Weekend gardening jobs, March 13 & 14 2021

It was a long weekend here in our State, and it’s also early Autumn. Many of the Summer veggie plants are finishing off, and it’s time to start getting ready for the Autumn garden.

Autumn in our area is now tending toward the dry and warm, thanks to the ongoing effects of climate change. The long-range weather forecast for our region predicts just 10mm of rain for March, and not much rain for April (traditionally a wet month). The forecast is predicting a dry Autumn, a warmer and drier Winter, and a cooler and wetter Spring and Summer (basically, a repeat of the last twelve months). This means that gardeners need to change our approach to seasonal planting. Plants we might not have considered for the Autumn garden might be a possibility. We might be able to grow Summer veggies later into Autumn.

I’m seeing that myself right now. I still have an abundance of eggplant and chillies in my patch, and no sign that the plants will stop producing anytime soon. I have sowed some carrots, lettuces, and turnips directly in the ground, and they have popped their little leaves up already. As it’s still warm during the day, the soil is still warm enough to start directly sowed seeds. And usually gardeners wait until after first frost to harvest pumpkins, but the plants are dying off already with no sign of a frost on the horizon. I need to decide whether to pick the pumpkins, or try to keep them on rapidly drying up vines. I think I will have to pick, and give up on the idea of frost.

Cleaning up the garden

The Summer garden is almost finished. I spent most of this morning (Monday) picking the rest of the tomatoes, green beans, and a final watermelon (we only got a couple – note to self, don’t bother next year!!), and clearing out spent plants. Then I dug over the soil, sprinkled organic fertiliser over the soil, and raked it in ready for planting seedlings in a couple of weeks.

Seed-starting

Starting plants from seed is a kind of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ process. I successfully started a dozen silverbeet (chard) and another dozen spinach plants about a month ago, and then once they were large enough I planted them out in the garden. All but two of them have been eaten by birds. So now, frustratingly, I have to start those plants again. Don’t believe blogs or resources that say seeds are a lot cheaper than seedlings. Technically, seeds are much cheaper when comparing a packet of 500 seeds to a punnet of six grown plants – but like everything in gardening, nothing is as simple as that. Factoring in the cost of seeds, seed-raising mix, seed trays (which can be re-used), and now the heat mat with electricity, as well as the time, I probably come out ahead slightly, but not that much far ahead, than if I bought seedlings.

Where seeds are really worth it is in the wider variety you can access, and the fun.

I can find varieties of plants from seed catalogues that I can’t find in seedling form at a nursery. For example, recently I decided I wanted to grow collards. Collards are popular in America, but not in Australia, so I can’t find them in seedling form at a nursery or even as seeds from most mainstream seed companies. However, after a bit of online searching I found collard seeds from a seed company in NSW. They also had lots of interesting varieties of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, turnips, and kale, so I bought all the seeds I wanted to try for the Autumn garden from them. I will still buy seedlings from nurseries, but my plan is to try to start most of my plants from seed this season. I also like fiddling around with propagation kits and seed-starting, so although it’s not cheaper or a time-saver, it’s a great hobby.

However, trying to plan a garden this way requires a lot of planning on my part. As I really only have weekends, I need to be much more organised if I want to grow my garden almost entirely from seed this season. I can’t wait around until the end of March, then throw in a few dozen seedlings and still be fine. I have to start now to get the seeds going. This is why I am spending at least an hour a week starting seeds.

This week, I started more chard (after my first lot were eaten by birds), leeks, coriander, cauliflower, and more onions. In the garden, I direct sowed lettuce, turnips, and carrots. I planted out spring onions that I started from seed three weeks ago. I have just started to have to buy onions and carrots again, after months of not having to, and it’s so annoying! My goal is to have enough onions, carrots, lettuces, and greens in my garden for most of the year from mid-April without having to buy any.

I love turnips and kohlrabi, but I have had middling success with them. I think this is related to time of planting, which is why I am trying to be diligent with the planting time this year.

Summer Winners and Losers

This year, the garden winners for the Summer season were the eggplants, beans, chillies, and pumpkins. We still have an abundance of eggplants coming on, and I anticipate them to keep going for several more weeks. We have been eating at least one full eggplant meal per week – usually a spicy eggplant pasta dish or a curry. We have about twelve pumpkins on the vine almost ready to go (another week or so), including Queensland Blues, Australian Butter, Butternut, and a variety that I can’t recall the name of. I’m very excited about the Australian Butter, which is a brilliant orange.

The green beans, which are Blue Lake variety, have also been abundant, and we have been eating them in vegetarian stir fries with carrots, chillies, and noodles. The chillies have been prolific. We have grown eight varieties of chilli: cayenne, dragon’s roll (prolific but not spicy, and a bit dull), dragon’s tongue (delicious and super spicy – our favourite), curly toenail, mango, cherry, lemon, and jalapeño. The best have been the dragon’s tongue and the curly toenail. Both are spicy, but also have a great flavour. The lemon chilli is delicious green and sliced up on top of chilli, eggs, stir fries, curries, or anything that you want a bit of a kick with that lovely fresh green chilli flavour.

The garden losers this year were the zucchini, cucumbers (ugh, I bloody give up), melons, and tomatoes. I’m not sure who had a good tomato year, but it definitely was not me. That’s partly my own fault: I did not really put a huge effort into tomatoes this year. If tomato seedlings popped up, I let them grow, but I did not choose tomato plants and nurture them. As such, we had a couple of nice cherry tomato plants grow in cracks and corners, but the other plants struggled. I did this because I was trying to rest the main tomato growing areas in my garden after discovering nematodes on a couple of plants last year. I am glad I did this: when I pulled up the sad tomato plants today, I found none of them had nematodes. I hope this means that the nematodes are now gone from my soil. I picked what was left and made a green tomato pickle (delicious).

I did get a few good zucchini, and two melons (technically that makes this my best watermelon season ever), but the wet, cool Summer created ideal conditions for mildew. The zucchini plant rapidly succumbed to powdery mildew, and I ended up pulling it earlier than usual. Goodbye, zucchini season, I hardly knew ye.

Weekend gardening jobs, February 26 & 27 2022

My husband and I spent the weekend in the garden, but at different times and doing different things.

It’s the last weekend of the Summer, and I spent the weekend getting ready for the Autumn garden.

Preparing for Autumn

Some parts of the garden (eggplant, chillies, pumpkins, basil) are still in the full throttle of Summer production, but other areas are in their last gasp. The zucchini plant was very done, so I pulled that out, clearing a massive area of the garden, and also picked the last of one of the carrot beds and the final red onions. I dug over that bed, and spread organic fertiliser over that area (homemade compost, pelletised chicken manure, and blood and bone), raking it over and watering it in. That area is now sitting and waiting for planting in slightly cooler weather.

I started some more seeds for the winter garden: leeks, onions, coriander, and caulis. The collards and onions I started last week were moved into larger pots for hardening off, and I planted spinach and silverbeet into the garden. Then I forgot about them for a couple of days…whoops. The spinach is in a more sheltered area and is OK, but the silverbeet is not looking so good.

Saving sad plants

I repotted a dieffenbachia houseplant that was looking miserable (following the process I wrote about a couple of weeks ago). Hopefully some fresh soil and a larger pot will give it a fresh lease on life. A beautiful calibrachoa I received for my birthday was also looking very sad after an attack of white fly, so I gave it a spray of pest oil and a good water, and I am hoping that this will save it.

Building a trellis

While I was pottering about, my husband was doing the hard yards, building a trellis for the grape vine. Our sultana vine has been strung up on a makeshift trellis for the past two years, which was fine while it was young, but now the vine is in its third year it was far too big to manage on the little trellis.

My husband has been building trellises for all the fruit trees and vines. He started with a trellis for the apple trees a few months ago, and has been gradually building additional trellises throughout the backyard. This has enabled him to perfect his skills, and has decided to rebuild the original apple trellis now that he has figured out his technique.

I think he has done a great job (with only a bit of minor swearing).

Grape vine trellis

He has one more big one to build along the back fence for the passionfruit vines and for climbing seasonal veggies (cucumbers, beans and peas), and then his next job is re-paving the backyard and building a fire pit.

After that I will let him rest.

Just kidding 😀

Weekend gardening jobs, 20th February 2021

It’s been a busy week in the garden, because I gave myself a week off (exciting). As I work for myself, it’s not often that I get a full week off, but I managed it!

As it’s still Covid times, I took the week off around home, but it was still very lovely. I spent a few mornings and afternoons in the garden, and also visited some outdoor gardening places, such as the botanic gardens, the Digger’s shop in the botanic gardens, where I bought plants and garlic to plant in a few weeks time, and the annual Chilli Festival, where I bought chilli plants and a local plant nursery and bought more house plants. So I guess it was kind of a gardening holiday in which I spent the majority of the time either gardening or thinking about gardening.

House plant mania

I looked around my house this morning and realised that I have a crazy amount of house plants. There is at least one house plant in almost every room. In the lounge room, there are about twenty. On the kitchen window sill I’m striking four new plants. In my office I have six plants to keep me company while I work.

It might be time to slow it down a little, because they actually take a fair bit of time to care for.

Melon success

Pocket melon

I have been trying to grow melons since…always. I have never successfully grown any melons, despite having grown pumpkins with success for a number of years. This has always puzzled me, since pumpkins and melons are closely related. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.

To be honest, I can’t figure out what I am doing right either, but whatever it is I’ll take it! I’m growing two varieties: Pocket Melon, and Golden Midget. Both are smaller varieties. Golden Midget is a golden melon with red flesh, that grows to 2.5kg at the largest, making it a relatively small melon. The Pocket Melon is a much smaller melon, grown for its intense fragrance more than its flavour. I’m growing them more as an experiment than anything else – if I can break the melon curse then it will have been worth it.

Golden Midget

Preparing for next season

Right now we are picking an abundance of veggies from the garden, and most of our meals are made almost entirely from the veggie patch.

Spinach fettuccine with spicy eggplant sauce – we are cooking from the garden every night

But I have an eye to next season, and I have already bought all the seeds we need for a full Winter/Spring veggie patch. In addition to the usual suspects (broccoli, cabbage etc) I want to try some different veggies to shake our diet up a little. I have been listening to an American gardening podcast called Backyard Gardens, which has me thinking about some different options. I recommend listening to it, with some caveats: the seasons are obviously the opposite to ours, the pests they deal with are generally non-existent in Australia, and the male host has a habit of sometimes speaking over the female host (she’s great). I still listen because I enjoy listening to the female host, and I like learning about what other gardeners are doing, even if it’s across the world.

They suggested growing collards. These are a vegetable that I have never eaten or grown. They are a brassica, related to cabbage and kale. The seeds are not easy to find in Australia, but I found some sold by Happy Valley Seeds in NSW. I’m looking forward to growing and learning to cook collards, which the Backyard Gardens hosts say are tastier than kale (I also like growing and eating kale).

Happy Valley Seeds also sell a wide range of other heirloom and hybrid seeds, so I bought most of next season’s seeds from this site. In addition to the collards, I bought lots of lettuce, purple and orange cauliflower, cabbage, onions, carrots, kohlrabi, turnips, silverbeet (chard), spinach, two types of kale, and broccoli seeds. I am using my heat mat to raise the seeds inside, so I can plant them out in March once the Summer veggies are done.

I bought the heat mat as part of a propagation kit from Diggers Club last month. The whole mat costs $50, but I bought it as part of a kit for $100 (the kit also included a seed tray with cover, seed raising mix, jiffy pots and some other gear). The electric mat supplies gentle heat to the bottom of a seed tray and speeds up propagation. Instead of waiting 7-10 days for seeds to come up, they pop up in three days! I already have seedling pots of silverbeet and spinach ready to plant out once they add their mature leaves, and I have onions, kohlrabi, and collards popping their little heads out now. I love this thing, and just wish that I had bought one years ago. I ordered my kit online from Diggers Club, but you can find them online from other places, as well as the separate components from the Big Green Shed.

What to do with all that stuff you grow

  • Freeze it: shred zucchini, carrots, beetroot, and freeze in one cup portions in snap lock bags. For the zucchini, squeeze out as much water as you can first. To freeze green beans, spread on a tray lined with baking paper, then place in a bag once frozen. To freeze silverbeet, kale or spinach, just chop it and freeze it in bags, and either use it from frozen, or thaw it.
  • Preserve it: make jam, chutney, passata, ketchup, or preserve it;
  • Give it away to friends, family, co-workers, or put it on a Grow Free cart;
  • Bake it: there are so many recipes online for muffins, cakes, brownies, etc using veggies, including vegan options;
  • Cook it: we are not vegetarian but right now we are eating mostly vegetarian food or less meat meals, because we just have so many veggies to eat! We certainly eat our five a day at the moment (admittedly sometimes in chocolate beetroot brownie form, which probably doesn’t count).

What to do with your excess garden produce

Excess garden produce waiting to be used
Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

Once you start building up a decent productive vegetable garden, you often end up with an excess of garden produce.

We are now at the point where we have several months a year that we have enough homegrown veggies to cover our basic needs. In the height of the Summer months, with swaps with friends and neighbours and our own produce, we often get away with not buying much fruit and almost no veggies, with the exception of some lettuce, potatoes, lemons, and avocados.

Planning around your garden produce

However, not buying from the supermarket means we have to think outside the square a little bit. When you rely on the supermarket or fruit & veg shop for produce, you can buy whatever is a good price and is in season, then cook based on what you have purchased.

When you are relying on the garden, you have to consider a bit more carefully what to cook, based on what is ready in your garden. As you can’t always predict exactly when something will be ready, you have to play it by ear a bit more.

This week we have a lot of turnips, daikon radishes, lettuce, collards, and onions in the garden. That means soups, some Japanese, and some Mexican dishes will be on the menu this week. Fortunately, we like pretty much everything (allergies prevent us eating a couple of cuisines like Thai, but we would if we could). We will be having quesasdillas, burrito bowls, soup, and a riff on okonomiyaki (delicious Japanese pancakes). I’ve had to figure this out ahead of time because I’m not too sure what to make with a fridge full of turnips, radishes and collard greens, once I’ve given some away. It’s part of the fun and challenge of home gardening.

The other thing I do is preserve and save excess so I have it later in the year when I wish I had a couple of turnips or beets in the fridge.

What can you do with excess produce?

Freeze it

I still have some produce from last season in my freezer, including bags of washed and chopped raw rhubarb and spinach, grated zucchini, and stewed rhubarb and apple. I use these to supplement the fresh veggies to the point that I can stretch out both homegrown garden produce and store bought veggies.

Freezing is an easy and cost-effective way to save garden produce. I shred zucchini, carrots, beetroot, and freeze in one cup portions in snap lock bags. For the zucchini, squeeze out as much water as you can first. I use these shredded veggies in chillies, pasta sauces, cakes, muffins, and soups.

To freeze green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower, wash and trim, then spread on a tray lined with baking paper. Place in a bag once frozen. To freeze excess tomatoes you can just put them in a bag whole. Then when you thaw them, they slip out of their skins. Squeeze out the seeds and then you can use in any recipe you would use canned tomatoes. Chillies can also be thrown into a bag whole, and used either straight from the freezer, or thawed. They last for a long time like that.

I chop rhubarb into 2.5 cm (one-inch) lengths and freeze in bags or containers, then use straight from frozen in muffins, crumbles, or you can roast or stew with apples.

For leafy greens like spinach or kale, wash well, then shred and freeze. Use straight from the bag in pasta dishes or soups.

For soft fruits, like peaches, place in a large heatproof bowl. Cut an ‘X’ in the base of the fruit. Carefully pour boiling water over the fruit and let sit until the water cools enough to dip your hands in safely. The skin will come away from the fruit easily. Peel it away, then quarter the fruit and place in one or two cup portions in snap lock bags and freeze. I use these for muffins, crumbles, or pies when Summer is over, and I am missing those delicious soft fruits. I don’t have a peach tree but my friend does – we usually swap other things during the year and at peach time, we receive a couple of bags of delicious freestone peaches.

I use snap lock backs and usually reuse them once or twice (don’t do this if you have used them to freeze meats or dairy products). Make sure to squeeze the air out to prevent freezer burn.

Preserve it

clear glass mason jars
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Make jam, chutney, pickles, passata, ketchup, or bottle your produce. I tend to make jams, chutneys or pickles because it’s an easy way to preserve excess produce for shelf stable storage, but these methods do use more sugar than bottling (also I don’t have a bottling kit). I also really enjoy making jams and pickles; it’s a relaxing time for me. You have to prepare ahead of time though: many recipes require a step the night before, and you need to make sure you have enough jars, lids, and some equipment. I don’t bother with recipes that require water bathing for shelf stability, or that only stay fresh for a couple of weeks (with the exception of lime or lemon curd – because these are so delicious it’s worth it).

Because I make these from my garden produce, we don’t buy many condiments, aside from the basics. The quality of homemade jams and pickles is much higher than the supermarket kind, and I know exactly what is in the jar. Although it is quite high in sugar, we don’t it much of it, so I don’t see it as a health issue. If I was eating it daily, I would worry about it more.

Commonly I make marmalade in Winter, a peach and apricot jam in Summer, and a rhubarb and ginger jam in Autumn. I also often make a lime curd when I have an abundance of eggs and limes, and I pickle beetroot, onions, eggplant, and last year I made a delicious rhubarb ketchup. Last year we planted a couple of plum trees, so I am hoping to one day have enough plums to make my grandmother’s famous satsuma plum sauce, which I still occasionally dream about.

Dry it

I have a dehydrator and use this a couple of times a year to dry excess fruits like chillies and peaches. Last season I dried a lot of chillies and ground them up to make chilli powder. It is so hot that we are still slowly using it months later. I used some in a recipe recently: a quarter teaspoon replaced a whole teaspoon in the recipe, and it was still very spicy.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying a dehydrator unless you intend to dry quite a lot. However, they last a long time and do not use much electricity. We have had ours for over ten years, and it is still working as well as the day we bought it. We have a Snackmaker Ezidri, which is a mid-priced model. It’s handy to have and I like the option to use it. However you can also use your oven on low, or just freeze your produce instead.

Store it

I keep pumpkins downstairs in my pantry, and use the most perishable first (that is the thin skinned varieties, like Kent). The thicker-skinned pumpkins like Queensland Blue and Jarrahdale are still there from last season. I check them periodically to make sure they are still in good condition, and make a plan to eat one every couple of weeks.

Bake it

carrot cake and tea pot
Photo by Hilal Bülbül on Pexels.com

There are a billion recipes for muffins, cakes, brownies, etc using veggies, including vegan options. I love a zucchini loaf or carrot cake, personally. Almost all of these freeze well for later consumption. Also check out chocolate beetroot recipes – amazing.

Give it away!

One of the great parts of gardening is of course, sharing the produce you grow. I always have some eggs to share, as well as some veggies at different times of the year. But not everyone wants or can use the vegetables I grow. I learned this the hard way one year when I brought a bag of kale into the office. This was before kale was dubbed a superfood and kale smoothies were a thing. No-one wanted it! I ended up having to take it back home.

Give it away to friends, family, co-workers – but ask first if they want it so you don’t experience my kale conundrum. You could put it on a Grow Free cart. I also give away the jams and pickles, or swap them. Although I love making them, to be honest I do make more than we can eat. Sharing is fun because I often receive a jar of something else back at a later date. A friend’s husband once gave us an amazing feijoa jam that was so, so delicious. I don’t grow them, so it was lovely to try something really different that we would never be able to buy.

Gardening jobs, late Summer 2022

Pumpkin hanging on a trellis

After a relatively cool Summer (for Southern Australia), and a sudden burst of torrential rain caused by a tropical cyclone up North, we have had a spell of hot, humid days. This is not weather I enjoy. I love the heat, but I don’t love humidity. The constant blanket of moisture in the air feels oppressive to me.

That being said, I am glad to finally have some heat in the garden. The cooler weather has not been great for Summer fruiting veggies. We live in a hilly area, and this means that we are always a couple of degrees cooler than the Adelaide plains. We need some warmer weather for the tomatoes, eggplant, and beans to get going. These have finally started to take off, and we are generally cooking from the garden each night. There is at least something to nab out of the garden everyday to throw into a meal, whether its eggs from the chooks, a zucchini, some little Lebanese eggplants, carrots, beetroot, or onions. Tomatoes are just coming on now, and we have basil, chillies and mini capsicums on the balcony.

My husband has been building a new trellis for the grape vine and the passionfruit vines. He has been slowly building new trellises for all the fruit trees in the backyard, which is a big job. Somehow we have managed to plant five fruit trees, four berry canes, and five vines in our backyard, as well as our veggie patch. I think that probably qualifies the backyard as a food forest.

Before building the trellis, we picked our first bunch of grapes from our two year old vine. I planted the grape vine because my youngest loves grapes and looks forward to grape season every year. I like grapes, but I would rather eat a new season apple any day. However, I have to say that I felt crazily excited about picking the first bunch of grapes – more than I felt picking the first apples from our trees. They tasted really good.

Succession Planting

I’m experimenting with succession planting. After my great success with carrots this year, I have started planting fresh seed about every 8 weeks, with the goal of always having a supply of fresh carrots. I’m doing the same with beetroots and trying to do the same with onions. I haven’t had to buy a carrot or onion in months. You could argue that carrots and onions are dead cheap, and why would I bother taking up garden space for them?

Organic carrots and onions aren’t cheap, firstly. Conventionally grown carrots and onions are, but the veggies I grow are organic, no sprays, fungicides, or pesticides. They taste amazing. A homegrown carrot tastes special. Also, I can grow interesting varieties, like purple or yellow carrots, little round Paris Market carrots, and lovely long red onions.

Of course, I can do this because I have the space to continually grow rows of carrots and onions.

Late Season Planting

Summer is heating up late this year, so I am taking advantage of the late season warmth to throw in some extra veggies (in addition to the carrot and onions). I have thrown in some extra cucumber and zucchini seedlings to try to get some extra zucchini and cukes before the cooler weather kicks in.

I decided to spend a bit of money, and bought a propagation kit, which included an electric heat mat so I can start seeds for Autumn inside. I have started spinach and chard (silverbeet) now, to see how the heat mat works and familiarise myself with it, and because it is a bit early to grow out brassicas ready for planting in March. If that works well, I will grow all my caulis, cabbages, broccoli and kale from seed using the heat mat inside, and then plant out in March before the cold weather sets in.

Re-potting House Plants

My amazing Philodendron, that I bought as a tiny plant several years ago, has grown into a giant monster. It can no longer stay upright in its own pot or its cover pot, which means it is time for re-potting.

When I buy house plants, I generally buy the smaller, cheaper plants, and then challenge myself to grow them into the big plants that cost a bomb. I have grown a ten dollar Fiddle Leaf Fig into a lovely $80 specimen (the secret – lots of light and keep the leaves free of dust). I do this partly because I don’t like paying a hundred bucks for a plant, and also because I love the challenge.

When you buy a house plant, you should leave them in their existing pot, and place them in a cover pot. Keep them in their existing pot until they grow too large and need re-potting. You should be able to tell when the time is right.

Before re-potting

This philodendron had clearly outgrown its existing pot.

Original pot on the left, new pot on the right

I looked around in my potting shed for a new pot to upsize the plant. You can see how much bigger the new pot is than the old one: easily three times the size. This is because I don’t intend to re-pot this plant again for a long time.

I gently removed the plant from its existing pot, and soaked it in a bucket of water for a while. You can see how root-bound it is. Being root-bound is not a bad thing for house plants. Most house-plants prefer being root-bound, which is why re-potting should only occur once the original pot is clearly much too small.

I gently teased the roots out, being careful to make sure the soil from the roots fell into the bucket of water. I placed a layer of good quality potting mix into the base of the new pot, and then placed the plant in the bottom. Then, I tipped the water and soil from the bucket back over the plant. I did this because the plant is healthy and happy. The healthy microbes and fungi from this plant’s existing soil should be saved as much as possible and returned to it. If the plant was sick, I would not have done that.

I topped up the pot with fresh potting mix, making sure it was as upright as possible.

Now I just need to find a big enough cover pot – the basked I had it in is too small! Such a shame, I hate shopping for pots…

Weekend garden jobs 8 January 2022

I think I today found the physical limit of how much time I can spend in the garden. Today I:

  • Dug over and shifted two compost bins and set up another one, and spread compost over the tomatoes;
  • Cleaned out the chook shed and chased the chooks away from the raised bed before they ate all the cucumber seedlings;
  • Weeded the back yard veggie beds;
  • Moved the remaining soil leftover from the retaining wall (most of it anyway);
  • Picked a couple of kilos of veggies and fruit;
  • Planted fresh beetroots, lettuces, silverbeet, and zucchini;
  • Swept all the leaves from the back patio;
  • Built a tomato cage;
  • Gave all the veggies a foliar feed;
  • Collapsed.

Now I’m lying on my bed wondering if I can get up to scrub the veggies I still have sitting in a big tub of water and make dinner.

To be honest, I’m not sure. I do want dinner…but my body is protesting heavily.

Thank goodness I’m only a part-time gardener.

Gardening jobs, October 30 2021

Mulberries! Finally!

We spent almost eight hours in the garden today, building trellises for the fruit trees in Pie Corner. That is to say, my husband was building the trellises, while I did other stuff.

Firstly, I cleaned out the chook shed (boring but necessary), and collected seven (!!) eggs.

Then I mulched the entire back garden, which is a big job. However, it is definitely reaching the warmer part of the year, and mulching is a necessary task. It saves water and keeps weeds down. Over time, it breaks down and builds soil structure, and it stops the soil becoming hydrophobic, which can be a big problem in Australian soils. I use chopped sugar cane mulch, which is a sustainable by-product of the sugar cane industry. It’s cheaper than lucerne, and lighter, so it lets the water through. I have used it for years, and I think it does a great job. Some people prefer lucerne or pea straw, but I have compared both and I personally don’t think there is much of a difference except price.

Mulching a garden the size of ours takes quite a long time. I took little breaks to pick a kilo of rhubarb, a big bunch of silverbeet, and pull out most of the older plants to feed the chooks (much to their delight, it’s their favourite), weed the opportunistic weeds that came up after this week’s rain, and pick flowers for the house. Mulching is quite boring, so doing these jobs helped keep me going. I also had to water it in, so it doesn’t blow away and undo all my hard work.

Building trellises and espaliering fruit trees

This is how our old trellises looked:

Old trellis

They were ‘built’ from star droppers and wire, and were not large enough for the apple trees. The wire was casually looped around the star droppers, and could not be tightened, which meant that the wire sagged as the tree grew and the weight pulled on the wire. Also, the whole set up looked ugly. A dodge job all round.

New trellises with espaliered dwarf apple trees

This is the new set up, with newly espaliered apple trees. Some of the undergrowth you can see there are berry plants that are yet to be trained up a new trellis. Once they are moved onto a new trellis all of their own, it will look neater and nicer. Also, btw, expecting a bumper berry crop this year. The plants are covered in blossoms. Very excited about that. My husband loves the boysenberries, which is a pretty sweet reward for all his hard building work.

Espalier dwarf apple tree

The trellis has been built with wooden poles, strong wire rope, and turnbuckles to enable us to tighten the wire if it sags. We chose to use wood for the supports rather than metal, but you could use steel poles. We prefer wood for the aesthetic, and because it is much cheaper. We are building five large trellises across our garden, and need thirteen tall poles, so cost is an important consideration.

In addition to the three trellises in Pie Corner, we are building a large trellis along the back garden fence to support three passionfruit plants, green beans, cucumbers, and a pepino, and a trellis for our three year old grapevine. I want to use as much of my vertical space as possible.

The espaliering is probably not textbook, but as Homer Simpson says, it’s my first day. I’ll keep shaping and training them and soon, hopefully, they’ll look like some textbook French potager effort. Or at least, ok. Whatever, we’re getting apples, so it’s all good.

We’re also getting grapes on our grapevine for the first time. I’m very chuffed about that. I will guard these little baby grapes with my life. Or at least some kind of netting.

Hello, little baby grapelings

The rest of the day, I potted up more petunias and a new Chinese Jasmine I bought on a whim, and cleaned up the patio because we have guests visiting tomorrow. Our yard continues to look like a construction site as we always seem to be building something, but at least the patio is as tidy as it can be, and the house has lovely fresh flowers. I do hope the construction site is cleared away before Christmas though…is exactly what I said last year!

Maybe if I want that to happen I should stop asking his nibs to build stuff.

Weekend gardening jobs, 16 & 17 October 2021

If you’re a gardener, and if you want to grow a food forest, and if you are so inclined to partner up, can I recommend you seek out a person that can build stuff? Gardening requires a surprising amount of building and engineering, if you have a largish sized plot. Unfortunately, I am not an engineer. I know what I need, where I want it, and how it should look, but not how to build it. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys being outside and the results of gardening (i.e. the eating) but is not really into the digging, composting and planting. However, he is pretty great at figuring out how to build the things I need.

He recently finished the retaining wall, and has started to re-pave the backyard with recycled pavers (we want to build a backyard in-ground firepit for next Winter). But before he can continue that task, we are building trellises for all the backyard fruit trees and canes. This is a task that has been on my mind for about two years. I built short-term trellises to espalier our dwarf apple trees, but they look, well, craptacular.

Dodgy espaliering job on dodgy trellis

The problems are many: star pickets look ugly, the wires were not strong enough and have started to sag, the trellis was quickly outgrown by the apple trees etc etc. It had to go. The trellis for the berry canes in Pie Corner was similarly horrible and the berries are just free-forming it all over the place (as you can see in the above photo). I have also recently planted several passionfruit plants that are going to outgrow the temporary trellises, and I have also recently planted dwarf plums that I wanted to espalier properly. Hence, I need a builder.

I did look for professional landscapers but they are booked out everywhere, and honestly my job is not large enough for most tradies to be interested in. Plus, my husband and I thought we could tackle it ourselves.

I watched several YouTube videos about building a trellis to espalier trees, and visited the Botanic Gardens to look at the way their very professional gardeners had done it. I still couldn’t figure it out. My husband watched the same YouTube video, and off we went to the Big Green Shed and in an hour we were back home with all the stuff we needed to build a trellis. Bloody hell. I mean, I love him.

I left him to it, and did the following:

  • Dug out enough compost from the two bins to add to an entire section of garden, which I lightly dug through and have left to settle.
  • Planted three varieties of climbing beans (Kentucky Wonder, Purple King, and Blue Lake) and one of dwarf beans (Yellow Wax).
  • Picked a whole heap of veggies for dinner, including carrots, broccoli, spinach, onions, and asparagus. I made an Ottolenghi spinach and feta pie for dinner, and it was amazeballs.
  • Planted beetroot, sunflower, carrots, and lettuce seeds, and pulled out some old spinach and coriander plants and fed them to the chooks.
  • Planted up a lovely pink calibrachoa for the front stoop, and watered all the balcony plants.
  • Fed the passionfruit with some fish emulsion and seaweed fertiliser, and cursed a bit when I saw some little critter has been having a nibble on them. Couldn’t find anything so I think it has gone away now.
  • Waved to all the bees, including at least a couple of native bees hovering among the flowers.
  • Admired the bronze iris that finally flowered after I thought all hope was lost.

An update in the trellis and espalier efforts next time.

Gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2021

It’s the October long weekend here, which is one of my favourite mini-breaks. I love it because it’s Springtime in Southern Australia, a few months before Christmas, and we have a bit of time to get some things done around the garden.

It’s always great being in the garden at this time of year, because there are flowers everywhere. All the spring flowering bulbs are out, as well as my favourites, the sweet peas. This year I have three varieties in flower. They always make me feel happy.

This time I am not spending the whole weekend in the garden as I have a deadline, but I decided to take two full days off for the first time in…bloody ages actually.

I booked a big skip bin and my husband and I made plans to clear out our sheds of extraneous junk. A lot of the junk was left over from the guy that lived here before us (yes, still!), and from building our retaining wall and renovating our bathroom. Some of it is just from the accumulation of life.

We filled up a 4m cube bin really quickly. I would not say we are collectors, but it was kind of depressing how quickly we filled a pretty large bin.

The other job left over from building the retaining wall was moving the clean fill back to the garden. This has taken me many months, partly because it is a boring job, partly because there is a lot to move, and partly because it’s really hard. There’s only so much shovelling dirt into buckets and moving it around the garden I can do in one hit before this old lady collapses in a corner. However, this weekend I managed to clear a whole section. I am really happy about that. You can actually see the pathway next to the shed now. Only one section to go (the biggest, of course), then all I have to do is power wash the whole thing and it will look great. Or at least, not filthy.

Pumpkin Mounds

Some of the buckets of dirt went to build pumpkin mounds. Curcubits (pumpkins, zucchini, squash etc) are prone to powdery mildew, which is exacerbated by getting their leaves wet. A way to help prevent this is by planting them on little hills or mounds, then watering the base of the plant. I used the spare buckets of dirt (which was originally from my garden), to build hills. Then I mixed in a bit of compost, and planted pumpkin seeds in the top. I planted four types of pumpkins: Australian Butter, Queensland Blue, ye olde Butternut, and Buttercup. Hoping for a great pumpkin crop this year after last year’s sad effort.

I cleaned out the chicken coop, and let the chooks go for a wander while I did that. After I replaced their straw I went looking for them, calling out their “chookchookchook!” call that lets them know it’s time to come inside. One of them trundled along, but the others just called back and didn’t come back to the yard. After a bit of searching I found all three tucked up under a rhubarb bush, having a dust bath together. I decided to let them be. Twenty minutes later I caught them trying to dismantle a new pumpkin mound, and unceremoniously tossed them back in their pen. Naughty!

Seed Starting

It was raining on and off, so when it was raining I slipped undercover and planted up some seed trays for Summer veggies. This year I am not giving quite so much space to tomatoes, because I need the soil to recover from all the tomatoes I grew last season. It’s not good to grow tomatoes in the same spot, year-on-year. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a massive space, that reduces your tomato-growing opportunities. I will grow a few, but I just can’t grow as many. This year the plan is go hard on squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn and beans, as well as the necessary chillies and eggplant. Hopefully I can swap some of these with my brother, who always grows great tomatoes. So far I have planted:

  • Chilli Devil’s Tongue;
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Tomato Moneymaker;
  • Tomato Jaune Flamme;
  • Onion Long Red Florence;
  • Corn Jubilee;
  • Cucumber Crystal Apple;
  • Cucumber Marketmore;
  • Melon Pocket; and
  • Watermelon Golden Midget.

The Devil’s Tongue are from seed I saved a couple of years ago, and that I am hoping are still viable. These were seriously great chillies. Lovely and hot, but still flavourful, and the most prolific plants I have ever grown. Fingers crossed at least some of the seeds grow.

I do not have the greatest of luck with cucumbers and melons, yet paradoxically have generally good fortune with pumpkins (last year notwithstanding). What works for one should technically work with the other, as they are related, however it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Therefore I intend to give them yet another crack and try something different. Not entirely sure what that will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions to grow cracking cues and melons, I’m all ears.

These were planted up in trays with seed-raising mix. It’s a smidge cold still but I decided to give it a shot anyway – it’s the start of October after all, and if I wait too much longer it will be late November before I have plants large enough to plant out.

The rest of my garden space will be set aside for climbing beans and a little bit of space for some eggplant. I will wait until the end of October/early November to plant them. Once my major deadline is done in late October, I plan to have a week off and then it’s planting time. Can’t wait!

Weekend gardening jobs, August 1 2021

It’s been weeks since I have been out in the garden – due to incessant rain, wind, and lots of work taking up my weekends. But today was a rare sunny (not warm) day, so I took the opportunity to get out and into the dirt.

The garden has held up extremely well after weeks of very wet and windy weather. This is due in part to my husband finishing the retaining wall before the really heavy weather set in, and the Winter veggie garden being well established before the really cold weather. This meant that all the garden had to do was keep growing, while we hibernated inside, working and watching old episodes of Scrubs. Occasionally I ventured outside to check the progress of the cauliflowers, but aside from that I stayed inside and worked on a raft of projects that have been heading my way lately.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do out there. Today I set myself the task of pruning the mulberry tree, weeding, trimming a geranium bush, and feeding everything with liquid compost. Last week I did get outside for two hours to plant up two dwarf plum trees in Pie Corner, and I checked on them to make sure they were happy and settling in well, but aside from that, I just did everything on the list.

Look at these beauties. Romanceso cauliflower (or broccoli, whatever you want to call them) are my favourite Winter veggies to grow, but they take patience. I used to think caulis took a long time, but they are nothing compared to these green lovelies. The beauty of them alone makes them worth it, and the flavour is incredible. I’d estimate another four weeks before they are ready to pick. While I am waiting, I will give them a liquid compost feed every week to keep them sweet, and pick off the caterpillars. Normally I would leave the caterpillars alone, and on other plants I do, but not on the Romanescos. They can eat other things, but not my spiralled lovelies.

While we wait for them to be ready, we have cabbages and caulis to enjoy – unfortunately all the broccoli is finished 🙁

I am not a very confident pruner. I tend to be tentative with removing branches, and worried I will remove too much. As such, I think I probably remove too little. I pruned some of it today, but looking back at the job I did this morning, I think I need to go back and give it another go. The mulberry tree has not been performing well, and I think it is because I have not pruned it hard enough. The tree is five years old and has yet to produce more than a handful of tiny mulberries, so whatever we have been doing is not working. All the other fruit trees planted at the same time are fruiting well, but this freeloader is not producing the goods. Time to prune hard, or go home. Or in the case of this tree, go to the wood shed for next year’s fireplace, if I don’t see some berries this Summer.

There were not many weeds out there, considering the amount of rain we have had, and those that were there were easily removed by hand. I think this is due to consistent hand weeding over time. They don’t get the chance to set seed, so we don’t have many weeds. Occasional foraging by an escaped hen also helps. I picked a cauliflower, planted some more spring onions, and gave everything a quick feed of liquid fertiliser, then came inside for a wash.

Tomorrow is expected to bucket down, so at least I can look outside from my office and know that I have spent a solid four hours in the garden today, instead of feeling frustrated that the weekend was spent inside. And only four more weeks of Winter to go! I am just not a Winter person. Bring on Spring.