Seasonal gardening jobs, 21st August 2022

Chickens are an important feature of an organic garden
Chickens love to dust-bathe in the sunshine

It’s that time of year to start thinking about seasonal gardening jobs – in our part of the world, jobs for the Spring garden. This weekend that means starting seeds, caring for hens, and making plans for a fruit tree before I run out of time.

Caring for chickens

Sunday morning dawned foggy and chilly, but soon cleared to a sunny but cold day. It was also chicken coop cleaning day, so I let the little marauders out of the pen while I mucked them out.

Chickens are pretty easy pets to keep. We have four ISA Browns, which were the only type of hens we could get during the pandemic chicken frenzy of 2020. My goal has always been to have Australorps, an Australian heritage breed, but I could not find them at the time we were looking for hens.

ISA Browns are a hybrid hen bred for egg laying. Our four cluckers do lay really well. They are in their third year and are still going strong. They are also curious, cranky, naughty little dinosaurs that love to rampage through my veggie patch if I let them.

The four main things you need to care for chickens are:

  1. A fox-proof coop and run: We purchased our neighbour’s shed (he built a new Cluckingham Palace, and sold us his old coop for $100). He helped us to re-build it on our side of the fence, and we got a solid coop for less than we would spend on materials to build a new one. They have a large space to run around and dust-bathe outside, as well as occasionally free-ranging in the backyard. Don’t think you can get away with not securing the coop. Foxes are a legitimate pest in most urban and peri-urban regions of Australia, and they will take out a flock of chickens very quickly;
  2. Bedding straw, and time to clean them out regularly: I clean the run and coop out every two weeks, raking out and replacing their bedding with fresh straw. I buy a bale of bedding straw for $9, which lasts me (well, them really) two months;
  3. Good quality poultry food: Our hens prefer Red Hen Free-range Layer Mix. We buy a 20 kg bag for $33, which lasts four hens a couple of months. Their food is supplemented by kitchen scraps and green feed from the garden;
  4. Time: Healthy birds take a bit of time. I need to spend about two hours every two weeks cleaning them out. We also obviously have to feed them daily, water them, put them to bed at night, make sure they are kept safe from foxes, and generally keep an eye on them.

I check on the birds’ physical health every time I clean the pen by picking them up to see if they have healthy feet and feathers. I also check in their pen when I am cleaning it for any signs of mites or lice. So far, we have not had any problems. That could just be dumb luck, but I do think chicken hygiene plays a part. Regular cleaning of the coop, fresh water, and giving them only as much food as they can eat in one day prevents other pests visiting their coop.

Why have chooks?

I have chickens because I like them. I’m not a furry animal type of person (we don’t have dogs, cats, rabbits or any other fluffy creature), so chickens fulfil my need to have non-human creatures about the place. They are my favourite animal – I find them soothing company. However, there are some other good reasons. Because we have the space, chickens contribute to our little organic gardening ecosystem: they reduce waste by eating a lot of our kitchen and garden waste, their manure becomes compost, which in turn feeds the garden. They give us eggs in return for their food and space. We eat some eggs, but not as many as they give us, so we usually give some away.

However, if I did not have the space or if I was renting, I would not have them. They do require effort and time, and some expense. In the twenty years we rented, we only had chickens one time, because we had a very chilled landlord.

Seasonal gardening jobs – late August

After cleaning the hens and turning the compost, a job I do at the same time (with some help from the chickens), I did some weeding and reviewed the garden.

Chickens can be part of an organic gardening system
The chickens love to help me turn over the compost

It’s been an extremely wet and cold few months in our area. The brassicas have not grown quickly, and I was starting to feel concerned I will not get anything before Spring hits and they go to seed. But walking around the patch this morning, I could see that many plants are starting to shake off the Winter doldrums and are putting on some growth. I plan to pick a bunch of collard greens this week – I am very excited about this.

We picked the last of an Autumn batch of Cos lettuces last week. These were in a raised garden bed, so I refreshed the soil with a bag of potting mix and watered it in well. Then I planted new lettuce and spinach seeds, hoping for a quick Spring crop of both before it gets too warm. Spinach has been my nemesis this year, so I’m not holding my breath. Lettuce has been an absolute winner though. This time I planted more Cos Paris Island, a lovely red Cos lettuce, and my favourite, Marvel of Four Seasons, a red butter lettuce. I’m sure I mostly plant it because I love the name, although the lettuce is tasty too. If you are in southern Australia, you will have time for a quick crop of lettuce, chard, spinach, or Asian veggies like Pak Choy or Tatsoi before the hot weather causes them to bolt to seed. Just plant ASAP now that the sun is coming out and the days are longer.

Seed Starting

I started the first of the Summer veggie seeds last week on the heat mat. I’m going in hard on eggplants and chillies this year, as I mentioned last week. But I’ve also started more Spring Onions (Red Candy Stick), bulbing onions (Barletta), some more Chard (Rainbow), Capsicum Golden Marconi, and Green Zebra tomatoes. Next on the list are all the eggplants – this season I’m growing four kinds. I completely caved when I saw the seed catalogues, and bought a heap of different varieties to try. I bought my seeds from Happy Valley seeds and so far I have been really happy with the price and quality.

I’m not banking on seed-raising like I did last season. This time, I’m treating it as a fun hobby. If I get to the first week of October and I don’t have enough homegrown seedlings to plant out, I will go to a nursery and fill in the gaps. I don’t want to lose any precious warm growing months.

Bare-rooted fruit tree

It’s almost time out for planting a bare rooted fruit tree (apples, quinces, nectarines, etc). In some parts of our State, I wouldn’t bother – it’s too late. But in my area, we are usually about six weeks behind the weather patterns of the rest of the State. Therefore, I’m going to take a punt and buy a bare-rooted fruit tree next weekend. I have a spot where Audrey II, the ill-fated boysenberry cane used to be. Her trellis remains, and I want to plant a tree that I can espalier. My plan is for a Quince, but I will settle for another Apple. If I don’t get it in the ground next Sunday though, I know I will have left my run too late and will have to wait another ten months.

Weekend gardening jobs, July 10 2022

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.

Productive laziness

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.

Worthwhile garden investments

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

Compost bin

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.

Tree removal

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.

Tools

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.

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.

Weekend gardening jobs, February 26 & 27 2022

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).

Grape vine trellis

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.

After that I will let him rest.

Just kidding 😀

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 gardening jobs, August 1 2021

It’s been weeks since I have been out in the garden – due to incessant rain, wind, and lots of work taking up my weekends. But today was a rare sunny (not warm) day, so I took the opportunity to get out and into the dirt.

The garden has held up extremely well after weeks of very wet and windy weather. This is due in part to my husband finishing the retaining wall before the really heavy weather set in, and the Winter veggie garden being well established before the really cold weather. This meant that all the garden had to do was keep growing, while we hibernated inside, working and watching old episodes of Scrubs. Occasionally I ventured outside to check the progress of the cauliflowers, but aside from that I stayed inside and worked on a raft of projects that have been heading my way lately.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing to do out there. Today I set myself the task of pruning the mulberry tree, weeding, trimming a geranium bush, and feeding everything with liquid compost. Last week I did get outside for two hours to plant up two dwarf plum trees in Pie Corner, and I checked on them to make sure they were happy and settling in well, but aside from that, I just did everything on the list.

Look at these beauties. Romanceso cauliflower (or broccoli, whatever you want to call them) are my favourite Winter veggies to grow, but they take patience. I used to think caulis took a long time, but they are nothing compared to these green lovelies. The beauty of them alone makes them worth it, and the flavour is incredible. I’d estimate another four weeks before they are ready to pick. While I am waiting, I will give them a liquid compost feed every week to keep them sweet, and pick off the caterpillars. Normally I would leave the caterpillars alone, and on other plants I do, but not on the Romanescos. They can eat other things, but not my spiralled lovelies.

While we wait for them to be ready, we have cabbages and caulis to enjoy – unfortunately all the broccoli is finished 🙁

I am not a very confident pruner. I tend to be tentative with removing branches, and worried I will remove too much. As such, I think I probably remove too little. I pruned some of it today, but looking back at the job I did this morning, I think I need to go back and give it another go. The mulberry tree has not been performing well, and I think it is because I have not pruned it hard enough. The tree is five years old and has yet to produce more than a handful of tiny mulberries, so whatever we have been doing is not working. All the other fruit trees planted at the same time are fruiting well, but this freeloader is not producing the goods. Time to prune hard, or go home. Or in the case of this tree, go to the wood shed for next year’s fireplace, if I don’t see some berries this Summer.

There were not many weeds out there, considering the amount of rain we have had, and those that were there were easily removed by hand. I think this is due to consistent hand weeding over time. They don’t get the chance to set seed, so we don’t have many weeds. Occasional foraging by an escaped hen also helps. I picked a cauliflower, planted some more spring onions, and gave everything a quick feed of liquid fertiliser, then came inside for a wash.

Tomorrow is expected to bucket down, so at least I can look outside from my office and know that I have spent a solid four hours in the garden today, instead of feeling frustrated that the weekend was spent inside. And only four more weeks of Winter to go! I am just not a Winter person. Bring on Spring.

Weekend gardening jobs, 30 May 2021

One more day, and we are officially in Winter. You wouldn’t really know it, from the perfect, sunny morning I spent in the garden today.

Yesterday, I made lemon curd and lemon and lime marmalade using the fresh lemons and limes from my lime tree and my neighbour’s lemon tree. After eating pancakes with lemon curd and cream this morning, I had to get my muscles moving in the garden, or risk adding some more, er, Winter padding.

After we built our wall (yes, it’s finished!) we had a lot of displaced soil left over. This needs to be moved back to the garden bed in Pie Corner, but it’s a big job. I started it today, digging I-don’t-know-how-much dirt back up and into the bed. The area next to the boysenberries used to hold an old rainwater tank. We had it removed last year, but have not planted anything else there. The soil is quite poor. The job at the moment is to build it back up with organic matter, to get it ready for planting two dwarf plum trees later in the season. As part of this task, I sprinkled Dynamic Lifter over the soil, sifted it through for rocks and pebbles, and dug out two boysenberry suckers. Then I planted some red spring onion sets around the edges.

Planting Onion Sets

Onion ‘sets’ are the little clumps of onion seedlings you can either grow yourself or buy at a nursery. I have done both this season. I grew a tray of seedlings myself from seed (Barletta onions) and yesterday I bought a punnet of Red Spring Onion seedlings from the Big Green Shed, just because.

I love growing onions, for some reason. I cook with onions, but I don’t eat fresh onions. I just enjoy the look of them in the garden: different varieties look so interesting and pretty.

Most of the time, the onion seedlings you buy are growing in a clump. Try to buy the punnets with the most seedlings per clump, as these will give you the best value per punnet. I scored a bonanza yesterday: a punnet with six cells, but about twenty seedlings per cell. So for about $4.50 I got more than 100 individual plants.

Separate out all the plants. Don’t be too worried about damaging them – just make sure each plant has some roots.

Make a furrow where you intend to plant, then start laying each onion plant along the furrow where you want it to grow. Because these are spring onions, I planted them quite close together.

You can see from the photo above that this is not done super neatly. Don’t worry about standing them up or anything – lie them down on their side, it’s fine.

Cover them over with soil. Then water in with some seaweed extract and weak liquid fertiliser. As they become established, the onions will stand up on their own.

I had already dug over and raked over this soil a couple of times, but you can see it still looks pretty rough. As I continue to work on this area, the soil will improve. For now, I will grow a couple of rows of quick spring onions and by late June it will hopefully be ready for a couple of bare-rooted little plum trees.

I also planted out some kale and lettuce in the pots I refilled on the balcony last weekend, and fed all the brassicas and new seedlings with organic liquid fertiliser and seaweed extract. Good job too, because the brassicas are growing like crazy. This broccoli head has doubled in size since last weekend. All the brassicas are looking amazing – I’m so excited. I even have cabbages heading. That’s what they are supposed to do, I know, but cabbages can be a bit hit or miss in my experience. Broccoli is a more reliable vegetable than cabbage, any day.

The rest of the morning I spent doing the incredibly dull job of trimming herb bushes. Ugh. I hate doing it, but I am always happy I have done it in Springtime when they put their new flush of growth on and look gorgeous. I trimmed about a tenth of the plants in the front garden, and tried not to grimace as I did it. I love having a big garden, until I have to do stuff like this. I ended up digging out one thyme plant that was so woody that I thought it was never going to come good, along with a rhubarb plant that was really in the wrong place. I replaced it with a beautiful, old school, white dianthus plant I bought last week on a whim.

Then I came inside, made a mushroom omelette, and sat back down at my desk to work some more. I looked outside and realised I would rather be outside trimming herbs again. That’s what I get for grimacing while gardening.

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.