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Month-by-month information on how to grow your vegetable garden in South Africa.

SEPTEMBER

SPRING BUMPER EDITION

WATER

In August, I gave some pointers as to how to prepare your vegetable garden. I note that I left out a very important part of the whole design - the type of watering system you’re going to use and what its diameter spread will be. Test this on dry ground and measure the spray. From here, you work out where to put the sprinkler and how to arrange the various beds so that they get water.
I learnt from a very wise lady that, to get the best from your garden, water for seven hours twice a week - in winter during the sunlight hours and in summer at night. Remember that your compost needs watering too.

I have a single sprinkler called a wobbler, which is ideal for low pressure, dirty, farm water. You can get advice from your local nursery or start small and use furrow irrigation on a slope, which is basically flood irrigation on a small scale. If the water pressure is not sufficient, then you need to plan a tank system. If water is scarce, you can look into the option of channelling household waste-water to the garden. Most soaps and detergents will do the plants no harm; in fact they are an insect preventative.

Since September and the first rains are an indication that Spring has sprung, we need to get seeds planted as a matter of urgency. These are watered by a fine sprinkling system or by the good, old-fashioned watering can. Seeds take six weeks to grow large enough to transplant into the vegetable garden so you can use this time to get everything else ready. Water every second day or when it looks dry. If weather is hot, water in evening so that the water doesn’t evaporate quite so quickly.

If you have prepared your garden and have the means to water it but don’t have a seedbed, then go and buy seedlings and plant them directly into the soil. Keep an eye on newly-planted seedlings they may need a top-up of water in the beginning. Another very good tip is to plant your seedlings in mud. Make the necessary holes with your trowel and then fill them with water. If this drains away quickly repeat the process then plant the seedling. This allows the roots to cement and gives them an early water boost.

WHAT TO PLANT

No nursery or wholesaler is going to sell you seedlings that won’t grow now that the danger of frost is over. Ask the salesperson what distance from each other the plants should be and how far apart the rows must be and what sun situation the plant thrives in.

If there is nobody to advise you, the simplest way to get this advice is at any outlet (all supermarkets) that sell seeds. Have a notebook ready and read the back of the packet. This will also tell you if the vegetable is suitable for direct planting from seed into the vegetable garden and how deep to plant it.

I’m planting the following seedlings this month: tomatoes, brinjals, peppers, chillies, lettuce (all varieties) broccoli, fennel, oregano, basil, parsley, globe artichokes, cabbage (red and green), asparagus, spinach, chinese cabbage, red spring onions, chives and horseradish.
Now comes the time for the toilet rolls and cool drink bottles you collected to come in handy. A cutworm is a seedlings’ worse enemy. You see a seedling wilting and if you dig you will find it’s been cut off just below the ground and if you’re quick enough, you’ll find the white cutworm as well. You can prevent this by placing 30-40 mm rings around the seedling, half buried in the ground and half out. Because they travel along the surface and then burrow down, this thwarts them. Voila! No more cutworms.

For leafy seedling, put 2.3.4 fertiliser in a bowl with a teaspoon and the stick I asked you to collect. For all others use 2.3.2. Five centimetres from the roots of your seedling and five centimetres deep, make a hole with your 30 cm. long stick. Put a level teaspoon of fertiliser in the hole and cover over again with soil. This will give the plant a boost over its growing period. It doesn’t fall under pure organic but I feel sometimes modern methods can be introduced if they do not affect the end result in any damaging way.

The following seeds are being planned for direct planting: rape, carrots, radish, baby spinach, baby mixed lettuce, Chinese vegetable, mustard spinach, pumpkin, gems, squash, butternut and melons. The latter five need a lot of space so plan for this. I seed them on the outer edge of my sprinkling system and train them away from the rest of the vegetables.

POTATOES

I’ve already bought bags of potatoes, taken them out of the bags and put them on plates in a dark room to sprout. Be aware that you must make sure your seed potatoes are not genetically modified - varieties such as these do not sprout. You can get potato seeds or eyes, but…well let’s say I like the old-fashioned way.

Once your potatoes have sprouted, they are ready to plant. A good method, which conserves space, is to plant them in tyres, three to be exact. You mix soil, compost and 10% ash and fill up the first tyre. Into this you bury your potato with the strongest sprout up. DO NOT water potatoes until the first leaves are visible they live on the root stock. Once leaves are established place the second tyre and soil mix on top and so you go on. When the plant dies down, indicating that the tubers are fully formed, all you do is remove the tyres.

SEEDBED PREPARATION

You can prepare a seedbed like mine or use seed trays, which you will place on a table under shade-cloth or a sports stadium, bleacher type seating arrangement of shelves onto which you place your seed trays under shade-cloth. My seedbed has holes in the bottom to provide drainage. To make sure the plants do not get waterlogged, I place a layer of small rocks on the bottom, followed by pieces of bark and leaves, then horse manure and finally my 45% compost, 45% soil and 10% ash mix. The idea behind this is that the bottom material will rot and provide long term food for the seedlings. The bed will also settle down and you will be able to top up with your soil mix

I will plant the seedlings in rows between 10 and 15cm apart and weed out the extras as they come up. These can always be used in salads. Enjoy and experiment - if you learn something useful, please send it in so that I and our other readers can benefit from it.

Bye for now

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