The spring appears to have almost missed our inland valley and we have rushed headlong from winter into summer. We seem to have traversed from cool, sunless days into gloriously shining days bereft of rain. The lawns, always a good indicator of how the season is going, have been sluggish this year, not having their usual mid-spring burst, and they are now looking suspiciously as though they are starting to dry off.
What it all means is anyone’s guess – are we in for a sustained drought this year, or are the anticyclones going to head south, leaving us with a muggy, La Nina summer, with plenty of rain? I guess only time will tell.
Plenty of first time vegetable gardeners will be looking with interest at their new plots, wondering what else they can plant, and asking themselves what they should be doing. Well, watering is a good place to start. It is not going to be long before most towns and cities start their annual water restrictions, so it is a good time to get things prepared by ensuring all plots are well watered, and all soil is well covered. If you have bare soil (as I have in the old vegetable garden) make sure you get something into it, or onto it. If you are planting, get it done before the real dry weather arrives and then apply a generous mulch of some kind. In the vegetable garden a compost or straw mulch is very beneficial, helping keep the weeds down as well as keeping soil moisture contained, and it works just as well in the flower garden.
If you have planted small fruits or tomatoes for the first time, don’t forget to cover them from the depredations of birds. I do not mind the occasional fruit being sacrificed to help keep the local avifauna alive, but I do object to the feathered fiends figuring they are entitled to strip all my crops. They have already found the new strawberry bed and took the first few fruits before I realised what they were up to. Of course, I had to shift the old strawberry bed away from the swimming pool at the same time as I relocated the vegetable garden, and the old cover does not fit the new bed, so I had a rushed job after work one night, hastily putting a new cover with plastic bird netting over it.
The raspberry canes will have to be covered too as they have set a nice crop. I cover them each year and manage to keep the birds at bay – now I just have to figure how to stop the light-fingered little girls from taking the bulk of the crop.
Tomatoes are more of a problem, one I have really only had for the past few years. I think it started with a bumper crop of Sweet 100 a few years ago, but once the birds had learnt to take the little brightening fruit they just swapped over to pecking away at all the crop. I have had to resort to covering all the plants once the fruit start to lighten, but I resent it! I use the white netting that you see on grapevines later in the season, and peg them to the stakes. It works alright.
Others gardeners have an even worse problem, and find that their leaf crops are being attacked. We have had this problem in the past, especially with young plants grown from seed, and I found the best answer was to make little cloches out of chicken wire, easily movable, and I just covered the young plants with them until they were established. You could also try the time honoured technique of stringing defunct CDs on pieces of wire. The reflections from the discs as they spin in the breeze is said to freak the birds out and they desist.