Weekend garden jobs, March 1 2020

Sweet rewards for gardeners that decide to spend their Sunday mornings in the garden!

It’s been some time since I have really spent quality time in my garden. I have been working a lot. I had intended to spend all of January either on the beach, or in the garden, but my clients had other ideas! It turns out January and February are very busy months for self-employed writers like myself. As such, I spent almost all my time (weekends included) working, and what time was left with family. My poor garden has been sorely neglected as a result.

It has survived very well due to cooler than usual February temperatures, mulch, and the good offices of my husband, who has kept up the watering. But, a garden cannot survive on water alone; it needs to be weeded, pruned, fed, and generally loved if it is to keep on producing.

This morning is the first Sunday I have not had to meet a deadline for some time, so decided to get outside while the going was good. What a mess! My first task was to walk around with a bowl and pick what was available to pick. Cherry tomatoes, eggplants, jalapeƱos, and a cache of perfectly ripe strawberries were my reward. Unfortunately, the zucchini are rotting on the vine, so I was not able to pick any. These plants have a week to come good, otherwise they are going to be consigned to the compost. It’s a bugger because the plant itself is very healthy, without any sign of mildew. I see plenty of bees around, but I think I am not getting any male flowers. WTH, nature?

By picking first, I also got to see what needed doing most urgently. Answer: pruning the boysenberry. My response: sigh. This I my least favourite garden task, because ouch (see below).

Being stabbed with these barbs is extremely painful. Unfortunately, even with gloves, it happens very frequently. Unfortunately, pruning the boysenberry brambles is necessary, or it completely takes over Pie Corner. I have thought about pulling the damn thing out, but I am always happy when the bloody thing produces delicious soft boysenberries each year (see below). And so I forgive it my annual bloody thumb stabs for the tasty rewards it offers. I am sure there is a metaphor there somewhere, but I am in too much pain to think about what it might be.

With great reward comes great risk

This task takes quite a while, due to the care it takes. Think of rose pruning if the rose bushes had long, long tendrils that crawled all over the yard and under every other plant you had in a ten metre radius, and were spawned by Satan.

I also noticed their less prolific, younger and less thorny cousins, the raspberries, required tying up, so I also did this when I was sick of being attacked by brambles.

Once I had finished with Pie Corner, I moved on to tomato country. The tomatoes have been quite disappointing this year, I have to say. The combination of early extreme heat, bushfire smoke, and late cool weather, has led to a disappointing tomato season for every gardener I have spoken to. We did have some success with cherry tomatoes, but they were quite sour compared to the lush sweetness that cherry tomatoes are renowned for. We pick them, but they are better for cooking than eating in salads, which is one of the joys of Summer, usually. I picked the remaining tomatoes, and dug the plants out. While I am at it, I pulled out two of three squash plants. I left one last squash plant in the ground, hoping to salvage a couple more delicious yellow squash before this one too mush be dragged from the ground.

I felt sad as I dug out these plants: I am saying goodbye to Summer. I enjoy growing (and truthfully, I am more successful) Winter vegetables, but there is something about the Summer annual vegetables that I think all gardeners look forward to more than any other. Every year I pore over the seed catalogues and hopefully plant a wide variety of tomatoes and beans with the excitement of a kid writing their letter to Santa. Yet every year by the end of Summer, I have the same successes: pumpkins, eggplant, chillies, and yet more pumpkins. Why do I keep trying with the tomatoes, beans, capsicums, squash, when they more often disappoint than succeed?

I must have that twisted gardening optimism that convinces me each year that this year will be different.

Oh well. There’s always next year.

Gardening jobs, Week beginning 17th November 2019

It was a stinker of a week here in our Southern states of Australia, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees C in my area before a windy cool change. I pre-emptively watered my garden ahead of the heat, with the hope of saving my newly planted tomatoes, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. Last year, a one-day heat blast (48 degrees C) wiped out everything in one hit. Happily the intensive watering kept everything alive and well.

Next weekend I will be mulching heavily – a little late, but at least before Summer starts in earnest.

Dead-heading

Halfway through dead-heading the biggest lavender bush

This is a dull, repetitive task that I put off – I would rather weed than dead-head flowering plants. However, it is a necessary task to keep flowering shrubs looking their best and flowering longer. Ideally I would do this about three times a year, but honestly it is more likely twice yearly. I have about 15 lavender bushes in my front yard; these have all reached the point that they need their semi-annual haircut. I spent an hour with the hedge trimmers chopping back four of these, including the largest of the English lavender bushes, a monstrous beast that is also encroaching the neighbour’s yard. I will leave the rest for the weekend.

Wait to dead-head, as the name suggests, when the flowers are mostly spent. You can see in the photo above that there are still a couple of fresh lavender flowers on the bush, but that the majority are dried out and dead. Try to choose a cooler day to dead-head if you can, to avoid stressing the plant. I chose a warm day, early in the morning, because that is when I had the time. Often gardening is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

At least trimming lavender smells divine, making a boring job a bit more pleasant. I also have three climbing roses, about a dozen calendula, sage bushes, thyme, oregano, and mint that all needs a tidy up. When I cut back the herbs, I will put them in my dehydrator to make mixed dried herbs. I usually live to regret this, as scrunching them up into jars afterward takes a long time. By the time I have pulled them off their stalks and put them into recycled jars, I end up with a disappointing amount of herbs for all my hard work. But I cannot bear to toss all those beautiful herbs in the compost, even though I know they are a renewable resource (unlike my time).

Feeding and Weeding

The rest of my time this week was spent digging compost out of the the second compost bin, side dressing all the tomatoes with a solid shovel of pelletised chicken manure each, giving the plants in pots a liquid feed of diluted worm wee, and weeding. At this time of year, the task of weeding is endless. Driving around the city, I see that the local councils are barely able to keep up with all the weeding. If they can’t do it, how can I manage it all?

I bet all the damn weeds survive the heat.

Weekend Gardening Jobs, November 9th & 10th 2019

The weather in Australia this past week can best be described as ‘whacked.’ In the East Coast, we have had bushfires raging across the state of New South Wales, with tragic loss of life and of property. In our Southern States, where I am lucky to live, we have had a cold snap, with wintry weather, strong winds, and rain. We had a hot day yesterday, and back down to wintry weather again. While I’m not complaining about the rain, it is pretty crazy to have weather like this in late Spring. I was at the supermarket yesterday, and two old guys (older than me, anyways) were complaining about climate change. I don’t know where the politicians get the idea that their more mature constituents don’t accept that climate change is real. They should be spending less time listening to Alan Jones and more time listening to the people buying bananas at Aldi. Climate change: it’s not just for the Gretas of the world (bless her). We are all affected and even we Gen Xers and OK Boomers accept the science. Unfortunately, the kids will have to deal with the effects long after the current crop of pollies have written their boring memoirs.

Even though the weather has turned chilly and windy again, I informed my husband that ‘by hook or by crook’ I was getting out in the garden again this morning. He thought I had finally lost the plot, and he is probably right, but this morning I got out there in my gardener’s clogs and turned the compost. I have the old style Dalek composters, and they do a brilliant job, especially in the warmer weather. They are helped along by compost worms. As I dig, I toss the worms back in the composter: they are not earthworms, so they really don’t want to be anywhere else. I am sure I missed a few, but I guess they make it back there eventually.

I have two composting bins. I dig them out every six weeks or so, removing the usable compost and replacing back the compost that still needs work. Then I keep adding more household scraps and other debris back on top. If I can get hold of some, I add some manure. Pigeon manure is the best, but chicken, donkey, or sheep is also good. I’ve even used rabbit manure in the compost bin. All manure should be well composted before placing on the garden. Fresh manure can burn plants and can contain undigested seeds that can germinate in the garden, leading to a weed problem. Some seeds can’t be destroyed even by composting: right now I have a crop of tomato plants popping up in the garden where I laid some compost recently. I will let them go until they are large enough, then plant them out somewhere else. I have also never met a pumpkin seed that didn’t survive composting. The past two years, all my best pumpkins have grown out of the compost.

I used the six buckets of compost to top up the potato pots, and to side dress asparagus, apple trees, and some tomato plants. I have another compost bin that also needs digging out; I’ll do it later in the week, weather permitting.

Finally, I started planting out zucchini plants that I have been hardening off in small pots. As I mentioned in the last post, I have decided to abandon my long tradition of planting them in mounds, and opted to plant in wells or troughs to help the plants to better retain water.

Tomorrow I will try to find space for the rest of the zucchini, plant some climbing beans, and give all the lavender plants a haircut. I don’t want to trim them, but they are starting to look ratty. If I give them a trim now, they will probably flower again this Summer, to the joy of the native bees that love to visit.

Weekend gardening jobs, Weekend 2nd & 3rd November 2019

The title of this post is actually somewhat misleading: I have been going out to the garden every morning for an hour or so, even on weekdays. I made the decision to do this after I spent half an hour in bed trying to convince myself to get on the treadmill. I realised I could have spent that half an hour happily in the garden getting some exercise. With that thought, I jumped out of bed, and did spend an hour happily in the garden getting some exercise. Turns out, gardening is what I want to be doing. Walking to nowhere while watching the morning news is my idea of hell.

Garden experimentation

Squash planted on a mound.

I have been planting tomatoes, eggplant, and squash, and prepping the zucchini I have been raising from seed for the garden. Usually, I sow zucchini seed directly where I want them to grow, but this year I still had snow peas and brassicas in the garden. To give myself a head start, I started raising zucchini seedlings. I don’t know if this will work out better, but I figure it is worth the experiment. I raised a mix of different zucchini seeds I already had: golden, striped, pale green, dark green (can you tell zucchini is my favourite vegetable?). Unfortunately I was in a bit of a rush, and I didn’t label any of them, so it will be a pleasant surprise to see what I have when they finally start producing. This was about a month ago, so this week I potted them on into larger pots to help them develop a stronger root system before I plant them in the ground. I already have the mounds ready for them to go in.

I was taught by some Italian gardeners I once gardened with at a community garden to plant zucchini, squash and pumpkins in raised mounds so that they are more protected from water droplets and powdery mildew, the curse of zucchini plants. I think this might be generally true, except that the gardeners I learned this from almost twenty years ago were not grappling with the extremes of climate change. I have observed over the past couple of weeks that the ruffled squash plants I have already planted in mounds are not progressing as well as the tomatoes and eggplant I planted in deep troughs at the same time. The soil around the squash plants is extremely dry. This appears to be because the water collects in the troughs and is retained by the plant roots, whereas the water in the mounds is not retained by the squash plants (in fact, the tomatoes get most of it as the water runs off). I am considering replanting most of the squash in troughs, and leaving one on a mound as an experiment. I will plant the rest of the zucchini in troughs as well, and see at the end of the season which of the squash and zucchini fell prey to powdery mildew. Obviously, mulching will help offset some of the moisture loss, but this will be the case for however I plant them.

Speaking of mulching, this is my next big task. I am again experimenting with different mulches. I am trying to reduce the plastic waste created from gardening. While generally, gardening is a sustainable hobby, it still generates quite a lot of plastic waste that I am uncomfortable with. I can offset it by reusing plastic pots and creating tags out of old milk jugs, etc, but one of the main offenders is bags used to hold mulches and manures. I have been experimenting with coir as a potting medium and mulch, because it comes in a compressed block that is reconstituted with water. Because it is compressed, it is smaller, and is wrapped in less plastic.

Coir mulch is quite chunky. I have found it very good for mulching pots, but it is not a patch on sugar cane mulch for the general garden. I may have to go back to sugar cane for the garden, and go to coir for pots only. Both sugar cane and coir are agricultural waste products, so are a sustainable product compared to other mulches.

Tomato plant in a concrete pot, mulched with coir

I am also experimenting with different staking methods for tomatoes. I have built a trellis for some tomatoes, using 2 metre stakes and wires. The tomatoes will be able to use the trellis for support, and I will also grow Scarlet Runner beans in between each tomato plant. For the rest of the tomatoes, I am using the traditional single stake and tie method.

Pie Corner

The left hand corner of the garden, near the collapsed water tank (that is another job for the future), has been dubbed Pie Corner, because everything in it can be used to bake a delicious pie: strawberries, boysenberries, rhubarb, apples, and raspberries. We were so excited this week to discover a bumper crop of boysenberries developing.

Boysenberries forming

Last season I built a better trellis than the dodgy job I had strung up last year, and I pruned the boysenberry plants and trained them up in a fan style. The vines looked pretty sad for most of the Winter and Spring months until suddenly they burst into new growth and flowers! Truthfully, I doubt very much there will be any berries left for a pie. I think we will be eating them all fresh with cream. Boysenberries are really delicious, and you can’t easily buy them in shops because they are so delicate – they don’t transport or keep well, making them a bit of a poor bet for supermarkets. For farmers they are probably not much fun either. They are spiny buggers, not much fun to pick or prune. I have damaged myself on more than one occasion.

We also have our first ever crop of mulberries developing, and a real crop of apricots coming on. Last year we managed a respectable 30 or so apricots, but this year the tree is laden. If we can beat the birds to both, I envision some mulberry jam and apricot pie in our future (apricot pie beats apple pie any day of the week, in my opinion).

In Winter, I gave all the fruit trees a blanket feed of aged sheep manure to slowly feed the tree and to keep the roots warm. The eighty bucks spent on sheep manure has been some of the best money I have spent. It is still breaking down (I can still see it on the top of the soil under each tree), and the trees look magnificent and are fruiting prolifically for the first time since we planted them four years ago.

Free Garden Goodies

On Sunday, we went to the Uraidla Show. Uraidla is a country town about 40 minutes drive from our place. The Show was fantastic – everything you want a Country Show to be (baking and flower arranging competitions, show chooks, hot donuts, sustainability fair, etc). For me the highlight was a stall run by local gardeners who were giving away free produce, seeds, and worm wee fertiliser. I picked out Teddy Bear Sunflower seeds, Lunar White carrot seeds, and Aquilegia (also known as Columbines, or Granny’s Bonnet) seeds. I also received a one litre bottle of worm wee fertiliser, aka liquid gold. This was truly the highlight of the event for me. My husband thought it was some new variety of kombucha and nearly drank it. Although that would have been hysterical, thankfully he did not do that, because I want that for my garden (check my priorities). I don’t keep worms, except in my compost bin, because it gets too hot in the Summer here, and they will die (in the compost bin, they can easily burrow down to the cooler soil if they want). Thanks to the bounty of generous gardeners, I can still feed it to my plants without having to keep worms myself.

My friends and family are surely heartily tired of hearing me boast about the worm wee already.

Gardeners be crazy, y’all.

The wall

The wall continueth. By this point, it’s not just a wall building project. It’s a Wagnerian song cycle.

Last chances

I think every gardener has some plants that, no matter what, they fail to grow, over and over again. I grow quite a few plants pretty successfully, and some other plants really well.

But here is a list of plants that have just one last chance with me:

  • Cucumbers – every variety: I have never grown a single cucumber. Not one. This year I am trying Crystal Apple and Marketmore (again). My Mother is the queen of cucumbers (if such a title exists) and I am the Court Jester.
  • San Marzano and Pineapple tomatoes: this is the last year I am trying these heirloom varieties. After this, I quit. I will grow other varieties and be happy.
  • Lakota pumpkins: I grow pumpkins so well, except for this fussy variety, of which I have grown exactly one. As in, one single tiny pumpkin. I am trying again this year, and if I fail, that is it. Space is at a premium in my garden, and I have no room for space-hogging failures.
  • Borlotti beans: Time and time again, I have attempted to grow these delicious beans. I usually end up with a single handful. I think this year I will not even bother.
  • Melons – every variety: Why are melons so hard? I have never successfully grown a watermelon, rockmelon, or honeydew. I am going to try one more time this year to grow watermelons, but if these cark it on me again, I am officially giving up the dream of homegrown melons. I don’t even know why it is a dream. Like cucumbers, I guess I have wanted to grow them because I cannot.

Gardening jobs, weekend 12th & 13th October 2019

You think when you start to work from home that you will have all the time in the world. I had a vision that I would spend half my days in the garden, followed by a couple of hours work in the afternoon.

That turned out to be a fantasy of epic proportions. I still am very much the Part-time Gardener. I could be the Full-time Gardener, if I didn’t want to foolishly pay my mortgage and continue to fund this new-fangled electricity all the kids are talking about. So, weekend gardening is mostly still what I have time to do.

This weekend was mostly about soil preparation for Summer fruiting vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. I cleared the lettuce field to make space for Summer veggies (probably for tomatoes, but possibly pumpkins), and then dug over the two compost bins. Being a strange one, I love to dig over compost bins. It’s so satisfying to see what has happened to all that waste. Like most of us, I diligently recycle, but it feels kind of futile. After listening to the news, podcasts, and watching TV shows about what has happened to the waste stream over the past couple of years, I don’t really believe that what I am putting in my kerbside recycling bin is actually being recycled. I feel like I am doing it because I hope that the right thing is happening. But with my own compost, I can see home recycling in action, from start to finish: it’s a beautiful closed loop.

Anyway, I dug out two full barrow loads of lovely compost, which I dug into the old lettuce field (to explain how ‘closed’ the closed loop is – some of the old lettuce plants I pulled out a couple of weeks ago had already broken down into compost and were dug into the lettuce field. I mean, really – how cool is that?). I sprinkled pelletised chicken manure over the top and raked it, and I have let it sit now for a week. It has rained for several days this week, so by next weekend it will be perfect for planting some veggies.

And while I was having all that fun, my husband had the Sisyphean task of shifting massive moss rocks from the backyard to the front. Poor bugger.

Potted Gardens

A few weeks ago we moved a raised garden bed to the front yard to make room for the retaining wall (yep, it’s still going). After filling it with compost, potting soil and mulch, we let it sit for a few weeks until I was ready to plant.

I bought six punnets of seedlings about six weeks ago, and separated them all into pots filled with a mix of coir and potting mix. Six weeks ago in our neck of the woods, the soil was still too cold for tomatoes, and many of my Spring veggies were not ready to come out. If I had planted out those seedlings, they likely would have died from cold, or would have been eaten by slugs. By potting them on, I have given them time to develop a lovely strong root system (see photo below). Also, they have had time to sit outside in my garden, acclimatising to the conditions in my yard. Now they are used to the specific micro-ecosystem of my garden, they will be much stronger than if I had just planted them straightaway.

This doesn’t work for everything. It works really well for fruiting plants like tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant, but I wouldn’t try it on plants like sweet corn or beans, which are much better planted direct where they are to grow.

Capsicum ready to be planted in a pot

In the raised bed I planted capsicum, jalapeƱos and basil. In large pots, I planted more of the same. I am also trying potatoes in pots this year, as I have run out of space to grow potatoes.

I am trying potatoes in a pot large enough to grow a tree. I put a layer of potting mix on the bottom, and then placed three certified seed potatoes (we like Ruby Lou):

I covered just over the potatoes with more soil. As the potato plants grow, I will top up the soil. I have never grown potatoes in a container before, so we will see how they go. If it fails, I am only out some soil and a few seed potatoes.

The rest of my gardening time this weekend was spent weeding. So much weeding. The green bin and both compost bins are completely full. And still more to go!

Gardening Jobs, Week Beginning 23rd September 2019

Pomegranate tree in full leaf

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

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

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

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

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

Other jobs left to do this week:

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

Galangal

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

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

Gardening Jobs, Week beginning 21st July 2019

This week as my husband continued to work on the wall, I started to move two raised garden beds that are now in the way of the wall’s continued progress. I had to move the plants in the boxes (strawberries, lettuces, silverbeet, coriander, and some brassicas). That took a surprisingly long time! I was careful to disturb the roots as little as possible. You can see the mini greenhouse and an upturned raised bed down the end of the yard. My main issue now is, where to put them?

The Wall.

After all that planting, I weeded a little and used chopped lucerne to mulch around the rest of the brassicas and other plants I had recently moved. Everything looks so much happier with a little mulch around its roots. Looking forward to lots of delicious Spring veggies in about six weeks – especially that most delicious of all the brassicas, Romanesco broccoli. I have been patiently growing it from seed this year, so I hope it grows its little head off.

I planted out asparagus crowns today. These were a gift from my mother, who was moving her crowns due to a lack of space.

Asparagus is a great plant to grow if you have both room and patience. Believe it or not, I am starting to run out of room (never out of patience – for plants anyway. For people…possibly). I had just enough room to fit the asparagus, but it has meant I will have to sacrifice space for the potatoes. I might have to plant spuds in grow bags this year.

Personally, I love asparagus. It is one of my very favourite vegetables, but I have never grown it. It has been on my ‘to-do’ list. Then Mum had to move hers, and I was fortunate enough to inherit some of her crowns.

Asparagus is actually a herbaceous fern. It grows from a crown that is buried in the dirt, and takes about 18 months to produce useable spears. Once it produces, a single crown will produce asparagus for up to 20 years. This makes it a worthwhile investment in both space and effort.

Alienesque Asparagus Crown

The asparagus crowns look a bit like aliens. The spidery roots must be planted in a deep hole, in well manured or composted soil. Mum had wrapped these crowns in damp newspaper to keep them going before I had the time to plant them out, but to give them a pick-me-up before planting, I soaked each crown in a bucket of weak seaweed solution for about fifteen minutes.

Asparagus crown floating in a bucket of delicious seaweed extract

While these were soaking, I dug three pretty wide, deep holes. Organic Gardener magazine suggests the hole should be at least 20 cm deep. They also suggest digging a trench, but as my space was quite limited, a dug three separate holes as near each other as I could.

I found a spot for them in the back of my veggie patch, near my lime tree. They will be undisturbed there for as long as they need to start producing.

I placed my soaked crowns in the bottom of the hole, and covered with just enough dirt to cover all except the very top of the crown. I watered well with weak seaweed extract (about half a bucket), and then mulched lightly with chopped lucerne:

As the crown starts to grow, I will add some more soil over the top of it.

In the first year, the plant will produce a fern that I will leave to grow until they set seeds. Then I will chop them back right down at the end of the season. I will have to be patient and wait until the second year for the spears to start producing, and even then, I will not be able to harvest too many. I can harvest some, but let the plant again set the fern and seeds.

In the third year, I can go crazy and pick all I like! Then it will be an asparagus party, baby. Just like the Great Gatsby used to throw.

Top 10 Most Useful Gardening Tools

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of my least most useful gardening tools and gadgets, gleaned from my gardening purchases over the years.

But never fear! It has not all been tales of wasted cash and broken dreams. There have been some purchases that not only did what they promised on the packet, but exceeded my expectations. Here’s my top 10:

10. The trowel. Cost: about $15. This trowel is already going on about four years, and has yet to show a speck of rust or any signs of weakness in the handle. This, after my last trowel bought the biscuit when the handle snapped off where it joined the metal head. We still use it to shovel bits of potting mix and gravel, but it really is a sad looking thing. Meanwhile, the $15 trowel keeps on putting the hard yards every weekend.

9. A single plastic chopstick. Price unknown. You can purchase fancy seed dibbers and other tools to prick out seedlings, but honestly nothing beats a chopstick for this job. My handy chopstick has been used for years and is still a lovely shiny red. And if I ran it through the dishwasher I am sure I could still eat my sushi with it.

I, er, won’t though.

8. The spade. Cost: about $15 many years ago. Our spade looks a sorry sight. The plastic handle fell off many years ago, so it does look quite dodge. I have considered replacing it with a fancy schmancy new spade, but the fact is that this spade is a workhorse that is still nice and comfortable to use. The wooden shaft shows no sign of breaking, and the head is still strong. It’s also not too heavy, which is important for me – I’m not a big person and I have problems with my wrists and hands. Heavy tools are difficult for me to manage. I’ll keep this one, minus the handle, for as long as I can.

7. Shovel. Cost: $20. When once receives a gift card for the Big Green Shed, you can buy plants, or you can make an investment in a tool. We did not have a shovel, most necessary of tools for the shoveling of compost. A spade just doesn’t do the job – it’s too shallow. A shovel allows for the collection of a nice full load. Anyway, I looked at what was available, and I think this one was the best deal for the price.

6. Hedge Trimmers. Can’t recall the price because we have owned them as long as I can remember. This shows what a good set of tools they are. I do not recall ever sharpening them or paying them much attention either way – we just use them and toss them back in the shed. Bit rude, really. But they just keep on going, used for trimming vines, lavender plants, herbs, and whatever else around here needs a good chop. I used them last weekend in fact. And then I tossed them back in the shed.

5. Rosette sprinkler. Cost: $3. These were once considered akin to a tool of Satan, but nowadays you can get lo-flo versions that do not waste water like the old versions. Also in a garden like mine, I like to be able to direct water to certain sections for a single deep soaking once a week in the Summer, instead of small amounts of water daily. We have found this to be an efficient way of irrigating a very large garden in the absence of an irrigation system (on the very long to-do list).

4. Secateurs. Cost: $39.99 about 15 years ago. Why do I remember the price so vividly? Because at that time I was pretty darn broke, and $39.99 was a lot of money for a tool. But – 100% worth it. I use that same set of secateurs every single weekend. My husband sharpens them now and then, and I give them a little clean with metho between jobs (when I remember – honestly, I’m not meticulous with it). That’s as much care as they get. For an amortized cost of $2.66 AUD so far, I think I got my money’s worth.

3. Wheelbarrow. Cost: $109. We only recently upgraded our wheelbarrow. The house we live in now came with a wheelbarrow (how convenient!), but the poor old gal has been getting progressively decrepit over the years until finally she was only good for holding our firewood. In advance of the retaining wall project, we made an investment in a new wheelbarrow.

Jeezum crow, those things are expensive! $109 was the cheapest we could find for a steel wheelbarrow. When I die, just load me up on that thing to send me to Valhalla. It’s almost the most expensive vehicle I own.

2. Garden Fork. Cost: $54. Yep, I forked out $54 for a garden fork, and I don’t regret it. It’s a smallish sized fork with a lovely comfortable wooden handle, purchased from the Digger’s Club for my birthday two years ago. It’s almost my most used garden tool, and with its small size and light weight, it is perfect for my use. When you load me on my wheelbarrow to Valhalla, the garden fork will be by my side for my trip to the after life.

And the number one most useful garden tool I currently own: Ho-Mi. Cost: $21. The Ho-Mi is a Asian garden cultivator with a wooden handle and a pointed head that is deadly sharp. Much of our weekend garden conversation relates to the Ho-Mi: “Where did you put the Ho-Mi!” “Watch out for the Ho-Mi!” “Hell, why’d you leave it right there!” etc – you catch my drift. The sharp tip is perfect for hand weeding, cutting furrows for planting, digging a quick hole to plant a seedling, or for getting into paving cracks to remove annoying moss or little weeds. We love the Ho-Mi. We bought ours from the Diggers Club, but you can probably buy them elsewhere. I’ll always have one in my shed, for gardening and self-defence.

Honourable mentions:

  • Kneel-os (cost to me, free. Actual cost, about $30). These strap on doo-hickeys tie onto your knees and make kneeling in the garden to weed and plant much more comfortable and less messy. I got these free for renewing my membership to the Digger’s Club this year. Would I buy a pair? Now that I know how comfy and useful they are, yes. But I’m pretty chuffed I didn’t have to.
  • Sloggers garden clogs. I long coveted a pair of these admittedly expensive gardening shoes ($54!). Finally I broke down and bought a pair, and I have to say, I do love them and wear them all the time. A slight issue with them is that they can flick general garden crud into your feet. However, generally they are comfortable and easy to kick on and off when heading in and out of your house to make the necessary cups of tea while gardening.
  • Cultivator and hoe (about $10 each). These are VITs (Very Important Tools) for weeding horrid oxalis and other annoying little weeds. However, they have been somewhat superseded by the Ho-Mi.

Gardening jobs, Weekend 22 & 23 June 2019

What an age we live in…when you can order sheep poo online, and it comes straight to your door.

I can find all the free horse poo I want, thanks to several riding clubs in my area, but at this time of year it takes a long time to compost. You shouldn’t generally use horse manure without composting it first, unless you want a lot of new weedy visitors to your garden. I will get some of the free poo to add to my compost bins, where it will take a few months to break down in time for Spring.

Sheep poo is the best manure for fruit trees, but it is not that easy to find in my neck of suburbia. You can buy it from some garden supply places, but I have found that it tends to be a “blend” (blended with compost or soil) rather than a pure product. I ended up finding it through a local company online, for just slightly more than the blended brands, and delivered to my house for free.

Sheep manure is good for trees because it helps to build strong root systems. For dormant fruit trees in Winter (think stone fruits, pomes, and mulberries), a nice cover of sheep poo over the roots acts like a warm blanket and feeds the tree until it wakes up in Spring.

Look at my happy mulberry tree. Doesn’t she look nice and cozy?

Why yes, I am slightly batty, thank you for asking.