Spring long weekend gardening jobs, October 2nd 2022

Spring bulbs are one of the best parts of spring gardening

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 leads to spring greens

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.

Re-potting houseplants

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.

Messy jobs

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!

Growing a mini meadow

The author's mini meadow attracts insects to the vegetable garden

An important part of any productive garden should be flowers. Flowers attract beneficial insects such as bees and other pollinators, and also feed birds (many birds feed on nectar from flowers – these birds are also pollinators). I grow perennial ornamental flowering plants like salvias and lavender in my front yard, interspersed with fruit trees, herbs (which also flower annually), and flowering bulbs. I also grow annual ornamental flowers in window boxes and tubs on my balcony and front stoop. And I have planted what I like to call a ‘mini meadow’ in front of my backyard veggie patch.

What the heck is a mini meadow?

It’s a bit of a laugh really, calling it a mini meadow. It’s far too small to be a meadow. It’s really a rambling flower patch. But it kind of functions like a meadow. A meadow is an open field, planted by grasses and non-woody plants. Meadows play an important role in ecosystems, acting as carbon sinks, and as homes for animals, birds and food sources for pollinators.

My mini meadow doesn’t have grasses, because I weed them out. But it does have a range of flowers, about half of which are self-seeded, and that are non-woody. It attracts pollinators and birds. It lies in front of our retaining wall, and it is planted with the following herbs and flowers:

  • Nasturtiums
  • Violets
  • Poppies
  • Calendula
  • Nigella
  • Alyssum
  • Dahlias
  • Freesias
  • Daffodils
  • Sweet peas
  • Dianthus
  • Borage
  • Cosmos

You don’t have to be precious with a meadow. I stomp all over it on my way to the veggie patch, and it bounces back with no worries. It’s not made to be protected and cossetted. It’s not organised, and it will not win any awards for garden design. Many people would find it too messy to have in their backyard, but it suits my purposes. It is low maintenance, drought tolerant, tough, cheap as chips (as it’s mostly self-seeded), and it does its job of attracting beneficial insects to the veggie patch.

Building a backyard meadow

Growing a mini meadow obviously requires some space. If you want to try it, you will need a bit of spare earth in your garden. You could try creating on on your front verge (I’ve been thinking of doing this on our verge).

I first started building the meadow after my husband finished the retaining wall. He took an extended break before paving in the front. No shade to my husband, who was busy doing other things (i.e. building the trellises I requested) but there was a patch of dirt left for several months. You can’t just leave a patch of dirt hanging about and not expect a gardener to fill it with something. I figured better a couple of flowers than letting weeds set in. So I threw in a couple of nasturtium seeds, just for some easy colour. Then my mum gave me some lovely orange poppies. Then…well, you get the picture.

The soil in that spot had not been improved with anything – it had been compacted because it had previously been paved over. My husband had removed the old paving to install the retaining wall. I loosened up the soil with a fork, and then started planting, but I did not improve it with compost or fertiliser before I began to add plants.

I still have never fed it with anything, not even my homemade compost (I save that for the veggie beds and the fruit trees), and I don’t water it. The rule for my meadow is that aside from some basic weeding to stay tidy, it has to sustain itself. So the meadow has been built on some dodgy, compacted, weedy soil and left to its own devices. Something useful and pretty has developed, at almost no cost.

The only maintenance it gets is some weeding and every now and then, some new plants. Every time I am out in the garden I pull a few weeds from the meadow, or deadhead a flower or two. This weekend I saw it needed a bit more work than that, so I got out the trusty ho-mi, and weeded the whole bed. But that is really a once-a-year task. Because the meadow is planted so closely, weeds rarely get a look in.

Over time, it has developed a lovely rambling vibe that has led me to give it the ‘mini meadow’ epithet. Occasionally, I sprinkle in a few more seeds, or crush a seed pod from a nearby flower head. This keeps it going along its rambling way. The idea is for it to be planted closely and for something to always be flowering to attract bees, lacewings, and hoverflies to my veggie patch. At this time of year, I have daffodils, alyssum, calendula, nasturtiums, and violets flowering. In a few weeks, I’ll have my favourite, sweet peas, and freesias. In Summer dahlias, poppies, nigella, and cosmos are in flower.

When my husband does get to re-paving the backyard, he can dig parts of the meadow up and it will not damage the rest of it – although I will admit that I’ll be sad if it all goes.

Tips for building a mini-meadow

If you have the space for your own little meadow, it’s easy to create one. Fill it with plants that are low maintenance, require little water and attention, and can easily self-seed. Plants that self-seed readily include calendula, alyssum, cosmos, poppies, and nigella. These are also very attractive to bees. As seed heads form and dry, let the seeds fall and re-seed among the bed. You can include annual bulbs like daffodils as well, for a bit of height and interest, although they will only flower once a year. Remember to plant closely so that weeds cannot grow easily between your meadow plants.

Perennials that are worth planting for longer-term colour are dianthus and violets. They will have the added benefit of a beautiful perfume.

Take care that your meadow is relatively self-contained though, as some plants like violets can become weedy if they have room to spread.

5 tips to plan your Summer garden

sunflower during sunset
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What do do when it’s too cold outside? Start planning your Summer garden!

My plan for Saturday afternoon was to spend the afternoon weeding the front garden. But it was so, so cold – and I just couldn’t face it. I made a cup of tea, rugged myself up, and read the latest issue of the Digger’s Club Seed Annual catalogue instead.

Looking at the beautiful seed catalogue got me thinking ahead to warm, sunny days. And that got me planning ahead to the Summer veggie patch. My garden is currently full of brassicas, turnips and peas, but in six weeks they will be cleared away to make space for warm season veggies. So what to grow? The possibilities are endless….

My garden space, however, is not. This is where some good planning comes to the fore.

Traditionally, I’ve taken more of a casual approach to garden planning

However, as my garden has become home to more fruit trees and vines (even though most are espaliered) that is just not possible anymore. It’s time to be more thoughtful about my space.

It’s also a good idea to start planning the Summer garden early because I have to think about what I want to plant, order the seeds (or go to a local nursery), raise them, and wait for them to grow. It might sound like it’s too early at the start of August, but think about it. My Autumn seed raising experiment found that trying to grow everything from seed takes a really long time (and I won’t be doing it again!) But even if you grow just some things from seed, you still need to plan well ahead. Seed catalogues are out now!

My 5 simple tips for planning a productive Summer garden

These are not rocket science, and they are based on my climate and my experience growing veggies in a Mediterranean climate.

  1. Choose veggies you actually like to eat and know how to cook. My husband recently admitted to me that he’s not a big fan of tomatoes. 25 years of marriage and I had no idea! I usually try to grow six or seven different varieties of tomato – but knowing that he’s not really into them, I’ll cut back to just two: a nice salad tomato and a cherry tomato (my youngest does love them) and leave space for more things I know we both love (hello, eggplant). I won’t stop growing heirlooms and rare varieties entirely, but I will reduce this down to just one or two new things – just to keep life exciting.
  2. Choose veggies you know will grow well in your microclimate. For some reason, cucumbers and melons collapse and die in my garden, but pumpkins go gangbusters. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given they are close relatives, but I have seven years of experimentation to prove it. Every year I am suckered into trying yet another variety of melon and cucumber by the gorgeous seed catalogues, and every year I am sorely disappointed. Well, not this year! This Summer, I’m growing the plants I know will work – end of story.
  3. Choose veggies that aren’t too thirsty. All veggies will require irrigation, but there are some that are thirstier than others. Check the seed or seedling information before you buy to make sure you aren’t mortgaging your future in water bills. I know gardening is not just about ROI, but some plants just cost a lot to grow for a limited return (sweet corn, I’m looking at you).
  4. Choose plants that you have the space for. Although pumpkins need a lot of space to spread out, I train them over a trellis or wall and onto the pavers, so they actually don’t take up a lot of soil space. If you have limited space, choose compact versions of plants, such as bush beans, compact tomato plants, or patio ranges of zucchini. Try plants that climb up if you can build small trellises, or try growing in pots if you can. I grow lettuces and other leafy greens such as tatsoi (when the chickens aren’t getting into it) in an old wheelbarrow and a raised bed.
  5. Include some flowers in your garden to attract pollinators and improve pollination of fruiting plants. I always try to include dwarf sunflowers, dahlias, nasturtiums, petunias, poppies, love-in-a-mist (nigella), alyssum, dianthus, and cosmos in the Summer garden.

So, what’s my Summer garden plan?

This season I intend to grow a lot of chillies, eggplant, climbing beans, spring onions, and pumpkins in my Summer garden. These are all staples in my family. I also intend to grow some cherry tomatoes, salad tomatoes, capsicums (sweet peppers), and zucchini. I personally love zucchini, but I find it takes up a lot of space and does not do that well in my area (slightly better than cucumber, but not much). So I will grow some but would rather save the space for something that does better.

These are the varieties I am intending to grow

Pumpkins from last years Summer garden
Pumpkins from last year’s Summer Garden
  • Tomatoes: Green Zebra (unbeatable flavour and good yield) and Christmas Grapes, a cherry tomato I have not grown before;
  • Climbing Beans: I’m going for Purple King. I’ve tried many varieties of beans over the year, and Purple King is the best in my opinion, both for yield and the ability for me to see them on the vine (because I’m getting old). The beans grow purple on the vine, and then turn green when they are cooked. Magic! I find climbing beans much easier to grow than bush beans, which in my opinion never seem to produce as well. However if you have limited space, give bush beans a go.
  • Pumpkins: Australian Butter, because it’s just so beautiful and I have saved seeds from last year, Buttercup because it is the most delicious pumpkin I have ever eaten, Butternut because it is so prolific and keeps going right up until the weather turns, and Kent, because it is the best performer in my garden.
  • Chillies: We grow a lot of chillies because we love them, especially my husband who seemingly must eat them daily. We have five plants over-wintering that I hope will return: Mango, Cherry, Curly Toenail, Lemon, and Devil’s Tongue. If they do not come back again, then I will seek out a Devil’s Tongue again because it is the best flavoured and the most prolific, if you love a hot chilli, and then also plant several Jalapeno because it is just so useful and versatile. Curly Toenail is delicious and fun to grow – it looks like its name, and has a nice kick, but tbh I would not bother with Mango again if I didn’t already have the plant. It is prolific and beautiful, but I do not like the flavour much. I grow these in pots on the balcony so they do not take up space in the patch.
  • Spring Onions: I prefer to grow Red Spring Onions. I grow from seed, and they do well in my garden.
  • Eggplant: Last year we planted four Lebanese eggplants, this year we plan to double that at least. I’m vegetarian and my husband doesn’t eat a lot of meat, so eggplant are a really useful plant to grow. Lebanese eggplant are productive and easy, and delicious. I may grow a couple of globe eggplant too, for variety.
  • Zucchini: Again, the Lebanese zucchini do the best in my garden. I’ve tried the black, ribbed, golden, globe – none of them beat the pale Lebanese zucchini in my book.
  • Capsicum: This year I’m going for Mixed Italian Fryers, a mix of Italian sweet varieties best suited to cooking.
  • Flowers: As I mentioned, calendula, sunflowers, dahlias, alyssum, love-in-a-mist (also known as nigella), cosmos, nasturtiums, poppies, dianthus and petunias take up space in my Summer garden. Some of these are edible, and I do put them in salads, but mostly I use them to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to my garden.

I’ll grow the pumpkins, zucchini, spring onions, beans, and capsicum from seed, as well as the cherry tomatoes. Most of the flowers, the eggplant, and Green Zebra tomatoes I will buy as seedlings. A few other plants may sneak their way in (carrots, turnips in early Spring), but not before these others find their place in the patch.

What are you intending to grow in your Summer garden? Let me know – maybe I’ll make some space in my garden for your ideas!

Not designing a garden

Front yard in 2016 – after we pulled everything out

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.

Front yard (Spring 2021)

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.

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.

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!

Weekend Gardening jobs, May 22 and 23 2021

Boy, it’s been a while! I have been working so much lately that I have not been outside much, let alone out in my garden. I think the last time I really spent much time in the garden was Easter weekend. I have really, really missed it. I have seen it – from my office window. That is not the same thing at all.

Broccoli starting to form heads

This weekend I told my husband that no matter what happened, I was getting out into the garden. It also happened to be a very sunny and beautiful Autumn weekend, so that was lucky for me – but I would have gone out there in the hail, I was so desperate to dig in the dirt.

So much needed to be done after a month with no attention. I had to:

  • Repot plants on the balcony and remove Summer annual plants from the balcony garden;
  • Trim plants in the front and back garden (herbs, asparagus, etc);
  • Remove the last few pomegranates from the pomegranate tree;
  • Water and feed everything;
  • Weed the veggie patch;
  • Remove the dead Summer annual flowers from the backyard;
  • Plant out the last of the Autumn veggies before Winter sets in;
  • Finally plant the rest of the Sweet Peas before it’s too late;
  • Dig out the parsley plants that are setting seed.

That’s a lot!

Saturday

I started with the balcony garden, which was looking very sad. The eggplant and tomatoes were well and truly done, but had been sitting out there ready to move in to the compost for at least a month now. I pulled them out of their pots and removed half of the potting mix. I topped up each pot with fresh potting mix and soil wetter granules. Some of the pots I re-potted with a Dragon Fruit plant and climbing monstera, but the remainder I have left empty for now. I fed everything with liquid fertiliser. The full pots can stay out there over Winter, regularly watered, and I will plant them back up in the Springtime.

All the spent plants and old soil went into the green bin, because my compost bins are almost full.

I watered all the indoor plants and moved some around to make sure they get the best light.

Then I started on the weeding. Although I mulch well, the weeds still come up, so I started in the garlic patch and cleared the little weeds that had started to make their presence felt, along with the rogue potatoes from last year’s crappy potato plantings. I also noticed that the lime tree, which has a bad case of Citrus Leaf Miner, needed another spray of Pest Oil.

Lime leaves affected by Citrus Leaf Miner

Citrus Leaf Miner is a very annoying little critter that sucks all the goodness out of the leaves of citrus plants and weakens the tree. They are too small to see, but you can see the damage to the leaves: they look puckered and twisted, and if you look closely you can see the telltale tracks on the leaves. Of course because I have been out of the garden for so many weeks, I did not notice they had moved in until a couple of weeks ago when I was tossing something in the compost bin. I was cranky as, and gave the tree a spray of Eco Pest Oil, which is a natural pest oil spray. Pest Oil smothers the Citrus Leaf Miners and is organic. It doesn’t damage the tree, just coats the leaves so the little monsters cannot breathe. One coating is not enough to knock them off though, so today I needed to spray again.

The lime tree has been an ongoing hassle. When we first planted it, we grew it in a pot in our patio. It caught a shocking case of wooly scale, helped by farming ants. It took forever for us to get on top of it (again with Pest Oil). After finally clearing that, it didn’t really enjoy being in a pot or under the patio, and kept dropping its fruit. We planted in the garden, and this year we had our first crop of about twelve large juicy limes. Then the Citrus Leaf Miners moved in. We love limes (we eat a lot of Mexican food) so I am determined that this tree will survive.

Sunday

Today my first important job was to cut back the asparagus.

Yellow asparagus foliage

Asparagus should be allowed to set its fern at the end of the season, as this enables the plant to build its energy for next year’s spears. When the fern turns yellow in Autumn, it’s time to cut it back down. Cut it right back down to the ground. It looks horrible and messy while it is getting to this stage, but if you want asparagus, that’s the deal. The other part of the asparagus deal is that you can’t eat the spears for the first two years: you just have to let them run to fern. You also have to leave a couple of spears to run to fern each year. This will be my third season of asparagus this Spring, so we are finally able to eat the spears, and I will be very excited about it, let me tell you.

Note: If your asparagus fern grows little berries, it is a male plant and you won’t get as many spears or as delicious spears. Best to dig it up as soon as you can and try again. If you leave it for another year or so, you might not be able to dig it up as the root system will be very strong. That’s the other deal with asparagus: you plant it, you keep it.

I also cut back the Vietnamese mint, that had grown like crazy under the lime tree, but was now woody and horrible. Poor thing likes a lot of water and this season has been very dry. I managed to save a bit and it should come back ok.

I dug out all of last season’s dead and dying annual dahlias, some parsley that was running to seed (I have tons of it everywhere so I don’t worry about saving seed anymore), and then I fed the whole patch and the lime tree with a mix of pelletised chicken manure and blood and bone.

Then I had fun planting onion sets, pak choy, violas, more broccoli, lettuce seeds, snow peas, coriander, and a couple of hopeful packets of Sweet Peas. The veggie patch is really full now: I couldn’t cram anything else in there without pulling something else out.

I am saving space in Pie Corner for two dwarf plum trees, but it is too early for them to go in yet. I have another month at least: hopefully it will not be that long before I get out there again!

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2021

I run my own business, and things are flat out right now, so I do not have the time to spend four days outside in the glorious Autumn weather, more’s the pity.

I gave myself one full day off, and the rest was to be spent looking outside at my garden from my study window.

Bee-attracting Dahlias

Good Friday: working.

Easter Saturday: Day off at the Meadows Easter Fair, a family tradition of many years.

Easter Sunday: working.

Easter Monday: working.

Easter Saturday

The Meadows Easter Fair is held in the little town of Meadows, about twenty minutes from our place. We trek along every year with close friends. We have the stalls we visit each year, and the items we always look out for. It is a traditional country fair, complete with hot donuts, sausage sizzle, homemade jams and pickles, and marshmallow rabbits. Our kids love it, even at the ages of 16 and 12.

There are also a lot of plants for sale. This year there were fewer plants of the kind that I was looking for, but I did manage to buy some Dutch Iris and Daffodil bulbs to plant in the front yard. The Daffodil bulbs were a plain yellow called Greg’s Favourite, which I bought mostly because I was tickled by the name. The Dutch Iris were a lovely ochre coloured variety called Bronze Beauty, which I have not seen in any of the catalogues (and you better believe I’ve been reading the catalogues).

Easter Sunday

Welllllll…I’m only human. Before I sat down to work, I gave myself a little bit of time in the garden. I have many indoor houseplants, and several of them needed dividing and repotting. I spent about an hour doing this, as well as taking cuttings from the overgrown Swiss Cheese Plant that has gone crazy in my study. I repotted the Fiddle Leaf Fig and a Hoya, and divided a Pothos Snow Queen.

Happy broccoli plant

I also repotted the silverbeet seedlings I have been growing from seed, and then watered all the repotted and divided plants with seaweed extract.

Then I checked all the brassica seedlings for caterpillars. I couldn’t find any, although I can tell that something has been having a little munch. I also noticed white fly around the place. The longer warm period has kept them hanging around. Generally I don’t spray, even with organic sprays because they can also kill beneficial insects, but if the white fly does get worse I might have to.

I cultivated around the brassicas to remove some opportunistic weeds (and some tomato seedlings that have popped up from the compost).

I quickly threw around some poppy and hollyhock seeds from my stash of seeds.

Then I waved goodbye to my lovely garden, and headed back inside to face my computer screen.

Next weekend, if I have time, I will plant out peas, sweet peas, garlic, and the bulbs I bought at the Easter Fair. Until then, it is time to work.

Weekend gardening jobs, 20/21 March 2021

Autumn is a busier time in the garden than Spring. In Spring, there is always another warm day to catch up on tasks if you miss out on a day in the garden due to work or family commitments. In Autumn, you are always playing catch up, because there are only so many warm days until Winter comes along. Those lovely mild days are critical for planting seeds and seedlings while the soil temperature is still warm enough for germination and for the seedlings to get a good headstart. There are lots of end-of-Summer jobs to finish, such as cleaning up old plants, preparing the soil for new plants, trimming and pruning, LOTS of weeding, and planting. I have been doing all of these things this weekend, and I am still not done.

Saturday

On Saturday, my husband and I visited an Open Garden. For those who do not know about the Open Garden Scheme, it is a program in Australia (maybe in other parts of the world too) wherein people with beautiful gardens open them up to visitors on a weekend. Each State has its own Open Garden Scheme.

This was the first time we had visited an Open Garden. Not being ageist, but we were easily the youngest attendees by a good decade. We had a lovely time. It was fun to see a different garden, established and maintained by people with a lot more space (and let’s be honest, a lot more cash) than us. Their garden was on a hillside in a winery in McLaren Vale, one of the premier wine growing regions in South Australia. It was not the kind of garden I would grow (too few veggies and fruit trees, too many ornamentals), but it was beautiful, and a very relaxing way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. Plus, the CWA were there with tea and scones. We sat on a verandah overlooking a hillside sipping tea, and felt like proper grownups.

We finished the morning at my favourite nursery in McLaren Vale. I love this place – it has the most beautiful pots and gardening paraphernalia, as well as stunning houseplants. I controlled myself and just bought seedlings this time around.

Sunday

I got up early and got into the garden as soon as I could. My plan was to plant out all the seedlings I have bought over the past two weekends while the weather is still lovely and warm, and to keep preparing the soil for Autumn vegetables.

I am still removing Summer vegetables and digging over the soil ready for new plantings. For each area, I have spread Dynamic Lifter and Blood and Bone to help replenish the soil, and compost or well-rotted chicken manure (depending what I have at the time). This time I had well-rotted chicken manure. I turned the compost bins lightly with a garden fork and added more material to them (old potting mix from tomato plants and kitchen scraps).

Weeds are starting to make their presence felt, so with my trust Ho-Mi, I spent some time grubbing out creeping oxalis from the flower beds in front of the retaining wall. Due to regular weeding and letting the chooks out for a run, the weeds are pretty well controlled, but the oxalis is a continuing problem. As I do not spray anything, it is something that just has to be continually managed.

After watering the newly dug and raked soil well, I planted another of the new passionfruit vines in against the back fence, and planted out a bunch of flower seedlings.

This season, I am planting stocks, violas, and pansies for winter colour, and I will also plant more Spring flowering bulbs (daffodils, iris, ranunculus, etc) for later colour. In a couple of weeks I will plant my favourite flower, sweet peas.

Dahlia in the veggie patch being visited by a bee

I always plant flowers in amongst the vegetable patch, to attract pollinating insects. This Summer, I planted dianthus, sunflowers, petunias, and dahlias. While the dahlias took quite a while to flower, they are now putting on a stunning display, and the bees are going crazy for them. I also always have alyssum, nasturtium, and calendula growing in the garden. These self-seed all over the place, acting as a ground cover and attracting bees and hoverflies to the garden.

One of the last sunflowers

Finally, all the seedlings, including the brassicas planted last week, were fed with a weak solution of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion to keep them growing nice and quickly in this warm weather. Feeding is critical for plants anytime, but especially when they are establishing, and especially for crops like brassicas and leafy greens. When they are young, a half-strength solution of liquid fertiliser is best. When they are larger, you can upgrade to full strength. Try to feed them earlier in the day and on cooler days to prevent burning the leaves. A weekly feed is best when establishing, but to be honest I am more likely to manage it fortnightly. Once the plants are well established, a fortnightly full-strength feed is fine. For larger plants, such as the passionfruit I have just planted, a fortnightly full-strength is preferred.

Broccoli seedlings

If I am to be completely honest, keeping up with feeding all of my plants is challenging. I am much more diligent with the fruit tree watering and feeding than I am say, with the roses and ornamentals, which I tend to leave more to their own devices. I would have much better roses if I was really religious about nutrition and watering. But as a part-time gardener, I only have so much time, so the plants I am most passionate about are those that receive most of my time and attention.

While I was watering, I noticed a couple of white cabbage moths fluttering around the cabbages and cauliflowers, and made a mental note to start checking the seedlings for those horrible green grubs in the next day or so.

After almost the whole weekend in the garden or garden adjacent, I still have so much left to do before the warm weather runs out – and not enough time to do it. Hopefully, next weekend will be warm and I can make it out there for a few hours.