Summer – Permaculture Sustainable Food Gardening in Subtropical Australia
by Ewa Bekiesch, Permaculture and sustainable living designer and consultant.
January, February and March are the hottest months in Australia. Well, this is the summer time so what else should we expect? This is also the time where we slow down with seeding and planting, and enjoy our hardy self-seeding and perennial edibles in our food forest. The garden beds need to be watered every day unless we get some rain, which may come or not, while we still harvest our annual spring vegetables. The gardening hours are limited in this time of the year. The most work is done in the morning and late afternoon. It doesn’t make much sense to grill yourself during the day. Sitting on the veranda and enjoying a cold drink while planning your autumn garden or reading an interesting book is a much better option during that time, without a doubt. I also use the hot days to invent new meals or bake cakes in my airy kitchen. I like cooking and baking and the time spend in the kitchen is definitely worth it!
To make the best of the short time spent in the garden during the summer months, it is good to plan ahead. I usually sort my jobs by priority and the list below shows pretty much my food forest summer priorities starting with the most important one.
If you haven’t manage to mulch your garden beds yet, now is the time to do so! Mulch keeps the soil cool and moist. Any organic matter is good to use as mulch – providing that it doesn’t contain any seeds! Grass clippings, bamboo leaves, straw, sugarcane, lemongrass, banana leaves and so on. Basically any greens which grow in abundance can be converted into valuable mulch. Shredded paper and cardboard are also doing the job. Don’t overdo with mulch! 10cm of mulch layer is the maximum, otherwise the water will not reach the soil when you apply more mulch than recommended. Also when mulching around the fruit trees, leave some space around the trunk as the tree needs to “breath”. This is very important. If you want to watch a video where I turn old banana leaves into a fantastic mulch, you can do it here.
Shade is a very important part of summer gardening. The sun may burn some of your plants and veggies and it can happen very quickly. Sun burned tomatoes or capsicums are worthless. Good for the chickens but we are not growing the food for chickens only. They wish! Securing some shade cloth over your still fruiting plants may give you a few more weeks of harvest. A dedicated area with a shade cloth will keep your veggies and herbs well protected, and you can plant new edibles all year round there. Growing food under fruit trees is also a fantastic way of using the space and protecting your edibles
While you might have been lucky with harvesting healthy and happy veggies during the colder months, summer is the time where we need to protect some vegetables and fruits. That is why we grow our vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum and egg plants in a “bug free” netting house/shade house. It works very well! You can watch a video about how we build it on our page and YouTube channel here.
Plants need water! Smart watering is important to maximise the growth and minimise the water usage. Watering under the plants is very efficient and prevents evaporating. You also want to water your garden either early in the morning or late afternoon. Watering at evening may encourage the slugs to get interested in your veggies so try to avoid that. Watering during the day makes absolutely no sense and it may even damage the plants. Usually watering the plants once a day should be fine providing that you have mulched your garden.
The garden is exploding in summer. Everything is growing very quickly and keeping it under control is very important. Clearing the space around young fruit trees and the plants you are growing is a must. Some plants, even if edible, may take over and suppress others. The bullies can be trimmed and eaten if edible, thrown to compost or used as a mulch.
What not to do
There are few things which are not recommended to do during the hot summer time:
- I wouldn’t plant any new fruit trees right now. They will struggle to establish because of the heat.
- Sowing or planting any subtropical winter vegetables doesn’t make any sense. They will bolt and also eaten away before they are ready for harvest
- Working during the day is a big NO in summer. You won’t get much done anyway because it is hot and you will stop enjoying gardening because of the same reason
I might have forgotten few things for sure and if so, I will add them into my monthly articles as we move throughout the year. All in all, permaculture gardening is not only about how to do what and when. It also takes planning and observing into consideration, and if you have done your homework, you can harvest healthy food all year round! If you would like to learn how to plan and grow abundance of healthy food, consider joining one of my workshops or enroll into the online-course. You can find it all here.
I will add monthly articles about what to plant and sow and more at the beginning of each month from now on. The January article comes within the next few days. Join my newsletter if you didn’t yet, and I will send it to your email.
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