Monday, September 12, 2016

Spring gardening in the tropics using companion planting and "cut and come again"

It's days like today that I feel so fortunate to be retired and alive and able to do the things that I like to do in no particular order, but just when I feel like doing them. The balmy spring weather in the tropics promises a hint of the summer heat to come, so this morning I have planted the last of the vegetable seedlings for my tropical summer garden. I want to get the greens well  established before the midday sun causes them to bolt and create flower stalks. If that happens the leaves will then also become quite unpleasant to eat.

Summer greens with self sown tomatoes at the back of the garden fighting for space with the rambling nasturtiums which attract the bees. Lebanese eggplant will provide a decorative element as well as a bountiful supply in a few months, and the beautiful lady bugs will crawl all over them.
Herbs in this garden include flowering comfrey on the left, flat leaf parsley, Italian basil and thyme. The butterflies are attracted to the lavendar comfrey flowers. I plan to make some comfrey tea in the next few days whihc will give the herbs and vegetables another nitrogen boost. You can read how to make comfrey tea here.

My hottest vegetable garden contains a myriad of plants, including a fig tree which we have just transplanted so that it has more sun. It's time it performed. A few weeks ago I planted some silverbeet here and this is almost ready to be harvested a few leaves at a time. It is beautiful and glossy and insect free at the moment. Red Mignonette lettuces and silverbeet are very practical and yet extremely healthy greens to grow in Spring in the tropics. They are fast growers. Besides providing some colour contrast in salads, these little red burnished beauties are also more resistant to bugs, and I love the way that  I can just pick and use the leaves as I need them without needing to harvest the whole lettuce. "Cut and come again" with the greens by removing the largest leaves from the outside of the plant with a pair of scissors, which encourages the plant to produce more leaves, and then you can keep removing leaves from the plants every few days as you need them. Mignonettes require little space, and can be planted in very small gardens. It is a good idea to keep planting lettuce seedlings every few weeks so that you have a continuous supply of greens. As the heat intensifies, it helps to grow the leafy greens under shadecloth for protection.

Using just a few leaves at a time, "cut and come again" is also the big advantage with growing your own crop of glossy silverbeet, and is a very economical way to eat salads and vegetables. It is just so satisfying to be able to go down to my vegetable patch and pick the greens I need for our meal knowing that no sprays have been used on them and that they are as fresh as they can be.It also means that my food preparation can be quite impromptu.

If you can build or buy a raised garden for your herbs and vegetables it will really save your back when you are planting and provides excellent drainage as well. Mr. HRK built this for me, and also an aquaculture style set of planting tubes, which contain soil and is also irrigated,  above the raised garden which works really well for mignonettes, spring onions and smaller vegetable species. I have added a white "moth" on a stick to this garden to repel the cabbage moths.Yes, I think it works. It worked last year, as the cabbage moths are very territorial and won't come near a garden where they think a white cabbage moth is already at work. This garden is also partially protected from the hot summer sun by a shadecloth cover which really helps.

I also planted some more spring onion seedlings this morning, and just positioned them amongst the veges wherever there was a space. This is a form of companion planting that I have used for a long time as the shallots also act as a pest repellent for the neighbouring vegetables and herbs, whilst being close to the kitchen and readily available. I use a lot of shallots or spring onions in my cooking but buying all of these fresh ingredients on a daily basis can be a substantial cost.  So we grow what is practical, and try to buy the rest of the fresh produce we need from the local farmer's markets each Saturday.

After planting the seedlings, this afternoon I gave them a dose of Seasol seaweed solution and Thrive, diluted and  mixed together in my large watering can. I am hoping that with the  odd shower of rain around, I can start harvesting some leaves within the next few weeks.

Happy gardening and if anyone reads this I would love to know what you are doing in your garden.

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