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.
It was a sunny-ish day today, so I made a plan to spend it outside in the garden with my husband. He committed to finishing the pruning and to cutting back the giant rosemary bush under the apricot tree. It was so big, it was almost as tall as the tree! He cut it back hard, by two thirds. Most of it went in the green bin, but a bunch is hanging in the kitchen to dry.
I turned the compost bins, a job long overdue. The photo below shows the pile before turning. The layers of compost show the different stages of breaking down over the past few months: at the top is the ‘freshest’ additions to the bin, and as you can see at the bottom is the final product. In the middle there is a mix of compost ready to go out onto the garden, and some that needed to go back in the bin to break down further. The compost is created from a mix of chicken litter, manure, kitchen scraps, yard waste, old potting mix, and sometimes some pigeon manure from my neighbour’s aviary. From this single bin, I pulled about ten 10-litre buckets of compost.
Turning compost bins is a physically demanding but important task. It aerates the compost, which helps it to break down more quickly. As the compost is turned, you can dig out some of the ready compost and make space to add fresh content. And it helps you to learn more about what compost should look, feel, and smell like. If, when turning the compost, it seems a little dry, you can add some more greens (leafy plants or kitchen scraps). If it seems a bit too wet or smells bad (compost should not smell unpleasant), you will know to add some leaves or straw.
It’s a job I don’t mind, but because it is time-consuming and physically taxing, I have to find the time to do it. Once I have started, I get into it, especially when I pull out buckets of fresh compost to put around my fruit trees.
Planting seeds for early Spring
It’s still mid-Winter, and although still cold and wet, I have some space in my garden and in my greenhouse. I planted out some late Winter/early Spring veggies in my seed-starting trays in the greenhouse. My goal is to fill in the ‘hungry gap’ between late Spring and Summer, when we are waiting for those veggies like eggplant and capsicum to come on. I planted coriander, silverbeet (chard), spinach, more lettuce, tatsoi, and kale. In the light and warmth of the greenhouse, they should pop up quickly.
While I was in there, I potted up the Sawtooth Banksia seedlings that I have been nurturing since our trip to Tasmania in February. It’s been a long, slow task to grow these from seed, but they were finally large enough to put into little pots. I have successfully propagated four seedlings and I am so excited to see how well they grow in our climate.
The rest of the day was spent continuing the somewhat dull but necessary task of cutting back the old mint and oregano stalks in the front garden. I still have a couple of hours of this job to do next week, then it is done for the season. Combined with the pruning we have done, we have almost finished the seasonal tidying up and can look forward to a lovely Spring garden. The jonquils and daffodils are already up – I can feel the season turning just around the corner.
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.
It’s a lovely long weekend, with perfect clear skies and cool, but sunny weather. I spent a day and a half in the garden – and there was a lot to do!
It’s the end of Summer and many of the seasonal plants are finished for the year. Eggplant, okra, capsicum, and chillies are still going strong, but it was not a great season for tomatoes in my garden, so I pulled almost all of them out.
Okra is my little experiment for the season – I tried and failed to germinate it twice in two different spots in my garden before it finally grew. It has slowly started to fruit, probably quite late in the season, but I am letting it continue for as long as I can. Yesterday I picked two – yep, two – whole pods. I sliced them up, washed them and dried them to reduce some of the famous okra sliminess, and threw them into a curry, where they dissolved into nothingness – so I cannot tell you how they tasted. I’m hoping for some more before the warm weather disappears completely.
I picked the rest of the green tomatoes off the bushes, with a plan to make green tomato pickle. As I did not want to go shopping for additional ingredients, I tried this recipe, which is for refrigerator pickles using green tomatoes instead of cucumbers. I played around with the recipe a bit, subbing sliced onion for the fennel bulb, adding some sliced green jalapeno (because, yum), and using whole coriander seeds instead of the fennel, because that’s what I had on hand. I ended up with four jars of green tomato pickles for use on burgers and sandwiches. If the tomatoes do not taste delicious, I have not wasted much except a bit of vinegar and my time, but if they are good I will have preserved fruit that would have gone to waste. I’ll let them mature for a couple of days, then will report back on the flavour.
After pulling the zucchini and tomatoes out, I dug over the beds and spread some dynamic lifter over the soil. I raked the soil to a lovely, crumbly fine tilth, ready for planting Autumn veggies – some of which I am already raising in the greenhouse, and some to be sowed directly in the garden.
Now is a great time to sow Autumn and Winter veggies. The soil is still nice and warm, and the days are sunny and bright. Seeds will pop up quickly and have a great headstart before the cold weather really sets in. This weekend I directly sowed beetroot, radishes (Watermelon and French Breakfast), carrots (Purple Dragon), and peas (Telephone). I love to grow peas, but my success rate is so-so. I have two varieties to grow this year: a dwarf variety I bought in Tasmania (Keveldon Wonder) and Telephone, which is a climber. I think my success rate is low because I plant them too late. Hoping this year to fix that by planting much earlier.
In the greenhouse, I’m still growing a range of Summer veggies, including capsicums (sweet peppers), cucumbers, chillies, beans, eggplant, and a solitary watermelon.
Capsicum have been the standout crop this season. I have never had much success with them, so it’s exciting to grow so many. However, aphids and whitefly are a problem. I had to pull out five chilli bushes as I was not able to get on top of the bugs. I think they enjoy the humidity and warmth of the greenhouse. I’ve been using eco oil and pyrethrum, but in the heat and bright light of the greenhouse, these tend to burn the plants. If any readers have another suggestion, I’d be glad to hear it.
My real joy though is the cucumbers – while I do not have many of them, the fact I have any at all is a matter of great pride. Every year I try to grow cucumbers, and at the end of the season, I vow: ‘never again!’ Then along comes the Spring, and somehow I find I have ordered cucumber seeds once again. The secret, for me at least, is to grow in a greenhouse (honestly, not such a secret – that is how they are grown for market).
I have planted seeds for the Autumn brassicas and leafy greens in the greenhouse planters, and they have popped up very quickly in the warm environment. My goal this year is to grow as many cauliflowers, broccoli, and cabbages as I can. I also planted kale, lettuce, onions, and bok choy.
Planting Native Seeds
The last seeds I planted were some natives I bought in Tasmania: Sawtooth Banksia, and King Billy Pine. This is my first foray into growing natives. When we were hiking in Tasmania, we saw both these plants growing in the wild: the Banksia beside Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, where it grew to an impressive size, and King Billy pine, both in the rainforest area of the Cradle Mountain National Park, and in a smaller version at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Garden. In the national park, it was an enormous, awe inspiring, tree of magnificent proportions. Of course, I don’t expect to grow a tree of that size: my goal is to grow a version for a pot. How well it will grow in South Australian conditions, I don’t know.
The two plants require vastly different germination environments. King Billy must be chilled in order to successfully germinate. I planted it in seed-raising mix in a container, covered it in plastic wrap, and placed it in my fridge. I’ll leave it there for two weeks before removing it and placing it in a sheltered position to finish the germination process. The Banksia is much simpler: place in a container of seed-raising mix, and keep damp, away from full sun.
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.
Firstly, I am working flat out up to Christmas. I have been stealing a little bit of time in the garden on weekends, but I am working most weekends as well.
The other reason is that while the builder had built the lovely greenhouse, we had left a bunch of junk in there. He kindly built around it, and although he offered to move it, we knew it was our responsibility to shift it all. This junk included a big stack of pavers and sundry other crapola. Shifting the pavers took me the best part of a full day, because I also had to clean them all. I discovered quite a few species of technicolour spiders I had never seen before, some teeny gecko skeletons, and a big old nest of ants.
We posted the whole lot on Gumtree (the pavers, not the critters) and gave them away the next day.
Once the space was clear, I had to order shelving, racks, and planters. I went to a few places locally to see what was available, and also looked on Gumtree for secondhand racks, but there was nothing suitable. I ended up going to the evil empire Amazon for raised planters, a stainless steel kitchen bench, and stainless steel plant racks.
All these have started to arrive, and thanks to the assembly skills of my husband and various teens about the house, they are now set up in the greenhouse.
I have planted up three of the planters with seeds (watermelons and cucumbers, as well as having another crack at eggplants, for the final time this season). One planter has been set aside for my youngest kiddo and my nephew to play around with, as they have both expressed an interest in learning to garden.
When the bench arrives, it will be placed in the centre of the greenhouse so I make good use of space. That will be the potting area.
This time of year is not ideal for a greenhouse (Summer in Southern Australia), except…it has been unseasonably cool. So I’m going to keep playing around with the greenhouse and will try my luck growing some melons and cucumbers in here this season. Where it will really come into its own will be the cooler months. I’m pretty happy with the whole setup – it’s neat, it’s functional, and mostly, it’s just hella fun.