Weekend garden jobs, 19 September 2020

Happy daffs

This time of year I have two problems in the garden: finding enough time to get out there as often as I want to, and controlling my desire to plant all the interesting varieties of tomatoes I can find. As it is, I am growing ten different tomatoes this season. That is ten different varieties, not ten different plants. I am growing multiples of some, if I can fit them in! This season I am growing:

  • Tigerella (heirloom);
  • Green Zebra (heirloom);
  • Moneymaker (heirloom);
  • Sweetbite (F1)
  • Tommytoe (heirloom);
  • Sweet 100 (F1);
  • Blueberries (heirloom);
  • Wapsipinicon Peach (heirloom);
  • Jaune Flamme (heirloom from seeds saved in 2018); and
  • Thai Pink Egg (heirloom from a cutting given to me by my brother).

I would grow more but I do not have the room. Partly this is due to literal space, and partly this is due to a new support structure I am trying for each plant.

Beta tomato cage

I have tried many different tomato support systems, and really they have all been pretty hopeless. Last year’s trellis was the worst – I learned a lesson there about following a TV gardener’s advice. Pfft! Useless waste of effort. Not only did the trellis not support the tomatoes, it couldn’t support itself, and fell over.

My brother grows the best tomatoes in the family, damn him (psst, Rob I love you). He builds tomato cages. I have never done this before, but after last year’s frankly pretty average tomato crop, I have decided it is time. Of course, my tomato cage effort is nowhere near as impressive as the ten foot structure my bro constructs, but I am lazier than he is, and less talented. I have built teepees from stakes, and wrapped them around with bits of wire mesh. The tomato is planted in the centre. The tomato cage gives the tomato more structure than a single stake, and will protect it from the dinosaurs now roaming my garden.

The only problem is that by doing it this way, each tomato plant takes up more space in the garden. To make space, I had to clear out a couple of extra plants, including two rhubarb plants. I felt bad about that, but I do have many rhubarb plants and not enough room for everything I want to grow. Time to get tough!

Marauding Dinosaurs

Troublesome creatures! The chooks are wreaking havoc. Look at what they have done to the sweet peas almost ready to flower at the back there. Grr!! Time to build a chook run to hold them in check.

This week I finally cleared enough space to plant potatoes. I am conducting a spud experiment: I planted some in an old feed bag about a month ago, and now the remainder in the ground. Instead of a trench, which is how I have always planted them, I dug a hole for each potato. I am going to see whether the potato bag grows as well as the spuds in the ground, and if the spud holes works better than the trench. I need more room to grow pumpkins and watermelons on that side of the garden.

I am also conducting a sweet corn experiment. Normally I grow corn direct where I want it to grow, in a block formation. However, I was listening to a gardening podcast the other day and the presenter mentioned that aside from carrots, he grows all seeds in punnets to start with and then transplants into the garden. His view is that this gives them a stronger start. I do not know if this is true, but I thought that I would give it a go this time, especially with the marauders on the loose. I am putting the corn in where we have removed the rainwater tank, in Pie Corner. When my husband finishes the wall in that section, I am considering planting another dwarf apple to espalier against the wall and help pollinate the other apple trees in that part of the garden. But for now, it can grow some corn and pumpkins over the summer while he finishes the retaining wall.

Pumpkins! I have big pumpkin plans this year. Some might say Powerful Pumpkin Plans 😀 In addition to the usual Kent pumpkins that inevitably self-seed from the compost, I will be trying Australian Butter, ye olde Butternut (always a good grower in my backyard, even if it does like to cross-pollinate with Kent to create a mutant Kenternut), and Queensland Blue. I have never grown them but they are a delicious, classic Aussie pumpkin.

So many Planting Plans, never enough space, and not enough time. Where will I fit the zucchini?

Don’t grow zucchini you say? Which blog are you reading?

Weekend garden jobs, September 5 & 6 2020

Spring in Southern Australia is definitely the perfect season and the perfect place to be in the world. We are fortunate to be out of lockdown, with easing restrictions and minimal COVID-19 cases in our State. The weather is perfect. I want to be outside all day, everyday.

I do have to work, but as I am a freelancer, I have the gift of mostly setting my own hours. This means I can try to spend at least some time outside each day. Right now I am sitting under the pergola, eating a curry and feeling the warm air. I did try to concentrate on work this morning, but I kept looking outside, feet jiggling under my desk, and finally I gave up. The work will still be there tomorrow!!

This weekend I cleaned up the blind spot in the garden that annoys my neighbour more than it does me, because I can’t see it, and he can. He doesn’t complain about it, but he has mildly mentioned once that he would like the weeds to be removed before they flower so the seeds don’t blow into his yard.

I have struggled to deal with this spot. It gets mostly shade, and it is right by our large covered pergola. I don’t want to grow a lot here, but I will have to grow something to out-compete the annoying thistles and other weeds that have taken up residence. The last owners of the house also planted some bloody annoying bamboo, that continually re-seeds, and the back neighbours have ivy that climbs from their place over the fence. And finally, because our house is 2.5 storeys, the fence line is sunk about two metres from ground level and slopes down to the front yard, meaning that if I want to remove other weeds near the fence line, I have to climb down into what could be a haven for snakes. It’s not a fun time. This is why I leave the whole stinkin’ lot until I know John is cursing the sight of it.

Cleaning up thistles, ivy, and bamboo is a boring and hard job. However, I have a plan in place to minimise this task in the future. Some would say to spray the whole lot with glyphosate and be done with it, but I don’t use any poisons in my garden, so I need to be more creative than that. Part the first of my plan is chooks. They are allowed to free-range back there. I figure that once the giant weeds are gone, they will be able to quickly manage any newbies that pop up their heads. Part the second is to plant ground covers, such as violets, calendula, nasturtiums and others that will quickly take over and prevent such rampant weed growth. I have done this in other parts of the garden and it is successful. And part the third, as mentioned last week, is to plant shallow-rooted fruiting vines such as berries, to take over from the ivy. While also potentially annoying, at least it will fruit and be useful for both us and the chickens.

I am also planting climbers against the chicken coop to provide shade in Summer. After some thought, I chose a climbing jasmine for one side. If that does well in that spot, I will plant another. I originally planned a passionfruit vine, but I think it will not receive enough sun there.

After the boring work, I got to have some fun. The garden is producing a lot of late Winter/early Spring veggies, including this stunning Romanesco broccoli. It weighed in at 760 grams, which is not too shabby. I roasted half of it in a baked chicken and sweet potato dish with smoked paprika and oregano that all declared delicious. Roasted broccoli is yummo. Romanesco in particular lends itself well to roasting, as it has nice strong florets that roast nicely.

I also picked the remaining kale, and made kale and parsley pesto. As we cannot eat nuts in our house, I use pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as the ‘nutty’ element. Basil pesto is nicer, but the kale pesto is still good. And that is the last of the kale for the year: it was a pretty nice crop this time around.

The dud for the Winter season was the purple kohlrabi, which has not put on any nice bulbs, and the regular broccoli, which bolted straight to seed the first sunny day.

On the plus side, the tomato and chilli seeds I planted two weeks ago are popping up their heads in this warm weather. I planted:

  • Tomato Moneymaker, which the Heirloom Tomato book tells me is one of the most prolific tomatoes you can grow, but not the tastiest 😦
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Chilli Anaheim – second time around for this one, hopefully it grows;
  • Watermelon Golden Midget – every year I say ‘this is the last time I try growing watermelons’ – and every year I give them another crack. Gardening is the triumph of optimism over experience.

This afternoon I am going digging through my saved seeds to pull out the best chillies I have ever grown (Devil’s Tongue – both spicy hot and prolific) and the best tomato (Jaune Flamme – bright orange and delicious). Hopefully the seed is still viable. I am going to plant them out in seed trays and see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Weekend garden jobs, August 15 2020

Foreground: Vanessa, Background from left: Roost Bolton, Mary Shelley, Hercules Mulligan

Our organic veggie and fruit garden was made more sustainable (arguably) this week with the addition of chooks! We have been waiting to buy hens since January when our neighbour John helped us to install the henhouse. Then the pandemic hit, and people decided that chooks were the way to survive the zombie apocalypse lockdown. So we have been keeping an eye on all the usual places, but every time chooks became available, they sold out straightaway.

In our area, things have settled down, and we finally managed to get hold of four point-of-lay pullets. I really wanted heirloom breeds, but settled for reliable, friendly ISA Browns, because four chooks in the henhouse is better than none…in the henhouse.

We have already discovered that they each have their own distinct personalities. Vanessa is the boss and the most inquisitive. When we let them out for their first free range today, she was the one to lead them out of the henhouse, and the first to work out how to escape our (admittedly shoddy) barriers. She’s the first to get her gob in the food trough too, and the one to flap her wings at me indignantly if I get in her way. She’s the one giving the stink eye to the camera in the photo above.

Hercules Mulligan was the last to be named (after my husband couldn’t come up with a name, I helpfully took over naming duties), and is the shyest. She took ages to come out of the box upon arrival (eventually I just tipped it up and she had no choice) and the last to timidly step out of the henhouse into the big wide world this morning.

They have already started laying little pullet sized eggs, like troopers. I am happy about the eggs but I will be even happier about adding their manure to my compost. Chook poo is great to activate compost.

While the chooks free ranged and my husband chopped wood for the fire like a champion, I started fertilising the veggie patch with pelletised chicken manure (Rooster Booster), and weeding. I was pretty laid back today: it’s pretty cold and I was mostly interested in the chooks, tbh. But I pulled out weeds as I found them, and checked out the veggies to see how they are going. Cabbages are heading nicely, if the green caterpillar (see below) doesn’t eat too much of it.

Geroff little caterpillar, that’s my cabbage!

The Romanesco broccoli has started heading too:

I love Romanesco, they are my favourite brassicas (or Nebraskas, as my daughter calls them). It looks gorgeous, and tastes great. Also, they grow the best of the brassicas in my garden. Most of the other broccoli has gone straight to seed this winter as it has been unseasonably dry (or seasonably, depending on your view of the changing weather patterns). But Romanesco always grows really well here.

And that’s it. Chooks and weeding, it’s all I’ve done. I’d better move my caboose and feed the fruit trees next weekend or there will be a dodgy crop at best in the Summer.

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 9 August 2020

Didn’t miss me at all

I made it out to my garden this morning after weeks just waving at it on my way to do other things. It was so lovely to be out there again.

My original plan was to plant potatoes. We had the old collapsed rainwater tank at the end of Pie Corner removed, and I thought I would plant spuds there to help break up the soil. Spuds are good to plant in soil that might be heavy – as nothing has been planted there for at least ten years, I thought the soil would be heavy and probably quite lacking in nutrients. Imagine my surprise when I dug down and discovered: a wall. An old retaining wall to be exact, made of railway sleepers, that had been buried under the old rainwater tank. I am a pretty good digger, but I am not strong enough to dig out a retaining wall by myself. I consulted with my husband and we decided that as we are building a new retaining wall in that section of the garden, we will dig it out together when we do that.

Oh look, a wall

So now I have seed potatoes and nowhere to plant them. If only I had thought to check for buried retaining walls before I bought seed potatoes. Silly me.

Giving up the spud planting for today, I decided to dig out the overflowing compost bins and spread some compost around. I do this every six weeks or so, and I think this is why my garden has not really missed me in the past couple of months. The soil is so healthy that with a fully planted winter garden, I can leave it go for quite a while. I dug out about ten buckets of lovely compost, and turned over the rest. I was pleased to see that the compost worm colony has expanded significantly since I last dug over the bins.

I call the big one ‘Wormy’

Compost worms are not earthworms. They are tiger worms or red worms, and they just like to live in compost and worm farms. They are great little critters. I am not a pet person – I don’t have a cat or a dog, and when people talk about their fur-kids I admit I tune out. But I am really happy to be breeding wriggly worms in my compost bin. They are my friendly little compost buddies, bought in a cardboard box from Bunnos for $20.

Some people will say you can’t feed them this or that – I throw any type of vegetable scrap in the compost bin, including onions, citrus, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. The worms really don’t seem to care. I don’t put meat or fat in the compost, to avoid rodents, but the worms would eat it if I did.

Once I finished digging over the compost and saying hi to the worms, I weeded a bit, thinned the carrots and beetroot (that means going through and pulling out plants that are growing too close together so the carrots can form good sized roots), and picked some veggies. Today I picked Tuscan black kale (also known as Cavolo Nero or Dinosaur Kale), a few carrots and radishes, and some turnips. My husband helpfully picked peas and ate them off the vine.

Cavolo Nero

I grow lots of kale – a dwarf curly kale and the Cavolo Nero. Some of the Cavolo Nero was heavily attacked by green cabbage moth at the start of the season, so I let it be the sacrificial plant and the caterpillars went ham on it. They pretty much left everything else alone while they munched on three Cavolo Nero plants. This is one of the strategies I use for pest control, and I find it works well. I keep an eye on what the pests really go for, and let them have one or two plants to nom out on. I find that if they are allowed to do that, they are like kids at a party: the Cheezels disappear and the grownups are left to enjoy the Camembert. After they pigged out on the Cavolo Nero, they buggered off or turned into cabbage moths or whatever, and my garden has been left alone. They also are a bit thick, so they left the other three Cavolo Nero and all of the curly kale alone. The plants they ate recovered, and now I have all the kale I can eat.

With a huge bunch of kale, I made Ribollita, an Italian kale, white bean, and bread soup. It was so delicious, even the soup-disliking eldest inhaled it like a cabbage moth on a kale plant.

Weekend gardening jobs, 28 June 2020

It’s been several months since I have been out in my garden. I have been working most weekends, and when I have had some time to work in the garden, it has been pouring with rain.

It was a perfect day to be out there, but the garden was a bit of a sad sight: weeds have had a happy time over the past eight weeks without me to diligently pull them out. I spent three or so hours out there, and the whole time I weeded and mulched the garden with compost.

The compost has been slowly maturing for the past couple of months. It was activated by the addition of horse and pigeon manure (both gifts from my awesome neighbour, John). It has been turned a couple of times in the past twelve weeks, but essentially it has been left alone. I use the black ‘Dalek’ style compost bins, which even in Winter heat up well enough to make great compost. I do have the space for these and I am physically fit enough to turn the compost every six weeks or so. When I am older, I will probably switch them out for a compost tumbler, which will be easier to manage as my already cranky hip gets crankier.

I don’t dig compost into the garden; rather I mulch the beds with it. After I weeded the veggie beds, I mulched over the beds with the compost. I was able to mulch about half my veggie garden with lovely compost.

The sun was gentle, the breeze was light, and I listened to gardening and food podcasts while I weeded and mulched. I picked radishes and rhubarb, and made a little radish pickle for funsies in the afternoon. It was so lovely to be out there again, if only for a few hours.

Weekend garden jobs, May 10 2020

After several wet and stormy weekends, it was lovely to have a cool but sunshiny day to spend out in the garden. As it happened to also be Mother’s Day, I exercised my motherly rights and left all household tasks to my husband while I spent the entire day outside.

It was perfect.

I had many jobs that needed to be done. Due to the cold weather and an uptick in my workload (yay), I have only trotted outside to pick some salad leaves and check the brassicas for cabbage moth caterpillars. This is probably an exercise in futility: I keep squishing them and they keep coming back, but eventually I will end up with enough cabbages and broccoli for Springtime. The rest of the garden has been patiently waiting, and growing weeds, until a lovely, work-free day, for my attention.

First task was harvesting pumpkins. I grow Kent (also known as Jap) pumpkins. I use the term ‘grow’ somewhat loosely. I have never planted Kent pumpkins. They come up from the compost, happily seed themselves, and take over a spot, and I allow it. I don’t feed or water them. I do hand pollinate them if the bees don’t seem to be doing the job well enough, but once the fruit is set, I leave them alone until the weather starts to turn. Then I place a brick under each pumpkin so it is raised up from the damp soil and the base doesn’t rot. I wait as long as I possibly can into Autumn before picking.

To pick, use a strong knife to cut a couple of inches of stem (see below). Wipe over the pumpkin with a rag to remove excess moisture and dirt, and check the blossom end for any dried up bits of the pumpkin flower, and remove it. I usually store my pumpkins in a cool dry place – we have a cellar so that is perfect. They can keep for quite a while, but check every week for any softening spots or mould, particularly in thinner skinned varieties like the Kent. If you notice any softening, you can still eat it – just put it in the fridge and start planning pumpkin soup asap. If I have an excess of pumpkin, I often steam and purée the flesh and freeze it to use later in chocolate brownies, pasta sauces, and cannelloni.

Harvesting is easy. Removing the old pumpkin vine is not so easy. As I mentioned, I let the vine ramble across half the backyard, which means it is an enormous vine by harvest time. I cut it into smaller pieces with my gardening knife, and shove it piece by piece in the green bin. It had very long roots, so to dig it out I had to dig carefully around the base and then follow the roots back along the garden bed to fully remove. It was a very happy plant.

I have tried growing other pumpkin varieties, and nothing really grows as well in my yard as the compost-seeded Kent. When I deliberately plant a pumpkin and nurture the damn thing, I might get one or two pumpkins. As they take up so much space, it’s just not worth it. But the Kent is always reliable, and one vine produces around 5-8 lovely heavy pumpkins, averaging about 4kg in weight. Kent also taste good and have a nice texture, which is not guaranteed with some pumpkins.

Next on my list was to remove the old eggplant bushes, and turn the compost. My lazy hips were not really happy with me for all that digging and lifting, after so many days sitting in front of a keyboard, so I switched to lighter jobs: planting bulbs, seeds, and seedlings. I finished planting the bulbs I bought last month, finally planted sweet peas (Spencer Ripple and Hi-Scent), and lettuces (Tennis Ball and Freckles), red cabbage, and silverbeet (Fordhook Giant). I thinned a few turnip and radish seedlings, and staggered back inside for a cup of tea and a cinnamon muffin by the fire, body aching, to watch my husband cut up one of our pumpkins for roast dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to me (and to all the awesome mothers out there, including my own wonderful Mother, my gorgeous sister, and the dear friends who play the role of Deputy Mothers to my kids).

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2020

Easter weekend is one of the best weekends for gardening in Southern Australia. The weather is still warm enough to plant veggies and have them take off nicely, but cool enough to spend a lot of time outside.

I spent most of this weekend planting brassicas. I sowed a lot of caulis, cabbages, and broccoli about four weeks ago, and this week they were large enough to plant into the garden.

I planted the brassicas direct into beds that were prepared two weeks ago (pelletised chicken manure, rock dust and mulch), and covered each with a cloche made of PET soft drink bottles cut in half (see photo above). You can see from the photo that my veggie garden is a mixed planting of flowers (pansies), lettuces (self-seeded cos), annual herbs (basil), and perennials (rhubarb and lemon verbena). This mixed garden has come about due to a crossover of seasons (some Summer plants are still growing), and a lack of space, so I cram as many of the plants I love into the space I have. In between the brassicas I have sown some root vegetables so I can take advantage of the space:

  • Onion Californian Red
  • Radish Heirloom Mix
  • Beetroot Forno
  • Beetroot Chioggia
  • Turnip Early Purple

I also planted some flowers: Freesias (bulbs) and Sweet Pea Flora Norton. These are a sky blue sweet pea that I am excited to grow (although I am always excited to grow sweet peas). Normally I plant sweet peas on Anzac Day, but I have four packs of sweet peas to plant, so I am staggering the planting throughout April so I can get them all in. I am also expecting a big order of bulbs to arrive next week, in addition to the daffodils and crocuses I already have to plant, so that will keep me busy throughout April.

After planting, I mulched everything in the garden that was not already mulched with chopped sugarcane straw, and watered all the new plants with a weak liquid fertiliser to give it all a boost. We are expecting a couple of very warm sunny days this week (high 20s-low 30s), so this is a perfect weekend to plant and give all the plants a good chance to take off before the cold weather sets in.

Cutting back

Autumn is also a good time to cut back woody perennial herbs like Oregano, Thyme, Lavender, Sage, and Mint. Honestly, these are pretty hard to kill (especially Mint), so if you were to do it anytime with the exception of high Summer, you can’t really harm them. But right now they are all looking very straggly and cutting them back will give them time to recover in the Winter and put on lovely new growth in Springtime. I used to use ye olde garden shears to do this job, but my husband gave me electric hedge trimmers that make this task much easier and quicker. I filled up our empty green bin in half an hour! And that was just from one corner of the garden (we have a lot of plants to trim). I trim Oregano and Mint right down to ground level. You can see the new plant reshooting from the base, so it is fine to do this. Thyme is a bit fiddlier – it grows very woody over time and you need to try to shape the plant more carefully. For all varieties of Lavender, I just cut off the spent heads at a level. It will reshoot again.

If you don’t take the time to cut back these woody herbaceous perennials, they will become less prolific and healthy over time, and you will have to replace the plants. By giving them a haircut, you will keep the plants you have for many years, and give your garden a tidy appearance in preparation for a beautiful Spring showing. My personal favourite are the Thyme and Sage flowers each Springtime. I feel that it is truly Spring when the beautiful purple Sage flowers.

Social distancing garden jobs, 6 April 2020

There is something so relaxing about sitting in yon pumpkin patch. I think it is because pumpkins are the least demanding of all vegetables. Although I have pumpkin seeds, I rarely plant them. The pumpkin patch in my backyard is entirely self-seeded from compost, and that’s fine by me. I never water them. I never feed them. The closest I come to care and attention is the regular hand-pollination I do in the mornings while they are flowering, but I am not even doing that anymore (it’s getting too late in the season). Once they start fruiting, they require no further care. They quietly swell until they are ready to be picked.

By contrast, brassicas are fiddly and demanding beasts. I have to keep a close eye on the seedlings to fend off cabbage moth caterpillars. Today my eldest daughter and I spent a good twenty minutes scraping caterpillar eggs from cabbage and kale seedling leaves and squishing the occasional baby green caterpillar that had just emerged and was munching away. Whenever she saw a cabbage moth my daughter would wave it away, yelling “Go away, you monster!” That was entertaining, if fruitless.

Today I:

  • Started trimming back woody herbs (mint, thyme, oregano, lavender) with my trusty plant chainsaw aka electric hedge trimmers. My friend calls electric hedge trimmers a ‘plant chainsaw,’ which I think sounds much more bad ass. This is a job that will take me days to do, given the overgrowth in the yard, so I am taking it a few bushes at a time;
  • Fell down the front steps while plugging in the plant chainsaw to charge. We have a big front staircase, and it was still slippery from yesterday’s rain. Ouch;
  • Cleared up some unwanted plants (self-seeded lavender and mint) and weeds (Oyster Plant and the dreaded creeping Oxalis) that were making themselves quite comfortable.
  • Dug up some lavender and geraniums for my sister to plant at her place. She specifically requested “unkillable.” Bless;
  • Removed the spent Love-In-A-Mist seed pods and was happy to see baby Love-In-A-Mist plants already popping up;
  • Spread some Calendula seeds about the place;
  • Checked out the pomegranates to see how they are ripening. Not much longer!
  • With my daughter’s help, planted out the garlic, and mulched it with chopped sugarcane straw;
  • Planted out some Curly Kale, after double-checking it for cabbage moth eggs;
  • Prepared a new planter box for Asian vegetables (most likely Pak Choy and Coriander);
  • Sat in the pumpkin patch, drank a coffee, and meditated on life for a bit.

My body is aching like hell, mostly because of the aforementioned fall down the stairs, but I feel good.

Tomorrow I will try hard not to be a clumsy goose, trim some more plants, and hopefully plant out the broccoli seedlings that are now looking lovely and ready to go.

Weekend garden jobs March 28 2020

Listening to Talkback Gardening on the ABC may not be everyone’s schtick, but hear me out.

Two months ago, I had my tickets, flights, accommodation all booked to go to the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. On this day, I should be nerding out with all the other gardenerds from around the country at the biggest Garden Show in the Southern Hemisphere. I had been saving all year for it. Not only that, my dears, it was to be my first ever trip alone (excluding the many work trips I have been on to remote areas) sans kids, husband, etc since I got married almost 25 years ago. It was a big deal.

Now I recognise my privilege, well and truly. I get to be here at home in my own house with a backyard, and I still have some work (for now), and I don’t have COVID-19 (for now), and I am just so fortunate. But I was looking forward to it.

So what can I do instead of going to the Garden Show?

Firstly, I took all the money I had saved for the Garden Show, and spent it on garden supplies, bulbs, seeds, and other gardening paraphernalia online from gardening retailers that missed out on being able to sell all their things to me at the Garden Show – because missing out on the biggest event of the year has likely cost them thousands of dollars. Seeing as that money was set aside for splurging on garden supplies, I figured I should still give it to them. Plus I have the fun of receiving presents and extra gardening while stuck in social isolation.

Next, I listened to the gentle dithering tones of Jon Lamb, resident talkback gardening expert on the ABC Adelaide on a Saturday morning, while dithering around myself in my own backyard. The gentle Q&A of a gardening show is about the most low-risk, quiet listening experience a person can have, especially right now.

Today I started potting on some of the seedlings I grew from seed a few weeks ago. Seedlings of this size are soft, sappy little babies that need to be hardened off. If you don’t do this, they will be like the teenage boy that is never taught to do his own laundry: if you plant them in the garden they will most likely collapse and bring their laundry home for mum to do.

And I ain’t doing it, kiddo.

Prick the seedlings out with a small tool. I use a plastic chopstick that I keep in my garden shed for many purposes: seed dibber, general hole poker, plant lifter, hole unplugger, etc. It’s a great all-rounder. You can see in the photo below that I have used it so much that it is a bit broken. It still pokes though, so it’s all good. When it finally dies, I am sure I can find another one around the place. You could also use an old fork, but for general all-purposefulness, I recommend the chopstick.

You can see in the photo that something has been having a go at these little seedlings. I did some exploring and found a tiny little white sap-sucking bug, about 1mm in size. I did go full terminator on them. That means I squished them: I don’t use poison. If I find more, it will be hasta la vista, buggos.

I moved each seedling to a recycled, clean small pot, filled with premium potting mix, and labeled each one.

I make my own labels with old plastic milk cartons. These are as better than the shop-bought labels, which I find snap after exposure to the sun for any length of time, and add to plastic waste, whereas the homemade ones just use a flexible plastic that was going to recycling anyway. They look a bit wonky, but no-one sees them except me and the twelve people that read this blog (hi, Mum!)

You can see that the seedlings look sad. They will perk up and toughen up. I will give them a good week to ten days to grow larger and healthier, and then plant them out.

I placed the pots in an old wheelbarrow that is rusting out, watered them with a weak liquid fertiliser solution, and covered them with bird netting to stop the sparrows getting them, and placed them in a sunny corner. Then I rinsed out the seedling tray so I can start up the next lot of seedlings.

This week I am planting a mix of flower and vegetable seeds. I received quite a few free packets of flower seeds recently, so I decided to plant most of them next to the retaining wall, which has a bare spot that is prone to weeds. If even a few of the flower seeds take, they will provide cover that will hopefully out-compete the weeds, and provide food for the bees.

I planted:

  • Nemophilia Baby Blue Eyes
  • Love in a Mist Mulberry Rose
  • Californian Poppy Purple Gleam
  • Wildflower Pink Star
  • Candytuft Fairy Mixture

I also planted English Daisy in a seed tray.

Love in a Mist, also known as Nigella, is a gorgeous plant that naturalises easily. I have it growing in the front garden – the traditional flower is the blue you see below. The seeds I planted today are a reddish-pink variant. I hope they take, as I would love to have them naturalise in the backyard. Bees love them, and so do I. Also you can eat the seeds, which are known as kalonji, in Indian cuisine.

Finally, I refilled the clean seed trays and planted:

  • Lettuce Tennis Ball
  • Climbing Spinach
  • Chicory Italian Mix
  • Broccoli Green Sprouting

You can never have too much lettuce, I think, plus I was looking forward to growing this variety, which was a favourite of Thomas Jefferson. Heirloom gardening is so cool. Imagine eating a lettuce now in 2020, that people loved to eat almost 300 hundred years ago.

Later this week, I will be planting more peas, as the peas I planted a few weeks ago didn’t come up (sob) and continue preparing the soil for brassicas and garlic. This means adding pelletised chicken manure, rock dust, and mulch.

Social distancing garden jobs, March 25 2020

Welllllllll, I don’t know about you mob, but listening to a Prime Ministerial presser just before bed just ain’t the snooze inducer it used to be.

In fact, I didn’t get much sleep last night. I am worrying, like the rest of us, about the future, my family, my friends, catching a deadly illness, work, whether my kids (both of whom have a disability) will cope with social distancing and the shut down of their entire world.

Just a couple of concerns, then.

This morning, I had to get outside. If it was blowing a gale, I was getting outside. If it was pouring with rain directly over my noggin, I was getting outside into my garden.

Luckily, it was one of those perfect Autumn days we get here in Adelaide, when the sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the temperature is light and airy, but not too cool. Perfect for planting blueberries.

Blueberries do not grow well in the ground in our area. They require an acidic soil, and most soils in Adelaide are slightly alkaline. Not all of them though: we lived in a southeastern suburb many years ago that must have had perfect blueberry conditions. I know this because it was home to giant, stunning camellia bushes. I have never seen such camellias. Camellias, azaleas, and blueberries are all acid soil loving plants, requiring a special acidic potting mix if you are going to grow them in a pot.

I am growing two varieties: Blue Rose, and Brigitte. I know nothing about the respective pros and cons of these varieties, except that they cross-pollinate each other. I am growing them on our sunny balcony, and hoping it will not be too hot for them. If it is, I will move them. I planted them in large pots, with a full bag of Azalea/Camellia potting mix in each pot. I want the blueberries to have room to grow well. If they do well, I will probably plant more: blueberries are one of my favourite fruits.

I also planted more seeds in new and recycled trays. This time I mostly focused on salad and Asian greens:

  • Pak choy;
  • Shungiku, also called Chop-suey greens;
  • Four kinds of lettuce: Amish Deer-tongue, All-year, Australian Yellow, and Marvel of Four Seasons. Australian Yellow Lettuce is from the Digger’s Club and is the most reliable and delicious variety, but I grow Marvel of Four Seasons and Amish Deer-tongue because really: such cool names. Marvel is from Green Harvest Seeds.
  • Coriander;
  • Cauliflower Purple Sicily;
  • Silverbeet Fordhook Giant.

Finally, I washed some more pots in diluted methylated spirits (although I recently discovered you can make hand sanitiser out of it, so maybe I shouldn’t waste it on old pots!!), and potted up some violas. Because salad greens are all very well, but if I am going to be stuck at home, I will be surrounded by flowers.

Here’s some of last year’s jonquils to cheer you up.