You know you might be a gardener when you return from a trip to the local wine country to find your neighbour has left a bag of fresh pigeon poo on your doorstep. Because it was accompanied by a bag of homegrown oranges and lemons, we assumed it was left as a gift and not a warning to get out of the neighbourhood.
Or, you might be a gardener if on said trip to wine country, you don’t visit a single winery, but instead you visit a garden centre, a herb nursery, a tree nursery, and make a stop at an organic apple farm to buy apples, honey, and two bags of donkey poo. Because, well, donkey poo: $1 a bag. We left with local bluegum honey, a box of herbs, chilli plants, tomato plants, an avocado tree, a grapevine, compost, apples, and donkey poo.
McLaren Vale is home to a specialist herb nursery, Hillside Herbs, and a specialist fruit tree nursery, Perry’s. Whenever possible we try to buy our fruit trees from Perry’s, as their trees are always excellent quality. They also give good advice.
Hillside Herbs is an amazing place. They specialise in herbs and succulents. They also have a range of heirloom chilli plants in varieties that I had never seen. We like to grow at least three types of chillies each year, so we were very excited to find this large range of chillies. I grow tired of finding the same old batch of jalapeños, habaneros, and birds eye chillies at the nurseries every Spring. I try to seek out different varieties at gardener’s markets, but even then it’s same old, same old.
We had a good chat with the owner about the different chillies, and bought some new plants to try, as well as some new herbs: variegated golden oregano, variegated lemon thyme, caraway thyme, borage, salvia magic magenta, and two cherry tomato plants (Tiny Tim and Black Cherry). I’m excited about the caraway thyme, which I grew many years ago but had not been able to find since. It is a beautiful herb: it looks like a standard thyme plant but smells strongly like caraway. What it says on the label, really.
I don’t enjoy growing succulents so I didn’t buy any, but even I enjoyed looking at their hothouse full of stunning succulents and was almost tempted to try growing a couple. Then I remembered my skill at killing them, and stopped myself. They were too beautiful to inflict me on them.
I have been slowly working on my husband for us to plant an avocado tree for a while now. He was reluctant to plant anymore fruit trees on our property, as we already have quite a few, and typically avocados require two trees (an A and B variety) to successfully bear fruit. However, we only have two dwarf apple trees on one side of our backyard, and no other trees on that part of the property.
We chose a Reed avocado tree, which has three main benefits. Firstly, it is self-fertile, meaning we do not need an extra tree for pollination. It is also not too large: while some avocado trees, like the Hass, grow to 10 metres, the Reed is relatively compact, topping out at about 4 metres. Finally, the Reed avocado, while not so easily available in shops, is one of the largest and tastiest avocados, producing cannonball-sized, green avocados that do not brown when cut. Reeds do not transport as well as Hass avocados, making them harder to find in supermarkets.
Planting an avocado tree was much more hassle than I expected. We were given a list of seven steps that were were told to strictly follow if we wanted the tree to live. Given that this was not an inexpensive tree, we chose to follow their strict instructions. Avocados apparently hate to have wet feet, so must be planted in a mound of compost mixed with soil to ensure good drainage. After planting, a wind barrier must be erected for protection and kept in place for 18 months.
Very regular watering and monthly feeding with citrus food keeps it going before fruiting in the third year (fingers crossed).
Our other fruit trees are showing the results of good nutrition and careful pruning. It looks like the Trevatt apricot has a bumper harvest in the making. My husband is telling me he will have to thin the little apricots to make room for them to grow. I know he’s right but I hate thinning fruit – it always seems so sad to me. This is why I get him to do it. This is the third year for this apricot tree, so it should be the first year of a proper crop.
This was a long weekend, so we had extra gardening days. The long weekend Monday we had a long list of gardening tasks, chief of which was planting our new acquisitions. In addition to planting the avocado tree, we planted out a Thompson seedless grapevine near our patio. I am hoping to train this up over the patio for additional Summer shade (and delicious grapes). With these latest additions we now have the following fruit trees and fruiting vines in our garden:
- Black mulberry;
- Passionfruit (Nellie Kelly);
- Apple (Early Macintosh)
- Apple (Cox’s Orange Pippin);
- Lemon (Meyer)
- Lemon (Lisbon);
- Lime (Tahitian);
- Grape (Thompson Seedless);
- Avocado (Reed).
My husband would like us to plant a Cherry tree and I would like to plant a dwarf Blood Orange tree. Then I think we are officially out of room for trees (although I would love to have a Quince and a Black Genoa Fig – but I think we would be pushing it). All of the trees we do have are very young and most have not reached fruiting stage yet. I am hoping that in the next year or two we will at least be able to manage several months of the year without buying any fruit from a store.
My husband also had the fun task of digging donkey poo through the part of the garden set aside for sweet corn planting a bit later in the season. Because he loves me and he is a good man, he did it with as much goodwill as he could muster. Because I love him, I managed the pigeon poo, which was much smellier. The pigeon poo went straight in the composter. Pigeon poo is an amazing activator for compost due to its very high nitrogen component, and over time it will turn my compost ingredients into beautiful, sweet smelling compost. For now, it is pretty ripe. Never put straight chicken or any poultry manure straight onto the garden: it is full of urea and will burn your plants. The donkey poo was already pretty well composted and could go straight on. Even then, we will let it sit for several weeks before we plant the corn into the soil enriched by the manure.
Finally, we planted out tomatoes and chilli plants into pots, and fed all the plants in raised beds and pots. I grow cherry tomatoes and chillies in pots as I find these tend to do best in containers. Larger beefsteak style tomatoes I will grow in the ground in a few weeks time. I have ordered basil seeds from the Digger’s club to plant in the pots with them.
Next week: potato planting. It’s a little late, but we should just manage a crop of spuds before the end of Summer.