The Gordon Gnohm

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

Winter Solstice

July is a wonderful time for your garden. It may be frosty cold, and your soil temp may have been declining, but the Winter Solstice will change that soon enough. Like a cruise ship, it takes time to turn it around, and so it is with the warming of the earth. Winter has just started but its already coming to an end. The extra sun will chase winter away, slowly but surely.  

The shortest day of the year has just past, June 21 with only 9 hours, 46 minutes of sun. Fortunately, the sunlight hours will now increase until we reach the Summer Solstice on December 22 with a daylight maximum of 14 hours 40mins. That’s a lot more sun to come. This change also means that the sun will start its climb in the sky, leaving shorter shadows as we approach Spring.

Check out where your morning sun hits in Winter, your microclimate may provide early sunshine, different from your Summer garden. Check for spaces that will work for Spring plantings too. Under evergreen trees is a favourite of mine. Also look under deciduous trees for morning sun. When the leaves start to pop, they will provide a natural cloche for Pumpkins, Zucchini and Squash. 

Once the sun is high and the frost threat is lessened, the vines will have grown out from under the shade and into the full sun. This year the frost melted the vines back to stumps, but they grew back under the leafy canopy until the leaves eventually fell in Autumn, but Zucchini for a few extra weeks was grand.

It’s been a proper Winter so far, and you maybe fretting for your garden or planning on moving north. Not only have there been a lot of frosts, but they have fallen early in the night and lasted 12-14hrs, a complete contrast to recent winters, but on par with the recorded average. 

June feels cold quickly, with little sunshine to warm our souls or the earth. Throw in cloud cover for days/weeks and it can get a bit much for some, but the middle of Winter brings us more sun hours to give us hope. The Winter Solstice marks the increase of daylight hours as we wind up to Spring, until then the daylight hours have been waning, making for a cold month.

The increase in sunlight hours will give your seedlings the extra boost they need to grow strong and provide tucker before Spring arrives. The warming of the soil tends to send everything to seed. Maintaining your soil temp through winter is the key to planting early in Spring. Soil temp in my garden is currently 9-10C.  

The extra daylight hours signal grow time for some photosensitive vegetables. In my garden it’s time to plant Storing Onions. Ours take around 200 days, in stark contrast to most of our vegetables that are good to eat in 60-90days. I usually plant lesser Onions all year round for a constant supply, but there is no substitute for a big old Onion, so now I plant. 

This week

If you are not seeing a lot of movement in your garden your soil temp is likely the issue. 

I have had many conversations recently, with folks who are not having the Winter success they might have hoped for. My first question is “do you mulch”? Without mulch on your garden in Winter, your living soil will decline in potency as the microbes freeze. Frozen microbes cannot provide the roots of your plants with the nutrients they require or bolster the immune system like an active soil food web.

Sugar Cane mulch is the best protective mulch for your veggie garden, all year round. When the frost falls it strips your soil of moisture. The sun then evaporates that water and returns it to the big dam in the sky. The blanket of mulch preserves your water as the frost only freezes the moisture in the mulch. The frost melts and the water dribbles down into the mulch out of the sun. 

The blanket of mulch also keeps the soil temp warmer. An active soil food web creates heat as the microbes process materials and convert it to water soluble nutrients for the plants to absorb. Insulating the soil keeps the cold out but more importantly, keeps the warmth under the blanket.

Understanding this natural process, we can keep our soil functional, warm and holding enough water to supply the roots of our growing veggies. If this process is maintained, we will be ready to plant as soon as spring arrives in our microclimate. Because when the soil temp gets up to 15-16C for 3 days, that’s time to plant out tomatoes regardless of the frost risk. Let the soil temp be your guide.

Im eating the first few snow peas, some vines are doing better than others, lucky I planted lots. Lettuce and spinach now have enough leaf to start plucking as I pass during the day. 

Stumping

The first of the Sprouting Broccoli has started to provide. This is not a new planting but one that was stumped, over and over again, for the past two years. The Cabbages stumped back in Spring are also providing smaller heads but still tasty and full. 

Celery is so very tasty at this time of year, very delicate with the lack of sun. The cold encourages more sugars to manage itself in the extreme and doesn’t have as much of the chlorophyl flavour of Summer Celery. I stump it every time it tries to go to seed. It’s been four years now.

My Avocado in a pot has finally received frost bite but only on the leaves. It’ll bounce back again, like it has for nearly 10 years. Citrus in pots and in the ground have not noticed the frost. 

Enjoy the sun while it shines, admire your garden whatever state it is in and dream of better tomorrows. And enjoy your homegrown tucker.

Stay Awesome

The Gordon Gnohm

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