Gardening jobs, late Summer 2022

Pumpkin hanging on a trellis

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

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

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

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

Succession Planting

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

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

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

Late Season Planting

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

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

Re-potting House Plants

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

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

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

Before re-potting

This philodendron had clearly outgrown its existing pot.

Original pot on the left, new pot on the right

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend gardening jobs, 25 September 2021

Last night’s plate of Spring vegetables was brought to our table by our garden: asparagus, broccoli, peas, and baby carrots. So delicious.

Carrots are a pain to grow, tbh. They take forever, are finicky about the soil (not too heavy, not too rich, not too much competition, not too close together). They are the Goldilocks of vegetables. I always think it’s weird they cost $1 a bag at the supermarket, considering how long it takes me to grow a tiny bunch. They should cost $40 a bag.

But – and here’s the big but – freshly pulled carrots taste amazing.

When I am choosing garden space to give up to different plants, I often choose in favour of planting what I can’t buy at the supermarket. Think interesting heirloom tomatoes, freckled lettuces, stripy eggplants, interesting chillies, apples that you cannot ever buy because they don’t travel or store well.

The other consideration is flavour. Obviously, homegrown tomatoes are unbeatable in the flavour stakes. So are homegrown capsicums and cauliflowers – just awesome. And apricots – you cannot buy a good apricot. So I like to devote garden space to good flavour.

Carrots are just one of those vegetables that taste amazing when you pull them out of the ground, and lose flavour over time. This is because they are full of natural sugars. When they come out of the ground, they are at their peak sugar levels. Once out of the ground, those sugars turn to starch. This is why the carrots you buy at the supermarket don’t have that same sweet flavour. Instead they are starchy and slightly bitter. It’s no-one’s fault – it’s just a natural process of picking carrots and storing them for a while.

Growing carrots is not difficult exactly, but it does require patience and some knowhow. You need: sand, carrot seed, space, soil that is not too rich (not recently fertilised), and that has been carefully tilled to remove rocks or other debris.

Mix the tiny carrot seed in a container with an equal amount of sand. As the carrot seed is very fine and light, this helps with even distribution of the seed when planting.

Create shallow furrows where you want the carrots to grow. Remember, seeds should be planted at a depth twice the size of the seed, so the furrows should be shallow. Carefully pour the sandy seed mix along the furrows, trying your best to spread it evenly so the carrots will be distributed evenly. The more even, the less thinning you will have to do later.

Lightly cover the sand with soil. Water in.

As the carrots come up, start to gently thin them out so they are not too close together. Visit the carrots regularly and if any seem to close together, thin out. Remember if they are too close together, you will have carrots that are too skinny. They need room to grow. Start feeding them with half strength liquid seaweed and liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks, but never give them full strength, as they do not like a lot of fertiliser – too much and they can twist or fork.

Every month or so, give them a little thin. You can eat the thinnings if you like, but it’s a lot of washing for not a lot of reward so I generally give mine to the chooks.

Carrot thinnings

Once they reach a good size you can start eating them. I like them raw, or lightly steamed with a tiny bit of butter or olive oil. Just scrub, don’t peel. The peel on homegrown carrots is so thin that it’s a waste of good fresh carrots to peel them.

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, 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.