil.
#15) Cover crop basics�
Plant “green manure” this fall, and your garden will be more productive and healthier next season. Cover crops just might be the hardest-working plants you’ll ever grow. Cover crops (also called green manure) suppress weeds, build productive soil, and help control pests and diseases. Plus, cover crops are easy to plant and require only basic care to thrive. And they grow well in nearly every part of the country. �
Get started! �
Maybe you already know about the benefits of cover crops but think they’re just for farmers and other large-scale growers. Think again. Cover crops are well suited to all gardens, whether they’re big or small. Here’s a step-by-step guide to reaping the rewards of cover crops in your garden. �
Step 1: Planting. If you’ve ever reseeded a bare patch in your lawn, rest assured you can plant a cover crop. Work up the soil gently with a garden rake, broadcast seed over the soil, and then rake it in. Raking establishes good soil-to-seed contact and protects the seed from birds. “Birds sometimes eat the seeds if they are too close to the surface,” says Nancy Creamer, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems at North Carolina State University. If you decide to plant cover crops in the fall, be sure to allow them plenty of time to become established. “This means planting them four weeks before killing frosts. The one exception is cereal rye, which can be planted right up to a frost,” says Marianne Sarrantonio, Ph.D., associate professor of sustainable agriculture at the University of Maine. �
Step 2: Care. Cover crops are low-maintenance compared to most crops, but they still need some care. Mowing keeps large cover crops manageable, and sorghum-sudangrass actually increases its root growth if mowed once or twice. White Dutch clover planted in garden pathways needs to be mowed regularly to keep it from competing with vegetables and flowers. Be sure to water cover crops during times of drought. �
Step 3: Killing. You must kill your cover crops before they set seed and the topgrowth gets out of control. That’s right, kill them. “The best time to kill them is at flowering or when the seedheads emerge on grains. The annuals can all be killed at this point by cutting at the base of the plant,” advises Dr. Sarrantonio. �
You can mow cover crops with a lawn mower or a weed trimmer, depending on how tall the plants are. Wait a day or two until the leaves and stems dry down, and then dig them in. Longer pieces of stems and vines may interfere with tilling, but it won’t take long before the vegetative growth partially decomposes. �
After turning under a cover crop of grasses, wait two to three weeks before planting vegetables or flowers. The decomposition of the green material can tie up soil nitrogen. And cover crops such as rye are allelopathic, which means they inhibit seed germination. �
Finding space in your garden �
When I discuss cover crops in gardening classes, a common concern is the amount of valuable garden space they occupy. However, you can fit cover crops right into your garden plan. �
Succession cropping is one of the easiest ways to do this. After spring crops of lettuce, radishes, and other early vegetables have been harvested, plant a fast-growing cover crop, such as buckwheat. In most climates, you can allow this cover crop to flower and still have time to plant a crop of frost-tolerant vegetables. Cover crops can also be planted in the fall after some main season crops, such as cabbage, are finished. �
Interplanting cover crops with vegetables is possible, though a bit trickier. “Ample water and nutrients available to both cover crops and vegetable crops, and controlling growth of the cover crop, are key to making this approach work,” cautions Dr. Creamer. It’s also important to delay your planting of the cover crop. “A good rule of thumb is to sow the cover crop seed into the vegetable bed one-third of the way through the vegetable crop’s growing cycle,” says Steve Diver of ATTRA–The National Sustainable Agriculture Service. For example, if you’ve planted a 75-day corn variety, interplant a cover crop about 25 days after seeding the corn. Organic farmers have had good luck with delayed interplantings of yellow blossom sweet clover with lettuce and onions. Dr. Sarrantonio suggests transplanting young tomato and pepper plants into a mowed mulch of hairy vetch and rye. The mulch reduces weeds, maintains moisture, and provides nitrogen.
Which cover crop is right for you? “You have to keep in mind the time of year and the species you are growing,” says Diver. Some, such as cereal rye, are very cold-tolerant and work well for late-season plantings. Others, such as buckwheat, are very frost-tender. The cover crops listed here are widely adapted and can be grown in most areas of the United States, either as a summer or winter cover crop, depending on where you live. �
Rye. This crop comes in two different types: annual rye and cereal rye. Both have their advantages. Sow cereal rye during the late summer or early fall, and it will grow until late in fall and resume growing in spring. With annual rye, which winterkills in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 and colder, you’ll be able to plant your garden earlier, since you won’t have to turn the cover crop into the soil and then wait three weeks as you would with a perennial cover crop. �
Field peas/oats. This dynamic duo combines the benefits of a legume (peas) that fixes nitrogen and a grain (oats) that contributes plenty of organic matter. And the plants have complementary growth habit–the peas climb right up the oats. Both crops are cold-tolerant, which makes this a good mixture to plant in late summer or early fall. In colder climates, they will also winterkill, allowing an early spring start. �
Sorghum-sudangrass. As its name suggests, this grass is a cross between sorghum and sudangrass. This hybrid generates large amounts of organic matter and needs little encouragement to grow 5 to 12 feet tall. You can keep this frost-tender plant in check by mowing it down to 6 inches when it reaches a height of 3 feet or by planting it just seven weeks before frost. �
Buckwheat. It’s not wheat, and it’s not a Little Rascals character! Buckwheat is a broadleaf plant and an excellent smother crop–it’s effective even against weeds like quackgrass. “Buckwheat is very fast-growing and can provide a quick canopy to shade weeds. Just be careful to not let it go to seed, or you’ll have buckwheat in your next crop,” says Dr. Creamer. It matures in just six to eight weeks and can be squeezed in between spring and fall vegetable plantings. Buckwheat’s white flowers serve two purposes–they work well as a filler for flower arrangements, and they attract beneficial insects. �
Clover. Clover comes in a plethora of different shapes and sizes. White Dutch clover works well as a living mulch, since it tolerates both shade and traffic. Yellow blossom sweet clover is an excellent nutrient scavenger and helps build good soil structure. Crimson clover attracts beneficials and looks great, too. Whatever the color, clover fixes nitrogen and helps to build rich soils. For best results, make sure you inoculate your clover seed with Rhizobium bacteria.
#16) Homemade Pest Control
Scale and Mealybugs: Make an oil preparation that suffocates them by mixing four tablespoons of dishwashing liquid into one cup of vegetable oil. Mix one part of that mixture to about twenty parts of water, put it in your sprayer and spray the affected plants.�
Aphids, Caterpillars and Other Insects: Add two tablespoons of soap flakes to one litre of water and stir thoroughly until completely dissolved (this is quicker in warm water). There is no need to dilute this further, just spray it on as is.�
Black Spot Fungicide: In Queensland, Black Spot’s a major problem with roses, but this fungicide mixture works miracles. Add three teaspoons of bicarb soda to one litre of water. Don’t get carried away with the bicarb soda because if you make it too strong, it’ll cause all sorts of problems. Add a few drops of either dishwashing liquid, or fish emulsion to help the solution adhere to the leaf more effectively.�
Fungicide: Mix one level teaspoon of bicarb soda into one litre of water. Add one litre of skim milk and a pinch of Condy’s Crystals which you can get from a produce agent (someone that supplies to horse owners). Shake thoroughly.�
Grasshopper, Caterpillar and Possum Deterrent: Mix a cup of molasses into one litre of water and spray it over new foliage. �
Nematodes: Add half a litre of molasses to two litres of water and spread over one and a half square metres of affected garden area.�
All-round Insecticide: Chop four large onions, two cloves of garlic, and four hot chillies. Mix them together and cover with warm, soapy water and leave it to stand overnight. Strain off that liquid and add it to five litres of water to create an all-round insecticide. �
Pesticide: Crush a whole bulb of garlic and cover with vegetable oil. After two days, strain off the liquid, add a couple of drops of dishwashing liquid and use one millilitre of concentrate to one litre of water. �
Herbicide: Add a cup of common salt to a litre of vinegar. After it’s dissolved, brush it directly onto weeds. Remember, it’s not a selective weed killer. It’ll kill anything it touches so be very careful how you use it. �
Predator Attractor: Predators that prey on pests are great things to have in the garden. Lacewings are particularly desirable because they consume aphids and many other pests. To encourage them into your garden, dissolve one teaspoon of a yeast based sandwich spread in water and spray it all over the plants. �
A big thanks to all contributors to this article of which there are too many to list.�