Weekend gardening jobs, 28 June 2020

It’s been several months since I have been out in my garden. I have been working most weekends, and when I have had some time to work in the garden, it has been pouring with rain.

It was a perfect day to be out there, but the garden was a bit of a sad sight: weeds have had a happy time over the past eight weeks without me to diligently pull them out. I spent three or so hours out there, and the whole time I weeded and mulched the garden with compost.

The compost has been slowly maturing for the past couple of months. It was activated by the addition of horse and pigeon manure (both gifts from my awesome neighbour, John). It has been turned a couple of times in the past twelve weeks, but essentially it has been left alone. I use the black ‘Dalek’ style compost bins, which even in Winter heat up well enough to make great compost. I do have the space for these and I am physically fit enough to turn the compost every six weeks or so. When I am older, I will probably switch them out for a compost tumbler, which will be easier to manage as my already cranky hip gets crankier.

I don’t dig compost into the garden; rather I mulch the beds with it. After I weeded the veggie beds, I mulched over the beds with the compost. I was able to mulch about half my veggie garden with lovely compost.

The sun was gentle, the breeze was light, and I listened to gardening and food podcasts while I weeded and mulched. I picked radishes and rhubarb, and made a little radish pickle for funsies in the afternoon. It was so lovely to be out there again, if only for a few hours.

Weekend garden jobs, May 10 2020

After several wet and stormy weekends, it was lovely to have a cool but sunshiny day to spend out in the garden. As it happened to also be Mother’s Day, I exercised my motherly rights and left all household tasks to my husband while I spent the entire day outside.

It was perfect.

I had many jobs that needed to be done. Due to the cold weather and an uptick in my workload (yay), I have only trotted outside to pick some salad leaves and check the brassicas for cabbage moth caterpillars. This is probably an exercise in futility: I keep squishing them and they keep coming back, but eventually I will end up with enough cabbages and broccoli for Springtime. The rest of the garden has been patiently waiting, and growing weeds, until a lovely, work-free day, for my attention.

First task was harvesting pumpkins. I grow Kent (also known as Jap) pumpkins. I use the term ‘grow’ somewhat loosely. I have never planted Kent pumpkins. They come up from the compost, happily seed themselves, and take over a spot, and I allow it. I don’t feed or water them. I do hand pollinate them if the bees don’t seem to be doing the job well enough, but once the fruit is set, I leave them alone until the weather starts to turn. Then I place a brick under each pumpkin so it is raised up from the damp soil and the base doesn’t rot. I wait as long as I possibly can into Autumn before picking.

To pick, use a strong knife to cut a couple of inches of stem (see below). Wipe over the pumpkin with a rag to remove excess moisture and dirt, and check the blossom end for any dried up bits of the pumpkin flower, and remove it. I usually store my pumpkins in a cool dry place – we have a cellar so that is perfect. They can keep for quite a while, but check every week for any softening spots or mould, particularly in thinner skinned varieties like the Kent. If you notice any softening, you can still eat it – just put it in the fridge and start planning pumpkin soup asap. If I have an excess of pumpkin, I often steam and purée the flesh and freeze it to use later in chocolate brownies, pasta sauces, and cannelloni.

Harvesting is easy. Removing the old pumpkin vine is not so easy. As I mentioned, I let the vine ramble across half the backyard, which means it is an enormous vine by harvest time. I cut it into smaller pieces with my gardening knife, and shove it piece by piece in the green bin. It had very long roots, so to dig it out I had to dig carefully around the base and then follow the roots back along the garden bed to fully remove. It was a very happy plant.

I have tried growing other pumpkin varieties, and nothing really grows as well in my yard as the compost-seeded Kent. When I deliberately plant a pumpkin and nurture the damn thing, I might get one or two pumpkins. As they take up so much space, it’s just not worth it. But the Kent is always reliable, and one vine produces around 5-8 lovely heavy pumpkins, averaging about 4kg in weight. Kent also taste good and have a nice texture, which is not guaranteed with some pumpkins.

Next on my list was to remove the old eggplant bushes, and turn the compost. My lazy hips were not really happy with me for all that digging and lifting, after so many days sitting in front of a keyboard, so I switched to lighter jobs: planting bulbs, seeds, and seedlings. I finished planting the bulbs I bought last month, finally planted sweet peas (Spencer Ripple and Hi-Scent), and lettuces (Tennis Ball and Freckles), red cabbage, and silverbeet (Fordhook Giant). I thinned a few turnip and radish seedlings, and staggered back inside for a cup of tea and a cinnamon muffin by the fire, body aching, to watch my husband cut up one of our pumpkins for roast dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to me (and to all the awesome mothers out there, including my own wonderful Mother, my gorgeous sister, and the dear friends who play the role of Deputy Mothers to my kids).

Social distancing garden jobs, 13 April 2020

My neighbour John was walking past today as my husband and I were tidying up the front yard. We stood the required 2 metres away from each other while we talked about pumpkins. John is growing pumpkins in his front yard, I am growing in the back. He learned how to hand pollinate from me, and now he has three pumpkins coming on, which he is well chuffed about. I gave him some spare cabbage seedlings I had leftover (my seed sowing eyes were bigger than my veggie patch), and he gave me some eggs from his backyard hens. While we were never closer than 2 metres from each other, we shared the gardening bounty as gardeners do, no matter what.

Today my husband and I were tackling the most hated part of our garden: the front lawn. We are not fans of lawn. He hates to mow it, and I hate to grow it. I think it is a big pain in the butt, a waste of water and time, and a waste of good growing space. I could be growing veggies, herbs, or flowers in that big expanse of land. Unfortunately, the way our lawn is placed makes it somewhat difficult to just dig it all up and use it as extra garden space. There are no footpaths on our street, so the front lawns of every house make up part of the walking space for pedestrians. There are also no front fences, which is a bit weird in my opinion, but this housing development was built in the late 70s and I guess home security wasn’t grooooovy, man. So to dig up the whole lawn and plant, say, a citrus hedge and additional veggie patch, would make it difficult for dog walkers, the postie, and our 84 year-old neighbour four doors down, who walks to the shop and back daily, pandemic be damned.

But the lawn ain’t making it easy. Firstly, calling it a ‘lawn’ is generous. I would argue that it is more a collection of annoying weeds, loosely held together with a blend of three lawnish plants, one of which I know is couch, and one of which is kikuyu coming in from next door (not John, the other side). As the neighbour on the other side has a somewhat relaxed attitude to garden maintenance, bless him, I know that the kikuyu will always come through, and it will be my job to continue to dig up the bits of it that sneak their annoying way through.

My husband decided he had enough of mowing the weeds, and to try a new tactic. So for the past four or five weekends, he has been outside with a bucket and a ho mi, patiently digging up every annoying weed he can find in the front yard. This is a boring job, for which I thank him dearly. My plan was to stare hatefully at the weed lawn until it died.

After patiently digging out every weed he could find (almost – I didn’t like to tell him that some of what he thought was grass was also, in fact, weeds – I went over it and pulled most of those out later), we made a plan to replace the weed lawn with oregano and mint to make a herb lawn.

We have trialled replacing chunks of lawn with herbs in the past, and it has been successful (in that they have not died). Our plan is to take this trial and expand it with as many oregano and mint roots as I can dig out of the front yard (we have a large herb garden, so finding the plants won’t be an issue, and it is free). My husband planted one section today, and once they settle in, he will continue this job over the next few weeks. It is a good time to do it, as the weather is mild and the herbs will grow more roots over Winter.

Will the herb lawn succeed? I’ll post some photos in Springtime if it does.

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2020

Easter weekend is one of the best weekends for gardening in Southern Australia. The weather is still warm enough to plant veggies and have them take off nicely, but cool enough to spend a lot of time outside.

I spent most of this weekend planting brassicas. I sowed a lot of caulis, cabbages, and broccoli about four weeks ago, and this week they were large enough to plant into the garden.

I planted the brassicas direct into beds that were prepared two weeks ago (pelletised chicken manure, rock dust and mulch), and covered each with a cloche made of PET soft drink bottles cut in half (see photo above). You can see from the photo that my veggie garden is a mixed planting of flowers (pansies), lettuces (self-seeded cos), annual herbs (basil), and perennials (rhubarb and lemon verbena). This mixed garden has come about due to a crossover of seasons (some Summer plants are still growing), and a lack of space, so I cram as many of the plants I love into the space I have. In between the brassicas I have sown some root vegetables so I can take advantage of the space:

  • Onion Californian Red
  • Radish Heirloom Mix
  • Beetroot Forno
  • Beetroot Chioggia
  • Turnip Early Purple

I also planted some flowers: Freesias (bulbs) and Sweet Pea Flora Norton. These are a sky blue sweet pea that I am excited to grow (although I am always excited to grow sweet peas). Normally I plant sweet peas on Anzac Day, but I have four packs of sweet peas to plant, so I am staggering the planting throughout April so I can get them all in. I am also expecting a big order of bulbs to arrive next week, in addition to the daffodils and crocuses I already have to plant, so that will keep me busy throughout April.

After planting, I mulched everything in the garden that was not already mulched with chopped sugarcane straw, and watered all the new plants with a weak liquid fertiliser to give it all a boost. We are expecting a couple of very warm sunny days this week (high 20s-low 30s), so this is a perfect weekend to plant and give all the plants a good chance to take off before the cold weather sets in.

Cutting back

Autumn is also a good time to cut back woody perennial herbs like Oregano, Thyme, Lavender, Sage, and Mint. Honestly, these are pretty hard to kill (especially Mint), so if you were to do it anytime with the exception of high Summer, you can’t really harm them. But right now they are all looking very straggly and cutting them back will give them time to recover in the Winter and put on lovely new growth in Springtime. I used to use ye olde garden shears to do this job, but my husband gave me electric hedge trimmers that make this task much easier and quicker. I filled up our empty green bin in half an hour! And that was just from one corner of the garden (we have a lot of plants to trim). I trim Oregano and Mint right down to ground level. You can see the new plant reshooting from the base, so it is fine to do this. Thyme is a bit fiddlier – it grows very woody over time and you need to try to shape the plant more carefully. For all varieties of Lavender, I just cut off the spent heads at a level. It will reshoot again.

If you don’t take the time to cut back these woody herbaceous perennials, they will become less prolific and healthy over time, and you will have to replace the plants. By giving them a haircut, you will keep the plants you have for many years, and give your garden a tidy appearance in preparation for a beautiful Spring showing. My personal favourite are the Thyme and Sage flowers each Springtime. I feel that it is truly Spring when the beautiful purple Sage flowers.

Weekend garden jobs March 28 2020

Listening to Talkback Gardening on the ABC may not be everyone’s schtick, but hear me out.

Two months ago, I had my tickets, flights, accommodation all booked to go to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. On this day, I should be nerding out with all the other gardenerds from around the country at the biggest Garden Show in the Southern Hemisphere. I had been saving all year for it. Not only that, my dears, it was to be my first ever trip alone (excluding the many work trips I have been on to remote areas) sans kids, husband, etc since I got married almost 25 years ago. It was a big deal.

Now I recognise my privilege, well and truly. I get to be here at home in my own house with a backyard, and I still have some work (for now), and I don’t have COVID-19 (for now), and I am just so fortunate. But I was looking forward to it.

So what can I do instead of going to the Garden Show?

Firstly, I took all the money I had saved for the Garden Show, and spent it on garden supplies, bulbs, seeds, and other gardening paraphernalia online from gardening retailers that missed out on being able to sell all their things to me at the Garden Show – because missing out on the biggest event of the year has likely cost them thousands of dollars. Seeing as that money was set aside for splurging on garden supplies, I figured I should still give it to them. Plus I have the fun of receiving presents and extra gardening while stuck in social isolation.

Next, I listened to the gentle dithering tones of Jon Lamb, resident talkback gardening expert on the ABC Adelaide on a Saturday morning, while dithering around myself in my own backyard. The gentle Q&A of a gardening show is about the most low-risk, quiet listening experience a person can have, especially right now.

Today I started potting on some of the seedlings I grew from seed a few weeks ago. Seedlings of this size are soft, sappy little babies that need to be hardened off. If you don’t do this, they will be like the teenage boy that is never taught to do his own laundry: if you plant them in the garden they will most likely collapse and bring their laundry home for mum to do.

And I ain’t doing it, kiddo.

Prick the seedlings out with a small tool. I use a plastic chopstick that I keep in my garden shed for many purposes: seed dibber, general hole poker, plant lifter, hole unplugger, etc. It’s a great all-rounder. You can see in the photo below that I have used it so much that it is a bit broken. It still pokes though, so it’s all good. When it finally dies, I am sure I can find another one around the place. You could also use an old fork, but for general all-purposefulness, I recommend the chopstick.

You can see in the photo that something has been having a go at these little seedlings. I did some exploring and found a tiny little white sap-sucking bug, about 1mm in size. I did go full terminator on them. That means I squished them: I don’t use poison. If I find more, it will be hasta la vista, buggos.

I moved each seedling to a recycled, clean small pot, filled with premium potting mix, and labeled each one.

I make my own labels with old plastic milk cartons. These are as better than the shop-bought labels, which I find snap after exposure to the sun for any length of time, and add to plastic waste, whereas the homemade ones just use a flexible plastic that was going to recycling anyway. They look a bit wonky, but no-one sees them except me and the twelve people that read this blog (hi, Mum!)

You can see that the seedlings look sad. They will perk up and toughen up. I will give them a good week to ten days to grow larger and healthier, and then plant them out.

I placed the pots in an old wheelbarrow that is rusting out, watered them with a weak liquid fertiliser solution, and covered them with bird netting to stop the sparrows getting them, and placed them in a sunny corner. Then I rinsed out the seedling tray so I can start up the next lot of seedlings.

This week I am planting a mix of flower and vegetable seeds. I received quite a few free packets of flower seeds recently, so I decided to plant most of them next to the retaining wall, which has a bare spot that is prone to weeds. If even a few of the flower seeds take, they will provide cover that will hopefully out-compete the weeds, and provide food for the bees.

I planted:

  • Nemophilia Baby Blue Eyes
  • Love in a Mist Mulberry Rose
  • Californian Poppy Purple Gleam
  • Wildflower Pink Star
  • Candytuft Fairy Mixture

I also planted English Daisy in a seed tray.

Love in a Mist, also known as Nigella, is a gorgeous plant that naturalises easily. I have it growing in the front garden – the traditional flower is the blue you see below. The seeds I planted today are a reddish-pink variant. I hope they take, as I would love to have them naturalise in the backyard. Bees love them, and so do I. Also you can eat the seeds, which are known as kalonji, in Indian cuisine.

Finally, I refilled the clean seed trays and planted:

  • Lettuce Tennis Ball
  • Climbing Spinach
  • Chicory Italian Mix
  • Broccoli Green Sprouting

You can never have too much lettuce, I think, plus I was looking forward to growing this variety, which was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson. Heirloom gardening is so cool. Imagine eating a lettuce now in 2020, that people loved to eat almost 300 hundred years ago.

Later this week, I will be planting more peas, as the peas I planted a few weeks ago didn’t come up (sob) and continue preparing the soil for brassicas and garlic. This means adding pelletised chicken manure, rock dust, and mulch.

Social distancing garden jobs, March 25 2020

Welllllllll, I don’t know about you mob, but listening to a Prime Ministerial presser just before bed just ain’t the snooze inducer it used to be.

In fact, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I am worrying, like the rest of us, about the future, my family, my friends, catching a deadly illness, work, whether my kids (both of whom have a disability) will cope with social distancing and the shut down of their entire world.

Just a couple of concerns, then.

This morning, I had to get outside. If it was blowing a gale, I was getting outside. If it was pouring with rain directly over my noggin, I was getting outside into my garden.

Luckily, it was one of those perfect Autumn days we get here in Adelaide, when the sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the temperature is light and airy, but not too cool. Perfect for planting blueberries.

Blueberries do not grow well in the ground in our area. They require an acidic soil, and most soils in Adelaide are slightly alkaline. Not all of them though: we lived in a southeastern suburb many years ago that must have had perfect blueberry conditions. I know this because it was home to giant, stunning camellia bushes. I have never seen such camellias. Camellias, azaleas, and blueberries are all acid soil loving plants, requiring a special acidic potting mix if you are going to grow them in a pot.

I am growing two varieties: Blue Rose, and Brigitte. I know nothing about the respective pros and cons of these varieties, except that they cross-pollinate each other. I am growing them on our sunny balcony, and hoping it will not be too hot for them. If it is, I will move them. I planted them in large pots, with a full bag of Azalea/Camellia potting mix in each pot. I want the blueberries to have room to grow well. If they do well, I will probably plant more: blueberries are one of my favourite fruits.

I also planted more seeds in new and recycled trays. This time I mostly focused on salad and Asian greens:

  • Pak choy;
  • Shungiku, also called Chop-suey greens;
  • Four kinds of lettuce: Amish Deer-tongue, All-year, Australian Yellow, and Marvel of Four Seasons. Australian Yellow Lettuce is from the Digger’s Club and is the most reliable and delicious variety, but I grow Marvel of Four Seasons and Amish Deer-tongue because really: such cool names. Marvel is from Green Harvest Seeds.
  • Coriander;
  • Cauliflower Purple Sicily;
  • Silverbeet Fordhook Giant.

Finally, I washed some more pots in diluted methylated spirits (although I recently discovered you can make hand sanitiser out of it, so maybe I shouldn’t waste it on old pots!!), and potted up some violas. Because salad greens are all very well, but if I am going to be stuck at home, I will be surrounded by flowers.

Here’s some of last year’s jonquils to cheer you up.

Garden jobs, March 15 2020

It’s been a stressful week for, well, humanity. The best way I know to deal with the stress and worry for the health and wellbeing of self, family, friends and community is to get out into the fresh, hopefully coronavirus-free air and sunshine, and do something physical and practical. So after my standard Aussie panic buy yesterday (Toilet paper? Check. Pasta? Check.), I got out into the garden this morning to expend my ever-growing sense of plague-dread by ripping spent tomato plants out of the dirt and turning the compost.

A veggie patch, if you are fortunate enough to have the space to plant one, is a very good way to assuage apocalyptic terror, because you it makes you feel like you are doing something to prepare for the end of the world, even if that something is just planting cabbages. The truth is I can’t grow enough veggies to be self-sufficient for my family, and planting them now at the start of the Autumn growing season won’t do me much good if we are all sent into social isolation next week. But fear is psychological, so if I can do something busy that feels helpful and useful, and above all, fun, then I won’t feel so stressed about the fact that I might be stuck in my house with potentially no work (I’m self-employed), two kids, and a dwindling stock of toilet paper. I can watch my growing cabbages with the knowledge that cabbage leaves are lovely and soft and have potentially many uses 😉

Cabbage seedlings popping up their lovely heads.

So far almost all the seeds I planted in seed trays last week have come up and are looking healthy. Now to nurture them to seedling size before planting them out into larger pots before putting them in the garden. I like to transition them to a next stage pot before I move them to the garden, so they are lovely and strong before they go in the ground

I dug over the compost and tipped in a full bag of pigeon poo, given to me by my awesome neighbour, John. I tell you what, when society falls, I will do my best to save my neighbours. A bag of pigeon poo goes a long way when it comes to choosing who to put on the proverbial ark. Let’s face it, in the new world, diamonds won’t count for much, but the ability to make kick arse compost will be a valuable skill set.

Once all the old plants were removed from the garden beds, I dug everything over and raked it to a fine tilth, ready for planting. Next on my list is to plan my plantings. I have to be honest: I am not a planner when it comes to the garden. Normally, I just chuck plants in wherever they fit and hope for the best. Usually this works out pretty well, but I am running out of space now and I really want to maximise every inch of soil. So I have decided I am going to plan it properly this season to see if I can boost the productivity of my space. I am leaving each space I clear empty for now, until I can plan out exactly what I want to plant.

These are my non-negotiables:

    Green cabbage;
    Red cabbage;
    Lettuces (lots);
    Onions (spring, red, white);
    Garlic (John gave me four bulbs he saved from season – what a legend);
    Kale;
    Turnips;
    Kohlrabi;
    Broccoli (green and Romanesco);
    Carrots (white, orange, purple);
    Peas (Snow and Sugar Snap).

I would like to grow broad beans (mostly for soil health), silverbeet, radishes, bok choy, climbing spinach, and cauliflower.

So not too much then.

All of this has to be grown around the fruit trees and perennials like rhubarb and strawberries.

I’ll post my sketch next week.

Finally, check out my pumpkin vine.

I love to grow pumpkins, but they are something you can really only grow if you have the luxury of space. Every year they take up half the backyard: I couldn’t get even half the vine in the picture. I have at least six lovely Kent pumpkins growing. They will be ripe just in time for pumpkins to come down to less than a dollar a kilo.

Garden jobs, March 8 & 9 2020

Who doesn’t love a long weekend? Small businesses, probably. Actually, I do run my own business, and I still love a long weekend. My favourite thing about a long weekend, especially this time of year, is to spend that extra day in the garden without worrying about the fact that I should be working, or attending appointments, or all the other myriad tasks I should be doing.

It’s the start of Autumn, which also makes me happy. It’s warm enough to spend a good portion of the day outside, but cool enough to be comfortable. It’s also time to start removing some of the Summer fruiting annuals, make room for the Winter garden, and plant seeds for Winter vegetables.

First on my list was picking the ripening tomatoes (what is left of them), chillies, some green beans I was not expecting to find, and one beautiful Lakota pumpkin that made me just about the proudest gardener on the planet.

Did you ever see such a beauty? I have been trying to grow one of these for three years. Yeah, that’s right: three stupid years. I have one more little one on the vine and I am hoping that it will grow large enough to ripen before Winter. I don’t know why I am so obsessed with growing this particular pumpkin. I don’t even know what it tastes like – yet. It’s still sitting on my kitchen bench because I can’t bring myself to cut into it.

Next job was dividing the rhubarb plants. Last year I divided one enormous rhubarb into seven, and since then we have had more rhubarb than we can possibly eat. I share it around, but even so, we now have about ten or eleven rhubarb plants, which is more than a family of four, only two of whom really like it, can possibly manage. Now they need dividing again, and there is no way I have room for any more. I divided a couple of plants last week and gave them to a friend. Who else could I palm the extra plants off to….of course! My gardening neighbour, John! Heheheheh. The perfect crime. He happily took four plants, and offered me a bag of pigeon poo in exchange. What a gentleman that man is.

After dividing a moving two rhubarb plants and a spent tomato bush, I dug over and raked the cleared space. I will feed and mulch that area next weekend, and leave fallow for a later planting of brassicas.

Speaking of brassicas, I planted four trays of brassica seeds: red cabbage, Cabbage Golden Acre (a drumhead green cabbage), Dwarf Curly Green Kale, Cauliflower, Green Sprouting Broccoli, and Broccoli Romanesco (my favourite of all brassicas). If all of these take off, I will be very, very happy. If not, I will buy some seedlings.

On Monday I cleared some more spent plants (the rest of the summer squash) and built bamboo trellises for my next favourite winter crop: peas. Last year I successfully grew a Dwarf Snow Pea that was both prolific and delicious, but I wanted to build a proper trellis this year and try climbing Snow Peas. I don’t enjoy frozen peas from the supermarket, but I love fresh, homegrown peas. This year I am growing sugar snap peas, and snow peas.

The bamboo trellis is a copy of a medieval trellis I saw on a tv show set in ye olden times. It is built using a series of bamboo stakes set at intervals and then each pair tied at the top with twine. Another stake is set at the top. I don’t know if this will work better than the traditional teepee style trellis that I have used for climbing beans in the past, so I built a teepee style next to it. I can test which is better. I planted the sugar snap peas along the archway style trellis, and the climbing snow peas against the teepee.

Finally, I cleared away the mulch where the tomatoes had been planted, and dug over and raked that section. I planted Purple Kolhrabi, Spring Onions, and two varieties of carrots: Purple Dragon and Lunar White.

The weather will be warm, but not hot this week (low 30s), so I am hoping all the seeds I have planted will shoot quickly for a great headstart.

Next jobs will be to clear the remaining Summer vegetable plants once the last tomato plants have stopped fruiting, and prepare the soil for Winter vegetables. At the end of the month I will be heading to Melbourne for the International Flower and Garden Show, where I will be buying all of the Spring flowering bulbs, garlic, and seeds for the rest of the season. Can’t wait!

Gardening jobs, Week beginning 17th November 2019

It was a stinker of a week here in our Southern states of Australia, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees C in my area before a windy cool change. I pre-emptively watered my garden ahead of the heat, with the hope of saving my newly planted tomatoes, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. Last year, a one-day heat blast (48 degrees C) wiped out everything in one hit. Happily the intensive watering kept everything alive and well.

Next weekend I will be mulching heavily – a little late, but at least before Summer starts in earnest.

Dead-heading

Halfway through dead-heading the biggest lavender bush

This is a dull, repetitive task that I put off – I would rather weed than dead-head flowering plants. However, it is a necessary task to keep flowering shrubs looking their best and flowering longer. Ideally I would do this about three times a year, but honestly it is more likely twice yearly. I have about 15 lavender bushes in my front yard; these have all reached the point that they need their semi-annual haircut. I spent an hour with the hedge trimmers chopping back four of these, including the largest of the English lavender bushes, a monstrous beast that is also encroaching the neighbour’s yard. I will leave the rest for the weekend.

Wait to dead-head, as the name suggests, when the flowers are mostly spent. You can see in the photo above that there are still a couple of fresh lavender flowers on the bush, but that the majority are dried out and dead. Try to choose a cooler day to dead-head if you can, to avoid stressing the plant. I chose a warm day, early in the morning, because that is when I had the time. Often gardening is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

At least trimming lavender smells divine, making a boring job a bit more pleasant. I also have three climbing roses, about a dozen calendula, sage bushes, thyme, oregano, and mint that all needs a tidy up. When I cut back the herbs, I will put them in my dehydrator to make mixed dried herbs. I usually live to regret this, as scrunching them up into jars afterward takes a long time. By the time I have pulled them off their stalks and put them into recycled jars, I end up with a disappointing amount of herbs for all my hard work. But I cannot bear to toss all those beautiful herbs in the compost, even though I know they are a renewable resource (unlike my time).

Feeding and Weeding

The rest of my time this week was spent digging compost out of the the second compost bin, side dressing all the tomatoes with a solid shovel of pelletised chicken manure each, giving the plants in pots a liquid feed of diluted worm wee, and weeding. At this time of year, the task of weeding is endless. Driving around the city, I see that the local councils are barely able to keep up with all the weeding. If they can’t do it, how can I manage it all?

I bet all the damn weeds survive the heat.

Weekend gardening jobs, Weekend 2nd & 3rd November 2019

The title of this post is actually somewhat misleading: I have been going out to the garden every morning for an hour or so, even on weekdays. I made the decision to do this after I spent half an hour in bed trying to convince myself to get on the treadmill. I realised I could have spent that half an hour happily in the garden getting some exercise. With that thought, I jumped out of bed, and did spend an hour happily in the garden getting some exercise. Turns out, gardening is what I want to be doing. Walking to nowhere while watching the morning news is my idea of hell.

Garden experimentation

Squash planted on a mound.

I have been planting tomatoes, eggplant, and squash, and prepping the zucchini I have been raising from seed for the garden. Usually, I sow zucchini seed directly where I want them to grow, but this year I still had snow peas and brassicas in the garden. To give myself a head start, I started raising zucchini seedlings. I don’t know if this will work out better, but I figure it is worth the experiment. I raised a mix of different zucchini seeds I already had: golden, striped, pale green, dark green (can you tell zucchini is my favourite vegetable?). Unfortunately I was in a bit of a rush, and I didn’t label any of them, so it will be a pleasant surprise to see what I have when they finally start producing. This was about a month ago, so this week I potted them on into larger pots to help them develop a stronger root system before I plant them in the ground. I already have the mounds ready for them to go in.

I was taught by some Italian gardeners I once gardened with at a community garden to plant zucchini, squash and pumpkins in raised mounds so that they are more protected from water droplets and powdery mildew, the curse of zucchini plants. I think this might be generally true, except that the gardeners I learned this from almost twenty years ago were not grappling with the extremes of climate change. I have observed over the past couple of weeks that the ruffled squash plants I have already planted in mounds are not progressing as well as the tomatoes and eggplant I planted in deep troughs at the same time. The soil around the squash plants is extremely dry. This appears to be because the water collects in the troughs and is retained by the plant roots, whereas the water in the mounds is not retained by the squash plants (in fact, the tomatoes get most of it as the water runs off). I am considering replanting most of the squash in troughs, and leaving one on a mound as an experiment. I will plant the rest of the zucchini in troughs as well, and see at the end of the season which of the squash and zucchini fell prey to powdery mildew. Obviously, mulching will help offset some of the moisture loss, but this will be the case for however I plant them.

Speaking of mulching, this is my next big task. I am again experimenting with different mulches. I am trying to reduce the plastic waste created from gardening. While generally, gardening is a sustainable hobby, it still generates quite a lot of plastic waste that I am uncomfortable with. I can offset it by reusing plastic pots and creating tags out of old milk jugs, etc, but one of the main offenders is bags used to hold mulches and manures. I have been experimenting with coir as a potting medium and mulch, because it comes in a compressed block that is reconstituted with water. Because it is compressed, it is smaller, and is wrapped in less plastic.

Coir mulch is quite chunky. I have found it very good for mulching pots, but it is not a patch on sugar cane mulch for the general garden. I may have to go back to sugar cane for the garden, and go to coir for pots only. Both sugar cane and coir are agricultural waste products, so are a sustainable product compared to other mulches.

Tomato plant in a concrete pot, mulched with coir

I am also experimenting with different staking methods for tomatoes. I have built a trellis for some tomatoes, using 2 metre stakes and wires. The tomatoes will be able to use the trellis for support, and I will also grow Scarlet Runner beans in between each tomato plant. For the rest of the tomatoes, I am using the traditional single stake and tie method.

Pie Corner

The left hand corner of the garden, near the collapsed water tank (that is another job for the future), has been dubbed Pie Corner, because everything in it can be used to bake a delicious pie: strawberries, boysenberries, rhubarb, apples, and raspberries. We were so excited this week to discover a bumper crop of boysenberries developing.

Boysenberries forming

Last season I built a better trellis than the dodgy job I had strung up last year, and I pruned the boysenberry plants and trained them up in a fan style. The vines looked pretty sad for most of the Winter and Spring months until suddenly they burst into new growth and flowers! Truthfully, I doubt very much there will be any berries left for a pie. I think we will be eating them all fresh with cream. Boysenberries are really delicious, and you can’t easily buy them in shops because they are so delicate – they don’t transport or keep well, making them a bit of a poor bet for supermarkets. For farmers they are probably not much fun either. They are spiny buggers, not much fun to pick or prune. I have damaged myself on more than one occasion.

We also have our first ever crop of mulberries developing, and a real crop of apricots coming on. Last year we managed a respectable 30 or so apricots, but this year the tree is laden. If we can beat the birds to both, I envision some mulberry jam and apricot pie in our future (apricot pie beats apple pie any day of the week, in my opinion).

In Winter, I gave all the fruit trees a blanket feed of aged sheep manure to slowly feed the tree and to keep the roots warm. The eighty bucks spent on sheep manure has been some of the best money I have spent. It is still breaking down (I can still see it on the top of the soil under each tree), and the trees look magnificent and are fruiting prolifically for the first time since we planted them four years ago.

Free Garden Goodies

On Sunday, we went to the Uraidla Show. Uraidla is a country town about 40 minutes drive from our place. The Show was fantastic – everything you want a Country Show to be (baking and flower arranging competitions, show chooks, hot donuts, sustainability fair, etc). For me the highlight was a stall run by local gardeners who were giving away free produce, seeds, and worm wee fertiliser. I picked out Teddy Bear Sunflower seeds, Lunar White carrot seeds, and Aquilegia (also known as Columbines, or Granny’s Bonnet) seeds. I also received a one litre bottle of worm wee fertiliser, aka liquid gold. This was truly the highlight of the event for me. My husband thought it was some new variety of kombucha and nearly drank it. Although that would have been hysterical, thankfully he did not do that, because I want that for my garden (check my priorities). I don’t keep worms, except in my compost bin, because it gets too hot in the Summer here, and they will die (in the compost bin, they can easily burrow down to the cooler soil if they want). Thanks to the bounty of generous gardeners, I can still feed it to my plants without having to keep worms myself.

My friends and family are surely heartily tired of hearing me boast about the worm wee already.

Gardeners be crazy, y’all.

The wall

The wall continueth. By this point, it’s not just a wall building project. It’s a Wagnerian song cycle.