Before planting out loads of seedlings and sowing handfuls of seed for our warm season crops we should ensure the basic needs of the plants are going to be met without having to disturb them down the track. This means getting the soil condition and irrigation sorted prior to planting.
Whether you have just cleared out an old bed or put in a few new ones it is important that the soil is in optimum condition before planting your crop. Plants may still appear to grow healthily, however if the nutrient isn’t in the soil it can’t make it to the table. Additions of household compost, composted manures and worm poo will add structure (drainage and capacity to hold water) while replacing and providing valuable nutrients for your future crops. Be careful not to feed too much nitrogen to your root crop beds. Ideally any soil conditioning will be done a few weeks before planting. Green manure crops are a good way to improve vacant beds over the cooler months, and it is well worth seeking information about their use for next year.
Following your soil conditioning it is important to get your irrigation sorted. Check your current irrigation lines and install drip-irrigation to those beds without. If you practice crop rotation it is worth having a valve at each bed that can be opened or closed as different plants have varying irrigation requirements.
Mulching is the final layer of preparation your beds will require. There are a number of options here depending on your desired aesthetic and budget. Pea-straw and lucerne hay is commonly used in vegetable gardens and provide good amounts of nitrogen and organic matter as they break down. They also both provide the classic veggie garden look; however pea-straw can also bring you a lot of pea shoots (good for the chooks). A more natural and cheaper mulching can be achieved by layering leafy pruning of other plants in the garden. Good plants for this include all your strappy and leafy plants, herb prunings and perennial leaves (such as comfrey, nettles and nasturtiums).
Now is also the time to erect any trellis structures for your crops to avoid mid-season disturbances. Sturdy trellises are more effective than flimsy ones, so it is worth putting some thought into how you will create your trellises, and which plants may require them. Strong, permanent trellises in your beds can look and work well with the advantage of being able to house different crops each season. Trellises also work very well against vacant wall spaces, water-tanks and fences. For spring and summer crops think about trellises for tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, pumpkins and a range of climbing and espaliered fruits.
Being prepared early for warm season plantings really takes the pressure off when planting time draws near. Last minute bed preparation can leave you with rushed weekends and unplanned plantings. If you have the time it is well worth considering your summer crops in the cooler months and preparing accordingly. And if you have missed the boat this year, think about early prep for next year.