Welcome to the July newsletter. So much to dig into this month. Beneficial ways to use weeds + The Weed Forager’s Handbook; 8 tips for plastic-free gardening, potassium nutrient profile, cauliflower tips, what to plant this month + QLD Garden Expo details.
Sustainable Gardening Tips for July
“A weed is a plant whose virtue is forgotten.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Firstly, I’m sharing ways we can garden sustainably by learning more about using edible and medicinal weeds.
Most agree that a ‘weed’ is any plant out of place, but WHY are they really there? What’s the real purpose of weeds? Weeds are pioneers! They are the first plants to inhabit nutrient-deficient, bare or disturbed soils. Their role is to repair, improve and remediate the soil. Weeds are also educators and a symptom something is out of balance! They provide us with clues as to why they are there and help us learn more about our soil. e.g. They may be telling us the soil is poorly drained or compacted, lacking specific minerals, has a pH imbalance or excess fertiliser.
For example, true Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) helps to bring calcium (Ca) back up to the soil surface in its biomass. Dandelion has a deep taproot (1m or 3-4 ft deep) that opens up the subsoil to improve drainage. It typically indicates heavy, compacted, acidic soil, but also grows in fertile well-drained areas. We can harvest the stem, leaves, roots and flowers for food and medicine; chop them as mulch; use as a compost activator to add Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium, Zinc, Boron and Silica to the soil; or make a liquid fertiliser to feed other plants. Dandelion is extremely nutritious (more than many vegetables)! This herb is rich in “vitamins A, B, C & E and is widely used medicinally, including as a liver tonic, to alkalise and purify the blood, cleanse and regenerate cells, and absorb toxins from the bowel.” [How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life]. I add these nutritious leaves to salads almost daily.
“Our common weeds, possessing vigorous root systems, go down into the lower soils for a goodly portion of their mineral foods because the minerals which plants require are usually abundant down there. Being strong feeders, the weed roots take up great quantities of the minerals and then bring them up to be stored in the stems and leaves. So, when the weeds were burned on the garden, those minerals were deposited there in the ashes, ready to be taken up easily by the growing vegetables. In this manner – and in many other ways – weeds are Nature’s true guardians of the soil.” – ‘Weeds Guardians of the Soil’, Joseph A Cocannoue
July is a good time to start your weed control. Working with moon phases you can slow weed growth and maximise your efforts. The Last Quarter moon phase is ideal for weeding because seed germination tends to be lower at this time. So you are less likely to stimulate additional weed seed germination while weeding. The perpetual Moon Calendar is a handy tool with the best dates each month. Many weeds that germinate in cultivated soil are hosts to common vegetable pests and diseases. Remember to recycle the nutrients in your weeds to feed your garden via compost or as liquid fertilisers.
NEW! The Weed Forager’s Handbook
A colourful, illustrated field guide to the top 20 edible and medicinal weeds in Australia. For foragers and gardeners keen to learn about eating, identifying and using nutritious weeds. This compact book is ideal for popping in your pocket and taking outdoors on a walk to help identify plants. Discusses the role of weeds, getting rid of them and how to make ‘weed tea’ as a liquid fertiliser for your garden. Descriptions of common Australian weeds, advice on how to differentiate edible plants from similar-looking plants that aren’t edible, notes of caution, recipes and resources. Dig in!
Plastic Free July
Plastic Free July is a global movement helping people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. How can we have cleaner soils? By limiting our use of plastics like PVC in the garden we can reduce plastic waste and keep plastic chemicals from leaching into our precious soil. Whilst some plastic products like irrigation pipes may be necessary, there are plenty of creative ways to minimise plastic in the garden.
- Avoid weed mat. It kills soil life by limiting access to water, air and light. Consider a natural fibre option like breathable hessian or old cotton sheets. In some situations, cardboard or sheet mulching may work well.
- Raise your own seeds instead of buying seedlings in plastic punnets.
- Make biodegradable pots from natural materials like banana leaves or toilet rolls. Jiffy pots and coir-based seed raisers are other options.
- Avoid plastic stakes. Use sustainable options like bamboo, wood or upcycle pruned branches from your garden.
- Make your own plant labels. e.g. hand-painted rocks and wooden popsicle sticks.
- Choose bulk supplies like mulch or soil from a landscape yard rather than buying small quantities in plastic bags. At the very least repurpose the bags so they are not single-use.
- Buy bare-rooted trees and plants in winter when dormant. They come in sawdust or coconut coir rather than plastic.
- Grow plants from cuttings to avoid buying more mature plants in plastic pots.
What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD
Cool days and nights in July mean most pesky insects are overwintering – yay! It’s the ideal time to prune citrus, plant winter crops and bare-rooted fruits. Download your July Gardening Tips PDF for planting suggestions, tasks to do in the garden this month plus issues to watch out for.
I always aim to time my planting in harmony with the moon phases to optimise seed germination, help cuttings take root, and encourage healthy plant growth and establishment. There are also times each month to optimise the quick uptake of liquid nutrients. This helps plants access nutrition and get off to a good start. Working with Nature’s timing and a Moon Calendar has distinct benefits. It helps me stay organised. I plan forward for the best times to take specific actions in my garden and reap the rewards. The natural cycles of energy and water that ebb and flow each month are there for us to tap into. Learn more here.
The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. It includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting.
What to Plant Now in Other Locations
NUTRIENT PROFILE: Potassium
Potassium (K) is a vital water-soluble nutrient that leaches quickly from poorly structured soil. Potassium plays important roles in regulating plant growth; chlorophyll production and photosynthesis; opening and closing stomata (leaf pores that exchange oxygen and water); root, fruit and seed development; strengthening cell walls; improving the colour and flavour of flowers and fruits; and disease resistance.
Potassium-deficient plant symptoms appear on the older leaves first because this mobile nutrient is sent to the young newer leaves as a priority. Potassium deficiency can also make plants prone to frost damage and disease. Mineral balance is essential for healthy plant growth. Too much potassium can create an imbalance in soil pH, calcium and magnesium!
Rock minerals stock the soil pantry with all elements plants require. You can also add other organic materials to boost potassium levels. Bury banana peels around your plants or make a liquid fertiliser. Comfrey is rich in potassium. Chop leaves and stems as mulch or add to the hole when planting. Make comfrey or lucerne tea, add liquid seaweed or fish emulsion, seaweed meal or compost. Use wood ash or potash carefully as it can impact the soil pH level. Sulphate of potash or potassium sulphate is a safe water-soluble form that provides a quick source of potassium after applying it to the soil. Add organic matter to your soil, especially if it’s sandy or lacking clay.
- To form their ‘curd’ or edible flower head, cauliflowers need cool temperatures. They are best grown in autumn to winter in warm climates so they mature before warmer temperatures in spring. Choose cultivars that suit your climate including early and late varieties. Small head cauliflowers with short days to maturity are a good choice. Long days to maturity varieties extend the harvest.
- Keep moisture up to seedlings so they grow quickly and develop a large canopy of leaves as solar panels. The cooler weather triggers the flower bud to form. Cauliflower is a heavy feeder and benefits from liquid nutrients including seaweed, potassium, fish emulsion and vermicast tea (diluted worm leachate). Apply slow-release nutrients, compost and mulch during the growing season.
- To help a maturing cauliflower curd stay white, gather the outer leaves together around the head. Use a clothes peg at the leaf tips or tie strong twine in a bow. This also prevents grubs from attacking the head + frost, sun and rain damage. After harvesting, don’t remove the outer leaves. Keep them wrapped around the head while in the refrigerator to extend freshness. Nature’s wrapping is best!