Our autumn gardening workshop yesterday was wonderful, the weather gods were kind and it was a perfect day for building no- dig beds and talking about winter veggies. IN the morning we focused on talking about building soil and mulches.
I’ve posted our workbook for attendees here.
There was an interesting discussion about building materials for raised beds and I’m posting some info about treated timber here.
Around lunch Jake Cassar entertained and educated us about the many uses of native and introduced plants around the farm that many people would call weeds or invasive species.
After taking a walk with Jake, Adam took the group to the garden to about the seasonal aspects of gardening. Our preparation in autumn is to replace the nutrients from the soil that our summer crops have taken out from our nutrient organic beds.
Step 1: Weed out and compost any unwanted plants and don’t forget to collect seeds from those product plants that have bolted.
Step 2: Put down a layer of green much, comfrey. It’s a great herb to grow to activate your compost bin and it has fabulous medicinal uses. But we often use it to catalyse and help the breakdown of mulch layers in the no-dig garden beds. Over that we’ve got some mushroom compost that we get from a local grower, Margin’s Mushrooms in Woy Woy.
Step 3: Then we add a layer of Lucerne Mulch. Lucerne hay can be difficult to get, so you will need to ring around, but is higher in nitrogen. Pea straw is much easier to get and I have found seems to work just as well. If neither is around, just straw will be fine (not hay, hay contains seeds and your lovely garden bed will edible, but probably better suited to feeding your horse.) You can by bags of Lucerne Mulch at most plant nurseries but we buy bales of it from a local produce and pet supplies shop for around $10 a bale.
Step 4: Dig out the compost bin and get some of the really well broken down compost with worms at this stage you want to add a selection of organic fertiliser, such as cow manure, chicken manure or blood and bone. If you keep chooks be careful not to use straight from the chooks, it needs to be composted first. Chicken manure is a very strong source of nitrogen as a fertiliser. Unfortunately most commercial chicken manure comes from battery hen farms and is laden with residual antibiotics and other chemicals. Ensure you source chicken manure from organic chicken farms or even better have your own chickens and harvest your own manure. If you add fresh lawn clippings in with the chooks and compost that, you will get a lovely mix to add to your no-dig gardens.
Be careful of chemically produced fertilisers (that includes non-organic chicken pellets) they often contain heavy metals and superphosphate. Superphosphate is lethal to worms and does nasty things to soil fauna and flora. Heavy metals are carcinogenic.Some manufacturers are “trying it on” by peddling their chicken pellets etc with a label that says “contains organic manure”. If the product doesn’t have a certified organic sticker, it’s not organic, and can contain any amounts of heavy metals and superphosphate. Beware.
As a rule you should make sure all your animal manures are from free range animals. This is not just an animal rights issue; it’s that when you use manures you are concentrating whatever those animals ate in the soil which you’re then going to grow your veggies in. If you use manures from animals in industrial farming the chemical inputs end up concentrated in the soil in your garden and your in veggies, so then in your and your kids. This is why we’re organic gardeners. We don’t want to eat all those chemicals.
This year we’re also going to add some dolomite to the mix, this is to add some calcium to our soil .If you use a lot of eggs in your compost there no need for this additive. Finally we’ll top it off with another layer of Lucerne mulch. And now we’re ready to plant our winter crops and some we’ll harvest in the spring.
We’re definitely going to plant some Garlic; we use a lot of garlic not only in cooking but also raw for as a general health tonic. The summer before last we bought some garlic from a grower up in Somersby. It was incredible it tasted so much better than what we’d been buying from the supermarket, we went back and bought a lot more around this time last year it start to sprout in the cupboard so we planted some, what a revelation. You can buy planting stocking from organic farmers at a local grower’s market. Most of the garlic you buy from supermarkets won’t strike because amongst other things it’s sprayed with chemicals to extend its shelf life and inhibit cloves from sprouting.
If you’re shopping online for certified organic bulbs, you can try Green Harvest http://greenharvest.com.au/Plants/AutumnFoodPlants.html#Garlic
We’ve also recently bought some beautifully presented and tasty garlic from Elmswood Farm http://www.patricenewell.com.au
Garlic hates wet feet, so prepare your soil well making mounds in rows about 20-30cm wide for good drainage. Break up the bulbs into individual cloves and then plant them – pointy end up (shoots form at the pointy end) – into good loamy soil a hand’s width apart and about 3-4 cm deep. Water them in and cover with a layer of mulch. Garlic needs at least six months or so of mild temperatures to form plump, juicy (pungent) bulbs Harvest when the leaves are yellowing and drying out. Then hang the whole plant in an airy dry space for them to dry out further.
We’re also going to be planting a selection of broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and beetroot. Coriander, Parsley Rocket and some English spinach and silverbeet and lettuces. This will give us a supply of lots of green leafy for salads and green smoothies. It’s also time to plant broad beans, many cooks love to have a supply of some legumes for later winter and these are perfect. We buy our seedlings from Darren at Delightfully Fresh organics. You can order from him online at http://www.organicherbsandseedlings.com.au
It’s also time for all our root veggies to go in. We’ve put in some potatoes and sweet potatoes. If you are growing these in raised beds it’s worth noting that they need to be well established and composted down so that there is at least 150 mm of friable soil.