Catching up in the garden, January 2023

Cinnamon basil in flower

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.

Summer Pruning

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.

Tomato Supports

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).

Tomato cages

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.

Reo mesh support

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.

Feeding

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.

Yellowing passionfruit leaves

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

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 One, raised bed, outdoors

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.

Eggplant Two, greenhouse

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.

Borlotti bush 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.

5 tips to plan your Summer garden

sunflower during sunset
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What do do when it’s too cold outside? Start planning your Summer garden!

My plan for Saturday afternoon was to spend the afternoon weeding the front garden. But it was so, so cold – and I just couldn’t face it. I made a cup of tea, rugged myself up, and read the latest issue of the Digger’s Club Seed Annual catalogue instead.

Looking at the beautiful seed catalogue got me thinking ahead to warm, sunny days. And that got me planning ahead to the Summer veggie patch. My garden is currently full of brassicas, turnips and peas, but in six weeks they will be cleared away to make space for warm season veggies. So what to grow? The possibilities are endless….

My garden space, however, is not. This is where some good planning comes to the fore.

Traditionally, I’ve taken more of a casual approach to garden planning

However, as my garden has become home to more fruit trees and vines (even though most are espaliered) that is just not possible anymore. It’s time to be more thoughtful about my space.

It’s also a good idea to start planning the Summer garden early because I have to think about what I want to plant, order the seeds (or go to a local nursery), raise them, and wait for them to grow. It might sound like it’s too early at the start of August, but think about it. My Autumn seed raising experiment found that trying to grow everything from seed takes a really long time (and I won’t be doing it again!) But even if you grow just some things from seed, you still need to plan well ahead. Seed catalogues are out now!

My 5 simple tips for planning a productive Summer garden

These are not rocket science, and they are based on my climate and my experience growing veggies in a Mediterranean climate.

  1. Choose veggies you actually like to eat and know how to cook. My husband recently admitted to me that he’s not a big fan of tomatoes. 25 years of marriage and I had no idea! I usually try to grow six or seven different varieties of tomato – but knowing that he’s not really into them, I’ll cut back to just two: a nice salad tomato and a cherry tomato (my youngest does love them) and leave space for more things I know we both love (hello, eggplant). I won’t stop growing heirlooms and rare varieties entirely, but I will reduce this down to just one or two new things – just to keep life exciting.
  2. Choose veggies you know will grow well in your microclimate. For some reason, cucumbers and melons collapse and die in my garden, but pumpkins go gangbusters. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, given they are close relatives, but I have seven years of experimentation to prove it. Every year I am suckered into trying yet another variety of melon and cucumber by the gorgeous seed catalogues, and every year I am sorely disappointed. Well, not this year! This Summer, I’m growing the plants I know will work – end of story.
  3. Choose veggies that aren’t too thirsty. All veggies will require irrigation, but there are some that are thirstier than others. Check the seed or seedling information before you buy to make sure you aren’t mortgaging your future in water bills. I know gardening is not just about ROI, but some plants just cost a lot to grow for a limited return (sweet corn, I’m looking at you).
  4. Choose plants that you have the space for. Although pumpkins need a lot of space to spread out, I train them over a trellis or wall and onto the pavers, so they actually don’t take up a lot of soil space. If you have limited space, choose compact versions of plants, such as bush beans, compact tomato plants, or patio ranges of zucchini. Try plants that climb up if you can build small trellises, or try growing in pots if you can. I grow lettuces and other leafy greens such as tatsoi (when the chickens aren’t getting into it) in an old wheelbarrow and a raised bed.
  5. Include some flowers in your garden to attract pollinators and improve pollination of fruiting plants. I always try to include dwarf sunflowers, dahlias, nasturtiums, petunias, poppies, love-in-a-mist (nigella), alyssum, dianthus, and cosmos in the Summer garden.

So, what’s my Summer garden plan?

This season I intend to grow a lot of chillies, eggplant, climbing beans, spring onions, and pumpkins in my Summer garden. These are all staples in my family. I also intend to grow some cherry tomatoes, salad tomatoes, capsicums (sweet peppers), and zucchini. I personally love zucchini, but I find it takes up a lot of space and does not do that well in my area (slightly better than cucumber, but not much). So I will grow some but would rather save the space for something that does better.

These are the varieties I am intending to grow

Pumpkins from last years Summer garden
Pumpkins from last year’s Summer Garden
  • Tomatoes: Green Zebra (unbeatable flavour and good yield) and Christmas Grapes, a cherry tomato I have not grown before;
  • Climbing Beans: I’m going for Purple King. I’ve tried many varieties of beans over the year, and Purple King is the best in my opinion, both for yield and the ability for me to see them on the vine (because I’m getting old). The beans grow purple on the vine, and then turn green when they are cooked. Magic! I find climbing beans much easier to grow than bush beans, which in my opinion never seem to produce as well. However if you have limited space, give bush beans a go.
  • Pumpkins: Australian Butter, because it’s just so beautiful and I have saved seeds from last year, Buttercup because it is the most delicious pumpkin I have ever eaten, Butternut because it is so prolific and keeps going right up until the weather turns, and Kent, because it is the best performer in my garden.
  • Chillies: We grow a lot of chillies because we love them, especially my husband who seemingly must eat them daily. We have five plants over-wintering that I hope will return: Mango, Cherry, Curly Toenail, Lemon, and Devil’s Tongue. If they do not come back again, then I will seek out a Devil’s Tongue again because it is the best flavoured and the most prolific, if you love a hot chilli, and then also plant several Jalapeno because it is just so useful and versatile. Curly Toenail is delicious and fun to grow – it looks like its name, and has a nice kick, but tbh I would not bother with Mango again if I didn’t already have the plant. It is prolific and beautiful, but I do not like the flavour much. I grow these in pots on the balcony so they do not take up space in the patch.
  • Spring Onions: I prefer to grow Red Spring Onions. I grow from seed, and they do well in my garden.
  • Eggplant: Last year we planted four Lebanese eggplants, this year we plan to double that at least. I’m vegetarian and my husband doesn’t eat a lot of meat, so eggplant are a really useful plant to grow. Lebanese eggplant are productive and easy, and delicious. I may grow a couple of globe eggplant too, for variety.
  • Zucchini: Again, the Lebanese zucchini do the best in my garden. I’ve tried the black, ribbed, golden, globe – none of them beat the pale Lebanese zucchini in my book.
  • Capsicum: This year I’m going for Mixed Italian Fryers, a mix of Italian sweet varieties best suited to cooking.
  • Flowers: As I mentioned, calendula, sunflowers, dahlias, alyssum, love-in-a-mist (also known as nigella), cosmos, nasturtiums, poppies, dianthus and petunias take up space in my Summer garden. Some of these are edible, and I do put them in salads, but mostly I use them to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to my garden.

I’ll grow the pumpkins, zucchini, spring onions, beans, and capsicum from seed, as well as the cherry tomatoes. Most of the flowers, the eggplant, and Green Zebra tomatoes I will buy as seedlings. A few other plants may sneak their way in (carrots, turnips in early Spring), but not before these others find their place in the patch.

What are you intending to grow in your Summer garden? Let me know – maybe I’ll make some space in my garden for your ideas!