Moving to a new garden – The vegetable plot

Guest post by Dee Young

After 24 years of struggling to grow a variety of plants in an area of impoverished sandy soil, thinly covering bedrock of sandstone, I looked forward to enjoying a better relationship with my new garden. This is situated on an ancient flood plain that has a rich, thick layer of dark, alluvial soil over a heavier clay base.

But, should you think this an easy task, I must disappoint you as, even though the soil is potentially rich, it has been neglected for years and allowed to fall into disrepair structurally and nutritionally and in places the clay sub-soil is evident.

Unlike the sandy soil, however, this can be remedied with good, deep digging to break up and aerate the soil, whilst removing unwanted plants and their root systems.
I began with the abandoned vegetable plot behind the shed.

dee-abandoned-plot

After digging and weeding and before re-planting, I forked in plenty of well decayed cow manure, which helps break up any clay deposits and makes the soil friable.

The presence of many, large, healthy earthworms as I dug indicated an ideal growing pH of 6 – 7.5, therefore, after planting I was sparing with the gypsum (calcium and sulphur). A light application on the surface of the soil adds minerals for the plants and penetrates the clay particles to loosen the soil structure in compacted soils.

Finally, I added a good handful of pelletised complete fertilizer all over the planted area, which will break down over time to release nutrients into the soil.

dee-newly-planted

The lettuce, capsicum, tomato and yellow button squash plants have now been in the ground for 3 weeks and I am delighted with their progress. I picked lettuce leaves for a salad today.

dee-growing-well

So far, so good, I have rediscovered the joy of gardening, which is, essentially, seeing one’s plants thrive.

Written by Dee Young

How to make your own pH test

Alys Fowler has some instructions on how to make your own pH test:

To check your soil pH, you can buy a kit from the garden centre, but the easiest way is to make one yourself, using red cabbage. This contains a water-soluble pigment, called a flavin, that turns red in acid conditions, has a purplish tinge in neutral conditions, and shows bluish green to greenish yellow in alkaline conditions.

Bring two cups of chopped red cabbage to the boil and let them cool. Drain off the water – and eat the cabbage! Put about a tablespoon of soil in a cup and half-fill this with water. Stir the soil around so that it’s suspended in the water. Now add about 3mm of cabbage water.

The liquid will turn a purplish red with a slight tinge of blue for a neutral soil. Greenish-yellow is very alkaline and very red is acid. You should check soil at various locations around your garden. Be aware that builder’s rubble contains a lot of lime which will give alkaline results, so make sure you take a few different readings.

Thrifty Gardener
– by Alys Fowlder

Tank off

tank-off

July was our worst month so far. We didn’t sow suitable Winter crops early enough. We really need to start seeing some action in the garden or we will fail miserably at our challenge and in as little as a few months it will then become an impossible feat.

As we sat on the grassy hill enjoying some sun and steak sandwiches, we discussed our progress in the garden.

I’m worried the potato crop has failed a second time. It looks like we have lost the first row. Matt declared that he has given up on them this year. He thinks we should have used more soil and compost for hilling them up, rather than nutrient poor sugar cane. He also thinks we have been watering them too much, whereas I think they might have not been watered enough.

Matt also thinks that our soil isn’t good enough yet, as we used compost from a landscaping supplier rather than use the full no-dig option. We agreed that the vegetable beds don’t get enough sun in Winter as they are shaded by the neighbours’ mango trees. And yet too much sun in Summer.

We were starting to consider that the unidentified citrus tree we have might be a lemon, as the fruit are starting to turn yellow. I looked through our plant label album and discovered it was actually a ‘washington navel orange.’ Matt nobly took the blame and said it was his fault for thinking it was a mandarin!

Our grass is starting to brown off and we haven’t had any decent rain in over five weeks. To make matters worse, I accidentally didn’t turn the tank tap off properly. (I have a habit of not putting lids on jars tightly either!) Our tank was half full, but now it is down to the bottom rung.