August in the vegie patch

20 August 2013
Written by Kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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Anticipating a spring in her step, Kath Irvine takes time to prepare, plan and look forward to the warmer months and all that means for the fresh-food garden

Greetings Edible Backyarders - how many of you use a refractometer to test your fruit and vegies? These tools are the in thing for those of you dead keen on ensuring your produce is nutrient- rich. The reports are conflicting as to whether it’s science, besides which I can’t help but feel we’re over-thinking this - do we really need to test our home-grown vegies?

What about the simple truth of a person wanting to feed their family some lovely fresh stuff for tea? What about the intent, the love that’s gone into our vegie gardens?

As a thrifty gardener I’ll save my time and money thank you, and instead rely on my own senses to tell me about my soil, my seed and my produce. Days gone by our ancestors looked at, felt, smelt and chewed on their soils and vegies to decide how well their soils were. I’m with them. 

In the Vegie Patch

August is the month of anticipation for food gardeners. It's like the excitement you get before the race, or the shift or the baby. There is joy as you prepare and plan and look forward to. In part the joy derives from the fact that there is no work involved at this stage - in your imagination you are free to do whatever it is you’re preparing for with grace and wisdom. 

Right now my spring gardens are unfurling in my mind's eye while I curl up in the couch on the deck with a hot chocolate. While garden dreaming sounds decadent and lazy, it’s a big help come the day. Mulling over varieties, planning clever planting combinations, to direct sow or tray sow and when.... Over the years as my energy levels for physical work have lessened, I’ve spent more time thinking, and it's time well spent. More thought = less work (or rather the work you do is more focused). I hesitate to say energy-efficient as I’m a bit bored with that phrase, but dammit that's the phrase that fits. In view of this, here’s a space-saving garden tip from a not-so-energetic gardener.


Intercropping saves space. Saving space means fewer beds, which in turn is less work. It’s the art of planting faster-growing vegies among slower growers as a way to make really good use of your garden beds. Your soil does of course need to be in top nick to keep up.

A combination I use all the time is saladings and carrots. They both grow really well together, and the salads sprout first, keeping the slow-to-germinate carrots moist and safe from birds. Harvest the salads before they cramp the carrots' style. Marvellous arrangement. Radishes are another vege advertised for this use. While they grow really well with carrots there is only so much radish eating one can do.

Use companion flowers and green manures for intercropping as well, those all important sidekicks that make your garden a success. If you have a good sense of timing you’ll find yourself coming up with great combos. For example 3 or 4  weeks before garlic harvest use the space between rows to sow carrots, which will be emerging as the garlic is harvested. As broadbeans or peas finish up, plant out your tomatoes or potatoes - the legumes provide nitrogen and will protect your tomatoes/potatoes whilst young as well as provide mulch when you eventually cut them down.  

Useful fast growers are bok choy, beetroot, coriander, rocket, mesclun, lettuce, dill, bush beans, radish. Sow them amongst slower-growing crops that share the same needs.

Intercropping blurs into companion planting when you grow two or more crops together that share a mutually beneficial relationship. Sweetpeas and cucumbers will happily share a trellis - the sweetpeas fixing nitrogen for the cucumbers and keeping the base of the cucumbers protected; the classic three sisters of South America - corn, beans and pumpkins - corn is the bean pole, the bean fixes nitrogen and the pumpkin is the groundcover; celery and strawberries are another winner and so on. 


Patience is required at this time of the year dear gardener - everything hinges on the soil being warm. If this month is cold and wet then do some garden dreaming instead - your time will be better served. The addition of compost and lime is also dependent on warmth - cold soils won’t incorporate the goodness. Cloches are fab for this - get them up to give everything a head start.  Once your soil hits 10 degrees then add compost and lime as required and get sowing or planting.


Planting now...

Peas, sweet peas, broadbeans, coriander, radish, corn salad, mesclun, rocket


Broccoli, kale, bok choy, onions, parsley, asparagus, lettuces

Start early potatoes (jersey benne fans at the ready!) sprouting by standing them in egg cartons in a warm room. In about a month they will have sprouts and be ready to plant out. Potatoes are frost tender so choose your site carefully at this time of year.

Scatter spring flowers around and about - poppies, larkspur, cornflowers, calendula and hollyhocks to name a few. 

August means spring cleaning in the greenhouse. Two things need a scrub - the seedling trays, and the greenhouse itself. Hygiene is important in the organic garden, not often thought to be so. Get rid of spores and bacterias and prevent a multitude of problems.

The soil in the greenhouse has been growing a cleansing crop of mustard through the winter - I’ll cut this down mid way through August then get my beds prepared, ready to plant into once the soil has warmed to 15 degrees.

Can you believe it's time to be thinking of planting inside tomatoes! (From seed to transplant is about 6 weeks.) If you have a heatpad or want to make a hotbox you can tray sow seeds of capsicums, eggplants and tomatoes.

These young seedlings need consistent warmth to thrive and even though the greenhouse is starting to get warm in the day time it's still dropping to cold temperatures at night. Heat lovers like capsicum won’t be impressed.  


  • Spring in the Vegie Patch workshop is nearly here.
    We’ll be gathering in my garden on: September 14th from 10am - 1pm.
    For more details see my website
    Spring into action!

Yours in the Earth,

In the Orchard
In the Kitchen




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