Our unreliable spring

Well, so much for our spring feelings, right? This week totally… blew them away, let’s say. I can’t help thinking “if only I had ordered the mikroclima cloth a week before” – yes, having it ten days ago might have saved those early plantings of perpetual spinach and silverbeet down at the oasis from getting pierced by the hail. But better late than never, and I thought I’d let you know my strategies to deal with this fickle season!

First of all, know your site. When does the sun come to warm up the soil? Which areas stay shady for longer? And most important, where does the wind hit? Do you get salt spray, and where? For all the most exposed areas: either just leave them until December (when generally speaking the spring storms have had their time), or mitigate the problem with some of the ideas below. There is no point in spending money, time and effort in planting seedlings which will never make it though the unpredicatable weather (plus snails, slugs and birds…). A good lazy gardener spends time observing and choosing wisely.

For example, part of my back garden just starts to get the sun about now. In all the areas that are shaded, I leave the weeds be over winter – it’s the only thing that grows, and it provides great cover and feeds the soil food web (obviously, I don’t let them seed and I don’t have any perennial weeds there anymore). As the sun reaches the area, I rip the weeds out to build a new compost pile, put well decomposed compost on the beds and cover with tarps. In a month, the soil will be warmed up by the sun and weed free for the season. Having the bed covered with either weeds or a good thick black tarp makes temperature drops and hail much less of an issue during springtime. And for that time, my seedlings thrive in the greenhouse and are big and strudy when I plant out.

If you’ve planted out some spring crops, put up cloches. For the hoops, I use old reinforcement steel bars that I cut to 2.5m and bend to a form that fits my beds. You can buy new ones at a hardware store – 8mm thick – and they last a lifetime. But of course you can use any bendy material! Young bamboo, tent arcs… whatever you find for cheap to reuse. Put them about 1.5m apart and cover with either mikroclima cloth (available at Sustainability Trust I believe), old mesh curtains or transparent plastic. This also protects against the birds who dig up your young plants in search for The Fattest Worm to feed their little ones, as well as warming the soil and speeding plant growth along.

To make sure the plastic tarp or cloche doesn’t fly off in the 120km/h winds, make sure you weigh down the sides really well. You can basically use anything, but what I find works well is to both use bricks (or other heavy material) and also heap up the soil around the sides as to bury the edges of the plastic. That way the wind can’t find a way under the tarp to lift it up.

Towards the end of October, we all want to plant out zuccinis and cucumbers, and that’s ok… but the weather being what it is, it’s a good idea to have them well hardened off and to use individual cloches once they go in the ground. To harden off your seedlings – whether you’ve bought them or grown from seed – put them outside for increasing periods of time each day for a week, and overnight in a sheltered spot for the last few days. When you plant, put a small cloche over each seedling. A 2Lt transparent juice bottle without lid works well. To stop these from blowing off, put a long bamboo stick through the bottle to anchor it to the ground, and heap up soil around the base of the cloche.

Hoping you and your garden will make it trough to warmer days without despairing too much! We have the first peach blossoms at the moment and I’m just hoping they will have the time to be pollinated before they blow off in the next storm… In this post, I’ve shared my tips and tricks – do you have something to add? Please comment below!

…and if you’re wondering what’s happening at workerBe oasis, here’s what’s coming up:

  • Volunteer time on Sundays at 1pm in September, and Saturdays 11-1 from October onwards. Everyone welcome, bring water bottle, gardening clothes and sturdy shoes.
  • A big Spring Celebration October 9th at 1pm (rain date October 16th): Seed & seedling swap, free 101 Food Growing workshop, guided tour, food and music!
  • Workshop series starting again October 19th – see sidebar (bottom of page on smartphones)


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