Karen Sutherland's regular permaculture tips.
By now, your vegetable garden should be in full swing, growing the ultimate summer harvests: luscious sun-ripened tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, flavoursome beans and endless zucchinis. Fill any gaps in your garden now, to avoid later disappointment, but remember to consider how long your plants will take to get to harvest stage if you’re still planting at this late stage of the growing season. If you’re planting tomatoes, buy well-developed plants as it’s too late in the season to grow your own from seed. Look for those with a short time to harvest, such as Stupice. If you’re planting beans, choose bush varieties, as they bear much more quickly than climbing types.
Late spring is the perfect time to start warmclimate plants in cooler southern gardens. Passionfruit, citrus, turmeric, ginger, sweet potato and avocado are all best planted now, in cool climates. Although turmeric and ginger are understorey plants and grow best in the shade in warm-climate gardens, they won’t get the heat they need to swell their delicious rhizome roots if grown in the shade in a cool-climate garden. Instead, grow them in heat-absorbing black plastic pots in full sun, using pots at least 30-40 centimetres in diameter. To start your turmeric or ginger, look out for healthy fresh pieces from your greengrocer, preferably organic, as nonorganic turmeric and ginger may have been treated with growth inhibitors to prevent them sprouting. You may be lucky and find some pieces with tiny buds or shoots already, perfect for planting. Otherwise, sit your pieces on a warm bright windowsill to help them shoot and once you see tiny shoots appear, plant the whole piece into good quality potting mix. Remember, there is no such thing as cheap, good quality potting mix! Make sure to keep water up to them as they are rainforest plants. Plants will be ready for harvest in late autumn and should be all dug up and stored over winter to avoid rot. Freshly harvested rhizomes, washed and dried, will last for a few weeks in the fridge, or can be frozen in containers for later use. For fresh use over winter and for planting in spring, store rhizomes in damp coir peat in a pot in a cool place, which can be outdoors. Turmeric can be used grated or chopped in a variety of foods, pairing well with coconut, and is a powerful antiinflammatory when eaten regularly, helping to reduce all sorts of ailments. I eat it to help keep the aches and pains from many years of gardening at bay and it also can help relieve headaches.
Companion plants provide a range of benefits to their plant friends in the garden as well as to their humans. A good mix of plants in your garden will help with attracting a range of beneficial insects, to help keep your garden healthy, but some plants can do so much more. Strongly scented plants such as feverfew, allowed to self-seed and grow amongst your vegetables whether in the ground or in raised beds or pots, can help to ‘scent mask’, confusing pest insects trying to locate your precious vegetables. The flowers attract pollinating insects such as hoverflies and other beneficial insects. Feverfew plants prefer full sun but can flower in some shade and are small, reaching up to 40-50 centimetres high at the most and around 20 centimetres wide, so easily fit in between other plants. They also have small non-invasive root systems and are easily transplanted to where you need them or to be shared with friends once they have self-seeded. As always, it’s good to know the medicinal uses for the plants you grow. Feverfew leaves can be eaten to help prevent migraines, but having tried this myself can I say you need to be brave as the taste is so strong! You need to eat twothree leaves per day, and they are best disguised wrapped in another tasty herb. Turmeric is a much more palatable option.
The success of any organic garden depends a lot upon how you manage it, to avoid pest and disease outbreaks as much as possible. It is always better to prevent problems happening or taking hold than dealing with them once they’ve occurred. In late spring and early summer, you can help to avoid fungal and bacterial outbreaks on leaves and fruit by being careful with your watering techniques. Remembering to water in the morning means that water can dry off leaves during the day, whereas watering late in the day leaves water sitting on leaves and fruit, creating an environment where fungal and bacterial diseases can flourish. Removing selected leaves from vigorous plants like zucchinis will allow some airflow through the plants, helping to prevent powdery mildew on the remaining leaves.
Late spring and early summer are a great time of year to harvest mints and mint-like plants for drying and using in the kitchen or as tea later. Growth now is fresh and free of fungal diseases such as rust that occur later in the growing season, so take this opportunity to harvest. Peppermint, chocolate mint and native Australian mint can all be harvested now as can lemon balm, by cutting down stems to ground level or to at least one node above ground level. Dry simply by hanging stems upside-down in bunches in a cool, dark airy place. Once leaves are fully dry, strip the leaves from the stems for easier storage and store in labelled jars in a dark cool cupboard to prolong their shelf life. Depending upon the humidity and temperature at the time, leaves may take around two weeks to dry fully. Homegrown teas make great gifts and can also be blended with other dried herbal teas for your own unique flavours. Dried herbs will last around one year in good storage conditions, after which they lose their flavour and taste and should be composted and replaced.