Planting out your seedlings
As I mentioned last week as a head’s up, about a week before planting out your seedlings you will need to toughen them up for life in the big wide world. Especially if they are growing under shadecloth. Gradually get them used to full sun. This also helps them to be less straggly. Make sure they don’t cook!
Got too many little seedlings in your punnet? Thin out the weakest ones by snipping them off with nail scissors. This leaves the others undisturbed and gives all of the ones left a better chance at being strong healthy plants.
Quite a few people have asked me about this. I’ve tried following companion planting guidelines over the years and I can’t see much to recommend it. There’s a lot written about companion planting and it seems that very little of it is tested or noted about why it supposedly works, especially for in Australia. Our soils and pests are different to other continents and it seems there isn’t much solid information.
What does work? Gardens do really well with lots of variety. Learn how tall and wide your plants grow so you know not to accidentally plant a short one behind a tall one where it can’t get any sun. Learn your plant families so you can rotate the families through your growing space and keep your soil healthy. Also learn your plant families if you want to save seed. Many plants in the same family (brassicas and cucurbits are big culprits) will cross with each other if they flower at the same time. Pumpkini anyone?
Can you find your plants?
It matters that you put each kind of vegetable in clumps or rows together, simply so you can find them easily later! Don’t get all utopian and mix them all up. You’ll drive yourself nuts trying to locate them for harvesting and you’ll miss a lot of early warning messages because you didn’t know the plant was there.
In practice this can usually be closer together than the seed packet recommends. This crowds out weeds. It’s also how plants grow in nature, all on top of each other. If you’re not sure how big your plant gets, google it. Ideally plants will be spaced with enough room to grow to their full height and width, with no room for weeds underneath.
I’m going to lift off into hippie land for a moment so if this sort of thing isn’t your cup of tea, just la la la for a bit.
In my experience, planting out by the phases of the moon does seem to result in stronger plants. Roughly speaking, for veg where you primarily eat the above ground parts, sow and plant the week leading to full moon. With root veg it’s for a couple of days just after full moon and a couple of days just before new moon that are their best times. Whatever you do, don’t sow seeds at full moon as they grow super quick and spindly and die.
End la la la. Back to earth now.
Before you plant, put in any trellises needed otherwise you mash your seedlings. Been there way too many times! Might learn one day. What will need a trellis? Broadbeans, snowpeas (and peas) now. In spring, cucumber, climbing beans, and possibly pumpkins, guguzza (I’ll explain another time) and cherry tomatoes.
Fork the ground. Loosen it up and let the air in.
Make a hole big enough for your seedling. Then make it bigger. Loosen the soil in the vicinity of the hole to make it really easy for your seedling’s roots to grow into.
Toss in a couple of pellets of Rooster Booster or a handful of compost or other plant food.
Plant in the hole. If you can, orient the plant in the same direction in the ground that it has been facing while growing. It can help the baby plant get going more quickly. The seedling should sit at the same depth in the soil as it was in the punnet. Backfill the hole, press the earth down around the plant so the roots will have contact with the soil and the plant is firmly in place.
Give it a generous drink to settle in. Using a seaweed or worm tea helps to reduce transplant shock.
Mulch thickly around your seedling. Bark chip is actually great in this climate, it breaks down fast enough and makes beautiful soil, but use whatever you’ve got.
Just hand pull them, the younger the better. For goodness sake, don’t poison around your food plants and preferably not at all. Learn which weeds you can eat, you might want to leave some of them, and which ones absolutely have to go. Hint, most ones with runners have to go as they take over quickly. Ones with bulbs have to go as the bulb is an energy storehouse that enables the weed to immediately regrow. Grass rhymes with pain in the arse because it outcompetes pretty much everything in a vege garden.
And really, the only reason you’re getting rid of weeds is that they outcompete the plants you want to grow well. Some ‘weeds’ aren’t really a problem, especially when your plants are past seedling stage. Gotu kola comes to mind. There’s no need to be a perfectionist when it comes to weeding, though you do need to check regularly. Things can grow remarkably fast around here!
If a weed won’t reroot (you’ll learn!) you can simply uproot it and dump it (upsidedown is safest) where it was pulled to compost in situ. If it will reroot, put it in a bin filled with water and rot it down into weed tea which is a good gentle fertiliser.
Mulch, mulch, mulch. It keeps weeds down and keeps moisture in the soil. Try and make sure your mulch is not full of weed seeds?
The best way to deal with pests seems to be counterintuitive to our western minds.
Feed the soil.
Healthy plants don’t tend to be massacred by pests.
Healthy soil means healthy plants.
Feed the soil.
When I first started growing in the garden here, I would plant out lettuce seedlings and they would promptly be consumed by about a million tiny snails. Only a small exaggeration. Barely any lettuces would survive. Maybe one or two out of twenty. Fast forward a few years and the soil has had a lot of feeding. Now I plant out lettuces seedlings. I can still find a million tiny snails. I might lose one seedling. True story.
Other approaches to pests include growing as much variety as possible (I keep saying this for a reason!). A garden is an ecosystem, not a factory for one item only, regardless of your personal intentions. Variety confuses pests and brings in plenty of predator insects. And grow enough to share. We aren’t the only beings that want to eat food. To be frank, you can’t stop other critters from nibbling. This whole approach of, “MINE, not sharing!” has gotten us into a massive ecological environmental mess. Change your thinking. Be generous and grow double what you expect you’ll need. Then there’s enough to go around without feeling stingy and there’s room for all of us critters. A garden should be brimming with lots of life.
Remember to feed the soil.
While your soil is improving, which may take a few years, daily inspection and the application of thumb and forefinger to overzealous munchers will be your friend.
If you’re listening, gardening will teach you patience, and this is why I get a giggle out of the attempt to cut corners with the Install-a-gardenTM approach. You will also learn there is a time and season for everything and about sharing with other lives.
Help! My plant is diseased!
Maybe, maybe not. Read it as an indicator that there is something missing, from the soil. Google the symptoms. Then, feed the soil.
Feed the soil
Hot compost, cold compost, worm juice tee, seaweed tea, manure, molasses, weed tea, basalt rock dust aka magic dust, wood ash, chop and drop ‘forest compost’, epsom salts, coffee grounds, woodchip fines, forking / aeration.
I think I know what I need to write about soon.