Gardening as an antidote to cabin fever
One way to stave off lockdown cabin fever is getting out into the garden, even if you've never had green fingers before.
Landscape designer and gardener Xanthe White has a raft of ideas about what to do in your garden as the weather gets colder.
Now's a good time to start planning ahead for the spring, says Xanthe.
You can save yourself a lot of leg work by marking out an area for a new garden bed and covering it over winter, she says.
“Rather than having to dig up the lawn and shake all the weeds out, and dig it over, and get it all ready, if you're smart and start your garden right now ready for spring, you can simply mark out the area. You can lay plastic or cardboard or old tarpaulin over the area that you want to be gardening in spring and you can sit back.
“And while the winter and the storms pass by, underneath that material that you put over the top, that organic matter the lawn, the grass, whatever's underneath, is going to rot away and when you pull it back in spring, you're going to have your garden area all ready for you - for so much less work.”
One of the most important things now is planning and thinking about how you're going to make your garden productive, Xanthe says.
A common mistake people make is putting their fruit trees in the wrong place.
“When we’re considering about where we're going to put out fruit trees, we need to be considering what's the optimum space for the tree. So, what does it need in terms of sun and light and space to grow?”
You also need to think about how that tree is going to impact on your living space, she says.
“If you put the tree in the perfect spot for sun, but in three years’ time, you've got no sun and that was your favourite place to sit, then normally what happens is people come out with the chainsaw and chop it down.
“And we don't want that because a fruit tree takes a while to come into fruit. And so we want it in the right place.”
Xanthe recommends first establishing how much space you have for trees, then finding out what grows well in your region and determining what you like to eat.
With leaves dropping from trees at this time of the year there's an abundance of carbon for composting, Xanthe says.
"All of that organic matter, that is food for your garden next spring. So you've got more time at home and you can be out there raking that up, it doesn't need to be in a fancy compost bin, you can allocate a space for a pile and you can start bringing it together.”
The “browns” are vital for a functioning compost heap, she says.
“People think of composting as just being about food waste and food scraps, and that's a really valuable part of it, but that's what we call the 'greens'. So that's where you get all the richness. If you just pile up food scraps, you get something that's very stinky and smelly and rich and is actually too concentrated.
“To make really good soil, it needs to be balanced out by the browns - that sort of the papery or organic material, the leaves and the sticks and all of the stuff that's kind of flying around our backyards at the moment.”
Some of that matter can go underneath an area you may have covered over for the spring, she says.
“If you are laying out a new bed and you're putting something like cardboard or a tarpaulin out over that area, underneath that, you can start putting material under that as well.
“So, you could actually stack that up with the leaves that you're raking up off the lawn or If you're lucky enough to live close to the beach, you could be putting seaweed across that area.”
Time to sow
Seeds can still be bought online despite current lockdown restrictions, she says.
“It's quite a pleasurable thing to be doing at the moment. It's actually really quite a traditional time to get the old seed catalogue out and start going through and imagining what you're going to plant next.”
Veges that like to grow underground are fine to sow now, she says.
"You can get your roots into the ground, like your carrots and your parsnips and your radishes.
“It's a really good time still to get your broad beans in, broad beans are great to pop in at the moment.”
Salad greens will also grow now, albeit more slowly, she says.
If you’re growing from seed, ready to plant out later, keep an eye on the first two leaves that emerge when the seed first germinates, she says.
“When a seedling seed first sprouts, it comes up with two little leaves. These are not its true leaves, every little seed that sprouts comes up with these two little leaves.
“After those two little leaves come out what's called the true leaves, they’re leaves that will look like the plant that you are wanting to grow.”
Plant out once the seedling has three or four of these true leaves, she says.
“You can get away with a tough old plant like silverbeet if they've got two good strong ones.
“The more fussy brassicas and things, I normally wait till it's got two or three sets of tree leaves coming up and then I know that the plant will have established good roots underneath as well.”
Leaf mulch is a natural part of any soil and will do no harm if raked and put on a garden bed or vege patch, but think about its composition, she says.
“If you're preparing a new bed, covering the ground with a big, generous stack of leaves and then putting plastic over the top is a great way to get that soil breaking down.
“If you're growing food, though, you generally because of the speed that a vegetable garden grows at and paces, you generally want things to be broken down to a finer, crumbly kind of point in a vegetable garden.”
Be guided by the plants you are mulching, she says.
“You can use sticky and less broken-down mulch on your trees and shrubs. But when you get down to your perennials and then down to your vegetable gardens and annuals, the mulch should be finer and softer because you want it breaking into that soil and feeding that soil, that turnover to be working faster.”