It’s been another month of working almost every weekend, which has meant very little time in the garden. That’s rough at this time of year, when every day seems to call out to me to spend time in the veggie patch.
This weekend, for my sanity and for the sake of my garden, I closed the computer and stepped out into the sunshine. It was lovely.
Also, very needed. The veggie patch was a bit of a mess, frankly. I had been quickly chopping off the broccoli heads when they were ready, and leaving the plants to produce side shoots, but they were also done. The garden was half full of spent broccoli plants and kale bolting to seed. The kale was a variety I bought in Tasmania at the start of the year, and it did not like our warmer Winter – the leaves were almost leathery, and we did not eat much of it. I’ll stick to the Mediterranean kales like Cavolo Nero next season.
After cleaning out the chicken coop, I pulled out all the spent plants and dug over the beds. Just that one task made the whole patch look so much better.
After digging over, I mulched with pea straw. I planted out the first eggplant of the season (Slim Jim – heirloom), and some cool pumpkins called Wrinkled Butternut.
The Obelisk (not the Asterix)
On a whim last week I bought a finial, which I used to build an obelisk. A finial is a funky cast iron topper used to build a frame (the obelisk, kinda) for climbing plants – in this case, it will be climbing beans. My husband drilled it all together for me, and I installed it and expertly tied the twine 🙂
Behind it is another trellis. Beans will grow up that as well. This year I have planted Violet Queen, Kentucky Wonder, and Scarlet Runner. I have decided that this year I will pick many a bean.
I spent a few hours pricking out tomatoes and tomatillos from the seed troughs and into pots, to harden off ready for the garden. I haven’t grown tomatillos for well over a decade. My memory is they grow like the clappers, but hindsight can be 20/20. We will see how they grow in this veggie patch. Tomatillos, or husk tomatoes, make delicious salsa when roasted.
I also planted up yet more chillies. If all the chillies come off this year, we will be swimming in them. I already have 13 in pots in the greenhouse, and dozens coming on in the seed troughs. My plan this year is to make as much chilli pickle as I can, so there is method in my madness. Mwahahahahahaha.
What to do in the garden with the time you have this week
If, like me, you have minimal time, here’s some suggestions for what to do with it:
If you have an hour: feed your fruit trees!
They are awake now after their Winter dormancy, and like us when we wake up, they want food. Give all your fruit trees some specialist organic fruit tree fertiliser, and water in well.
If you have 2-3 hours: mulch!
This season is expected to be one of the hottest and driest Springs ever. The best thing you can do if you have some spare time in the garden is mulch the soil and retain the moisture of the Winter weather, before it heats up. I like sugar cane mulch, as it’s sustainable and breaks down slowly, but use any mulch you prefer. Just do it.
If you have 4-5 hours: feed everything, and start planting!
All plants need a feed at this time of year. I use organic liquid fertiliser, diluted well if the plants are seedlings, and stronger if the plants are established. Everything is hungry and wants a feed right now, so if you have time, wander around with your watering can and feed it all. Your plants will thank you. It takes time though! I’m always amazed at how long feeding all my plant babies can take.
I’m also trying to take advantage of the warm Spring weather to plant as much as I can right now. With the soil warming up and the longer sunny days, now is the time to plant fast-growing Spring crops, flowers, and start seeds for Summer. I have basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, capsicum, eggplant, chillies, tomatoes, watermelons, squash, and multiple types of pumpkin and zucchini in the greenhouse and the garden. As each plant is large enough to be potted on, new seeds take their place. And if you don’t have time, space, or interest to grow seeds, plant seedlings. Get the plants established before the really hot weather hits.
I blinked and two thirds of 2023 whizzed by me. We are in the second week of August already and I honestly feel like 2023 just started.
I think that happens as you age, and are busy. Suddenly Spring is around the corner, and aside from ordering some seeds, I have done almost nothing to prepare for the Spring garden. So I spent this morning out in the garden, accompanied by some gorgeous helpers – my two daughters and my husband. It was so lovely to spend the morning outside as a family. My husband tackled the more physical jobs, as I am recovering from surgery, while the kids (adults, actually), helped with the more fun stuff – picking, planting, and watering.
It’s late enough in the season to plant Spring and Summer seeds, if you have a warm spot to plant. Don’t plant into the garden yet – the soil is still too cold. But if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse like I do, or a heat lamp, a heated seed mat (about $50 from Bunnos or the Diggers Club), or even a warm, sunny windowsill, you can start seeds now.
I used to use a heated seed mat, but now I raise seeds in the greenhouse. I have five raised troughs that I use to raise seedlings and to grow plants. Right now two are used to grow peas and lettuces, leaving three troughs free to raise seedlings.
Before I could plant new seeds, I had to move out the seedlings that were already growing: lettuces, tatsoi, kale, cornflowers, and spinach. I transferred some of these to little pots for my daughter to plant in her VegePod, and then the rest we planted out in the garden. These should grow quickly in the warmer days of late August/early September, and give us some fresh veggies during that ‘hungry gap’ before the Spring veggies are ready. While we were planting, we harvested a few veggies that were ready: peas, turnips, radishes, carrots, and some purple broccoli that was about to bolt (already!). My garden is at the stage where there is always something to pick, no matter the time of year.
My plan for the garden this year is to grow as many eggplant and chillies as I can, grow just a couple of my favourite tomatoes, a couple of good cucumbers, trial a different watermelon in the greenhouse, some beans, and lots of zucchini and pumpkins. I don’t have as much veggie growing space as I used to, as one side of the garden is now entirely devoted to seven fruit trees. I drop in some onions and other shallow rooted veggies in that space, but veggies do not feature heavily on that side of the garden. That means the veggie space has cut in half, and I have to rely more on pots and the greenhouse.
That is honestly fine, except I am expecting this Summer to be much hotter than last season. While I am looking forward to a hot Summer (I hate the cold!), I will also have to take care of plants in a poly hot house in very hot weather. The greenhouse has good ventilation, but I do expect that if it gets too hot in there, I will be moving plants out so they can survive.
With my Summer planting plan in mind, I had a couple of seeds I definitely wanted to plant today, then let my daughter choose the rest. We planted:
Passionfruit – Red Flamenco
Eggplant – Thai Purple Ball
Eggplant – White Egg (Japanese)
Eggplant – Red Ruffle
Chilli – Jalapeno
Chilli – Serrano
Chilli – Guntur
Tomato – Green Zebra
Tomato – Mystery (that is, I saved the seed and forgot to label it!)
Looking forward to seeing these pop up over the next few weeks. Once they are large enough, I’ll pot them on, then plant the next round of seeds, which will include more eggplants, watermelons, cucumbers, and zucchini.
What to do in the garden this week
How much time do you have this week? If you are a part-time gardener like me, the answer may depend on your workload, caring responsibilities, and lifestyle. I love reading those lists that tell you what you need to do in the garden this week, but I note that most of them don’t take your time into account – so here’s a quick list to help you fit in some gardening tasks depending on how much time you really have (and if you don’t have any time – that’s OK. Your garden will survive!).
If you have…one hour
Give your houseplants some love.
In a tub of lukewarm (not hot) water, add a couple of drops of olive oil. Take some paper towel, scissors, and a jug of fresh water, and go around to all your houseplants. Using the paper towel, dipped in the water and olive oil and well squeezed out, wipe over the leaves of your plants to remove the dust that accumulates over time. You will be shocked at how much dust you can remove. The olive oil in the water helps to pull the dust off and gives the leaves a shine. A build up of dust on the leaves prevents the plants from photosynthesising properly, and slows their growth. Also, it just looks bad.
Using the scissors, trim off any dead or scrappy leaves, and as you move from plant to plant, use the jug of fresh water to give the plants a drink if they need it.
In about a month, it will be time to feed your houseplants – don’t worry about it now, as they will be dormant and not interested in taking up any food you give them. I use slow release prills or an organic fertiliser spray for houseplants, that is sprayed directly into the soil.
In early Spring I will also check out which plants need repotting. I can already tell from Saturday’s houseplant clean and watering, that my Fiddle Leaf Fig needs to be repotted. The soil is becoming hydrophobic and the plant is outgrowing the pot. But that job can wait until I have more time.
If you have…two or three hours
Start some seeds for your Spring garden.
Whether you are a flower gardener or a veggie gardener (or like me, a bit of both), you can easily plant up some seeds for your Spring garden in a couple of hours or less. Use recycled pots or seed trays, good quality seed-raising mix (I personally think the Yates speciality seed-raising mix is the best I have used, but Seasol is good as well), and labels (I use bamboo labels that are biodegradable – but you can make your own).
All your Summer veggie seeds can be started now – think tomatoes, eggplant, chillies, capsicum (peppers), etc. Spring flowers can also be started now. I recently planted cornflowers, but you can also start Cosmos, Scabiosa, Sunflowers, Forget-Me-Nots, and flowering herbs such as Calendula, Borage, or Nigella (also called Love-In-A-Mist).
Once planted, keep them damp (not wet), and keep your eyes open for them to pop their heads up.
If you have…four to five hours
Trim back woody herbs and weed, weed, weed!
This is the time of year that weeds go crazy. In our area, the weed that is everywhere is the dreaded sour sob (oxalis), but many grasses spread to unwanted areas as well. If you don’t keep on top of them, you can find weeds spread very quickly. While some gardeners are happy to use weedicides, I don‘t, which means many hours of hand-weeding.
Now is also the time of year to trim back woody herbs. As I have mentioned before, trimming back woody herbs and perennials is a time consuming task that I have been slowly doing over the past six weeks (I have a big yard). We are almost there, but I estimate another weekend of this task. I hate doing it, but I am always happy I did it in mid-Spring when all the woody herbs put on new growth and a gorgeous display of flowers.
Apples x 2 (Cox’s Orange Pippin and Early Macintosh)
Cumquat (Calamondin Green)
Blueberries x 2
Passionfruit (Nelly Kelly)
We are also about to plant and espalier a quince (Smyrna) and our local council is also giving us a nectarine tree through their Adopt-a-fruit-tree program, soon bringing the total up to 19 fruiting trees. That should give you an indication, really, of just how much space we are fortunate to have in our yard.
You’d think with that many fruit trees, we’d be drowning in fruit all year round. Sometimes, we are. Right now, we have so, so many limes. I’ve given them away to friends and family (I offered them to a friend the other day and she politely declined – clearly, we have given her too many!). I’ve made just about every possible variation of lime pickle, jam, and chutney that it’s possible for one family to make. I’m out of ideas. We are limed out. In Summer, we had the biggest crop of apricots ever. Same deal. We still have them in the freezer. I also still have pomegranates in the fridge from Autumn as we slowly work our way through them (we have five littlies left).
Yet, for other trees, like the mulberry and apple trees, that much fruit is just a dream. Either the fruit is minimal at best, or the possums have crunched it up before we get to it. If we ever get an avocado, you will never stop hearing about it. I’ll brag about it for the rest of my life.
The fact is, growing fruit trees is a labour of love, and sometimes just a labour.
My goal in planting all these trees was to one day, never have to buy fruit again. Now I know that dream is a crock. Right now, I could eat only limes, but I think my family would object greatly to that. The fact is, I cannot really control the amount of fruit the trees will produce, as so many factors influence this, with weather being the main factor.
That doesn’t mean that growing fruit at home is not worth doing. Homegrown apricots are glorious. Homegrown limes are juicier and tastier than anything you can buy. Pomegranates cost five bucks each! I never buy them, but when I have them from my tree in May, I can decadently toss the juicy red arils on top of every curry or a tagine like the Sultan of Brunei.
Planning your fruit orchard
Before planting anything, consider your space and aspect. Fruit trees need space for their roots to spread. They also need full sun, ideally all day, but at least four hours daily. If you want to grow an orange tree and only have a shady corner of the garden, consider growing something else, or plant it in a large tub that can be placed in a sunny spot.
Speaking of tubs and pots, some fruit trees can be planted in tubs quite successfully, while others will struggle. Our lime tree was miserable and constantly attacked by scale when in a pot. When we moved it to the garden, it doubled in size and has not stopped fruiting since. However, our blueberry bushes and cumquat seem to be fine in pots.
Consider too, what you actually like eating. I enjoy growing fruits that are not easy to buy at the supermarket and that I can use to make jam and sauces. My husband likes to grow fruit he can eat fresh from the tree. We have compromised, and that is why we have the mix of trees we have. The pomegranate, cumquat, blood orange, lime, and pepino are for my fun experiments. The others are for fresh eating and also some for jam if we have any left over. However, if we had a smaller space, some of the more unique trees would not be in our garden. Fortunately, we have the space to include a wide range for our interests and tastes. If I was more limited in my options, the ‘no brainers’ would be an apricot, a lime or lemon, and a passionfruit vine.
Don’t forget, if you are limited on space, you can always grow up. We have five trees growing on trellises, by espaliering them. This has allowed us to grow many more trees than we could have if we had let them grow out instead of up. We have learned to do this by watching YouTube and visiting Botanic Gardens with espaliered trees. It’s not the cheapest way to do it (you have to buy posts, wires, hooks, etc), and it takes patience and practice. But it is an option if you have limited space, and can invest some dollars (about $50 per trellis).
Planting fruit trees
The old adage is that you plant a ten dollar tree in a hundred dollar hole. That means you should spend more time and money on preparing the soil than you spend on the tree itself. Most trees will thrive when grown in soil prepared with good quality compost, well-rotted sheep manure, and a side dressing of an organic fertiliser once planted. This doesn’t mean putting fertiliser in the hole when you plant. Prepare the soil with compost and manure a week or so before digging the hole.
On planting day, dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball.
Make sure to tease out the roots so you are not planting roots that are tightly bound up. I like to soak the roots in a bucket of diluted seaweed extract for an hour or so before I plant. Then I put the plant in the hole, and pour the bucket of seaweed extract over the root ball and into the hole. I let it soak in, then back fill. Water in well. This gives the plant a good head start.
If you are mulching, make sure not to place the mulch right up to the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. Leave about five centimetres (2 inches) of free space around the trunk.
Some trees require special attention when planting. For example, an avocado tree should be planted on a mound with several bags of compost, then surrounded by a shade barrier to keep out wind and sun while establishing. Avocado trees are very sensitive to sun and wind burn, so taking the time to build a shade barrier will be worth your while, especially as avocado trees can cost upwards of $100. Check with your nursery for special instructions when buying your tree.
Now is the time to plant deciduous fruit trees (think apples, pears, plums, quinces, apricots, etc). I have a quince waiting to plant next weekend.
Caring for your orchard
Feed your trees! You won’t get fruit if you only give them a handful of Dynamic Lifter once a year. Fruiting trees are hungry plants, because they put a lot of energy into producing fruit.
At this time of year (mid-Winter), I give each tree a bag of pulverised, aged sheep manure. This rots down slowly over the season.
Then once Spring hits, my aim is to feed each tree with roughly two cups of Dynamic Lifter and blood and bone (combined) every month, until the end of fruiting season. That’s my goal but tbh, I am a bit hit and miss with it.
I also side dress each tree with compost progressively as I dig it out of my bins. Today the lime tree, blood orange, avocado, and both apple trees got the compost. I’ll keep working my way around the garden until each fruit tree gets a bucket or two of compost in the lead up to Spring. The compost is made of a mix of my chickens’ composted manure and litter, garden weeds, kitchen scraps, and occasionally a bag of my neighbour’s pigeon manure (pure gold). It’s very well composted down over several months and the trees love it.
And don’t forget to prune. We prune Summer fruiting trees (i.e. apricots, mulberries) after fruiting (late Summer/early Autumn), and then give them a light pruning to shape in Winter. The goal for trees like our apricot and mulberry tree is to create a lovely vase shape that will let light into the tree, and to prevent it growing too large.
This year we also lightly pruned our pomegranate for the first time, to remove some of the excess growth at the base, and the lime tree for the same reason.
Caring for fruit trees takes time and thought. We do it partly because the flavour of fresh, homegrown fruit cannot be beat, and because it’s fun. I also enjoy looking out of my office window and watching the rainbow lorikeets playing in the trees (even though I know they will steal the apricots as soon as they can).
We have been hibernating around here. The icy blast that has hit our part of Australia has kept us indoors, working, or doing other indoorsy things, like sitting by the fire reading, watching movies, or on some days, making jam and pickles. We had a big crop of limes, so I have made marmalade, lime curd, and two types of spicy lime pickles. What I have not done is venture outside to the garden. It’s just been too cold and too wet.
This weekend though, after seeing we were in for yet another weekend of rain, I finally cracked. I missed being outside, and I know my garden really needed some love. So I carefully checked the 48-hour forecast for Saturday, and found a window of about three hours with no rain. So out I went.
Three hours is not a lot of time in a garden that has been neglected for weeks. Even in the middle of Winter, the garden keeps on growing. So I decided to be very judicious with my time. I grabbed the hedge trimmers and secateurs, and set myself a couple of simple tasks trimming a lavender bush, cutting down as much of the dead mint stalks as I could manage, and if I had the time, pruning a rose bush and a salvia. I felt these were achievable tasks in my three hours.
My husband was a bit reluctant to come outside, but after a coffee and a bagel he decided to join as well, to prune and train the apple trees on the espalier frames.
Trimming back the mint stalks
Every year, the mint and oregano in the front yard looks lush and full in the late Spring and Summer, with lovely mauve flower spikes. By Autumn, they start to look straggly. And by this time of the year, they look bloody awful. Trimming them back is boring, time consuming, a bit painful on the old joints, but necessary. If I don’t cut back the old flower stalks, it will limit the growth of the fresh Spring plants. Plus, they just look yuck. I know I have left it a bit late, but it has been so cold…and waaaahhhh. It’s one of those jobs I just hold off doing because it’s not fun. To start with, I used my electric hedge trimmers, but someone (cough – husband – cough) took them off the charger and they ran out of charge very quickly. So ended up using the old manual trimmers that only run out of charge when I do.
The results are pretty impressive:
Underneath that leaf litter are new mint and oregano plants that will spring up in a couple of weeks.
Arguably I could have saved myself all this trouble if I did not plant mint in my garden in the first place. Most garden experts advise to plant mint in a pot, because it has the tendency to spread everywhere. That is true. It’s equally true of oregano, lemon balm, lamb’s ear, violets, and even calendula, parsley and lavender, all of which spread or self-seed prolifically in my garden. However, I don’t mind the mint where it is. It is great ground cover, and stops other unwanted weeds spreading. It smells beautiful, and unlike some other ground covers, is non-toxic and edible. I wouldn’t plant it in my veggie patch, but in my front garden, under the pomegranate tree, it’s fine.
Cutting back the salvia
I’m slowly replacing most of the lavender in my garden with salvias. I prefer the different varieties of salvia, their drought tolerance, and I have found to my frustration that lavender self-seeds like crazy in my garden. I’m always pulling out baby lavender plants.
Salvias come in many varieties, are drought and heat tolerant, and I think they are beautiful. Some of the new plants are still establishing so do not need to be cut back yet, but I have some older plants that have grown enormous over the past six months. The lipstick salvia (bright red heart shaped flowers) has tripled in size this year, and was impinging on the space of other plants.
To cut back a salvia, follow the canes back to the base and cut off with sharp secateurs. I just shaped the bush to the size and shape I wanted – cutting back by about half. That tidied it up and made space for the other plants nearby. I also found one of the canes had rooted – I pulled that one out and put it in some water to plant elsewhere in the garden.
Planning the Summer Veggie Patch
One of my favourite seed companies (Happy Valley Seeds) had a snap EOFY sale this weekend, so I took it as an opportunity to buy my seeds for Summer. I thought about what I really wanted to plant this season, and the answer was: chillies, zucchini, beans, and eggplants.
The varieties I bought are:
Eggplant – Tsakoniki
Eggplant – Thai Purple Ball – I love these little globe eggplants
Eggplant – White egg
Eggplant – Turkish Orange
Eggplant – Red Ruffle
Zucchini – Rondo De Nice – a globe shaped zucchini
Climbing Beans – Kentucky Wonder Wax
Squash – Scallop Bennings Green Tint
Last season’s eggplant crop was a bit of a bust, but the long range weather forecast is for an early Spring and a hot Summer. That’s eggplant and chilli territory, baby. So I stocked up on five types of eggplants, some chillies, extra zucchini and squash, and some more climbing beans. I still have seeds from last year, but I used up all the eggplant seeds from last year. My plan is to start everything in the greenhouse in late August, and as Spring is starting early, plant out in September.
Bring on the eggplants! Hey, some people get excited about Christmas, I get excited about eggplant. Each to their own.
I also bought some watermelon seeds (the cycle of self-inflicted pain continues) – a mini yellow variety, and some red passionfruit seeds (Red Flamenco). The Red Panama passionfruit I planted a few years ago turned up its toes – I want to try growing another red passionfruit from seed to replace it.
FYI, the online sale at Happy Valley Seeds is on until 30 June – 25% off store wide. I don’t get paid to endorse them, I just think they have a good variety of heirloom seeds at a fair price.
We have been fortunate to tale a trip around stunning Tasmania this past week, with the past few days based in Hobart. After a day spent at Salamanca Markets, and another at the Museum of Old and New Art, we walked to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. Set on 14 hectares close to the centre of Hobart, the Gardens are one of the oldest botanical gardens in the Southern hemisphere (established in 1818). Our State was colonised in 1836, so the gardens are older than colonial settlement in our part of Australia. And it is obvious, just by the size of the trees. South Australia has some lovely trees, but they are teeny tiny compared to Tasmanian trees in the gardens, and even more so in the wild. I had heard the phrase ‘old growth forests,’ but I did not really understand the reality of it until coming to Tasmania. Trees here are giants. The RTBG has oak trees that could shelter the Merry Men. We have seen even larger trees since our visit to the botanical garden, but that was my first experience of really large trees.
My travelling companions took many photos (I’m not much of a photographer), which has allowed me to create this little virtual tour.
On arrival at the gardens, we were greeted at the gate by a friendly person who asked us our interests, handed us a map, and pointed us in the right direction. As our first goal was “COFFEE!”, she directed us to the cafe, and we stumbled forth. The cafe overlooks the water, so we sat for a while looking at the water and feeling very civilised before heading out on our garden walk.
Tasmanian Community Food Garden
Once it was a working farm, then Pete Cundall established Pete’s Patch in this space, then it became the Tasmanian Community Food Garden, an organic community garden cared for by volunteers and community members. It produces four tonnes of fresh organic produce annually. On our visit, pumpkins, apples, tomatoes, pears, and herbs were growing in abundance.
I was happy to note that many of my own practices were also in evidence here. I did pick up some tips though: plant borage and calendula in among the pumpkins to encourage pollination. There were dozens of ripening pumpkins in the various pumpkin patches, so it clearly works.
My husband took careful note of their technique for espaliering pears. We have multiple espaliered young fruit trees in our backyard but are always looking for more advice. The pear trees in this garden were beautiful, and covered with pears.
Much cooler is an apple tree arch. I wish I had space to recreate that in my garden.
I noted that the traditional ‘Summer’ crops that would be in full fruit in warmer States, such as chillies, zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant, were not much in evidence here. There were a few healthy tomatoes and capsicum plants, but they already had brussels sprouts in the ground – we would not be planting these in SA for at least six weeks, and in my area probably not at all.
South Australia has a small but lovely Japanese Garden in the city. The RTBG Japanese Garden is about three times as large. It is beautiful, very tranquil, with many little hiding nooks for quiet contemplation. After a busy few days, I enjoyed finding a quiet spot to sit for 15 minutes.
Tasmanian Native Garden
The Native Garden was quite large and clearly well-designed and considered. This was my favourite section of the RTBG, because it was so well-thought out, and I did not recognise many of the plants. Each plant was accompanied by a description of its traditional and medicinal uses.
If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll know I have a fascination with greenhouses. The RTBG has a gorgeous stone and glass conservatory, that houses a fountain and hothouse plants that would struggle to grow outside in Hobart’s cool temperate climate.
The stone fountain was so relaxing it inspired me to consider adding a water feature to my garden. This is something I have avoided for many years, due to the maintenance. However, I think a solar powered water feature in the patio or greenhouse might be worth considering.
Of course, my greenhouse has been set aside for productive plants, while this Conservatory is decorative. I still found it inspirational. You can see a variegated ficus in the foreground of this photograph – beautiful! I’m going to search for one when I get home.
The Heritage Cottage was the first building constructed in the gardens, and was originally a dwelling. Now it is a little museum showcasing some early botanical drawings and horticultural equipment, like an early terrarium design (see below).
My youngest and I both love botanical drawings and paintings, so we loved looking at the early colonial botanical drawings.
The Tasmanian Royal Botanical Gardens were my favourite place to visit in Hobart so far (we are going back to Hobart for a few more days). We spent most of the day there. If I lived in Tassie, I would visit regularly. If you are ever in Hobart, I recommend a trip – it is a beautiful, relaxing, and inspirational garden.
It’s easy to fall behind in the garden when you only have a few hours a week. I have been keeping up on basic tasks, like watering, but a big garden like ours has myriad tasks that need to be managed regularly – and I have not been keeping on top of them. These include weeding, feeding, pest management, pruning, picking and processing the harvest, and removing spent plants. My husband and I made an agreement to get up early and get out in the garden. We both broke that agreement by lazing around in bed for longer, but we got out there by about 9:30 am, ready, if not exactly raring, to go.
Most pruning is completed in Winter, when plants are dormant. However, trees in the prunus family, such as apricots and plums, benefit from a prune in Summer after they have finished fruiting. This is because they are prone to diseases like gummosis, which can get into the cuts in the wood if the weather is damp. The apricot tree finished fruiting two weeks ago, so my husband got up on his ladder and started to prune it back. We are putting the branches on the workshop roof to season for next year’s fireplace. Firewood is expensive, so any bits and pieces we can pull together ourselves from (non-toxic) prunings saves cash.
While he pruned the apricot and plum trees, I pruned the grapevine, just a little. The wet weather in late Spring caused the early leaves and bunches to rot. New healthy leaves have since grown, but I have been intending to prune off the rotten leaves and bunches for weeks now. The vine looks much happier, if a little bereft, now. Real grape vine pruning season is in Winter, so I only pruned off the funky looking leaves.
I admit to putting off tying up tomatoes, because it’s an itchy and boring job. But there comes a point in the season where it is just necessary. Rather than using stakes, I prefer to build cages. I have tried all kinds of versions of tomato cages, but my favourite (also the quickest but one of the most expensive, unfortunately) is to use steel trellis panels, which cost about $15 each when I bought them from Bunno’s two years ago. I create a cage using four panels, tied together with zip ties. These are easy to build and easy to dismantle. Due to the cost and size, I use this style of cage for the largest indeterminate tomatoes (generally Green Zebra).
The king of tomato cages is my brother, who builds very impressive structures, possibly visible from space, and also has the most impressive tomato plants in the family.
When I run out of trellis panels (and I refuse to buy more because a) cost and b) storage – I have to store them for the nine months of the year I am not using them), I build other types of supports for the other tomato plants in the garden. I have a group of three plants against the fence behind the lime tree. Using a large piece of reo mesh and two star droppers, I built a trellis to support this group. I have another piece of reo I am hoarding to build a trellis for pumpkins once they grow too large. I caught one pumpkin vine climbing the lime tree this morning, so it will not be long before I have to build a structure for it.
Of course, I could spend all day building cages for the rest of the plants…but I was feeling a bit lazy, and it’s a bit fiddly. Therefore, I decided that the standard stake and stocking tie support system would be fine. I only use the stake supports for smaller tomato plants, as they can quickly outgrow stakes if they are very vigorous plants.
All of these supports are recycled from previous years. I save the reo and trellis panels each year, and reuse the ties from previous stakes. If the stakes are not damaged from the last season, I reuse them as well. Some gardeners prefer not to reuse wooden stakes, due to problems with passing on soil borne diseases. However, I let the stakes dry out in the sun for a few days. After storing in the garden shed for twelve months, I figure they are probably ok. Once the stakes are too old and broken to reuse, I chop off the grotty end and they are used for firewood.
This season I grew all the tomato plants in my garden from seed (puffs up chest). A couple of the plants I grew from supermarket tomatoes that I thought were delicious, and saved some seed. I found one of these in the garden this morning (I had completely forgotten I had planted it). It has fruited like crazy (all green right now). I really hope that it is as delicious as I remembered. If not, I will use it to make some sauce. At the moment I am only picking a couple of cherry tomatoes a day (yellow Windowbox tomatoes – they are ok, but not really tasty). Can’t wait until the Green Zebra and Black Russians ripen up.
The day was relatively cool, so I gave every plant in the veggie garden an organic liquid feed of the old faithful standbys Charlie Carp (a liquid fertiliser made of carp, a pest) and liquid seaweed. The grapevine and avocado tree was fed a bucket of liquid fertiliser as well. My plan for the avocado tree is to keep the water and food up each month, as tbh I have been a bit slack on both over the past twelve months. For the lemon tree and passionfruit, I also dissolved iron chelates in a watering can and watered ten litres into the root zone of each plant.
Iron chelates are a trace element that do not need to be used regularly. However, the leaves on these plants were looking yellowed, and the fruit was shrivelling. Poor fruit and yellowing leaves can be a sign of iron deficiency in fruiting plants. Iron chelates are easy to apply, following packet directions, but it is important not to overdose.
As the other plants (tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum) are all looking healthy and are setting healthy fruit, I do not think it is a problem with the soil nutrition generally. However some fruiting plants are much hungrier feeders than others, so it seemed a good idea to give them a dose of iron chelates to see if this will help. Time will tell. Really, looking at those passionfruit leaves, it honestly couldn’t hurt – they look so bad. This is the problem with having such limited time – there is so much to do and so little time to get everything done. I was aware there was a problem, but I may have been too slow to fix it.
The greenhouse continues to be a successful growing space. I have been unscientifically comparing the progress of plants in the greenhouse to those planted outside.
These two eggplants were both grown by seed by me, and were planted at about the same time. Eggplant One was planted in a raised bed outside, in a premium potting mix. It is watered daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
Eggplant Two was planted in a large pot, in the same brand of premium potting mix. In hot weather it is watered twice daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
As you can see, it is at least three times the size of Eggplant One, and is flowering. With all other factors being equal (type of soil, feeding regime), greenhouse conditions seem to encourage faster growth.
Previously I have used a heated seed mat to raise seeds in small trays indoors. While the heated seed mat germinated seeds more quickly than without, the plants did not have as much light as they needed, and struggled past the initial germination phase.
I planted these borlotti bush beans nine days ago in the raised troughs in the greenhouse, watering daily. They have almost all germinated, and already have their true leaves. As they are bush beans, I will keep them in the trough for their lifecycle. I have climbing beans in the garden as well, which were planted six weeks ago, and are only about twice the size of these beans.
I believe that the relatively constant temperatures and excellent light in the greenhouse creates optimum growing conditions.
The greenhouse is not without pest problems. One eggplant was initially affected by whitefly, and another by white cabbage moth caterpillars. These were easily controlled by manual means (squishing). Occasionally small sparrows manage to get in, and cannot seem to figure how to get out without a little assistance. But generally, the greenhouse protects plants from most pests.
It does require consistent and diligent watering. Unlike the outdoor garden, which I can leave a day if I’m busy, it is not possible to skip watering the greenhouse. This is due both to the fact that the plants are all in containers, which dry out more quickly, and the higher temperature. Leave them for a day, and I could end up with dead plants.
My other main concern is pollination. While insects can come into the greenhouse, I worry that not enough pollinators will come in. I am thinking through different ideas to attract them – if any greenhouse gardeners have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!
Of course, I still have many tasks left to complete, but there is never enough time. I still have to work, see family, exercise, be a friend and partner and parent…life is not all gardening! Hopefully what I have done this weekend will hold the garden together for a little while.
It’s finally really lovely and warm in our parts. I have had lots of jobs to do to keep the garden alive and well, including watering the containers and raised bed daily, and keeping the watering up across the whole garden. I don’t mind this, but it is a job of work.
Fortunately, I’m on a break for the Christmas/New Year period. This is my first proper break in over a year. I am taking full advantage, getting out to the garden every day.
The long, cool, and wet Spring stalled the progress of eggplant, zucchini, chillies, and tomatoes, which would normally be in full fruit by now. One of the cherry tomatoes I grew from seed, a variety bred for pots called Window Box, is the only one that has fruit so far. It is a dwarf breed, unusual for a cherry tomato, and has a lot of flowers and clusters of fruit already. Apparently the fruit is yellow. I’m looking forward to tasting the fruit. I have found that some of the new breeds of cherry tomatoes do not taste great (last year’s Blueberry cherry tomato was, in my opinion, yuck). I hope WindowBox is tasty, because I have about six plants. All the other tomato plants have put on good growth and have started to flower, but no fruit yet.
As for my dreams of expansive eggplant crops, it’s not looking great. I’m thankful for the greenhouse, which will allow me to grow eggplant well into Autumn. I have planted another punnet of eggplants, as well as more seeds, with plans for a long season of eggplants in the greenhouse. Fingers crossed!
Speaking of the greenhouse, it’s coming along nicely. For the first time EVER, I have planted eight watermelon seeds, and have germinated eight watermelon plants. These were a gift in a seed swap from a friend (an heirloom variety called Moon and Stars). Watermelons, along with cucumbers, are my Achilles heel, so if I can even grow one watermelon from this lot I will be very proud of myself.
The watermelons were exciting to watch. In the morning I found one had popped up from the warm soil. About an hour later, my niece found another poking its head up. By the afternoon, all eight had germinated and were stretching their leaves to the sky! How fun gardening is!
I also have cucumbers popping up, more eggplants, and basil. This greenhouse is so much fun.
At last year’s Chilli Festival I bought some chilli plants (a Devil’sTongue, and a Four-in-one pot of a Mango chilli, a Lemon chilli, an Ajo, and a Curly Toenail). While I was not a fan of the Mango chilli, all the rest were great (the Devil’sTongue is an old family favourite – very hot with a delicious flavour, and prolific). Following the advice of the stall holder, at the end of the season I cut them back by 50% and let them over winter. A couple of the four-in-one did not make it, but two did (I won’t know which until they set fruit). Over Spring the others put their leaves back on and have now started flowering happily. I’m looking forward to full crops of the others.
I also raised quite a few other chilli plants from seed, including Serrano, Gunter, Jalapeño, and Chocolate chilli. These are still quite small, but I’m hoping for a good crop. We eat chilli most days, and appreciate the flavour profiles of the different chillies, so growing many varieties is worth the time and effort for us.
The apricot and mulberry trees are ready to harvest, and we are watching them like hawks – and so are the parrots! We have the biggest apricot crop we have ever had. The tree is too large to net, and I don’t like to do that anyway – I don’t mind the birds having some of them. But if we want to save any for ourselves, we have to pick as soon as they blush – so we check daily. We go out early in the morning and pick as many as are tinged orange, then wait for 24 hours to check again. We leave them to ripen on the kitchen bench.
Mulberries are kind of a pain to harvest. They ripen a few at a time, I think because our tree is still relatively young. We pick a couple a day, then wait for the next lot to ripen. The tree itself is beautiful, so I would not consider removing it (yet), but it has not lived up to my mulberry jam dreams.
We have a big crop of passionfruit and pomegranates coming on, but they are way off yet – at least a couple of months.
Cleaning up and potting up
A big and boring part of the past couple of weeks has just been cleaning up. I dug out the raspberry canes that have not done a damn thing over the past two years, and pulled out more bits of Audrey II, the boysenberry plant, that continues to make her presence felt (even though I dug the main part out months ago). I suggest to you that if you want to grow berries, set aside a bed that is completely separate from any other part of your garden, let them go, and don’t grow anything thorny!
At this time of the year, many of the Spring flowering annuals and herbs have flowered and are starting to set seed. They are generally looking tired and ratty. I have been clearing out all of the dead sweet peas, nasturtiums, parsley plants, and anything else looking old, dead, or tired. It’s taking quite some time and filling up my green bin quickly. To fill in the gaps I have sprinkled fast growing annual seeds like Cosmos, or planted quick growing annual colour, like Petunias. In about six weeks, I’ll start planting Spring flowering bulbs.
I’ve also repotted some sad looking houseplants, including an Umbrella plant that was miserable. I’ve had it for two years, and it started dropping leaves. When I repotted it, I found it had sported two babies. So for my repotting efforts, I have three plants now instead of one. I also repotted my beautiful Spotted Begonia, moving her up to a larger pot. She is much happier now, and I removed one of her leaves to strike into a new plant. Begonias strike easily in water, and are very easy to grow in the right conditions. I have two now (one struck from the mother plant), and they flower profusely with very little attention from me.
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:
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;
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;
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;
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.
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.
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), CapsicumGolden 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.
Mid-winter might seem like a quiet time in the garden – and compared to Spring and Summer, it is – but there are still jobs that need to be done.
One of the most important jobs is feeding the fruit trees. Deciduous fruit trees like apricots, apples, and plums don’t actively grow in Winter. But they should be fed a lovely blanket of well-rotted sheet of sheep or cow manure over their root systems. Every July I order a dozen or so bags of aged, pulverised sheep manure from a local company, and spread a bag or two around the roots of each tree. I make sure not to place it right up against the trunk, as this can cause collar rot. I started this job today, but it is a big task as I have a dozen fruit trees and vines, and lugging the bags and spreading the manure takes quite a while. I managed a third of the task, and will try to carve out some more time during the week if the weather holds up. The manure will slowly feed the trees over the next couple of months and give them a boost at the peak growing time in early Spring.
Of compost and chickens
It was also time to turn the compost and clean out the chickens. I have four lovely hens, who are about 18 months old. They are moulting and off the lay right now, and looking a bit rough around the edges, poor girls. They stay in their run during the week, but on the weekends I let them out in the garden while I clean out their house and yard. They have a blast, although I have to chase them away from my lettuces! I found them scratching up spinach and tatsoi seedlings today. Grrrr. This is what happens when you let tiny dinosaurs loose in your veggie patch. Little monsters.
Before I let them loose, I turned the compost bins, and dug out about eight buckets of lovely compost to spread over Pie Corner. Then I filled the bins back up with the straw and crud from the chook pen.
Goodbye Audrey II
Speaking of Pie Corner, I decided today to remove that bane of my thumbs, the boysenberry canes I dubbed Audrey II. She had succumbed to a rust fungus, and I decided that rather than try to treat it, I would consign the plants to the green bin. Audrey II has been a somewhat patchy producer at best, and the pain of pruning the damn thing has not been worth the gain of a couple of punnets of boysenberries each Summer. I am sure we will find her offspring popping up over the next few months, but we will just keep digging those bits out until she has gone completely. I have decided to replace her with an espaliered quince tree next Season. I love quinces, and the flowers are so beautiful. I wish I could say I’ll miss you Audrey II…but I won’t.
I read an article in the New York Times today about work and the scam of ‘busyness’ (as opposed to ‘business.’ The author was speaking from the perspective of an American, that people are beginning to reject the American idea of ‘work’ and the non-stop, rat-raciness, over-productive busyness of it all. Importantly, he differentiated between that kind of work, and work that is genuinely engaging and absorbing. This work could be unremunerated.
I don’t believe most people are lazy. They would love to be fully, deeply engaged in something worthwhile, something that actually mattered, instead of forfeiting their limited hours on Earth to make a little more money for men they’d rather throw fruit at as they pass by in tumbrels.
Tim Kreider, “It’s time to stop living the American scam.”
I genuinely like running my own business. But I also agree that there is something to be said about a different kind of work, that is absorbing, engaging, and deeply satisfying – even if it doesn’t earn any money per se. I spent half my day today shovelling various kinds of waste: compost, chicken shed waste, pulverised sheep manure. To some people, that would be just a horrible time. But I was completely, happily, absorbed in what some would see as unproductive, unremunerated work of limited practical value. I might get some apples in the future. I might not. Who cares? To be completely honest, I don’t, much.
I’ve spent a lot of time in my garden over the past 7.5 years. And a lot of cash, if I’m honest. I can’t say how much exactly. By the time I add up the cost of plants, removing trees, building a retaining wall, installing a chook shed (which we were lucky enough to score secondhand from our neighbour), tools, trellises, even more plants, etc…the cost must be in the shillions (that’s a number my youngest invented at the age of four, when trying to envision the largest number possible).
While I don’t regret any of these expenses, I do think there are some items that were better investments than others. They have raised both the value of our home and improved the overall look or productiveness of my garden.
Compost bins and compost worms
I have three black ‘dalek’ style compost bins that are always in rotation. Two cost $40 each from Bunnos, and the other was free from my local Buy Nothing group. I continually add garden trimmings, coffee grounds, tea leaves, chicken shed waste, and kitchen scraps to the bins. I turn them every time I clean out the chook shed, so roughly every two weeks. By ‘turn’, I mean I tip them over, move them around, pull out the ready-to-use compost, and shovel the rest back in the bins. Some weeks I might get a few buckets out of three bins, and at other times, a wheelbarrow load. I tip it on to whichever part of the garden looks like it needs it the most. Over the course of the year, the whole garden gets a topdressing of homemade compost. I don’t dig it in – I just tip it on top of the existing soil and let it weather in.
I add a box of 1000 compost worms to the bins every couple of years, where they happily breed and chew through the compost. I don’t bother with worm juice or a worm farm; I am perfectly happy just tossing them back in as I turn the compost. A box of 1000 worms costs about $50.
For an investment of $180 over 7.5 years (2x boxes compost worms + 2 x compost bins = roughly $25 per annum), I have homemade compost for my front and backyards. The other important benefit is that we divert kitchen and garden waste from landfill, reducing our family’s carbon footprint. Most weeks, our red bin (garbage) has only one bag.
When we first moved to our property, we paid a professional arborist $3500 to remove five trees. We researched several arborists, and received quotes. One guy quoted us $1000. When he visited us, he was clearly a dodgy operator and we turned him down, even though his quote was less than a third of the other company. At the time, $3500 was a lot of money to spend before we even started our garden. But the trees there were not safe or appropriate for the property, and prevented us growing anything productive. We forked out the extra cash, and a team of professional arborists safety removed the trees. I still think it was worth the extra money.
Good quality trees
You can buy trees from many places. Even supermarkets sometimes sell fruit trees at a bargain price. I’m not averse to picking up a bargain punnet of petunias from my local supermarket, believe me. It might seem that a tree is a tree, and that all that counts is the variety. However, I have learned the hard way that is not the case. Specialist tree nurseries invest in good quality root stock and hire qualified staff with expertise in varieties for your area. I buy most of my fruit trees from a local nursery that understands my soil and weather conditions, and provides advice on growing conditions and care. I pay for that advice by paying more for the trees I buy from them, but it has been worth it. Every tree I have bought from them has thrived.
To compare, I have a lime tree bought from my local specialty tree nursery, and a lemon tree bought from a supermarket. Both were planted at roughly the same time. One is in the front yard and one in the back yard. The lemon tree is a sad, spindly little thing, with not a single flower or fruit to be seen. I have fed it and watered it – and nada. The lime tree, even after fighting off a scale infestation and a leaf miner attack, has glossy dark leaves and has produced its first full crop of juicy limes. It is currently flowering again, getting ready to produce its second crop. Arguably the back yard and the front yard have different conditions. But not that different. I’m getting ready to yank that lemon tree out and replace it with a new tree, from a good nursery. I’m not one to harp on sunk costs.
This should be obvious, but cheap tools are not worth it. I have a solid hard wood handled garden fork that that I bought from the Digger’s Club five years ago, and aside from the muck on it, still looks new. It cost me about $80, but is worth every cent. I can buy a fork from Bunnos for ten bucks, but the handle will snap in no time. On cheap forks, the tines bend very easily, leaving you with an annoying fork that digs and turns unevenly. I dig with my Digger’s fork a lot, and the tines don’t bend, even when digging over hard or rocky soil. I feel confident that this fork will still be in tip-top shape in another five years. I intend to replace my other tools with Digger’s tools as they die, because I know the investment will be worth the extra cash.
Potting mix and fertilisers
Certain things can be purchased more cheaply for sure, but potting mix is not one of them. I know, because I have bought and tested almost all available to me. You will hear many garden experts say to buy ‘premium’ potting mix. I used to think, ‘well, sure, if you’re made of money.’ Then I discovered that the cheap three-dollar bags of potting soil are basically pressed bark sweepings, and do your plants no favours. Cheaper potting mix dries out very quickly, becomes hydrophobic, and leaves your plants hungry and thirsty. Spending money on good plants and not spending on the soil ends up costing you more in the end.
Look for the ‘red ticks’ on the bag. That means it’s a premium mix. ‘Premium’ usually means it has added soil wetting agents such as additional coir, and slow release fertiliser. Of course, you could add this to a cheaper mix yourself, but then you have just raised the cost of the cheaper mix anyway.
I also spend money on good quality, pure organic fertilisers such as pelletised chicken manure (also called Dynamic Lifter or other versions), Blood & Bone, and liquid tonics and fertilisers. I don’t buy brands that say they are ‘Blood & Bone-based’ as this can mean the manufacturer has added cheap fillers to the bag to lower the cost. These do nothing for your garden and may attract pests. It’s worth spending more to get a pure product.
Some gardeners prefer not to use Blood & Bone products, and as a vegetarian, I understand that. There are vegan fertilisers available. However, I am not a vegan, and neither are soil micro-organisms. I am not opposed to using animal products in my garden so long as they are organic. I use a product called ‘Charlie Carp,’ that is made from European Carp, a fish that is a pest and pollutes our waterways, and I also use animal manures such as sheep and chicken. Use what you are comfortable with and that sits with your values. Buy the best products that you can afford to feed your soil. Feeding your soil is the best investment you can make in your garden.