Weekend gardening jobs, March 13 & 14 2021

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

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

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

Cleaning up the garden

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

Seed-starting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summer Winners and Losers

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

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

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

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

Gardening jobs, October Long Weekend 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkin Mounds

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

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

Seed Starting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 28 February 2021

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

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

Seed raising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garlic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 14 February 2021

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 organic Powerfeed 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!!

Gardening jobs, week of January 18-23 2021

I have been working, working, working – so not much time for gardening, unfortunately. My time spent in the garden has been focused on keeping up the watering so everything lives, and picking the endless procession of tomatoes that just keep on marching into the kitchen (not complaining, just saying). I’m outside picking a bowl of tomatoes every morning before I feed the chooks.

I have discovered that either: two varieties of tomatoes ripen together and the other four varieties ripen a month later, or – and I think this is more likely – one end of my garden is warmer, encouraging the tomatoes down that end to ripen much more quickly. The tomatoes at the cooler end are fruiting prolifically but are only just now beginning to ripen, and at a much slower pace (one or two a day). The tomatoes at the warmer end are also fruiting prolifically but ripen at the pace of a bowlful a day.

Most gardening books suggest not growing tomatoes in the same place each season to prevent soil borne disease. Many recommend resting the soil for two seasons. I try to do this, but even my large(ish) veggie patch is not large enough to allow me to rest that much tomato growing space for two years. Obviously I can grow something else not in the solanaceae family (zucchini, for example), but I would like to be able to grow tomatoes in the warm spot again next year, given how successful it has been (best tomato season ever for me). I wonder if there is a way I can ‘speed up’ the resting period so I can plant there again next year. Any ideas, fellow gardeners?

I just have to humblebrag that I successfully grew cucumbers.

Hello, my pretties

These are White Mini cucumbers (Diggers Club). After multiple failed attempts cucumber growing attempts, these are the first I have been able to grow at this house. I literally danced when I picked these. The kids loved them. There are more on the way.

Although I have not had much time in the garden, a babysitting stint with my adorable niece gave me an excuse to step away from my computer and spend a bit of time outside. When I asked her what she wanted to do at my house, she replied “hold a chicken!” So we watered the garden, picked tomatoes, and she cuddled each of the four chickens in turn.

Gardening is much more fun with kids. Especially when they are as cute as a bug’s ear.

Gardening jobs, Christmas weekend 2020

Happy Christmas! Like most of you, I am happy to be just a few days away from the end of this shocker of a year. I chose to spend the Boxing Day public holiday (the 28th here in our State) in the garden. It has been a lovely, cool day with some sunshine and some cloud cover. Perfect for a long day spent in the garden.

Before I could do that, however, I had to remove this creature from the doorway. Look at the size of this redback! I have never seen such a big one, but my husband assures me he has. It was an inch long, including the legs.

Usually when we find a house spider, we move it outside, but venomous spiders are a different story. Under the thong it went. Sorry, giant bitey friend.

Bloody hell

Today was an important catch up day. With the pile of work I have had to finish, plus Christmas, those important garden jobs have fallen by the wayside. These include weeding, trimming, and feeding. The veggie garden is still looking pretty good, but everything needed a good side dressing of organic fertiliser. I picked all the tomatoes I could find before I fed the tomatoes with blood and bone and dynamic lifter. Then I gave them a liquid feed of seaweed extract, fish emulsion, and Epsom salts. The Epsom salts give magnesium to the tomatoes and help make the fruit sweeter. I add about one teaspoon to a ten litre watering can, along with the seaweed extract and fish emulsion, and water the tomato bushes as a foliar feed.

Bowl of tomatoes picked this morning

While I was out there, I quickly planted some more sunflowers, aquilegias (also known as Grannies Bonnets), and cornflowers, and some more climbing beans. Some of the beans I planted didn’t come up, so I filled in the gaps with fresh seed. Beans only set fruit after quite a few days over 30 degrees C – we have had cooler days this Summer, so it might be all in vain.

My front yard was looking especially tired after a beautiful Spring display. I used my little hedge trimmers to start work on the lavender bushes. This is a really big job, as I have one lavender bush taller than me, and about twelve or fourteen lavender bushes in all. I only managed to trim about five of them. It’s a work in progress. I am not trimming them too hard, as it is the middle of Summer, and a hard trim will stress them out too much. I really just want to remove all the dead heads and let the new flowers come through. Lavender is pretty tough though and I have not yet killed any with a light Summer pruning.

I also started carefully trimming the dead branches from the sage and salvia bushes. Again, I don’t want to stress the plants too much. I have also discovered that sage is not very forgiving of a hard prune at the wrong time of year. But, the sticks poking up all over the salvia look bloody horrible, so I decided to risk it. I will prune it a bit harder in Autumn.

The apricot tree has finished fruiting. As mentioned in my previous post, we let the parrots have some. As punishment for our kindness, I now have to go over the tree and remove the half-eaten dried out apricots from the branches to prevent bugs being attracted to the tree. It is a pretty gross job, tbh. On the plus side, I found one last, perfect apricot that somehow was missed by both parrots and us, and brought it inside to share with my husband for afternoon tea. I was able to find a single ripe apple (that the rats missed!) from our Cox’s Orange Pippin tree to go with it.

One delicious ripe apple – and one not yet ready

Finally, I removed all the plants from two raised garden beds that are not doing well, and soaked them in a bucket while I dismantled the beds. I spread all the planting medium around the garden, where it will compost away for the next few months. Then I planted the petunias and eggplant from the raised beds in the backyard, where they will hopefully pick up. I will figure out something else to plant where the raised beds, although honestly something will probably self-seed there in a few weeks and I will not have to worry about it.

It is already looking happier, and I will keep trimming lightly and tidying things up over the next few weekends until it looks back to full strength (or as good as it can over Summer). The front yard really looks best in Autumn and Spring, when the pomegranates are in full fruit, the perennials start to recover from the Summer heat, and the bulbs begin to grow. Until then, keeping it neat and tidy and alive is the best I can do.

Duds and triumphs

The Triumps

This season we have had some notable successes. Our apricot tree ripened early. Normally we pick apricots the week of Christmas, but this year the fruit was ready a week earlier. We picked almost ten kilograms of apricots, which is the biggest crop ever for our four year old tree (it’s a Travatt apricot). I’ve made jam and given some away. This afternoon if I have time, I am making apricot ice cream, and my favourite of all desserts, an apricot pie. I like eating fresh apricots, but in my opinion, apricots really come into their glory when cooked, and especially in pie form. Apple pie is pretty good, but apricot pie is amazing.

We pick the apricots when they first start to blush, and ripen them indoors. This is because we do not net the tree. We let the birds have a go at the fruit, and pick as much as we can ourselves. Some would disagree with this, but I figure there is a lot of fruit and the parrots need to eat as well. I like looking out at the tree and seeing rosellas and lorikeets having a ball out there. There is a lot of fruit for us and them. I do wish they would finish an entire apricot before starting on the next one though. Wasteful little buggers.

I do indeed mind sharing with rats, however. Our apple trees are finally fruiting after three years of patiently waiting, and I have been admiring a perfectly round, blushing apple, coveting it like Snow White’s stepmother. My husband discovered the other morning that the back end of it had been attacked by a gnawing little monster. You can imagine the stomping and cursing that ensued (from me, not him).

The pomegranate bush is going great guns this year – we had a mass of flowers and they are now forming beautiful baby pomegranates like lovely Christmas baubles. I love pomegranates. I love the look of the bush, the flowers, the beautiful globulous fruit, and the ruby juice. It is just a beautiful and undemanding plant. It requires almost no maintenance, little water, and gives so much.

Our tomato bushes are the garden triumph of the veggie patch this year. We are picking Tommy Toe and another cherry tomato called Sweet Bite that is living up to its name. The plants are healthy and abundant. I am hoping we end up with a great crop for sauce as well as eating fresh throughout Summer. I also have not yet managed to kill two cucumber plants (a miracle for me), although the chickens have eaten three others. I may yet achieve a homegrown cucumber, in which case you may hear me screaming from the rooftops.

The Duds

We have a couple of duds that, if they are not careful, will meet the Huntsman’s axe soon. Our mulberry tree is the same age as the apricot tree, and so far has produced almost nothing. There are a few pitiful berries on its branches that are stubbornly refusing to colour up. I alternately beg, plead, and curse the tree whenever I pass her, but she still refuses to do more than that. I do have a woodpile…

The other dud is the passionfruit vine, Odette. One great crop, and she thinks that is her job done. Well, I have news for her. I have plans for her patch of dirt if she can’t pony up some passionfruit next Summer.

But the biggest dud of all this year was our potato crop. After months of building up around healthy looking spud plants, I dug down to find…nothing. Nada. Zilch. I piled on the compost and straw and gave up precious garden space in the height of the annual growing season for nothing at all. Talk about crestfallen. My face dropped faster than Clark Kent’s pants in a phone booth.

Another dud was the red and white petunias I planted with plans of a lovely display by Christmas. What wasn’t dug up by one very, very, naughty chicken has largely dried up due to a lack of water (a visitor yesterday heard me telling this chicken off for digging up a new zucchini plant, and thought I was scolding a child. I had to explain, with a manic smile, why I was berating a bird). This is entirely my fault. I have been very busy with work over the past six weeks and while I have tried to maintain water all over the garden, the veggies and fruit trees have been prioritised over the poor flower gardens. I am going out this morning to replant the whole area in the hope that it can be salvaged – but to be honest, it probably cannot.

The point of this post is, no matter how much time we spend in our garden, and no matter our experience, we experience triumph and frustration in almost equal measure. Probably next year we will have a pitiful apricot crop and an amazing crop of something else unexpected. It’s part of the fun and learning experience of gardening.

Weekend garden jobs, 19 September 2020

Happy daffs

This time of year I have two problems in the garden: finding enough time to get out there as often as I want to, and controlling my desire to plant all the interesting varieties of tomatoes I can find. As it is, I am growing ten different tomatoes this season. That is ten different varieties, not ten different plants. I am growing multiples of some, if I can fit them in! This season I am growing:

I would grow more but I do not have the room. Partly this is due to literal space, and partly this is due to a new support structure I am trying for each plant.

Beta tomato cage

I have tried many different tomato support systems, and really they have all been pretty hopeless. Last year’s trellis was the worst – I learned a lesson there about following a TV gardener’s advice. Pfft! Useless waste of effort. Not only did the trellis not support the tomatoes, it couldn’t support itself, and fell over.

My brother grows the best tomatoes in the family, damn him (psst, Rob I love you). He builds tomato cages. I have never done this before, but after last year’s frankly pretty average tomato crop, I have decided it is time. Of course, my tomato cage effort is nowhere near as impressive as the ten foot structure my bro constructs, but I am lazier than he is, and less talented. I have built teepees from stakes, and wrapped them around with bits of wire mesh. The tomato is planted in the centre. The tomato cage gives the tomato more structure than a single stake, and will protect it from the dinosaurs now roaming my garden.

The only problem is that by doing it this way, each tomato plant takes up more space in the garden. To make space, I had to clear out a couple of extra plants, including two rhubarb plants. I felt bad about that, but I do have many rhubarb plants and not enough room for everything I want to grow. Time to get tough!

Marauding Dinosaurs

Troublesome creatures! The chooks are wreaking havoc. Look at what they have done to the sweet peas almost ready to flower at the back there. Grr!! Time to build a chook run to hold them in check.

This week I finally cleared enough space to plant potatoes. I am conducting a spud experiment: I planted some in an old feed bag about a month ago, and now the remainder in the ground. Instead of a trench, which is how I have always planted them, I dug a hole for each potato. I am going to see whether the potato bag grows as well as the spuds in the ground, and if the spud holes works better than the trench. I need more room to grow pumpkins and watermelons on that side of the garden.

I am also conducting a sweet corn experiment. Normally I grow corn direct where I want it to grow, in a block formation. However, I was listening to a gardening podcast the other day and the presenter mentioned that aside from carrots, he grows all seeds in punnets to start with and then transplants into the garden. His view is that this gives them a stronger start. I do not know if this is true, but I thought that I would give it a go this time, especially with the marauders on the loose. I am putting the corn in where we have removed the rainwater tank, in Pie Corner. When my husband finishes the wall in that section, I am considering planting another dwarf apple to espalier against the wall and help pollinate the other apple trees in that part of the garden. But for now, it can grow some corn and pumpkins over the summer while he finishes the retaining wall.

Pumpkins! I have big pumpkin plans this year. Some might say Powerful Pumpkin Plans 😀 In addition to the usual Kent pumpkins that inevitably self-seed from the compost, I will be trying Australian Butter, ye olde Butternut (always a good grower in my backyard, even if it does like to cross-pollinate with Kent to create a mutant Kenternut), and Queensland Blue. I have never grown them but they are a delicious, classic Aussie pumpkin.

So many Planting Plans, never enough space, and not enough time. Where will I fit the zucchini?

Don’t grow zucchini you say? Which blog are you reading?

Weekend garden jobs, March 1 2020

Sweet rewards for gardeners that decide to spend their Sunday mornings in the garden!

It’s been some time since I have really spent quality time in my garden. I have been working a lot. I had intended to spend all of January either on the beach, or in the garden, but my clients had other ideas! It turns out January and February are very busy months for self-employed writers like myself. As such, I spent almost all my time (weekends included) working, and what time was left with family. My poor garden has been sorely neglected as a result.

It has survived very well due to cooler than usual February temperatures, mulch, and the good offices of my husband, who has kept up the watering. But, a garden cannot survive on water alone; it needs to be weeded, pruned, fed, and generally loved if it is to keep on producing.

This morning is the first Sunday I have not had to meet a deadline for some time, so decided to get outside while the going was good. What a mess! My first task was to walk around with a bowl and pick what was available to pick. Cherry tomatoes, eggplants, jalapeños, and a cache of perfectly ripe strawberries were my reward. Unfortunately, the zucchini are rotting on the vine, so I was not able to pick any. These plants have a week to come good, otherwise they are going to be consigned to the compost. It’s a bugger because the plant itself is very healthy, without any sign of mildew. I see plenty of bees around, but I think I am not getting any male flowers. WTH, nature?

By picking first, I also got to see what needed doing most urgently. Answer: pruning the boysenberry. My response: sigh. This I my least favourite garden task, because ouch (see below).

Being stabbed with these barbs is extremely painful. Unfortunately, even with gloves, it happens very frequently. Unfortunately, pruning the boysenberry brambles is necessary, or it completely takes over Pie Corner. I have thought about pulling the damn thing out, but I am always happy when the bloody thing produces delicious soft boysenberries each year (see below). And so I forgive it my annual bloody thumb stabs for the tasty rewards it offers. I am sure there is a metaphor there somewhere, but I am in too much pain to think about what it might be.

With great reward comes great risk

This task takes quite a while, due to the care it takes. Think of rose pruning if the rose bushes had long, long tendrils that crawled all over the yard and under every other plant you had in a ten metre radius, and were spawned by Satan.

I also noticed their less prolific, younger and less thorny cousins, the raspberries, required tying up, so I also did this when I was sick of being attacked by brambles.

Once I had finished with Pie Corner, I moved on to tomato country. The tomatoes have been quite disappointing this year, I have to say. The combination of early extreme heat, bushfire smoke, and late cool weather, has led to a disappointing tomato season for every gardener I have spoken to. We did have some success with cherry tomatoes, but they were quite sour compared to the lush sweetness that cherry tomatoes are renowned for. We pick them, but they are better for cooking than eating in salads, which is one of the joys of Summer, usually. I picked the remaining tomatoes, and dug the plants out. While I am at it, I pulled out two of three squash plants. I left one last squash plant in the ground, hoping to salvage a couple more delicious yellow squash before this one too mush be dragged from the ground.

I felt sad as I dug out these plants: I am saying goodbye to Summer. I enjoy growing (and truthfully, I am more successful) Winter vegetables, but there is something about the Summer annual vegetables that I think all gardeners look forward to more than any other. Every year I pore over the seed catalogues and hopefully plant a wide variety of tomatoes and beans with the excitement of a kid writing their letter to Santa. Yet every year by the end of Summer, I have the same successes: pumpkins, eggplant, chillies, and yet more pumpkins. Why do I keep trying with the tomatoes, beans, capsicums, squash, when they more often disappoint than succeed?

I must have that twisted gardening optimism that convinces me each year that this year will be different.

Oh well. There’s always next year.

Gardening jobs, weekend 12th & 13th October 2019

You think when you start to work from home that you will have all the time in the world. I had a vision that I would spend half my days in the garden, followed by a couple of hours work in the afternoon.

That turned out to be a fantasy of epic proportions. I still am very much the Part-time Gardener. I could be the Full-time Gardener, if I didn’t want to foolishly pay my mortgage and continue to fund this new-fangled electricity all the kids are talking about. So, weekend gardening is mostly still what I have time to do.

This weekend was mostly about soil preparation for Summer fruiting vegetables: tomatoes, eggplant, and capsicum. I cleared the lettuce field to make space for Summer veggies (probably for tomatoes, but possibly pumpkins), and then dug over the two compost bins. Being a strange one, I love to dig over compost bins. It’s so satisfying to see what has happened to all that waste. Like most of us, I diligently recycle, but it feels kind of futile. After listening to the news, podcasts, and watching TV shows about what has happened to the waste stream over the past couple of years, I don’t really believe that what I am putting in my kerbside recycling bin is actually being recycled. I feel like I am doing it because I hope that the right thing is happening. But with my own compost, I can see home recycling in action, from start to finish: it’s a beautiful closed loop.

Anyway, I dug out two full barrow loads of lovely compost, which I dug into the old lettuce field (to explain how ‘closed’ the closed loop is – some of the old lettuce plants I pulled out a couple of weeks ago had already broken down into compost and were dug into the lettuce field. I mean, really – how cool is that?). I sprinkled pelletised chicken manure over the top and raked it, and I have let it sit now for a week. It has rained for several days this week, so by next weekend it will be perfect for planting some veggies.

And while I was having all that fun, my husband had the Sisyphean task of shifting massive moss rocks from the backyard to the front. Poor bugger.

Potted Gardens

A few weeks ago we moved a raised garden bed to the front yard to make room for the retaining wall (yep, it’s still going). After filling it with compost, potting soil and mulch, we let it sit for a few weeks until I was ready to plant.

I bought six punnets of seedlings about six weeks ago, and separated them all into pots filled with a mix of coir and potting mix. Six weeks ago in our neck of the woods, the soil was still too cold for tomatoes, and many of my Spring veggies were not ready to come out. If I had planted out those seedlings, they likely would have died from cold, or would have been eaten by slugs. By potting them on, I have given them time to develop a lovely strong root system (see photo below). Also, they have had time to sit outside in my garden, acclimatising to the conditions in my yard. Now they are used to the specific micro-ecosystem of my garden, they will be much stronger than if I had just planted them straightaway.

This doesn’t work for everything. It works really well for fruiting plants like tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant, but I wouldn’t try it on plants like sweet corn or beans, which are much better planted direct where they are to grow.

Capsicum ready to be planted in a pot

In the raised bed I planted capsicum, jalapeños and basil. In large pots, I planted more of the same. I am also trying potatoes in pots this year, as I have run out of space to grow potatoes.

I am trying potatoes in a pot large enough to grow a tree. I put a layer of potting mix on the bottom, and then placed three certified seed potatoes (we like Ruby Lou):

I covered just over the potatoes with more soil. As the potato plants grow, I will top up the soil. I have never grown potatoes in a container before, so we will see how they go. If it fails, I am only out some soil and a few seed potatoes.

The rest of my gardening time this weekend was spent weeding. So much weeding. The green bin and both compost bins are completely full. And still more to go!