A quick tour of the dwindling number of vegetable gardens in the neighbourhood shows me lagging weeks behind the pack in the annual race to have tomatoes on the table by Christmas Day which, in Australia, coincides within just four days of the longest day of the year.
Yep, I’m late again, but I’ve longed ceased to care - I’ve come to recognize the benefits in late summer of having my vegetable garden crescendo just when all the racers are petering out. I guess I’m the only guy around here to have had tomatoes still running on into September, hanging off leafless vines that look as though they should (and did) die during the winter.
The other valuable thing about running seedlings up all the way through Spring (as against trying to prod them into action in the cold days of late Winter) is that slow-growing capsicums (peppers) and eggplants seem to be able to grow to full size by late autumn, hang out in Adelaide’s Mediterranean climate through the cold days of winter, then set their first fruit in the early days of spring the following year while the racers are still fiddling about with potting mix.
But no matter how I rationalise all this, seven weeks have passed since I sowed the Spring seeds, and this weekend they just have to be planted out, planted on into bigger pots, or tossed. So I rise at 5.30am on a summer Saturday to face the biggest plant-out of the year. The cook’s seen this coming – she’s booked herself into an all-day seminar someplace else, and so the next fifteen hours will either make or break the gardener and the garden.
Still, the chooks have cleared the beds, and I’ve been watering up for two weeks so that the seedlings will come out of wet pots into soil as wet as I can get it. The beds are already mulched; I just need to hoe the sowing rows along the drip lines and get down on my hands and knees for the planting.
Newly-planted rows of seedlings are covered with cloches and shade cloth for up to a week, allowing their fractured root system to recover before they face the full heat of the Australian sun.
At the other end of the process, in one of the other dozen garden beds, the broad beans have finished and dried off, and when tomatoes, beetroot, silverbeet and basil seedlings have are all been planted, this slumbering bed has to be cleaned up and the broad bean seeds that have escaped the cook’s depredations gathered, shelled and sorted for next year’s crop.
Perhaps its here that I’ll plant out the last seeds of spring - the capsicums and eggplants that are the last seedlings lingering on in seed trays down on the growing tables…