It was a sunny-ish day today, so I made a plan to spend it outside in the garden with my husband. He committed to finishing the pruning and to cutting back the giant rosemary bush under the apricot tree. It was so big, it was almost as tall as the tree! He cut it back hard, by two thirds. Most of it went in the green bin, but a bunch is hanging in the kitchen to dry.
I turned the compost bins, a job long overdue. The photo below shows the pile before turning. The layers of compost show the different stages of breaking down over the past few months: at the top is the ‘freshest’ additions to the bin, and as you can see at the bottom is the final product. In the middle there is a mix of compost ready to go out onto the garden, and some that needed to go back in the bin to break down further. The compost is created from a mix of chicken litter, manure, kitchen scraps, yard waste, old potting mix, and sometimes some pigeon manure from my neighbour’s aviary. From this single bin, I pulled about ten 10-litre buckets of compost.
Turning compost bins is a physically demanding but important task. It aerates the compost, which helps it to break down more quickly. As the compost is turned, you can dig out some of the ready compost and make space to add fresh content. And it helps you to learn more about what compost should look, feel, and smell like. If, when turning the compost, it seems a little dry, you can add some more greens (leafy plants or kitchen scraps). If it seems a bit too wet or smells bad (compost should not smell unpleasant), you will know to add some leaves or straw.
It’s a job I don’t mind, but because it is time-consuming and physically taxing, I have to find the time to do it. Once I have started, I get into it, especially when I pull out buckets of fresh compost to put around my fruit trees.
Planting seeds for early Spring
It’s still mid-Winter, and although still cold and wet, I have some space in my garden and in my greenhouse. I planted out some late Winter/early Spring veggies in my seed-starting trays in the greenhouse. My goal is to fill in the ‘hungry gap’ between late Spring and Summer, when we are waiting for those veggies like eggplant and capsicum to come on. I planted coriander, silverbeet (chard), spinach, more lettuce, tatsoi, and kale. In the light and warmth of the greenhouse, they should pop up quickly.
While I was in there, I potted up the Sawtooth Banksia seedlings that I have been nurturing since our trip to Tasmania in February. It’s been a long, slow task to grow these from seed, but they were finally large enough to put into little pots. I have successfully propagated four seedlings and I am so excited to see how well they grow in our climate.
The rest of the day was spent continuing the somewhat dull but necessary task of cutting back the old mint and oregano stalks in the front garden. I still have a couple of hours of this job to do next week, then it is done for the season. Combined with the pruning we have done, we have almost finished the seasonal tidying up and can look forward to a lovely Spring garden. The jonquils and daffodils are already up – I can feel the season turning just around the corner.
Apples x 2 (Cox’s Orange Pippin and Early Macintosh)
Cumquat (Calamondin Green)
Blueberries x 2
Passionfruit (Nelly Kelly)
We are also about to plant and espalier a quince (Smyrna) and our local council is also giving us a nectarine tree through their Adopt-a-fruit-tree program, soon bringing the total up to 19 fruiting trees. That should give you an indication, really, of just how much space we are fortunate to have in our yard.
You’d think with that many fruit trees, we’d be drowning in fruit all year round. Sometimes, we are. Right now, we have so, so many limes. I’ve given them away to friends and family (I offered them to a friend the other day and she politely declined – clearly, we have given her too many!). I’ve made just about every possible variation of lime pickle, jam, and chutney that it’s possible for one family to make. I’m out of ideas. We are limed out. In Summer, we had the biggest crop of apricots ever. Same deal. We still have them in the freezer. I also still have pomegranates in the fridge from Autumn as we slowly work our way through them (we have five littlies left).
Yet, for other trees, like the mulberry and apple trees, that much fruit is just a dream. Either the fruit is minimal at best, or the possums have crunched it up before we get to it. If we ever get an avocado, you will never stop hearing about it. I’ll brag about it for the rest of my life.
The fact is, growing fruit trees is a labour of love, and sometimes just a labour.
My goal in planting all these trees was to one day, never have to buy fruit again. Now I know that dream is a crock. Right now, I could eat only limes, but I think my family would object greatly to that. The fact is, I cannot really control the amount of fruit the trees will produce, as so many factors influence this, with weather being the main factor.
That doesn’t mean that growing fruit at home is not worth doing. Homegrown apricots are glorious. Homegrown limes are juicier and tastier than anything you can buy. Pomegranates cost five bucks each! I never buy them, but when I have them from my tree in May, I can decadently toss the juicy red arils on top of every curry or a tagine like the Sultan of Brunei.
Planning your fruit orchard
Before planting anything, consider your space and aspect. Fruit trees need space for their roots to spread. They also need full sun, ideally all day, but at least four hours daily. If you want to grow an orange tree and only have a shady corner of the garden, consider growing something else, or plant it in a large tub that can be placed in a sunny spot.
Speaking of tubs and pots, some fruit trees can be planted in tubs quite successfully, while others will struggle. Our lime tree was miserable and constantly attacked by scale when in a pot. When we moved it to the garden, it doubled in size and has not stopped fruiting since. However, our blueberry bushes and cumquat seem to be fine in pots.
Consider too, what you actually like eating. I enjoy growing fruits that are not easy to buy at the supermarket and that I can use to make jam and sauces. My husband likes to grow fruit he can eat fresh from the tree. We have compromised, and that is why we have the mix of trees we have. The pomegranate, cumquat, blood orange, lime, and pepino are for my fun experiments. The others are for fresh eating and also some for jam if we have any left over. However, if we had a smaller space, some of the more unique trees would not be in our garden. Fortunately, we have the space to include a wide range for our interests and tastes. If I was more limited in my options, the ‘no brainers’ would be an apricot, a lime or lemon, and a passionfruit vine.
Don’t forget, if you are limited on space, you can always grow up. We have five trees growing on trellises, by espaliering them. This has allowed us to grow many more trees than we could have if we had let them grow out instead of up. We have learned to do this by watching YouTube and visiting Botanic Gardens with espaliered trees. It’s not the cheapest way to do it (you have to buy posts, wires, hooks, etc), and it takes patience and practice. But it is an option if you have limited space, and can invest some dollars (about $50 per trellis).
Planting fruit trees
The old adage is that you plant a ten dollar tree in a hundred dollar hole. That means you should spend more time and money on preparing the soil than you spend on the tree itself. Most trees will thrive when grown in soil prepared with good quality compost, well-rotted sheep manure, and a side dressing of an organic fertiliser once planted. This doesn’t mean putting fertiliser in the hole when you plant. Prepare the soil with compost and manure a week or so before digging the hole.
On planting day, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball.
Make sure to tease out the roots so you are not planting roots that are tightly bound up. I like to soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed extract for an hour or so before I plant. Then I put the plant in the hole, and pour the bucket of seaweed extract over the root ball and into the hole. I let it soak in, then back fill. Water in well. This gives the plant a good head start.
If you are mulching, make sure not to place the mulch right up to the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. Leave about five centimetres (2 inches) of free space around the trunk.
Some trees require special attention when planting. For example, an avocado tree should be planted on a mound with several bags of compost, then surrounded by a shade barrier to keep out wind and sun while establishing. Avocado trees are very sensitive to sun and wind burn, so taking the time to build a shade barrier will be worth your while, especially as avocado trees can cost upwards of $100. Check with your nursery for special instructions when buying your tree.
Now is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees (think apples, pears, plums, quinces, apricots, etc). I have a quince waiting to plant next weekend.
Caring for your orchard
Feed your trees! You won’t get fruit if you only give them a handful of Dynamic Lifter once a year. Fruiting trees are hungry plants, because they put a lot of energy into producing fruit.
At this time of year (mid-Winter), I give each tree a bag of pulverised, aged sheep manure. This rots down slowly over the season.
Then once Spring hits, my aim is to feed each tree with roughly two cups of Dynamic Lifter and blood and bone (combined) every month, until the end of fruiting season. That’s my goal but tbh, I am a bit hit and miss with it.
I also side dress each tree with compost progressively as I dig it out of my bins. Today the lime tree, blood orange, avocado, and both apple trees got the compost. I’ll keep working my way around the garden until each fruit tree gets a bucket or two of compost in the lead up to Spring. The compost is made of a mix of my chickens’ composted manure and litter, garden weeds, kitchen scraps, and occasionally a bag of my neighbour’s pigeon manure (pure gold). It’s very well composted down over several months and the trees love it.
And don’t forget to prune. We prune Summer fruiting trees (i.e. apricots, mulberries) after fruiting (late Summer/early Autumn), and then give them a light pruning to shape in Winter. The goal for trees like our apricot and mulberry tree is to create a lovely vase shape that will let light into the tree, and to prevent it growing too large.
This year we also lightly pruned our pomegranate for the first time, to remove some of the excess growth at the base, and the lime tree for the same reason.
Caring for fruit trees takes time and thought. We do it partly because the flavour of fresh, homegrown fruit cannot be beat, and because it’s fun. I also enjoy looking out of my office window and watching the rainbow lorikeets playing in the trees (even though I know they will steal the apricots as soon as they can).
I love Spring gardening. I’d love nothing more than to be spending all day long in the Spring sunshine, but unfortunately I’m not paid to garden (more’s the pity).
It’s been one of my busiest work periods in a while. This means very little time for me to spend outside. The closest I have come is looking out the window at the Spring bulbs blooming in the front garden. Check out the irises growing under the Mulberry Tree – the best display of Dutch Irises we have ever had.
However, we had a long weekend (Labour Day), so I gave myself a day off and spent the entire Sunday in the veggie patch (after a quick trip to the Big Green Shed to buy a few supplies).
My first job was picking a bowl of veggies. It was exciting to find the first spears of asparagus in the garden today, along with lots of rainbow chard, spring onions, Tuscan kale (also known as cavolo nero or dinosaur kale), cabbage, daikon radish, and carrots.
Speaking of asparagus, if you are growing it, don’t forget about it. One of the awesome things about the Spring gardening season is how quickly things take off. One of the challenging things about the Spring gardening season, is how quickly things take off! If you don’t keep an eye on plants like asparagus and broccoli, you will either find yourself overrun, or it has bolted faster than you can pick it. The first problem is not too bad, but the second is pretty heartbreaking after all your efforts.
Spring gardening, seed starting
I had a big list of jobs but decided to start with the most fun jobs first. I am trying to grow as many plants as I can from seed again, without being prescriptive about it. I have been starting seeds to plant out in the late Spring garden since early August, and I am still sowing veggie seeds. I spent a happy hour or so sowing some more seeds, and potted on seedlings that were ready to move into bigger pots.
I have some beautiful tomato plants almost ready to go out into the garden in a few weeks, and capsicums growing bigger. I have learned though that basil, chillies, and eggplant do not like to be started in September, even on a heat mat – it’s just too early. As soon as I moved the seedlings off the heat mat, the plants keeled over and died in the cold. I have had to restart them all over again, wasting time and seeds. Hopefully this next lot will work out better.
This week, I sowed chillies, eggplants, okra, sunflowers, and some seeds I had saved from an heirloom tomato we bought from the supermarket that was delicious. I scooped the seeds onto a paper towel on a plate to dry, then I lazily tore bits of the dried towel into little pieces and planted them into soil (call it a “cheats seed tape”). I have already tried this out with good success (from a black cherry tomato I enjoyed earlier this year), and now I have a dozen seedlings growing in pots ready for the garden. Whether they will grow true to type is the next question.
The only problem is that now I have heaps of tomato seedlings. My plan this year was lots of eggplant, fewer tomatoes. I’ve ended up with lots of tomato plants, and so far very few eggplants! I’ll be giving away some tomato seedlings and will have to buy some extra eggplant seedlings to achieve my goal of a mountain of delicious eggplants this Summer.
I recently bought some lovely houseplants at a sale. Unfortunately since they have arrived at my place, the ficus has started dropping leaves and the calathea has almost completely turned up its toes. Generally I do quite well with houseplants, so I was concerned about why these two were struggling. I tried moving them to a different spot, but this did not help. I soaked them in a bath of water, which also did not help.
I decided to repot them, as the mix they were in seemed to be very loose (more akin to a cacti and succulent mix than a potting mix). The roots seemed not to be rotted, so that is not the issue with the calathea. I moved them to the patio area, which has sheltered light but is much warmer than the house. I’m misting them daily with water to increase the humidity. Hopefully this stops the ficus dropping leaves, and helps the calathea leaves to unfurl.
The rest of the day, I turned the three compost bins and then cleaned out the chicken shed. I pulled out some weeds, and dug out the remnants of the boysenberry cane, Audrey II, which reared her thorny head yet again. I think I will be digging the damn thing out for quite a while, but as I refuse to use RoundUp in my garden that is just what I will have to do.
I do have to start pulling out some plants that are going to seed. I started with a few kohlrabi (ugh, why do I keep trying! It never sets a bulb for me) and fed them to some very appreciative chickens. I still have quite a few parts of the garden to clear, but as the seedlings aren’t ready yet, this job can be done in small sections.
Eating from the veggie patch
I staggered back in to clean up, then made a batch of really delicious okonomiyaki for dinner (you can make these with any veggies, but I made them with cabbage, daikon, carrots, chard and spring onions) before crashing out in front of the TV. Yay for the Spring gardening season – the most wonderful time of the year! Some people think that’s Christmas…but not me!
The plan this week is just to eat from the garden: okonomiyaki, spinach and feta rolls, squash and kale pasta, spinach and lentil dal…so many delicious options with these amazing greens. If you have any good recipes for Spring greens, let me know!
Mid-winter might seem like a quiet time in the garden – and compared to Spring and Summer, it is – but there are still jobs that need to be done.
One of the most important jobs is feeding the fruit trees. Deciduous fruit trees like apricots, apples, and plums don’t actively grow in Winter. But they should be fed a lovely blanket of well-rotted sheet of sheep or cow manure over their root systems. Every July I order a dozen or so bags of aged, pulverised sheep manure from a local company, and spread a bag or two around the roots of each tree. I make sure not to place it right up against the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. I started this job today, but it is a big task as I have a dozen fruit trees and vines, and lugging the bags and spreading the manure takes quite a while. I managed a third of the task, and will try to carve out some more time during the week if the weather holds up. The manure will slowly feed the trees over the next couple of months and give them a boost at the peak growing time in early Spring.
Of compost and chickens
It was also time to turn the compost and clean out the chickens. I have four lovely hens, who are about 18 months old. They are moulting and off the lay right now, and looking a bit rough around the edges, poor girls. They stay in their run during the week, but on the weekends I let them out in the garden while I clean out their house and yard. They have a blast, although I have to chase them away from my lettuces! I found them scratching up spinach and tatsoi seedlings today. Grrrr. This is what happens when you let tiny dinosaurs loose in your veggie patch. Little monsters.
Before I let them loose, I turned the compost bins, and dug out about eight buckets of lovely compost to spread over Pie Corner. Then I filled the bins back up with the straw and crud from the chook pen.
Goodbye Audrey II
Speaking of Pie Corner, I decided today to remove that bane of my thumbs, the boysenberry canes I dubbed Audrey II. She had succumbed to a rust fungus, and I decided that rather than try to treat it, I would consign the plants to the green bin. Audrey II has been a somewhat patchy producer at best, and the pain of pruning the damn thing has not been worth the gain of a couple of punnets of boysenberries each Summer. I am sure we will find her offspring popping up over the next few months, but we will just keep digging those bits out until she has gone completely. I have decided to replace her with an espaliered quince tree next Season. I love quinces, and the flowers are so beautiful. I wish I could say I’ll miss you Audrey II…but I won’t.
I read an article in the New York Times today about work and the scam of ‘busyness’ (as opposed to ‘business.’ The author was speaking from the perspective of an American, that people are beginning to reject the American idea of ‘work’ and the non-stop, rat-raciness, over-productive busyness of it all. Importantly, he differentiated between that kind of work, and work that is genuinely engaging and absorbing. This work could be unremunerated.
I don’t believe most people are lazy. They would love to be fully, deeply engaged in something worthwhile, something that actually mattered, instead of forfeiting their limited hours on Earth to make a little more money for men they’d rather throw fruit at as they pass by in tumbrels.
Tim Kreider, “It’s time to stop living the American scam.”
I genuinely like running my own business. But I also agree that there is something to be said about a different kind of work, that is absorbing, engaging, and deeply satisfying – even if it doesn’t earn any money per se. I spent half my day today shovelling various kinds of waste: compost, chicken shed waste, pulverised sheep manure. To some people, that would be just a horrible time. But I was completely, happily, absorbed in what some would see as unproductive, unremunerated work of limited practical value. I might get some apples in the future. I might not. Who cares? To be completely honest, I don’t, much.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden over the past 7.5 years. And a lot of cash, if I’m honest. I can’t say how much exactly. By the time I add up the cost of plants, removing trees, building a retaining wall, installing a chook shed (which we were lucky enough to score secondhand from our neighbour), tools, trellises, even more plants, etc…the cost must be in the shillions (that’s a number my youngest invented at the age of four, when trying to envision the largest number possible).
While I don’t regret any of these expenses, I do think there are some items that were better investments than others. They have raised both the value of our home and improved the overall look or productiveness of my garden.
Compost bins and compost worms
I have three black ‘dalek’ style compost bins that are always in rotation. Two cost $40 each from Bunnos, and the other was free from my local Buy Nothing group. I continually add garden trimmings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, chicken shed waste, and kitchen scraps to the bins. I turn them every time I clean out the chook shed, so roughly every two weeks. By ‘turn’, I mean I tip them over, move them around, pull out the ready-to-use compost, and shovel the rest back in the bins. Some weeks I might get a few buckets out of three bins, and at other times, a wheelbarrow load. I tip it on to whichever part of the garden looks like it needs it the most. Over the course of the year, the whole garden gets a topdressing of homemade compost. I don’t dig it in – I just tip it on top of the existing soil and let it weather in.
I add a box of 1000 compost worms to the bins every couple of years, where they happily breed and chew through the compost. I don’t bother with worm juice or a worm farm; I am perfectly happy just tossing them back in as I turn the compost. A box of 1000 worms costs about $50.
For an investment of $180 over 7.5 years (2x boxes compost worms + 2 x compost bins = roughly $25 per annum), I have homemade compost for my front and backyards. The other important benefit is that we divert kitchen and garden waste from landfill, reducing our family’s carbon footprint. Most weeks, our red bin (garbage) has only one bag.
When we first moved to our property, we paid a professional arborist $3500 to remove five trees. We researched several arborists, and received quotes. One guy quoted us $1000. When he visited us, he was clearly a dodgy operator and we turned him down, even though his quote was less than a third of the other company. At the time, $3500 was a lot of money to spend before we even started our garden. But the trees there were not safe or appropriate for the property, and prevented us growing anything productive. We forked out the extra cash, and a team of professional arborists safety removed the trees. I still think it was worth the extra money.
Good quality trees
You can buy trees from many places. Even supermarkets sometimes sell fruit trees at a bargain price. I’m not averse to picking up a bargain punnet of petunias from my local supermarket, believe me. It might seem that a tree is a tree, and that all that counts is the variety. However, I have learned the hard way that is not the case. Specialist tree nurseries invest in good quality root stock and hire qualified staff with expertise in varieties for your area. I buy most of my fruit trees from a local nursery that understands my soil and weather conditions, and provides advice on growing conditions and care. I pay for that advice by paying more for the trees I buy from them, but it has been worth it. Every tree I have bought from them has thrived.
To compare, I have a lime tree bought from my local specialty tree nursery, and a lemon tree bought from a supermarket. Both were planted at roughly the same time. One is in the front yard and one in the back yard. The lemon tree is a sad, spindly little thing, with not a single flower or fruit to be seen. I have fed it and watered it – and nada. The lime tree, even after fighting off a scale infestation and a leaf miner attack, has glossy dark leaves and has produced its first full crop of juicy limes. It is currently flowering again, getting ready to produce its second crop. Arguably the back yard and the front yard have different conditions. But not that different. I’m getting ready to yank that lemon tree out and replace it with a new tree, from a good nursery. I’m not one to harp on sunk costs.
This should be obvious, but cheap tools are not worth it. I have a solid hard wood handled garden fork that that I bought from the Digger’s Club five years ago, and aside from the muck on it, still looks new. It cost me about $80, but is worth every cent. I can buy a fork from Bunnos for ten bucks, but the handle will snap in no time. On cheap forks, the tines bend very easily, leaving you with an annoying fork that digs and turns unevenly. I dig with my Digger’s fork a lot, and the tines don’t bend, even when digging over hard or rocky soil. I feel confident that this fork will still be in tip-top shape in another five years. I intend to replace my other tools with Digger’s tools as they die, because I know the investment will be worth the extra cash.
Potting mix and fertilisers
Certain things can be purchased more cheaply for sure, but potting mix is not one of them. I know, because I have bought and tested almost all available to me. You will hear many garden experts say to buy ‘premium’ potting mix. I used to think, ‘well, sure, if you’re made of money.’ Then I discovered that the cheap three-dollar bags of potting soil are basically pressed bark sweepings, and do your plants no favours. Cheaper potting mix dries out very quickly, becomes hydrophobic, and leaves your plants hungry and thirsty. Spending money on good plants and not spending on the soil ends up costing you more in the end.
Look for the ‘red ticks’ on the bag. That means it’s a premium mix. ‘Premium’ usually means it has added soil wetting agents such as additional coir, and slow release fertiliser. Of course, you could add this to a cheaper mix yourself, but then you have just raised the cost of the cheaper mix anyway.
I also spend money on good quality, pure organic fertilisers such as pelletised chicken manure (also called Dynamic Lifter or other versions), Blood & Bone, and liquid tonics and fertilisers. I don’t buy brands that say they are ‘Blood & Bone-based’ as this can mean the manufacturer has added cheap fillers to the bag to lower the cost. These do nothing for your garden and may attract pests. It’s worth spending more to get a pure product.
Some gardeners prefer not to use Blood & Bone products, and as a vegetarian, I understand that. There are vegan fertilisers available. However, I am not a vegan, and neither are soil micro-organisms. I am not opposed to using animal products in my garden so long as they are organic. I use a product called ‘Charlie Carp,’ that is made from European Carp, a fish that is a pest and pollutes our waterways, and I also use animal manures such as sheep and chicken. Use what you are comfortable with and that sits with your values. Buy the best products that you can afford to feed your soil. Feeding your soil is the best investment you can make in your garden.
There’s nothing like the ache you get after a full day in the garden. Regular exercise doesn’t give it – I exercise about an hour four times a week and I never get that same bone tired but relaxed feeling that I do after gardening. I think it’s the fact that I use so many muscles when I garden: I climb, dig, bend, stretch, lift, and strain for hours at a time, stopping only for a quick cuppa and a bite to eat. Right now every part of me is pleasantly exhausted. I need to think about making dinner, but not until I’ve rested for at least an hour or so.
I’ve been working a lot lately, including the last long weekend, with minimal gardening time, so there was a lot to do this weekend. The front yard in particular has been looking…a bit feral, to be honest. I could tell that a few of the lavender bushes and woody herbs (thyme and sage) were really on their last legs. This was confirmed when I dug up one of the lavender bushes to discover it was actually dead. No wonder it wasn’t flowering – apparently they don’t when they’re dead! I cut up what I could for firewood, then consigned the rest to the green bin. Woody herbs don’t live forever – although they are called ‘perennial’, in actuality they live around 3-5 years. These plants have lived at least that long, so we have done pretty well out of them. I still have plenty anyway, as they have self-seeded prolifically. It’s just the original plants that needed to depart.
I had decided over Easter that this job was coming, but wasn’t sure what to replace the dead and dying bushes with. Whatever we replaced them with needed to be as tough as the conditions on our hillside front yard: North-West facing and in full sun. Plants have to be able to survive in hot and dry conditions all year round. I chose salvias. Salvias are beautiful, drought tolerant, and will survive many years. I already have three salvias in the front yard, so I know they will do well.
I tried finding some at the Easter Fair we attend each year, but the plant stall only had one! So I bought that, and then ordered some online from the Diggers Club. While I was at it, I ordered a lemongrass plant, a hanging rosemary, and a meadow sage, which is like regular sage but more prostrate.
Digging out the bushes was pretty tough on the old body but I managed it. My usual digger was out, so I had to use all my muscles to get the job done.
I immediately replaced them with the salvias, and watered in well with liquid seaweed tonic to give them a fresh start. I also planted out the hanging rosemary and meadow sage in empty spots in the garden, and trimmed back some other lavenders I wanted to keep. It’s all looking a bit bare and sad right now, but once everything starts growing it should fill in nicely.
The veggie patch
While I was cutting back and digging out, I removed the now spent eggplant bushes from the back garden, and steeled myself to cut back Audrey II, the boysenberry cane. I hate this job, as she is one mean, green mother. To make the job less painful (literally), I decided to only cut back two of the plants (she is actually four). Some gardening advice: don’t plant boysenberries. They are delicious, but painful. Not delicious enough, in my view. Find something thornless, if you want to grow berries.
I planted out some purple cauliflower seedlings that were ready for transplant, fed everything in the veggie patch with an organic liquid fertiliser, and finished mulching with sugar cane mulch. Yes, even heading into Winter I still mulch. Our Winter is still pretty dry so we should mulch no matter the weather. It also suppresses weeds, which are more likely to come up in Winter.
Coming along nicely are the turnips, carrots, beets, first batch of collards, and radishes. Garlic is looking lovely but of course will not be ready for months and months. Every year I weigh up giving space to garlic, which takes the longest to mature of any annual vegetable in the backyard. Then I harvest it and I am so glad I did. I am down to my last bulb from last season, and then back to buying it again *sob*
As I was weeding and mulching today, I discovered three avocado trees behind the lime tree (which is weighed down with beautiful juicy limes). These have self-seeded from the compost bins just nearby. Like most of Australia, we have been eating copious avocados this year, as they have been at bargain basement prices ($1 an avo? Avo toast for all!!). Our compost bin is full of avocado seeds and skins as a result – and now my garden appears to be sprouting avo trees. I’d hazard a guess they are Hass. We have a Reed avocado (the king of avocados) growing behind the chook pen, from which we have received exactly zero avos in the last three seasons. We have decided to let the avo seedlings keep growing for now, and then we will decide whether to dig one out and plant it nearby as a pollinator for the Reed.
The other plant that is kicking along nicely behind the lime tree is a Beauregard sweet potato. I planted it as an experiment, and because I love sweet potatoes. It’s growing like crazy in the corner near the compost bins and asparagus bed. I’m very tempted to bandicoot underneath to see if we have any tubers, but I know I’m not supposed to dig anything up until the leaves go yellow. If there’s no sweet potatoes under there I will be so disappointed.
I also planted more seeds. My plan to grow everything from seed is starting to feel slightly insane as the weather grows cooler, but I am determined to accomplish it now that I have put it out there. I planted kale, mini cauliflower, more collards, and tatsoi seeds. In an old wheelbarrow I use as a raised bed I have more lettuce seeds coming up. My plan is not to buy lettuce at all until Summer. I have romanesco broccoli, orange cauliflower, and more cabbage almost ready to go in the ground.
And I officially give up on spinach. It seems that the only thing that loves baby spinach more than my youngest child is the birds that visit my garden. I have raised and planted 18 spinach plants and lost 18 spinach plants. I could buy a net and cover it to protect it from marauding sparrows, but that would cost me more than just buying it – so I think I’ll resign myself to buying baby spinach from now on. Interestingly, they leave the chard alone. They are discerning little pests – because really, who’d go for chard when you could have spinach? My husband said he’d build a scarecrow, but I think that would scare me more than them.
A photo popped up in Google memories today, showing us our front yard six years ago.
When we moved to our property seven years ago, we could see the potential of the massive sloping front yard, but we did not like anything that previous owners had planted. Directly in front of the house was a yuuuuuge date palm, with the base of the tree at the footings of the house – asking for trouble. A large gum tree was dropping round gumnuts all over the yard, which was a slipping hazard, especially for our friends and family with mobility impairments. There were several old tree stumps, also a tripping hazard and a termite attractor. The soil was poor, and the owners had used black weed matting to prevent weeds – epic fail, as there were weeds everywhere.
We hired an arborist to come and remove the trees and grind out the old stumps, and we set about removing the weeds, weed matting, and rehabilitating the soil. We used (and continue to regularly add) compost, sheep manure, and mulch. My husband moved the enormous moss rocks from all around the garden to build a natural-looking retaining wall at the front of the garden.
I listen to a lot of gardening podcasts and they rabbit on about the importance of garden design. Once the soil was ready and the trees were removed, we had a plan to plant three deciduous fruit trees, but aside from these we have not ‘designed’ anything. If I find a place to fit in a plant that I like, in it goes. That means our garden definitely won’t win any design awards, but it’s an interesting place, with visiting birds and bugs, healthy soil, and at least something flowering or fruiting at any time of the year.
I mostly leave the front yard to do its thing, with minimal water. If a plant can’t survive without lots of attention and water (I’m looking at you, hydrangeas), they don’t survive. It’s a Northern facing hill in full afternoon sun, so if a plant can’t cope, then farewell. I’m a part-time gardener – I have no time to coddle ornamentals. All my love and coddling goes to plants that produce food. So my front garden kind of looks pretty but a bit rough around the edges, especially at this time of year. At the end of Summer and Winter especially, the plants look a bit ragged and tired, and need a good clip and feed. Right now, parts of the garden are a bit feral, and I need to go out there with my hedge trimmers and a fork and clean it up.
It’s possible that whomever moves in after us will raze the yard again and plant a lawn or landscape it with the latest fashionable garden plants. That’s ok. While we have this space though, we will continue to fill little gaps with whatever will survive in the hot sun on our hillside.
My husband and I spent the weekend in the garden, but at different times and doing different things.
It’s the last weekend of the Summer, and I spent the weekend getting ready for the Autumn garden.
Preparing for Autumn
Some parts of the garden (eggplant, chillies, pumpkins, basil) are still in the full throttle of Summer production, but other areas are in their last gasp. The zucchini plant was very done, so I pulled that out, clearing a massive area of the garden, and also picked the last of one of the carrot beds and the final red onions. I dug over that bed, and spread organic fertiliser over that area (homemade compost, pelletised chicken manure, and blood and bone), raking it over and watering it in. That area is now sitting and waiting for planting in slightly cooler weather.
I started some more seeds for the winter garden: leeks, onions, coriander, and caulis. The collards and onions I started last week were moved into larger pots for hardening off, and I planted spinach and silverbeet into the garden. Then I forgot about them for a couple of days…whoops. The spinach is in a more sheltered area and is OK, but the silverbeet is not looking so good.
Saving sad plants
I repotted a dieffenbachia houseplant that was looking miserable (following the process I wrote about a couple of weeks ago). Hopefully some fresh soil and a larger pot will give it a fresh lease on life. A beautiful calibrachoa I received for my birthday was also looking very sad after an attack of white fly, so I gave it a spray of pest oil and a good water, and I am hoping that this will save it.
Building a trellis
While I was pottering about, my husband was doing the hard yards, building a trellis for the grape vine. Our sultana vine has been strung up on a makeshift trellis for the past two years, which was fine while it was young, but now the vine is in its third year it was far too big to manage on the little trellis.
My husband has been building trellises for all the fruit trees and vines. He started with a trellis for the apple trees a few months ago, and has been gradually building additional trellises throughout the backyard. This has enabled him to perfect his skills, and has decided to rebuild the original apple trellis now that he has figured out his technique.
I think he has done a great job (with only a bit of minor swearing).
He has one more big one to build along the back fence for the passionfruit vines and for climbing seasonal veggies (cucumbers, beans and peas), and then his next job is re-paving the backyard and building a fire pit.
If you’re a gardener, and if you want to grow a food forest, and if you are so inclined to partner up, can I recommend you seek out a person that can build stuff? Gardening requires a surprising amount of building and engineering, if you have a largish sized plot. Unfortunately, I am not an engineer. I know what I need, where I want it, and how it should look, but not how to build it. My husband, on the other hand, enjoys being outside and the results of gardening (i.e. the eating) but is not really into the digging, composting and planting. However, he is pretty great at figuring out how to build the things I need.
He recently finished the retaining wall, and has started to re-pave the backyard with recycled pavers (we want to build a backyard in-ground firepit for next Winter). But before he can continue that task, we are building trellises for all the backyard fruit trees and canes. This is a task that has been on my mind for about two years. I built short-term trellises to espalier our dwarf apple trees, but they look, well, craptacular.
The problems are many: star pickets look ugly, the wires were not strong enough and have started to sag, the trellis was quickly outgrown by the apple trees etc etc. It had to go. The trellis for the berry canes in Pie Corner was similarly horrible and the berries are just free-forming it all over the place (as you can see in the above photo). I have also recently planted several passionfruit plants that are going to outgrow the temporary trellises, and I have also recently planted dwarf plums that I wanted to espalier properly. Hence, I need a builder.
I did look for professional landscapers but they are booked out everywhere, and honestly my job is not large enough for most tradies to be interested in. Plus, my husband and I thought we could tackle it ourselves.
I watched several YouTube videos about building a trellis to espalier trees, and visited the Botanic Gardens to look at the way their very professional gardeners had done it. I still couldn’t figure it out. My husband watched the same YouTube video, and off we went to the Big Green Shed and in an hour we were back home with all the stuff we needed to build a trellis. Bloody hell. I mean, I love him.
I left him to it, and did the following:
Dug out enough compost from the two bins to add to an entire section of garden, which I lightly dug through and have left to settle.
Planted three varieties of climbing beans (Kentucky Wonder, Purple King, and Blue Lake) and one of dwarf beans (Yellow Wax).
Picked a whole heap of veggies for dinner, including carrots, broccoli, spinach, onions, and asparagus. I made an Ottolenghi spinach and feta pie for dinner, and it was amazeballs.
Planted beetroot, sunflower, carrots, and lettuce seeds, and pulled out some old spinach and coriander plants and fed them to the chooks.
Planted up a lovely pink calibrachoa for the front stoop, and watered all the balcony plants.
Fed the passionfruit with some fish emulsion and seaweed fertiliser, and cursed a bit when I saw some little critter has been having a nibble on them. Couldn’t find anything so I think it has gone away now.
Waved to all the bees, including at least a couple of native bees hovering among the flowers.
Admired the bronze iris that finally flowered after I thought all hope was lost.