Gardening jobs, October 30 2021

Mulberries! Finally!

We spent almost eight hours in the garden today, building trellises for the fruit trees in Pie Corner. That is to say, my husband was building the trellises, while I did other stuff.

Firstly, I cleaned out the chook shed (boring but necessary), and collected seven (!!) eggs.

Then I mulched the entire back garden, which is a big job. However, it is definitely reaching the warmer part of the year, and mulching is a necessary task. It saves water and keeps weeds down. Over time, it breaks down and builds soil structure, and it stops the soil becoming hydrophobic, which can be a big problem in Australian soils. I use chopped sugar cane mulch, which is a sustainable by-product of the sugar cane industry. It’s cheaper than lucerne, and lighter, so it lets the water through. I have used it for years, and I think it does a great job. Some people prefer lucerne or pea straw, but I have compared both and I personally don’t think there is much of a difference except price.

Mulching a garden the size of ours takes quite a long time. I took little breaks to pick a kilo of rhubarb, a big bunch of silverbeet, and pull out most of the older plants to feed the chooks (much to their delight, it’s their favourite), weed the opportunistic weeds that came up after this week’s rain, and pick flowers for the house. Mulching is quite boring, so doing these jobs helped keep me going. I also had to water it in, so it doesn’t blow away and undo all my hard work.

Building trellises and espaliering fruit trees

This is how our old trellises looked:

Old trellis

They were ‘built’ from star droppers and wire, and were not large enough for the apple trees. The wire was casually looped around the star droppers, and could not be tightened, which meant that the wire sagged as the tree grew and the weight pulled on the wire. Also, the whole set up looked ugly. A dodge job all round.

New trellises with espaliered dwarf apple trees

This is the new set up, with newly espaliered apple trees. Some of the undergrowth you can see there are berry plants that are yet to be trained up a new trellis. Once they are moved onto a new trellis all of their own, it will look neater and nicer. Also, btw, expecting a bumper berry crop this year. The plants are covered in blossoms. Very excited about that. My husband loves the boysenberries, which is a pretty sweet reward for all his hard building work.

Espalier dwarf apple tree

The trellis has been built with wooden poles, strong wire rope, and turnbuckles to enable us to tighten the wire if it sags. We chose to use wood for the supports rather than metal, but you could use steel poles. We prefer wood for the aesthetic, and because it is much cheaper. We are building five large trellises across our garden, and need thirteen tall poles, so cost is an important consideration.

In addition to the three trellises in Pie Corner, we are building a large trellis along the back garden fence to support three passionfruit plants, green beans, cucumbers, and a pepino, and a trellis for our three year old grapevine. I want to use as much of my vertical space as possible.

The espaliering is probably not textbook, but as Homer Simpson says, it’s my first day. I’ll keep shaping and training them and soon, hopefully, they’ll look like some textbook French potager effort. Or at least, ok. Whatever, we’re getting apples, so it’s all good.

We’re also getting grapes on our grapevine for the first time. I’m very chuffed about that. I will guard these little baby grapes with my life. Or at least some kind of netting.

Hello, little baby grapelings

The rest of the day, I potted up more petunias and a new Chinese Jasmine I bought on a whim, and cleaned up the patio because we have guests visiting tomorrow. Our yard continues to look like a construction site as we always seem to be building something, but at least the patio is as tidy as it can be, and the house has lovely fresh flowers. I do hope the construction site is cleared away before Christmas though…is exactly what I said last year!

Maybe if I want that to happen I should stop asking his nibs to build stuff.

Weekend gardening jobs, 20/21 March 2021

Autumn is a busier time in the garden than Spring. In Spring, there is always another warm day to catch up on tasks if you miss out on a day in the garden due to work or family commitments. In Autumn, you are always playing catch up, because there are only so many warm days until Winter comes along. Those lovely mild days are critical for planting seeds and seedlings while the soil temperature is still warm enough for germination and for the seedlings to get a good headstart. There are lots of end-of-Summer jobs to finish, such as cleaning up old plants, preparing the soil for new plants, trimming and pruning, LOTS of weeding, and planting. I have been doing all of these things this weekend, and I am still not done.

Saturday

On Saturday, my husband and I visited an Open Garden. For those who do not know about the Open Garden Scheme, it is a program in Australia (maybe in other parts of the world too) wherein people with beautiful gardens open them up to visitors on a weekend. Each State has its own Open Garden Scheme.

This was the first time we had visited an Open Garden. Not being ageist, but we were easily the youngest attendees by a good decade. We had a lovely time. It was fun to see a different garden, established and maintained by people with a lot more space (and let’s be honest, a lot more cash) than us. Their garden was on a hillside in a winery in McLaren Vale, one of the premier wine growing regions in South Australia. It was not the kind of garden I would grow (too few veggies and fruit trees, too many ornamentals), but it was beautiful, and a very relaxing way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. Plus, the CWA were there with tea and scones. We sat on a verandah overlooking a hillside sipping tea, and felt like proper grownups.

We finished the morning at my favourite nursery in McLaren Vale. I love this place – it has the most beautiful pots and gardening paraphernalia, as well as stunning houseplants. I controlled myself and just bought seedlings this time around.

Sunday

I got up early and got into the garden as soon as I could. My plan was to plant out all the seedlings I have bought over the past two weekends while the weather is still lovely and warm, and to keep preparing the soil for Autumn vegetables.

I am still removing Summer vegetables and digging over the soil ready for new plantings. For each area, I have spread Dynamic Lifter and Blood and Bone to help replenish the soil, and compost or well-rotted chicken manure (depending what I have at the time). This time I had well-rotted chicken manure. I turned the compost bins lightly with a garden fork and added more material to them (old potting mix from tomato plants and kitchen scraps).

Weeds are starting to make their presence felt, so with my trust Ho-Mi, I spent some time grubbing out creeping oxalis from the flower beds in front of the retaining wall. Due to regular weeding and letting the chooks out for a run, the weeds are pretty well controlled, but the oxalis is a continuing problem. As I do not spray anything, it is something that just has to be continually managed.

After watering the newly dug and raked soil well, I planted another of the new passionfruit vines in against the back fence, and planted out a bunch of flower seedlings.

This season, I am planting stocks, violas, and pansies for winter colour, and I will also plant more Spring flowering bulbs (daffodils, iris, ranunculus, etc) for later colour. In a couple of weeks I will plant my favourite flower, sweet peas.

Dahlia in the veggie patch being visited by a bee

I always plant flowers in amongst the vegetable patch, to attract pollinating insects. This Summer, I planted dianthus, sunflowers, petunias, and dahlias. While the dahlias took quite a while to flower, they are now putting on a stunning display, and the bees are going crazy for them. I also always have alyssum, nasturtium, and calendula growing in the garden. These self-seed all over the place, acting as a ground cover and attracting bees and hoverflies to the garden.

One of the last sunflowers

Finally, all the seedlings, including the brassicas planted last week, were fed with a weak solution of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion to keep them growing nice and quickly in this warm weather. Feeding is critical for plants anytime, but especially when they are establishing, and especially for crops like brassicas and leafy greens. When they are young, a half-strength solution of liquid fertiliser is best. When they are larger, you can upgrade to full strength. Try to feed them earlier in the day and on cooler days to prevent burning the leaves. A weekly feed is best when establishing, but to be honest I am more likely to manage it fortnightly. Once the plants are well established, a fortnightly full-strength feed is fine. For larger plants, such as the passionfruit I have just planted, a fortnightly full-strength is preferred.

Broccoli seedlings

If I am to be completely honest, keeping up with feeding all of my plants is challenging. I am much more diligent with the fruit tree watering and feeding than I am say, with the roses and ornamentals, which I tend to leave more to their own devices. I would have much better roses if I was really religious about nutrition and watering. But as a part-time gardener, I only have so much time, so the plants I am most passionate about are those that receive most of my time and attention.

While I was watering, I noticed a couple of white cabbage moths fluttering around the cabbages and cauliflowers, and made a mental note to start checking the seedlings for those horrible green grubs in the next day or so.

After almost the whole weekend in the garden or garden adjacent, I still have so much left to do before the warm weather runs out – and not enough time to do it. Hopefully, next weekend will be warm and I can make it out there for a few hours.

Weekend gardening jobs, Sunday 14 March 2021

‘Pumpkin’ by Yayoi Kusama

This weekend we spent a day in the city, checking out the Adelaide Fringe activities and the South Australian Art Gallery. As is to be expected, I was drawn to all things garden-related – I spied this very cool pumpkin sculpture by Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. I’m into it. But then, I would be. Pumpkins are generally very beautiful and sculptural plants, in my opinion.

After a day of being extremely cultural and artsy, we spent a goodly chunk of the next day in the garden. Sadly, we farewelled our passionfruit vine, which had stopped fruiting. Passionfruit are a productive but short-lived plant, lasting up to five years. Ours really only had one really great Summer, and then started to reduce in productivity. This season, we had five passionfruit. They still tasted good, but I’m not feeding and watering what is basically a small tree for five fruits.

I’m a ruthless gardener.

While my husband cut it down, I went to the Big Green Shed and bought four new passionfruit vines. Passionfruit make up for being short-lived by being cheap as. For less than $25 I got four new plants. One is going back where the old vine was, and the other three are going against the back fence. In addition to two black passionfruit, I bought Red Panama and Gold Panama varieties. I bought non-grafted varieties. Grafted passionfruit can lead to trouble when the rootstock take over, so non-grafted are preferred.

Passionfruit are heavy feeders and fast growers. My husband and I are building new trellises to espalier our apple trees, so when we do that we will also build trellises for these new passionfruit. I fed the new vines with Dynamic Lifter (pelletised organic chicken manure), and watered in well. Keeping up the fertiliser will be important to healthy growth and a strong crop in Summer.

I also bought cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage seedlings. I am growing these from seed, but I wanted to get a headstart on the Autumn veggie patch while the soil is still warm. After removing the last couple of tomato vines from this part of the garden, I spread Dynamic Lifter, and dug it through. Then I planted out the brassica seedlings (along with two passionfruit vines against the fence), and watered in well. I planted more cabbages than anything else, because I love to make sauerkraut, and because I prefer to grow Romanesco than regular broccoli. As I am growing the Romanesco from seed, these will be planted in a few weeks when the seedlings are ready.

I really need to spend some quality time in the front garden, which needs some trimming and feeding. Maybe next weekend!

Duds and triumphs

The Triumps

This season we have had some notable successes. Our apricot tree ripened early. Normally we pick apricots the week of Christmas, but this year the fruit was ready a week earlier. We picked almost ten kilograms of apricots, which is the biggest crop ever for our four year old tree (it’s a Travatt apricot). I’ve made jam and given some away. This afternoon if I have time, I am making apricot ice cream, and my favourite of all desserts, an apricot pie. I like eating fresh apricots, but in my opinion, apricots really come into their glory when cooked, and especially in pie form. Apple pie is pretty good, but apricot pie is amazing.

We pick the apricots when they first start to blush, and ripen them indoors. This is because we do not net the tree. We let the birds have a go at the fruit, and pick as much as we can ourselves. Some would disagree with this, but I figure there is a lot of fruit and the parrots need to eat as well. I like looking out at the tree and seeing rosellas and lorikeets having a ball out there. There is a lot of fruit for us and them. I do wish they would finish an entire apricot before starting on the next one though. Wasteful little buggers.

I do indeed mind sharing with rats, however. Our apple trees are finally fruiting after three years of patiently waiting, and I have been admiring a perfectly round, blushing apple, coveting it like Snow White’s stepmother. My husband discovered the other morning that the back end of it had been attacked by a gnawing little monster. You can imagine the stomping and cursing that ensued (from me, not him).

The pomegranate bush is going great guns this year – we had a mass of flowers and they are now forming beautiful baby pomegranates like lovely Christmas baubles. I love pomegranates. I love the look of the bush, the flowers, the beautiful globulous fruit, and the ruby juice. It is just a beautiful and undemanding plant. It requires almost no maintenance, little water, and gives so much.

Our tomato bushes are the garden triumph of the veggie patch this year. We are picking Tommy Toe and another cherry tomato called Sweet Bite that is living up to its name. The plants are healthy and abundant. I am hoping we end up with a great crop for sauce as well as eating fresh throughout Summer. I also have not yet managed to kill two cucumber plants (a miracle for me), although the chickens have eaten three others. I may yet achieve a homegrown cucumber, in which case you may hear me screaming from the rooftops.

The Duds

We have a couple of duds that, if they are not careful, will meet the Huntsman’s axe soon. Our mulberry tree is the same age as the apricot tree, and so far has produced almost nothing. There are a few pitiful berries on its branches that are stubbornly refusing to colour up. I alternately beg, plead, and curse the tree whenever I pass her, but she still refuses to do more than that. I do have a woodpile…

The other dud is the passionfruit vine, Odette. One great crop, and she thinks that is her job done. Well, I have news for her. I have plans for her patch of dirt if she can’t pony up some passionfruit next Summer.

But the biggest dud of all this year was our potato crop. After months of building up around healthy looking spud plants, I dug down to find…nothing. Nada. Zilch. I piled on the compost and straw and gave up precious garden space in the height of the annual growing season for nothing at all. Talk about crestfallen. My face dropped faster than Clark Kent’s pants in a phone booth.

Another dud was the red and white petunias I planted with plans of a lovely display by Christmas. What wasn’t dug up by one very, very, naughty chicken has largely dried up due to a lack of water (a visitor yesterday heard me telling this chicken off for digging up a new zucchini plant, and thought I was scolding a child. I had to explain, with a manic smile, why I was berating a bird). This is entirely my fault. I have been very busy with work over the past six weeks and while I have tried to maintain water all over the garden, the veggies and fruit trees have been prioritised over the poor flower gardens. I am going out this morning to replant the whole area in the hope that it can be salvaged – but to be honest, it probably cannot.

The point of this post is, no matter how much time we spend in our garden, and no matter our experience, we experience triumph and frustration in almost equal measure. Probably next year we will have a pitiful apricot crop and an amazing crop of something else unexpected. It’s part of the fun and learning experience of gardening.

Pruning the passionfruit

Passionfruit vines are pretty much an Australian backyard tradition. The vines grow well in our climate (there are different varieties for the different climates of the country: black passionfruit for the Southern states, Banana and Red or Panama passionfruit for the tropics). They suffer few pest problems, and require little attention. When plants are healthy, they are prolific. The flowers are beautiful. The plant is attractive. And, the fruit is delicious. I don’t know many people that don’t enjoy fresh passionfruit spooned over a pavlova or some ice cream in the Summer.

I said they require little attention, but they do require some. Firstly, they are not long-lived plants. A passionfruit vine will live and produce well for about seven years. Thereafter, the productivity will reduce and it is best to replace the vine. They are also hungry plants, requiring a good quality feed regularly. My mother swears by banana peels under the passionfruit vine to give it a good shot of potassium. I don’t know whether this works, but I do it (my mother is an excellent gardener, so I usually follow her advice). However, I don’t do what her mother did, and bury a lamb’s liver under it. For one thing, ew. For another, we have a dog over the road and I am pretty sure that Hairy Maclairy would sniff out a liver buried under the passionfruit.

Passionfruit also require a haircut now and then. Ours was looking very straggly and sad, and last season’s crop was far less productive than previous years’.

You can see all the dead wood underneath, and the growth that is there is yellowing and just not happy. I have actually left it a bit late to prune the poor thing, but I have decided to sacrifice a crop this year to build a healthier plant and a good crop next year.

I started quite carefully, trying just to remove the dead wood underneath and keep as much of the foliage on top as I could.

Sorry about the buzz cut

I failed.

I name many of my plants (yeah well what’s your weird trait?). This plant is named Odette. I love her very much and I am sorry I failed her in this regard. But even with a radical buzz cut, I have to say she looks better than she did before.

I rewarded her with a big feed of pelletised chicken manure and half a bag of sheep manure. If I expected her to produce fruit and flowers this year, I might also have added some potash, but all I expect from her this year is to put on lots of new foliage. The chicken and sheep manure will help her to do that. She is now having a big drink to help the feed soak in.