July in the Vegie Patch

20 July 2014
Written by kath Irvine | Images by Kath Irvine
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Kath tackles the 'to prune or not to prune' question head on; advises on making good use of your July weeds and sets some mid-winter inspired garden missions


Pruning can be scary. Today, I will tell you a story that I hope will allay your fears.

Once upon a time I was a newbie pruner, and one of my first paid jobs was to prune back a huge old nectarine for a customer – a most special family fruit none the less. 

This was a chainsaw job, and it was going to take a couple of years to get this out of reach tree back to a manageable height. After choosing the first branch to remove I did a shocking thing (especially as I knew better) and sent my saw to the base of a very big, very long series of branches. (I hear you gasp – you did what?!) And yes, as the branch came down, the bark ripped all the way to the bottom creating a handsome gouge in the side of the trunk. This was a big hole – about 40cm by 20cm and as deep as a third the width of the whole trunk. (You do of course take the weight off before removing big branches by cutting down in stages.) I repaired it best I could by trimming it up so there were no rough edges, then covering it with pruning paste and tying it altogether; confidently reassuring the customers that it would be fine (my heart hammering and fingers crossed).

I went back and checked the wound and retied it a few more times. The following spring it started shooting away, the following year the wound was beautifully calloused over and the new shoots flowered and bore a couple of fruits – it never looked back. Trees being (on the whole) wonderfully forgiving and resilient. (A bit like these lovely customers)

So relax!

If the thought of pruning makes you nervous, there are two things you need to do. The first is to find some knowledgable pruner in your neighbourhood and pick their brains. Read. Workshop. Learn. Don’t waste your time feeling confused because everyone has a different style (they all work by the way); learn from all of them and make your own way. The second is to take the time and learn to read your trees. Notice how the tree has responded to all the cuts you made the year before. Find the fruitful wood. Find the wood with lots of vegetation and little fruit. Notice what weak wood is and what strong wood looks like. Notice what old wood looks like and what new is (the photo shows old (left) and new plum wood). The first cuts are the hardest, just go ahead and make them and you’ll get on a roll. Before you know it you’ll be studying your trees and imagining next years pruning. And when you’ve really got it bad you’ll find yourself gazing adoringly at wonderful pruning jobs. 

Most of all don’t not do it through fear of making mistakes. The worst you’ll do is remove all the fruiting wood – this is not a biggie as fruit spurs can be encouraged back easily. It’s more common you’ll under prune than over do it (unless you are a chainsaw toting male in which case beware).

The mistakes are gold. Especially for those of you, who like me, are experiential learners. Who, it’s not until you do the very thing you are told not to do, finally get it.

Making use of weeds in July

Now there’s an inspiring photo – a weedy garden bed! Yes, a few of my beds have gone feral. There is an upside to this. There within my wild looking garden are the beginnings of a new spring bed or the rejeuvenation of an old one. Those weeds are a pile of nourishment awaiting construction.

The hardest bit is getting the weeds out. After that its plain sailing. Simply layer your weeds up in a pile on the site of your bed to be (don’t dig out the grass – it’ll die under the pile) Add other delicious things like manure, rotten hay, grass clippings, seaweed, garden soil etc. Make your pile at least a metre high. Taller and narrower and it will cook up a storm, short and wide and it’ll be a bit of a flop I’m afraid. Cover with something to retain the heat – sacks, hay, dirt (make like a hangi) and voila, come spring you’ll have a lovely new bed (or perked up old bed It’s one thing to clean out a wild, weedy bed; but to have to clean one out while trying to retain a crop is another story altogether. It’s such an easy job to weed around a crop when weeds are small. Take your hoe or long handled straker and scratch up those weedlets. No struggle, no time, no sweat. The crops that really matter at the moment are newly sprouted garlic and onions (mature root crops and brassicas, well they can take a bit of competition.) Garlic will punish you if you neglect to keep it weedfree, it’ll be small. And if the competition is fierce, perhaps as small as the single clove they were when you planted them.

  • Divide herbs and perennials and spread them far and wide throughout your garden. 
  • Go through your seed stocks and make sure you have plenty of greencrops, flowers and spring crops because next month we get back into seed sowing.
  • Prune roses and fruit trees
  • Plant horseradish, rhubarb, globe artichokes, asparagus and berries
  • Load up on manure and seaweed while there’s nothing much else happening.
  • Give the greenhouse a scrub out. I would say this is essential rather than optional if you want to be using the greenhouse next month. Clean all the plastic or glass. Get your chooks in to weed and feed it (and if you don’t have chooks then hard luck that’s your job.) Hydrate the poor dry stuff in there that you call soil and pile up compost, mulch, weeds – whatever organic matter you have to hand – to best suit the thing you are planting next. Have you thought this through? If you already have a plan in place then pat yourself on the back you food gardener you.

In the Kitchen  |  In the Orchard

  • Spring in the Organic Vegie Patch workshop September 27 @ 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
    Come and join me for a morning in the garden, a bit of cake and a cup of coffee, and together we’ll get your spring vegetable garden off to a flying start. Click here for more details and to book your place


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