The Gordon Gnohm

Play along at home, read Future Farmer in The Braidwood Bugle every Wednesday. 


I was surprised to see the Manchurian pears starting to flower this week in Moruya, well behind many highland gardens. Folks often yearn for the coastal life, for the ease of growing veggies. “It’ll be easier” is the dream, but two of my coast friends mentioned that they found it easier to grow in the highlands than the coast, Humidity being one major factor.

Last week I was being facetious telling you to move if you aren’t experiencing spring on your patch of earth yet, but as the Bard wrote “many a truth is said in jest”. If your chosen growing space is receiving full eastern sun every morning in winter, and plenty of midday sun you are probably experiencing spring. Protection from the western sun is important but only in summer. Western sun is very valuable to the vegetable garden in winter.

If you are not getting full winter sun on your growing space, it might be time to move your garden. Perhaps the front yard gets better sun and has the added warmth of the bitumen nearby. It’ll hold off a few early/late frosts each year, enough to get a jump on spring. Backyards are usually different microclimates to front yards, and a simple soil temperature test will reveal a lot.

If this doesn’t sound like your place, you really will need to reconsider your vegetable growing expectations. I have offered Design Consultations throughout the greater Canberra region since 2012, and on some occasions, I have recommended moving house.

One garden I remember fondly, offered superb outdoor living with amazing canopy cover. The larger trees provided the perfect microclimate for delicate plantings of azaleas, camellias and dogwoods, under planted with hellebores and mondo grass edging the paths. Perfect for afternoon soirees in the shade, absolute summer heaven… but truly nowhere to grow vegetables or fruit trees. Usually, the client is aware of their microclimate plight, they’ve made unsuccessful attempts before booking a consult. It’s hard to leave your home, but the right microclimate to grow veggies will help you to success quicker than seeds or timing.

Every home is surrounded by its own unique microclimates, sometimes dramatically different from your next door neighbours. Each direction on the compass receives varying weather conditions and the subtle difference in each microclimate offers unique growing opportunities.

Understanding your garden will reveal many varied microclimates; spaces that receive light at different times of day or seasons, protection from wind, harsh summer sun and maybe even offer thermal mass to loadup on a sunny winter’s day and ward of the frost. I once read about some monks in the snowy alps of Italy, who grew fruit trees out of climate for centuries. They built stone walls that zigged and zagged around the gardens, rather than being long and straight. More work to construct, but the magick was in the microclimates created in the corners and enclaves. The resulting stone walls provided planting pockets with different opportunities by protecting from wind, snow and harsh sun. The thermal mass of the solid stone walls, heated in the winter sun extending their growing season so they could produce fruit even when the snow started to fall.

I have held that discovery front of mind as I learned to navigate the pitfalls of gardening in our Unpredictable Highland Climate. As my Landscape Designs, and clients, became more adventurous, I have been able to create microclimates to grow literally anything they desired.
I always ask my clients to make a list of the food they want to eat from their garden, not what they think they could grow. With their unique list in hand, I go about designing a Backyard Ecosystem with microclimates for the food they want to grow. A standout design is a backyard in Lyons, completed in summer 2020, where Passionfruit, Dragon Fruit and Avocado are thriving.

That’s right, there is a Hass Avocado producing fruit, at the top of a hill in Lyons, ACT. It’s a No fuss, No protection situation, just a well designed and constructed microclimate. The grafted avocado has only been in the ground since Feb 2020 and is way ahead of schedule.
I have a clip on Youtube showing how the garden works and how the perfect microclimate was created to grow an Avocado in Canberra! Winter has melted some of the tree again, but the rest of the tree is flowering in the frost and we expect more avocados this season.

If you’ve been playing along at home, you know which beds will be ready first for your precious tomatoes. The soil in my main garden is currently sitting at 15C!
One more degree and its tomato planting time

I enhance highland microclimates to extend spring and autumn, but you can choose other reasons too. You could put up a shade sail, grow against a north wall or plant an evergreen tree to protect from the prevailing winter wind.

A Snow Pea vine, planted in winter, could provide a snug little microclimate to plant your tomatoes under in early spring. The conditions inside the foliage would act as a natural green house until the vine dies off as summer approaches and the establish tomato emerges.

This week

I’ve been marvelling at the Hardenbergias… all around the property the different types have been in full bloom for weeks, signalling the end of winter. But there are two that are not. In fact, they never do. I planted a couple of nursery seedlings into one of my veggie patches for their nitrifying benefits. They help feed the soil, but disappointingly, they die back every winter. The Hardenbergias in my veggie patch create a living mulch where I grow root vegetables or corn, in a cooler shaded microclimate all summer. This week in the garden I’ve planted seeds of beetroot, carrot, parsnip, spinach, onions, snow peas, lettuce, wombok and nasturtiums. Time to get blueberries and strawberries planted.

I planted cabbage, cauliflowers, lettuce and spinach seedlings in mid winter. I was late. However, they are pumping now that spring has sprung, and I’m eating when most gardens are bare. Plant new seedlings of these now, but I doubt they’ll catch up.

Our local Jacky lizard has come out of hibernation, which means the black snakes aren’t far away. Dragon flies have started to cruise through the garden. And this morning I had to stop to let a quail family safely cross the driveway.
It’s all happening here, next week Garden Bed Preparations

Stay awesome,

The Gordon Gnohm

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