There comes a time when nature is telling you it's time to move on, yet if you're anything like me you hold on for much too long, wanting to prolong the summer run of amazing produce.
When your zucchini plants are more white than green, pull them out! It hurts to do so, but it's a great indicator that it's time to move on.
I'm yet to meet a person who doesn't suffer powdery mildew on their zucchini plants. My advice would be to remember the good times, the early plentiful harvests, the zoodles, bakes, and stir fries; the shiny, green, delicious fruit; the pickles and preserves; and those beautiful yellow flowers that are also a culinary delight in their own right. When the plant is all but a shadow of its former self, it's time to pull it out.
Using my zucchini plants as my indicator, I do a complete make-over of the entire garden.
What does this include?
Pulling out the zucchinis as much as it hurts, fertilising the lawn, re-staking indeterminate tomato varieties, pulling out any determinate tomatoes that have finished for the season (like the so-called bush tomato varieties, those that fruit and ripen all at the same time), pulling out all the self seeders that will likely give you a huge amount of leggy high growth, but very few tomatoes as they've come up in less than ideal places, careful contemplation of pumpkin vines and cucamelon vines - both will take over if you let them.
Pull them! The same with silver beet that starts to get a silver sheen - it's been in the ground too long.
Pull it! Once you've cleared all the old growth, it's time to feed the soil.
A good amount of an organic fertiliser, a through watering in, a layer of mulch, then let it sit for a week or two. Ensure continual watering especially on hot days.
If your beds are cleared of summer crops and waiting idle, you may like to try a fast-growing green manure crop that you can dig into the soil before planting your winter veg.
These seeds are cheap to purchase, aid in water retention, protect soil microbes from the heat, and add nutrients back into the soil when they are shallow dug back in (don't dig deep or you'll disturb your soil profile).
Give your citrus a light prune and a foliar application of trace elements, this will help with any nutrient deficiencies and keep them healthy and better able to fight off pests and diseases.
I also lightly prune all my full-size stone fruit trees that have usually grown through the netting. My dwarfs are fine, and I leave their pruning for the dormant period.
What to plant in February?
It's usually a hot month and it can seem at odds to start thinking about brassicas but it pays to do so. The warm soil helps them get a good start.
Try seed trays of cauli, broccoli, kale, and cabbage. I plant seedlings of broccoli, and beetroot and leek directly into beds.
New silverbeet seedlings also go in. Lettuce in shadier spots. Beetroot can also handle some shade.
Celery. And spring onions. If you have the room - watermelon. And if you have a sturdy climbing frame - climbing beans (or bush beans for those who don't).
Rocket - be warned, it will become a regret if you let it flower and will, without fail, spread.
Clean out the strawberry patch.
It's still a little early for potatoes and garlic but you can try your hand at a potato patch or grow them in bags.
And it can be hard to think this far ahead, but it's time to start thinking about coriander. Sow directly into a bed or if it's really hot wait until mid March.
Keep an eye on your worm farms. They like about 24 degrees and slow down when it gets too hot so be careful not to overfill, you'll know by the smell.
We recently repositioned our Tafe worm farms to a shadier spot and as the weather turns in Autumn, we'll likely move them back.
Good gardens are a combination of planning and maintenance. Get your garden up to speed and the maintenance becomes something to enjoy, rather than a chore.
Do a little bit often and you'll soon reap rewards. Not only in the food that you eat, but in staying fit and healthy both physically and mentally.
And try to enjoy the heat and fine days while they're here.
Terri Sharpe is Coordinator and Garden Specialist of the Margaret River Primary School Kitchen Garden Program.