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.

Weekend garden jobs April 3 2020

Rain! Lots of it. That’s a great thing…unless you are socially isolating from the coronavirus and the most fun you can have right now is escaping outside to the garden.

Prior to the rain setting in though, I was able to do some things on Friday to prepare the garden for planting next week.

I dug over all the backyard veggie beds, and raked to a fine tilth, then sprinkled with organic pelletised chicken manure and rock dust. Once the rain is over, I can start planting out the brassicas I have been raising from seed.

I ordered a large order of sheep manure and potting mix from SA Natural Fertilisers, a company that home delivers mulch, potting mix, and manure. I ordered enough for my neighbour, also a keen gardener. The sheep manure is for my fruit trees, and the potting mix is for my raised beds and pots.

I used some of the mix to top up a raised bed, and planted Radish seeds (China Rose) and Spring Onions in it.

In the ‘roots’ plot, I planted more radishes (French Breakfast) and Beetroot Chioggia. I have yet more beetroots and onions to plant, along with garlic, but I will wait until the rain has finished.

Finally, I picked some more eggplant and basil, and made Jamie Oliver’s kickarse Eggplant Parmigiana while it rained outside.

Looking forward to soft soil and mild weather next week so I can get out of my house and plant sweet peas.

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.

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.

Autumn Planting 2019

Anzac Day is an important gardening day in my house. It’s the traditional bulb and sweet pea planting day in the Southern Australian region. Unlike every Anzac Day in my recent memory, it didn’t rain. This concerns me, although I’m sure it was a blessing for the Anzac Day marchers. It concerns me because we continue to have a long dry spell, following on from a very hot and dry Summer. If this continues, we are facing another dry Winter. The soil is extremely dry and on the verge of hydrophobic. There is only so long I can pump water into the soil – rain is what the garden really needs.

Today I planted a bunch of seeds into seed raising mix in trays. Because the season has stayed warm right up until the end of April (it was 32 degrees last week!), I am not at all concerned that this is too late.

I planted:

  • Lettuce: Marvel of Four Seasons (Heirloom) and Australian Yellow (Heirloom);
  • Kale: Curly Green Dwarf (Heirloom);
  • Poppy: Flanders Red (for the millionth attempt – this time I’m trying to raise in trays rather than direct where I want them to grow in the hope that I will have success);
  • Broccoli: Green Sprouting (Heirloom) and Romanesco (Heirloom);
  • Cauliflower: Year Round (F1 Hybrid);
  • Leek: King Richard (Heirloom from seed saved last year).

As you can see in the image below, I make my own tags. These were made from a recycled margarine container. I have also used recycled milk jugs. I use several seed trays: the tray shown below is a mini greenhouse type within individual cells and a clear plastic cover, but I also use a recycled maxi-punnet that once held violas for planting, and another flat tray that I scavenged from somewhere. They all work just fine.

I use a standard seed-raising mix. I experimented with jiffy pellets several times to see if they improved germination time and overall results. I filled half this tray pictured with seed-raising mix and half with jiffy pellets to see which was better, and trialled it several times with different types of seeds. The seed-raising mix beat the jiffy pellets every time for germination and overall seedling health. Not exactly a double-blind, randomised controlled trial, but good enough for my purposes, given that jiffy pellets cost about five times the price of a five kilo bag of seed-raising mix.

After planting out my veggie seeds, it was time to tackle the bulbs. I love Spring flowering bulbs. My favourite are crocuses, which are quiet, stunning little flowers that poke their heads up for only a couple of days a year.

Crocus Mr. Pickwick

Unfortunately they do not last, and do not produce the showy display of their other Spring-flowering cousins, Ranunculus, Dutch Iris and Daffodils. At the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show this year I picked up some Daffs and Giant Snowflakes, and again at the Easter Fair last weekend, some more Daffs, Dutch Iris, and Anenomes. I grabbed a big bag of cheap and cheerful Ranuncs and Freesias to throw all around for fun, and then grabbed my husband to help plant the haul.

Daffodil bulb planted in the ground – see how dry the soil is!

When planting Anenomes and Ranunculus, it’s a good idea to soak the tiny corms for an hour or so beforehand. Don’t do this with the larger bulbs, or they will rot. Ranunculus and Anenomes are not true bulbs, but corms. Remember to plant Ranuncs ‘claws’ facing down.

Stunning double ranunculus from Spring 2018

Ranunculus might be cheap as old chips to buy and plant, but when they flower they can be the most stunning flower in the garden. I could cut them and bring them inside, but I just love to see them in the garden, so I leave them alone. Sometimes they do produce a second year of flowering but for the most part, I treat them as an annual and replant corms each year.

Larger bulbs like Daffodils and Iris should reward the investment of $8 or $10 in a pack of five bulbs with repeat flowering. However, they do require cold weather after their Spring flowering to really come back well. With the seasons the way they have been, I am not sure they will get the real cold they need. I am hoping that last year’s Daffs (a lovely white variety called “Ice”) will come back, but I am not going to bet on it. If they do, I will be very happy.

Another that I hope to see back is the Violet Sparaxis. Its cousin, the standard Sparaxis, or Harlequin Flower, reliably returns year-on-year. I hope this purple beauty is as kind.

Violet Sparaxis

Finally, I planted the sweet peas: a blue variety in between two climbing roses; a variety called Surprise (aptly named because I have no idea what it looks like); and my tried and trusted dwarf Bijou, planted every year and the most reliable performer. I look forward to sweet pea season every year, and Bijou always presents me with a riot of colour and perfume in September.

Sweet pea Bijou

The fun thing about planting bulbs and seeds is waiting for them to come up. The hard thing about planting bulbs and seeds is waiting for them to come up. I guess like Luke Skywalker, I will have to learn patience.

Easter weekend 2019 gardening jobs

I love Easter. It’s easily my favourite holiday. I love the traditions; the food (Hot Cross Buns! Chocolate – and I don’t care what anyone says, the chocolate at Easter tastes different and better); the four days off; catching up with family and friends. I love that we have enough time to spend time with family, veg out a little, and still have time to get a few things done around the house and garden without feeling rushed or stressed like you often do at Christmas.

This year in the lead up to Easter weekend, I had the plague an upper respiratory viral infection for several weeks and as a result, I have not been able to do anything except grumble in the direction of my poor, sad garden. Autumn has been very warm and dry, and everything just looks thirsty and in need of some TLC. I had a ton of jobs on my list but no energy for heavy gardening labour as I recovered from what the doctor assured me was a “flu like virus” but what I feel certain was the second coming of the Black Death. It was so bad we had to cancel a planned holiday so I could catch up on all the work I missed. I’m pretty cranky about it, when all is said and done.

This has been a Public Service Announcement to have your annual flu shot. Apparently I did not have the flu but one of a family of ‘flu like viruses.’ All I can say is, jab my arm.

Anyway, I did survive, and decided to take it slowly by doing a little gardening every day, interspersed with Hot Cross Buns and Season 6 of Game of Thrones. Gently does it. Don’t want to end up looking like a White Walker.

Day One (Good Friday) we went on our annual pilgrimage to the Easter Fair in the tiny country town of Meadows (regular population: 1300, Easter weekend population: one million). This event is a classic country fair, complete with Marshmallow Bunnies, Hot Donuts cooked while you wait, sausage sizzle, white elephant stalls, and Nanna-made pickles and jams. I have a list of items I buy each year (Marshmallow Bunnies and Hot Donuts, natch), which includes plants and bulbs. This year I was looking for interesting succulents for my lounge room. I bought some beautiful German-made succulent pots in Melbourne and have been looking for the right plants to put in them. I found them for the low, low price of $6 each, along with Daffodil and Iris bulbs. Unfortunately I have no idea about succulents so I do not know what all of them are called.

I don’t know the name of this succulent but I do love it

Smiling Hanger with Jellybean Plant
Pincushion Plant and another succulent in German self watering pots

Day Two, after we ate the Hot Cross Buns from the Easter Fair and made a trip to the brand new ENORMOUS Bunnings (So big! So green!), I potted up the new succulents in my fancy schmancy German pots and then spent a ridiculous amount of time arranging them on the shelf.

A note on the Big New Green Shed: it’s the same as all the others. There, now I have found that out so you don’t have to. You’re welcome. I did pick up more bulbs (ranunculus, anemone and freesias to sprinkle around the garden like Easter eggs), and blue sweet pea seeds. Sweet peas are my favourite flower, and I always plant them on Anzac Day as my mother taught me. I have three varieties to plant this year: Bijou (saved seed from last year, that I plant each year and is constantly excellent), a variety called Surprise (purchased from last year’s Easter Fair), and this blue variety. I also have poppies, kale, cauliflower, romanesco and green sprouting broccoli, leeks, lettuces and silverbeet to plant.

Adorable children visited and chocolate and Marshmallow Bunnies were handed out to much joy. Easter rocks.

Day Three (Easter Sunday), started with a Hot Cross Bun and a Salted Caramel Lindt Ball, reminding me again of why this is my favourite holiday, and a visit to an adorable three year old to hand over more sugary treats.

Our backyard soil needs considerable work after its hard slog over the Summer. I dug over the compost and pulled out a nice lot of compost for one section. Then I spread Rapid Raiser and Blood and Bone fertiliser over the bed I am planting garlic this year, and watered in well. Tomorrow I will dig in some cow manure, then let it sit until Anzac Day when I will take four bulbs of our precious homegrown garlic and plant it for the new season. Homegrown garlic tastes so much better than bought garlic, that it is always worth leaving room for it in the garden.

My husband de-seeded five very seedy lettuce plants that I had left to form seed heads, picking off thousands of tiny lettuce seeds. We will plant them out on Anzac Day as well. While he was doing that, I weeded and trimmed back some of the boysenberry canes for safety and tidiness.

The boysenberry and I have a love/hate relationship. Last year was only its second year, and it fruited quite well with very little care required. Its thorns prevented pests like birds pinching any, so we actually got a nice little crop. Those thorns though make it very painful to prune and manage, and like all brambles, it spreads like crazy. I dug out many rooted brambles today and potted them up in case anyone else (friends, enemies) wants Audrey II a delicious berry plant in their backyard.

Tomorrow is Easter Monday, the last day of a lovely, relaxing weekend. I plan to tidy up my dry, weedy front yard, feed all the plants, and plant some seeds into my seed trays for Winter veggies (a little late but given how hot it has been this Autumn, I think it will be fine). After that, I reckon I will have just enough room for one more Hot Cross Bun before bidding farewell to another glorious Easter weekend.

Gardening jobs – Weekend 13 & 14 October 2018

Nigella, or Love-In-A-Mist

It’s halfway through Spring and the flowers are out in force. Bees are buzzing, lavender is going off it’s rocker in my garden – so much so that it self-seeds everywhere and I pull it out like a weed – and the whole garden smells like sweet pea flowers. It is a beautiful place to be right now.

Foreground: Thyme and lavender (pink) in flower

The Summer bearing fruit trees are starting to set fruit, and the Autumn bearing fruit trees are bursting into bud. The first blossoms burst on one of our apple trees today: an early variety called an Early Macintosh. This is its second year, and I am so excited to have fresh apples. The other apple tree, a Cox’s Orange Pippin, can’t be far behind.

Apricot tree

This will be our first year of a decent apricot crop. The tree is three years old now. Last year, we scored about a dozen lovely, juicy apricots, but it is really this year that all our patience and care will be rewarded. As you can see from the photo above, the tree is heavily laden. Thinning sacrifices some fruit to make way for the rest of the fruit to develop. While I have no problem thinning carrots or onions, for some reason I can’t stand thinning fruit, so my husband did it for me.

My first job this weekend though was to give everything in pots and containers, including the raised beds, a feed of seaweed extract, Charlie Carp organic liquid fertiliser, and Go Go Juice, a liquid probiotic and soil conditioner. Go Go Juice is great stuff: a local company here in South Australia, Neutrog, makes it. It helps to nourish the soil as well as the plant.

After feeding the tomatoes, strawberries and chillies in containers, I planted out some new basil seeds – Cinnamon Basil, and Lettuce Leaf Basil. I planted these in the pots with the tomatoes and chillies, as basil is a good companion plant for these. I use a lot of basil in Summer for homemade pesto and salads, and I love trying new varieties. I could not resist trying Cinnamon Basil. It sounds so beautiful. Lettuce Leaf Basil apparently tastes and smells like regular basil, but grows larger, ruffled leaves.

Tomatoes, strawberries and chillies in pots
Tomatoes ready for planting

I planted out the tomato seedlings (Rouge de Marmande, and Red Truss) that I have been growing out over the past month. I bought these as seedlings in little punnets in early Spring, and then transplanted them into larger pots. This has given them the time to grow to larger, tougher plants, and for the soil to warm up properly. The soil up here in our Southern hills area of Adelaide really doesn’t warm up enough for Summer vegetables until now, so the tomatoes have been having a nice cozy time in our patio. The patio receives enough sun to keep them alive and growing, but is sheltered from wind and rain. I raise all my seedlings in there.

This extra time also gave me an opportunity to prepare the soil and harvest the last of the Spring greens and brassicas to make room for the tomato plants. I still have broccoli and broad beans in the garden, but over the past six weeks I have been slowly making way for the Summer vegetables.

This has included preparing a large bed for corn and beans. My husband dug through a couple of bags of donkey poo a few weeks ago, and we have let it sit since then. Today I dug it over again and planted two varieties of corn: Jubilee Corn, an F1 hybrid sweetcorn I grew last year with great success, and Painted Mountain Corn, an ancient heirloom variety, grown for popping. This corn was grown by First Nation peoples in the Americas before colonisation, and nearly became extinct until a concerted effort by seed savers in that country. The seeds of the Mountain Corn are beautiful, jewel-like things, coloured blue, purple, red and yellow. I almost hated to cover them with soil, but I cannot wait to see these plants grow.

I planted climbing beans alongside the corn. The beans will provide nitrogen to the growing corn, which is a very hungry plant, and the corn will support the beans as they grow. I planted two heirloom varieties: Scarlet Runner, a green bean that has beautiful red flowers, and Climbing Butter Beans, a yellow, waxy bean that has beautiful purplish black seeds.

The last little job was planting out some Golden Zucchini and two varieties of pumpkin. I am once again trying the Lakota pumpkin – in a different spot in the garden – but if it proves a dud again this year, I am giving up on it. I am also trying another heirloom called the Australian Butter, a squat, golden pumpkin with heavy ridges. It looks sort of like an orange Queensland Blue. Of course, I cannot go without planting the traditional Butternut, and last year’s big success, the Kent – but I ran out of time this weekend so that will be a job for next time. The fun thing about gardening is that there is always a next time: another job, another plant, another flower.

I picked another kilogram of broccoli, some broad beans, and peas for dinner. I love watching my kids tuck into a bowl of vegetables straight from the garden. I showed them how to slip the broad beans out of their skins (although when they are this young and tender, it’s not entirely necessary). They got a kick out of popping the slippery green beans out of the skins and slurping them up. Gardening creates fun, sensory food experiences for children. Plus the flavour of fresh peas straight from the garden is incomparable.

Just as I finished planting tomatoes and pumpkins, and went inside to shower the dirt of myself, the rains came down and stayed for quite a while. Grow, my pretties [insert cackle here].