3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden

Planning this year’s garden? At the start of a new year, I take time to reflect on the past year and learn valuable lessons from my garden. Why bother? As a life long ‘student’ in Nature’s garden ‘classroom’, I make incredible discoveries and observations every year and always learn new things that make gardening more enjoyable and easier. You can too!

3 Tips for Planning This Year's Garden

3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden

1. Learn Lessons by Observing

When you literally ‘stop to smell the roses‘, you not only slow down for a few minutes to relieve stress with beauty and fragrance, but this action can open up a whole new world of discovery. You may notice aphids and ants or spots on the leaves.

Rather than going unnoticed, these observations can help you learn how to remedy or prevent any potential problems. Instead of feeling disappointed when you notice ‘problems’, consider them ‘learning opportunities’!

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Learn Lessons by Observing your Garden

Observing details can help with troubleshooting and insightful discoveries

By studying details like how plants grow under diverse weather conditions or how insects interact at different times, you can start to form patterns and learn so much about your garden.

What to Observe in your Garden

For example, I spend time observing the various microclimates; plant varieties; which cultivars do well and those that don’t. I have discovered which plants tough it out without water for months (little champions!) and which plants are vulnerable to pests or diseases.

The insights are fascinating and valuable data for decision-making. I know which plants are easy, low-maintenance and highly productive and those who don’t deserve a space because they’re too ‘precious’ and a pain in the neck! Grow more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights.

Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights

I record these observations with lots of photos and brief notes in my Garden Journal. After several years of comparing notes, I now know exactly what to expect at the same time each year. Patterns have formed. The trees and plants have gifted me their secrets. I can now predict what will happen when, with ever-increasing accuracy and make decisions accordingly.

For example, which trees will lose their leaves when stressed and when fruit trees will be in flower or set fruit. This information is so valuable because I know when these trees will provide me with a free resource (leaves for mulch or compost) or need more support (moisture and nutrients).

“A garden is always in a flux of giving and taking through the seasons. If you treat the relationship with your plants like a friendship, you’ll soon learn when to back off or lend a helping hand.” – Anne Gibson

As a ‘plant parent’ I am gently guiding and watching over my garden, knowing which plant babies and youngsters need help and those that are all grown up and managing on their own. Rosemary and garlic chives, for example, are fiercely independent! Whereas my lettuces and leafy greens need regular pampering. My garden is like my extended plant ‘family’!

I encourage you to spend time with your plants and keep a journal on what you observe. You’ll be richly rewarded. Here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD to get started.

2. Reflect Back on Last Year

Before planning ahead, take into consideration relevant factors from the past 12 months. A few quick notes can help you remember the most important aspects and avoid repeating the same mistakes!

“If nothing changes, nothing changes. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.” ― Courtney C. Stevens

  • Climate and Weather. How often did it rain and how much? Was your rainfall pretty average for the year or less than normal? How will this affect the decisions you make going forward about what you grow and water management strategies? What challenges did you have with wind, heat, drought or other conditions? Did you overcome these issues or do you need to plan new strategies this year?
  • Plant Selection. What grew well? Which varieties yielded your best harvests? Did you have disappointing results? Think about what factors may have contributed. What can you do differently next time?
3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden

Taking notes on garden observations – successes and disappointments is a valuable part of planning this year’s garden

  • Pests and Diseases. What were your biggest problems? What solutions did you try and did they work? If you felt overwhelmed, focus on building soil health as a priority this year. Pest and disease problems tend to primarily occur with unhealthy, stressed plants.
  • Garden Design. Are all plants doing well or do you need to move some to different spots? More sun or shade? Do you need to reorganise some of the elements in your space because they’re not working as you’d hoped? Did you attempt too much or feel frustrated? Maybe consider scaling down and start small so you grow in confidence as you succeed with container gardens or bite-sized projects instead. Get some help if you need it.


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3. Dig Deeper for Details

Micro gardening is about being observant and stopping to really see what’s happening in a small space, rather than glossing over those little things that don’t seem important or relevant. If I see a new insect on a plant, I take a photo to identify it so I know who the new visitor is. My goal is to discover if they are a friend or foe.

Many insects go through various ‘costume changes’ during their lives, altering their appearance as they develop. So what may appear to be different insects, may actually be the same species just ‘changing their clothes’! Sometimes this makes identification a tricky business so take the time to look over the entire plant at different times.

This ladybird, for example, looks like a crawling hairy yellow baby but grows into a mature adult all dressed up in a glossy bright orange outfit with gossamer wings.

3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden: Learn to identify pest insects at different stages of life like adult and immature larva ladybirds

Adult and immature larva stages of a leaf-eating ladybird

The usual insect culprits tend to turn up each year so I’m waiting and ready! I see less of them now than in the early years because so many birds and spiders are residents in the healthy ecosystem in my kitchen garden. There’s a balance of pests to predators that takes care of itself 95% of the time.

Less Pests and More Predators

I love our expanding family of resident magpies (mum, dad and 2 kids) that follow me around the garden. They are so interested in whatever I’m doing, are incredibly intelligent birds and watch every action I take. If I pluck a few grasshoppers off a plant to hand feed them, they remember and are quick to enjoy a feeding frenzy in that same spot. Days later there are no grasshoppers in residence! Four hungry mouths in that family make quick work of grasshopper protein. It’s a win-win.

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden - Watch the interactions with pests and predators in your garden to work with nature for less problems

Watch the interactions with pests and bird predators in your garden to work with nature for less problems.

I rarely need to ‘fix’ such pest problems now – I just let nature take its course. Birds are always hungry. With chemical-free habitat, seed-bearing plants and clean water, they’ll soon see where there’s food and help with pest management. Have a think about how you can improve this aspect in your garden this year.

Little details can make a BIG difference. Nothing lives in isolation. Everything is connected.

When planning this year’s garden, it also helps to get some inspiration for ideas. There’s plenty on this site. Grab a gardening book or two from your library, visit my Pinterest boards and Houzz ideabooks, and start dreaming!

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Get some inspiration for ideas

Photos of projects and plants can help spark ideas for this year’s garden plans

So, by thinking about your garden as a source of valuable data or a ‘bank’ of information, you can make more informed decisions when planning this year’s garden. If you’d like some help with your garden, check out my consulting services or learn more with the resources below.

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Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather

Regardless of where you live, it’s likely you have some climate challenges to deal with when growing food. Here in my subtropical climate in SE Queensland, Australia is no different. During the year, we experience five seasons of different lengths. Some months are almost perfect food growing conditions and others are extremely challenging. It’s particularly difficult growing food in hot, dry weather.

Tips to Grow Food in Hot, Dry or Windy Weather | The Micro Gardener

Growing Food in Hot Dry Weather

During our summer months – December through March – hot and sticky weather is typical. We can get sudden storms which often bring torrential rain and even hail, flooding the garden and potentially damaging plants or even destroying them. Hail damaged leaves, fruit and stems are more vulnerable to diseases as the plant tissues are exposed to pathogens.

During storm season, strong gusty winds can stress plants out, particularly if they are hot and dry. During storms, wild weather can cause stems and branches to easily snap or fruit to drop.

Baking hot days often result in heat stress and scorching temperatures can cause sunburn. Plants can suffer dehydration very quickly if exposed to strong sun and wind, without sufficient soil moisture.

Not to mention the pest insects and diseases that thrive in hot, humid and windy conditions! At times it seems like everything is stacked against us as food gardeners.

Whilst these conditions may be common, they don’t happen EVERY day. I find the best way to cope is to know what to expect in your climate and be prepared with suitable strategies.

Likely you have difficult weather at times too. So, what can you do to help protect your precious plants?

3 Ways to Protect your Crops from the Weather

1. Provide Windbreaks

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Peek Over the Fence into My Garden

Time for an update on what’s happening in my garden as I take you on a bit of a tour. In the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed ‘winter.’ If you live in a genuinely cold climate, you’d probably laugh at what I call ‘winter’ here! In this subtropical SE Queensland climate, it’s mainly cold nights and moderately cool sunny days for a few weeks, with virtually no pests to worry about.

Peek over the fence into The Micro Gardener's garden

I’ll take you on a quick tour of my garden

 

However, it’s dry! I haven’t had rain for a few weeks now, and nothing forecast in the foreseeable future. With two-thirds of this state and 98% of NSW Australia, drought declared, we have to get used to gardening without regular rainfall. It’s tough so you need to have strategies to cope.

A Seasonal Approach to Gardening

I try to time my planting throughout the year, to work in with the weather I live with. That means getting the timing right with preparing, planting, fertilising, maintaining and harvesting.

I mostly get that right, but when busy, I miss things too! That’s where lessoned are learned.

Spring arrived here early mid July. Normally sometime in August but not this year! The unseasonal warm weather has been a catalyst for turning on the ‘Spring switch’ in many plants already. 

I carefully watch the signs in my garden and climate, so I am ready to plant the right edibles at the best time.

 

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New Guide to Using Kitchen Herbs eBook

I have a lot of projects on the go each year. From speaking at events, presenting workshops, coaching local clients to grow their gardens, to writing, donating time in my community, growing food for my family and my online education work.

But this year, I finished a project I’m really proud of. It had been sitting there for a while as the ‘seed’ of an idea, but I needed a huge push to make it happen. The only way to do that is set a deadline. How do you make change in the world without setting a goal? Nothing like having a date to finish a book by to make you really focus!

My New Guide to Using Kitchen Herbs for Health eBook

It’s hard work. It takes dedication and very long hours. Planning, nurturing, thought and time. It’s like carrying a baby for months and putting huge effort into it, until finally it’s time to deliver and birth it into the world! A real labour of love.

So, I thought I’d take you behind the scenes a little, into my private world and why I wanted to write this new eBook and how it came about.

Growing up with Herbs

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Tour Through my 2017 Garden

Growing Food in a Challenging Climate

2017 was the worst and longest drought I have ever experienced. The growing conditions were the toughest I can ever remember. The rain just didn’t come for 7 long months. In fact, it was so bad in our local region, the Sunshine Coast of Australia, that thousands of people ran out of water for their homes and personal needs, let alone their gardens. Many had to get water and take showers in local parks. It was really, really dry.

As you’d expect, I had a few plant casualties. The grass was crispy. Sadly, an ornamental tree died and it wasn’t worth planting some of my favourite foods because the conditions were too unfavourable.

However, what delighted me was that through this entire time, my little kitchen garden kept feeding us. Not just now and then, but every day. Now you probably think I spent hours and hours every week out there planting and tending it. But nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve never had a busier year. Some weeks, I was lucky to spend an hour or two – and that was harvesting rather than planting or maintenance. Take a look at a few of the foods we enjoyed this year.

2017 tour and harvests from my garden | The Micro Gardener

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The Micro Gardener wins Sustainable Business Award

2017 has been an exciting and action packed year so far. Here’s a quick peek behind the curtain, to share a little of my world and what I’ve been up to and what’s coming up.

I’ve delivered and spoken at 20+ workshops and gardening and sustainable living events so far this year.

This is just one of the beautiful groups of people I worked with, sharing freshly brewed herb teas and taste tested microgreens at a healthy morning tea.

Living Choice Twin Waters residents having a healthy morning tea

I’ve been coaching and mentoring my clients and helping them create abundant gardens. One of the absolute joys in my life!

Anne ready for client consultation with basket of goodies

I’ve been involved in my local community with urban streetscape and community garden projects. (more…)

3 Tips on Growing Peas and Beans

Do you love the crisp sweet crunch of young peas and beans? These easy-to-grow crops are perfect for all gardeners in small urban spaces. In pots, plots or garden beds!

3 Tips for Growing Peas and Beans

How do you get the highest yield from your peas and beans, especially if you have limited space?

These are tips I use to grow healthy pea and bean plants that produce an abundant harvest. I hope they help you too.

3 Tips for Growing Peas and Beans

1. Healthy Soil and Fertilising

  • Peas and beans both prefer well drained, moist soils, with plenty of organic matter and a soil pH 6.0-7.5.
  • You can make your own potting mix like I do, or improve your soil with compost and worm castings if you have them. I also add minerals and mulch. Click here for tips on preparing your soil for planting.
  • Every couple of weeks apply a liquid fertiliser such as seaweed, fish emulsion or diluted worm casting concentrate to boost growth.

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New Season Garden Planting Tips

Have you ever experienced unhealthy plants? A poor harvest … or worse, no harvest at all? This may be due to a lack of preparation. Before planting, is the ideal time to prepare and reinvigorate your soil to avoid disappointment. 

New Season Garden Planting Tips

Creating healthy soil is one of the key factors to focus on before you begin planting. It’s unlikely plants will grow well in ‘dead dirt’!

“Organic matter, nutrients, moisture and an active microbe population are important elements to add to your soil.” – Anne Gibson

So let’s take a look at some tips and simple ways to prepare your garden for planting and using your space wisely.

Garden Planting Tips

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Summer Heatwaves in My Garden

Weather extremes – hot or cold – make it challenging to grow food. Don’t you agree? Severe conditions with intense heat and long periods of drought are especially tough to deal with.

Summer Heatwaves in My Garden - Growing Food in Hot Dry Conditions

Normally, January and February are our ‘wet’ rainy storm and cyclone season. On average, we’d have received about 360mm (14 in) by now. How much rain have we had here in subtropical SE Queensland, Australia over this time? In my garden, just 55mm (2in) all year!

On top of these unseasonally extreme dry conditions, we’ve had soaring temperatures since December. We’ve experienced the most 30°C+ (86°F) consecutive days for years. Today, it’s 40°C (104°F). Tomorrow, I’m looking forward to a forecast cooler day – just 33°C! Not to mention drying winds. Nice!

So, as a gardener, it’s essential to be flexible and learn to adapt to changing weather conditions. I’m no exception! We have to learn to accept we get too much or not enough sun or rain sometimes, and go with the flow of life. Plants adapt and we can too.

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Harvests From My 2016 Garden

To start the year off, I thought I’d share a few photos of what I’ve grown and harvested from my garden in the last year.

Harvests from My 2016 Garden

Despite the drought, with less than 50% of the average annual rainfall, I’ve managed to:

  • harvest a continual supply of nutrient-packed food from our garden while working;
  • sell, share and swap a surplus of vegetables and herbs;
  • save thousands of seeds;
  • propagate hundreds of cuttings and new plants; and
  • preserve the harvest in many ways.

In addition to the many flowers, annuals, perennials, natives, trees and shrubs in our garden, these are a variety of the seasonal edibles I’ve grown.

Fruits and Berries

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2018-04-19T10:50:49+10:00Categories: Blog|Tags: , , |2 Comments