I’m a vegetarian, and although my partner and young adult living at home are not technically, they are in actuality, because I do most of the cooking.
We are not vegans, because I have severe, life-threatening allergies that prevent me from being a healthy vegan. Our happy chickens produce eggs, and we eat dairy products. I don’t enforce my dietary choices on the rest of the family – they can eat what they like – but at home for the most part, we are a veggie family.
This means that how I garden has changed quite a lot. In the past, I was a bit more haphazard about what I planted. I often planted things for fun and interest rather than what we needed. Now I plant more intentionally, thinking about the plants that supplement a healthy veggie diet. We eat a lot of legume-based Indian curries, Mexican meals like burrito bowls, quesadillas, and fajitas, tofu stir fries, soups, and some veggie burgers and pasta. With these in mind, I have planned my Spring and Summer garden around the veggies that supplement these dishes.
This Spring and Summer I am growing a lot of:
Chillies: a mix of very hot and milder chillies, for our curries, Mexican dishes, and stir fries, and for Indian and Mexican pickling. This year our choices include Devil’s Tongue, Jalapeño, Siam, Serrano, Guntur, Scorpion, Bird’s Eye, Habanero, Cayenne, Bhut Jolokia Chocolate. Er…we love chilli!
Capsicum: Sweet Chocolate, Italian Fryer, Quadrato D’Asti Gialo. These are sweet and frying peppers for salads, salsas, fajitas, and pasta dishes;
Eggplant: Japanese White, Thai Purple Ball, Slim Jim, and TurkishRed, for curries, fajitas, and pastas, as well as for our favourite Indian Brinjal pickle;
Basil: Lettuce Leaf, Cinnamon, and Sweet for pestos, pizza, and pasta dishes;
Squash and Zucchini: Tromboccino, Bennings Green Tint, and Lebanese, for pastas, curries, and stir fries;
Cucumbers: Gherkins, Mini Muncher, and Marketmore, for salads and pickling;
Tomatoes: Riesentraube, Green Zebra, and Mysterious, for salads, salsas, and sandwiches;
Tomatillos for salsas;
Spring onions: Candy Stick, for salads and stir fries;
Silverbeet: for stir fries and curries;
Herbs: Annual and perennial herbs for everything;
Melons: Mini Yellow Watermelon, and Rockmelon Petit Gris DeRennes;
Beans: Kentucky Wonder and Violet Queen, for stir fries and curries;
Pumpkins: Wrinkled Butternut, Buttercup, and Kent, for soups, curries, and pastas;
Lettuce: Cos and Freckled Cos, for salads.
90 per cent of these were raised from seed. All of these veggies, planted across our front and back yards and the greenhouse and balconies, when combined with dried and canned pulses, grains, dairy (cheese and milk), homemade yoghurt, and eggs from our chickens, give us a healthy veggie diet. We still supplement with some purchased produce like potatoes, onions, garlic when I run out of homegrown, ginger, and other veg I can’t grow. At the height of the season we can easily live out of the garden for at least 6 weeks, not including all the pickles we put up, which last for months.
I could choose not to do this, of course, but a) it’s fun, and b) I have the space. Also, have you seen the price of a capsicum lately? I generally believe that growing your own veggies is not cheaper than buying produce, but I have to say I might be willing to reconsider that theory soon.
We are fortunate to have a lot of space that we can dedicate to a garden and chickens. If I had less space, I would focus on growing chillies, capsicum, eggplant, lettuce, and herbs in pots.
Of course, you don’t have to be a vegetarian to have veggies that are your gardening must haves! What are your ‘go to’ Spring and Summer veggies?
It’s been another month of working almost every weekend, which has meant very little time in the garden. That’s rough at this time of year, when every day seems to call out to me to spend time in the veggie patch.
This weekend, for my sanity and for the sake of my garden, I closed the computer and stepped out into the sunshine. It was lovely.
Also, very needed. The veggie patch was a bit of a mess, frankly. I had been quickly chopping off the broccoli heads when they were ready, and leaving the plants to produce side shoots, but they were also done. The garden was half full of spent broccoli plants and kale bolting to seed. The kale was a variety I bought in Tasmania at the start of the year, and it did not like our warmer Winter – the leaves were almost leathery, and we did not eat much of it. I’ll stick to the Mediterranean kales like Cavolo Nero next season.
After cleaning out the chicken coop, I pulled out all the spent plants and dug over the beds. Just that one task made the whole patch look so much better.
After digging over, I mulched with pea straw. I planted out the first eggplant of the season (Slim Jim – heirloom), and some cool pumpkins called Wrinkled Butternut.
The Obelisk (not the Asterix)
On a whim last week I bought a finial, which I used to build an obelisk. A finial is a funky cast iron topper used to build a frame (the obelisk, kinda) for climbing plants – in this case, it will be climbing beans. My husband drilled it all together for me, and I installed it and expertly tied the twine 🙂
Behind it is another trellis. Beans will grow up that as well. This year I have planted Violet Queen, Kentucky Wonder, and Scarlet Runner. I have decided that this year I will pick many a bean.
I spent a few hours pricking out tomatoes and tomatillos from the seed troughs and into pots, to harden off ready for the garden. I haven’t grown tomatillos for well over a decade. My memory is they grow like the clappers, but hindsight can be 20/20. We will see how they grow in this veggie patch. Tomatillos, or husk tomatoes, make delicious salsa when roasted.
I also planted up yet more chillies. If all the chillies come off this year, we will be swimming in them. I already have 13 in pots in the greenhouse, and dozens coming on in the seed troughs. My plan this year is to make as much chilli pickle as I can, so there is method in my madness. Mwahahahahahaha.
What to do in the garden with the time you have this week
If, like me, you have minimal time, here’s some suggestions for what to do with it:
If you have an hour: feed your fruit trees!
They are awake now after their Winter dormancy, and like us when we wake up, they want food. Give all your fruit trees some specialist organic fruit tree fertiliser, and water in well.
If you have 2-3 hours: mulch!
This season is expected to be one of the hottest and driest Springs ever. The best thing you can do if you have some spare time in the garden is mulch the soil and retain the moisture of the Winter weather, before it heats up. I like sugar cane mulch, as it’s sustainable and breaks down slowly, but use any mulch you prefer. Just do it.
If you have 4-5 hours: feed everything, and start planting!
All plants need a feed at this time of year. I use organic liquid fertiliser, diluted well if the plants are seedlings, and stronger if the plants are established. Everything is hungry and wants a feed right now, so if you have time, wander around with your watering can and feed it all. Your plants will thank you. It takes time though! I’m always amazed at how long feeding all my plant babies can take.
I’m also trying to take advantage of the warm Spring weather to plant as much as I can right now. With the soil warming up and the longer sunny days, now is the time to plant fast-growing Spring crops, flowers, and start seeds for Summer. I have basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, eggplant, capsicum, eggplant, chillies, tomatoes, watermelons, squash, and multiple types of pumpkin and zucchini in the greenhouse and the garden. As each plant is large enough to be potted on, new seeds take their place. And if you don’t have time, space, or interest to grow seeds, plant seedlings. Get the plants established before the really hot weather hits.
I blinked and two thirds of 2023 whizzed by me. We are in the second week of August already and I honestly feel like 2023 just started.
I think that happens as you age, and are busy. Suddenly Spring is around the corner, and aside from ordering some seeds, I have done almost nothing to prepare for the Spring garden. So I spent this morning out in the garden, accompanied by some gorgeous helpers – my two daughters and my husband. It was so lovely to spend the morning outside as a family. My husband tackled the more physical jobs, as I am recovering from surgery, while the kids (adults, actually), helped with the more fun stuff – picking, planting, and watering.
It’s late enough in the season to plant Spring and Summer seeds, if you have a warm spot to plant. Don’t plant into the garden yet – the soil is still too cold. But if you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse like I do, or a heat lamp, a heated seed mat (about $50 from Bunnos or the Diggers Club), or even a warm, sunny windowsill, you can start seeds now.
I used to use a heated seed mat, but now I raise seeds in the greenhouse. I have five raised troughs that I use to raise seedlings and to grow plants. Right now two are used to grow peas and lettuces, leaving three troughs free to raise seedlings.
Before I could plant new seeds, I had to move out the seedlings that were already growing: lettuces, tatsoi, kale, cornflowers, and spinach. I transferred some of these to little pots for my daughter to plant in her VegePod, and then the rest we planted out in the garden. These should grow quickly in the warmer days of late August/early September, and give us some fresh veggies during that ‘hungry gap’ before the Spring veggies are ready. While we were planting, we harvested a few veggies that were ready: peas, turnips, radishes, carrots, and some purple broccoli that was about to bolt (already!). My garden is at the stage where there is always something to pick, no matter the time of year.
My plan for the garden this year is to grow as many eggplant and chillies as I can, grow just a couple of my favourite tomatoes, a couple of good cucumbers, trial a different watermelon in the greenhouse, some beans, and lots of zucchini and pumpkins. I don’t have as much veggie growing space as I used to, as one side of the garden is now entirely devoted to seven fruit trees. I drop in some onions and other shallow rooted veggies in that space, but veggies do not feature heavily on that side of the garden. That means the veggie space has cut in half, and I have to rely more on pots and the greenhouse.
That is honestly fine, except I am expecting this Summer to be much hotter than last season. While I am looking forward to a hot Summer (I hate the cold!), I will also have to take care of plants in a poly hot house in very hot weather. The greenhouse has good ventilation, but I do expect that if it gets too hot in there, I will be moving plants out so they can survive.
With my Summer planting plan in mind, I had a couple of seeds I definitely wanted to plant today, then let my daughter choose the rest. We planted:
Passionfruit – Red Flamenco
Eggplant – Thai Purple Ball
Eggplant – White Egg (Japanese)
Eggplant – Red Ruffle
Chilli – Jalapeno
Chilli – Serrano
Chilli – Guntur
Tomato – Green Zebra
Tomato – Mystery (that is, I saved the seed and forgot to label it!)
Looking forward to seeing these pop up over the next few weeks. Once they are large enough, I’ll pot them on, then plant the next round of seeds, which will include more eggplants, watermelons, cucumbers, and zucchini.
What to do in the garden this week
How much time do you have this week? If you are a part-time gardener like me, the answer may depend on your workload, caring responsibilities, and lifestyle. I love reading those lists that tell you what you need to do in the garden this week, but I note that most of them don’t take your time into account – so here’s a quick list to help you fit in some gardening tasks depending on how much time you really have (and if you don’t have any time – that’s OK. Your garden will survive!).
If you have…one hour
Give your houseplants some love.
In a tub of lukewarm (not hot) water, add a couple of drops of olive oil. Take some paper towel, scissors, and a jug of fresh water, and go around to all your houseplants. Using the paper towel, dipped in the water and olive oil and well squeezed out, wipe over the leaves of your plants to remove the dust that accumulates over time. You will be shocked at how much dust you can remove. The olive oil in the water helps to pull the dust off and gives the leaves a shine. A build up of dust on the leaves prevents the plants from photosynthesising properly, and slows their growth. Also, it just looks bad.
Using the scissors, trim off any dead or scrappy leaves, and as you move from plant to plant, use the jug of fresh water to give the plants a drink if they need it.
In about a month, it will be time to feed your houseplants – don’t worry about it now, as they will be dormant and not interested in taking up any food you give them. I use slow release prills or an organic fertiliser spray for houseplants, that is sprayed directly into the soil.
In early Spring I will also check out which plants need repotting. I can already tell from Saturday’s houseplant clean and watering, that my Fiddle Leaf Fig needs to be repotted. The soil is becoming hydrophobic and the plant is outgrowing the pot. But that job can wait until I have more time.
If you have…two or three hours
Start some seeds for your Spring garden.
Whether you are a flower gardener or a veggie gardener (or like me, a bit of both), you can easily plant up some seeds for your Spring garden in a couple of hours or less. Use recycled pots or seed trays, good quality seed-raising mix (I personally think the Yates speciality seed-raising mix is the best I have used, but Seasol is good as well), and labels (I use bamboo labels that are biodegradable – but you can make your own).
All your Summer veggie seeds can be started now – think tomatoes, eggplant, chillies, capsicum (peppers), etc. Spring flowers can also be started now. I recently planted cornflowers, but you can also start Cosmos, Scabiosa, Sunflowers, Forget-Me-Nots, and flowering herbs such as Calendula, Borage, or Nigella (also called Love-In-A-Mist).
Once planted, keep them damp (not wet), and keep your eyes open for them to pop their heads up.
If you have…four to five hours
Trim back woody herbs and weed, weed, weed!
This is the time of year that weeds go crazy. In our area, the weed that is everywhere is the dreaded sour sob (oxalis), but many grasses spread to unwanted areas as well. If you don’t keep on top of them, you can find weeds spread very quickly. While some gardeners are happy to use weedicides, I don‘t, which means many hours of hand-weeding.
Now is also the time of year to trim back woody herbs. As I have mentioned before, trimming back woody herbs and perennials is a time consuming task that I have been slowly doing over the past six weeks (I have a big yard). We are almost there, but I estimate another weekend of this task. I hate doing it, but I am always happy I did it in mid-Spring when all the woody herbs put on new growth and a gorgeous display of flowers.
It’s a lovely long weekend, with perfect clear skies and cool, but sunny weather. I spent a day and a half in the garden – and there was a lot to do!
It’s the end of Summer and many of the seasonal plants are finished for the year. Eggplant, okra, capsicum, and chillies are still going strong, but it was not a great season for tomatoes in my garden, so I pulled almost all of them out.
Okra is my little experiment for the season – I tried and failed to germinate it twice in two different spots in my garden before it finally grew. It has slowly started to fruit, probably quite late in the season, but I am letting it continue for as long as I can. Yesterday I picked two – yep, two – whole pods. I sliced them up, washed them and dried them to reduce some of the famous okra sliminess, and threw them into a curry, where they dissolved into nothingness – so I cannot tell you how they tasted. I’m hoping for some more before the warm weather disappears completely.
I picked the rest of the green tomatoes off the bushes, with a plan to make green tomato pickle. As I did not want to go shopping for additional ingredients, I tried this recipe, which is for refrigerator pickles using green tomatoes instead of cucumbers. I played around with the recipe a bit, subbing sliced onion for the fennel bulb, adding some sliced green jalapeno (because, yum), and using whole coriander seeds instead of the fennel, because that’s what I had on hand. I ended up with four jars of green tomato pickles for use on burgers and sandwiches. If the tomatoes do not taste delicious, I have not wasted much except a bit of vinegar and my time, but if they are good I will have preserved fruit that would have gone to waste. I’ll let them mature for a couple of days, then will report back on the flavour.
After pulling the zucchini and tomatoes out, I dug over the beds and spread some dynamic lifter over the soil. I raked the soil to a lovely, crumbly fine tilth, ready for planting Autumn veggies – some of which I am already raising in the greenhouse, and some to be sowed directly in the garden.
Now is a great time to sow Autumn and Winter veggies. The soil is still nice and warm, and the days are sunny and bright. Seeds will pop up quickly and have a great headstart before the cold weather really sets in. This weekend I directly sowed beetroot, radishes (Watermelon and French Breakfast), carrots (Purple Dragon), and peas (Telephone). I love to grow peas, but my success rate is so-so. I have two varieties to grow this year: a dwarf variety I bought in Tasmania (Keveldon Wonder) and Telephone, which is a climber. I think my success rate is low because I plant them too late. Hoping this year to fix that by planting much earlier.
In the greenhouse, I’m still growing a range of Summer veggies, including capsicums (sweet peppers), cucumbers, chillies, beans, eggplant, and a solitary watermelon.
Capsicum have been the standout crop this season. I have never had much success with them, so it’s exciting to grow so many. However, aphids and whitefly are a problem. I had to pull out five chilli bushes as I was not able to get on top of the bugs. I think they enjoy the humidity and warmth of the greenhouse. I’ve been using eco oil and pyrethrum, but in the heat and bright light of the greenhouse, these tend to burn the plants. If any readers have another suggestion, I’d be glad to hear it.
My real joy though is the cucumbers – while I do not have many of them, the fact I have any at all is a matter of great pride. Every year I try to grow cucumbers, and at the end of the season, I vow: ‘never again!’ Then along comes the Spring, and somehow I find I have ordered cucumber seeds once again. The secret, for me at least, is to grow in a greenhouse (honestly, not such a secret – that is how they are grown for market).
I have planted seeds for the Autumn brassicas and leafy greens in the greenhouse planters, and they have popped up very quickly in the warm environment. My goal this year is to grow as many cauliflowers, broccoli, and cabbages as I can. I also planted kale, lettuce, onions, and bok choy.
Planting Native Seeds
The last seeds I planted were some natives I bought in Tasmania: Sawtooth Banksia, and King Billy Pine. This is my first foray into growing natives. When we were hiking in Tasmania, we saw both these plants growing in the wild: the Banksia beside Dove Lake in Cradle Mountain National Park, where it grew to an impressive size, and King Billy pine, both in the rainforest area of the Cradle Mountain National Park, and in a smaller version at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Garden. In the national park, it was an enormous, awe inspiring, tree of magnificent proportions. Of course, I don’t expect to grow a tree of that size: my goal is to grow a version for a pot. How well it will grow in South Australian conditions, I don’t know.
The two plants require vastly different germination environments. King Billy must be chilled in order to successfully germinate. I planted it in seed-raising mix in a container, covered it in plastic wrap, and placed it in my fridge. I’ll leave it there for two weeks before removing it and placing it in a sheltered position to finish the germination process. The Banksia is much simpler: place in a container of seed-raising mix, and keep damp, away from full sun.
It’s easy to fall behind in the garden when you only have a few hours a week. I have been keeping up on basic tasks, like watering, but a big garden like ours has myriad tasks that need to be managed regularly – and I have not been keeping on top of them. These include weeding, feeding, pest management, pruning, picking and processing the harvest, and removing spent plants. My husband and I made an agreement to get up early and get out in the garden. We both broke that agreement by lazing around in bed for longer, but we got out there by about 9:30 am, ready, if not exactly raring, to go.
Most pruning is completed in Winter, when plants are dormant. However, trees in the prunus family, such as apricots and plums, benefit from a prune in Summer after they have finished fruiting. This is because they are prone to diseases like gummosis, which can get into the cuts in the wood if the weather is damp. The apricot tree finished fruiting two weeks ago, so my husband got up on his ladder and started to prune it back. We are putting the branches on the workshop roof to season for next year’s fireplace. Firewood is expensive, so any bits and pieces we can pull together ourselves from (non-toxic) prunings saves cash.
While he pruned the apricot and plum trees, I pruned the grapevine, just a little. The wet weather in late Spring caused the early leaves and bunches to rot. New healthy leaves have since grown, but I have been intending to prune off the rotten leaves and bunches for weeks now. The vine looks much happier, if a little bereft, now. Real grape vine pruning season is in Winter, so I only pruned off the funky looking leaves.
I admit to putting off tying up tomatoes, because it’s an itchy and boring job. But there comes a point in the season where it is just necessary. Rather than using stakes, I prefer to build cages. I have tried all kinds of versions of tomato cages, but my favourite (also the quickest but one of the most expensive, unfortunately) is to use steel trellis panels, which cost about $15 each when I bought them from Bunno’s two years ago. I create a cage using four panels, tied together with zip ties. These are easy to build and easy to dismantle. Due to the cost and size, I use this style of cage for the largest indeterminate tomatoes (generally Green Zebra).
The king of tomato cages is my brother, who builds very impressive structures, possibly visible from space, and also has the most impressive tomato plants in the family.
When I run out of trellis panels (and I refuse to buy more because a) cost and b) storage – I have to store them for the nine months of the year I am not using them), I build other types of supports for the other tomato plants in the garden. I have a group of three plants against the fence behind the lime tree. Using a large piece of reo mesh and two star droppers, I built a trellis to support this group. I have another piece of reo I am hoarding to build a trellis for pumpkins once they grow too large. I caught one pumpkin vine climbing the lime tree this morning, so it will not be long before I have to build a structure for it.
Of course, I could spend all day building cages for the rest of the plants…but I was feeling a bit lazy, and it’s a bit fiddly. Therefore, I decided that the standard stake and stocking tie support system would be fine. I only use the stake supports for smaller tomato plants, as they can quickly outgrow stakes if they are very vigorous plants.
All of these supports are recycled from previous years. I save the reo and trellis panels each year, and reuse the ties from previous stakes. If the stakes are not damaged from the last season, I reuse them as well. Some gardeners prefer not to reuse wooden stakes, due to problems with passing on soil borne diseases. However, I let the stakes dry out in the sun for a few days. After storing in the garden shed for twelve months, I figure they are probably ok. Once the stakes are too old and broken to reuse, I chop off the grotty end and they are used for firewood.
This season I grew all the tomato plants in my garden from seed (puffs up chest). A couple of the plants I grew from supermarket tomatoes that I thought were delicious, and saved some seed. I found one of these in the garden this morning (I had completely forgotten I had planted it). It has fruited like crazy (all green right now). I really hope that it is as delicious as I remembered. If not, I will use it to make some sauce. At the moment I am only picking a couple of cherry tomatoes a day (yellow Windowbox tomatoes – they are ok, but not really tasty). Can’t wait until the Green Zebra and Black Russians ripen up.
The day was relatively cool, so I gave every plant in the veggie garden an organic liquid feed of the old faithful standbys Charlie Carp (a liquid fertiliser made of carp, a pest) and liquid seaweed. The grapevine and avocado tree was fed a bucket of liquid fertiliser as well. My plan for the avocado tree is to keep the water and food up each month, as tbh I have been a bit slack on both over the past twelve months. For the lemon tree and passionfruit, I also dissolved iron chelates in a watering can and watered ten litres into the root zone of each plant.
Iron chelates are a trace element that do not need to be used regularly. However, the leaves on these plants were looking yellowed, and the fruit was shrivelling. Poor fruit and yellowing leaves can be a sign of iron deficiency in fruiting plants. Iron chelates are easy to apply, following packet directions, but it is important not to overdose.
As the other plants (tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum) are all looking healthy and are setting healthy fruit, I do not think it is a problem with the soil nutrition generally. However some fruiting plants are much hungrier feeders than others, so it seemed a good idea to give them a dose of iron chelates to see if this will help. Time will tell. Really, looking at those passionfruit leaves, it honestly couldn’t hurt – they look so bad. This is the problem with having such limited time – there is so much to do and so little time to get everything done. I was aware there was a problem, but I may have been too slow to fix it.
The greenhouse continues to be a successful growing space. I have been unscientifically comparing the progress of plants in the greenhouse to those planted outside.
These two eggplants were both grown by seed by me, and were planted at about the same time. Eggplant One was planted in a raised bed outside, in a premium potting mix. It is watered daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
Eggplant Two was planted in a large pot, in the same brand of premium potting mix. In hot weather it is watered twice daily, and has been fed with a liquid feed at least fortnightly.
As you can see, it is at least three times the size of Eggplant One, and is flowering. With all other factors being equal (type of soil, feeding regime), greenhouse conditions seem to encourage faster growth.
Previously I have used a heated seed mat to raise seeds in small trays indoors. While the heated seed mat germinated seeds more quickly than without, the plants did not have as much light as they needed, and struggled past the initial germination phase.
I planted these borlotti bush beans nine days ago in the raised troughs in the greenhouse, watering daily. They have almost all germinated, and already have their true leaves. As they are bush beans, I will keep them in the trough for their lifecycle. I have climbing beans in the garden as well, which were planted six weeks ago, and are only about twice the size of these beans.
I believe that the relatively constant temperatures and excellent light in the greenhouse creates optimum growing conditions.
The greenhouse is not without pest problems. One eggplant was initially affected by whitefly, and another by white cabbage moth caterpillars. These were easily controlled by manual means (squishing). Occasionally small sparrows manage to get in, and cannot seem to figure how to get out without a little assistance. But generally, the greenhouse protects plants from most pests.
It does require consistent and diligent watering. Unlike the outdoor garden, which I can leave a day if I’m busy, it is not possible to skip watering the greenhouse. This is due both to the fact that the plants are all in containers, which dry out more quickly, and the higher temperature. Leave them for a day, and I could end up with dead plants.
My other main concern is pollination. While insects can come into the greenhouse, I worry that not enough pollinators will come in. I am thinking through different ideas to attract them – if any greenhouse gardeners have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!
Of course, I still have many tasks left to complete, but there is never enough time. I still have to work, see family, exercise, be a friend and partner and parent…life is not all gardening! Hopefully what I have done this weekend will hold the garden together for a little while.
It’s finally really lovely and warm in our parts. I have had lots of jobs to do to keep the garden alive and well, including watering the containers and raised bed daily, and keeping the watering up across the whole garden. I don’t mind this, but it is a job of work.
Fortunately, I’m on a break for the Christmas/New Year period. This is my first proper break in over a year. I am taking full advantage, getting out to the garden every day.
The long, cool, and wet Spring stalled the progress of eggplant, zucchini, chillies, and tomatoes, which would normally be in full fruit by now. One of the cherry tomatoes I grew from seed, a variety bred for pots called Window Box, is the only one that has fruit so far. It is a dwarf breed, unusual for a cherry tomato, and has a lot of flowers and clusters of fruit already. Apparently the fruit is yellow. I’m looking forward to tasting the fruit. I have found that some of the new breeds of cherry tomatoes do not taste great (last year’s Blueberry cherry tomato was, in my opinion, yuck). I hope WindowBox is tasty, because I have about six plants. All the other tomato plants have put on good growth and have started to flower, but no fruit yet.
As for my dreams of expansive eggplant crops, it’s not looking great. I’m thankful for the greenhouse, which will allow me to grow eggplant well into Autumn. I have planted another punnet of eggplants, as well as more seeds, with plans for a long season of eggplants in the greenhouse. Fingers crossed!
Speaking of the greenhouse, it’s coming along nicely. For the first time EVER, I have planted eight watermelon seeds, and have germinated eight watermelon plants. These were a gift in a seed swap from a friend (an heirloom variety called Moon and Stars). Watermelons, along with cucumbers, are my Achilles heel, so if I can even grow one watermelon from this lot I will be very proud of myself.
The watermelons were exciting to watch. In the morning I found one had popped up from the warm soil. About an hour later, my niece found another poking its head up. By the afternoon, all eight had germinated and were stretching their leaves to the sky! How fun gardening is!
I also have cucumbers popping up, more eggplants, and basil. This greenhouse is so much fun.
At last year’s Chilli Festival I bought some chilli plants (a Devil’sTongue, and a Four-in-one pot of a Mango chilli, a Lemon chilli, an Ajo, and a Curly Toenail). While I was not a fan of the Mango chilli, all the rest were great (the Devil’sTongue is an old family favourite – very hot with a delicious flavour, and prolific). Following the advice of the stall holder, at the end of the season I cut them back by 50% and let them over winter. A couple of the four-in-one did not make it, but two did (I won’t know which until they set fruit). Over Spring the others put their leaves back on and have now started flowering happily. I’m looking forward to full crops of the others.
I also raised quite a few other chilli plants from seed, including Serrano, Gunter, Jalapeño, and Chocolate chilli. These are still quite small, but I’m hoping for a good crop. We eat chilli most days, and appreciate the flavour profiles of the different chillies, so growing many varieties is worth the time and effort for us.
The apricot and mulberry trees are ready to harvest, and we are watching them like hawks – and so are the parrots! We have the biggest apricot crop we have ever had. The tree is too large to net, and I don’t like to do that anyway – I don’t mind the birds having some of them. But if we want to save any for ourselves, we have to pick as soon as they blush – so we check daily. We go out early in the morning and pick as many as are tinged orange, then wait for 24 hours to check again. We leave them to ripen on the kitchen bench.
Mulberries are kind of a pain to harvest. They ripen a few at a time, I think because our tree is still relatively young. We pick a couple a day, then wait for the next lot to ripen. The tree itself is beautiful, so I would not consider removing it (yet), but it has not lived up to my mulberry jam dreams.
We have a big crop of passionfruit and pomegranates coming on, but they are way off yet – at least a couple of months.
Cleaning up and potting up
A big and boring part of the past couple of weeks has just been cleaning up. I dug out the raspberry canes that have not done a damn thing over the past two years, and pulled out more bits of Audrey II, the boysenberry plant, that continues to make her presence felt (even though I dug the main part out months ago). I suggest to you that if you want to grow berries, set aside a bed that is completely separate from any other part of your garden, let them go, and don’t grow anything thorny!
At this time of the year, many of the Spring flowering annuals and herbs have flowered and are starting to set seed. They are generally looking tired and ratty. I have been clearing out all of the dead sweet peas, nasturtiums, parsley plants, and anything else looking old, dead, or tired. It’s taking quite some time and filling up my green bin quickly. To fill in the gaps I have sprinkled fast growing annual seeds like Cosmos, or planted quick growing annual colour, like Petunias. In about six weeks, I’ll start planting Spring flowering bulbs.
I’ve also repotted some sad looking houseplants, including an Umbrella plant that was miserable. I’ve had it for two years, and it started dropping leaves. When I repotted it, I found it had sported two babies. So for my repotting efforts, I have three plants now instead of one. I also repotted my beautiful Spotted Begonia, moving her up to a larger pot. She is much happier now, and I removed one of her leaves to strike into a new plant. Begonias strike easily in water, and are very easy to grow in the right conditions. I have two now (one struck from the mother plant), and they flower profusely with very little attention from me.
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.
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.
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.
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: AustralianButter, QueenslandBlue, 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!
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 Jaune Flamme;
Onion Long Red Florence;
Cucumber Crystal Apple;
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!
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.
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:
Silverbeet Fordhook giant;
Cabbage Golden acre;
Broccoli Green sprouting; and
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 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…
Happy Valentine’s Day, lovely people. For Valentine’s Day , I gave my husband a sleep in and a coffee in bed, and he gave me the gift of cutting up the prunings of Audrey II (the boysenberry vine) and putting them in the green bin. I think we both feel we got the good end of the deal.
I fed all my pot plants, which include this stunning eggplant (Listada de Gandia). I have tried growing this eggplant for several years without much success. Turns out, it loves a large pot on our balcony. To feed the pots, I use an organicPowerfeed spray.
I turned the compost bins to make room for the chicken litter from the chook shed, and spread a bit of ready compost on the garden. As I only turned it a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t really ready. My husband helpfully chopped it up with a spade to make more room. I picked more tomatoes (seriously, best tomato year ever for us), and zucchini, and I watered.
Then I did the gross job of cleaning out the chook shed and replacing their straw. I know it is a necessary task, but I do hate doing it. I try to think positively while I do it. Chicken manure is good for the garden!
And that’s my list of boring, yet necessary tasks for the week. I bought garlic bulbs and onion seeds yesterday to plant for autumn, but I don’t have space for them yet. I was hoping to plant them out today, but that was definitely wishful thinking! Maybe in a few weeks when the tomatoes are finished.
I hope your gardens are doing as well as mine this season – tomatoes, tomatoes, and more tomatoes!!