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How to keep your autumn vegetable garden healthy and pest free

Snail

Autumn is the time of year that the pests start to emerge from all corners of the garden to munch on your newly planted seedlings. It can be a tricky time of year in the garden because depending on your location it may remain warm through most of autumn. After the summer bounty of produce stops many people are keen to plant for winter.

I caution you to not do this too early.

Winter plants will not thrive if the weather is too warm, the plants will become stressed and stressed plants become the primary target of pests.

Autumn is a season to be enjoyed in it’s own right. Don’t over-look autumn plants such as coriander, fennel, peas, rocket and spinach as well as garlic.  These plants all love the mild days and cool mornings and nights of autumn. They are reasonably fast growing and well worth adding to your kitchen garden before you embark on planting the very slow growing winter plants. I personally find the transition from the abundance of summer to the barely productive winter months to be almost painful! I love enjoying the autumn plants before the garden slows to what seems like a stand still pace.

I have seen many instances of autumn being overlooked (and have been guilty of it) as gardeners move from tomatoes, capsicum, eggplant and zucchini that have continued well into autumn straight to winter plants.

Rocket harvest

My tips for keeping your plants stress free, healthy and pest free during autumn are:

  1. Plant vegetables and herbs at the correct time for your climate. Planting too early will lead to plant stress. Read the label or seed packet instructions to verify planting requirements.
  2. Replenish the soil prior to planting new season vegetables and herbs. Add compost and well rotted manure to the soil, remove any weeds and spent plants from the previous season. If your garden is new, complete a simple pH test to get to know your soil.  You are checking to see if it is too acidic or alkaline. Corrections may include adding lime, coffee grinds, or dolomite, mushroom compost or pine bark to the soil. *
  3. Water new plants regularly with seaweed solution.
  4. Push back, or remove, thickly applied mulch from garden beds prior to planting for autumn. A thin layer is ok to leave but pests will hide in the depths and damp of thick mulch from this point through to spring. If you have a thick layer of mulch on your vegetable garden beds move it to your compost pile.

Repel snails and slugs:

Bok Choy snail food

Snails and slugs are one of the greatest pests I encounter in our vegetable garden. Dense growth of established plants such as sage, oregano, lemongrass and mint and lots of pots provide them with a place to shelter and breed.

A routine that works in my vegetable garden to reduce the number of snails and slugs is:

 

  • At the end of summer remove any pots from the garden that are not in use – snails and slugs love to shelter under and behind them.
  • Lift up the any pots that border your vegetable garden at least once a week and remove snails and slugs sheltering under them.
  • Scatter dried, crushed egg shells around new plants – the picture above shows the shells
  • Sprinkle used coffee grounds around the new plants
  • Water new plants regularly with seaweed solution

I find the steps above are effective in my garden during autumn. In winter last year I also added the skins of oranges face-up to the soil in the late afternoon to attract the slugs for disposal in the morning.

Note: this only works well if you put out the skins at dusk and collect them very early in the morning. If not, the snails and slugs come and enjoy the sweet orange and then return to their safe hiding spot until the return to your plants the next day.

Citrus traps slugs

Snails found in our garden are disposed of. It is up to you as to how you approach this. You wish to re-locate them to another non-productive area of the garden or destroy them.

Other ways I have not tried but are commonly said to repel snails include:

  • Adding copper tape around the edge of the garden area
  • Placing a shallow dish filled with beer in the garden bed
  • Allow chickens to free range through the vegetable garden – I am not sure about this one as the chooks we had would have eaten more of the garden than the snails

Following these tips will ensure you experience a bounty of fresh food from your autumn garden.

*Soil test kits are available for a low cost at your local nursery or hardware store. Further reading on soil can be found via Steve Solomon’s book – The Intelligent Gardener.

Kyrstie

 

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{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Anne At Home April 12, 2016, 8:12 am

    Great tips! It’s still been very warm here in Sydney although the nights are definitely cooler. Love the idea of planting some Autumn veggies rather than straight into winter plants. I’m lucky, I have a couple of blue tongue lizards in my garden at the moment so they are dealing with the snails for me. I live on a tiny block (less the 500m2, most of it is house) in a Harbourside suburb-I’m sure organic methods like no spraying or snail baits have helped encourage these welcome visitors. Thanks for an inspiring blog!

  • Jem @ Lost in Utensils April 12, 2016, 6:00 pm

    Awesome post Kyrstie with some great info. Still hot and humid in Brissie – I never Autumn plant until end of April. A good reminder for people with the weather all over the place these days. As much as we may want to ignore it…we can’t! Garden never lets us get away with it 🙂

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