Sunday, September 06, 2009

The spring vegetable garden

September is a busy time in the vegetable garden, as the main planting and sowing season kicks in for most of us. By now you should have the soil well prepared and ready for the upcoming season. I generally do not use green crops, preferring to add a lot of compost to the soil but either way, you should have all this humus well dug into the garden by now. Make sure to keep the pH level up at the same time, by applying a good dressing of lime. The bacteria that break down the humus also tend to lower the pH, and frequent applications of compost can quickly diminish the pH level. I find a good guide is to use about a handful of lime to the square metre each year. If you have any doubts about the pH level of your soil, most garden centres have kits which you can quickly check it with.
It is also time to start sowing carrots, parsnip, beetroot, silver beet, peas, swedes and turnips. Most of these need a relatively high pH and lack of success with beetroot in particular is often caused by lack of lime.
We have very free-draining soil in the vegetable garden, created by years of composting. This suits most root crops very well, but it also seems to suit the carrot rust fly perfectly. Over the years I tried various advertised chemical remedies, but I have to say we did not really get the problem under control until I started using a blocking method. I created a large cloche, but instead of covering it with glass or clear plastic I used some white shade cloth. The cloche is made to fit snugly in our garden beds and has proven very effective at protecting our carrots.
Last year I decided to lift the cloche a little higher, as it had been constraining the tops of the carrots. I built a small wall (about 100mm high) to sit the cloche on. Later in the season I lifted the cloche, thinking the rust fly time had passed, but alas, I discovered that the flies found the carrots and severely damaged our winter harvest. I will not be caught out this season.
Most vegetables taste much better when just picked from the garden, but that seems to apply much more so for carrots – they are sweeter by a long way, and also far tastier. I like to grow one of the smaller types – a Manchester Table type – but last year trialled a couple of F1 hybrid varieties from my local garden centre. I have to say they both performed very well (until the rust fly found them) and I will be repeating the trial this year. If only someone could make a variety that was rust fly resistant.
Beetroot is a very reliable growing vegetable that that has a number of uses in the garden. The young leaves can be used in salads; slightly older leaves can be boiled or steamed, much the same as silver beet; the young roots are delicious when roasted whole, and of course, the mature roots have a delightful taste of their own. Those brought up on canned beetroot will find the taste quite different – not as sweet and slightly earthy - but they are very easy to grow as long as the pH level is high enough. There are lots of varieties to choose from now. As well as the cylindrical red type most of us are familiar with, there are cylindrical varieties, and there is a good range of coloured forms – orange, yellow and white for example.
Some garden centres sell beetroot seedlings now. Make sure you have enough soil depth to plant the entire root (it is quite long for such a small plant) and this will work fine. If you do not have a lot of garden room, the round varieties can easily be grown in a container.

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