Gardening in July 2018

Gardening in July

I am writing this month’s article on the darkest day of the year. The winter solstice has always been a significant marker in ancient cultures. In the southern hemisphere we have lost some of the significance since all festivals surrounding it – Christmas, Yalda, Yune, Sol Invictus – are not celebrated at this time of year. Mid-winter’s night meant the last of the feasts – the months of winter famine and scarcity were lying ahead. Most animals were sold or slaughtered so as not to feed them through winter. Supplies were down with mostly stored root crops and grains to carry families through the months to come. At least they had the new season’s wine to comfort them.
The “turning of the sun” can either force you into a winter hibernation or wake you up with new enthusiasm for the season to come. Whatever your make-up there is some gardening to do – whether on the couch or in the garden. If you’re the hibernation type I suggest you get to your local library. This is an often-forgotten resource, but I am amazed at the wealth of knowledge available to us for free. The gardening section in most libraries are well stocked and you can find plenty of stimulation for your season of armchair gardening. I suggest not only books on pruning and cultivation techniques, but also some journals and biographies of famous gardeners. Nothing to inspire you like the stories of legends like Christopher Lloyd, Piet Oudolf, Vita Sackwell-West, Edith Wharton and Laurence Johnston.
If you’re like me the lengthening of the days inspire and energise. I love being outdoors in the winter – in the mountains if weather permits and in the garden. Believe it or not – there are still enough to do out there. July is a major pruning month for the food gardener. Most deciduous fruit trees must be pruned by the end of the month. If this task still seems daunting professional help is available, but why not make this the year you do it yourself. Courses are available for the social types, and the internet and gardening manuals can teach you most of what you need to know. Plants are mostly forgiving, and this year’s mistakes can be rectified next year. The last of the autumn flowering shrubs must also be pruned now. Leave the big oak trees to the professionals – this is the ideal month to do it if you can get an appointment. We will prune our roses next month.
Mid-winter is a fantastic time to work on your soil health. I will never recommend digging over water logged soils, but mulching with fallen leaves, compost, manure, grass clippings or any organic material you can find will leave you with beautifully enriched soil by spring time. Winter is the only time that I recommend using material that is not fully composted. Even raw manure will break down quickly in the soil. Remember, feeding the soil means feeding the microbes. And soil microbes are more active now than in the dry summer months. Soil health means human health and one of the best ways to bring that health to your garden and home is through making your own compost. We collect all perishable material like spent food, vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and tea bags in a bin. Bokashi bran helps with the initial break down process and keeps smells at bay. I am still a big believer of old fashioned piles with alternating layers of green material, brown material, animal manure as well as a thin layer of clayey soil. All this get built up to about 1.5 meters and covered with cut grass or straw. Turning will speed up the process, but if you’re patient you will have proper compost in about 6 months anyway. Compost made in your own garden has no rivals – by using resident materials you brew up an enriched blend of minerals and nutrients seeded with locally adapted microbes and soil organisms. For most of us this will unfortunately still require the outside input of animal manure; even more reason to at least consider the benefits of keeping a few chickens.

Happy gardening – whether on the couch or in the mud.