Catching up in the garden, January 2023

Cinnamon basil in flower

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.

Summer Pruning

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.

Tomato Supports

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).

Tomato cages

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.

Reo mesh support

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.

Feeding

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.

Yellowing passionfruit leaves

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

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 One, raised bed, outdoors

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.

Eggplant Two, greenhouse

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.

Borlotti bush 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.

Gardening jobs, Christmas and New Year 2022

Happy New Year!

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.

Garden progress

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 Window Box 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!

Greenhouse

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.

Chillies Galore

At last year’s Chilli Festival I bought some chilli plants (a Devil’s Tongue, 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’s Tongue 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 orchard

Mulberry tree

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.

Greenhouse Setup

The greenhouse was built several weeks ago now, but I have not really had any time to use it yet.

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.

Raised planters

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.

Planters and racks

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.