There's the scent of autumn in the air down here. It smells as though summer's over in Southland and the cooler season, with the fragrance of ripe fruit and fermenting ciders and wines, has arrived.
It's been a productive if unruly one for gardeners and orchardists. The fruit harvest has been heavy and vegetables have achieved good weight. The combination of regular rain and occasional periods of hot weather has watered and encouraged every crop to produce its best, and at the same time boosted growth in lawns and weeds, necessitating plenty of mowing, scything and cutting-back just to keep things seemly.
The moon has played her part in all that, drawing up water from the soil to keep newly-sown seeds moist till sprouting time, and beaming down on crops at night, extending their exposure to light even more, adding to that already offered by the long southern evenings.
Now it's March and we are preparing for a month of busy harvesting. The month's first week is covered by the Last Quarter phase of the moon and provides some respite from garden work. It's almost a full week of rest for us gardeners, with opportunities for leisurely weeding and applying liquid feeds.
March 7 marks the start of the New Moon period and gives us the chance to cultivate in order to take advantage of the next phase, where sowing seed and transplanting seedlings is most effective. That period, the First Quarter, begins on the 12th and lasts right through to March 21. During this time, parsley can be effectively sown, with a good crop likely to result.
It's too cold in some parts of the country, but the soils of Mangawhai will be ideal for sowing into. Cloches, if needed, warm the soil and increase the chance of success. Sow silverbeet too, for a useful and robust leafy crop that can easily withstand the rigours of the winter ahead. Swiss chard, or silverbeet as it's commonly called in New Zealand, likes seaweed, so if you've access to any form of the oceanic algae, integrate that into your soils a week or so before sowing your chard seed. Once the plants have put on some height and bulk, an occasional drink of seawater is enjoyed by silverbeet. Another round of feeding with liquid fertilizer (kelp-soup is a favourite, naturally enough) on March 21 and 22 will further increase the size and health of your beet.
The Full Moon period from the 22nd to the 26th is an intense one for young plants, so hold off sprouting any till that period has passed. Too much of a good thing – the stronger pull and
extra light of the full moon – makes delicate seedlings grow in a spindly manner and that doesn't benefit them in the long run.
The remaining days of March are 'barren' in terms of lunar influence and are best used for other activities, like harvesting ripe tree and vine fruits, preserving everything that won't store raw and if you have a yearning to try making cider, mead, wine or beer, trying your hand at those traditional arts. None are difficult to do, providing you find and use the simpler recipes and have some of the necessary equipment on hand.
I find cider the easiest of all 'cheering drinks' to make, partly because of the tremendous supply of heritage apples I get from my home orchard, and because they just need chopping and dropping into the big glass demijohn with very little after-care. I somehow manage to produce quite drinkable cider year after year and see no need to get any more sophisticated than that. If you are thinking of giving cider-making a try, I think you'll be well pleased by the result.
n New moon March 9, full moon March 24.