Rental Permaculture: Spring Edition
Earlier in the year, we wrote about how permaculture can be incorporated into your life even if you don’t own land and live in a suburban rental property. If you’re new to permaculture, it’s worth having a read of the introduction to get into the swing of things and then learn how you can get started gardening, wherever you are.
All seasons are not created equal
Indigenous Australians recognise more seasons within our varying climates than many people are aware of: some have as many as eight. Understanding these weather calendars is integral to gardening success in Australia, as you’ll quickly realise things don’t go to plan if you try following traditional European planting schedules. The Bureau of Meteorology created a great map of some of the Indigenous seasonal calendars of Australia, which you can find here.
In the Wurundjeri region which includes Greater Melbourne, six are recognised:
Late Summer (Hottest, bushfire season): February – mid-March
Early Winter (Cool & still): April and May
Deep Winter (Cold & wet): June – mid-July
Early Spring (sometimes referred to as “Sprinter”, mild-warm): mid-July – August
True Spring (Warm, wet & windy): September – October
High Summer (Warm to hot): November – January
We’ve just come out of “Sprinter”, being Early Spring, where flowers begin blooming, birds start nesting, and the weather warms up. Nights are still very cold but as we’re less prone to ground frosts than the Northern hemisphere, it’s unnecessary to wait until the beginning of “true spring” to start planting seeds like you’ll find mentioned in many European gardening resources.
The beginning of September sees the start of True Spring, where the weather is warm, wet and windy, and we have a massive explosion of flowers, new growth and insects. In European calendars, this is when you’d start planting your seeds, but in Victoria, it’s when you can consider putting your first seedlings in the ground, and planning your second round of succession crops.
True Spring gardening game plan
So what are some of the jobs to do in a permaculture garden in Melbourne’s True Spring? Here are some of the things we do in September and into October.
Keep your eye on roadside collection piles
Look for things you might need over the summer growing period: garden pots, trellises, chicken wire, stakes, compost bins, and worm farms. So many people have been spending their pandemic lockdown doing ‘clean outs’ of their sheds, it could be quite easy to find most things you need for free without looking too far.
Start growing summer crops from seed
If you don’t have your own seeds saved, swap with local friends and permaculture communities, use seed libraries or buy online. Use second hand seed-raising trays or punnets if you can get them, or look at other things you can re-purpose. Commercial meat trays, strawberry punnets and cut-down plastic milk bottles can all be excellent seed raising trays – just make sure to add drainage holes.
Larger seeds like zucchini, cucumber and pumpkin can be planted in toilet rolls with one end tucked in, or you can make your own little pots from newspaper. Make sure to group them tightly (a rubber band or some string can help) otherwise they topple over and dry out. Smaller seeds like lettuce and herbs can be planted in egg-cartons.
When paper-potted seedlings are ready, you can simply plant them container and all!
Use good seed-raising mix, and get them to 2 ‘true leaf’ stage in a protected area before considering planting them out. This could be a warm, sunny windowsill/bench indoors; an outdoor greenhouse, or even just under a large clear plastic tub on the front step.
Compost and fertiliser
We eat lots of spring eggs as chooks start laying again, and always save the eggshells. Roasted and crushed to a powder, these get added to soil when we plant tomatoes, and used in a foliar spray during summer along with dehydrated, powdered banana skins to help feed plants the calcium and potassium they need to prevent blossom-end rot.
Worms wake up hungry in spring, so we increase the amount of food scraps going into the worm farm (which were backed off during winter when worms are sleepier), knowing that this creates fertiliser to use during our busy growing months ahead.
Prepare for the heat
One of the big things that’s hard to manage when living in a rental is shade: you’re not allowed to make major changes like plant big trees or erect sail cloths which might help shelter north and west-facing garden spaces from the brutal summer sun, and this can limit your growing area severely. One impermanent solution is to look at ‘living shadecloths’.
Planting fast-growing climbing or trailing plants like pumpkins, cucumbers or beans and training them up frames/string to offer shade during the afternoon is a brilliant way to protect more tender low-growing crops like tomatoes and lettuce. Nasturtium also make great living mulch, as they spread widely without taking up much root-space or soil nutrients. When their leaves get too tall, just trim them down and use the greens in salads or pesto.
It’s ideal to put in the first round of all these shade-giving plants now, and then another one at the end of True Spring so they’ve got a chance to grow up nice and thick for the hottest Late Summer period.
Hopefully these ideas cant get you started on a thriving edible garden to see you through the waning pandemic lockdown months, and set you up with an ongoing love of incorporating permaculture principles into your gardening future!
Happy (True) Spring, folks!