This is the best time of year to plant trees and shrubs and to remove any straggly bushes and replace them with hardier varieties. Now that the weather is cooler, redesign your garden-put in a barbecue area or a sandpit for the kids. Citrus are the best home fruit by far, and with winter coming up are a useful source of Vitamin C to repel colds and flu. To improve drainage, remember that surface drains always work best; try to shed surface water by cunningly placed contours. In very dry areas such as Perth and inland zones. contours which collect water around the bases of trees and shrubs are a good idea (in any case, flat garden areas can often look dull and boring).
JOBS TO DO NOW
Create a serene, meadow-like effect in your backyard by planting some bulbs now. Plant jonquils (although it is getting a little bit late for these), freesias, hyacinths, daffodils and in cooler areas tulips, all of which are available now.
This is usually a bad time for insect pests but, before you start indiscriminately spraying chemicals, stop and think. Some spraying of serious infestations is common sense, but ask your nurseryperson for ‘safe’ chemicals such as pyrethrum and dipel. Where possible, control insects by nonchemical means such as hosing them off, squashing them or ignoring them. Winter grass is starting to germinate now. Learn to live with it if you can-it is nice and green, not prickly, and makes good budgie and canary food. Spray with Endothal if you must, but check that this is okay for your particular type of grass.
Cyclamen are the classiest of all indoor flowering plants. However, some are sold in lightweight, almost pure peat potting mixes which cause the plant to collapse prematurely indoors. Only buy cyclamen in nice, gritty, heavy potting mixes. Cyclamen like cool nights and can be put outside at this time.
Cut off straggly looking maidenhair ferns at ground level, fertilise with Nitrosol and leave them outside in a shady area for a few weeks. After this they will look lush, green and stunning.
TIME TO PLANT
If you haven’t already, start planting your spring display of flowering annuals: violas, pansies, alyssum, Livingstone daisies, lobelia, English daisies, calendulas, dianthus, anemones, prirnulas, ranunculus, poppies, stocks, sweet peas, snapdragons, larkspurs, cornflowers, foxgloves and cinerarias (in the shade).
You are also running out of time to get your spring bulbs in. Try some in pots. Hyacinths will grow in a jar on your windowsill.
Vegetables to plant now include onions, cabbage, peas, snow peas, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, spinach and radishes.
This is a quick tour of Jamie Oliver’s garden. Get to see the different varieties of carrots he is growing. Talks about marigolds and how they can be used in salads. He didn’t say much about for he created his garden but said he went to the effort to import soil and manure. Quote from Jamie Oliver – Cut your produce, wash it and eat it within an hour, that is the holy grail of getting the good stuff in your kids.
What is organic farming? Organic farming can be described as an approach to agriculture where the main aims are to create holistic, nutritional, humane, environmentally and economically sustainable agricultural production systems. Maximum reliance is placed on farm renewable resources and the management of self regulating biological systems and interactions in order to provide exceptional levels of crop, livestock and human nutrition. Protection from pests/diseases, and an acceptable return to the human and other resources employed. Reliance on external inputs whether from chemical or organic is reduced as much as possible. In many European nations, organic agriculture is known as ecological agriculture. This reflects this reliance on ecosystem management rather than external inputs.
The objective of sustainability lies at the heart of organic farming. It is one of the major factors determining the acceptability or otherwise of specific production practices. The term ‘sustainable’ is used in its general sense to encompass not just conservation of non-renewable resources(soil, water, energy, minerals) but also issues of environmental, social and economic sustainability. The term ‘organic’ is best described as referring to the concept of the farm as an whole organism in which all the component parts – the soil minerals, insects, organic matter, microorganisms, plants, animals and man interact to create a workable and stable whole.
The key characteristics of organic farming are:
Protecting the long term fertility of soils by increasing organic matter levels, encouraging soil microbe activity.
Providing crop nutrients indirectly using relatively insoluble(natural) nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by soil microorganisms.
Nitrogen is provided through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation. I is also provided by recycling of organic materials incorporating crop residues and livestock manure.
Weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, organic manuring, plant health, natural predators, bio-diversity, resistant varieties(conventional plant breeding) and only natural biological and chemical intervention.
The management of livestock involved considering behavioural needs and animal welfare issues with respect to health, nutrition, housing, breeding and rearing.
Careful attention to the impact of the farming system on the larger environment and the conservation of native wildlife and natural habitats also need to be considered.
At this time of year many of us think about rhododendrons. Although the different types flower for a long period, it is in May that they really make an impact on gardens across the land. But rhododendrons must have lime-free soil and that can make them tricky for some of us that garden on neutral or limey soils. Planting in the garden is a waste of time and money. If you want, you can make a raised bed and fill that with acid soil but digging a hole in your garden and filling it with acid (ericaceous) compost only works for a while. The water from the surrounding soil will drain in and spread the lime and although you can acidify soil with sulphur chips you really are making life hard for yourself.
By far the best way to grow rhododendrons in these circumstances is to put them in pot. Rhododendrons have compact, fibrous roots and grow well in containers. But before you rush out and plant one in your favourite container, consider a few basics. Choose a dwarf rhododendron — many can get huge but there are lots of compact varieties, such as the ‘Bow Bells’ I chose, or all the Yakushimanum varieties (‘Yaks’). Then think about the pot. It should not be made of concrete or contain lime and must have straight sides so that, when the time comes, you can get the roots out of the pot to move it into the next size. It must also have drainage holes but if it has a saucer which can be topped up with water in summer, that is of benefit. You must use a lime-free compost. There are many brands of lime-free, or ericaceous compost but most are loam-free. Most are not, in my opinion, good for long-lasting plants and I prefer to use lime-free John Innes compost, possibly mixed with some fine bark.