Summer gardening's mixing pot
Posted 18 Feb 2015
My daughter Jessica loves to dance and she loves it all the more when in the evening we venture to the Port Campbell foreshore to practice her current routine. The image is idyllic, ballet fingers touching the lowering sun, bare toes caressing the grass and all the while ocean waves pounding a musical rhythm. It is easy to get lost in the moment (even though I am supposed to be spotting). Evidence of cycles (weather, plant, soil and even our own) are all around yet are so subtle that sometimes they pass by unconsidered. However on these practice evenings time stands still and my ability to observe natural cycles occurs in spades helping me to learn where we and those around us fit. Justifying every crazy gardening plan and sustainable priority that I have becomes easy and I can never help but feel a calm glow of belonging as we pick up our obligatory three pieces of beach rubbish before heading home.
Our seasonal cycles are generated by the angle of the sun’s rays hitting the earth’s surface and as they change so too does our weather. ‘Equinox’ marks the sun’s position directly over the equator while ‘Solstice’ marks the sun’s position directly above the Tropic of Capricorn. During an equinox (22nd March and 22 September) we experience a change of weather directing us toward a new season. During a solstice we also experience a marked change in day length (a decline after the 22nd December and an increase after the 22nd of June). As our daylight hours decline we should change our gardening activities to suit – no I don’t mean less foraging and more sleeping as a house mouse might but for example practices creating less soil disturbance. At this time of year, instead of pulling weeds out, consider slicing them off at ground level. This contributes positively to your garden in many ways. Firstly less soil disturbance exposes fewer weed seeds to long daylight hours and hence fewer germinating weeds, secondly it aids the retention of precious soil moisture through less summer induced evaporation, thirdly as the roots break down root induced tunnels facilitate even infrequent rainfall into the lower soil profile and fourthly chopped off weeds contribute to your garden’s mulch layer. One drawback from this action is that some weed species may regrow from their collar so take care to cut just below the top of your garden soil or worst case scenario, face a few regrown weeds to pull in autumn.
More summer gardening and one cooking activity… Summer can also be a time of nurturing. Shade vegetables prone to extreme heat with umbrellas, bed sheets or as my Grandma used to, fallen branches. The vegetables which may need shading include brassicas such cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts, cucurbits such as cucumber, zucchini and pumpkin and melons. Fruit on apple trees may also need shade protection to prevent fruit scald. Shade bare soil with a loose mulch such as pea straw as this will still let summer rain penetrate. Leave lawn areas to grow or mow them high as this will also help to shade soil and provide insects with food and a summer refuge.
Tip prune cherries to adjust next year’s branching and help limit tree height. When trees such as Apricots have finished their fruiting season, selectively remove branches to encourage growth that is both reproductive and vegetative.
If you have plans for a new garden bed, now is the time to cover the area with a thick layer of mulch and leave to decompose until autumn planting.
Collect seed from lettuce, fennel, parsley and rocket. Rocket or roquet as it is sometimes known is of great value in a vegetable garden, (and is soon to be the mainstay of my vegetable meadow but more about that another day) it provides a delicious leafy salad addition, flowers that feed flying insects, exudes root substances which help to restore micro invertebrate balance and seeds which make a delicious and spicy mustard. To make rocket mustard, place ½ cup of rocket seeds, ¾ of a cup of apple cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sea salt, cover and leave to infuse for three days. On the third day add ½ cup of white wine and several sprigs of fresh tarragon (I use Russian as I can grow it successfully although I believe French is better) and whiz in a food processor until smooth. Add a few splashes of water to loosen if necessary. Mustard will keep well in a sterile jar for one month and makes a delicious addition to creamy garlic and zucchini oven bake.