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 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.
It’s a lovely long weekend, with perfect clear skies and cool, but sunny weather. I spent a day and a half in the garden – and there was a lot to do!
It’s the end of Summer and many of the seasonal plants are finished for the year. Eggplant, okra, capsicum, and chillies are still going strong, but it was not a great season for tomatoes in my garden, so I pulled almost all of them out.
Okra is my little experiment for the season – I tried and failed to germinate it twice in two different spots in my garden before it finally grew. It has slowly started to fruit, probably quite late in the season, but I am letting it continue for as long as I can. Yesterday I picked two – yep, two – whole pods. I sliced them up, washed them and dried them to reduce some of the famous okra sliminess, and threw them into a curry, where they dissolved into nothingness – so I cannot tell you how they tasted. I’m hoping for some more before the warm weather disappears completely.
I picked the rest of the green tomatoes off the bushes, with a plan to make green tomato pickle. As I did not want to go shopping for additional ingredients, I tried this recipe, which is for refrigerator pickles using green tomatoes instead of cucumbers. I played around with the recipe a bit, subbing sliced onion for the fennel bulb, adding some sliced green jalapeno (because, yum), and using whole coriander seeds instead of the fennel, because that’s what I had on hand. I ended up with four jars of green tomato pickles for use on burgers and sandwiches. If the tomatoes do not taste delicious, I have not wasted much except a bit of vinegar and my time, but if they are good I will have preserved fruit that would have gone to waste. I’ll let them mature for a couple of days, then will report back on the flavour.
After pulling the zucchini and tomatoes out, I dug over the beds and spread some dynamic lifter over the soil. I raked the soil to a lovely, crumbly fine tilth, ready for planting Autumn veggies – some of which I am already raising in the greenhouse, and some to be sowed directly in the garden.
Now is a great time to sow Autumn and Winter veggies. The soil is still nice and warm, and the days are sunny and bright. Seeds will pop up quickly and have a great headstart before the cold weather really sets in. This weekend I directly sowed beetroot, radishes (Watermelon and French Breakfast), carrots (Purple Dragon), and peas (Telephone). I love to grow peas, but my success rate is so-so. I have two varieties to grow this year: a dwarf variety I bought in Tasmania (Keveldon Wonder) and Telephone, which is a climber. I think my success rate is low because I plant them too late. Hoping this year to fix that by planting much earlier.
In the greenhouse, I’m still growing a range of Summer veggies, including capsicums (sweet peppers), cucumbers, chillies, beans, eggplant, and a solitary watermelon.
Capsicum have been the standout crop this season. I have never had much success with them, so it’s exciting to grow so many. However, aphids and whitefly are a problem. I had to pull out five chilli bushes as I was not able to get on top of the bugs. I think they enjoy the humidity and warmth of the greenhouse. I’ve been using eco oil and pyrethrum, but in the heat and bright light of the greenhouse, these tend to burn the plants. If any readers have another suggestion, I’d be glad to hear it.
My real joy though is the cucumbers – while I do not have many of them, the fact I have any at all is a matter of great pride. Every year I try to grow cucumbers, and at the end of the season, I vow: ‘never again!’ Then along comes the Spring, and somehow I find I have ordered cucumber seeds once again. The secret, for me at least, is to grow in a greenhouse (honestly, not such a secret – that is how they are grown for market).
I have planted seeds for the Autumn brassicas and leafy greens in the greenhouse planters, and they have popped up very quickly in the warm environment. My goal this year is to grow as many cauliflowers, broccoli, and cabbages as I can. I also planted kale, lettuce, onions, and bok choy.
Planting Native Seeds
The last seeds I planted were some natives I bought in Tasmania: Sawtooth Banksia, and King Billy Pine. This is my first foray into growing natives. When we were hiking in Tasmania, we saw both these plants growing in the wild: the Banksia beside Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, where it grew to an impressive size, and King Billy pine, both in the rainforest area of the Cradle Mountain National Park, and in a smaller version at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Garden. In the national park, it was an enormous, awe inspiring, tree of magnificent proportions. Of course, I don’t expect to grow a tree of that size: my goal is to grow a version for a pot. How well it will grow in South Australian conditions, I don’t know.
The two plants require vastly different germination environments. King Billy must be chilled in order to successfully germinate. I planted it in seed-raising mix in a container, covered it in plastic wrap, and placed it in my fridge. I’ll leave it there for two weeks before removing it and placing it in a sheltered position to finish the germination process. The Banksia is much simpler: place in a container of seed-raising mix, and keep damp, away from full sun.
We have been fortunate to tale a trip around stunning Tasmania this past week, with the past few days based in Hobart. After a day spent at Salamanca Markets, and another at the Museum of Old and New Art, we walked to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Set on 14 hectares close to the centre of Hobart, the Gardens are one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Southern hemisphere (established in 1818). Our State was colonised in 1836, so the gardens are older than colonial settlement in our part of Australia. And it is obvious, just by the size of the trees. South Australia has some lovely trees, but they are teeny tiny compared to Tasmanian trees in the gardens, and even more so in the wild. I had heard the phrase ‘old growth forests,’ but I did not really understand the reality of it until coming to Tasmania. Trees here are giants. The RTBG has oak trees that could shelter the Merry Men. We have seen even larger trees since our visit to the botanical garden, but that was my first experience of really large trees.
My travelling companions took many photos (I’m not much of a photographer), which has allowed me to create this little virtual tour.
On arrival at the gardens, we were greeted at the gate by a friendly person who asked us our interests, handed us a map, and pointed us in the right direction. As our first goal was “COFFEE!”, she directed us to the cafe, and we stumbled forth. The cafe overlooks the water, so we sat for a while looking at the water and feeling very civilised before heading out on our garden walk.
Tasmanian Community Food Garden
Once it was a working farm, then Pete Cundall established Pete’s Patch in this space, then it became the Tasmanian Community Food Garden, an organic community garden cared for by volunteers and community members. It produces four tonnes of fresh organic produce annually. On our visit, pumpkins, apples, tomatoes, pears, and herbs were growing in abundance.
I was happy to note that many of my own practices were also in evidence here. I did pick up some tips though: plant borage and calendula in among the pumpkins to encourage pollination. There were dozens of ripening pumpkins in the various pumpkin patches, so it clearly works.
My husband took careful note of their technique for espaliering pears. We have multiple espaliered young fruit trees in our backyard but are always looking for more advice. The pear trees in this garden were beautiful, and covered with pears.
Much cooler is an apple tree arch. I wish I had space to recreate that in my garden.
I noted that the traditional ‘Summer’ crops that would be in full fruit in warmer States, such as chillies, zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant, were not much in evidence here. There were a few healthy tomatoes and capsicum plants, but they already had brussels sprouts in the ground – we would not be planting these in SA for at least six weeks, and in my area probably not at all.
South Australia has a small but lovely Japanese Garden in the city. The RTBG Japanese Garden is about three times as large. It is beautiful, very tranquil, with many little hiding nooks for quiet contemplation. After a busy few days, I enjoyed finding a quiet spot to sit for 15 minutes.
Tasmanian Native Garden
The Native Garden was quite large and clearly well-designed and considered. This was my favourite section of the RTBG, because it was so well-thought out, and I did not recognise many of the plants. Each plant was accompanied by a description of its traditional and medicinal uses.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll know I have a fascination with greenhouses. The RTBG has a gorgeous stone and glass conservatory, that houses a fountain and hothouse plants that would struggle to grow outside in Hobart’s cool temperate climate.
The stone fountain was so relaxing it inspired me to consider adding a water feature to my garden. This is something I have avoided for many years, due to the maintenance. However, I think a solar powered water feature in the patio or greenhouse might be worth considering.
Of course, my greenhouse has been set aside for productive plants, while this Conservatory is decorative. I still found it inspirational. You can see a variegated ficus in the foreground of this photograph – beautiful! I’m going to search for one when I get home.
The Heritage Cottage was the first building constructed in the gardens, and was originally a dwelling. Now it is a little museum showcasing some early botanical drawings and horticultural equipment, like an early terrarium design (see below).
My youngest and I both love botanical drawings and paintings, so we loved looking at the early colonial botanical drawings.
The Tasmanian Royal Botanical Gardens were my favourite place to visit in Hobart so far (we are going back to Hobart for a few more days). We spent most of the day there. If I lived in Tassie, I would visit regularly. If you are ever in Hobart, I recommend a trip – it is a beautiful, relaxing, and inspirational garden.
It’s easy to fall behind in the garden when you only have a few hours a week. I have been keeping up on basic tasks, like watering, but a big garden like ours has myriad tasks that need to be managed regularly – and I have not been keeping on top of them. These include weeding, feeding, pest management, pruning, picking and processing the harvest, and removing spent plants. My husband and I made an agreement to get up early and get out in the garden. We both broke that agreement by lazing around in bed for longer, but we got out there by about 9:30 am, ready, if not exactly raring, to go.
Most pruning is completed in Winter, when plants are dormant. However, trees in the prunus family, such as apricots and plums, benefit from a prune in Summer after they have finished fruiting. This is because they are prone to diseases like gummosis, which can get into the cuts in the wood if the weather is damp. The apricot tree finished fruiting two weeks ago, so my husband got up on his ladder and started to prune it back. We are putting the branches on the workshop roof to season for next year’s fireplace. Firewood is expensive, so any bits and pieces we can pull together ourselves from (non-toxic) prunings saves cash.
While he pruned the apricot and plum trees, I pruned the grapevine, just a little. The wet weather in late Spring caused the early leaves and bunches to rot. New healthy leaves have since grown, but I have been intending to prune off the rotten leaves and bunches for weeks now. The vine looks much happier, if a little bereft, now. Real grape vine pruning season is in Winter, so I only pruned off the funky looking leaves.
I admit to putting off tying up tomatoes, because it’s an itchy and boring job. But there comes a point in the season where it is just necessary. Rather than using stakes, I prefer to build cages. I have tried all kinds of versions of tomato cages, but my favourite (also the quickest but one of the most expensive, unfortunately) is to use steel trellis panels, which cost about $15 each when I bought them from Bunno’s two years ago. I create a cage using four panels, tied together with zip ties. These are easy to build and easy to dismantle. Due to the cost and size, I use this style of cage for the largest indeterminate tomatoes (generally Green Zebra).
The king of tomato cages is my brother, who builds very impressive structures, possibly visible from space, and also has the most impressive tomato plants in the family.
When I run out of trellis panels (and I refuse to buy more because a) cost and b) storage – I have to store them for the nine months of the year I am not using them), I build other types of supports for the other tomato plants in the garden. I have a group of three plants against the fence behind the lime tree. Using a large piece of reo mesh and two star droppers, I built a trellis to support this group. I have another piece of reo I am hoarding to build a trellis for pumpkins once they grow too large. I caught one pumpkin vine climbing the lime tree this morning, so it will not be long before I have to build a structure for it.
Of course, I could spend all day building cages for the rest of the plants…but I was feeling a bit lazy, and it’s a bit fiddly. Therefore, I decided that the standard stake and stocking tie support system would be fine. I only use the stake supports for smaller tomato plants, as they can quickly outgrow stakes if they are very vigorous plants.
All of these supports are recycled from previous years. I save the reo and trellis panels each year, and reuse the ties from previous stakes. If the stakes are not damaged from the last season, I reuse them as well. Some gardeners prefer not to reuse wooden stakes, due to problems with passing on soil borne diseases. However, I let the stakes dry out in the sun for a few days. After storing in the garden shed for twelve months, I figure they are probably ok. Once the stakes are too old and broken to reuse, I chop off the grotty end and they are used for firewood.
This season I grew all the tomato plants in my garden from seed (puffs up chest). A couple of the plants I grew from supermarket tomatoes that I thought were delicious, and saved some seed. I found one of these in the garden this morning (I had completely forgotten I had planted it). It has fruited like crazy (all green right now). I really hope that it is as delicious as I remembered. If not, I will use it to make some sauce. At the moment I am only picking a couple of cherry tomatoes a day (yellow Windowbox tomatoes – they are ok, but not really tasty). Can’t wait until the Green Zebra and Black Russians ripen up.
The day was relatively cool, so I gave every plant in the veggie garden an organic liquid feed of the old faithful standbys Charlie Carp (a liquid fertiliser made of carp, a pest) and liquid seaweed. The grapevine and avocado tree was fed a bucket of liquid fertiliser as well. My plan for the avocado tree is to keep the water and food up each month, as tbh I have been a bit slack on both over the past twelve months. For the lemon tree and passionfruit, I also dissolved iron chelates in a watering can and watered ten litres into the root zone of each plant.
Iron chelates are a trace element that do not need to be used regularly. However, the leaves on these plants were looking yellowed, and the fruit was shrivelling. Poor fruit and yellowing leaves can be a sign of iron deficiency in fruiting plants. Iron chelates are easy to apply, following packet directions, but it is important not to overdose.
As the other plants (tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum) are all looking healthy and are setting healthy fruit, I do not think it is a problem with the soil nutrition generally. However some fruiting plants are much hungrier feeders than others, so it seemed a good idea to give them a dose of iron chelates to see if this will help. Time will tell. Really, looking at those passionfruit leaves, it honestly couldn’t hurt – they look so bad. This is the problem with having such limited time – there is so much to do and so little time to get everything done. I was aware there was a problem, but I may have been too slow to fix it.
The greenhouse continues to be a successful growing space. I have been unscientifically comparing the progress of plants in the greenhouse to those planted outside.
These two eggplants were both grown by seed by me, and were planted at about the same time. Eggplant One was planted in a raised bed outside, in a premium potting mix. It is watered daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
Eggplant Two was planted in a large pot, in the same brand of premium potting mix. In hot weather it is watered twice daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
As you can see, it is at least three times the size of Eggplant One, and is flowering. With all other factors being equal (type of soil, feeding regime), greenhouse conditions seem to encourage faster growth.
Previously I have used a heated seed mat to raise seeds in small trays indoors. While the heated seed mat germinated seeds more quickly than without, the plants did not have as much light as they needed, and struggled past the initial germination phase.
I planted these borlotti bush beans nine days ago in the raised troughs in the greenhouse, watering daily. They have almost all germinated, and already have their true leaves. As they are bush beans, I will keep them in the trough for their lifecycle. I have climbing beans in the garden as well, which were planted six weeks ago, and are only about twice the size of these beans.
I believe that the relatively constant temperatures and excellent light in the greenhouse creates optimum growing conditions.
The greenhouse is not without pest problems. One eggplant was initially affected by whitefly, and another by white cabbage moth caterpillars. These were easily controlled by manual means (squishing). Occasionally small sparrows manage to get in, and cannot seem to figure how to get out without a little assistance. But generally, the greenhouse protects plants from most pests.
It does require consistent and diligent watering. Unlike the outdoor garden, which I can leave a day if I’m busy, it is not possible to skip watering the greenhouse. This is due both to the fact that the plants are all in containers, which dry out more quickly, and the higher temperature. Leave them for a day, and I could end up with dead plants.
My other main concern is pollination. While insects can come into the greenhouse, I worry that not enough pollinators will come in. I am thinking through different ideas to attract them – if any greenhouse gardeners have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!
Of course, I still have many tasks left to complete, but there is never enough time. I still have to work, see family, exercise, be a friend and partner and parent…life is not all gardening! Hopefully what I have done this weekend will hold the garden together for a little while.
It’s finally really lovely and warm in our parts. I have had lots of jobs to do to keep the garden alive and well, including watering the containers and raised bed daily, and keeping the watering up across the whole garden. I don’t mind this, but it is a job of work.
Fortunately, I’m on a break for the Christmas/New Year period. This is my first proper break in over a year. I am taking full advantage, getting out to the garden every day.
The long, cool, and wet Spring stalled the progress of eggplant, zucchini, chillies, and tomatoes, which would normally be in full fruit by now. One of the cherry tomatoes I grew from seed, a variety bred for pots called Window Box, is the only one that has fruit so far. It is a dwarf breed, unusual for a cherry tomato, and has a lot of flowers and clusters of fruit already. Apparently the fruit is yellow. I’m looking forward to tasting the fruit. I have found that some of the new breeds of cherry tomatoes do not taste great (last year’s Blueberry cherry tomato was, in my opinion, yuck). I hope WindowBox is tasty, because I have about six plants. All the other tomato plants have put on good growth and have started to flower, but no fruit yet.
As for my dreams of expansive eggplant crops, it’s not looking great. I’m thankful for the greenhouse, which will allow me to grow eggplant well into Autumn. I have planted another punnet of eggplants, as well as more seeds, with plans for a long season of eggplants in the greenhouse. Fingers crossed!
Speaking of the greenhouse, it’s coming along nicely. For the first time EVER, I have planted eight watermelon seeds, and have germinated eight watermelon plants. These were a gift in a seed swap from a friend (an heirloom variety called Moon and Stars). Watermelons, along with cucumbers, are my Achilles heel, so if I can even grow one watermelon from this lot I will be very proud of myself.
The watermelons were exciting to watch. In the morning I found one had popped up from the warm soil. About an hour later, my niece found another poking its head up. By the afternoon, all eight had germinated and were stretching their leaves to the sky! How fun gardening is!
I also have cucumbers popping up, more eggplants, and basil. This greenhouse is so much fun.
At last year’s Chilli Festival I bought some chilli plants (a Devil’sTongue, and a Four-in-one pot of a Mango chilli, a Lemon chilli, an Ajo, and a Curly Toenail). While I was not a fan of the Mango chilli, all the rest were great (the Devil’sTongue is an old family favourite – very hot with a delicious flavour, and prolific). Following the advice of the stall holder, at the end of the season I cut them back by 50% and let them over winter. A couple of the four-in-one did not make it, but two did (I won’t know which until they set fruit). Over Spring the others put their leaves back on and have now started flowering happily. I’m looking forward to full crops of the others.
I also raised quite a few other chilli plants from seed, including Serrano, Gunter, Jalapeño, and Chocolate chilli. These are still quite small, but I’m hoping for a good crop. We eat chilli most days, and appreciate the flavour profiles of the different chillies, so growing many varieties is worth the time and effort for us.
The apricot and mulberry trees are ready to harvest, and we are watching them like hawks – and so are the parrots! We have the biggest apricot crop we have ever had. The tree is too large to net, and I don’t like to do that anyway – I don’t mind the birds having some of them. But if we want to save any for ourselves, we have to pick as soon as they blush – so we check daily. We go out early in the morning and pick as many as are tinged orange, then wait for 24 hours to check again. We leave them to ripen on the kitchen bench.
Mulberries are kind of a pain to harvest. They ripen a few at a time, I think because our tree is still relatively young. We pick a couple a day, then wait for the next lot to ripen. The tree itself is beautiful, so I would not consider removing it (yet), but it has not lived up to my mulberry jam dreams.
We have a big crop of passionfruit and pomegranates coming on, but they are way off yet – at least a couple of months.
Cleaning up and potting up
A big and boring part of the past couple of weeks has just been cleaning up. I dug out the raspberry canes that have not done a damn thing over the past two years, and pulled out more bits of Audrey II, the boysenberry plant, that continues to make her presence felt (even though I dug the main part out months ago). I suggest to you that if you want to grow berries, set aside a bed that is completely separate from any other part of your garden, let them go, and don’t grow anything thorny!
At this time of the year, many of the Spring flowering annuals and herbs have flowered and are starting to set seed. They are generally looking tired and ratty. I have been clearing out all of the dead sweet peas, nasturtiums, parsley plants, and anything else looking old, dead, or tired. It’s taking quite some time and filling up my green bin quickly. To fill in the gaps I have sprinkled fast growing annual seeds like Cosmos, or planted quick growing annual colour, like Petunias. In about six weeks, I’ll start planting Spring flowering bulbs.
I’ve also repotted some sad looking houseplants, including an Umbrella plant that was miserable. I’ve had it for two years, and it started dropping leaves. When I repotted it, I found it had sported two babies. So for my repotting efforts, I have three plants now instead of one. I also repotted my beautiful Spotted Begonia, moving her up to a larger pot. She is much happier now, and I removed one of her leaves to strike into a new plant. Begonias strike easily in water, and are very easy to grow in the right conditions. I have two now (one struck from the mother plant), and they flower profusely with very little attention from me.
Firstly, I am working flat out up to Christmas. I have been stealing a little bit of time in the garden on weekends, but I am working most weekends as well.
The other reason is that while the builder had built the lovely greenhouse, we had left a bunch of junk in there. He kindly built around it, and although he offered to move it, we knew it was our responsibility to shift it all. This junk included a big stack of pavers and sundry other crapola. Shifting the pavers took me the best part of a full day, because I also had to clean them all. I discovered quite a few species of technicolour spiders I had never seen before, some teeny gecko skeletons, and a big old nest of ants.
We posted the whole lot on Gumtree (the pavers, not the critters) and gave them away the next day.
Once the space was clear, I had to order shelving, racks, and planters. I went to a few places locally to see what was available, and also looked on Gumtree for secondhand racks, but there was nothing suitable. I ended up going to the evil empire Amazon for raised planters, a stainless steel kitchen bench, and stainless steel plant racks.
All these have started to arrive, and thanks to the assembly skills of my husband and various teens about the house, they are now set up in the greenhouse.
I have planted up three of the planters with seeds (watermelons and cucumbers, as well as having another crack at eggplants, for the final time this season). One planter has been set aside for my youngest kiddo and my nephew to play around with, as they have both expressed an interest in learning to garden.
When the bench arrives, it will be placed in the centre of the greenhouse so I make good use of space. That will be the potting area.
This time of year is not ideal for a greenhouse (Summer in Southern Australia), except…it has been unseasonably cool. So I’m going to keep playing around with the greenhouse and will try my luck growing some melons and cucumbers in here this season. Where it will really come into its own will be the cooler months. I’m pretty happy with the whole setup – it’s neat, it’s functional, and mostly, it’s just hella fun.
I have been thinking about installing a greenhouse for a while. Our area of Southern Australia has been heading towards a two-season year for a couple of years now, thanks to either a) climate change or b) an evil mage’s curse. We have had long, cold, Spring times that seem to be an extension of our Winter months, and this pattern seems to be recurring. After the long Winter/Spring, we have our usual warm to hot Summers and longer, warmer Autumns.
A greenhouse will extend the warm growing season
I have been looking online, but I do not have building skills. I don’t even really have IKEA skills. Most of the kit-form greenhouses are expensive, and are shipped, flat pack style, to the buyer, to be built and installed by the customer. I couldn’t ascertain the quality, and I was fairly certain I couldn’t put one together. I assumed you need more than an allen key and a dream.
There was also the slight problem of space.
When we bought it, our property had three sheds for some reason (five if you count the dilapidated double garage and the lean to around the side, both of which we had to demolish). Maybe the owners before us had a lot of things to store. Maybe they were car enthusiasts or woodworkers – who knows! Too many sheds, in my view.
Behind the patio was a small garden shed that we stored all our tools, potting mix, and gardening equipment, but this stuff could be moved to one of the other sheds with a little effort. If we pulled that shed down, the space could either be used to extend the garden area, or install a greenhouse.
Enter Geoff the Builder. Geoff has been our builder for previous projects. He has renovated various parts of our 70s palace in the past. The great thing about Geoff is that he’s always thinking about ways to reclaim materials and do a job for less.
He was at our place quoting on a repair job on some fascia boards, when I asked him how much it would cost to pull down the garden shed and put together a greenhouse kit for me.
“Nah,” he said, “Don’t buy one of those – I’ll build you one.” He inspected the shed and surmised that the original frame was sturdy and good condition. A week later, I had a quote for a design and build on a greenhouse using the original frame of the old shed.
It cost less than the greenhouses I was eyeing online, and while some new materials were used (shade cloth, poly sheets), we were able to reuse the original frame and Geoff took the tin from the old shed to reuse elsewhere. This made it a much more sustainable option. I also know if it ever needs to be repaired, I can call Geoff and he can fix it.
￼Ventilation has been built in via shade cloth panels on the back wall and two front walls. This allows for adequate air flow. The rest of the walls, including the door, are clear polycarbonate sheeting. The floor is the original shed paving.
The whole job took him 2.5 days. It would have taken me weeks to put together a kit, if I could have done it at all, and it would not have been a good use of my time. I spent some of the weekend sweeping it out, but it is basically ready to go.
Now I have the fun part – figuring out how to use it!
I realised this morning that this is next level gardening obsessive.
There’s people that enjoy gardening, that have a pot of herbs or two, some houseplants, a beloved rose. Then there’s people that really love it, for whom gardening is their main hobby. That used to be me.
Then one day I graduated. One day my brain switched gear, and I became an obsessive gardener.
I wondered when that happened. Was it when I tried to grow my entire season’s worth of veggies from seed? Was it when I spent 45 minutes trying to find the perfect gardening gloves, and told my husband off for wearing them and stretching them out? When I converted the whole back yard into a veggie patch? When I named the passionfruit and boysenberry vines? When my neighbour dropped off bags of poo on my doorstep and I thanked him for his thoughtfulness?
Or did I finally, finally, crack this week, when we installed a greenhouse?
I love Spring. It’s my favourite time of year. Bees are buzzing in apple blossom and my favourite flowers of all (sweet peas) are in bloom and filling my garden with their heady perfume.
This year, however, it has barely stopped raining. It’s almost November and it is still cold and wet. So when I read that the whole week from Sunday will be wet and raining again, I knew I had to carve out at least a few hours on Saturday to spend in the garden.
Gardening in the rain
My first task was picking some veggies and flowers. Despite my complaining, the rain has been fantastic for the front yard flower garden. I hardly ever water the front yard, instead choosing plants that can survive growing on a sunny North-facing hillside with minimal water. But I have to admit that the extra water has really benefited the whole front garden – it looks amazing right now. I picked roses, irises, carnations, and sweet peas for the house. I filled two vases and could have picked more, but I love looking at the flowers through my office window during the week, so I am happy to leave the rest in the garden for now. Things have grown so much that when I went to move a hose out of the way, a couple of bushes had grown over and around it and I had to yank a few daisies out just to shift the hose (don’t worry, the daisies survived).
I also picked a bowl of peas and asparagus. I’ve had the best crop of peas ever this season. Usually, I have a pretty sparse pea crop – they tend to collapse in a mildewy pile before I manage to pick more than a bowlful. The cooler season has kept them going much longer, and we are still picking enough for a lovely stirfry a week. Veggies like peas, broccoli and chard love the slightly warmer weather combined with the extra rain, and are continuing to produce well after they would normally have bolted to seed. In previous seasons, we would now be in the hungry gap that usually sits between late Winter/early Spring and the Summer veggie explosion. Yet it’s the end of October and I am still picking greens, peas, asparagus, and broccoli. It’s so fun to pick a bowl of veg and then make a fresh stir fry just a couple of hours later with your own homegrown veggies and eggs.
The rain has also been brilliant for the soil. When I was planting seeds this afternoon, I noticed that not only was the soil damp and easy to work, it was black. The compost and sheep manure I’ve been putting on the soil in the past few months, combined with the lovely deep soaking rain, has turned the soil a dark black. I’ve never seen it so healthy.
I’ve been holding off planting out tomatoes and Summer veggies, because the weather is still so cool and wet. But if I don’t get the tomatoes in the soil soon, it will be too late.
So I decided today to get out there and plant, taking care to plant around the Spring greens and brassicas that are still in the ground. Normally they would have already been pulled out, but as I mentioned, they are all still taking up real estate. So I’m working around them.
The first thing I planted was the okra seedlings I raised from seed. I have not planted okra before, but now we are vegetarian I am looking for even more veggies to try, to expand our palettes and our plates. Okra, also known as “ladies fingers” is commonly used in Indian and Southern USA cuisine. We eat a lot of Indian food, as this is our family heritage, so I’m looking forward to growing it and learning to cook it. Sometimes these experiments in gardening work – and sometimes they don’t. Last season’s collard green experiment was not a great success. They grew fine, but we didn’t really enjoy them and I won’t grow them again. Collards take up a lot of space, and I much prefer other greens, like kale and spinach.
I’m going all in on pumpkins and eggplant this year. I love growing pumpkins, and I always do well with them. My trick is to go out early every morning and hand pollinate the flowers to encourage heavy cropping (I call it “probing the pumpkins”). We are still eating the last of the pumpkins from last year’s crop (literally a quarter of one of last year’s Queensland Blue is in the fridge as I write). This season I am growing:
Buttercup are the tastiest pumpkins I have every grown, but are not prolific fruiters. Kent grow like crazy but do not keep well. Queensland Blue keep well, but are not as tasty. So I have planted a number of each so I can have a bit of everything. Sweet Dumpling Squash are a new variety for me – they are what Americans call a ‘Winter Squash’, which means they keep longer and have a tougher skin than the vegetables we Aussies usually call ‘Squash’ (which are really a type of zucchini, which if you want to add to the confusion, Americans call ‘Summer Squash’). We tend to call ‘Winter Squash’ ‘pumpkins‘ – think thin-skinned pumpkins like Butternuts. Anyway, Sweet Dumpling look pretty so I want to give them a go – no idea how they will taste. Hopefully, I will find out.
I plant pumpkins directly where I want them to grow, from seed. I never grow them as seedlings, as they don’t transplant well. You can buy pumpkin seedlings but, in my experience, transplanted pumpkins tend to sulk for quite a while and never do as well as pumpkins that are grown directly from seed. I dig a little mound, and then plant two seeds in each mound, and label so I remember what I have planted where. I’ll leave them alone now until they come up.
After planting out the pumpkin seeds, I planted eleven tomatoes that I have grown from seed. I planted Black Russian and Green Zebra, as well as Window Box tomatoes in containers. Window Box is a yellow cherry tomato that unlike many cherry tomatoes, grows on a short, bushy, plant, perfect for pots. Hopefully the fruit is tasty – I grew a cherry tomato last year that looked great but tasted…bleagh.
I have grown so many tomatoes from seed, many more than I can fit in the garden. This was kind of an accident, so I have been slowly giving the seedlings away to neighbours and family, and planting others into pots on my balcony.
I plant tomatoes quite deeply – deeper than I plant any other plant. Tomatoes can shoot roots along their stems, so planting them deeply lets them shoot additional roots along the part of the stem planted underground and grows a stronger plant.
Finding some space
I also planted out more capsicum that I had grown from seed (Golden Marconi), and the Teddy Bear sunflower seedlings I have been carefully nurturing for a few weeks now. I have tried growing these three years running, with no success. Hopefully this year will be the year! I have generally good luck with sunflowers, but not this variety. I love their bright, fluffy heads – they are so cute.
I can see I will have a serious space issue once again. When the pumpkins come up and the tomatoes grow, I will have a problem, especially as I also want to plant more eggplant, green beans, chillies, and zucchini. As it is, I use pots, raised beds, trellising, and my balcony to expand my growing space, but it is still not enough. The truth is that I grow more than we can ever eat, and I give away a lot of it. It’s just the fun of growing that makes me want to fill every bit of space with plants.
Today (Sunday) has brought rainy and windy weather, so I am hiding inside and working instead. Probably for the best, because my body is protesting a lot after Saturday’s efforts! The problem with part-time gardening is that when I do finally get outside, my poor old body doesn’t know what is happening to it!
I love Spring gardening. I’d love nothing more than to be spending all day long in the Spring sunshine, but unfortunately I’m not paid to garden (more’s the pity).
It’s been one of my busiest work periods in a while. This means very little time for me to spend outside. The closest I have come is looking out the window at the Spring bulbs blooming in the front garden. Check out the irises growing under the Mulberry Tree – the best display of Dutch Irises we have ever had.
However, we had a long weekend (Labour Day), so I gave myself a day off and spent the entire Sunday in the veggie patch (after a quick trip to the Big Green Shed to buy a few supplies).
My first job was picking a bowl of veggies. It was exciting to find the first spears of asparagus in the garden today, along with lots of rainbow chard, spring onions, Tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero or dinosaur kale), cabbage, daikon radish, and carrots.
Speaking of asparagus, if you are growing it, don’t forget about it. One of the awesome things about the Spring gardening season is how quickly things take off. One of the challenging things about the Spring gardening season, is how quickly things take off! If you don’t keep an eye on plants like asparagus and broccoli, you will either find yourself overrun, or it has bolted faster than you can pick it. The first problem is not too bad, but the second is pretty heartbreaking after all your efforts.
Spring gardening, seed starting
I had a big list of jobs but decided to start with the most fun jobs first. I am trying to grow as many plants as I can from seed again, without being prescriptive about it. I have been starting seeds to plant out in the late Spring garden since early August, and I am still sowing veggie seeds. I spent a happy hour or so sowing some more seeds, and potted on seedlings that were ready to move into bigger pots.
I have some beautiful tomato plants almost ready to go out into the garden in a few weeks, and capsicums growing bigger. I have learned though that basil, chillies, and eggplant do not like to be started in September, even on a heat mat – it’s just too early. As soon as I moved the seedlings off the heat mat, the plants keeled over and died in the cold. I have had to restart them all over again, wasting time and seeds. Hopefully this next lot will work out better.
This week, I sowed chillies, eggplants, okra, sunflowers, and some seeds I had saved from an heirloom tomato we bought from the supermarket that was delicious. I scooped the seeds onto a paper towel on a plate to dry, then I lazily tore bits of the dried towel into little pieces and planted them into soil (call it a “cheats seed tape”). I have already tried this out with good success (from a black cherry tomato I enjoyed earlier this year), and now I have a dozen seedlings growing in pots ready for the garden. Whether they will grow true to type is the next question.
The only problem is that now I have heaps of tomato seedlings. My plan this year was lots of eggplant, fewer tomatoes. I’ve ended up with lots of tomato plants, and so far very few eggplants! I’ll be giving away some tomato seedlings and will have to buy some extra eggplant seedlings to achieve my goal of a mountain of delicious eggplants this Summer.
I recently bought some lovely houseplants at a sale. Unfortunately since they have arrived at my place, the ficus has started dropping leaves and the calathea has almost completely turned up its toes. Generally I do quite well with houseplants, so I was concerned about why these two were struggling. I tried moving them to a different spot, but this did not help. I soaked them in a bath of water, which also did not help.
I decided to repot them, as the mix they were in seemed to be very loose (more akin to a cacti and succulent mix than a potting mix). The roots seemed not to be rotted, so that is not the issue with the calathea. I moved them to the patio area, which has sheltered light but is much warmer than the house. I’m misting them daily with water to increase the humidity. Hopefully this stops the ficus dropping leaves, and helps the calathea leaves to unfurl.
The rest of the day, I turned the three compost bins and then cleaned out the chicken shed. I pulled out some weeds, and dug out the remnants of the boysenberry cane, Audrey II, which reared her thorny head yet again. I think I will be digging the damn thing out for quite a while, but as I refuse to use RoundUp in my garden that is just what I will have to do.
I do have to start pulling out some plants that are going to seed. I started with a few kohlrabi (ugh, why do I keep trying! It never sets a bulb for me) and fed them to some very appreciative chickens. I still have quite a few parts of the garden to clear, but as the seedlings aren’t ready yet, this job can be done in small sections.
Eating from the veggie patch
I staggered back in to clean up, then made a batch of really delicious okonomiyaki for dinner (you can make these with any veggies, but I made them with cabbage, daikon, carrots, chard and spring onions) before crashing out in front of the TV. Yay for the Spring gardening season – the most wonderful time of the year! Some people think that’s Christmas…but not me!
The plan this week is just to eat from the garden: okonomiyaki, spinach and feta rolls, squash and kale pasta, spinach and lentil dal…so many delicious options with these amazing greens. If you have any good recipes for Spring greens, let me know!
An important part of any productive garden should be flowers. Flowers attract beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators, and also feed birds (many birds feed on nectar from flowers – these birds are also pollinators). I grow perennial ornamental flowering plants like salvias and lavender in my front yard, interspersed with fruit trees, herbs (which also flower annually), and flowering bulbs. I also grow annual ornamental flowers in window boxes and tubs on my balcony and front stoop. And I have planted what I like to call a ‘mini meadow’ in front of my backyard veggie patch.
What the heck is a mini meadow?
It’s a bit of a laugh really, calling it a mini meadow. It’s far too small to be a meadow. It’s really a rambling flower patch. But it kind of functions like a meadow. A meadow is an open field, planted by grasses and non-woody plants. Meadows play an important role in ecosystems, acting as carbon sinks, and as homes for animals, birds and food sources for pollinators.
My mini meadow doesn’t have grasses, because I weed them out. But it does have a range of flowers, about half of which are self-seeded, and that are non-woody. It attracts pollinators and birds. It lies in front of our retaining wall, and it is planted with the following herbs and flowers:
You don’t have to be precious with a meadow. I stomp all over it on my way to the veggie patch, and it bounces back with no worries. It’s not made to be protected and cossetted. It’s not organised, and it will not win any awards for garden design. Many people would find it too messy to have in their backyard, but it suits my purposes. It is low maintenance, drought tolerant, tough, cheap as chips (as it’s mostly self-seeded), and it does its job of attracting beneficial insects to the veggie patch.
Building a backyard meadow
Growing a mini meadow obviously requires some space. If you want to try it, you will need a bit of spare earth in your garden. You could try creating on on your front verge (I’ve been thinking of doing this on our verge).
I first started building the meadow after my husband finished the retaining wall. He took an extended break before paving in the front. No shade to my husband, who was busy doing other things (i.e. building the trellises I requested) but there was a patch of dirt left for several months. You can’t just leave a patch of dirt hanging about and not expect a gardener to fill it with something. I figured better a couple of flowers than letting weeds set in. So I threw in a couple of nasturtium seeds, just for some easy colour. Then my mum gave me some lovely orange poppies. Then…well, you get the picture.
The soil in that spot had not been improved with anything – it had been compacted because it had previously been paved over. My husband had removed the old paving to install the retaining wall. I loosened up the soil with a fork, and then started planting, but I did not improve it with compost or fertiliser before I began to add plants.
I still have never fed it with anything, not even my homemade compost (I save that for the veggie beds and the fruit trees), and I don’t water it. The rule for my meadow is that aside from some basic weeding to stay tidy, it has to sustain itself. So the meadow has been built on some dodgy, compacted, weedy soil and left to its own devices. Something useful and pretty has developed, at almost no cost.
The only maintenance it gets is some weeding and every now and then, some new plants. Every time I am out in the garden I pull a few weeds from the meadow, or deadhead a flower or two. This weekend I saw it needed a bit more work than that, so I got out the trusty ho-mi, and weeded the whole bed. But that is really a once-a-year task. Because the meadow is planted so closely, weeds rarely get a look in.
Over time, it has developed a lovely rambling vibe that has led me to give it the ‘mini meadow’ epithet. Occasionally, I sprinkle in a few more seeds, or crush a seed pod from a nearby flower head. This keeps it going along its rambling way. The idea is for it to be planted closely and for something to always be flowering to attract bees, lacewings, and hoverflies to my veggie patch. At this time of year, I have daffodils, alyssum, calendula, nasturtiums, and violets flowering. In a few weeks, I’ll have my favourite, sweet peas, and freesias. In Summer dahlias, poppies, nigella, and cosmos are in flower.
When my husband does get to re-paving the backyard, he can dig parts of the meadow up and it will not damage the rest of it – although I will admit that I’ll be sad if it all goes.
Tips for building a mini-meadow
If you have the space for your own little meadow, it’s easy to create one. Fill it with plants that are low maintenance, require little water and attention, and can easily self-seed. Plants that self-seed readily include calendula, alyssum, cosmos, poppies, and nigella. These are also very attractive to bees. As seed heads form and dry, let the seeds fall and re-seed among the bed. You can include annual bulbs like daffodils as well, for a bit of height and interest, although they will only flower once a year. Remember to plant closely so that weeds cannot grow easily between your meadow plants.
Perennials that are worth planting for longer-term colour are dianthus and violets. They will have the added benefit of a beautiful perfume.
Take care that your meadow is relatively self-contained though, as some plants like violets can become weedy if they have room to spread.