December 2016

November – and spring generally – has been quite mild, but we’ll soon forget that gentle lead into summer! The cool start for our Newstead garden means that seedlings have been slow to get away, even raised under cover or glass because the soil is still warming. Tomatoes in particular seem slow to grow this year. Hopefully they’ll put on a growth spurt and flower, otherwise we may run out of warmth and time for a good harvest before the season ends. Indeterminate types, such as the cherry tomatoes, may be a better bet – they will flower and fruit as conditions allow.

I’m very late getting my summer plantings in, but still going for tomatoes, zuke and cuke, pumpkin, runner and snake beans, corn, capsicums and basil. Beans don’t tolerate the really hot sunny days so I’m thinking about cover crops like sunflowers to shade them and also planting a later crop to avoid the peak heat when they are flowering. Lettuce planted under taller crops is also a useful idea. Shadecloth may become part and parcel of gardening in this part of the world during the hottest periods.

We haven’t had to think about it until now, but watering will come to the fore in December, so ensure your system is sorted, especially if you are going away. Crops don’t produce well if watering is irregular or uneven. A regular, slow deep drink is better than a dry spell and then over-compensating. Tomatoes are a good indicator of this – watch for blossom end rot, where the base of the fruit blackens and becomes mis-shapen (imbalances in Magnesium and Calcium can also be a cause – apply potash around growing seedlings).

Because of the fabulous season, we have a lot of fruit set, so it is important to keep the water up to our trees to ensure we get decent-sized fruit and the tree doesn’t drop them under stress. It’s a long time until harvest!

I’ve mentioned watering needs in the past. Just to recap: generally shallow rooted plants (strawberries, lettuce, corn) need a drink every couple of days (more when really hot). Tomatoes get by on 4 or 5 days between a good drink. Fruit trees do well with a weekly deep water. ‘Deep’ means moisture will percolate deep into the root zone and remain there – avoid having the soil profile constantly wetting and drying. For fruit trees this could mean 20 or 30 litres, for advanced tomatoes 5 to 10 litres. Asvanced lettuces may need at a litre or two.

All this is very ‘rule of thumb’ because the type of soil will determine how much and how often you need to water. Sand/Loam soils have large air spaces and less ability to hold water, so use less water, more often to avoid leaching (of water and nutrients) through the root zone and into the watertable. Clay/loam soils have smaller pores and will hold more water, less air, so use more water, less often and it will stay in the root zone and not leach. We have moisture meters at the garden as a rough guide – stick the probe in so it is in the plant root zone and wait a bit for the reading to stabilize.

Some plants prefer overhead watering – with hose, sprinkler or watering can – and others prefer water applied at the base of the plant, directly to roots. Plants susceptible to air borne diseases are best watered at the base so that spores will not spread via water droplets and splash (eg powdery mildew on pumpkins and zuke). Evaporation losses can be higher from overhead watering as well. Evening or early morning irrigation are preferable and not when it’s windy.

Overwatering can be just as damaging as lack of water – if the soil pore spaces are constantly filled with water and not air, it creates an anaerobic environment. Beneficial bacteria that convert nutrients into plant available forms will be affected, as will the plant root systems, and this can lead to nutrient deficiencies, plant weakness and fungal or disease problems.

Brian Keats is projecting a hot spell around 3rd as Mercury reaches peak South, as the sun heads towards its own peak South (21st). Brian’s 2017 Calendars are now available through his website – Support his work, now 30 years in the making.

And the other main tasks for December – mulch and net your fruit trees and brambles. Fire up the pizza oven and spend some evenings in the garden. Don’t forget the Produce Exchange on 3rd December, our last for the year ….

Here are the dates for gardening this month. Note that (s) means sow as seeds and (p) means plant as seedlings.

Guide for temperate areas in SE Australia for December 2013:

Leaf Days: 1, 8-10, 16-18, 26-28 – amaranth (s,p) basil (s,p), bok choi (s,p), chinese cabbage, cabbage (s) (s,p), chives (s,p) dill (s,p), celery (s,p), endive (s,p), kale (s), mibuna (s,p), mizuna(s,p), orach (s, p), rocket (s,p), tat soi (s,p), lettuce(s,p), mustard(s,p), salad greens (s,p), silverbeet(s,p) spinach(s,p), chives (p,s), garlic chives (p), coriander(s,p), dill (s,p), parsley(s,p), radicchio (s,p), rhubarb (s,p), clover (s)

Fruit Days: 1-3, 10-12, 18-21, 28-31 – amaranth (s), bush and climbing beans (s,p) capsicum (s,p) peas (s,p), strawberries (p), amaranth (s,p) chilli (s,p), corn (s,p), cucumber (s,p), eggplant (s,p), okra (s,p), mustard (s), pumpkin (s,p), rockmelon (s,p), snopeas (s,p),  squash (s,p), strawberries (p), tomatoes (s,p), watermelon (s,p), zucchini (s,p)

Root Days: 3-6, 13-14, 21-23, 31 – asparagus (s,p), jerusalem artichoke (p), beetroot( s,p), carrots (s,p), celeriac (p), fennel (p), kohlrabi (p), leek (p), spring onion (s,p) salad onion (s,p), bunching onions (s,p) potatoes (s,p), parsnip (s), shallots (s,p), radish (s,p), turnip (s,p)

Flower Days: 6-8, 14-16, 23-26 -broccoli (s,p), cauliflower (s,p), borage (s,p), globe artichoke (s,p), sunflower (s,p) marigold (s,p), nasturtium (s,p), other flowers

Other Auspicious Gardening Dates:

Moon opposite Saturn: 14 (a good time to plant, transplant, etc)

Moon Descending: 2-15, 29-31

Moon Ascending:1-2, 15-29

Full Moon/New Moon: 29/14

Nodes*: 7, 19

Perigee***: 13

Apogee***: 25

Apply soil food: 2-15, 29-31

Apply foliar food: 1-2, 15-29

Mulch: now and through summer, but remember the slaters and slugs!

Transplant seedlings, plants, cuttings: 3-6, 13-14, 31

Graft:15-16, 23-26

Dates are a guide for these particular crops. For more info see Planting Notes. Timing will vary from region to region (particularly with climate change) and even within a garden’s own microclimates. Of course, rainfall, weather conditions and your own schedule will influence when you garden.

# Broccoli can be grown year round, apart from the hottest months. I prefer to plant through the colder months to avoid having the broccoli forming heads when the cabbage moth butterfly is active, in late spring and summer.

* Each month there are a couple of ‘node days’ when the sun and moon are in opposition. Many biodynamic gardeners choose not to plant on these days, or at least a couple of hours either side of the node.

** Perigee is the point where the moon is closest to the earth, so the influence of the moon is strongest. Apogee is the furthest point from the earth, so the opposite occurs