Weekend gardening jobs, 28 June 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Garden jobs, March 15 2020

It’s been a stressful week for, well, humanity. The best way I know to deal with the stress and worry for the health and wellbeing of self, family, friends and community is to get out into the fresh, hopefully coronavirus-free air and sunshine, and do something physical and practical. So after my standard Aussie panic buy yesterday (Toilet paper? Check. Pasta? Check.), I got out into the garden this morning to expend my ever-growing sense of plague-dread by ripping spent tomato plants out of the dirt and turning the compost.

A veggie patch, if you are fortunate enough to have the space to plant one, is a very good way to assuage apocalyptic terror, because you it makes you feel like you are doing something to prepare for the end of the world, even if that something is just planting cabbages. The truth is I can’t grow enough veggies to be self-sufficient for my family, and planting them now at the start of the Autumn growing season won’t do me much good if we are all sent into social isolation next week. But fear is psychological, so if I can do something busy that feels helpful and useful, and above all, fun, then I won’t feel so stressed about the fact that I might be stuck in my house with potentially no work (I’m self-employed), two kids, and a dwindling stock of toilet paper. I can watch my growing cabbages with the knowledge that cabbage leaves are lovely and soft and have potentially many uses 😉

Cabbage seedlings popping up their lovely heads.

So far almost all the seeds I planted in seed trays last week have come up and are looking healthy. Now to nurture them to seedling size before planting them out into larger pots before putting them in the garden. I like to transition them to a next stage pot before I move them to the garden, so they are lovely and strong before they go in the ground

I dug over the compost and tipped in a full bag of pigeon poo, given to me by my awesome neighbour, John. I tell you what, when society falls, I will do my best to save my neighbours. A bag of pigeon poo goes a long way when it comes to choosing who to put on the proverbial ark. Let’s face it, in the new world, diamonds won’t count for much, but the ability to make kick arse compost will be a valuable skill set.

Once all the old plants were removed from the garden beds, I dug everything over and raked it to a fine tilth, ready for planting. Next on my list is to plan my plantings. I have to be honest: I am not a planner when it comes to the garden. Normally, I just chuck plants in wherever they fit and hope for the best. Usually this works out pretty well, but I am running out of space now and I really want to maximise every inch of soil. So I have decided I am going to plan it properly this season to see if I can boost the productivity of my space. I am leaving each space I clear empty for now, until I can plan out exactly what I want to plant.

These are my non-negotiables:

    Green cabbage;
    Red cabbage;
    Lettuces (lots);
    Onions (spring, red, white);
    Garlic (John gave me four bulbs he saved from season – what a legend);
    Broccoli (green and Romanesco);
    Carrots (white, orange, purple);
    Peas (Snow and Sugar Snap).

I would like to grow broad beans (mostly for soil health), silverbeet, radishes, bok choy, climbing spinach, and cauliflower.

So not too much then.

All of this has to be grown around the fruit trees and perennials like rhubarb and strawberries.

I’ll post my sketch next week.

Finally, check out my pumpkin vine.

I love to grow pumpkins, but they are something you can really only grow if you have the luxury of space. Every year they take up half the backyard: I couldn’t get even half the vine in the picture. I have at least six lovely Kent pumpkins growing. They will be ripe just in time for pumpkins to come down to less than a dollar a kilo.

Gardening jobs, Week beginning 17th November 2019

It was a stinker of a week here in our Southern states of Australia, with temperatures reaching 42 degrees C in my area before a windy cool change. I pre-emptively watered my garden ahead of the heat, with the hope of saving my newly planted tomatoes, chillies, eggplant, capsicum and zucchini. Last year, a one-day heat blast (48 degrees C) wiped out everything in one hit. Happily the intensive watering kept everything alive and well.

Next weekend I will be mulching heavily – a little late, but at least before Summer starts in earnest.


Halfway through dead-heading the biggest lavender bush

This is a dull, repetitive task that I put off – I would rather weed than dead-head flowering plants. However, it is a necessary task to keep flowering shrubs looking their best and flowering longer. Ideally I would do this about three times a year, but honestly it is more likely twice yearly. I have about 15 lavender bushes in my front yard; these have all reached the point that they need their semi-annual haircut. I spent an hour with the hedge trimmers chopping back four of these, including the largest of the English lavender bushes, a monstrous beast that is also encroaching the neighbour’s yard. I will leave the rest for the weekend.

Wait to dead-head, as the name suggests, when the flowers are mostly spent. You can see in the photo above that there are still a couple of fresh lavender flowers on the bush, but that the majority are dried out and dead. Try to choose a cooler day to dead-head if you can, to avoid stressing the plant. I chose a warm day, early in the morning, because that is when I had the time. Often gardening is about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

At least trimming lavender smells divine, making a boring job a bit more pleasant. I also have three climbing roses, about a dozen calendula, sage bushes, thyme, oregano, and mint that all needs a tidy up. When I cut back the herbs, I will put them in my dehydrator to make mixed dried herbs. I usually live to regret this, as scrunching them up into jars afterward takes a long time. By the time I have pulled them off their stalks and put them into recycled jars, I end up with a disappointing amount of herbs for all my hard work. But I cannot bear to toss all those beautiful herbs in the compost, even though I know they are a renewable resource (unlike my time).

Feeding and Weeding

The rest of my time this week was spent digging compost out of the the second compost bin, side dressing all the tomatoes with a solid shovel of pelletised chicken manure each, giving the plants in pots a liquid feed of diluted worm wee, and weeding. At this time of year, the task of weeding is endless. Driving around the city, I see that the local councils are barely able to keep up with all the weeding. If they can’t do it, how can I manage it all?

I bet all the damn weeds survive the heat.

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.

Top 10 Most Useful Gardening Tools

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a list of my least most useful gardening tools and gadgets, gleaned from my gardening purchases over the years.

But never fear! It has not all been tales of wasted cash and broken dreams. There have been some purchases that not only did what they promised on the packet, but exceeded my expectations. Here’s my top 10:

10. The trowel. Cost: about $15. This trowel is already going on about four years, and has yet to show a speck of rust or any signs of weakness in the handle. This, after my last trowel bought the biscuit when the handle snapped off where it joined the metal head. We still use it to shovel bits of potting mix and gravel, but it really is a sad looking thing. Meanwhile, the $15 trowel keeps on putting the hard yards every weekend.

9. A single plastic chopstick. Price unknown. You can purchase fancy seed dibbers and other tools to prick out seedlings, but honestly nothing beats a chopstick for this job. My handy chopstick has been used for years and is still a lovely shiny red. And if I ran it through the dishwasher I am sure I could still eat my sushi with it.

I, er, won’t though.

8. The spade. Cost: about $15 many years ago. Our spade looks a sorry sight. The plastic handle fell off many years ago, so it does look quite dodge. I have considered replacing it with a fancy schmancy new spade, but the fact is that this spade is a workhorse that is still nice and comfortable to use. The wooden shaft shows no sign of breaking, and the head is still strong. It’s also not too heavy, which is important for me – I’m not a big person and I have problems with my wrists and hands. Heavy tools are difficult for me to manage. I’ll keep this one, minus the handle, for as long as I can.

7. Shovel. Cost: $20. When once receives a gift card for the Big Green Shed, you can buy plants, or you can make an investment in a tool. We did not have a shovel, most necessary of tools for the shoveling of compost. A spade just doesn’t do the job – it’s too shallow. A shovel allows for the collection of a nice full load. Anyway, I looked at what was available, and I think this one was the best deal for the price.

6. Hedge Trimmers. Can’t recall the price because we have owned them as long as I can remember. This shows what a good set of tools they are. I do not recall ever sharpening them or paying them much attention either way – we just use them and toss them back in the shed. Bit rude, really. But they just keep on going, used for trimming vines, lavender plants, herbs, and whatever else around here needs a good chop. I used them last weekend in fact. And then I tossed them back in the shed.

5. Rosette sprinkler. Cost: $3. These were once considered akin to a tool of Satan, but nowadays you can get lo-flo versions that do not waste water like the old versions. Also in a garden like mine, I like to be able to direct water to certain sections for a single deep soaking once a week in the Summer, instead of small amounts of water daily. We have found this to be an efficient way of irrigating a very large garden in the absence of an irrigation system (on the very long to-do list).

4. Secateurs. Cost: $39.99 about 15 years ago. Why do I remember the price so vividly? Because at that time I was pretty darn broke, and $39.99 was a lot of money for a tool. But – 100% worth it. I use that same set of secateurs every single weekend. My husband sharpens them now and then, and I give them a little clean with metho between jobs (when I remember – honestly, I’m not meticulous with it). That’s as much care as they get. For an amortized cost of $2.66 AUD so far, I think I got my money’s worth.

3. Wheelbarrow. Cost: $109. We only recently upgraded our wheelbarrow. The house we live in now came with a wheelbarrow (how convenient!), but the poor old gal has been getting progressively decrepit over the years until finally she was only good for holding our firewood. In advance of the retaining wall project, we made an investment in a new wheelbarrow.

Jeezum crow, those things are expensive! $109 was the cheapest we could find for a steel wheelbarrow. When I die, just load me up on that thing to send me to Valhalla. It’s almost the most expensive vehicle I own.

2. Garden Fork. Cost: $54. Yep, I forked out $54 for a garden fork, and I don’t regret it. It’s a smallish sized fork with a lovely comfortable wooden handle, purchased from the Digger’s Club for my birthday two years ago. It’s almost my most used garden tool, and with its small size and light weight, it is perfect for my use. When you load me on my wheelbarrow to Valhalla, the garden fork will be by my side for my trip to the after life.

And the number one most useful garden tool I currently own: Ho-Mi. Cost: $21. The Ho-Mi is a Asian garden cultivator with a wooden handle and a pointed head that is deadly sharp. Much of our weekend garden conversation relates to the Ho-Mi: “Where did you put the Ho-Mi!” “Watch out for the Ho-Mi!” “Hell, why’d you leave it right there!” etc – you catch my drift. The sharp tip is perfect for hand weeding, cutting furrows for planting, digging a quick hole to plant a seedling, or for getting into paving cracks to remove annoying moss or little weeds. We love the Ho-Mi. We bought ours from the Diggers Club, but you can probably buy them elsewhere. I’ll always have one in my shed, for gardening and self-defence.

Honourable mentions:

  • Kneel-os (cost to me, free. Actual cost, about $30). These strap on doo-hickeys tie onto your knees and make kneeling in the garden to weed and plant much more comfortable and less messy. I got these free for renewing my membership to the Digger’s Club this year. Would I buy a pair? Now that I know how comfy and useful they are, yes. But I’m pretty chuffed I didn’t have to.
  • Sloggers garden clogs. I long coveted a pair of these admittedly expensive gardening shoes ($54!). Finally I broke down and bought a pair, and I have to say, I do love them and wear them all the time. A slight issue with them is that they can flick general garden crud into your feet. However, generally they are comfortable and easy to kick on and off when heading in and out of your house to make the necessary cups of tea while gardening.
  • Cultivator and hoe (about $10 each). These are VITs (Very Important Tools) for weeding horrid oxalis and other annoying little weeds. However, they have been somewhat superseded by the Ho-Mi.

Gardening jobs, Weekend 22 & 23 June 2019

What an age we live in…when you can order sheep poo online, and it comes straight to your door.

I can find all the free horse poo I want, thanks to several riding clubs in my area, but at this time of year it takes a long time to compost. You shouldn’t generally use horse manure without composting it first, unless you want a lot of new weedy visitors to your garden. I will get some of the free poo to add to my compost bins, where it will take a few months to break down in time for Spring.

Sheep poo is the best manure for fruit trees, but it is not that easy to find in my neck of suburbia. You can buy it from some garden supply places, but I have found that it tends to be a “blend” (blended with compost or soil) rather than a pure product. I ended up finding it through a local company online, for just slightly more than the blended brands, and delivered to my house for free.

Sheep manure is good for trees because it helps to build strong root systems. For dormant fruit trees in Winter (think stone fruits, pomes, and mulberries), a nice cover of sheep poo over the roots acts like a warm blanket and feeds the tree until it wakes up in Spring.

Look at my happy mulberry tree. Doesn’t she look nice and cozy?

Why yes, I am slightly batty, thank you for asking.

Pointless garden tools and gadgets

If you’re a gardener or a cook, you most probably love a tool or a gadget. I can spend a long time at a kitchenware store staring at baking gear, or in a garden shop just looking at gardening tools. Many is the time I have convinced myself I must have a certain tool or gadget, only to find it is either useless (hello, fertiliser spreader) or I just don’t get the use out of it I thought I would (hi there, newspaper pot maker). I have learned over time to just cool my jets and consider whether:

  1. I really need it;
  2. It will really do what it says it will do on the box (I’m looking at you again, fertiliser spreader);
  3. It’s worth the cash I am about to part with; and
  4. I have something else that could do some or most of the job of the coveted new tool. I have to remind myself that buying something is the least sustainable option and does add to future landfill.

Here is a list of truly useless items I have purchased, in no particular order:

  • A fertiliser spreader, $14.99. This thing is supposed to make spreading fertiliser like blood and bone easier by evenly distributing the fertiliser via a nifty handle that you turn. I thought that for a person like myself that has bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome, this would be easier on my hands and wrists. Epic fail, my friends. The handle is stiff and really hard to turn, and the fertiliser gets stuck in the funnel very frequently. It does not ‘spread’ the fertiliser, but rather dumps it in a clump. Frankly, I have the skills to do that myself without paying $14.99 for the privilege. The fertiliser spreader is now a glorified bucket. I fill it with fertiliser and shake it around. I could have bought a bucket for a dollar, or I could use one of the many recycled pots I have in my garden shed, which is what I was doing to spread fertiliser around my garden before I was suckered into this con.
  • Seedling pot maker, $34.99. That’s right, gentle readers, I paid $34.99 for a tool that would supposedly save me money on pots. Let me tell you that in my shed currently, I already have about 100 pots that I paid not a single cent for. And yet, for some reason I still thought it was a great idea to pay the equivalent of the hourly rate of a mid-level public servant for a tool that I used about three times. So those little newspaper pots cost me about twelve bucks each. Good deal.
  • Jiffy pellets, $5 for 12. Jiffy pellets are tiny compressed pellets of coir, that you soak and then plant a seed in. Each pellet costs 41 cents, depending on when you buy them. A coir brick that reconstitutes to ten times its volume costs about $2. For that you will be able to plant probably fifty times the number of seeds. I spent maybe $20 on jiffy pellets before I learned to do simple arithmetic.
  • El cheapo gardening gloves, $2 a pair. El cheapo gardening gloves are the worst. They never fit properly, the water soaks into them, and they fall apart quickly. I have thrown out more pairs of these darn things than I care to count, until I wised up and realised that instead of six pairs of crappy gloves, I could buy one pair of good gloves, and have them last a very long time.
  • El cheapo tools, $2-$5. Ditto cheap trowels and cultivators. Cheap trowels inevitably rust, handles break, and the tools lose their edge.
  • Underground Worm Farm, $15. I wanted worms for my garden, but I wasn’t sure I could commit to a full worm farm. So I went halfway, partly committed, and ended up in an “it’s complicated” status with the underground worm farm: a plastic structure that you dig into the ground, and dump worms in. This from a woman who spends a great deal of gardening time digging plastic out of her garden. Then you feed the worms and they will supposedly create their lovely castings that you then dig out. Wellllll…..every other critter in the ground decided they liked apartment living with daily breakfast, and moved on in. The worms moved on out, which they could do very easily because the underground worm farm is in the ground, and my worm farm is now home to slugs, slaters, and every other creepy crawly under the earth. Except worms. Happily, I have found many of them living in my compost bin, where they seem very content. The farm-o-slugs remains in the ground, because I really buried that sucker in there.

I am sure there are many other things that I have wasted my cash on over the years, but these are just a few of the items I can recall. Next time I will post a top ten of the most useful, value for money tools that I believe every gardener should keep in their shed.


Reducing plastic in the garden

I’ve whinged about this multiple times, but I’m doing it again: weed matting in the garden does nothing. The people that landscaped our garden originally laid black plastic and weed matting before laying topsoil, and I’ve been either hitting the tough weed matting when trying to dig a hole, or pulling out chunks of black plastic ever since we bought this place and started building our garden.

Meanwhile, the weeds continue on their merry way.

Look at this bloody nuisance:

Pointless black plastic ruining my garden

I pull this junk out of my soil every time I try to plant anything. Not only does it achieve nothing at all, it pollutes the soil, and will be stuck on the planet for thousands of years.

If you are planning a new garden, I beg of you: do not lay this stuff. You will not have fewer weeds by laying weed mat. Most weeds are opportunistic, shallow rooted freeloaders. Their seeds float along in the wind or are spread by birds, and will root very easily in your topsoil. They do not care at all about a layer of weed matting.

In general, gardening can create quite a bit of plastic waste. Here are some ways to make it more sustainable and reduce single use and other plastics.

1. Consider packaging. Many common garden products come in plastic. For example, potting mix, manures, and fertilisers are all packaged in big plastic bags. I have recently switched from traditional potting and seed raising mix to coir bricks, which come in 9 and 15 litre compressed bricks in mulch, seed raising, and potting mix varieties. These are cheaper and much smaller in size (less than a tenth of the size) than potting mix bags, but when reconstituted in water, expand to similar volume as a 25 litre potting mix bag. Although they are still wrapped in plastic, it is a thinner clear plastic rather than the heavy thick plastic of the traditional products. Coir is also a sustainable product, as it is a by-product of coconut production. The plants are just as happy growing in coir as in potting mix, and I’m happier knowing I have created far less waste.

2. Plant seeds instead of seedlings. I try to raise seeds as often as possible, partly because it’s fun, but also because a paper packet of seeds has a lower carbon footprint than a plastic punnet of seedlings. I reuse my seedling trays over and over, whereas most punnets are single use only, as black plastic can’t be recycled. A single packet of seeds has potentially a thousand plants, while a punnet typically has four or six plants. Therefore a packet of seeds makes more sense financially, as well as environmentally.

Highly organised seed library

3. Reuse as much as possible. If I do buy seedlings, I reuse the seedling punnets for my own seedlings. I reuse all plastic pots. I cut up old milk bottles to make seed labels. I use old stockings and tights to tie up plants. To transport seedlings to friends, I use old pots or even recycled yoghurt containers. I save seeds in recycled jars.

4. Recycle wherever you can. While chemicals should not be thrown in recycling or the bin for obvious reasons, well washed containers can be (for example, seaweed extract bottles or other non-toxic products).