The last week of Spring

P1030557The months of work leading up to Spring changeover in the garden are just about over; there remains but one week of Spring to oust winter crops and transplant Spring seedlings from trays into beds to finish establishing crops that will mature over our southern summer months to be harvested from February through to May next year.

Bed 3 of 13 has been cleared of the last of the winter broccoli and kale and broad beans, but I’ve lost all my soil moisture by failing to clear out these seeding giants soon enough. So last week’s watering with the rainbow sprinkler is followed this week by a thick covering of new barley straw mulch, pinned in place by new drip lines to wet up the soil lines along which tomatoes, basil, coriander, red Dutch cabbage and eggplants will be planted out.

P1030552It’s nerve wracking to have the taps running for many hours on end filling the irrigation tanks that drive these drip lines. But that’s what I need to do to get these seedlings established.

Maybe next year I’ll get it right, and so save on all that valuable water being put out on the eve of summer?

Ah well, the gardening expenses of water, mulch and irrigation pipe are long-term investments in my learning how to drive this garden efficiently once global warming starts messing with the climate and the rainfall. I’ll continue to have fresh and nutritious food up at the house after each day’s work.

Pouring on the water…

P1030536The beginning of the Australian summer is now only a fortnight away and the pressures of a gardening life are reaching a crescendo as the soil dries out and the need to finish planting out seedlings takes on a final urgency.

Watering also begins; sometimes well into the night. As always there’s not enough mulch to lock down this new moisture. Drip irrigation, despite its great efficiency at placing water exactly around the roots of sensitive plants, is dead slow to apply. Unless one plans work out a week in advance – and mine don’t – desperate measures are required.

P1030544So winter beds are cleared and prove to have dried out. Under these circumstances the soil has to be ‘restarted’ by up to 12 hours of watering with the rainbow sprinkler clamped to the top of an aluminium ladder; this covers the whole bed and pushes moisture down to at least 15 cms. This only works on weekends when the gardener is around the place - continual adjustments to the water pressure are needed to keep water within the bed and off the surrounding paths.

Very slowly the summer vegetable garden takes shape; the lettuces and salad greens are in and their moisture levels settled. Next cucumbers are planted along available fence lines and the ground readied for zucchinis and beetroots. Slowly the number of trays on the seed tables declines and order begins to return – if only there was time left over to bask in some sort of glow of accomplishment...


But there are a few laughs along the way; over in the chook yard I’ve been baiting for rats that are stealing chicken food and scaring the cook. I catch the neighbour’s cat instead. I let him out unharmed, and he gets off home.


Spring seedling plant-out begins

Seeds saved in previous years were planted out three weeks ago and lettuce seedlings are already far enough along to be planted out - the first of the massive replanting effort ahead of us right up to Christmas and beyond.


Other seedlings - tomatoes, dill, red cabbage, basil, beetroot, capsicums, chillies and various herbs, are still a week or two away from needing to come out of the seed trays. Bare patches in the seed trays show me where my seed has gotten too old and is now non-viable. Other (rarer) varieties like purple-tiger chillies and chocolate capsicum have germinated poorly but adequately.











Only two of my thirteen vegetable beds are in fact ready for plant-outs, so I have to juggle with the plan a bit and shift the lettuce into the bed designed for bush beans. As Eisenhower said “Plans are useless, but planning is invaluable”. Plans often go bust in this garden – this one crashed due to expediency.P1030512My main concern when planting soft-leaved seedlings like lettuces is to do all I can to avoid the ‘transplant shock’ that occurs when their delicate root systems are yanked out of friendly potting mix and stuffed into real soil. So I’ve spent the past week wetting up the sub-soil of this one bed ready for this occasion. Now I just hoe in the trenches and bung clumps of lettuce seedlings into the ground along the drip lines at regular intervals.

P1030528A few hours later, and a couple of trays of lettuce seedlings – several hundred lettuce plants – are in and away.P1030537There’s nothing new to me in raising lettuces, but this year I’ll be experimenting with better ways to manage the soil moisture such that these lettuces reach the table as soon as possible with the least stress to them and us. So I’ve added soil moisture monitoring equipment to this bed.

Why go to all that expense? Simply because the cost of water is now by far the largest expenditure in providing home-grown fruit and vegetables to the kitchen. To measure is to know. And as it was me that invented this gadgetry, there are always a few spare units left over and lying around at work, so I bring them home and put them to work in among my own vegetables. Pottering around among them suggests new ways of designing and using them in the broader scene of Australia’s irrigated agricultural regions.



Thomas Edison on the 'Perfect Tomato'

P1020333Just as in previous years, the first warm days of Spring bring out the closet gardener in every Australian and for a brief few months my fellow-countrymen flirt with the joys of planting – tomatoes, mostly. This harmless national insanity tends to peter out just after Christmas when the hot weather really sets in. Nevertheless, its now that the plant nurseries are clogged with enthusiastic gardening neophytes buying big on tomato seedlings raised over winter in heated glasshouses, and us old chaps doing it the hard way – growing tomatoes from seed out in the Spring sunshine - are over-run by the wannabes racing for home-grown tomatoes on the table by Christmas Day.

At another time, and on another blog, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece that transmogrified Thomas Edison’s famous advice on “work” into his purported words on ‘growing the perfect tomato’, reproduced below. The main contributor to that blog responded with “Is this a joke or what ??”. So I guess it wasn’t as clever or as funny as I thought, but as an antidote to the current seasonal mayhem, here it is again…


Thomas Edison sterilising tomato seeds (I think!)“Very few of you will know this, but Thomas Alva Edison - the inventor of such things as light bulbs and the gramophone - was a closet gardener!
He deceived the general public into thinking that, in the following statements to the press, he was talking about inventing. In fact, it was all in code, as he was really explaining his experiences of life to the cognoscenti of the ‘Perfect Tomato Club’.
I have decoded his gardening work here for you, and have included a photo of his efforts to sterilize tomato seeds for storage: -
  1. "To invent a new type of tomato frame, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk."
  2. "The opportunity to grow the perfect tomato is missed by most people because it is dressed in grubby clothes and looks like work"
  3. "Gardening is one-percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration"
  4. "I haven't failed to grow the perfect tomato, I've found 10,000 ways that don't work"
  5. "Good tomatoes are what happen when opportunity meets with planning"
  6. "I never failed once. Growing the perfect tomato just happened to be a 2000-step process"
  7. "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun"
  8. "Nearly every man who wants to develop the prefect tomato works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged."
In summary then, old Tom (short for 'Tomato') Edison was a crusty old bloke who never ever gave up (witness his indefatigable efforts to create the light bulb), and he didn't mind calling a spade a shovel. All those quotes actually came from him but, of course, he let his landlady grow the tomatoes, as he was known to sleep on a cot under the stairs down at the lab.
I reckon tomato growers could learn a few things from Edison, about persistence for one thing. Hence the (tongue-in-cheek) gardener's version of his many real quotations, which came entirely from own fertile imagination. My apologies to his ghost...