Wally Richards: Spring cleaning time

Labour Weekend puts us about bang in the middle of spring, which is the time deemed as best for getting your gardens spring cleaned and planted out for the seasons ahead.

Keen gardeners have already made significant progress in their gardens so it is likely they are  into the final touches and the daily care patterns of watering, along with nipping out weed seedlings that pop up.

Even people that do not normally do much more gardening than mowing the lawn and spraying some herbicide around, tend to become more motivated about now.

The term “spring cleaning”  came about in days gone by when the weather warmed in the spring and people would take out the old hay, which was used to cover the earthen, kitchen floor. Fresh hay would be spread and likely the old hay would be dug into the vegetable plot.

Spring is the time for renewal and all around us birds are sitting on their nests of hatchlings and causing a bit of havoc in gardens as they search for tidbits to feed  the young. In fact I had a call from a gardener that had the problem of blackbirds chucking around his garden mulch in their quest for food.

To solve this problem supply the birds with ample food for their young. This is best done by obtaining a bit of liver and chopping it up into small bits. Place these in a pot with 3 cups of rice and sufficient water to cook. Stir occasionally till the rice is cooked. Place spoonfuls of the mix out in suitable spots for the birds to eat. Do this 2-3 times a day and again after dark so the birds who wake up before most people in the morning, have the food for breakfast. The rice mix keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

To keep the birds off the areas where you don’t want them you can string some Bird Repeller Ribbon which is available from most independent garden centres.  The desire to nurture their young is so great that the ribbon will be of little use unless you supply a good amount of food. Besides the rice, you can feed them bird seed, bread etc, but protein is what the birds want for their young and that comes from the liver and rice mix. I feed my chooks this mix every day for their lunch and they love it.

It is this ‘spring cleaning’ and nurturing aspect which motivates our non-gardening friends to get out and plant a few shrubs, flowers and even vegetables at this time of the year. If these plantings are successful they take pride in their efforts and start to become true gardeners in their own right. When weather conditions or lack of knowledge results in failure, they consider that their thumbs are not green and carry on with their other normal pursuits.

Planting out seedlings is one of the main tasks at this time along with germinating seeds for planting out later. Seedlings face three dangers that can decimate the young plants. Birds, which we have already mentioned. Cats, which just love freshly prepared soils as toilets. Slugs and snails that like seedlings.

To keep cats away from your new gardens obtain a product that is called ‘Cat Repellent,’ sprinkle some of the crystals around the area to protect, and over 95% of the local cats will stay away. As the crystals evaporate sprinkle a few more till the cats have formed new habits.  Slugs and snails also can attack seedlings and the best method of dealing with them is to spray Liquid Copper with Raingard added over the seedlings and surrounding soil. The slugs and snails cannot go over copper without being effected so they stay away from treated areas. Repeat treatment about every 10 to 14 days. This method is far better than using poison baits which can kill pets and birds and are also dangerous to have around with small children. Slugs and snails are an advantage in the garden as they aid in the breakdown of decomposing organic material and are an important part of the soil food web. We just need to keep them off our living plants.

Germinating seedlings is a frustrating experience for many gardeners because they do not provide sufficient natural light for the new seedlings. The seeds sown in trays or punnets can be started off indoors but as soon as the first show of germination takes place they must be moved to a place where they have full light but not strong direct sunlight. Ideally a glasshouse with a bit of shade cloth is perfect.  Alternatively take an old drawer and place it in a morning or late in the day sun situation.

Place your trays in the drawer with panes of glass over the drawer to protect the young seedlings from the elements. Raise the glass slightly for ventilation. Seedlings on a windowsill will stretch to the window and become weak and dampen off. When the seedlings have natural light from above they do not stretch, growing as natural, stocky plants.
Use potting mix for germinating seedlings as it is better and cheaper than special seed raising mixes. Fill the tray two thirds full of the potting mix, sieve some more mix over this to obtain a layer of the finer particles. Sprinkle the seeds over the fine particles and sieve some more mix to slightly cover the seeds. With a fine rose watering can or a mist sprayer, moisten down the sowing with Magic Botanic Liquid (MBL) mixed with water at 10 mls per litre. This aids the germination. Keep the seeds moist but not over wet.

Once the seedlings have reached the second true leaf stage the tray should be soaked in the  MBL and water mix and then the seedlings are pricked out into cell trays or small pots for later planting into the gardens. When planting out a garden plot remove all the weeds by hand and hoe up the soil to loosen it, if compacted. Cover the area with a layer of compost which can be obtained these days from garden centres in bags or by the trailer load. Before spreading the compost over the prepared ground, you can enhance the mineral content of the soil by sprinkling Rok Solid and Ocean Solids. Sheep Manure pellets, Blood & bone, dolomite & gypsum can also be applied at the suggested rates on the containers. Then an inch or two of the compost is used to cover these goodies. Now the seedlings can be planted into the compost and watered in with MBL and Mycorrcin. The latter along with the MBL will start assisting the microbe populations to build up making for better healthier plants and gardens.

You may like to spray your seedlings with Vaporgard an hour or two before transplanting. This reduces moisture loss and makes a big difference in reducing transplant shock. The seedlings not only stand up quicker and start growing faster but it also protects them against cold snaps and late frosts.

Once planted and watered in you can sprinkle the Cat Repellent around if need be and spray the seedlings and mulch with Liquid Copper and Raingard to keep the slugs and snails at bay. It is important that you water your new plantings lightly and frequently, such as every day while they are establishing.

Here we bring in an interesting point; tap water in some areas has chlorine added to the water which is not good for the soil or plants. The tap water will get dry soil moist, but it also kills beneficial microbes in the soil and on the plants, slowing down the plant’s growth and health. Some areas have greater amounts of chlorine in the water that others and you can smell this poison when you turn on the tap. Also not good for your own health either.

When it rains you will notice that plants really come away as the rain water is much more beneficial for the gardens than the chlorine doctored tap water.  I overcame this problem several years ago by investing in a low cost water filter which is connected to my garden hose. An excellent investment, which removes another toxic chemical from our gardens (along with any other pesticides/chemical traces that are in many tap water supplies).  Another step towards having healthy plants and gardens.

Have a great Labour Weekend.

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