By GEOFF MIERS
For the gardener with an orchard, vegetable patch and herb plot December can be a most productive month on the gardening calendar.
A customer of mine, Kate Ross, a fortnight ago harvested peaches and apricot from the orchard, beetroot, broccoli, cucumber and tomatoes from the vegie patch along with the first of the season’s chillies from the herb garden, and there is more to come!
Mary Blaiklock is harvesting her first crop of sweet corn this week. Another crop six weeks behind are now one metre high and another crop of corn will be planted this week using seed. This will be followed up with at least two more plantings of corn at least six weeks apart guaranteeing Mary a fairly continuous supply of sweetcorn over an extended period.
Repeat plantings of sweetcorn, radish and carrots are three examples of easy to grow crops from seed that will give you a continuous supply and all will grow throughout the hot summer and autumn.
Tomatoes should be in full production now or will be very soon. One person I know has already harvested over 30 kgs with many more kilograms to come.
Watch out for disease and pests on tomatoes at this time of the year. Yesterday under the microscope I saw a 1mm long thrip racing about and literally hundreds and hundreds of microscopic russet mite that are not visible to the naked eye.
The tomato leaves started to discolour and die back, generally from the bottom upwards. The dieback maybe the consequence of a fungal disease as tomato bushes are susceptible to a number of fungal diseases.
Interestingly these diseases are often spread by tiny insects that are living on your bushes. It’s best to have your leaves checked and react accordingly, sometimes this may even mean removing the plants completely.
Don’t both planting any more tomatoes – it’s too late now as they will not set fruit when temperatures are consistently over 35 degrees.
Wait until the end of January or early February to plant your next tomato crop as by the time they want to flower the temperatures will have cooled, fruit will set and will grow and mature before the onset of winter.
Many fruit trees, grape vines and assorted berry plants are either ripening or are near ripe.
You may need to protect your apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums and grapes as the birds will invade quickly and spoil
your crops before you have a chance to harvest. The same applies to young berries, raspberries and other berry plants.
Make up some fruit fly traps using a soft drink bottle and make up a mix of water, yeast and a little Vegemite, this will attract the fruit fly. If you start catching fruit flies you may need to bag your fruit, put up fly netting to keep the flies away or spray.
There hasn’t however been many fruit fly at all over the past two hot summers so hopefully that will again apply this summer.
My grapes are ripening now and will be ready soon to harvest. Again try to keep the birds at bay by netting the vines. I try to hide my grapes by covering large bunches with leafy canes placed over the bunches.
If some grapes are dying off before they are ready and the leaves either start dying off or getting a dusty look to them you may need to spray the vines with copper oxychloride to arrest any disease getting a hold.
For the established vegetable garden forty plus degree days can inflict considerable damage to the vegie patch. Consider covering the patch with 50% white shade cloth, this will allow all the colours of the suns rays to reach your vegetables and provide some shade without your vegetables growing long and leggy and looking quite weak and poorly.
Don’t use green or black shade cloth; vegetables generally do not grow well under these colours and 70% to 90% shade cloth cuts out too much sunlight.
To reduce the water loss through evaporation and to moderate the soil temperature consider mulching your vegie patch. The best mulch for the vegetable garden is pea straw. Pea straw also breaks down relatively quickly and in breaking down will condition the soil and release nutrients.
Be careful if using sugar cane mulch as it can in fact form literally an impenetrable barrier that doesn’t allow the water through easily particularly if the mulch is applied as a thick layer. The sugar cane mulch is also rather woody and will result in nitrogen draw-down taking nitrogen away from your vegetables.
Fruiting plants in the vegie patch like chillies, capsicums, tomatoes, zucchinis, melons, pumpkins, strawberries, gooseberries, cucumber and okra all will benefit by being given a side-dressing of potash. This will improve flowering, fruit set and the quality of the produce you are growing.
Leafy vegetables will benefit also by being given a side-dressing of a high nitrogen fertiliser.
If your zucchinis are producing small fruits that then literally shrivel up try applying calcium this should overcome the problem. Similarly if your tomatoes are developing black rotten spots called blossom end rot then apply calcium to overcome this problem.
Unless protected the vegetable garden will generally need to be watered early morning and early evening to reduce the likelihood of the vegetables becoming heat stressed. Vegetables that have been stressed can often become tough and with many leafy greens they will become bitter.
It is critical that you check your irrigation systems as we officially enter summer. If you have battery operated irrigation controllers then change over the battery in the first week of December whether it needs it or not. Batteries always tend to fail in the middle of summer when you can least afford to have them fail.
If you have a series of irrigation systems throughout your garden systematically test each system looking for any leaks and make sure all clamps are in place. You may also need to adjust your irrigation program by decreasing the time between watering or by increasing the volume of water being applied.