Saturday, 19 March 2011

Seed Bed planting - How to plant lettuce, brocolli, cabbage and cauliflower for winter

It's approaching autumn, the days are still hot, but the nights are cooler. Now is the time to plant your winter vegies. The Brassica family; which includes my favourites such as brocolli and cauliflower, are ideally planted now. Brussel Sprouts are better suited to cooler climes, so unfortunately I miss out on that count. Head lettuce (Iceberg) also perform really well, now that the intense heat of summer is over.

Last week I prepared the seed bed and left fallow to settle. This weekend with the help of my son, we'll plant up a few seedlings that we grew ourselves and some we bought from the garden centre.

Brassica are the main vegetables for this particular bed. Last year I planted onion here and fortunately I knew the previous owner had planted potato the year before. This is a good rotation, because it  hasn't repeated the same family of vegetable. The benefit of the rotation is, any root disease that may favour one particular type of vegetable, won't be able to build up year after year.

The main brassica root disease to be wary of is 'Club Root'. Try to never plant brassica in the same soil more than once in three years, better still is one in four - but on small plots it is difficult. If your soil is free of the disease, then the main risk to bring it in to your plot, is through dirty footware (you visited someone else's plot who does have it) or through infected transplants. Always check your transplants before planting out. If the plant appears wilted and sick, and the root system has a 'knotted ball or gall-like root' - place the transplant in a plastic bag and dispose of in the household waste. DO NOT put it in your compost. If you purchased the plant, then take it back immediately and complain. Once in your plot, it's there forever!

Brassica love lime. Add either Lime or Dolomite to your brassica seed bed. Here I have added 1 cup (approximately 350g) per metre of bed. 

Lightly work the lime into the top few centimetres (1") of soil. This will ensure the young seedlings have optimum soil pH at planting.

Rain will wash the lime down through the bed over time, which will match the growth of the roots as they develop.

When removing the seedlings from their pots or tray, always use a dibber. I prefer to use ice block sticks, as they are thin and both flexible and yet won't break.

Before planting out, space the seedlings at the desired distance down the bed.  Use a string line to mark a neat row. Brassica should be planted at approximately 450mm (18") apart, with lettuce or spinach at 300mm (12") spacing.

This is a great time to get the kids into the garden.

The theory goes, "If they planted it, they are more likely to eat it"... Hmm.., well at least the fresh air does them good.

Planting is fairly straight forward. Dig a hole to match the size of the root ball of the seedling. Too deep and the plant will be 'buried' and too shallow and the roots will be exposed.

When planting, gently place the seedling into the hole, supporting the top of the plant in one hand and fold the soil in around the roots. Lightly compress the soil around the plant to hold the seedling firmly in place.

Do not crush or squash the root system down into the hole, as this will damage the roots and basal part of the stem.

The planted seedling should stand upright, support itself freely and be at a depth where the original media - potting mix, can just be visible.

Once planting is complete, place cut-off bottles such as plastic milk containers around each plant as protection against slugs and snails. The shield will also give some wind protection. Excess rocking backwards and forwards by wind, can cause fine cracks in the stem base and expose the seedlings to disease, which should be avoided where possible.

Next lightly water, using a garden hose set to a fine mist. You don't want to knock the new seedlings around with a coarse jet of water.

The last step is to label each variety, so that you will remember what is where.

We will follow these brassica and greens - lettuce and silverbeet, through their growth stages this autumn/ winter and address their growing needs as they arise.

Now is a good time to start saving your egg shells from the kitchen. When the plants are a little taller, we will remove the plastic guards and spread broken egg shells and other protectants such as Coconut chips (Coir-fibre chips) over the bed, to reduce the presence of slugs and snails.

Good growing.


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