It’s the beginning of Winter here in South Oz but we’re still getting some gorgeous days. Today is a beautiful, clear, windless, sunny 15 degrees (Centigrade that is, I couldn’t tell you what it is in that other system).
If climate chaos doesn’t bring us any surprises, we will have a mild Winter to follow a mild Summer (counter-intuitively, mild, even cold, is possible in warming, non-linear atmospheric and oceanic systems). So, its time to prepare for the winds and rains of the cold season. SA has six seasons, as defined by the local custodians, the Kaurna folk and this is, in that calendar, a time of preparation for regrowth in our second growing season.
For us Europeans, the cold stirs memories of our ancestry and our bodies start laying on (even more) fat to prepare. Our metabolisms slow down as do those of life in the garden. Deciduous trees are withdrawing chlorophyll from their leaves, storing that expensive substance until the warmth returns, leaving us with the orange and red beauty of cyanins and carotenes to inspire local painters and photographers. The falling leaves make for great mulch and are loved by our chooks. This year I’m keeping a lot aside to create a rich, humus laden material called leaf mold.
It’s time to prune everything in sight to let the sunlight in to warm the groundcovers and keep give the microbes a boost before hibernation or death. I’m giving the Almond, Pear and Plum trees a rally hard prune this year, knocking them down to about 2.5 metres each. I’m not confident about pruning this hard so will structurally prune hard then do a second prune as the new shoots sprout, that way I’ll know where the branches are going to go. I’ve left as much of last year’s wood on the trees as some of them only fruit on second year wood. At least this way, we’ll get a bit of a harvest from them.
New microbes will be out to do the work of converting soil and organic matter into plant ready food. The new critters breeding have metabolisms that are more suited to the cold as well as the airless, waterlogged soil.
It’s also time to feed these hard working soil critters with liquid fertilizers and the generous addition of the deep litter compost from the chook run. Worm farms are emptied and the castings turned to a rich tea. I must water it all on thoroughly, guaranteeing soil moisture and food for the trillions of cold critters to turn into food that can directly be taken up by plants and fungi.
Talking of fungi, they are already taking advantage of cooler temperatures and soil moisture and their mycelial threads can be found beneath wood and leaves where, last week, there were none. Hopefully, all of the spent mushroom substrate that I’ve been spreading will pay off with as much bounty of Oyster mushrooms as it did last year.
Pruning taken care of, fertilizing done, mushrooms and microbes encouraged, it’s time to mulch.
Mulching is a great way to keep your garden alive in Winter, though many think of it as a Summer thing. It provides a blanket to protect the underground parts of plants and to keep the Winter flora and fauna (and intermediates) safe from temperature extremes. Mulch also has a role as a physical barrier against heavy rain and strong winds, both of which may wash away or otherwise damage bare soil.
A well chosen mulch will also feed the soil life as they break it down or it is mechanically broken down by the mechanical forces of the weather.
This year, pest control kicks up an notch as the Winter critters start to look to make a meal of our leafy Winter greens. I’m netting, literally everything this year after losing a lot last year as we stopped using pesticides. The only pest controls this year are finger squishing, netting and slug bait. I still use commercial slug bait in our aquaponics system, it’s the only thing that lures the tiny, baby slugs to their doom. I’ve tried beer traps and the red slug bait but they don’t work for these small ones and they do the most damage. When I have a bit of cash, I’m thinking of investing in some copper strips to go around each bed and the bases of their supports. That seems to be the best way to go – fire and forget, as they say.
That sounds like a lot of work. I’d better get started!