Tips from Sarah the Gardener
As the first month of winter, June can be a bit daunting for the keen gardener eager to be in the garden sowing and planting. The saving grace is the shortest day is just three weeks into the start of winter, meaning each day after that is stretching slowly out in length to greet the spring, making the cold weather more bearable. While there are many things that can be done out in the garden at this time of year like pruning fruit trees and planting garlic and onion, in some parts of Australia, it isn’t all that pleasant out there in the garden. There is a biting cold that goes through to your bones and the soil is often muddy, sticks to your boots and working it is not only difficult but can do harm to your soil structure. You are better off indoors, in the warmth and the dry.
Winter should be a time of reflection and dreaming but it doesn’t need to be an unproductive time. Those cold months can be spent making plans. Gardeners are often so keen to get the garden started that they rush into spring sowing as many things as they can find seed packets for. They hit the garden centres and are tempted by all the green and delightful things found there. Soon enough greenhouses, windowsills and kitchen tables become overwhelmed with the possibility of a potentially fabulous garden.
Then, once the sun begins to shine warmly, the garden is surveyed and the realisation dawns that there may not be enough space, so more earth is hastily turned over and plants that have been tenderly nurtured through the coldest of months are unceremoniously plonked in the garden where ever they will fit.
However, there is a better way. While the garden is empty and it is way too early to reach for seed trays, a little time taken now can make all the difference to the success of the garden. Planning for the season will give you the ultimate head start and ensure you have an amazing season.
Review your space
The first thing you should do is look at your garden and ask yourself:
• Was your garden big enough and can you change this?
• Did it get enough sun or did fences and trees shade it out? Can it be moved?
• Was it close enough to a tap to use a hose easily?
• Did you find bending was a problem, do you need to raise it up?
• Is there anything else that bothered you that you’d like to change?
Asking yourself questions like these is good to do at this time of year as it is still fresh in your memory. The garden, its location and ease of accessibility are important to the success of the harvest. If it is in the wrong location, the plants won’t get what they need and suffer. If it is inconvenient for you, then you won’t enjoy tending it and the plants will suffer. If you need to make some changes make a plan. For the most part you won’t be planting things into the garden until it is warm enough – generally sometime around mid-late spring, so there is plenty of time to sort this out without rushing.
Deciding what to grow
This is the fun bit. Gather together all of your seed packets, review all of the catalogues and make lists of everything you want to grow. It can be as long as you want it to be as though you have your dream garden. Then review the list.
• Start by crossing off things you and your family don’t actually like to eat. There is no point growing them if no one eats them. It isn’t compulsory to have beans in your garden.
• Remove anything from the list that didn’t grow well for you in the past or had a meagre harvest and not worthy of the space it takes up.
• Look at all of your seed packets. Somewhere should be an expiry date. If this has long since passed, throw them out. If it is something you really want to grow, then make a note to replace it. You can try to grow old seeds by sowing them thickly and hope for the best.
• Consider giving any duplicates away to friends, family or your local seed exchange.
• While you have the seed packets out and the catalogues open, make a note on your list about how much space each plant needs to grow well.
Planning the garden
Now that you have reviewed your garden space, you should have settled on the size, so now you need to combine the space you have with what you want to grow. Unfortunately, you may find you won’t be able to grow everything on your list. You will need to prioritise and examine why you are growing your garden – to feed your family affordably or so you can grow the luxurious and unusual or whatever the reason some plants may not fit in.
Take a pencil and paper and draw the garden out. Grid paper and coloured pencils can be helpful and maybe an eraser.
Taking note of how much space each plant needs, decide where in your garden each plant should go.
• Tall plants should go at the back so they don’t shade the short ones.
• Crops that need to be harvested regularly should be placed somewhere with easy access.
• Sweetcorn needs to be planted in a block not a row.
• Some plants like cucumbers can be trained to go up structures rather than left to sprawl so will take up less space.
• Consider succession planting so you have a crop ready to go in to replace something coming out all season long.
This will give you a good plan for the garden to work from for the season. Write the date on it as it can also become an important record for the future. There are also computer programs that can help with garden planning. The key is, come spring – stick to the plan. Don’t be tempted to squeeze extra plants in. Extend the garden or pop it in a pot. Tiny seedlings may look silly in a big garden, but they soon grow to take their space.
Taking a little time to fill a few gloomy winter hours can make a huge difference to the success of your garden this season.