Winter garden workshop 22 March

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On a perfect Sunday afternoon we gathered under the trees at Peter and Jane’s place to discuss all things winter gardens. There was a great turnout of eager green thumbs looking to learn some tips and tricks for garden prosperity in the cooler months!

Laura (my wife) took us through the basics of building a resilient garden – lessons that are relevant for all seasons.

The fundamental building block for a successful garden is good soil. Cakey, dark, rich soil, black as midnight on a moonless night. If you’re starting with soil that has a high clay content, your path to the holy grail of great soil is a bit easier than for those of us who have sandy soils. See the tips section at the bottom of this post for some sure-fire tips.

We then looked at what to plant. The diggers calendar is a great resource here – this provides advice on what to plant when across all of the basic plant groups. The winter staples are root vegetables, brassicas, alliums (onion family), legumes and spinach. But we’re lucky in Perth – our mild, frostless winters can support a broader range of plants than these traditional items. For example, Laura and I established tomatoes over winter last year and enjoyed a nice yield of tomatoes at the start of spring. There are some exceptions to this though – in particular, winter tends to be too cold to grow any vines as they need pretty hot weather.

Next we learnt about establishing and raising your seeds and seedlings. Now that the weather has cooled, it’s time to get your seeds in the ground, or to buy seedlings from a trusted source.

If you’re planting from seed, read the instructions on the packet regarding the depth of planting and distance between plants. The general rule of thumb is to plant the seed 2x its height below the soil. Make up a soil mixture using coir (a coconut fibre available in nurseries), or some regular soil. We use snail bait as we haven’t found a reliable organic equivalent. Leave the soil mixture with the planted seeds in a warm place to ensure sufficient sunlight but not too much to dry out the seeds. Water lightly every second day – we use the green micro nozzles on a 1.25L bottle to provide a light watering.

After a week or two (depending on the seed germination time), you should start to see some seeds sprouting. Don’t be alarmed if you get more misses than hits – we expect about a 50 per cent success rate when we plant seeds. Move seedlings into your garden bed when the “true” leaves appear (usually the second set of leaves) – these are the first leaves than can properly photosynthesise sunlight so your little plant needs them to fend for itself in the big wide world. Even in cooler weather, we put some mulch (pea straw mulch is perfect) around the base of the seedlings, leaving about an inch between the mulch and the stalk to ensure there isn’t any rotting.

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The second half of the session was the hands-on part, with Peter cajoling us into planting his garden up for him! Peter expertly showed us his forking method for arranging compost across the beds and preparing the soil for planting. He also showed some handy tools, including a wooden stake that creates perfect divots for seeds and enables the stealthy gardener to fend off attacks from approaching vampires.

This was the first Kitchen Gardener’s workshop for Laura and I, and we had a great time! Looking forward to more fun, informative afternoons.

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Tips and tricks for your soil

Maintain a balance of sand and clay

  • If your soil is clay-based you probably need to add gypsum to help break it down, and sand to assist with drainage.
  • If your soil is sandy, add clay. There are a number of good options here. The cheapest is bentonite (clumping kitty litter) but we’ve had better results with sand remedies like Sand to Soil.

Add Zeolite/zeochlor to help your soil retain nutrients.

  • This product is a pool filtering material and can be found in pool shops. It is great for holding nutrients in your soil – a boost for sandy soil in particular.

Keep your soil happy

  • Set up a compost bin. Great way to get rid of scraps, although it is tricky to get your compost right. The next workshop will help with that!
  • Bokashi bins are another option. This is a product that enables composting of vegetable and other food scraps in a bucket. A powder is used to “pickle” the scraps and when the bucket is full it can be buried a foot or so under your garden bed. We have had fantastic results with this compost.
  • Mulch is essential in Perth. Pea straw is a great option as it has nitrogen in it. Green mulch is also a good option for winter to restore nutrients and limit weeds in beds. In spring cut plants off at base and spread over garden.
  • Manure / dynamic lifter are important but only in limited amounts. Slow release fertilisers are great products. We usually use animal poo around fruit trees at the start of each season.
  • Seasol is a great organic booster – the red bottle is much more nutrient dense.

Some things to try

  • Wicking beds are a fantastic idea and we can’t wait to set ours up. This link is very useful -http://www.abc.net.au/gardening/stories/s4010599.htm
  • Another good option is to create natural shade in your microclimate by creating a fruit-tree grove around your garden beds
  • Next summer, try 20-30% shade cloth – anything with a higher density doesn’t allow enough sunlight to get through
  • Establish a native garden – autumn’s a perfect time to get one going. Looks great, helps cool the garden and attracts birds and insects.
  • Worm farms are also a great idea.

Trusted resources and companies

  • Great Gardens / the Forever Project – the best (free!) gardening workshops in town. Here’s the facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Great-Gardens/152130211501350
  • Wilderness Garden – Jackie French – the current Senior Australian of the Year has written some great books on gardening, including this one
  • http://www.diggers.com.au – our number one stop for seeds. Good idea to pool orders with friends as postage can be expensive
  • Yilgarn seeds (http://yilgarnseeds.drylands.org.au/) recommended by Pete – one we are keen to try

Join us on Facebook! Share with us on the Transition Town Guildford – Kitchen Gardeners’ Group.

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