Springtime gardening for fruit and veges

It’s been a warm winter in Brisbane this year, and with the warmer weather already approaching, it’s time to start thinking about what to plant for spring and summer. If you haven’t already started your preparation, you might consider leaving aside the flowers and opting for an edible garden instead—besides keeping your garden tended and well-conditioned, it could save you money on your grocery bills, and turn your home-cooked meals into epicurean feasts.

Brisbane’s erratic subtropical climate does present some challenges when it comes to edible gardens. But while weather vagaries can affect what plants you’re growing, don’t be discouraged from trying. If you can be flexible—and you’re willing to try a couple of workarounds here and there—there’s no reason you can’t enjoy harvesting and eating delicious, homegrown fruit and vegetables this summer.

Preparing the garden

fertilising garden

Brisbane’s loamy soils are usually quite deficient in potassium, magnesium, boron and selenium, which you do need for growing fruits and vegetables. It’s a good idea to test the pH of your soils, and use the information to condition the garden bed before you plant. You can change the pH of your soil with ag lime, dolomite or gypsum to move it to a more alkaline level, or worm farms, compost, manure, seaweed or Sulphur to raise the acidity level. Otherwise, most of the preparation will be housekeeping: clearing weeds, pruning, managing pests, fertilising, mulching, and preventing mildew.

Styrofoam planters

If you’re only planning a small garden, or you’re living in a more urban area of Brisbane, you might think about repurposing Styrofoam boxes (from fruit and vege shops) and using them as planters.They’re easy to move if you’re battling inclement weather, and they’re also great for insulation against extreme temperatures. They also retain a good amount of water, keeping your plants hydrated if you’re having trouble with drought or water restrictions in your area. You can use these boxes for smaller fruit and vege varieties, including strawberries, carrots, and even small citrus fruit trees. Raised and vertical wall gardens are also becoming popular in the Brisbane region as they obtain a higher crop yield, maximise space and minimise damage caused by pets.


What to grow

Brisbane’s climate is full of surprises, the least of which is a complete lack of distinction between the seasons. This can be frustrating and throw our gardening plans off kilter, but it can deliver some surprising benefits as well—like ripe bananas in the middle of winter. As long as you watch the weather, and wait for the rain before you plant, your crops will likely do just fine.

Suitable varieties will deliver fairly reliable results despite heavy rain, drought, and wind whipping, but you’ll need to be more responsive for others. Don’t plant religiously according to the calendar: use the indications that nature’s giving you—like fruit trees that are flowering three weeks earlier than usual—and adjust your schedule according to what you can see happening.

While you really need to look at the unique microclimate in your backyard, these fruits and veges will generally do well if you plant in August and September:

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Basil
  • Beans
  • Beetroots
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbages
  • Capsicum
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Radish
  • Rockmelons
  • Shallots
  • Silverbeet
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelons
  • Zucchini

If you’re not completely sure about how your choices will do, or the weather’s been particularly unpredictable in your area, ask a professional to recommend something that would be well suited to your garden’s climate and conditions.


Timing and challenges

nets over garden planters

Getting the timing right for your edible garden can be a big challenge in Brisbane’s unruly climate. Nobody really knows what we’re in for until it happens, but it’s fairly certain that it’ll be extreme heat, unexpected temperature changes day to day, and water issues (whether it’s torrential rain or drought). 

There are simple ways to protect your garden from the extremes of our subtropical weather, like hanging netting to protect your garden from hail (and pests like fruit bats),planting in transportable pots to make it possible to get your plants out of the line of fire when storms hit, and mulching to regulate the temperature of the beds.

There’s really no substitute for taking a look at your garden’s growth and using your own judgment. But generally speaking, as temperatures start to rise (as they are right now), it’s time to sow your summer vegetables like tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, zucchini, beetroot, capsicum, beans, and lettuce. growing watermelonYou should also get onto the fruits that take a long time to ripen, like watermelon and rockmelon, and sow them as soon as it starts to get warm and you’re not likely to get too much frost overnight. With the warm weather we’ve had all winter and the rising temperatures in the last week or two, it’s probably too late to bother with the cold weather veges like peas and cauliflower.

 

 


Precautions for urban gardens

Because Brisbane is a major metropolitan area in Australia, there are often small amounts of contaminants in the soil. This is the case for most urban areas, so if you’re gardening in the soils around your home or planting an edible garden for the first time, there are a few precautions to take when you’re growing.

gloved hands gardening

Brisbane soils can contain contaminants like arsenic, zinc, and lead, which is part of the parcel of living in a developed area. Don’t worry too much: even when they’re present in the soil, it’s in very small amounts; and when they’re found in food harvested from this soil, it’s at levels so low that it wouldn’t cause adverse effects to you. But you should take precautions like avoiding direct contact with the soil (by wearing gloves), and testing the soil to see what contaminants are there that could affect your crops. The quality of the soil can limit what you can grow in it because some species are just not hardy enough to thrive in city soil. Even if you’re not worried about contaminants, testing is still a good idea anyway, because you can often adjust nutrient deficiencies and imbalances quite easily with the right fertilisers.

 

While Brisbane’s location does present a lot of challenges to its resident gardeners, it does give us the warm temperatures we need to grow ripe and flavourful foods in our own backyards. If you’re thinking about getting started on an edible garden—or any other garden work—in time for spring, you’ll find the products and advice you need at Gleam O’Dawn. Drop in or contact us anytime, and we’ll be happy to help your garden thrive throughout the warm months and into the rest of the year.

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