Gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2021

It’s the October long weekend here, which is one of my favourite mini-breaks. I love it because it’s Springtime in Southern Australia, a few months before Christmas, and we have a bit of time to get some things done around the garden.

It’s always great being in the garden at this time of year, because there are flowers everywhere. All the spring flowering bulbs are out, as well as my favourites, the sweet peas. This year I have three varieties in flower. They always make me feel happy.

This time I am not spending the whole weekend in the garden as I have a deadline, but I decided to take two full days off for the first time in…bloody ages actually.

I booked a big skip bin and my husband and I made plans to clear out our sheds of extraneous junk. A lot of the junk was left over from the guy that lived here before us (yes, still!), and from building our retaining wall and renovating our bathroom. Some of it is just from the accumulation of life.

We filled up a 4m cube bin really quickly. I would not say we are collectors, but it was kind of depressing how quickly we filled a pretty large bin.

The other job left over from building the retaining wall was moving the clean fill back to the garden. This has taken me many months, partly because it is a boring job, partly because there is a lot to move, and partly because it’s really hard. There’s only so much shovelling dirt into buckets and moving it around the garden I can do in one hit before this old lady collapses in a corner. However, this weekend I managed to clear a whole section. I am really happy about that. You can actually see the pathway next to the shed now. Only one section to go (the biggest, of course), then all I have to do is power wash the whole thing and it will look great. Or at least, not filthy.

Pumpkin Mounds

Some of the buckets of dirt went to build pumpkin mounds. Curcubits (pumpkins, zucchini, squash etc) are prone to powdery mildew, which is exacerbated by getting their leaves wet. A way to help prevent this is by planting them on little hills or mounds, then watering the base of the plant. I used the spare buckets of dirt (which was originally from my garden), to build hills. Then I mixed in a bit of compost, and planted pumpkin seeds in the top. I planted four types of pumpkins: Australian Butter, Queensland Blue, ye olde Butternut, and Buttercup. Hoping for a great pumpkin crop this year after last year’s sad effort.

I cleaned out the chicken coop, and let the chooks go for a wander while I did that. After I replaced their straw I went looking for them, calling out their “chookchookchook!” call that lets them know it’s time to come inside. One of them trundled along, but the others just called back and didn’t come back to the yard. After a bit of searching I found all three tucked up under a rhubarb bush, having a dust bath together. I decided to let them be. Twenty minutes later I caught them trying to dismantle a new pumpkin mound, and unceremoniously tossed them back in their pen. Naughty!

Seed Starting

It was raining on and off, so when it was raining I slipped undercover and planted up some seed trays for Summer veggies. This year I am not giving quite so much space to tomatoes, because I need the soil to recover from all the tomatoes I grew last season. It’s not good to grow tomatoes in the same spot, year-on-year. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a massive space, that reduces your tomato-growing opportunities. I will grow a few, but I just can’t grow as many. This year the plan is go hard on squashes and zucchini, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, corn and beans, as well as the necessary chillies and eggplant. Hopefully I can swap some of these with my brother, who always grows great tomatoes. So far I have planted:

  • Chilli Devil’s Tongue;
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Tomato Moneymaker;
  • Tomato Jaune Flamme;
  • Onion Long Red Florence;
  • Corn Jubilee;
  • Cucumber Crystal Apple;
  • Cucumber Marketmore;
  • Melon Pocket; and
  • Watermelon Golden Midget.

The Devil’s Tongue are from seed I saved a couple of years ago, and that I am hoping are still viable. These were seriously great chillies. Lovely and hot, but still flavourful, and the most prolific plants I have ever grown. Fingers crossed at least some of the seeds grow.

I do not have the greatest of luck with cucumbers and melons, yet paradoxically have generally good fortune with pumpkins (last year notwithstanding). What works for one should technically work with the other, as they are related, however it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Therefore I intend to give them yet another crack and try something different. Not entirely sure what that will be yet. If anyone has any suggestions to grow cracking cues and melons, I’m all ears.

These were planted up in trays with seed-raising mix. It’s a smidge cold still but I decided to give it a shot anyway – it’s the start of October after all, and if I wait too much longer it will be late November before I have plants large enough to plant out.

The rest of my garden space will be set aside for climbing beans and a little bit of space for some eggplant. I will wait until the end of October/early November to plant them. Once my major deadline is done in late October, I plan to have a week off and then it’s planting time. Can’t wait!

Weekend gardening jobs, 30 May 2021

One more day, and we are officially in Winter. You wouldn’t really know it, from the perfect, sunny morning I spent in the garden today.

Yesterday, I made lemon curd and lemon and lime marmalade using the fresh lemons and limes from my lime tree and my neighbour’s lemon tree. After eating pancakes with lemon curd and cream this morning, I had to get my muscles moving in the garden, or risk adding some more, er, Winter padding.

After we built our wall (yes, it’s finished!) we had a lot of displaced soil left over. This needs to be moved back to the garden bed in Pie Corner, but it’s a big job. I started it today, digging I-don’t-know-how-much dirt back up and into the bed. The area next to the boysenberries used to hold an old rainwater tank. We had it removed last year, but have not planted anything else there. The soil is quite poor. The job at the moment is to build it back up with organic matter, to get it ready for planting two dwarf plum trees later in the season. As part of this task, I sprinkled Dynamic Lifter over the soil, sifted it through for rocks and pebbles, and dug out two boysenberry suckers. Then I planted some red spring onion sets around the edges.

Planting Onion Sets

Onion ‘sets’ are the little clumps of onion seedlings you can either grow yourself or buy at a nursery. I have done both this season. I grew a tray of seedlings myself from seed (Barletta onions) and yesterday I bought a punnet of Red Spring Onion seedlings from the Big Green Shed, just because.

I love growing onions, for some reason. I cook with onions, but I don’t eat fresh onions. I just enjoy the look of them in the garden: different varieties look so interesting and pretty.

Most of the time, the onion seedlings you buy are growing in a clump. Try to buy the punnets with the most seedlings per clump, as these will give you the best value per punnet. I scored a bonanza yesterday: a punnet with six cells, but about twenty seedlings per cell. So for about $4.50 I got more than 100 individual plants.

Separate out all the plants. Don’t be too worried about damaging them – just make sure each plant has some roots.

Make a furrow where you intend to plant, then start laying each onion plant along the furrow where you want it to grow. Because these are spring onions, I planted them quite close together.

You can see from the photo above that this is not done super neatly. Don’t worry about standing them up or anything – lie them down on their side, it’s fine.

Cover them over with soil. Then water in with some seaweed extract and weak liquid fertiliser. As they become established, the onions will stand up on their own.

I had already dug over and raked over this soil a couple of times, but you can see it still looks pretty rough. As I continue to work on this area, the soil will improve. For now, I will grow a couple of rows of quick spring onions and by late June it will hopefully be ready for a couple of bare-rooted little plum trees.

I also planted out some kale and lettuce in the pots I refilled on the balcony last weekend, and fed all the brassicas and new seedlings with organic liquid fertiliser and seaweed extract. Good job too, because the brassicas are growing like crazy. This broccoli head has doubled in size since last weekend. All the brassicas are looking amazing – I’m so excited. I even have cabbages heading. That’s what they are supposed to do, I know, but cabbages can be a bit hit or miss in my experience. Broccoli is a more reliable vegetable than cabbage, any day.

The rest of the morning I spent doing the incredibly dull job of trimming herb bushes. Ugh. I hate doing it, but I am always happy I have done it in Springtime when they put their new flush of growth on and look gorgeous. I trimmed about a tenth of the plants in the front garden, and tried not to grimace as I did it. I love having a big garden, until I have to do stuff like this. I ended up digging out one thyme plant that was so woody that I thought it was never going to come good, along with a rhubarb plant that was really in the wrong place. I replaced it with a beautiful, old school, white dianthus plant I bought last week on a whim.

Then I came inside, made a mushroom omelette, and sat back down at my desk to work some more. I looked outside and realised I would rather be outside trimming herbs again. That’s what I get for grimacing while gardening.

Weekend garden jobs, October 10 2020

Ranunculus in bloom

The Spring bulbs I planted back in March/April are blooming like crazy right now. My five year old niece declared yesterday that I have a ‘giant fairy garden,’ which is just about the best compliment I could receive. I have to admit, it is looking pretty magical, especially now the herbs are in flower as well. Purple sage and several shades of lavender are also in bloom, along with dianthus, iris, roses, ranunculus, salvia, and my favourites, sweet peas. I don’t subscribe to the landscape gardeners nice neat rules and matching colour palettes. I was raised by cottage gardeners: my mother and my grandmother always had flourishing, rambling, colourful gardens that children loved. Plants go where they fit and colours are as bright as possible. It won’t win any design awards, but if my niece thinks it’s a fairy garden then it’s a win in my book.

Double Ranunculus

I didn’t have much time this week, but I did spend a couple of hours in the backyard. I built a few more tomato cages and planted bean and lettuce seeds. I had a bag of lettuce seeds that we had saved from a very prolific crop of Australian Yellow Lettuce a couple of years ago, so I sprinkled them liberally in bare spots around the place while listening to the gentlemanly David Tennant chat to Elizabeth Moss. If there is a better way to spend a sunny afternoon in Australia, I don’t know what it could be.

Tomorrow I have to work (sad face) but before I sit down to my desk I will make rhubarb jam because a) I have lots of rhubarb and b) Sunday seems like a jam-making kind of day.

Garden jobs, March 8 & 9 2020

Who doesn’t love a long weekend? Small businesses, probably. Actually, I do run my own business, and I still love a long weekend. My favourite thing about a long weekend, especially this time of year, is to spend that extra day in the garden without worrying about the fact that I should be working, or attending appointments, or all the other myriad tasks I should be doing.

It’s the start of Autumn, which also makes me happy. It’s warm enough to spend a good portion of the day outside, but cool enough to be comfortable. It’s also time to start removing some of the Summer fruiting annuals, make room for the Winter garden, and plant seeds for Winter vegetables.

First on my list was picking the ripening tomatoes (what is left of them), chillies, some green beans I was not expecting to find, and one beautiful Lakota pumpkin that made me just about the proudest gardener on the planet.

Did you ever see such a beauty? I have been trying to grow one of these for three years. Yeah, that’s right: three stupid years. I have one more little one on the vine and I am hoping that it will grow large enough to ripen before Winter. I don’t know why I am so obsessed with growing this particular pumpkin. I don’t even know what it tastes like – yet. It’s still sitting on my kitchen bench because I can’t bring myself to cut into it.

Next job was dividing the rhubarb plants. Last year I divided one enormous rhubarb into seven, and since then we have had more rhubarb than we can possibly eat. I share it around, but even so, we now have about ten or eleven rhubarb plants, which is more than a family of four, only two of whom really like it, can possibly manage. Now they need dividing again, and there is no way I have room for any more. I divided a couple of plants last week and gave them to a friend. Who else could I palm the extra plants off to….of course! My gardening neighbour, John! Heheheheh. The perfect crime. He happily took four plants, and offered me a bag of pigeon poo in exchange. What a gentleman that man is.

After dividing a moving two rhubarb plants and a spent tomato bush, I dug over and raked the cleared space. I will feed and mulch that area next weekend, and leave fallow for a later planting of brassicas.

Speaking of brassicas, I planted four trays of brassica seeds: red cabbage, Cabbage Golden Acre (a drumhead green cabbage), Dwarf Curly Green Kale, Cauliflower, Green Sprouting Broccoli, and Broccoli Romanesco (my favourite of all brassicas). If all of these take off, I will be very, very happy. If not, I will buy some seedlings.

On Monday I cleared some more spent plants (the rest of the summer squash) and built bamboo trellises for my next favourite winter crop: peas. Last year I successfully grew a Dwarf Snow Pea that was both prolific and delicious, but I wanted to build a proper trellis this year and try climbing Snow Peas. I don’t enjoy frozen peas from the supermarket, but I love fresh, homegrown peas. This year I am growing sugar snap peas, and snow peas.

The bamboo trellis is a copy of a medieval trellis I saw on a tv show set in ye olden times. It is built using a series of bamboo stakes set at intervals and then each pair tied at the top with twine. Another stake is set at the top. I don’t know if this will work better than the traditional teepee style trellis that I have used for climbing beans in the past, so I built a teepee style next to it. I can test which is better. I planted the sugar snap peas along the archway style trellis, and the climbing snow peas against the teepee.

Finally, I cleared away the mulch where the tomatoes had been planted, and dug over and raked that section. I planted Purple Kolhrabi, Spring Onions, and two varieties of carrots: Purple Dragon and Lunar White.

The weather will be warm, but not hot this week (low 30s), so I am hoping all the seeds I have planted will shoot quickly for a great headstart.

Next jobs will be to clear the remaining Summer vegetable plants once the last tomato plants have stopped fruiting, and prepare the soil for Winter vegetables. At the end of the month I will be heading to Melbourne for the International Flower and Garden Show, where I will be buying all of the Spring flowering bulbs, garlic, and seeds for the rest of the season. Can’t wait!

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.

Garden jobs, June Long Weekend 2019

Building a wall, even a low garden wall, is a big job!

We spent three whole days working on a retaining wall for our backyard, and so far have four metres of a planned eighteen metre garden wall to show for the efforts.

When I say “we” of course I mean the Royal We, because it is the Queen’s Birthday after all, and also because my husband has done most of the actual building work. I’ve been in charge of moving plants that were in the way (which were quite a few, actually), cleaning up soil and dirt, and snack and tea delivery. Either way, we were both outside for the full three days of the Long Weekend, which was both awesome (because there is really nowhere else I would rather be), dirty, and tiring.

I posted a photo essay of the wall building earlier in the week.

While he was building the wall, I had the job of removing a lot of garden plants that were in the way. These were mostly lovely healthy rhubarb plants that I had only replanted there a few months ago, a gorgeous purple salvia, a yellow gerbera, a zillion lettuce seedlings, some brassica seedlings (cauliflowers and broccoli), and a pink geranium.

Moving Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a plant that divides easily and is therefore great to share with others, or to divide and create new plants. I personally love it to eat, but some people might find it too tart. Despite it being traditionally cooked and eaten with fruits such as apples or strawberries, it is actually a vegetable.

Rhubarb grows from rhizomes, so can be easily divided once the plant is established. Normally I would have waited until these plants were larger to lift and divide, but this time I had no choice.

To move the rhubarb, lift gently with a garden fork until the plant is released from the soil:

Take a good look at the plant. If the plant can be divided, you should be able to see some clear areas for division, such as with this plant. I can see two or three areas where this plant can be split:

Carefully split the plant into separate pieces. If possible, try to divide into parts with roots attached, like I have done here:

However, it is not always necessary. A rhubarb plant can grow from a piece of a crown (not just a stalk of rhubarb). I have even successfully grown a plant from a crown that was accidentally left on the garden path for six weeks. I found it and chucked it in the ground, and it still grew a beautiful plant. In fact, some of the plants I divided today were from that original crown.

However, where at all possible, I try to plant divisions with roots attached.

Dig a hole and lie the separated rhubarb piece in the hole. Fill the hole with water and let the plant sit in it for a while. I like to add a lid of seaweed extract to the hole at this time:

See the base of the plant above, which has stalks starting to sprout? That is a crown. You can plant that, even in the absence of roots. Note that I removed most of the stalks from the plant. Rhubarb and apple crumble for dessert tonight! Actually, I did it so that the plant will put most of its energy into new growth. The crumble is just a bonus.

Remove the hose, and stand the rhubarb plant upright in the watery hole. Backfill with soil:

Sprinkle around the base with pelletised chicken manure. I use Neutrog’s Rapid Raiser, but you could use Dynamic Lifter, or any other brand. If I had some rock dust, I would sprinkle that around each plant too, but I’m all out.

Finally, water in again. I watered each plant with a can full of seaweed extract and Go-Go Juice, with is another Neutrog product (not a sponsor, I just like their products and they are South Australian). Go-Go Juice is a pro-biotic for plants and helps to promote the growth of good bacteria in the soil.

I also gave a couple of rhubarb plants to my neighbour, along with some beetroot I picked. He in turn gave me some Jerusalem artichokes, and is going to help us build a new chook shed. I love having gardening neighbours.

I moved a whole heap of lettuce seedlings, including planting many into little tubs to give away to colleagues and family. We let a plant go to seed and now have lettuces everywhere (and I mean everywhere!).

I also planted a bunch of flower seeds: Flanders Poppy, Poppy Angels Choir, and Pincushion Flower. Hoping these all come up and produce some flowers for the bees this Spring.