Gardening jobs, October 30 2021

Mulberries! Finally!

We spent almost eight hours in the garden today, building trellises for the fruit trees in Pie Corner. That is to say, my husband was building the trellises, while I did other stuff.

Firstly, I cleaned out the chook shed (boring but necessary), and collected seven (!!) eggs.

Then I mulched the entire back garden, which is a big job. However, it is definitely reaching the warmer part of the year, and mulching is a necessary task. It saves water and keeps weeds down. Over time, it breaks down and builds soil structure, and it stops the soil becoming hydrophobic, which can be a big problem in Australian soils. I use chopped sugar cane mulch, which is a sustainable by-product of the sugar cane industry. It’s cheaper than lucerne, and lighter, so it lets the water through. I have used it for years, and I think it does a great job. Some people prefer lucerne or pea straw, but I have compared both and I personally don’t think there is much of a difference except price.

Mulching a garden the size of ours takes quite a long time. I took little breaks to pick a kilo of rhubarb, a big bunch of silverbeet, and pull out most of the older plants to feed the chooks (much to their delight, it’s their favourite), weed the opportunistic weeds that came up after this week’s rain, and pick flowers for the house. Mulching is quite boring, so doing these jobs helped keep me going. I also had to water it in, so it doesn’t blow away and undo all my hard work.

Building trellises and espaliering fruit trees

This is how our old trellises looked:

Old trellis

They were ‘built’ from star droppers and wire, and were not large enough for the apple trees. The wire was casually looped around the star droppers, and could not be tightened, which meant that the wire sagged as the tree grew and the weight pulled on the wire. Also, the whole set up looked ugly. A dodge job all round.

New trellises with espaliered dwarf apple trees

This is the new set up, with newly espaliered apple trees. Some of the undergrowth you can see there are berry plants that are yet to be trained up a new trellis. Once they are moved onto a new trellis all of their own, it will look neater and nicer. Also, btw, expecting a bumper berry crop this year. The plants are covered in blossoms. Very excited about that. My husband loves the boysenberries, which is a pretty sweet reward for all his hard building work.

Espalier dwarf apple tree

The trellis has been built with wooden poles, strong wire rope, and turnbuckles to enable us to tighten the wire if it sags. We chose to use wood for the supports rather than metal, but you could use steel poles. We prefer wood for the aesthetic, and because it is much cheaper. We are building five large trellises across our garden, and need thirteen tall poles, so cost is an important consideration.

In addition to the three trellises in Pie Corner, we are building a large trellis along the back garden fence to support three passionfruit plants, green beans, cucumbers, and a pepino, and a trellis for our three year old grapevine. I want to use as much of my vertical space as possible.

The espaliering is probably not textbook, but as Homer Simpson says, it’s my first day. I’ll keep shaping and training them and soon, hopefully, they’ll look like some textbook French potager effort. Or at least, ok. Whatever, we’re getting apples, so it’s all good.

We’re also getting grapes on our grapevine for the first time. I’m very chuffed about that. I will guard these little baby grapes with my life. Or at least some kind of netting.

Hello, little baby grapelings

The rest of the day, I potted up more petunias and a new Chinese Jasmine I bought on a whim, and cleaned up the patio because we have guests visiting tomorrow. Our yard continues to look like a construction site as we always seem to be building something, but at least the patio is as tidy as it can be, and the house has lovely fresh flowers. I do hope the construction site is cleared away before Christmas though…is exactly what I said last year!

Maybe if I want that to happen I should stop asking his nibs to build stuff.

Weekend gardening jobs, 16 & 17 October 2021

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.

Dodgy espaliering job on dodgy trellis

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.

An update in the trellis and espalier efforts next time.

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 28 February 2021

It’s the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, and I spent the morning pulling out expiring tomato plants and prepping the soil for the next planting season. I listen to gardening podcasts while I do this, to inspire me for the tasks ahead.

I also picked the rest of the tomatoes, a couple of little onions that I discovered under some big old tomato plants, a couple of zucchini, about half a kilogram of fresh green beans, a small pumpkin, and four lovely eggplant. Sunday night I made curries using entirely homegrown veggies, which always makes me happy.

Seed raising

To get ready for the next planting period, I made my own seed-raising mix. I have not been happy with the ready-made seed-raising mix, which seems to dry out in five minutes flat. It dries out so quickly that if you forget to water even just once, your seeds will die and all your efforts will be for naught. While the failure to water is of course, arguably my own fault, I am a part-time gardener, and stuff happens. Life, work, kids, etc. I would like something that holds moisture just a bit. I made my own using what I already have in the shed: potting mix with added blood and bone, coir, and propagating sand. The addition of the coir holds the moisture, while the propagating sand enables good drainage. I used a brick of coir, soaked in a bucket of water, then added it to the other ingredients in a bucket in the following proportions:

  • 1 part propagating sand (this is coarse washed river sand, not the sandpit sand);
  • 2 parts coir;
  • 2 parts potting mix.

I mixed this up in a bucket with a fork. I would not necessarily recommend making your own seed-raising mix if you do not happen to have all this stuff lying around your garden shed, but as I do, it took only a matter of minutes to throw it together. Also, it was much cheaper than the bags of ready-made seed-raising mix, and as I mentioned, I am not a fan of the ready-made stuff.

Of course in a pinch you can use regular old over the counter potting mix, but it really is too coarse for successful seed-raising. The fine coir and sand lightens up the chunky particles of the potting mix. Some people swear by jiffy pots or pellets for seed-raising, but I think they are not very good. I have run my own nerdy garden experiments and found the pellets have a lower germination rate than regular seed-raising mix by a factor of 2:1, and they cost twice the price.

Once made, I spread my homemade seed-raising mix into seedling trays and planted:

  • Onions Barletta;
  • Silverbeet Fordhook giant;
  • Cabbage Golden acre;
  • Broccoli Green sprouting; and
  • Broccoli Romanesco.

I will plant another lot of seeds next weekend, and continue for several more weeks while the weather is still warm. My goal this season is to plant early and to plant successively to ensure ongoing crops of some of my Winter favourites, such as turnips, romanesco broccoli, and homegrown onions (OMG really fresh bulb onions are so good). I also want a good crop of garlic this year: last year the garlic was extremely disappointing. I think I did not prep the soil well enough, so this year I am going all in preparing the soil for the garlic to be planted in May.

Garlic

Garlic is a heavy feeder. It loves nitrogen rich soil, so I am preparing the soil with compost and blood and bone. Next weekend I will dig through aged chicken manure from my healthy, free ranging chooks.

I have two bulbs of garlic purchased from the Digger’s Club shop in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, ready and waiting for my soil to be ready. You don’t need to buy garlic from a nursery; you can buy a regular bulb of garlic from the fruit and vegetable shop. The only rule is that it must be Australian grown garlic, not the cheaper imported garlic. Imported garlic has been treated with fungicide and should not be planted. Australian grown garlic is more expensive, but as one bulb will grow many plants, it is worth the expense of a few dollars for one bulb.

The only reason I like to buy it from a supplier like Digger’s is that they have different varieties, and I enjoy the fun of trying different kinds. Tbh I don’t know a lot about garlic varieties, but I still enjoy trying them. I tend toward the purple varieties, because…well, they are pretty. Otherwise, the Australian grown garlic from the shop is probably just as good and a bit cheaper than buying from a nursery.

I won’t be planting for a few months, so I will have a garden space that will sit fallow until then. The soil will be recovering from a high-demand crop of tomatoes, so it will do it good to rest and relax while I feed it up with nutrients, ready for the garlic crop. Then I will have to be patient while garlic, one of the longest growing crops of the year, takes it’s time. Patience is the key attribute of the gardener.

Fortunately for me, I have some space to grow my beloved Romanesco broccoli, and plenty of other jobs to take on over the next couple of weeks, including espaliering my apple trees (they have grown a lot and I need to re-do the previous job with stronger posts and wire), preparing the soil in Pie Corner for two dwarf plum trees (so excited – I love plums), and feeding the other fruit trees.

Oh – if anyone has any advice on mulberry trees, send it my way. Ours has been in the ground for almost five years now, and not a single crop. The apricot tree nearby had its best crop ever. I can’t work out what is going on with this tree! If it doesn’t start fruiting it’s starting to look like a very nice woodpile…

Social Distancing Garden Jobs, 20 March 2020

When you shouldn’t be with people, and your workload has been reduced, what can you do?

Well some people might Netflix and chill, which is totally fine, but I can only do that for so long.

I paved the chook shed.

Our neighbour, John, helped us to build a new chook shed several months ago. The shed was almost ready to welcome new henny pennies, but to prevent foxes getting in, we needed to pave the floor. My husband has been intending to do it, but…well, just general life happened.

We have the pavers, the paving sand, etc. I decided to use my day yesterday to just do it.

Bear in mind I have never paved anything in my life. I have built a lot of lego towns though. It was pretty similar. Also, quite calming.

I stopped to chat with John over the fence. His big German Shepherd kept us the obligatory three or four metres apart. I told him what I was doing, and he was visibly shocked. John is a very precise, old school tradie, who builds all kinds of excellent structures in his garden. When I told him that no, I was not using a level, he just about died laughing.

Later I showed him this photo and he had to admit I had done a pretty good job.

John was lamenting that he had run out of horse manure, which he uses a lot in his garden (well-composted of course). I had spotted about thirty bags outside our local Riding For The Disabled location not long ago. John rushed out to pick some up, and dropped three bags in my front yard, bless him. I’ve said it before, but great gardening neighbours are worth their weight in gold/manure.

After I finished paving, I got rid of the now spent jalapeño chilli bushes, that at the end of the season are being attacked by white fly, and composted their soil. I don’t generally re-use potting mix, but I do compost it. That kills any nasties and makes sure that it is recycled. You can put it in the green bin if you don’t have compost.

Then I started on the boring but necessary task of washing all my pots ready for the Autumn planting. I wash my pots with heavily diluted metho (a solution of roughly 50:1 water:metho), and scrub them out. This kills any bugs and makes them ready to accept new soil and plants.

I wasn’t always so rigorous. I used to just rinse them a bit and toss new plants in. But I have learned over time that it pays to give the home you are putting new plants in a good clean, just as you would give a new home you were moving into a good clean.

Sanitise, people!

Gardening Jobs, Week Beginning 23rd September 2019

Pomegranate tree in full leaf

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

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

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

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

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

Other jobs left to do this week:

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

Self-seeded dwarf sweet peas

Galangal

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

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

Building a retaining wall – in pictures

The retaining wall that became an urgent need after the Great Mud Flood of 2019 is described below in pictures.

This is what our backyard looked like, pre-retaining wall:

You can see that we have a brand new fence (installed mid-last year), but the retaining wall is a horrible mix of old perma pine, moss rocks, and stacked pavers. The stacked pavers were a stop gap measure added after the Mud Flood. You can see the after effects of the Mud Flood – there is mud everywhere! The first job after the retaining wall is built will be to pave over the remaining dirt, and then to power wash the heck out of the filthy paving stones.

When we bought our property four years ago, the fence was falling down behind three enormous conifers that were inappropriate plantings for the space (they were already huge, and were expected to double in size again). These were removed, and the built up soil you can see in the photo was rehabilitated by the addition of manures, compost, and organic matter. The soil is now very good, and we grow excellent veggies in it. It is a working veggie patch, but there is no need for it to look quite so horrible.

We chose to use a product called Garden Wall by Boral, which is a ready-made sandstone block that can be easily stacked and locks into each other. I say “easily” – but I am not the poor sucker lugging the damn things. They are extremely heavy. The cost of Garden Wall blocks varies, but we searched around until we found a good deal from a local landscaping business.

To prep the area, my husband had to remove a lot of soil. Barrows and barrows of the stuff. He removed it from the backyard, where we could not add it to the existing area (or we would have to keep building a higher wall), to the front yard. The soil in the front yard continues to be a work in progress due to previous plantings (some odd choices made by previous owners) and the accursed weed matting. The addition of some nice fresh soil could only do some good. I raked the new soil around the front yard while he dug and barrowed.

To create footings for the wall, he had to dig a trench. To guide him, he created a string line out of stakes and twine (see below), and used a level to make sure his trench was straight. You can see from the image below that they used infernal weed matting and black plastic in this garden bed as well – I continue to dig the bloody stuff up. The trench is about 20cm wider than the Garden Wall blocks, to allow for necessary drainage.

Once he had a nice flat trench, he laid 15cm crusher dust and tamped it down using a tamping tool:

Next, he laid paving sand about 5cm thick and tamped it down again:

This created a foundation for the blocks to be laid. Then he was ready to lay the first layer of blocks:

As he laid them, he checked each block to make sure they were level. He carefully tamped down each block.

After laying the first row, he installed blue metal gravel behind the blocks for drainage purposes, tamping it down again for neatness and to stop the backfilling soil from sinking.

He then stacked the next row, following the same process. Here you can see stage one, completed:

We are building an 18 metre wall that will run right around the entire garden bed. The garden bed runs right around the backyard – pictured here is only a small part of it. The wall will step down, as the bed slopes gently downward. So far, he has completed about 9 metres in three days, just in time for a weather system that is expected to bring with it at least 20mm rain.

I think he has done a great job!

Once the wall is built, we will pave up to about 15cm from the wall, and then plant up the remaining soil with some groundcover plants that will hold the rest of the soil in place.

A good reason to DIY, aside from personal satisfaction and accolades from your wife: this 18 metre wall will cost us under $4,000 AUD. Paying someone to do it (labour and materials) would cost us about $15,000 AUD. While we are happy to contract out tasks that we know we cannot do, my husband is also a pretty handy kind of person. He likes to learn new things and will take on tasks if he thinks he can manage them himself. In this case, he was fairly certain he could manage the task of building a retaining wall himself, if I was not fussed about how long it would take, given that we both work full time and would be doing this job on weekends. Saving $12,000 is a nice bonus. That will buy a lot of plants.