Springtime Tasks in My Off-Grid Organic Garden
The first real hint of springtime in our part of the world is when blossoms form on the stone fruit trees. With multiple varieties of plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines in our orchard, the blossoms are simply beautiful.
Soon after, the apple trees and then the pear trees spring into action.
Unfortunately springtime this year has been accompanied by wild and relentless winds, threatening to strip the trees bare. Somehow the branches are managing to retain a strong grip on the delicate blossoms and already fruit is beginning to form.
Isn't nature wonderful?
It is now my turn to feed and protect nature's gifts from the forthcoming ravages of summer. Springtime in my organic garden has its own routine.
Here are my top six priorities in the garden early in springtime.
1. Weed the vegetable garden with the help of a pig
At the end of last summer we let our two lovely, healthy sows go and live on a nearby farm to breed and become mothers. We considered bringing one home to help weed the vegetable gardens this season. Our small farm is not big enough to support them both, now that they are full grown. They are happy in their new home and, because they've been best friends since young piglets, it seems cruel to part them.
When you live in a small rural community, it doesn't take long to find a new solution to any problem.
Our solution to weeding our vegetable garden areas this springtime came in the form of a small black boar. He had been a much-loved family pet as a piglet and is very friendly and tame. However his owners had little use for him as a full-grown boar (they use machinery where we use products of nature) and he was facing a bullet.
Sadly he had been on minimal rations and was undernourished, partly because pulling the trigger had taken much longer than they had planned. As soon as you allow a farm animal to become a pet, it becomes near impossible to view it as 'food'. Mr Pig was a victim of his own lovely personality.
Lucky for him (and his family) we said he could come live with us.
Mr Pig is working his way around our large vegetable gardens. We divide each large garden area into sections using solar electric fencing. In the photo you can see his progress in a large area divided into quarters. Another vegetable garden, now rested and covered in grass, joins it via a gate.
That's his next project.
2. Check rainwater storage
We live off the grid and have no connection to town water. Every year we collect and store our own rainwater, knowing it must last us until the next rains.
Springtime is traditionally wet and the rains continue into the early part of summer, so spring is the time we review our rainwater storage strategy. Why?
- The tanks are closer to empty before rain than after seasonal rains. If they need to be moved, now is the time.
- Plants need a reliable source of water during their peak growing season. If the gutters or tank input is blocked, the rainwater harvest will be unsuccessful.
- Extra space for harvesting more water can be made before heavy downfalls by transferring water into a large tank not directly connected to roof space.
I have written at length about how we harvest rainwater in a separate article.
Grafting fruit trees
3. Graft and repair fruit trees
In my part of the world, kangaroos, wallabies and rabbits cause damage to young fruit trees by nibbling at their trunks and branches.
Springtime is when I check for damage that might impact the future performance of our fruit trees and actively take steps to repair it.
Throughout the entire year I try to keep tree guards in place - particularly for the rabbits. Unfortunately tall kangaroos can reach over the tree guards and may have had a few good feeds during winter while my family spends more time indoors than out.
In springtime I paint and repair the wounds.
This year we also spent time grafting different varieties of plums, peaches, apples etc to create 'fruit salad' trees.
It takes a steady hand and a sharp blade to successfully shape each piece with a single cut.
Working with nature
4. Pest Control
I create my own organic pest potions using herbs from my garden to deter aphids during springtime and the subsequent growing season. Aphids can cause extensive damage to young vegetables.
This springtime I continue to plant fennel at the base of my fruit trees.
Last year the few trees that lacked protection from fennel suffered damage from pests - in particular the cherry and pear slug.
To save myself the trouble of spraying them, I hope the fennel will grow quickly enough to provide natural protection for the entire orchard.
Nature's pest control
Bird nets - a job for spring
5. Protect fruit trees from birds
Spring is time to roll out the bird netting. As much as we love the native wildlife, we cannot afford to have an entire tree stripped of fruit before it ripens enough for us to begin harvesting.
On smaller trees, we remove the bird nets after harvesting the fruit - giving the tree room to grow and protecting the net from the winter elements.
Those who have read my account of giving new life to my ancient apple tree might be pleased to see a photo of the old girl.
She is still wearing the same nets all this time later because too many branches grew up through holes and I fear chopping her back too savagely.
Bees are happily spending time beneath the net and the old tree promises more apples this year.
Cockatoos and other native wildlife in our garden will feast on the fruit outside the nets. We'll make apple pies and applesauce and other yummy treats with the rest.
The smaller apple trees I planted nearby are now about 8 feet tall and in full blossom.
For the first year I am so confident cross-pollination will be successful that I haven't bothered moving the potted apple close by. :)
Over 100 years old and still bearing fruit
6. Make sure there's plenty to eat!
I have written a lot about organic gardening, particularly about the ways I plant and nurture vegetables in the early stages.
But in early springtime as well as planting vegetables, I begin harvesting. Many perennials left in the ground over winter and trimmed, pruned and fed at the first sign of warmth, will provide food sooner than you expect.
For instance, this year I'm very pleased to have globe artichokes growing rapidly - even while we are still experiencing late frosts.
I am planting many vegetables and will continue to stagger planting over the next months to ensure we have year-round meals.
Living off-grid, it is a long drive to the store. By planning and planting effectively in springtime, our garden provides plenty of herbs, fruit and vegetables to eat fresh - and enough to store and use throughout winter.
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