Weekend gardening jobs, 18th November 2023

Baby Quince

It was a stunning morning in the garden today – lovely and warm, sunny, and not too hot. I had exactly two hours to spend in the garden before a family event, so I spent time feeding the pots in the greenhouse with liquid fertiliser and planting out more of the seemingly endless capsicum seedlings I have grown from seed. I also sprinkled organic snail pellets around the patch. This is the first year I have ever had much of a problem with snails. Usually, a bit of snail damage does not bother me, but they have been really having a go on new seedlings. A new organic iron-based pellet has been released on the market. It’s not harmful to other critters, and breaks down to harmless iron in the soil.

I have also been diligent keeping up with the mulch in my front and back gardens. Organic mulch decomposes over time. I topped up the bare patches that have broken down since the start of Spring with chopped sugar cane mulch. Keeping up the mulch is critical at this time of year as the weather warms up and because it has been incredibly dry all Spring. According to the long range weather forecast broadcast on ABC radio last week, the dry weather will continue for the rest of Spring. This is not good news for we gardeners, especially those of us that do not have a rainwater tank. I have been watering my garden since September, as we have a lot of fruit trees that need regular water through blossoming and fruit set. Mulch is necessary to maintain all that good work and save water.

I threw a couple of handsful of fertiliser under each fruit tree – in the Summer growing season I try to do this each month.

Walking around the garden mulching, hand weeding, and feeding, I can keep an eye on changes in the garden.

This week I noticed baby quinces growing (above – so exciting), the Violet Queen beans have started to flower (so pretty), and I picked two Pepinos and four cucumbers already! Cukes are my garden white whale – I think I built the greenhouse just so I could successfully grow cucumbers.

Violet Queen bean flowers

I’m also happy to see that the squash and pumpkin plants I planted about six weeks ago (probably too early, tbh) have almost all survived the snail onslaught and are starting to put on some lovely new growth. I usually have good success with pumpkins and limited success with squash (the mysteries of life!) but I really hope this year that I do well with both – I love steamed summer squash with butter or olive oil and a little salt. I could eat just a big old plateful of them for dinner and be very happy! The squash plants look as good as I have ever managed, so fingers crossed!

Capsicums (Sweet Peppers)

Last year’s capsicums

This year I am growing a lot of capsicums (in the US, known as sweet peppers). I am mostly growing the long Italian-style capsicums, used primarily for frying and cooking, rather than the salad-style capsicums (although I am growing one sweet salad variety, Sweet Chocolate, which I like because it grows a lovely dark brown when ripe).

I personally find capsicum really easy to grow from seed, and more fun because you have access to more interesting varieties than the standard Californian Wonder you can buy from nurseries. However, I do have a greenhouse, so that does make it easier to grow them from seed.

If you do want to try it, use seed-raising mix in trays (I like the Yates seed-raising mix best – but it is pricey – and I also think the Seasol brand is good), and plant as many seeds as you think you will need, plus a few extra. Water well and keep damp until seedlings emerge. Keep the seedlings going with a weak liquid feed every week or so, and then when they are about half as tall as your iPhone, prick them out gently and replant them into pots to harden off. Keep them watered and fed weekly until you are ready to plant them out into the garden – or you can grown them in larger pots. They will be happy in pots throughout the growing season. Just make sure to grow them in a warm, sunny spot and keep them well fed.

For chillies – just do the same! I find chillies fruit earlier and more prolifically than capsicums though, so don’t be surprised if you find you have chillies well before your capsicums have even flowered – they are related, but chillies seem to have started their run before capsicums have tied their shoelaces.

What to do in the garden with the time you have this week

I am flat out this week! It’s deadline time for the next two weeks – so I will barely have any time in the garden – as with today, I will be carving out a set period to spend in the garden, and that will be that.

If you are like me, and time-strapped, here are some suggestions for what to do in the garden this week with limited time.

If you have an hour

Plant some seeds for Christmas giving, or pot up some seedlings ready for Christmas giving. It may almost be too late to plant seeds ready for Christmas, but you could have time, depending on what you are planting. I have had some plants growing from seed for quite a while with certain people in mind, ready for Christmas giving. I also have had some growing from cuttings. They are almost ready to pot on for giving in four weeks. I am keeping an eye out for a lovely pot to give the plant. Caveat: I love to receive plants, but I also understand that not everyone does! I have chosen these plants and the receiver carefully, based on what I know they will enjoy.

If you have 2-3 hours

Feed and water – but keep an eye on the weather. You should not liquid feed your plants if the temperature will exceed 25 degrees C, as it can burn your plants. Choose a cooler day, and a liquid fertiliser for your plant type (there are many different types on the market, including organic). It can take some time, which is why I do it on a weekend when I have a little more time to go back and forth with my two 9L watering cans. I find it is a great way to get up and personal with your plants.

If you have 4-5 hours

Then you are living the dream! If it was me, this week, I would be deadheading roses and other flowering bushes to keep the flowering flush going, hand-weeding, mulching, and choosing some showstopper pots and plants for a front door and patio Christmas display.

Unfortunately, I don’t have that time this week – but hoping to carve some out in a couple of weeks to do these jobs!

Have a great week!

Planning your vegetarian garden

I’m a vegetarian, and although my partner and young adult living at home are not technically, they are in actuality, because I do most of the cooking.

We are not vegans, because I have severe, life-threatening allergies that prevent me from being a healthy vegan. Our happy chickens produce eggs, and we eat dairy products. I don’t enforce my dietary choices on the rest of the family – they can eat what they like – but at home for the most part, we are a veggie family.

This means that how I garden has changed quite a lot. In the past, I was a bit more haphazard about what I planted. I often planted things for fun and interest rather than what we needed. Now I plant more intentionally, thinking about the plants that supplement a healthy veggie diet. We eat a lot of legume-based Indian curries, Mexican meals like burrito bowls, quesadillas, and fajitas, tofu stir fries, soups, and some veggie burgers and pasta. With these in mind, I have planned my Spring and Summer garden around the veggies that supplement these dishes.

variety of vegetables
Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

This Spring and Summer I am growing a lot of:

  • Chillies: a mix of very hot and milder chillies, for our curries, Mexican dishes, and stir fries, and for Indian and Mexican pickling. This year our choices include Devil’s Tongue, Jalapeño, Siam, Serrano, Guntur, Scorpion, Bird’s Eye, Habanero, Cayenne, Bhut Jolokia Chocolate. Er…we love chilli!
  • Capsicum: Sweet Chocolate, Italian Fryer, Quadrato D’Asti Gialo. These are sweet and frying peppers for salads, salsas, fajitas, and pasta dishes;
  • Eggplant: Japanese White, Thai Purple Ball, Slim Jim, and Turkish Red, for curries, fajitas, and pastas, as well as for our favourite Indian Brinjal pickle;
  • Basil: Lettuce Leaf, Cinnamon, and Sweet for pestos, pizza, and pasta dishes;
  • Squash and Zucchini: Tromboccino, Bennings Green Tint, and Lebanese, for pastas, curries, and stir fries;
  • Cucumbers: Gherkins, Mini Muncher, and Marketmore, for salads and pickling;
  • Tomatoes: Riesentraube, Green Zebra, and Mysterious, for salads, salsas, and sandwiches;
  • Tomatillos for salsas;
  • Spring onions: Candy Stick, for salads and stir fries;
  • Silverbeet: for stir fries and curries;
  • Herbs: Annual and perennial herbs for everything;
  • Melons: Mini Yellow Watermelon, and Rockmelon Petit Gris De Rennes;
  • Beans: Kentucky Wonder and Violet Queen, for stir fries and curries;
  • Pumpkins: Wrinkled Butternut, Buttercup, and Kent, for soups, curries, and pastas;
  • Lettuce: Cos and Freckled Cos, for salads.

90 per cent of these were raised from seed. All of these veggies, planted across our front and back yards and the greenhouse and balconies, when combined with dried and canned pulses, grains, dairy (cheese and milk), homemade yoghurt, and eggs from our chickens, give us a healthy veggie diet. We still supplement with some purchased produce like potatoes, onions, garlic when I run out of homegrown, ginger, and other veg I can’t grow. At the height of the season we can easily live out of the garden for at least 6 weeks, not including all the pickles we put up, which last for months.

I could choose not to do this, of course, but a) it’s fun, and b) I have the space. Also, have you seen the price of a capsicum lately? I generally believe that growing your own veggies is not cheaper than buying produce, but I have to say I might be willing to reconsider that theory soon.

We are fortunate to have a lot of space that we can dedicate to a garden and chickens. If I had less space, I would focus on growing chillies, capsicum, eggplant, lettuce, and herbs in pots.

Of course, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to have veggies that are your gardening must haves! What are your ‘go to’ Spring and Summer veggies?

Weekend garden jobs, October 14 2023

Fernery, Sydney Botanic Gardens

We spent a few days in Sydney last week, in perfect weather. Aside from the usual things (Opera House, Harbour Bridge, ferry rides), we visited the Botanic Gardens, which had a beautiful rainforest section and a fernery.

The fernery was stunning. We learned a lot about how ferns reproduce, and the variety of ferns in Australia. I recommend a visit if you ever visit Sydney.

We also took a ferry ride to the ritzy suburb of Rose Bay. The reason we went there, aside from the fun ferry ride, was that it has a beautiful, bay with crystal clear water, and art deco buildings in pristine condition. It has streets lined with enormous trees – really gorgeous and worth the trip.

Greenhouse Jobs

I spent several hours rearranging my greenhouse this morning. My husband suggested making better use of the space by shifting some shelving to the centre of the greenhouse. This was a really smart idea, and it also gave me the opportunity to clear out some cobwebs, creeping oxalis that had wormed its way in, and sweep out the greenhouse. Once I did that, I moved a heap of pots around, moved the shelving racks to the centre, and then had the fun of potting up a lot of seedlings that were ready to move from the seed troughs.

Rearranged Greenhouse

Mulching and weeding

Due to the combo of warm, sunny weather last week followed by cool rainy weather this week, the weeds have come out in full force. I have spent quite a lot of time trawling around the garden, bucket in hand, pulling out weeds. These were much worse in the front yard than the back, where I do admit to spending more of my time. Some kind of grass has found its way into the front garden, probably blown in, and I have finally given it my attention. Fortunately it was easy to yank up, but it really was all over the place.

Another job I have put off in the front yard was mulching (the back yard veggie patch has been properly mulched for several weeks now, in anticipation of the warmer weather). In the backyard I use a straw mulch (lucerne or sugar cane), but in the front yard I use a cottage mulch because it is more attractive. I finally started it today, and realised I really underestimated how much mulch I needed for this job!

Mulberry answers?

As I mulched and weeded, I listened to Roots and Shoots, an ABC gardening podcast from Western Australia. I also listen to the local Talkback Gardening podcast from here in South Australia, but when I have finished these, I turn to Sabrina in WA. Someone called in asking how often to water a mulberry tree during Spring. My mulberry tree is a current bane of my garden (you should see our back neighbour’s tree – covered in ripening mulberries! Our tree – tiny green fruits!). Sabrina said mulberry trees should be watered twice a week in Spring and three times a week in Summer. I water about half as often as she recommended – this could be the answer to my mulberry tree woes. I immediately put the hose on the mulberry tree.

Quinces and plums

It’s not all woe in my garden though! The plum trees we planted last year have tiny plums, the lime tree is covered in tiny limes once more, (after an absolute bumper crop last year), the apricot tree is loaded, and the quince tree we just planted six weeks ago is covered in blossom!

Smyrna Quince in bloom

Some people would recommend trimming blossom off a newly planted tree to let it put all its energy into growth. I just let the tree do its thing. That may not be the right approach, but it’s what I do.

The apple trees are also both covered in blossom, and we are hoping for a good crop this year.

On the other hand, I had to dig up the ring-barked passionfruit, leaving just one sad passionfruit left of the five I planted two years ago. I have two tiny Red Flamenco passionfruit growing from seed, still alive in the greenhouse. If these don’t make it, I might wave a white flag on passionfruit. It feels almost unAustralian, saying that.

What to do in the garden with the time you have this week

If, like me, you have minimal time, here’s some suggestions for what to do with it:

If you have an hour

Plant some zucchini and pumpkins. The soil has warmed up now (although it’s cold in our area today) – push some zucchini, pumpkin, or squash seeds direct where you want them to grow and wait. They will pop their heads up soon! I’m finding all the extra spots in the garden to poke a few pumpkin seeds, including the front yard.

If you have 2-3 hours

Keep mulching. I don’t know about you, but mulching takes me a long time (I’m not as young as I used to be, and my yards are big). I spent a couple hours on it a few weeks ago, and a couple hours today. I’m still not done. I hope to have finished all the mulching by the end of October, before the really hot weather hits.

If you have 4-5 hours

Start planning for Christmas. When I look at my garden now, I’m thinking about how it will look in eight weeks’ time. We often host, and I like the garden to look nice. Do I want plants to be in flower? It’s going to be a hot Summer, so everything will be a bit droopy unless I make sure to mulch and water well now and in the future. What about colour? If I want to have a display of flowers by Christmas I need to start planning for that now.

(Gardening) regrets, I’ve had a few

I was out in the patch this morning moving the sprinkler, and I noted yet another lemon balm seedling.

If you have been gardening for a while, you will likely have made some mistakes. Some will be minor, some not so much. Here’s a few of mine.

Planting the wrong thing in the wrong place

Lemon balm, violets, oregano…these plants sound lovely. They are lovely. But in the wrong place, they are weedy little monsters. Even violets, which are one of my all-time favourite flowers. They were one of my grandmother’s favourites. They were Oscar Wilde’s favourite. Whenever I smell their gorgeous perfume, I think of my grandmother.

But. They grow like a weed in my back garden, to the extent that I pull them up constantly. I planted them as a ground cover, to fill in a space in my mini-meadow, not realising they would find a way to spread through the veggie patch as well.

Ditto lemon balm aka Melissa, which spreads even worse than mint, to which it is related. Every time I am in the veggie patch, I pull up a couple of lemon balm or violet seedlings. I often yank up whole plants of the damn stuff, and we still have it everywhere. I planted the lemon balm as a tea plant, and to be completely honest, we never use it.

Learn from my experience – check how invasive a plant is before you mindlessly plant it in your garden.


I love passionfruit. I love all passionfruit flavoured things, even that weird passionfruit chocolate that Cadbury just released, that my husband thinks is abominable. Love it. It’s supposed to be easy to grow, and yet I have planted five – yes FIVE – of the damn things since we moved to this property eight years ago, and still no joy. I am about to wave a white flag and put the final two out of their misery.

But have I learned my lesson?

I have not. I am currently raising more from seed in my greenhouse.

This time it will be different.

The lawn

Our lawn, or more properly, the weed patch, is one of the banes of our garden. We should have done something to properly treat the broad leaf weeds and clover that were already invading it when we moved in.

We did not.

We should have acted on our intention to solarise the entire lawn, remove it, and replant it with a herb lawn or even a new hardy lawn variety.

We did not.

Instead, my husband goes out every few weeks and dutifully mows the weed patch so it looks barely passable, and another year goes by with me regretting its existence.

The Mulberry tree

When we moved in, we had to remove a dangerous gum tree and a date palm planted right up to the footings of our house. We considered what to replace these trees with, and decided on an apricot tree and a black mulberry tree. I had memories of a friend’s mulberry tree from when I was a kid – it was huge and covered with juicy mulberries in the Summer. We had great fun climbing it – we would sit up in the tree and eat mulberries until our bellies ached. I thought my kids would love to climb it and pick mulberries.

Well, my kids are adults now, and the tree has barely produced more than a handful of dry, sour mulberries each season. It takes up a lot of space in our front yard, and I swear if it does not produce any fruit this year it will produce lovely warmth from our fireplace next Winter. I’ll replace it with a peach tree or something else useful.

What are your gardening regrets? Let me know in the comments!

What to do in the garden with the time you have this week

If you have one hour…check for critters.

I tend not to worry about critters in my garden much. Critters live in the garden and that is fine by me. However, there are some that love to destroy plants, and these are not really ok. Aphids and white fly are my current nemeses. I check my seedlings every couple of days for white fly and aphids, which are starting to ramp up now that the weather is warming up. If I find aphids on my seedlings, I gently scrape them off with my fingernail and give them a little squish. On plants like roses, you can hose them off. For white fly, I have yellow sticky traps in certain spots in my greenhouse. I’m hoping that this diligence will pay off and I won’t need to take more drastic measures later in the season.

If you have 2-3 hour…keep on weeding

This time of year is Goldilocks time for weeds – not too hot, not too cold. I spent a couple of hours this morning weeding. It’s not the most fun time in the garden, but it is very satisfying. My husband joined me, and we really made a difference out there in a short time.

For the rest of the week…water!

It’s going to be a warm week, so the first thing you should be doing is watering your plants – especially if you have plants in pots.

So, my main suggestion is that if you have any spare time, keep your plants alive! The weather will fluctuate between 20-30 degrees in Adelaide. Plants in pots dry out very quickly in warm weather, and once they do, it is hard for them to draw up water. Plants have the big roots we see when we plant them out, but they also have tiny, hairlike roots that can die off when the plant dries out. These roots are like our capillaries, drawing nutrition and water to the main roots – they are important to keeping plants healthy.

Take care of recently planted seeds and seedlings in particular – once they dry out, it can be difficult to recover them. If your little seedlings are wilted, it is past time to give them a drink. And if you are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse, you may need to water more often.

Of course, there is such a thing as overwatering as well! Check your plant soil with the tip of your finger. If your finger comes back dirty, the soil is damp and will be ok for now.

Weekend garden jobs 25 September 2023

Climbing Gold Bunny Rose

It’s been another month of working almost every weekend, which has meant very little time in the garden. That’s rough at this time of year, when every day seems to call out to me to spend time in the veggie patch.

This weekend, for my sanity and for the sake of my garden, I closed the computer and stepped out into the sunshine. It was lovely.

Also, very needed. The veggie patch was a bit of a mess, frankly. I had been quickly chopping off the broccoli heads when they were ready, and leaving the plants to produce side shoots, but they were also done. The garden was half full of spent broccoli plants and kale bolting to seed. The kale was a variety I bought in Tasmania at the start of the year, and it did not like our warmer Winter – the leaves were almost leathery, and we did not eat much of it. I’ll stick to the Mediterranean kales like Cavolo Nero next season.

After cleaning out the chicken coop, I pulled out all the spent plants and dug over the beds. Just that one task made the whole patch look so much better.

After digging over, I mulched with pea straw. I planted out the first eggplant of the season (Slim Jimheirloom), and some cool pumpkins called Wrinkled Butternut.

The Obelisk (not the Asterix)

On a whim last week I bought a finial, which I used to build an obelisk. A finial is a funky cast iron topper used to build a frame (the obelisk, kinda) for climbing plants – in this case, it will be climbing beans. My husband drilled it all together for me, and I installed it and expertly tied the twine 🙂

Behind it is another trellis. Beans will grow up that as well. This year I have planted Violet Queen, Kentucky Wonder, and Scarlet Runner. I have decided that this year I will pick many a bean.

The Greenhouse

I spent a few hours pricking out tomatoes and tomatillos from the seed troughs and into pots, to harden off ready for the garden. I haven’t grown tomatillos for well over a decade. My memory is they grow like the clappers, but hindsight can be 20/20. We will see how they grow in this veggie patch. Tomatillos, or husk tomatoes, make delicious salsa when roasted.

I also planted up yet more chillies. If all the chillies come off this year, we will be swimming in them. I already have 13 in pots in the greenhouse, and dozens coming on in the seed troughs. My plan this year is to make as much chilli pickle as I can, so there is method in my madness. Mwahahahahahaha.

What to do in the garden with the time you have this week

If, like me, you have minimal time, here’s some suggestions for what to do with it:

If you have an hour: feed your fruit trees!

They are awake now after their Winter dormancy, and like us when we wake up, they want food. Give all your fruit trees some specialist organic fruit tree fertiliser, and water in well.

If you have 2-3 hours: mulch!

This season is expected to be one of the hottest and driest Springs ever. The best thing you can do if you have some spare time in the garden is mulch the soil and retain the moisture of the Winter weather, before it heats up. I like sugar cane mulch, as it’s sustainable and breaks down slowly, but use any mulch you prefer. Just do it.

If you have 4-5 hours: feed everything, and start planting!

All plants need a feed at this time of year. I use organic liquid fertiliser, diluted well if the plants are seedlings, and stronger if the plants are established. Everything is hungry and wants a feed right now, so if you have time, wander around with your watering can and feed it all. Your plants will thank you. It takes time though! I’m always amazed at how long feeding all my plant babies can take.

I’m also trying to take advantage of the warm Spring weather to plant as much as I can right now. With the soil warming up and the longer sunny days, now is the time to plant fast-growing Spring crops, flowers, and start seeds for Summer. I have basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, capsicum, eggplant, chillies, tomatoes, watermelons, squash, and multiple types of pumpkin and zucchini in the greenhouse and the garden. As each plant is large enough to be potted on, new seeds take their place. And if you don’t have time, space, or interest to grow seeds, plant seedlings. Get the plants established before the really hot weather hits.

Planning for Spring + What to do in the garden with the time you have this week

I blinked and two thirds of 2023 whizzed by me. We are in the second week of August already and I honestly feel like 2023 just started.

I think that happens as you age, and are busy. Suddenly Spring is around the corner, and aside from ordering some seeds, I have done almost nothing to prepare for the Spring garden. So I spent this morning out in the garden, accompanied by some gorgeous helpers – my two daughters and my husband. It was so lovely to spend the morning outside as a family. My husband tackled the more physical jobs, as I am recovering from surgery, while the kids (adults, actually), helped with the more fun stuff – picking, planting, and watering.

Planting seeds

It’s late enough in the season to plant Spring and Summer seeds, if you have a warm spot to plant. Don’t plant into the garden yet – the soil is still too cold. But if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse like I do, or a heat lamp, a heated seed mat (about $50 from Bunnos or the Diggers Club), or even a warm, sunny windowsill, you can start seeds now.

I used to use a heated seed mat, but now I raise seeds in the greenhouse. I have five raised troughs that I use to raise seedlings and to grow plants. Right now two are used to grow peas and lettuces, leaving three troughs free to raise seedlings.

Before I could plant new seeds, I had to move out the seedlings that were already growing: lettuces, tatsoi, kale, cornflowers, and spinach. I transferred some of these to little pots for my daughter to plant in her VegePod, and then the rest we planted out in the garden. These should grow quickly in the warmer days of late August/early September, and give us some fresh veggies during that ‘hungry gap’ before the Spring veggies are ready. While we were planting, we harvested a few veggies that were ready: peas, turnips, radishes, carrots, and some purple broccoli that was about to bolt (already!). My garden is at the stage where there is always something to pick, no matter the time of year.

My plan for the garden this year is to grow as many eggplant and chillies as I can, grow just a couple of my favourite tomatoes, a couple of good cucumbers, trial a different watermelon in the greenhouse, some beans, and lots of zucchini and pumpkins. I don’t have as much veggie growing space as I used to, as one side of the garden is now entirely devoted to seven fruit trees. I drop in some onions and other shallow rooted veggies in that space, but veggies do not feature heavily on that side of the garden. That means the veggie space has cut in half, and I have to rely more on pots and the greenhouse.

That is honestly fine, except I am expecting this Summer to be much hotter than last season. While I am looking forward to a hot Summer (I hate the cold!), I will also have to take care of plants in a poly hot house in very hot weather. The greenhouse has good ventilation, but I do expect that if it gets too hot in there, I will be moving plants out so they can survive.

With my Summer planting plan in mind, I had a couple of seeds I definitely wanted to plant today, then let my daughter choose the rest. We planted:

  • Passionfruit – Red Flamenco
  • Eggplant – Thai Purple Ball
  • Eggplant – White Egg (Japanese)
  • Eggplant – Red Ruffle
  • Chilli – Jalapeno
  • Chilli – Serrano
  • Chilli – Guntur
  • Tomatillo
  • Tomato – Green Zebra
  • Tomato – Mystery (that is, I saved the seed and forgot to label it!)

Looking forward to seeing these pop up over the next few weeks. Once they are large enough, I’ll pot them on, then plant the next round of seeds, which will include more eggplants, watermelons, cucumbers, and zucchini.

What to do in the garden this week

How much time do you have this week? If you are a part-time gardener like me, the answer may depend on your workload, caring responsibilities, and lifestyle. I love reading those lists that tell you what you need to do in the garden this week, but I note that most of them don’t take your time into account – so here’s a quick list to help you fit in some gardening tasks depending on how much time you really have (and if you don’t have any time – that’s OK. Your garden will survive!).

If you have…one hour

Give your houseplants some love.

In a tub of lukewarm (not hot) water, add a couple of drops of olive oil. Take some paper towel, scissors, and a jug of fresh water, and go around to all your houseplants. Using the paper towel, dipped in the water and olive oil and well squeezed out, wipe over the leaves of your plants to remove the dust that accumulates over time. You will be shocked at how much dust you can remove. The olive oil in the water helps to pull the dust off and gives the leaves a shine. A build up of dust on the leaves prevents the plants from photosynthesising properly, and slows their growth. Also, it just looks bad.

Using the scissors, trim off any dead or scrappy leaves, and as you move from plant to plant, use the jug of fresh water to give the plants a drink if they need it.

In about a month, it will be time to feed your houseplants – don’t worry about it now, as they will be dormant and not interested in taking up any food you give them. I use slow release prills or an organic fertiliser spray for houseplants, that is sprayed directly into the soil.

In early Spring I will also check out which plants need repotting. I can already tell from Saturday’s houseplant clean and watering, that my Fiddle Leaf Fig needs to be repotted. The soil is becoming hydrophobic and the plant is outgrowing the pot. But that job can wait until I have more time.

If you have…two or three hours

Start some seeds for your Spring garden.

Whether you are a flower gardener or a veggie gardener (or like me, a bit of both), you can easily plant up some seeds for your Spring garden in a couple of hours or less. Use recycled pots or seed trays, good quality seed-raising mix (I personally think the Yates speciality seed-raising mix is the best I have used, but Seasol is good as well), and labels (I use bamboo labels that are biodegradable – but you can make your own).

All your Summer veggie seeds can be started now – think tomatoes, eggplant, chillies, capsicum (peppers), etc. Spring flowers can also be started now. I recently planted cornflowers, but you can also start Cosmos, Scabiosa, Sunflowers, Forget-Me-Nots, and flowering herbs such as Calendula, Borage, or Nigella (also called Love-In-A-Mist).

Once planted, keep them damp (not wet), and keep your eyes open for them to pop their heads up.

If you have…four to five hours

Trim back woody herbs and weed, weed, weed!

This is the time of year that weeds go crazy. In our area, the weed that is everywhere is the dreaded sour sob (oxalis), but many grasses spread to unwanted areas as well. If you don’t keep on top of them, you can find weeds spread very quickly. While some gardeners are happy to use weedicides, I don‘t, which means many hours of hand-weeding.

Now is also the time of year to trim back woody herbs. As I have mentioned before, trimming back woody herbs and perennials is a time consuming task that I have been slowly doing over the past six weeks (I have a big yard). We are almost there, but I estimate another weekend of this task. I hate doing it, but I am always happy I did it in mid-Spring when all the woody herbs put on new growth and a gorgeous display of flowers.

Weekend garden jobs, 2 July 2023

It was a sunny-ish day today, so I made a plan to spend it outside in the garden with my husband. He committed to finishing the pruning and to cutting back the giant rosemary bush under the apricot tree. It was so big, it was almost as tall as the tree! He cut it back hard, by two thirds. Most of it went in the green bin, but a bunch is hanging in the kitchen to dry.


I turned the compost bins, a job long overdue. The photo below shows the pile before turning. The layers of compost show the different stages of breaking down over the past few months: at the top is the ‘freshest’ additions to the bin, and as you can see at the bottom is the final product. In the middle there is a mix of compost ready to go out onto the garden, and some that needed to go back in the bin to break down further. The compost is created from a mix of chicken litter, manure, kitchen scraps, yard waste, old potting mix, and sometimes some pigeon manure from my neighbour’s aviary. From this single bin, I pulled about ten 10-litre buckets of compost.

Turning compost bins is a physically demanding but important task. It aerates the compost, which helps it to break down more quickly. As the compost is turned, you can dig out some of the ready compost and make space to add fresh content. And it helps you to learn more about what compost should look, feel, and smell like. If, when turning the compost, it seems a little dry, you can add some more greens (leafy plants or kitchen scraps). If it seems a bit too wet or smells bad (compost should not smell unpleasant), you will know to add some leaves or straw.

It’s a job I don’t mind, but because it is time-consuming and physically taxing, I have to find the time to do it. Once I have started, I get into it, especially when I pull out buckets of fresh compost to put around my fruit trees.

Planting seeds for early Spring

It’s still mid-Winter, and although still cold and wet, I have some space in my garden and in my greenhouse. I planted out some late Winter/early Spring veggies in my seed-starting trays in the greenhouse. My goal is to fill in the ‘hungry gap’ between late Spring and Summer, when we are waiting for those veggies like eggplant and capsicum to come on. I planted coriander, silverbeet (chard), spinach, more lettuce, tatsoi, and kale. In the light and warmth of the greenhouse, they should pop up quickly.

While I was in there, I potted up the Sawtooth Banksia seedlings that I have been nurturing since our trip to Tasmania in February. It’s been a long, slow task to grow these from seed, but they were finally large enough to put into little pots. I have successfully propagated four seedlings and I am so excited to see how well they grow in our climate.

Sawtooth Banksia seedling

The rest of the day was spent continuing the somewhat dull but necessary task of cutting back the old mint and oregano stalks in the front garden. I still have a couple of hours of this job to do next week, then it is done for the season. Combined with the pruning we have done, we have almost finished the seasonal tidying up and can look forward to a lovely Spring garden. The jonquils and daffodils are already up – I can feel the season turning just around the corner.

Creating a fruiting garden

Our garden has 17 fruit trees and vines:

  • Apricot (Travatt)
  • Grape (White Sultana)
  • Mulberry (Black)
  • Avocado (Reed)
  • Lemon
  • Lime (Tahitian)
  • Pomegranate (Azerbaijan)
  • Plums x 2 (Elephant Heart and Narabeen)
  • Apples x 2 (Cox’s Orange Pippin and Early Macintosh)
  • Blood Orange
  • Cumquat (Calamondin Green)
  • Blueberries x 2
  • Passionfruit (Nelly Kelly)
  • Pepino

We are also about to plant and espalier a quince (Smyrna) and our local council is also giving us a nectarine tree through their Adopt-a-fruit-tree program, soon bringing the total up to 19 fruiting trees. That should give you an indication, really, of just how much space we are fortunate to have in our yard.

You’d think with that many fruit trees, we’d be drowning in fruit all year round. Sometimes, we are. Right now, we have so, so many limes. I’ve given them away to friends and family (I offered them to a friend the other day and she politely declined – clearly, we have given her too many!). I’ve made just about every possible variation of lime pickle, jam, and chutney that it’s possible for one family to make. I’m out of ideas. We are limed out. In Summer, we had the biggest crop of apricots ever. Same deal. We still have them in the freezer. I also still have pomegranates in the fridge from Autumn as we slowly work our way through them (we have five littlies left).

Yet, for other trees, like the mulberry and apple trees, that much fruit is just a dream. Either the fruit is minimal at best, or the possums have crunched it up before we get to it. If we ever get an avocado, you will never stop hearing about it. I’ll brag about it for the rest of my life.

The fact is, growing fruit trees is a labour of love, and sometimes just a labour.

My goal in planting all these trees was to one day, never have to buy fruit again. Now I know that dream is a crock. Right now, I could eat only limes, but I think my family would object greatly to that. The fact is, I cannot really control the amount of fruit the trees will produce, as so many factors influence this, with weather being the main factor.

That doesn’t mean that growing fruit at home is not worth doing. Homegrown apricots are glorious. Homegrown limes are juicier and tastier than anything you can buy. Pomegranates cost five bucks each! I never buy them, but when I have them from my tree in May, I can decadently toss the juicy red arils on top of every curry or a tagine like the Sultan of Brunei.

Planning your fruit orchard

Before planting anything, consider your space and aspect. Fruit trees need space for their roots to spread. They also need full sun, ideally all day, but at least four hours daily. If you want to grow an orange tree and only have a shady corner of the garden, consider growing something else, or plant it in a large tub that can be placed in a sunny spot.

Speaking of tubs and pots, some fruit trees can be planted in tubs quite successfully, while others will struggle. Our lime tree was miserable and constantly attacked by scale when in a pot. When we moved it to the garden, it doubled in size and has not stopped fruiting since. However, our blueberry bushes and cumquat seem to be fine in pots.

Consider too, what you actually like eating. I enjoy growing fruits that are not easy to buy at the supermarket and that I can use to make jam and sauces. My husband likes to grow fruit he can eat fresh from the tree. We have compromised, and that is why we have the mix of trees we have. The pomegranate, cumquat, blood orange, lime, and pepino are for my fun experiments. The others are for fresh eating and also some for jam if we have any left over. However, if we had a smaller space, some of the more unique trees would not be in our garden. Fortunately, we have the space to include a wide range for our interests and tastes. If I was more limited in my options, the ‘no brainers’ would be an apricot, a lime or lemon, and a passionfruit vine.

Don’t forget, if you are limited on space, you can always grow up. We have five trees growing on trellises, by espaliering them. This has allowed us to grow many more trees than we could have if we had let them grow out instead of up. We have learned to do this by watching YouTube and visiting Botanic Gardens with espaliered trees. It’s not the cheapest way to do it (you have to buy posts, wires, hooks, etc), and it takes patience and practice. But it is an option if you have limited space, and can invest some dollars (about $50 per trellis).

Planting fruit trees

The old adage is that you plant a ten dollar tree in a hundred dollar hole. That means you should spend more time and money on preparing the soil than you spend on the tree itself. Most trees will thrive when grown in soil prepared with good quality compost, well-rotted sheep manure, and a side dressing of an organic fertiliser once planted. This doesn’t mean putting fertiliser in the hole when you plant. Prepare the soil with compost and manure a week or so before digging the hole.

On planting day, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball.

Make sure to tease out the roots so you are not planting roots that are tightly bound up. I like to soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed extract for an hour or so before I plant. Then I put the plant in the hole, and pour the bucket of seaweed extract over the root ball and into the hole. I let it soak in, then back fill. Water in well. This gives the plant a good head start.

If you are mulching, make sure not to place the mulch right up to the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. Leave about five centimetres (2 inches) of free space around the trunk.

Some trees require special attention when planting. For example, an avocado tree should be planted on a mound with several bags of compost, then surrounded by a shade barrier to keep out wind and sun while establishing. Avocado trees are very sensitive to sun and wind burn, so taking the time to build a shade barrier will be worth your while, especially as avocado trees can cost upwards of $100. Check with your nursery for special instructions when buying your tree.

Now is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees (think apples, pears, plums, quinces, apricots, etc). I have a quince waiting to plant next weekend.

Caring for your orchard

Feed your trees! You won’t get fruit if you only give them a handful of Dynamic Lifter once a year. Fruiting trees are hungry plants, because they put a lot of energy into producing fruit.

At this time of year (mid-Winter), I give each tree a bag of pulverised, aged sheep manure. This rots down slowly over the season.

Then once Spring hits, my aim is to feed each tree with roughly two cups of Dynamic Lifter and blood and bone (combined) every month, until the end of fruiting season. That’s my goal but tbh, I am a bit hit and miss with it.

I also side dress each tree with compost progressively as I dig it out of my bins. Today the lime tree, blood orange, avocado, and both apple trees got the compost. I’ll keep working my way around the garden until each fruit tree gets a bucket or two of compost in the lead up to Spring. The compost is made of a mix of my chickens’ composted manure and litter, garden weeds, kitchen scraps, and occasionally a bag of my neighbour’s pigeon manure (pure gold). It’s very well composted down over several months and the trees love it.

And don’t forget to prune. We prune Summer fruiting trees (i.e. apricots, mulberries) after fruiting (late Summer/early Autumn), and then give them a light pruning to shape in Winter. The goal for trees like our apricot and mulberry tree is to create a lovely vase shape that will let light into the tree, and to prevent it growing too large.

This year we also lightly pruned our pomegranate for the first time, to remove some of the excess growth at the base, and the lime tree for the same reason.

Caring for fruit trees takes time and thought. We do it partly because the flavour of fresh, homegrown fruit cannot be beat, and because it’s fun. I also enjoy looking out of my office window and watching the rainbow lorikeets playing in the trees (even though I know they will steal the apricots as soon as they can).

Planning for Spring

We have been hibernating around here. The icy blast that has hit our part of Australia has kept us indoors, working, or doing other indoorsy things, like sitting by the fire reading, watching movies, or on some days, making jam and pickles. We had a big crop of limes, so I have made marmalade, lime curd, and two types of spicy lime pickles. What I have not done is venture outside to the garden. It’s just been too cold and too wet.

This weekend though, after seeing we were in for yet another weekend of rain, I finally cracked. I missed being outside, and I know my garden really needed some love. So I carefully checked the 48-hour forecast for Saturday, and found a window of about three hours with no rain. So out I went.

Three hours is not a lot of time in a garden that has been neglected for weeks. Even in the middle of Winter, the garden keeps on growing. So I decided to be very judicious with my time. I grabbed the hedge trimmers and secateurs, and set myself a couple of simple tasks trimming a lavender bush, cutting down as much of the dead mint stalks as I could manage, and if I had the time, pruning a rose bush and a salvia. I felt these were achievable tasks in my three hours.

My husband was a bit reluctant to come outside, but after a coffee and a bagel he decided to join as well, to prune and train the apple trees on the espalier frames.

Trimming back the mint stalks

Before trimming back

Every year, the mint and oregano in the front yard looks lush and full in the late Spring and Summer, with lovely mauve flower spikes. By Autumn, they start to look straggly. And by this time of the year, they look bloody awful. Trimming them back is boring, time consuming, a bit painful on the old joints, but necessary. If I don’t cut back the old flower stalks, it will limit the growth of the fresh Spring plants. Plus, they just look yuck. I know I have left it a bit late, but it has been so cold…and waaaahhhh. It’s one of those jobs I just hold off doing because it’s not fun. To start with, I used my electric hedge trimmers, but someone (cough – husband – cough) took them off the charger and they ran out of charge very quickly. So ended up using the old manual trimmers that only run out of charge when I do.

The results are pretty impressive:

After trimming back

Underneath that leaf litter are new mint and oregano plants that will spring up in a couple of weeks.

Arguably I could have saved myself all this trouble if I did not plant mint in my garden in the first place. Most garden experts advise to plant mint in a pot, because it has the tendency to spread everywhere. That is true. It’s equally true of oregano, lemon balm, lamb’s ear, violets, and even calendula, parsley and lavender, all of which spread or self-seed prolifically in my garden. However, I don’t mind the mint where it is. It is great ground cover, and stops other unwanted weeds spreading. It smells beautiful, and unlike some other ground covers, is non-toxic and edible. I wouldn’t plant it in my veggie patch, but in my front garden, under the pomegranate tree, it’s fine.

Cutting back the salvia

I’m slowly replacing most of the lavender in my garden with salvias. I prefer the different varieties of salvia, their drought tolerance, and I have found to my frustration that lavender self-seeds like crazy in my garden. I’m always pulling out baby lavender plants.

Salvias come in many varieties, are drought and heat tolerant, and I think they are beautiful. Some of the new plants are still establishing so do not need to be cut back yet, but I have some older plants that have grown enormous over the past six months. The lipstick salvia (bright red heart shaped flowers) has tripled in size this year, and was impinging on the space of other plants.

To cut back a salvia, follow the canes back to the base and cut off with sharp secateurs. I just shaped the bush to the size and shape I wanted – cutting back by about half. That tidied it up and made space for the other plants nearby. I also found one of the canes had rooted – I pulled that one out and put it in some water to plant elsewhere in the garden.

Planning the Summer Veggie Patch

One of my favourite seed companies (Happy Valley Seeds) had a snap EOFY sale this weekend, so I took it as an opportunity to buy my seeds for Summer. I thought about what I really wanted to plant this season, and the answer was: chillies, zucchini, beans, and eggplants.

The varieties I bought are:

  • Eggplant – Tsakoniki
  • Eggplant – Thai Purple Ball – I love these little globe eggplants
  • Eggplant – White egg
  • Eggplant – Turkish Orange
  • Eggplant – Red Ruffle
  • Zucchini – Rondo De Nice – a globe shaped zucchini
  • Climbing Beans – Kentucky Wonder Wax
  • Squash – Scallop Bennings Green Tint

Last season’s eggplant crop was a bit of a bust, but the long range weather forecast is for an early Spring and a hot Summer. That’s eggplant and chilli territory, baby. So I stocked up on five types of eggplants, some chillies, extra zucchini and squash, and some more climbing beans. I still have seeds from last year, but I used up all the eggplant seeds from last year. My plan is to start everything in the greenhouse in late August, and as Spring is starting early, plant out in September.

Bring on the eggplants! Hey, some people get excited about Christmas, I get excited about eggplant. Each to their own.

I also bought some watermelon seeds (the cycle of self-inflicted pain continues) – a mini yellow variety, and some red passionfruit seeds (Red Flamenco). The Red Panama passionfruit I planted a few years ago turned up its toes – I want to try growing another red passionfruit from seed to replace it.

FYI, the online sale at Happy Valley Seeds is on until 30 June – 25% off store wide. I don’t get paid to endorse them, I just think they have a good variety of heirloom seeds at a fair price.

A very sad tale of a neglected garden

I’m a very fortunate person, in that I have a home, a job, a family, and a big backyard with lots of space to grow a garden. When I have the time, I write this blog about my adventures trying to grow an organic garden and being as self-sufficient as I can be while running my own business, supporting my family, and being a good partner and friend.

Sometimes, that works out.

Sometimes…it doesn’t. Over the past three months, my garden has been the loser in the equation. My business has been extremely busy – busier than it has ever been, in fact. That’s great news for me as a small business owner. You never want the opposite!

What it has meant though is that I have been triaging my life. Work and family have been prioritised. Eating healthily and trying to get some sleep have come next. The garden has fallen right down to the bottom of the list of things I have had time to focus on.

This weekend I had my first full weekend off in a while. I caught up with family and close friends. And, after weeks and weeks, I went out to the garden and spent more than five minutes there.

Boy, what a mess.

The greenhouse

The thing about a greenhouse is, apparently, that it needs caring for. You cannot leave it to itself. Bugs rush in when a gardener doesn’t have time to tread. And those bugs have had a glorious picnic in my lovely greenhouse. By bugs, I specifically mean aphids.

I had to throw out unredeemable pots of eggplant and chillies. While it is the end of the season anyway, I had been hoping to continue growing these well into winter, with the help of the warm greenhouse. Foiled by critters and my own neglect! No eggplants for me!

I cleared out the whole space, sprayed the plants that I could keep, put in new fly traps, and fed and watered everything. I’ve made a little promise not to let it get that bad again. I hope I can keep that promise.

The veggie patch

The veggie patch was a mishmash of old Summer plants, weeds, and half-eaten brassicas. What a sad state of affairs at the tail end of Autumn! I ripped out all the remaining eggplant and chillies, and Summer flowering annuals that just looked revolting. I weeded as much as I could, and then I planted up a bunch of lettuce, bok choy, and onions. Finally, I gave everything a good watering of seaweed extract and fish emulsion.

It will not be the Winter garden of my dreams, but at least it doesn’t look as bad as it did when I went out this morning. I was still able to pick a bunch of radishes and spring onions, the last of the green chillies and a few remaining eggplant, and we have had a bumper crop of limes this year.

If you have any recipes for limes, I’m listening…

On the plus side, the Sawtooth Banksia seeds I bought in Tasmania have finally germinated. I have three tiny seedlings, and hope to have three lovely Banksias ready to plant out in my garden in Spring.