The 10 Golden Rules of the Summer Veggie Patch
Bob is lost in the final session of play and his fourth longneck (he's preparing bottles for Sugo afterall) and your summer bounty is sizzling. You've been here before, in fact only 12 months ago it played out almost identically. So what have you learnt? Firstly, don't rely on Bob. And next, take some responsibility yourself. Summer is a great time for holidaying, yes, but it's also a great time for gardening. Here's our Top 10 rules for staying on top of the veggie patch when things really begin to heat up.
1. Water: water is everything come summer, and that’s not just in the veggie patch. In fact, we are a nation obsessed with it but so are our vegetables. The key to a summer of successful veggie gardening is every time you think about water - going to the beach, taking a dip in the pool, dunking your head in a bucket - think about your veggie patch and go and give it a drink. In almost every garden setting, particular small spaces filled with pots, it’s nearly impossible to over water, but oh so easy to under do it. Don't rely on Bob - ever, for anything - get an irrigation system or a self watering (wicking) bed.
2. Water timing: now that you’re thinking of water, it’s important to get your timing right. While it may feel natural to wander into the garden late afternoon, cool beverage in hand, and deluge your plants with a jet stream of hydration, a plant demands water first thing in the morning. That’s because our plants use the moisture throughout the long hot days - not at night - so you need to have them full and ready to cope with what’s coming. Get into a morning routine of watering, coffee or tea in hand. If late in the day, and they missed the morning session, just water them. It's better to have plants wet at night than completely parched and verging on dehydration!
3. Mulch: to many people mulching seems like an extra circular activity for those that like to go the extra distance, but in fact it is a basic gardening fundamental, and never more important than in summer. Mulching with either pea straw, lucerne hay or sugar cane, not only helps hold the moisture in the soil for longer - giving the plants an extended period to draw from it - but will help suppress competing weeds, regulate soil temperature and feed those hungry summer crops.
4. Netting: if there’s one way to spoil the aesthetic of a beautifully presented veggie patch it’s netting. But… it’s also the one way to guarantee the protection of your prized summer bounty from the multitude of the pests that roam the garden. Birds, possums, white cabbage moth, kids… will all be deterred by a soundly constructed netting system. So it may not look fashionable, but its the most effective way to keep the pests at bay.
5. Rats: While everyone would like to think its those cute, fluffy possums doing the bulk of the damage, more often than not it’s our new nemesis, the rat. Like all pests, rats have a season - summer - when they are hungry, thirsty and looking for cover. Unfortunately the veggie patch provides most of these things in spades. If you have a net, they will probably tunnel under or chew through, so we need to reinvent our defences. Little scent bombs of spearmint concentrate, positioned in likely hiding places, has proven relatively effective but we also like to compound the effect. We are currently considering either a cat, python or owl as a new pet.
6. Holidays: the only problem with holidays is that they come at the peak produce time for the veggie patch, and often signal an end to all your efforts. Even your trusty neighbour is off to the beach for a few days and without an automated watering system your tomatoes will turn to dust. Make sure you set up some form of watering that will see the patch survive the break or invest in some self watering beds (i.e. wicking gardens). These types of gardens draw from a reservoir of water below and pull moisture through the soil to the roots of the vegetables, so they can access it as required.
7. Heat loving varieties: if you’re choosing some plants for the patch now, select those that really thrive in these conditions. Chillies, eggplants, basil and capsicum sit at the highest end of the temperature scale, when the soil is loaded full of the suns rays, and are perfectly suited to summer planting. This however does not mean they don’t require the basic rights of all plants, namely water, mulch and a little bit of attention.
8. Short and sharp: if you’re not after a long term summer commitment however, there are plenty varieties suited to a summer fling. Leafy greens and root vegetables such as beetroot, carrot and radish, are happy to find a home in the patch at any time of the year, even now. Rather than the 3-4 month slow burn, you will be harvesting within a matter of a few weeks. As close to instantaneous gratification as you will find in the veggie patch.
9. Picking: it may seem strange to have to say this, but picking food is an important process in keeping the plants productive. Whether it’s laziness, busyness or simply admiring the produce for too long, plants often stay overloaded and become stressed when holding to its root, fruit or foliage for too long. Make sure to pick regularly, it’s in everyone’s best interest.
10. Make Sugo: if you truly want to get in the swing of the summer garden - Italian style - you have to make pasta sauce over the summer period. Find a garage, the copper drums and your pseudo Italian family for a day and indulge in what is the quintessential summer garden party.