Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 14 February 2021

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovely people. For Valentine’s Day , I gave my husband a sleep in and a coffee in bed, and he gave me the gift of cutting up the prunings of Audrey II (the boysenberry vine) and putting them in the green bin. I think we both feel we got the good end of the deal.

I fed all my pot plants, which include this stunning eggplant (Listada de Gandia). I have tried growing this eggplant for several years without much success. Turns out, it loves a large pot on our balcony. To feed the pots, I use an organic Powerfeed spray.

I turned the compost bins to make room for the chicken litter from the chook shed, and spread a bit of ready compost on the garden. As I only turned it a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t really ready. My husband helpfully chopped it up with a spade to make more room. I picked more tomatoes (seriously, best tomato year ever for us), and zucchini, and I watered.

Then I did the gross job of cleaning out the chook shed and replacing their straw. I know it is a necessary task, but I do hate doing it. I try to think positively while I do it. Chicken manure is good for the garden!

And that’s my list of boring, yet necessary tasks for the week. I bought garlic bulbs and onion seeds yesterday to plant for autumn, but I don’t have space for them yet. I was hoping to plant them out today, but that was definitely wishful thinking! Maybe in a few weeks when the tomatoes are finished.

I hope your gardens are doing as well as mine this season – tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes!!

Gardening jobs, week of January 18-23 2021

I have been working, working, working – so not much time for gardening, unfortunately. My time spent in the garden has been focused on keeping up the watering so everything lives, and picking the endless procession of tomatoes that just keep on marching into the kitchen (not complaining, just saying). I’m outside picking a bowl of tomatoes every morning before I feed the chooks.

I have discovered that either: two varieties of tomatoes ripen together and the other four varieties ripen a month later, or – and I think this is more likely – one end of my garden is warmer, encouraging the tomatoes down that end to ripen much more quickly. The tomatoes at the cooler end are fruiting prolifically but are only just now beginning to ripen, and at a much slower pace (one or two a day). The tomatoes at the warmer end are also fruiting prolifically but ripen at the pace of a bowlful a day.

Most gardening books suggest not growing tomatoes in the same place each season to prevent soil borne disease. Many recommend resting the soil for two seasons. I try to do this, but even my large(ish) veggie patch is not large enough to allow me to rest that much tomato growing space for two years. Obviously I can grow something else not in the solanaceae family (zucchini, for example), but I would like to be able to grow tomatoes in the warm spot again next year, given how successful it has been (best tomato season ever for me). I wonder if there is a way I can ‘speed up’ the resting period so I can plant there again next year. Any ideas, fellow gardeners?

I just have to humblebrag that I successfully grew cucumbers.

Hello, my pretties

These are White Mini cucumbers (Diggers Club). After multiple failed attempts cucumber growing attempts, these are the first I have been able to grow at this house. I literally danced when I picked these. The kids loved them. There are more on the way.

Although I have not had much time in the garden, a babysitting stint with my adorable niece gave me an excuse to step away from my computer and spend a bit of time outside. When I asked her what she wanted to do at my house, she replied “hold a chicken!” So we watered the garden, picked tomatoes, and she cuddled each of the four chickens in turn.

Gardening is much more fun with kids. Especially when they are as cute as a bug’s ear.

Duds and triumphs

The Triumps

This season we have had some notable successes. Our apricot tree ripened early. Normally we pick apricots the week of Christmas, but this year the fruit was ready a week earlier. We picked almost ten kilograms of apricots, which is the biggest crop ever for our four year old tree (it’s a Travatt apricot). I’ve made jam and given some away. This afternoon if I have time, I am making apricot ice cream, and my favourite of all desserts, an apricot pie. I like eating fresh apricots, but in my opinion, apricots really come into their glory when cooked, and especially in pie form. Apple pie is pretty good, but apricot pie is amazing.

We pick the apricots when they first start to blush, and ripen them indoors. This is because we do not net the tree. We let the birds have a go at the fruit, and pick as much as we can ourselves. Some would disagree with this, but I figure there is a lot of fruit and the parrots need to eat as well. I like looking out at the tree and seeing rosellas and lorikeets having a ball out there. There is a lot of fruit for us and them. I do wish they would finish an entire apricot before starting on the next one though. Wasteful little buggers.

I do indeed mind sharing with rats, however. Our apple trees are finally fruiting after three years of patiently waiting, and I have been admiring a perfectly round, blushing apple, coveting it like Snow White’s stepmother. My husband discovered the other morning that the back end of it had been attacked by a gnawing little monster. You can imagine the stomping and cursing that ensued (from me, not him).

The pomegranate bush is going great guns this year – we had a mass of flowers and they are now forming beautiful baby pomegranates like lovely Christmas baubles. I love pomegranates. I love the look of the bush, the flowers, the beautiful globulous fruit, and the ruby juice. It is just a beautiful and undemanding plant. It requires almost no maintenance, little water, and gives so much.

Our tomato bushes are the garden triumph of the veggie patch this year. We are picking Tommy Toe and another cherry tomato called Sweet Bite that is living up to its name. The plants are healthy and abundant. I am hoping we end up with a great crop for sauce as well as eating fresh throughout Summer. I also have not yet managed to kill two cucumber plants (a miracle for me), although the chickens have eaten three others. I may yet achieve a homegrown cucumber, in which case you may hear me screaming from the rooftops.

The Duds

We have a couple of duds that, if they are not careful, will meet the Huntsman’s axe soon. Our mulberry tree is the same age as the apricot tree, and so far has produced almost nothing. There are a few pitiful berries on its branches that are stubbornly refusing to colour up. I alternately beg, plead, and curse the tree whenever I pass her, but she still refuses to do more than that. I do have a woodpile…

The other dud is the passionfruit vine, Odette. One great crop, and she thinks that is her job done. Well, I have news for her. I have plans for her patch of dirt if she can’t pony up some passionfruit next Summer.

But the biggest dud of all this year was our potato crop. After months of building up around healthy looking spud plants, I dug down to find…nothing. Nada. Zilch. I piled on the compost and straw and gave up precious garden space in the height of the annual growing season for nothing at all. Talk about crestfallen. My face dropped faster than Clark Kent’s pants in a phone booth.

Another dud was the red and white petunias I planted with plans of a lovely display by Christmas. What wasn’t dug up by one very, very, naughty chicken has largely dried up due to a lack of water (a visitor yesterday heard me telling this chicken off for digging up a new zucchini plant, and thought I was scolding a child. I had to explain, with a manic smile, why I was berating a bird). This is entirely my fault. I have been very busy with work over the past six weeks and while I have tried to maintain water all over the garden, the veggies and fruit trees have been prioritised over the poor flower gardens. I am going out this morning to replant the whole area in the hope that it can be salvaged – but to be honest, it probably cannot.

The point of this post is, no matter how much time we spend in our garden, and no matter our experience, we experience triumph and frustration in almost equal measure. Probably next year we will have a pitiful apricot crop and an amazing crop of something else unexpected. It’s part of the fun and learning experience of gardening.

Weekend gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2020

Apple Blossom

I just spent a week in the outback, where everything is a stunning red and there are few gardens to be seen. I love visiting remote Australia: I love the red earth, the hot weather, and the interesting and generous people. I also always see at least one interesting native Australian animal when I am there, and this time I got to hold a bearded dragon, which was pretty cool. He was spiky and dry on top, and cold underneath.

But I am also always happy to return to my family, and happy to be back in my patch. The long weekend is a good time to garden, and even though we had a lot of rain, there were enough breaks in the weather for me to get out and do some jobs.

Very exciting news: the dwarf apple trees flowered simultaneously. This is a big deal as they are supposed to pollinate each other, but in the three years since they have planted, have never flowered in sync. I thought I had been sold a pair of duds. Then this year, finally, beautiful pink blossoms on one (Early Macintosh), and white blossoms on the other (Cox’s Orange Pippin)! I think we may have apples this year in Pie Corner.

Speaking of Pie Corner, it is blossom central there right now. Strawberries and boysenberries are in full bloom. My husband, who is a lover of fresh berries, is a happy man. We are just waiting for the raspberries to bloom and then I think we will be in berry heaven in time for Christmas.

I am still planting out tomatoes. In addition to planting tomatoes wherever I can find a spot to take both tomato plant and cage, I have also pricked out tomato seedlings into new pots. The tomatoes I planted out before I left have put on new growth and some flowers, despite the cool weather.

I have also installed new trellising along the fence, ready for beans. I lashed out and invested in steel reo-mesh trellising, after years of frustration with different trellising for beans and peas. These will be permanent trellises for climbing legumes and (hopefully) cucumbers. They were more expensive than traditional teepees but will last longer and will make use of the vertical space along the fence, giving me more space for tomatoes.

This week I planted out corn seedlings. I grew an heirloom variety, Golden Bantam, from seed in a polystyrene esky box, until they were about five centimetres tall. I prepared the soil next to Pie Corner (where the old rainwater tank had been) with sheep manure and blood and bone, and planted them in a block formation. Corn should be planted relatively close together as they are wind pollinated and the movement of the plants together helps with pollination. I am intending to plant another fruit tree in this corner but it is too late to do that this year. Until then I may as well grow a quick crop of corn and pumpkins there.

We also built the chook run so the little dinosaurs stay out of the main veggie patch. This was done by using ready made wire panels and star droppers, and wiring them together. This was potentially a bit more expensive than the old chook wire method, but was much faster and sturdier. The girls haven’t figured out a way to weasel out of it yet, so it has been effective.

New chook run

They now have the whole back corner of the yard to wander around in, and seem happy enough – except for Mary Shelley, who is never happy. She’s the Grinch of chooks, that one. We have planted thornless berries along the fence in the run, and in a year they will have lush berry vines to hide in and blackberries to eat. We have noticed that they will eat almost any plant they can get their beaks into (including my new hydrangea bushes – grrrr), except berry vines. At first I thought it was because the boysenberry vines are spiky monsters forged by Lucifer himself, but they leave all of them alone. This bodes well for the berry vines in their run. I know they will eat the fruit – chooks love berries. I just want the plants to live long enough to bear fruit.

Next weekend: planting lettuces and beans, and generally tidying up.

Weekend garden jobs, 19 September 2020

Happy daffs

This time of year I have two problems in the garden: finding enough time to get out there as often as I want to, and controlling my desire to plant all the interesting varieties of tomatoes I can find. As it is, I am growing ten different tomatoes this season. That is ten different varieties, not ten different plants. I am growing multiples of some, if I can fit them in! This season I am growing:

  • Tigerella (heirloom);
  • Green Zebra (heirloom);
  • Moneymaker (heirloom);
  • Sweetbite (F1)
  • Tommytoe (heirloom);
  • Sweet 100 (F1);
  • Blueberries (heirloom);
  • Wapsipinicon Peach (heirloom);
  • Jaune Flamme (heirloom from seeds saved in 2018); and
  • Thai Pink Egg (heirloom from a cutting given to me by my brother).

I would grow more but I do not have the room. Partly this is due to literal space, and partly this is due to a new support structure I am trying for each plant.

Beta tomato cage

I have tried many different tomato support systems, and really they have all been pretty hopeless. Last year’s trellis was the worst – I learned a lesson there about following a TV gardener’s advice. Pfft! Useless waste of effort. Not only did the trellis not support the tomatoes, it couldn’t support itself, and fell over.

My brother grows the best tomatoes in the family, damn him (psst, Rob I love you). He builds tomato cages. I have never done this before, but after last year’s frankly pretty average tomato crop, I have decided it is time. Of course, my tomato cage effort is nowhere near as impressive as the ten foot structure my bro constructs, but I am lazier than he is, and less talented. I have built teepees from stakes, and wrapped them around with bits of wire mesh. The tomato is planted in the centre. The tomato cage gives the tomato more structure than a single stake, and will protect it from the dinosaurs now roaming my garden.

The only problem is that by doing it this way, each tomato plant takes up more space in the garden. To make space, I had to clear out a couple of extra plants, including two rhubarb plants. I felt bad about that, but I do have many rhubarb plants and not enough room for everything I want to grow. Time to get tough!

Marauding Dinosaurs

Troublesome creatures! The chooks are wreaking havoc. Look at what they have done to the sweet peas almost ready to flower at the back there. Grr!! Time to build a chook run to hold them in check.

This week I finally cleared enough space to plant potatoes. I am conducting a spud experiment: I planted some in an old feed bag about a month ago, and now the remainder in the ground. Instead of a trench, which is how I have always planted them, I dug a hole for each potato. I am going to see whether the potato bag grows as well as the spuds in the ground, and if the spud holes works better than the trench. I need more room to grow pumpkins and watermelons on that side of the garden.

I am also conducting a sweet corn experiment. Normally I grow corn direct where I want it to grow, in a block formation. However, I was listening to a gardening podcast the other day and the presenter mentioned that aside from carrots, he grows all seeds in punnets to start with and then transplants into the garden. His view is that this gives them a stronger start. I do not know if this is true, but I thought that I would give it a go this time, especially with the marauders on the loose. I am putting the corn in where we have removed the rainwater tank, in Pie Corner. When my husband finishes the wall in that section, I am considering planting another dwarf apple to espalier against the wall and help pollinate the other apple trees in that part of the garden. But for now, it can grow some corn and pumpkins over the summer while he finishes the retaining wall.

Pumpkins! I have big pumpkin plans this year. Some might say Powerful Pumpkin Plans 😀 In addition to the usual Kent pumpkins that inevitably self-seed from the compost, I will be trying Australian Butter, ye olde Butternut (always a good grower in my backyard, even if it does like to cross-pollinate with Kent to create a mutant Kenternut), and Queensland Blue. I have never grown them but they are a delicious, classic Aussie pumpkin.

So many Planting Plans, never enough space, and not enough time. Where will I fit the zucchini?

Don’t grow zucchini you say? Which blog are you reading?

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday August 30 2020

Yesterday was the kind of perfect Spring day we get in our part of the world: clearest of clear skies, slight breeze, warm air without any hint of pollution or odiferousness. Perfection. This is why I love Spring and why it is always my favourite time of year. Every second of the day I felt lucky and happy to be alive, especially when I heard the tragic news of the death of Chadwick Boseman at just 43. I appreciated so much the gift of my life and how lucky I am to live so freely in such a beautiful place, and felt keenly how unfair it was that not only he had lost his life so young, but that so many people around the world have lost their lives this year.

I had been planning to spend the day in the garden, but my husband and I had a couple of hours of KFT (kid free time) and decided to take a trip to our favourite nursery, which is in a town a bit up the road. It’s also a nice town for a stroll and has an excellent bakery, so it seemed like a pretty great way to spend an almost-Spring day.

This nursery has some of the most beautiful pots you can buy, and lots of beautiful garden-themed knick-knacks (that usually sucker me right in), but I was a gardener on a mission this time. This is partly because I had a mental list and a plan, but also because I have bought so many pots and indoor plants over the Autumn and Winter that I need to take a break. I probably have almost twenty indoor plants now. Have you seen the movie Poltergeist? That house is my life goal. The indoor plants aesthetic, not the terrifying ghosts and skeleton pool. The 70s were where it’s at when it comes to indoor plants. Indoor plants seemed to disappear after the early 80s and have come back again in the past five or so years, thank goodness. Anyway, I went ham on them recently, and I probably need to take a break and make sure I can keep them all alive and well before blowing more cash on indoor plants (and blow some cash on outdoor plants instead).

I was after flowers to plant by our retaining wall, with the goal of a blooming display by Christmas. I went full Christmas colours (red, white, and green). We usually host at least once at Christmas (often twice or three times), so I wanted the backyard to be full of big, blousy blooms.

I also found thornless berries to plant at the side of the house, behind the chook shed. We have a fence that is set in a deep recess, and the area next to it it is plagued by weeds. It is hard to keep clear, and it bugs both us and our neighbour, who has to look at it more than we do. Due to a pipe that runs from the main road, down through all the house blocks behind us and through to our street, we can’t plant anything with a deep root system in case we crack the pipe and flood both our house and our neighbour’s yard. Our house is two stories, so if we crack it, it will flood the bottom floor of our house. But I do have to plant something to take over instead of the flourishing thistles and the ivy coming over from our back neighbour’s yard (ivy – the cursed plant. Do not plant it because it is un-killable. Like the vampyre, it will rise again). I have considered many options, but I think that thornless berries will work well. They are quite shallow rooted, spread easily, require little attention, and if they do well, I can climb down and pick them without being torn up. If I don’t get to them, the chooks can eat them without being injured or becoming ill. Berries are also inexpensive plants, so if these don’t work, I have not blown hundreds of dollars on hedging plants. I also have a feijoa in a pot that is quite unhappy. As it is also relatively shallow-rooted, I will chuck that down there and keep it trimmed.

Like a hopeful sucker, I also bought tomato plants, far too early. I couldn’t help myself. I really should have waited another month, as the soil temperature is still too cold to plant them. I might have to pot them up to grow a bit larger, and then prepare the soil for them to go in the ground in a month or so.

Today (Sunday) Google Home kept promising me it was going to rain, so I stayed inside most of the day doing boring but necessary jobs, like laundry, and cleaning my office, and every so often eyeing the sky and my box of plants and wondering if I should risk being rained on.

Finally I thought, ‘nuts to this,’ and went outside to at least plant the flowers. I had a helper:

I discovered that gardening with chooks is a lot like gardening with small children: they don’t really care what you want to do, they just want to be where you are. Vanessa the chook is the smartest of our chooks. I watched as she slipped niftily through the barrier we have set up for them when they are let out to free range, while the other chooks looked on, quite puzzled (they did not figure it out). She followed me around the yard, watching what I was doing. When I realised that she was only going to hang out with me, I moved to a patch of weeding, and she helped me turn it over (I returned to the planting later). We occasionally stopped for little pats and my rendition of ‘Rocket Man.’ I think she’s forgiven me.

I also discovered she can understand me. I called her by name and told her it was time to go in, and she came back in to the yard (no food required). Peeps, I have a genius chook. And three dum-dums.

I did manage to get all the flowers planted, and as I am typing this, the rain has just started. Made it!