Notes by Phil Dudman
The heat of summer can take its toll on your crops if you’re not prepared, but once you know the secrets to successful summer growing, you’re well on the way to a super harvest. It all comes down to good soil preparation, regular watering, mulching and a little sun protection on those really hot days. In this weeks notes, we’ll also look at particular crops that thrive in the heat, and if you are ready to have a go, we’ve got some tips for raising your vegies from seed.
Soil, water and mulch
Soil can dry out very quickly on hot days. That’s when good soil preparation pays off. Compost and well-rotted manures help to keep soils moist for longer, supplying your plants with the moisture they need. Close attention to watering is essential in summer. Check your crops every morning and if the soil is dry, give it a deep soaking before the heat of the day kicks in. And don’t forget to maintain a good layer of mulch on the surface to reduce moisture loss.
Better in the shade
While veggies need full sun to grow well, the summer sun is often too intense. Even with ample watering and feeding, tender plants like salad greens can wilt and burn and become tough and bitter after a week of very hot sunny conditions. The simple solution to this is to create a little shade over your plants, just to take the edge off it. All you need is a length of shade cloth – around 30 per cent shade rating is best – and some sort of a frame to hold it up – bamboo and tomato stakes are ideal. This simple technique makes a huge difference to the quality of summer crops, and allows you to continue growing plants that are normally far too heat sensitive.
Some crops love the heat and don’t need the protection of a shade structure in summer. It makes sense to be growing these in separate beds:
Sweet potato, Okra, Corn, Snake bean, Watermelon, Kangkong, Hibiscus spinach, Amaranthus, Ceylon spinach, Cassava, Pumpkin, Yam
Raising Plants from seed
Planting vegies from seed is economical and satisfying, and a great way to discover interesting crops normally unavailable as seedlings, like heritage varieties. If you’ve never planted from seed before, start with easy-to-grow vegies like beans, capsicum, cucumber, melons, pumpkin, silver beet, sweet corn, tomatoes and zucchini.
It’s best to sow seed directly into your garden bed. Your plants will establish much quicker that way, because they won’t be affected by transplant shock. Raising seedlings in pots or trays has its advantages too, because you can keep a close eye on them in their early stage, and control their growing conditions where necessary e.g. if it’s a hot day or you have a long wet soaking week (which may rot your seeds) you can move your pots or seedling trays to a more protected position.
A few key tips for raising seeds:
• Always check the packet for the best planting time in our area and take note of the use by date – all seeds have a limited viabilty.
• Plant your seeds at the correct depth or they may not germinate – as a general rule, sow seeds at a depth roughly twice the diameter of the seed. Packets will have more specific information
• When raising seeds in pots or seedling trays, clean the container thoroughly with 1% solution of household bleach to kill any nasty soil borne pathogens, and purchase a quality seed raising mixture for best results
• Once planted, keep your mix constantly moist until seeds germinate. This rule applies to most seeds except for large seeds like peas, beans and corn that prefer a good soak at planting and left to dry until they germinate – overwatering these will cause them to rot.
Phil’s Top Tips
1. Keep plants moist – prepare soil well, water deeply and regularly and maintain a cover of mulch to reduce the effects of evaporation.
2. Shade heat sensitive crops – a simple frame and a length of shade cloth will take the edge off the sun and keep crops thriving through the hottest periods
3. Try growing from seed – it’s economical, satisfying and a great way to discover interesting crops normally unavailable as seedlings.