May in the Vegie Patch

20 May 2014
Written by Kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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Enjoying the rewards of her toil during the summer months, Kath, forever with an eye on the seasons, discusses how to shelter your land from the winter winds

Provided you haven’t been bashed by storms you’ll be picking broccoli, kale and cabbage; all sorts of saladings; carrots and beetroot; celery, coriander and parsley and perennial leeks (mine are still intact so lovely). We’re still enjoying tomatoes and peppers from the greenhouse. All that forward planning and extra effort in summer is paying off – pat yourself on the back!

The best kumara crop I’ve ever had this year. The long dry hot summer certainly played a part, as well the fact I patiently waited to plant until the soil was 18 degrees. If you haven’t harvested yours yet get them up soon so they don’t get wrecked by the frosts.

Are you ready to plant your garlic?

Those of you on heavy soils need to aerate your soils and make raised rows to plant your garlic in. Please don’t grow your garlic after a heavy feeder, the poor things will starve all winter. Give them a fighting chance and grow them after a greencrop, recycling the greencrop back onto the bed as a lovely mulch.

For those of you with cloches or other winter cover – get another lot of saladings underway. The cooler weather suits leafy greens best. Rocket, coriander, kale, endive, puha – lots of nutritious zingy leaves to keep your pecker up over winter.

Companion flowers to sow now for spring flowering are poppies, anchusa, snap dragons, borage, calendula and heartsease. As important as the food crops people.

Share the love and give everything a feed of seaweed this month.

Winter Greencrops

Sow your broadbeans this month. If you don’t like eating broadbeans you must sow some anyway – they are magic for dirt: aerating your soil over winter, providing lots of fodder for bees in early spring, grabbing all that nitrogen in the atmosphere and fixing it in your soils as well as providing a huge amount of biomass for your spring compost heaps. There is no better preface to a great crop of tomatoes than broadbeans.

Other green crops to sow now are oats (pictured) to integrate calcium and for loads of biomass; wheat for soil building and biomass; lupin for biomass and nitrogen fixation; mustard for biomass, soil cleanse and beneficial insects.

Without shelter vegetables and animals produce less, bees hate the wind so our fruit trees don’t get pollinated, blossoms and fruit get blown off. If we don’t protect ourselves – we use more energy to produce less, simple as that.

Before we can create good shelter, we must understand the winds at our place.

Don’t presume the nor wester arrives at your house directly from the nor west. Wind is fluid, it responds to sand dunes, hills, valleys and buildings. It alters direction, getting funneled into small areas making it colder and stronger. For clues as to your winds look at the shapes of the trees around your place, ask neighbours (the ones with dirt beneath their nails!) and set up wind flags. Strips of rag tied to stakes and banged in round and about are great indicators. Most of all get out in it, and experience it.

Once you understand exactly where all the winds come from then you can set about creating safe havens – little warm sheltered pockets for your food growing enterprises. Start by eliminating cold wind tunnels in those narrow gaps between buildings or beneath tall trees.

Effective wind shelter:

  1. Filters the wind. A solid wall or dense row of trees can create havoc on the otherside as the wind slams up against the solid block and hurls itself over whirling like a dervish. Slat fences and windcloth are excellent examples of filtering not blocking.
  2. Lifts the wind and sends it over the top. Create a ramp with your plantings or by mounding up earth and planting this out. Choose rugged varieties as your first layer of defense. Flaxes or toetoes are fabulous at the bottom of the ‘ramp’, in the brunt of the wind.
  3. Pushes the wind out past the area you want to protect. A semi circle is a really strong shape for a shelterbelt. The outside curve is the windy side and the inside circle the haven. The centre is the point of impact. Layer plants and/or fences and/or windcloth to create three layers at this point. The arms of the semi circle go past the impact of the wind, tapering off to one layer. This shape closes your garden in a warm hug while leaving it open for sunlight.

For every 1 metre up count on 6 metres protection in front. You don’t need huge trees! The smart gardener chooses trees that match the height they need and avoids the annual hassle of tree trimming. Besides, tall trees can create cold wind funnels underneath. In urban environments stick with low growing, multi branched hedgers like corokia, flax, toetoe, coprosma, rosemary, hebe, muehlenbeckia etc. Fine or rubbery leaves cope best with winds. Use deciduous trees if you need taller specimens to allow winter sun through.

It’s incredible the difference one well placed tree will make.

Get out your pencil and paper and sketch your land and buildings, draw in your winds and then have a play with clever wind solutions before you put in any gardens! Rubbing out mistakes drawn in pencil is a heck of alot easier than rebuilding a garden. It’s the best investment in time you’ll make.

For more detailed information I recommend Rosemary Morrows book Earth Users Guide to Permaculture, her diagrams are really helpful.


In the Orchard  |  In the kitchen


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