The experiment – growing everything for a veggie patch from seed

This season (Autumn 2022) I made a bold decision: to grow everything in my veggie patch from seed. This meant brassicas, root veggies, leafy greens, all from seed.

I made this fateful decision for a couple of reasons. Firstly, funsies. Growing from seed is pretty fun. Some people like messing about in boats; I like messing about with dirt.

I also wanted to grow a few things that are not so easy to find in punnets from the Big Green Shed, or even from my favourite local nursery. I wanted to grow the standards (broccoli, caulis, cabbages, chard), but also some different plants, such as collard greens and orange cauliflowers. Of course, I could have found the broccoli and caulis at the nursery, but I could only find collards from one online seed supplier. I can’t even explain why I wanted to grown them. I get little side interests like this, and for some reason, collards was a thing I wanted to try.

I think the other reason I wanted to grow everything from seed is that it is an experiment in independence. Although I did buy most of the seeds online, some of the seeds I had saved from heirloom plants grown last year (cabbages, some lettuces, and coriander). While I’m not a prepper by any stretch, I do think about how we would manage if our supply chains are suddenly interrupted and we can no longer rely on the economic systems we currently have in place.

Oh, wait….

I’d like to think that I could manage to feed myself and my family – to an extent – by saving seeds and growing plants from seed, if the luxury of popping down to Bunno’s for a six pack of broccoli seedlings was taken away from me for some reason.

Like a worldwide pandemic.

Or if the country caught fire.

Or if large parts of our nation sank under metres and metres of water.

Oh, wait….

So, can I? Weellll…kinda. The answer is complicated.

Yes, I can grow everything from seed.

However, it takes a LOT of time. More time than I have, to be honest.

Not because I am so busy, although that is partly true. I only have time to be a part-time gardener.

I’m talking about the time I can’t control: seasonal time. I started sowing seeds for planting in Autumn in February, starting them inside using a heat mat. I planted out the second-last tray of seedling brassicas today (mid-May). That means that it has taken me 3.5 months to grow a full garden’s worth of veggies, using my tiny home setup. If I did not have the heat mat, it would have taken much longer.

The problem with this is that I have missed most of the warmer early Autumn weather, and I am planting baby brassicas into cold soil. The temperature today was about 20 degrees C. That doesn’t sound too bad, except the night temps are much cooler, and the soil temps are around 10 degrees C on the Adelaide Plains right now. As we live in a Southern hills area, the soil temps are likely to be about 2 degrees C cooler. My baby plants are likely to sulk in the cold soil, instead of taking off.

When gardening, temperatures are everything. Wait too long in Autumn, and you risk letting your seedlings slowly grow through Winter, until they suddenly bolt in the warmth of Springtime. This is likely to be my result for all my stubborn efforts. Even a week’s delay in planting can make all the difference.

If I had bought seedlings and planted everything at once in March, I’d probably be halfway to cauliflowers by now.

Lessons learned (but never learnings)

So what is my lesson – and what can you take from my bold/crazy experiment in seed-starting?

Firstly, the positives.

There are definitely some plants that are best to start from seed. Think zucchini, pumpkins, peas, beans, onions, any root veggies, and leafy greens. I always plant leafy greens from seed, as it is far cheaper and better to grow lettuces, spinach, bok chop, tatsoi, coriander, and chard from seed.

It’s also worth searching out seeds for heirloom or different veggies you may want to grow that you can’t find in commercial nurseries. I don’t want to just grow the things that big companies tell me to grow. Sometimes, seeds are just the only way to find and grow those plants. I’ll let you know if the collards were worth the effort!

I will also continue to save seeds, swap seeds, and plant seeds from veggies that I love or that do really well in my microclimate. For those plants, I will definitely grow from seed. Free seeds! Can’t beat that deal.

I do think that if I had a greenhouse, this whole experiment would have turned out very differently. Instead, I have a tiny heat mat in the corner of my sunroom. As I was planting out the seedlings this morning, I mused different ways I could afford a greenhouse. Then I realised that our annual September gales would probably throw someone’s roof shingles or backyard chairs through it. I could buy a LOT of seedlings for what that would cost me to fix.

There’s no point wasting precious seasonal growing time just to be stubborn. Right now, we still have the privilege of buying a punnet of seedlings for about $4, which is a pretty good deal. I know for a fact it’s a good deal, because it has taken me a lot of time and effort to grow all of these plants from seed.

And, FYI – growing from seed isn’t cheaper. Add in the cost of seed-raising mix, the little cardboard jiffy pots that I used to reduce the reliance on plastic, seeds, time, etc, and I would suggest that $4 for punnet of six seedlings is actually a spectacular bargain.

Therefore, I will start buying seedlings again for the old standards (ye olde broccoli, drumhead cabbages, white cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, and eggplants).

And the final lesson: no matter how you plant up your veggie patch, from seeds or seedlings, all your efforts will go to waste if you accidentally let the chooks out.

Weekend gardening jobs, 1 May 2022

There’s nothing like the ache you get after a full day in the garden. Regular exercise doesn’t give it – I exercise about an hour four times a week and I never get that same bone tired but relaxed feeling that I do after gardening. I think it’s the fact that I use so many muscles when I garden: I climb, dig, bend, stretch, lift, and strain for hours at a time, stopping only for a quick cuppa and a bite to eat. Right now every part of me is pleasantly exhausted. I need to think about making dinner, but not until I’ve rested for at least an hour or so.

Planting salvias

I’ve been working a lot lately, including the last long weekend, with minimal gardening time, so there was a lot to do this weekend. The front yard in particular has been looking…a bit feral, to be honest. I could tell that a few of the lavender bushes and woody herbs (thyme and sage) were really on their last legs. This was confirmed when I dug up one of the lavender bushes to discover it was actually dead. No wonder it wasn’t flowering – apparently they don’t when they’re dead! I cut up what I could for firewood, then consigned the rest to the green bin. Woody herbs don’t live forever – although they are called ‘perennial’, in actuality they live around 3-5 years. These plants have lived at least that long, so we have done pretty well out of them. I still have plenty anyway, as they have self-seeded prolifically. It’s just the original plants that needed to depart.

I had decided over Easter that this job was coming, but wasn’t sure what to replace the dead and dying bushes with. Whatever we replaced them with needed to be as tough as the conditions on our hillside front yard: North-West facing and in full sun. Plants have to be able to survive in hot and dry conditions all year round. I chose salvias. Salvias are beautiful, drought tolerant, and will survive many years. I already have three salvias in the front yard, so I know they will do well.

I tried finding some at the Easter Fair we attend each year, but the plant stall only had one! So I bought that, and then ordered some online from the Diggers Club. While I was at it, I ordered a lemongrass plant, a hanging rosemary, and a meadow sage, which is like regular sage but more prostrate.

Digging out the bushes was pretty tough on the old body but I managed it. My usual digger was out, so I had to use all my muscles to get the job done.

I immediately replaced them with the salvias, and watered in well with liquid seaweed tonic to give them a fresh start. I also planted out the hanging rosemary and meadow sage in empty spots in the garden, and trimmed back some other lavenders I wanted to keep. It’s all looking a bit bare and sad right now, but once everything starts growing it should fill in nicely.

The veggie patch

While I was cutting back and digging out, I removed the now spent eggplant bushes from the back garden, and steeled myself to cut back Audrey II, the boysenberry cane. I hate this job, as she is one mean, green mother. To make the job less painful (literally), I decided to only cut back two of the plants (she is actually four). Some gardening advice: don’t plant boysenberries. They are delicious, but painful. Not delicious enough, in my view. Find something thornless, if you want to grow berries.

I planted out some purple cauliflower seedlings that were ready for transplant, fed everything in the veggie patch with an organic liquid fertiliser, and finished mulching with sugar cane mulch. Yes, even heading into Winter I still mulch. Our Winter is still pretty dry so we should mulch no matter the weather. It also suppresses weeds, which are more likely to come up in Winter.

Coming along nicely are the turnips, carrots, beets, first batch of collards, and radishes. Garlic is looking lovely but of course will not be ready for months and months. Every year I weigh up giving space to garlic, which takes the longest to mature of any annual vegetable in the backyard. Then I harvest it and I am so glad I did. I am down to my last bulb from last season, and then back to buying it again *sob*

As I was weeding and mulching today, I discovered three avocado trees behind the lime tree (which is weighed down with beautiful juicy limes). These have self-seeded from the compost bins just nearby. Like most of Australia, we have been eating copious avocados this year, as they have been at bargain basement prices ($1 an avo? Avo toast for all!!). Our compost bin is full of avocado seeds and skins as a result – and now my garden appears to be sprouting avo trees. I’d hazard a guess they are Hass. We have a Reed avocado (the king of avocados) growing behind the chook pen, from which we have received exactly zero avos in the last three seasons. We have decided to let the avo seedlings keep growing for now, and then we will decide whether to dig one out and plant it nearby as a pollinator for the Reed.

The other plant that is kicking along nicely behind the lime tree is a Beauregard sweet potato. I planted it as an experiment, and because I love sweet potatoes. It’s growing like crazy in the corner near the compost bins and asparagus bed. I’m very tempted to bandicoot underneath to see if we have any tubers, but I know I’m not supposed to dig anything up until the leaves go yellow. If there’s no sweet potatoes under there I will be so disappointed.

Seed starting

I also planted more seeds. My plan to grow everything from seed is starting to feel slightly insane as the weather grows cooler, but I am determined to accomplish it now that I have put it out there. I planted kale, mini cauliflower, more collards, and tatsoi seeds. In an old wheelbarrow I use as a raised bed I have more lettuce seeds coming up. My plan is not to buy lettuce at all until Summer. I have romanesco broccoli, orange cauliflower, and more cabbage almost ready to go in the ground.

And I officially give up on spinach. It seems that the only thing that loves baby spinach more than my youngest child is the birds that visit my garden. I have raised and planted 18 spinach plants and lost 18 spinach plants. I could buy a net and cover it to protect it from marauding sparrows, but that would cost me more than just buying it – so I think I’ll resign myself to buying baby spinach from now on. Interestingly, they leave the chard alone. They are discerning little pests – because really, who’d go for chard when you could have spinach? My husband said he’d build a scarecrow, but I think that would scare me more than them.

Weekend gardening jobs, 10th April 2022

April in Southern Australia is spectacular. As we walked by the reservoir this morning, the water rippled in a light breeze, and kangaroos bounded past. We sure are lucky to live in this beautiful part of the world.

After a walk and a quick breakfast, it was out to the garden to soak up some sun. It was just a perfect day to be out in the garden. Even clearing out old pumpkin vines was fun.

I went for a little wander and picked the last of the pumpkins (some Butternuts and a Queensland Blue), a bowl of eggplants, a bunch of carrots, a couple of final tomatoes, and a speckled cos lettuce (so pretty!).

Then I could finish clearing out the last of the Summer plants (except the eggplants, which are still going gangbusters) and clean up the whole garden ready for Autumn. So long, pumpkin vines (always a happy/sad feeling – happy because they are just all over the place, but sad because no more pumpkins). Farewell, tomato plants. I dug over the beds, spread organic fertiliser (pelletised chicken manure and blood and bone), and raked it all to a fine tilth. It’s amazing what a bit of tidying up can do – after a long growing season, when the garden is full of growing apparatus and rambling vines, it looks so neat and tidy when everything is cleared out. In a few months it will be full of plants again, but for now, it looks like the garden of one of those very organised gardeners I see on the internet.

I am organised, but not generally in the long tidy rows kind of way. I wish I was, but space is such a valuable resource in my garden, that I tend to fill in the gaps wherever I can, ruining the tidy line aesthetic so that after a month or so the veggie patch ends up with the same rambling quality as the front yard. I usually don’t mind it, but I did enjoy seeing it so neat today, if only for a moment.

The empty space was empty only briefly, after which I planted:

  • Garlic Mammoth – I planted out one full bulb, and I have another to plant out next weekend
  • Golden Acre Cabbage – half a dozen seedlings, grown from seed I saved last year
  • Red Spring Onions – two full punnets of onion sets, grown from seed
  • Green Viking Spinach – four seedlings, grown from seed. So far I have yet to grow a full Spinach plant from multiple seeds planted. If these babies fail too, I will go back to the more reliable Chard and Kale
  • Coriander- two seedlings grown from seed I saved last year

So far I have succeeded in only planting from seed. I planted up new seeds: Purple Sicily cauliflower, Curly Kale, Romanesco broccoli, and more Green Viking Spinach (c’mon little Spinach, you can do it!!).

Every season I become obsessed with growing something just because. You wouldn’t think plain old ordinary Spinach would be one of those things, and yet, here we are. That, and those crazy orange cauliflowers. I sent away for seeds and they sent me back exactly seven (7) seeds! They have all come up, but it’s a long way from seedling to plant, as I have been discovering over the past few weeks. I have a new found respect for plant wholesalers and retailers.

Pumpkin Season Outcomes

From left: Queensland Blue, Australian Butter, Buttercup

This year I grew four varieties of pumpkins: the classic Butternut, Queensland Blue, Australian Butter, and Buttercup. Of these, the Butternut was the most prolific (in fact, I still have a single vine in the corner of the yard that still has five pumpkins growing). Queensland Blue was the next best, and I only got one each of the gorgeous orange Australian Butter and Buttercup. However, I already know I will grow Buttercup again – I’ve already saved the seeds ready for next year. That was the most delicious pumpkin I have ever eaten. I hope next year it will grow more productively than this year.

In previous years, I have had excellent success with Kent pumpkins (also known as Jap in other parts of Australia). I will grow these again next year, as I can’t beat them for their output, although they are not as tasty as either Butternut or Buttercup.

Mostly I grow them because it’s fun, and they are so pretty. I am just happy to have ten organic pumpkins in my pantry, ready for soup and curries. They keep so well, I expect to have pumpkins for at least the next six months (if I can hold off eating them that long).

The unbearable optimism of planting seeds

I’m trying something unbelievably optimistic this season: I’m trying to plant my entire cool season garden from seeds. No seedlings or advanced plants.

Collard greens grown from seed

Seeds have some benefits over planting seedlings. There is a much wider range of plants to choose when you buy seeds. Instead of being held to the limited range of what is most commercially viable at the Big Green Shed, you can go to the many online seed companies and choose interesting varieties. For example, I love a lettuce called Marvel of Four Seasons (tbh, I think I just love the name). You can’t buy it in seedling form, but I can buy a packet of seeds for $3 from an online seed retailer. Or I can decide to trial a pumpkin I’ve never grown before, just for the heck of it, because it looked pretty in a catalogue or a podcaster told me it was good.

Growing from seed is also (mostly) fun. I spend at least a couple of hours a week fiddling around with seed-raising mix and seed trays and labels. I’m no scientician, but playing with seeds is as close as I get.

Growing from seed is immensely satisfying. When I see plants I grew from seed turn into delicious veggies and herbs, I feel extra proud – like a real gardener, not those fake ones I see on TV.

But – and of course you knew there was going to be a but – growing from seed is also bloody heart-breaking. It would be much cheaper and easier to just pick up a darn punnet of regular old caulis and cos lettuces from Bunnos and be done with it. I mean, lettuce is lettuce, right (even if it doesn’t have a cool name)? If I lose a couple to cabbage moth or pigeons, it would bug me a little, but I wouldn’t feel the gut punch I did when more than half my Green Viking Spinach seedlings disappeared overnight thanks to a hungry bird. I spend a lot of time growing my orange caulis and collard greens from seed. To lose them in such arbitrary fashion…argh!

Also, if I wasn’t growing from seed, I would have a garden almost fully planted up by now. Sowing from seed, even with a heat mat, takes a looooooong time. I started back in February, and it’s already April. After over two decades of parenting, my patience is quite well-honed, but still – I could be well on the way to broccoli and cauliflower by now.

Why have I not caved and bought a few backup punnets? I mean, does it really matter in the long run? I set myself this crazy challenge, after all.

Some dude once said, gardening is the triumph of hope over experience.

I guess that’s why.

Weekend gardening jobs, March 13 & 14 2021

It was a long weekend here in our State, and it’s also early Autumn. Many of the Summer veggie plants are finishing off, and it’s time to start getting ready for the Autumn garden.

Autumn in our area is now tending toward the dry and warm, thanks to the ongoing effects of climate change. The long-range weather forecast for our region predicts just 10mm of rain for March, and not much rain for April (traditionally a wet month). The forecast is predicting a dry Autumn, a warmer and drier Winter, and a cooler and wetter Spring and Summer (basically, a repeat of the last twelve months). This means that gardeners need to change our approach to seasonal planting. Plants we might not have considered for the Autumn garden might be a possibility. We might be able to grow Summer veggies later into Autumn.

I’m seeing that myself right now. I still have an abundance of eggplant and chillies in my patch, and no sign that the plants will stop producing anytime soon. I have sowed some carrots, lettuces, and turnips directly in the ground, and they have popped their little leaves up already. As it’s still warm during the day, the soil is still warm enough to start directly sowed seeds. And usually gardeners wait until after first frost to harvest pumpkins, but the plants are dying off already with no sign of a frost on the horizon. I need to decide whether to pick the pumpkins, or try to keep them on rapidly drying up vines. I think I will have to pick, and give up on the idea of frost.

Cleaning up the garden

The Summer garden is almost finished. I spent most of this morning (Monday) picking the rest of the tomatoes, green beans, and a final watermelon (we only got a couple – note to self, don’t bother next year!!), and clearing out spent plants. Then I dug over the soil, sprinkled organic fertiliser over the soil, and raked it in ready for planting seedlings in a couple of weeks.

Seed-starting

Starting plants from seed is a kind of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ process. I successfully started a dozen silverbeet (chard) and another dozen spinach plants about a month ago, and then once they were large enough I planted them out in the garden. All but two of them have been eaten by birds. So now, frustratingly, I have to start those plants again. Don’t believe blogs or resources that say seeds are a lot cheaper than seedlings. Technically, seeds are much cheaper when comparing a packet of 500 seeds to a punnet of six grown plants – but like everything in gardening, nothing is as simple as that. Factoring in the cost of seeds, seed-raising mix, seed trays (which can be re-used), and now the heat mat with electricity, as well as the time, I probably come out ahead slightly, but not that much far ahead, than if I bought seedlings.

Where seeds are really worth it is in the wider variety you can access, and the fun.

I can find varieties of plants from seed catalogues that I can’t find in seedling form at a nursery. For example, recently I decided I wanted to grow collards. Collards are popular in America, but not in Australia, so I can’t find them in seedling form at a nursery or even as seeds from most mainstream seed companies. However, after a bit of online searching I found collard seeds from a seed company in NSW. They also had lots of interesting varieties of lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, radish, turnips, and kale, so I bought all the seeds I wanted to try for the Autumn garden from them. I will still buy seedlings from nurseries, but my plan is to try to start most of my plants from seed this season. I also like fiddling around with propagation kits and seed-starting, so although it’s not cheaper or a time-saver, it’s a great hobby.

However, trying to plan a garden this way requires a lot of planning on my part. As I really only have weekends, I need to be much more organised if I want to grow my garden almost entirely from seed this season. I can’t wait around until the end of March, then throw in a few dozen seedlings and still be fine. I have to start now to get the seeds going. This is why I am spending at least an hour a week starting seeds.

This week, I started more chard (after my first lot were eaten by birds), leeks, coriander, cauliflower, and more onions. In the garden, I direct sowed lettuce, turnips, and carrots. I planted out spring onions that I started from seed three weeks ago. I have just started to have to buy onions and carrots again, after months of not having to, and it’s so annoying! My goal is to have enough onions, carrots, lettuces, and greens in my garden for most of the year from mid-April without having to buy any.

I love turnips and kohlrabi, but I have had middling success with them. I think this is related to time of planting, which is why I am trying to be diligent with the planting time this year.

Summer Winners and Losers

This year, the garden winners for the Summer season were the eggplants, beans, chillies, and pumpkins. We still have an abundance of eggplants coming on, and I anticipate them to keep going for several more weeks. We have been eating at least one full eggplant meal per week – usually a spicy eggplant pasta dish or a curry. We have about twelve pumpkins on the vine almost ready to go (another week or so), including Queensland Blues, Australian Butter, Butternut, and a variety that I can’t recall the name of. I’m very excited about the Australian Butter, which is a brilliant orange.

The green beans, which are Blue Lake variety, have also been abundant, and we have been eating them in vegetarian stir fries with carrots, chillies, and noodles. The chillies have been prolific. We have grown eight varieties of chilli: cayenne, dragon’s roll (prolific but not spicy, and a bit dull), dragon’s tongue (delicious and super spicy – our favourite), curly toenail, mango, cherry, lemon, and jalapeño. The best have been the dragon’s tongue and the curly toenail. Both are spicy, but also have a great flavour. The lemon chilli is delicious green and sliced up on top of chilli, eggs, stir fries, curries, or anything that you want a bit of a kick with that lovely fresh green chilli flavour.

The garden losers this year were the zucchini, cucumbers (ugh, I bloody give up), melons, and tomatoes. I’m not sure who had a good tomato year, but it definitely was not me. That’s partly my own fault: I did not really put a huge effort into tomatoes this year. If tomato seedlings popped up, I let them grow, but I did not choose tomato plants and nurture them. As such, we had a couple of nice cherry tomato plants grow in cracks and corners, but the other plants struggled. I did this because I was trying to rest the main tomato growing areas in my garden after discovering nematodes on a couple of plants last year. I am glad I did this: when I pulled up the sad tomato plants today, I found none of them had nematodes. I hope this means that the nematodes are now gone from my soil. I picked what was left and made a green tomato pickle (delicious).

I did get a few good zucchini, and two melons (technically that makes this my best watermelon season ever), but the wet, cool Summer created ideal conditions for mildew. The zucchini plant rapidly succumbed to powdery mildew, and I ended up pulling it earlier than usual. Goodbye, zucchini season, I hardly knew ye.

Weekend gardening jobs, 20th February 2021

It’s been a busy week in the garden, because I gave myself a week off (exciting). As I work for myself, it’s not often that I get a full week off, but I managed it!

As it’s still Covid times, I took the week off around home, but it was still very lovely. I spent a few mornings and afternoons in the garden, and also visited some outdoor gardening places, such as the botanic gardens, the Digger’s shop in the botanic gardens, where I bought plants and garlic to plant in a few weeks time, and the annual Chilli Festival, where I bought chilli plants and a local plant nursery and bought more house plants. So I guess it was kind of a gardening holiday in which I spent the majority of the time either gardening or thinking about gardening.

House plant mania

I looked around my house this morning and realised that I have a crazy amount of house plants. There is at least one house plant in almost every room. In the lounge room, there are about twenty. On the kitchen window sill I’m striking four new plants. In my office I have six plants to keep me company while I work.

It might be time to slow it down a little, because they actually take a fair bit of time to care for.

Melon success

Pocket melon

I have been trying to grow melons since…always. I have never successfully grown any melons, despite having grown pumpkins with success for a number of years. This has always puzzled me, since pumpkins and melons are closely related. I could not figure out what I was doing wrong.

To be honest, I can’t figure out what I am doing right either, but whatever it is I’ll take it! I’m growing two varieties: Pocket Melon, and Golden Midget. Both are smaller varieties. Golden Midget is a golden melon with red flesh, that grows to 2.5kg at the largest, making it a relatively small melon. The Pocket Melon is a much smaller melon, grown for its intense fragrance more than its flavour. I’m growing them more as an experiment than anything else – if I can break the melon curse then it will have been worth it.

Golden Midget

Preparing for next season

Right now we are picking an abundance of veggies from the garden, and most of our meals are made almost entirely from the veggie patch.

Spinach fettuccine with spicy eggplant sauce – we are cooking from the garden every night

But I have an eye to next season, and I have already bought all the seeds we need for a full Winter/Spring veggie patch. In addition to the usual suspects (broccoli, cabbage etc) I want to try some different veggies to shake our diet up a little. I have been listening to an American gardening podcast called Backyard Gardens, which has me thinking about some different options. I recommend listening to it, with some caveats: the seasons are obviously the opposite to ours, the pests they deal with are generally non-existent in Australia, and the male host has a habit of sometimes speaking over the female host (she’s great). I still listen because I enjoy listening to the female host, and I like learning about what other gardeners are doing, even if it’s across the world.

They suggested growing collards. These are a vegetable that I have never eaten or grown. They are a brassica, related to cabbage and kale. The seeds are not easy to find in Australia, but I found some sold by Happy Valley Seeds in NSW. I’m looking forward to growing and learning to cook collards, which the Backyard Gardens hosts say are tastier than kale (I also like growing and eating kale).

Happy Valley Seeds also sell a wide range of other heirloom and hybrid seeds, so I bought most of next season’s seeds from this site. In addition to the collards, I bought lots of lettuce, purple and orange cauliflower, cabbage, onions, carrots, kohlrabi, turnips, silverbeet (chard), spinach, two types of kale, and broccoli seeds. I am using my heat mat to raise the seeds inside, so I can plant them out in March once the Summer veggies are done.

I bought the heat mat as part of a propagation kit from Diggers Club last month. The whole mat costs $50, but I bought it as part of a kit for $100 (the kit also included a seed tray with cover, seed raising mix, jiffy pots and some other gear). The electric mat supplies gentle heat to the bottom of a seed tray and speeds up propagation. Instead of waiting 7-10 days for seeds to come up, they pop up in three days! I already have seedling pots of silverbeet and spinach ready to plant out once they add their mature leaves, and I have onions, kohlrabi, and collards popping their little heads out now. I love this thing, and just wish that I had bought one years ago. I ordered my kit online from Diggers Club, but you can find them online from other places, as well as the separate components from the Big Green Shed.

What to do with all that stuff you grow

  • Freeze it: shred zucchini, carrots, beetroot, and freeze in one cup portions in snap lock bags. For the zucchini, squeeze out as much water as you can first. To freeze green beans, spread on a tray lined with baking paper, then place in a bag once frozen. To freeze silverbeet, kale or spinach, just chop it and freeze it in bags, and either use it from frozen, or thaw it.
  • Preserve it: make jam, chutney, passata, ketchup, or preserve it;
  • Give it away to friends, family, co-workers, or put it on a Grow Free cart;
  • Bake it: there are so many recipes online for muffins, cakes, brownies, etc using veggies, including vegan options;
  • Cook it: we are not vegetarian but right now we are eating mostly vegetarian food or less meat meals, because we just have so many veggies to eat! We certainly eat our five a day at the moment (admittedly sometimes in chocolate beetroot brownie form, which probably doesn’t count).

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!

Gardening jobs, Easter Weekend 2021

I run my own business, and things are flat out right now, so I do not have the time to spend four days outside in the glorious Autumn weather, more’s the pity.

I gave myself one full day off, and the rest was to be spent looking outside at my garden from my study window.

Bee-attracting Dahlias

Good Friday: working.

Easter Saturday: Day off at the Meadows Easter Fair, a family tradition of many years.

Easter Sunday: working.

Easter Monday: working.

Easter Saturday

The Meadows Easter Fair is held in the little town of Meadows, about twenty minutes from our place. We trek along every year with close friends. We have the stalls we visit each year, and the items we always look out for. It is a traditional country fair, complete with hot donuts, sausage sizzle, homemade jams and pickles, and marshmallow rabbits. Our kids love it, even at the ages of 16 and 12.

There are also a lot of plants for sale. This year there were fewer plants of the kind that I was looking for, but I did manage to buy some Dutch Iris and Daffodil bulbs to plant in the front yard. The Daffodil bulbs were a plain yellow called Greg’s Favourite, which I bought mostly because I was tickled by the name. The Dutch Iris were a lovely ochre coloured variety called Bronze Beauty, which I have not seen in any of the catalogues (and you better believe I’ve been reading the catalogues).

Easter Sunday

Welllllll…I’m only human. Before I sat down to work, I gave myself a little bit of time in the garden. I have many indoor houseplants, and several of them needed dividing and repotting. I spent about an hour doing this, as well as taking cuttings from the overgrown Swiss Cheese Plant that has gone crazy in my study. I repotted the Fiddle Leaf Fig and a Hoya, and divided a Pothos Snow Queen.

Happy broccoli plant

I also repotted the silverbeet seedlings I have been growing from seed, and then watered all the repotted and divided plants with seaweed extract.

Then I checked all the brassica seedlings for caterpillars. I couldn’t find any, although I can tell that something has been having a little munch. I also noticed white fly around the place. The longer warm period has kept them hanging around. Generally I don’t spray, even with organic sprays because they can also kill beneficial insects, but if the white fly does get worse I might have to.

I cultivated around the brassicas to remove some opportunistic weeds (and some tomato seedlings that have popped up from the compost).

I quickly threw around some poppy and hollyhock seeds from my stash of seeds.

Then I waved goodbye to my lovely garden, and headed back inside to face my computer screen.

Next weekend, if I have time, I will plant out peas, sweet peas, garlic, and the bulbs I bought at the Easter Fair. Until then, it is time to work.

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 28 February 2021

It’s the end of Summer and the beginning of Autumn, and I spent the morning pulling out expiring tomato plants and prepping the soil for the next planting season. I listen to gardening podcasts while I do this, to inspire me for the tasks ahead.

I also picked the rest of the tomatoes, a couple of little onions that I discovered under some big old tomato plants, a couple of zucchini, about half a kilogram of fresh green beans, a small pumpkin, and four lovely eggplant. Sunday night I made curries using entirely homegrown veggies, which always makes me happy.

Seed raising

To get ready for the next planting period, I made my own seed-raising mix. I have not been happy with the ready-made seed-raising mix, which seems to dry out in five minutes flat. It dries out so quickly that if you forget to water even just once, your seeds will die and all your efforts will be for naught. While the failure to water is of course, arguably my own fault, I am a part-time gardener, and stuff happens. Life, work, kids, etc. I would like something that holds moisture just a bit. I made my own using what I already have in the shed: potting mix with added blood and bone, coir, and propagating sand. The addition of the coir holds the moisture, while the propagating sand enables good drainage. I used a brick of coir, soaked in a bucket of water, then added it to the other ingredients in a bucket in the following proportions:

  • 1 part propagating sand (this is coarse washed river sand, not the sandpit sand);
  • 2 parts coir;
  • 2 parts potting mix.

I mixed this up in a bucket with a fork. I would not necessarily recommend making your own seed-raising mix if you do not happen to have all this stuff lying around your garden shed, but as I do, it took only a matter of minutes to throw it together. Also, it was much cheaper than the bags of ready-made seed-raising mix, and as I mentioned, I am not a fan of the ready-made stuff.

Of course in a pinch you can use regular old over the counter potting mix, but it really is too coarse for successful seed-raising. The fine coir and sand lightens up the chunky particles of the potting mix. Some people swear by jiffy pots or pellets for seed-raising, but I think they are not very good. I have run my own nerdy garden experiments and found the pellets have a lower germination rate than regular seed-raising mix by a factor of 2:1, and they cost twice the price.

Once made, I spread my homemade seed-raising mix into seedling trays and planted:

  • Onions Barletta;
  • Silverbeet Fordhook giant;
  • Cabbage Golden acre;
  • Broccoli Green sprouting; and
  • Broccoli Romanesco.

I will plant another lot of seeds next weekend, and continue for several more weeks while the weather is still warm. My goal this season is to plant early and to plant successively to ensure ongoing crops of some of my Winter favourites, such as turnips, romanesco broccoli, and homegrown onions (OMG really fresh bulb onions are so good). I also want a good crop of garlic this year: last year the garlic was extremely disappointing. I think I did not prep the soil well enough, so this year I am going all in preparing the soil for the garlic to be planted in May.

Garlic

Garlic is a heavy feeder. It loves nitrogen rich soil, so I am preparing the soil with compost and blood and bone. Next weekend I will dig through aged chicken manure from my healthy, free ranging chooks.

I have two bulbs of garlic purchased from the Digger’s Club shop in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens, ready and waiting for my soil to be ready. You don’t need to buy garlic from a nursery; you can buy a regular bulb of garlic from the fruit and vegetable shop. The only rule is that it must be Australian grown garlic, not the cheaper imported garlic. Imported garlic has been treated with fungicide and should not be planted. Australian grown garlic is more expensive, but as one bulb will grow many plants, it is worth the expense of a few dollars for one bulb.

The only reason I like to buy it from a supplier like Digger’s is that they have different varieties, and I enjoy the fun of trying different kinds. Tbh I don’t know a lot about garlic varieties, but I still enjoy trying them. I tend toward the purple varieties, because…well, they are pretty. Otherwise, the Australian grown garlic from the shop is probably just as good and a bit cheaper than buying from a nursery.

I won’t be planting for a few months, so I will have a garden space that will sit fallow until then. The soil will be recovering from a high-demand crop of tomatoes, so it will do it good to rest and relax while I feed it up with nutrients, ready for the garlic crop. Then I will have to be patient while garlic, one of the longest growing crops of the year, takes it’s time. Patience is the key attribute of the gardener.

Fortunately for me, I have some space to grow my beloved Romanesco broccoli, and plenty of other jobs to take on over the next couple of weeks, including espaliering my apple trees (they have grown a lot and I need to re-do the previous job with stronger posts and wire), preparing the soil in Pie Corner for two dwarf plum trees (so excited – I love plums), and feeding the other fruit trees.

Oh – if anyone has any advice on mulberry trees, send it my way. Ours has been in the ground for almost five years now, and not a single crop. The apricot tree nearby had its best crop ever. I can’t work out what is going on with this tree! If it doesn’t start fruiting it’s starting to look like a very nice woodpile…

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.