Gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2021

It’s the October long weekend here, which is one of my favourite mini-breaks. I love it because it’s Springtime in Southern Australia, a few months before Christmas, and we have a bit of time to get some things done around the garden.

It’s always great being in the garden at this time of year, because there are flowers everywhere. All the spring flowering bulbs are out, as well as my favourites, the sweet peas. This year I have three varieties in flower. They always make me feel happy.

This time I am not spending the whole weekend in the garden as I have a deadline, but I decided to take two full days off for the first time in…bloody ages actually.

I booked a big skip bin and my husband and I made plans to clear out our sheds of extraneous junk. A lot of the junk was left over from the guy that lived here before us (yes, still!), and from building our retaining wall and renovating our bathroom. Some of it is just from the accumulation of life.

We filled up a 4m cube bin really quickly. I would not say we are collectors, but it was kind of depressing how quickly we filled a pretty large bin.

The other job left over from building the retaining wall was moving the clean fill back to the garden. This has taken me many months, partly because it is a boring job, partly because there is a lot to move, and partly because it’s really hard. There’s only so much shovelling dirt into buckets and moving it around the garden I can do in one hit before this old lady collapses in a corner. However, this weekend I managed to clear a whole section. I am really happy about that. You can actually see the pathway next to the shed now. Only one section to go (the biggest, of course), then all I have to do is power wash the whole thing and it will look great. Or at least, not filthy.

Pumpkin Mounds

Some of the buckets of dirt went to build pumpkin mounds. Curcubits (pumpkins, zucchini, squash etc) are prone to powdery mildew, which is exacerbated by getting their leaves wet. A way to help prevent this is by planting them on little hills or mounds, then watering the base of the plant. I used the spare buckets of dirt (which was originally from my garden), to build hills. Then I mixed in a bit of compost, and planted pumpkin seeds in the top. I planted four types of pumpkins: Australian Butter, Queensland Blue, ye olde Butternut, and Buttercup. Hoping for a great pumpkin crop this year after last year’s sad effort.

I cleaned out the chicken coop, and let the chooks go for a wander while I did that. After I replaced their straw I went looking for them, calling out their “chookchookchook!” call that lets them know it’s time to come inside. One of them trundled along, but the others just called back and didn’t come back to the yard. After a bit of searching I found all three tucked up under a rhubarb bush, having a dust bath together. I decided to let them be. Twenty minutes later I caught them trying to dismantle a new pumpkin mound, and unceremoniously tossed them back in their pen. Naughty!

Seed Starting

It was raining on and off, so when it was raining I slipped undercover and planted up some seed trays for Summer veggies. This year I am not giving quite so much space to tomatoes, because I need the soil to recover from all the tomatoes I grew last season. It’s not good to grow tomatoes in the same spot, year-on-year. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a massive space, that reduces your tomato-growing opportunities. I will grow a few, but I just can’t grow as many. This year the plan is go hard on squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn and beans, as well as the necessary chillies and eggplant. Hopefully I can swap some of these with my brother, who always grows great tomatoes. So far I have planted:

  • Chilli Devil’s Tongue;
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Tomato Moneymaker;
  • Tomato Jaune Flamme;
  • Onion Long Red Florence;
  • Corn Jubilee;
  • Cucumber Crystal Apple;
  • Cucumber Marketmore;
  • Melon Pocket; and
  • Watermelon Golden Midget.

The Devil’s Tongue are from seed I saved a couple of years ago, and that I am hoping are still viable. These were seriously great chillies. Lovely and hot, but still flavourful, and the most prolific plants I have ever grown. Fingers crossed at least some of the seeds grow.

I do not have the greatest of luck with cucumbers and melons, yet paradoxically have generally good fortune with pumpkins (last year notwithstanding). What works for one should technically work with the other, as they are related, however it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Therefore I intend to give them yet another crack and try something different. Not entirely sure what that will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions to grow cracking cues and melons, I’m all ears.

These were planted up in trays with seed-raising mix. It’s a smidge cold still but I decided to give it a shot anyway – it’s the start of October after all, and if I wait too much longer it will be late November before I have plants large enough to plant out.

The rest of my garden space will be set aside for climbing beans and a little bit of space for some eggplant. I will wait until the end of October/early November to plant them. Once my major deadline is done in late October, I plan to have a week off and then it’s planting time. Can’t wait!

Gardening jobs, Weekend 23 & 24 February 2019

‘Mr Lincoln’ rose in bloom

It’s been a couple of years now since my grandmother passed away, and finally the roses I planted in memory of both sets of grandparents have started to flourish. The climbing Mr Lincoln rose was planted in memory of my grandmother who passed away when I was 16. I have also planted a climbing Pierre de Ronsard and climbing Gold Bunny, with the aim of having them climb the front of our house. They have all taken some time to establish, especially the Gold Bunny, which seems quite miserable most of the time. My grandfather’s Gold Bunny was magnificent, so I am hoping that mine will get over its current state and grow to be as beautiful as his was. By far, the happiest is the Pierre de Ronsard, which has already produced about a dozen beautiful blooms. The red rose pictured is the first of the Mr Lincoln roses we have had. My husband and I were so happy to see it appear. These plants are important to me as a living memorial of grandparents that each passed a love of gardening on to me.

Summer Roundup

Time in the garden has been rare over the past couple of weeks. I have been busy with work and family, and I am travelling for work again this week. Coupled with the intense heat we have experienced this Summer, my garden is looking quite sad.

This Summer has been one of the hottest on record, and we recorded the hottest day on record. We have had almost no rain to speak of. This has affected my vegetable garden more than the rest of the garden, which is well established. We almost lost a newly planted avocado tree, but my husband’s careful watering and shading of the tree has enabled it to recover, thank goodness. We did lose all our tomato plants in the end, which really grinds my corn. We had a great early start with the tomatoes, and then a week of intense heat with temperatures over 45 degrees, including a day of 47 degrees, really knocked them. Some plants died outright, and the rest never recovered. They continued producing fruit but the fruit didn’t properly mature. Even the chilli and zucchini plants, which are usually reliable producers, failed to produce.

The corn I planted this year produced, but cobs were smaller. Beans produced very few pods compared to previous years. We have plenty of pollinators in our garden, so I do not believe that was the problem. The soil was prepared properly, in the usual way. I believe that it was not possible for us to water enough to replace the loss of moisture caused by the extreme heat.


There were a couple of successes, however. Pumpkins sow themselves in our garden, popping up out of the compost. I let them ramble, because I have the space. I figure if they produce some pumpkins, that’s great, and if they don’t I have not lost anything. The vines help suppress the weeds and shade the soil.

Last year I grew Kent (also known as ‘Jap‘ in Australia) which I did plant, and Butternuts, which popped up on their own. This year, I appear to be growing a Kent-Butternut hybrid! It has the shape of a Butternut but the skin markings and colour of a Kent. I have not seen this before (others probably have) but for now I am calling it a Kenternut. Or should I call it a Butterkent? Either way, it is fruiting pretty prolifically and we are looking forward to trying it.

Kenternut Pumpkin

I’ll save some seeds of this mutant and see if I can grow it again next year.

The rhubarb plants I divided a couple of years ago have been growing great guns. I divided them again this weekend, as the plants are enormous and becoming crowded – something I might live to regret considering it is going to be another week of 40-plus degrees. We are eating rhubarb every week at this point, even in the Summer. I know some people don’t like it, but I have always loved the stuff. It’s best baked with some maple syrup and strawberries, served with custard.

Dividing rhubarb is very easy. Just dig up the plant, and hack it in half (or more) with a spade. Make sure each crown has a bit of root. Replant each piece. I have even planted a rhubarb crown I found on the ground several weeks after I dropped it there, and it still grew. It is pretty hard to stuff it up, which is why I am not too worried about doing it this week even in the hot weather.

Pomegranate Azerbaijan

The passionfruit (classic black) exploded with fruit this year. Our passionfruit vine is named Odette. We take great care of her, feeding and watering her regularly. She is enormous, brilliant green, and very healthy. This year she rewarded us with hundreds of passionfruit. We have given some away, frozen it, and of course, eaten it. My husband loves it, and so does our neighbour, so there is always someone willing to eat it daily. I freeze it in ice cube trays for when the weather is cooler. Then I will make passionfruit slice (my favourite) and shortbread.

The pomegranate tree (Pomegranate Azerbaijan) is producing for the first time. Having never grown them before, we were unsure how long it would take to produce (this is its third year). A major storm in September knocked the tree sideways, and we thought we had lost it. I staked it and it was able to recover. We are very much looking forward to our first pomegranates. Mostly I just love looking at them on the tree. They are so beautiful.

This Summer we also had our first real boysenberry crop. Afterwards, I pruned the spent canes and then had the fun job of disposing of the prickly prunings. Boysenberries are thorny and unpleasant vines, but I think this is why we were able to keep so many of the berries for ourselves instead of losing them to birds. No bird was brave enough to get in there and pinch one. I don’t blame them, being pricked by those thorns really hurts. I was stabbed on more than one occasion.

Finally this weekend, I turned the compost, and dug out the fresh compost to spread around the roses and newly divided rhubarb. I gave an extra helping to the Gold Bunny rose, in the hope that it will cheer the poor thing up.

For the next couple of weeks until the cooler weather sets in, we are on a care and maintenance plan for the garden. I am considering trialling a different planting regime for Autumn and Winter, given the change to the seasons we experienced last year: longer warm weather, much less rain, dry Winter. I think home gardeners need to adapt to climate change, but I am not sure yet how to do it. Our traditional practice of Autumn planting and Sprint planting needs to change. Any ideas?

Weekend gardening, Weekend 27 & 28 January 2019

After a week of record heatwave conditions in our region, this weekend was about repair work, mostly. About half the tomato bushes were pretty much dead, so we picked off the tomatoes that were left on them, and pulled the bushes up. I pruned the dead leaves off the other bushes, and we watered them well.

Half my potted plants died, including all of our window boxes on the balcony. We watered the poor darlings twice a day, but the hottest day in half a century did them in. We also lost some of the plants under the fully shaded patio; this gives you an idea of the intensity of the heat.

My baby avocado tree may still die. It’s previously chirpy new leaves now resemble pot pourri, making for one very sad gardener and an even sadder tree. I am hoping that ongoing watering will bring it back. It is shaded, but alas – see above re hottest day in half a century.

Our two mornings in the garden weren’t all doom and gloom. We had a gorgeous garden helper on one day, my three year old niece, who helped me pick corn and started digging out our potato crop. She informed me that she “doesn’t like eating ‘tatoes, but I do like gardening ‘tatoes.” We spend an enjoyable half an hour digging spuds until she announced that it was very hard work and she had had enough. We went inside and ate freshly picked sweet corn for lunch, followed by cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles as a reward for all our hard work.

The following day, my husband and I continued our spud harvesting. We planted Red Otway potatoes in October 2018. We do the traditional trench planting method, hilling up the plants with soil and sugar cane mulch as they grow. We stop hilling up once we have run out of soil and have calculated the cost of the mulch is not worth the amount of spuds we can possibly get.

Digging up spuds is a dicey affair. You have to be careful not to cut them with your spade. Our method is to dig around the base of the plant carefully (see above), exposing the tuberous treasure below. My niece was quite delighted to find tiny potatoes still clinging to the roots of the plants after I dug up the large potatoes, and made me pull off and keep every tiny spud.

This was our second year growing potatoes. In 2017 we harvested the week before Christmas, and our potato crop was prolific, but small in size. This year we waited another five weeks and were rewarded with much larger potatoes (similar weight crop). We planted only one variety this year, choosing the Red Otway variety because it had performed the best for us in 2017. From 1 kilogram of certified seed potatoes, we harvested 10 kilograms of potatoes.

A former colleague informed me that growing potatoes is a waste of time and money, given they are so cheap to buy. I probably can’t argue with his overall economic assessment, as he is much smarter and definitely richer than me. Potatoes certainly could not be described are as a cheap crop for the home gardener. They require an investment in certified seed potatoes, mulch, fertiliser, a lot of space in your garden, and water during warmer months. But I still enjoy growing them. It is almost impossible to buy really fresh potatoes in the shops, and new potatoes taste wonderful. Growing your own also enables you to grow varieties you might not be able to find in the shops. Red Otway is a lovely potato, that is not commonly found. Lastly, it’s fun. Sitting outside in the sunshine with a three year old as she sits in a big pile of dirt searching for hidden treasures is just a great time, even if she doesn’t like eating ‘tatoes (she refuses to believe chips are ‘tatoes).

This brings me to my second harvest of the weekend, Painted Mountain Corn. This ancient variety is hundreds of years old, and is grown for maize and for popping. I grew it for fun and interest, and because I like to help continue endangered heirloom varieties.

I picked the corn once the husks had dried on the stalks, and dried it in the oven on a low temperature. I was stripping the kernels from the cobs and showing my youngest child, a teenager of 14, and explaining that we will be able to pop it on the weekend. I was telling them the history of this corn, and how continuing to grow corn like this contributes to the genetic diversity of the planet.

They stared at me for a long moment, listening to the ‘plink plink’ go the kernels falling into the tray.

“You are such a hipster. Even worse. You’re a nerd hipster.”

Correction: a nerd hipster with a jar of rainbow popcorn.