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.

Gardening jobs, weekend 12th & 13th October 2019

You think when you start to work from home that you will have all the time in the world. I had a vision that I would spend half my days in the garden, followed by a couple of hours work in the afternoon.

That turned out to be a fantasy of epic proportions. I still am very much the Part-time Gardener. I could be the Full-time Gardener, if I didn’t want to foolishly pay my mortgage and continue to fund this new-fangled electricity all the kids are talking about. So, weekend gardening is mostly still what I have time to do.

This weekend was mostly about soil preparation for Summer fruiting vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. I cleared the lettuce field to make space for Summer veggies (probably for tomatoes, but possibly pumpkins), and then dug over the two compost bins. Being a strange one, I love to dig over compost bins. It’s so satisfying to see what has happened to all that waste. Like most of us, I diligently recycle, but it feels kind of futile. After listening to the news, podcasts, and watching TV shows about what has happened to the waste stream over the past couple of years, I don’t really believe that what I am putting in my kerbside recycling bin is actually being recycled. I feel like I am doing it because I hope that the right thing is happening. But with my own compost, I can see home recycling in action, from start to finish: it’s a beautiful closed loop.

Anyway, I dug out two full barrow loads of lovely compost, which I dug into the old lettuce field (to explain how ‘closed’ the closed loop is – some of the old lettuce plants I pulled out a couple of weeks ago had already broken down into compost and were dug into the lettuce field. I mean, really – how cool is that?). I sprinkled pelletised chicken manure over the top and raked it, and I have let it sit now for a week. It has rained for several days this week, so by next weekend it will be perfect for planting some veggies.

And while I was having all that fun, my husband had the Sisyphean task of shifting massive moss rocks from the backyard to the front. Poor bugger.

Potted Gardens

A few weeks ago we moved a raised garden bed to the front yard to make room for the retaining wall (yep, it’s still going). After filling it with compost, potting soil and mulch, we let it sit for a few weeks until I was ready to plant.

I bought six punnets of seedlings about six weeks ago, and separated them all into pots filled with a mix of coir and potting mix. Six weeks ago in our neck of the woods, the soil was still too cold for tomatoes, and many of my Spring veggies were not ready to come out. If I had planted out those seedlings, they likely would have died from cold, or would have been eaten by slugs. By potting them on, I have given them time to develop a lovely strong root system (see photo below). Also, they have had time to sit outside in my garden, acclimatising to the conditions in my yard. Now they are used to the specific micro-ecosystem of my garden, they will be much stronger than if I had just planted them straightaway.

This doesn’t work for everything. It works really well for fruiting plants like tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant, but I wouldn’t try it on plants like sweet corn or beans, which are much better planted direct where they are to grow.

Capsicum ready to be planted in a pot

In the raised bed I planted capsicum, jalapeños and basil. In large pots, I planted more of the same. I am also trying potatoes in pots this year, as I have run out of space to grow potatoes.

I am trying potatoes in a pot large enough to grow a tree. I put a layer of potting mix on the bottom, and then placed three certified seed potatoes (we like Ruby Lou):

I covered just over the potatoes with more soil. As the potato plants grow, I will top up the soil. I have never grown potatoes in a container before, so we will see how they go. If it fails, I am only out some soil and a few seed potatoes.

The rest of my gardening time this weekend was spent weeding. So much weeding. The green bin and both compost bins are completely full. And still more to go!

Gardening Jobs, Week Beginning 23rd September 2019

Pomegranate tree in full leaf

It is starting to feel like the weekends will never be long enough to accomplish everything that needs to be done in the garden at this time of year. The list of jobs just keeps growing, and every time I think it cannot get any longer, I turn a corner and a new job appears! This week it starts and ends with the letter ‘W’: Wall and Weeding.

Believe it or not, we are still building the retaining wall. We have had many wet weekends, plus illness and my foot surgery. This has prevented work on the wall, to the point that I was beginning to despair of it ever being completed. However this weekend, the sun shone down on our little enterprise, and we were able to tackle the project with renewed vigour.

Or so we thought. Enter, the weeds. While the wall languished, the weeds flourished. We had removed several raised garden beds and a portable greenhouse to make way for the wall, but in their place a forest of thistles, nettles, mallow, and of all things, dwarf bamboo, had sprung up. My husband joked that we needed to acquire chickens and a panda to get rid of it all.

In lieu of a panda, we had me and a garden fork. It was tough going, but I managed to remove all of it. As I removed it, I was able to see my neighbour over the fence, who remarked that he was happy to see me, and happy to see me removing the weeds. The poor neighbours had been able to see our thistle patch growing, while we had not, as it was on the other side of our large pergola. We have an excellent relationship with our neighbours, and while joking about the weeds, he handed me some galangal roots to plant, and I gave him one of our spare raised beds. We are installing a chicken shed soon (courtesy of said neighbour) and no longer have room for it. We had a little chat about the best potting mix for growing blueberries, and I complimented him on his snow peas. I love having gardening neighbours.

While I removed the weeds, my husband continued building the wall. He has now completed 50 per cent of the task. Now that the weather has fined up, we are planning for a completed wall by Christmas.

Other jobs left to do this week:

  • Weeding;
  • Feeding the fruit trees and vines;
  • Planting eggplants in the raised bed in the front yard;
  • Weeding;
  • Planting Crystal Apple cucumbers;
  • Harvesting snow peas, lettuces, kale, and herbs;
  • Preparing tomato beds;
  • Weeding.
Self-seeded dwarf sweet peas

Galangal

Galangal is a relative of ginger, often used in Thai cooking. It is not as hot as ginger, and grows smaller rhizomes. It grows similarly to ginger and turmeric, underground at a depth of about 10 cm, planted in the Spring. I am planning to grow the two rhizomes I was given in a large pot.

We don’t eat a lot of Thai food, due to allergies, but we do eat a lot of Indian food. Although Galangal has a milder flavour than Ginger, I am sure that it will be delicious to use in Indian food or in stir fries and Asian-style soups.

Gardening Jobs, Week beginning 21st July 2019

This week as my husband continued to work on the wall, I started to move two raised garden beds that are now in the way of the wall’s continued progress. I had to move the plants in the boxes (strawberries, lettuces, silverbeet, coriander, and some brassicas). That took a surprisingly long time! I was careful to disturb the roots as little as possible. You can see the mini greenhouse and an upturned raised bed down the end of the yard. My main issue now is, where to put them?

The Wall.

After all that planting, I weeded a little and used chopped lucerne to mulch around the rest of the brassicas and other plants I had recently moved. Everything looks so much happier with a little mulch around its roots. Looking forward to lots of delicious Spring veggies in about six weeks – especially that most delicious of all the brassicas, Romanesco broccoli. I have been patiently growing it from seed this year, so I hope it grows its little head off.

I planted out asparagus crowns today. These were a gift from my mother, who was moving her crowns due to a lack of space.

Asparagus is a great plant to grow if you have both room and patience. Believe it or not, I am starting to run out of room (never out of patience – for plants anyway. For people…possibly). I had just enough room to fit the asparagus, but it has meant I will have to sacrifice space for the potatoes. I might have to plant spuds in grow bags this year.

Personally, I love asparagus. It is one of my very favourite vegetables, but I have never grown it. It has been on my ‘to-do’ list. Then Mum had to move hers, and I was fortunate enough to inherit some of her crowns.

Asparagus is actually a herbaceous fern. It grows from a crown that is buried in the dirt, and takes about 18 months to produce useable spears. Once it produces, a single crown will produce asparagus for up to 20 years. This makes it a worthwhile investment in both space and effort.

Alienesque Asparagus Crown

The asparagus crowns look a bit like aliens. The spidery roots must be planted in a deep hole, in well manured or composted soil. Mum had wrapped these crowns in damp newspaper to keep them going before I had the time to plant them out, but to give them a pick-me-up before planting, I soaked each crown in a bucket of weak seaweed solution for about fifteen minutes.

Asparagus crown floating in a bucket of delicious seaweed extract

While these were soaking, I dug three pretty wide, deep holes. Organic Gardener magazine suggests the hole should be at least 20 cm deep. They also suggest digging a trench, but as my space was quite limited, a dug three separate holes as near each other as I could.

I found a spot for them in the back of my veggie patch, near my lime tree. They will be undisturbed there for as long as they need to start producing.

I placed my soaked crowns in the bottom of the hole, and covered with just enough dirt to cover all except the very top of the crown. I watered well with weak seaweed extract (about half a bucket), and then mulched lightly with chopped lucerne:

As the crown starts to grow, I will add some more soil over the top of it.

In the first year, the plant will produce a fern that I will leave to grow until they set seeds. Then I will chop them back right down at the end of the season. I will have to be patient and wait until the second year for the spears to start producing, and even then, I will not be able to harvest too many. I can harvest some, but let the plant again set the fern and seeds.

In the third year, I can go crazy and pick all I like! Then it will be an asparagus party, baby. Just like the Great Gatsby used to throw.

Gardening jobs, Weekend 22 & 23 June 2019

What an age we live in…when you can order sheep poo online, and it comes straight to your door.

I can find all the free horse poo I want, thanks to several riding clubs in my area, but at this time of year it takes a long time to compost. You shouldn’t generally use horse manure without composting it first, unless you want a lot of new weedy visitors to your garden. I will get some of the free poo to add to my compost bins, where it will take a few months to break down in time for Spring.

Sheep poo is the best manure for fruit trees, but it is not that easy to find in my neck of suburbia. You can buy it from some garden supply places, but I have found that it tends to be a “blend” (blended with compost or soil) rather than a pure product. I ended up finding it through a local company online, for just slightly more than the blended brands, and delivered to my house for free.

Sheep manure is good for trees because it helps to build strong root systems. For dormant fruit trees in Winter (think stone fruits, pomes, and mulberries), a nice cover of sheep poo over the roots acts like a warm blanket and feeds the tree until it wakes up in Spring.

Look at my happy mulberry tree. Doesn’t she look nice and cozy?

Why yes, I am slightly batty, thank you for asking.

Gardening jobs, June 20 2019

Bloody hell, it was a cold one today.

I am not a fan of the cold. I know I have complained mightily about the lack of rain around these parts over the past few months, and I stand by my concerns, but I am a Summer person. I like the heat. I am the last person to turn the air conditioning on, and I am that person in the office that keeps a cardi on when everyone else is complaining that it’s too hot outside.

So Winter just kills me. I feel almost perpetually cold, even when I am rugged up like I’m preparing for an Antarctic mission.

This morning was clear and crisp, and less than five degrees outside when I contemplated heading outside for a spot of gardening. I am on annual leave, and I had a rare clear day. Only one appointment with my kids, a couple of phone calls to make, and then: freeeeeedommmm! What else was I going to do, but go out into the garden?

If I could just brave the cold.

I mentally prepared with a cup of hot chai and some inner cheerleading. I reminded myself that my roses needed much love, and I had some seedlings to plant.

Suitably attired, I started with the simplest of jobs, and one that would help me later in the day: stocking the indoor wood pile ready for tonight’s fire. That helped me to build up some inner warmth, and that done I was fired up and ready to go.

Roses

Mr. Lincoln rose. Sad face

My climbing roses are a sad and sorry bunch. I planted them two years ago in memory of three of my grandparents, who were all rose lovers. I have a Pierre de Ronsard, a Gold Bunny, and a Mr. Lincoln. All are doing quite poorly. I posted a query on a Facebook gardening group about whether to just pull them out (reluctantly) and try again. A local gardener from Adelaide who is a successful rose grower suggested some things I could do to save my roses from the green bin: removing all mulch from the crown of the roses, spraying the crown with a low dose of iron chelates, and then feeding with pelletised chicken manure. So that was one of my jobs this morning. You can see in the photo above how much mulch and organic matter surrounds the crown of the Mr. Lincoln rose. I didn’t realise this was a problem, but apparently it is! I will let you know if these treatments help my roses return to health. And thanks to my friendly Facebook gardeners for sharing their knowledge so freely!

Planting

I pulled out some carrots that seem to have been growing forever, and planted some new carrots in among my lettuces. I also planted some red spring onions next to a row of leeks I planted out last weekend.

Coloured heirloom carrots

I love to grow carrots, but am not very successful. Don’t be fooled by this photo: this was a closeup. They were teeny. We did eat them, of course, and I used the tops to make a serviceable pesto, but honestly I have never really grown nice big fat carrots that Pete Cundall would be proud of. And damnit, I want Pete Cundall to be proud of me.

I think that I am not tough or consistent enough in thinning. I need to be ruthless. I have too much ruth.

Feeding

After all the weeding and planting, I gave everything a weak liquid feed of seaweed extract, fish emulsion and Go-Go juice, and got the heck back inside like a sane person.

Garden jobs, June Long Weekend 2019

Building a wall, even a low garden wall, is a big job!

We spent three whole days working on a retaining wall for our backyard, and so far have four metres of a planned eighteen metre garden wall to show for the efforts.

When I say “we” of course I mean the Royal We, because it is the Queen’s Birthday after all, and also because my husband has done most of the actual building work. I’ve been in charge of moving plants that were in the way (which were quite a few, actually), cleaning up soil and dirt, and snack and tea delivery. Either way, we were both outside for the full three days of the Long Weekend, which was both awesome (because there is really nowhere else I would rather be), dirty, and tiring.

I posted a photo essay of the wall building earlier in the week.

While he was building the wall, I had the job of removing a lot of garden plants that were in the way. These were mostly lovely healthy rhubarb plants that I had only replanted there a few months ago, a gorgeous purple salvia, a yellow gerbera, a zillion lettuce seedlings, some brassica seedlings (cauliflowers and broccoli), and a pink geranium.

Moving Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a plant that divides easily and is therefore great to share with others, or to divide and create new plants. I personally love it to eat, but some people might find it too tart. Despite it being traditionally cooked and eaten with fruits such as apples or strawberries, it is actually a vegetable.

Rhubarb grows from rhizomes, so can be easily divided once the plant is established. Normally I would have waited until these plants were larger to lift and divide, but this time I had no choice.

To move the rhubarb, lift gently with a garden fork until the plant is released from the soil:

Take a good look at the plant. If the plant can be divided, you should be able to see some clear areas for division, such as with this plant. I can see two or three areas where this plant can be split:

Carefully split the plant into separate pieces. If possible, try to divide into parts with roots attached, like I have done here:

However, it is not always necessary. A rhubarb plant can grow from a piece of a crown (not just a stalk of rhubarb). I have even successfully grown a plant from a crown that was accidentally left on the garden path for six weeks. I found it and chucked it in the ground, and it still grew a beautiful plant. In fact, some of the plants I divided today were from that original crown.

However, where at all possible, I try to plant divisions with roots attached.

Dig a hole and lie the separated rhubarb piece in the hole. Fill the hole with water and let the plant sit in it for a while. I like to add a lid of seaweed extract to the hole at this time:

See the base of the plant above, which has stalks starting to sprout? That is a crown. You can plant that, even in the absence of roots. Note that I removed most of the stalks from the plant. Rhubarb and apple crumble for dessert tonight! Actually, I did it so that the plant will put most of its energy into new growth. The crumble is just a bonus.

Remove the hose, and stand the rhubarb plant upright in the watery hole. Backfill with soil:

Sprinkle around the base with pelletised chicken manure. I use Neutrog’s Rapid Raiser, but you could use Dynamic Lifter, or any other brand. If I had some rock dust, I would sprinkle that around each plant too, but I’m all out.

Finally, water in again. I watered each plant with a can full of seaweed extract and Go-Go Juice, with is another Neutrog product (not a sponsor, I just like their products and they are South Australian). Go-Go Juice is a pro-biotic for plants and helps to promote the growth of good bacteria in the soil.

I also gave a couple of rhubarb plants to my neighbour, along with some beetroot I picked. He in turn gave me some Jerusalem artichokes, and is going to help us build a new chook shed. I love having gardening neighbours.

I moved a whole heap of lettuce seedlings, including planting many into little tubs to give away to colleagues and family. We let a plant go to seed and now have lettuces everywhere (and I mean everywhere!).

I also planted a bunch of flower seeds: Flanders Poppy, Poppy Angels Choir, and Pincushion Flower. Hoping these all come up and produce some flowers for the bees this Spring.

Garden jobs, First weekend of Winter 2019

So, Winter definitely came. For some reason, my husband and I decided that this coldest of seasons was the perfect time to start that retaining wall project we had been putting off planning for about three years.

Actually, we had no choice. A huge deluge of rain came through, and washed about a cubic metre of precious topsoil from our veggie patch down into our patio. The retaining wall suddenly moved up the list of jobs from “one day soon” to “urgent.”

While we were at the Big Green Shed buying a few tools, I decided that I was sick of waiting to build the trellis for the apple trees and boysenberry plants, and bought the wire and star droppers for that small but important job as well.

Trellises and Espaliering

I have two dwarf apple trees (Cox’s Orange Pippin and Early Macintosh) that I wanted to espalier. I have never done this before, but when I was at the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show in March, I saw a simple espalier technique on dwarf apple trees that I thought I could probably manage myself. It used zip ties to tie the tree branches to a simple wire trellis between two poles. Is it the most perfect, horticulturally approved way to espalier? No idea. My garden probably fails on that front many times over. But I did I think, “I can do that.” So I decided to give it a crack.

My apple trees are two years old, and I have to say they are not really doing much yet. I have had a couple of blossoms, and one tiny apple so far. Most annoyingly, they are supposed to cross pollinate each other, but one flowered much later than the other, so that was an epic fail.

I figure if I bugger up the espaliering of these trees, and they produce no fruit, I am not in a worse position than I was already. If it works and they produce a better crop, then the thirteen bucks I spent on wire and zip ties (which I also used on other projects) was money well spent.

My husband used his manly strength to hammer the star droppers in where I directed, and I tied trellising wire in at intervals that looked roughly about right. Then I tied the flexible apple branches down along the wire and zip tied them down. The Cox’s Orange Pippin seemed pretty happy to be tied down, but the Early Mac was not happy, Jan. Not at all. Not being glib, but it looks somewhat like a torture victim from a 14th Century painting of the Inferno. I hope that with time, and further growth, I can retie it and it will look much happier and nicer than it does right now, poor bugger.

Foreground: Cox’s Orange Pippin, Background: Early Macintosh. After these photos were taken I went back and re-trellised and re-tied these trees, so they look slightly happier than they did in these shots.

The boysenberry plants seemed much happier to be tied up in an orderly fashion. Boysenberries are a bramble, and if left to their own devices, they take over in pretty spectacular fashion. This was what happened to our two plants. They caught up all other plants (and people) in their wake, and I decided I wasn’t gonna take it anymore!

My husband and I built a pretty basic trellis out of tall star droppers and trellising wire, and I pruned back the boysenberry while trying not to stab myself. I failed at that. I call these vines collectively Audrey II – they like fresh blood, preferably mine.

Once I had them trimmed to three or four main canes each, I tied them in a fan shape using the trusty zip ties. My plan is that as other canes grow (they grow from the base of the plant), I will keep tying them in the fan shape, retaining some control of the Audreys and hopefully will pick many a delicious berry over the Summer months.

Once these two jobs were done, my husband and I made our plans to build a small, but relatively long, garden wall to keep tiny wights and rivers of mud out. After all, Winter is here.

Pics next week.

Finally! Rain!!

No posts for a few weeks, because it has been raining! It has been truly wonderful to see the soil soak up the water and the garden begin to look fresh and green again.

However, today was a warm and relatively dry day (24 degrees in the middle of May! Crazy!) so as soon as I could pull on a pair of jeans and a beanie, because even at 24 degrees I still feel the cold, I was out in the garden.

I really had no specific plans once I was out there, so I decided to dig a hole and see what the soil was like. Damp and beautiful, was the answer. The rain has really sunk through now and the soil was lovely.

I noticed that the lettuces I let go to seed have germinated, and there are baby lettuces everywhere. Some of my favourite little bulbs, Sparaxis or Harlequin Flower, have popped their heads up as well. Can’t wait for these beauties to flower for the third year running. At this point they have naturalised in the garden.

Sadly, there have been a couple of casualties of the extended dry. I had a magnificent creeping thyme plant that looks like it has been touched by a Dementor, and I am not sure it will recover. One of my rhubarb plants looks very sad. The rose bushes are still not established enough to cope with such extended dry weather.

I decided that today was a good day to plant out the lime tree I have had growing in a pot under my patio for the past two years. It has grown quickly but is quite spindly and just does not have the lushness that I would expect from two years of growth, even though it has been fed and loved. I think it needs full sun.

Digging the hole was fun. I have not dug a good, deep hole in a while. If you have the space, capability, and the time, I recommend it. Work has been busy and stressful, and I sit down most of the day. Digging a hole uses muscles that my sedentary body does not often exercise. I started sweating embarrassingly quickly.

When planting a tree, you should dig the hole twice the size (depth and width) of the root ball. Some gardener once said you should dig a fifty dollar hole for a ten dollar plant.

I placed the tree in the hole, and then ran the hose in the hole with the tree sitting in it, next to a brick of coir.

Coir is great stuff. It’s cheap as chips (a brick of it costs about two bucks from the Big Green Shed, and a bit more if you buy it from a smaller nursery). It’s organic and sustainable (a waste product of coconuts, made from the fibre, chopped up and compressed). When you wet it, it transforms to ten times its size by volume. You can then use it as a mulch, a planting medium for raising seedlings, or as an additive to potting mix to help retain moisture. In this instance, I was using it as an additive to the soil.

While the coir was expanding and the hole was filling slowly with water, I dug three bags of cow manure into a bed that has been lying fallow since the Summer. Then I planted broad beans (Aquadulce) and Dwarf Snow Peas into the beds. Last year I grew two varieties of broadies (Aquadulce and Crimson Flowered). While the Crimson Flowered were gorgeous, they did not crop that well.

Some people don’t like broadies – I do. They are good for the soil, being nitrogen-fixers, and they are lovely in pasta or made into pesto.

Once the hole had filled half way with water, I poured some seaweed extract into the hole, broke up half the coir brick and spread it around, and filled the hole back in. I trimmed off some of the lower, spindlier branches. The remaining coir brick I spread around the base as a mulch.

That’s it for today – hopefully tomorrow the rain will hold off just long enough for me to do some weeding and to plant out some window boxes of violas. Then let it rain once more.