Weekend garden jobs, September 5 & 6 2020

Spring in Southern Australia is definitely the perfect season and the perfect place to be in the world. We are fortunate to be out of lockdown, with easing restrictions and minimal COVID-19 cases in our State. The weather is perfect. I want to be outside all day, everyday.

I do have to work, but as I am a freelancer, I have the gift of mostly setting my own hours. This means I can try to spend at least some time outside each day. Right now I am sitting under the pergola, eating a curry and feeling the warm air. I did try to concentrate on work this morning, but I kept looking outside, feet jiggling under my desk, and finally I gave up. The work will still be there tomorrow!!

This weekend I cleaned up the blind spot in the garden that annoys my neighbour more than it does me, because I can’t see it, and he can. He doesn’t complain about it, but he has mildly mentioned once that he would like the weeds to be removed before they flower so the seeds don’t blow into his yard.

I have struggled to deal with this spot. It gets mostly shade, and it is right by our large covered pergola. I don’t want to grow a lot here, but I will have to grow something to out-compete the annoying thistles and other weeds that have taken up residence. The last owners of the house also planted some bloody annoying bamboo, that continually re-seeds, and the back neighbours have ivy that climbs from their place over the fence. And finally, because our house is 2.5 storeys, the fence line is sunk about two metres from ground level and slopes down to the front yard, meaning that if I want to remove other weeds near the fence line, I have to climb down into what could be a haven for snakes. It’s not a fun time. This is why I leave the whole stinkin’ lot until I know John is cursing the sight of it.

Cleaning up thistles, ivy, and bamboo is a boring and hard job. However, I have a plan in place to minimise this task in the future. Some would say to spray the whole lot with glyphosate and be done with it, but I don’t use any poisons in my garden, so I need to be more creative than that. Part the first of my plan is chooks. They are allowed to free-range back there. I figure that once the giant weeds are gone, they will be able to quickly manage any newbies that pop up their heads. Part the second is to plant ground covers, such as violets, calendula, nasturtiums and others that will quickly take over and prevent such rampant weed growth. I have done this in other parts of the garden and it is successful. And part the third, as mentioned last week, is to plant shallow-rooted fruiting vines such as berries, to take over from the ivy. While also potentially annoying, at least it will fruit and be useful for both us and the chickens.

I am also planting climbers against the chicken coop to provide shade in Summer. After some thought, I chose a climbing jasmine for one side. If that does well in that spot, I will plant another. I originally planned a passionfruit vine, but I think it will not receive enough sun there.

After the boring work, I got to have some fun. The garden is producing a lot of late Winter/early Spring veggies, including this stunning Romanesco broccoli. It weighed in at 760 grams, which is not too shabby. I roasted half of it in a baked chicken and sweet potato dish with smoked paprika and oregano that all declared delicious. Roasted broccoli is yummo. Romanesco in particular lends itself well to roasting, as it has nice strong florets that roast nicely.

I also picked the remaining kale, and made kale and parsley pesto. As we cannot eat nuts in our house, I use pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as the ‘nutty’ element. Basil pesto is nicer, but the kale pesto is still good. And that is the last of the kale for the year: it was a pretty nice crop this time around.

The dud for the Winter season was the purple kohlrabi, which has not put on any nice bulbs, and the regular broccoli, which bolted straight to seed the first sunny day.

On the plus side, the tomato and chilli seeds I planted two weeks ago are popping up their heads in this warm weather. I planted:

  • Tomato Moneymaker, which the Heirloom Tomato book tells me is one of the most prolific tomatoes you can grow, but not the tastiest 😦
  • Tomato Sweet 100;
  • Chilli Anaheim – second time around for this one, hopefully it grows;
  • Watermelon Golden Midget – every year I say ‘this is the last time I try growing watermelons’ – and every year I give them another crack. Gardening is the triumph of optimism over experience.

This afternoon I am going digging through my saved seeds to pull out the best chillies I have ever grown (Devil’s Tongue – both spicy hot and prolific) and the best tomato (Jaune Flamme – bright orange and delicious). Hopefully the seed is still viable. I am going to plant them out in seed trays and see what happens. Fingers crossed!

Weekend garden jobs, August 15 2020

Foreground: Vanessa, Background from left: Roost Bolton, Mary Shelley, Hercules Mulligan

Our organic veggie and fruit garden was made more sustainable (arguably) this week with the addition of chooks! We have been waiting to buy hens since January when our neighbour John helped us to install the henhouse. Then the pandemic hit, and people decided that chooks were the way to survive the zombie apocalypse lockdown. So we have been keeping an eye on all the usual places, but every time chooks became available, they sold out straightaway.

In our area, things have settled down, and we finally managed to get hold of four point-of-lay pullets. I really wanted heirloom breeds, but settled for reliable, friendly ISA Browns, because four chooks in the henhouse is better than none…in the henhouse.

We have already discovered that they each have their own distinct personalities. Vanessa is the boss and the most inquisitive. When we let them out for their first free range today, she was the one to lead them out of the henhouse, and the first to work out how to escape our (admittedly shoddy) barriers. She’s the first to get her gob in the food trough too, and the one to flap her wings at me indignantly if I get in her way. She’s the one giving the stink eye to the camera in the photo above.

Hercules Mulligan was the last to be named (after my husband couldn’t come up with a name, I helpfully took over naming duties), and is the shyest. She took ages to come out of the box upon arrival (eventually I just tipped it up and she had no choice) and the last to timidly step out of the henhouse into the big wide world this morning.

They have already started laying little pullet sized eggs, like troopers. I am happy about the eggs but I will be even happier about adding their manure to my compost. Chook poo is great to activate compost.

While the chooks free ranged and my husband chopped wood for the fire like a champion, I started fertilising the veggie patch with pelletised chicken manure (Rooster Booster), and weeding. I was pretty laid back today: it’s pretty cold and I was mostly interested in the chooks, tbh. But I pulled out weeds as I found them, and checked out the veggies to see how they are going. Cabbages are heading nicely, if the green caterpillar (see below) doesn’t eat too much of it.

Geroff little caterpillar, that’s my cabbage!

The Romanesco broccoli has started heading too:

I love Romanesco, they are my favourite brassicas (or Nebraskas, as my daughter calls them). It looks gorgeous, and tastes great. Also, they grow the best of the brassicas in my garden. Most of the other broccoli has gone straight to seed this winter as it has been unseasonably dry (or seasonably, depending on your view of the changing weather patterns). But Romanesco always grows really well here.

And that’s it. Chooks and weeding, it’s all I’ve done. I’d better move my caboose and feed the fruit trees next weekend or there will be a dodgy crop at best in the Summer.

Weekend garden jobs, Sunday 9 August 2020

Didn’t miss me at all

I made it out to my garden this morning after weeks just waving at it on my way to do other things. It was so lovely to be out there again.

My original plan was to plant potatoes. We had the old collapsed rainwater tank at the end of Pie Corner removed, and I thought I would plant spuds there to help break up the soil. Spuds are good to plant in soil that might be heavy – as nothing has been planted there for at least ten years, I thought the soil would be heavy and probably quite lacking in nutrients. Imagine my surprise when I dug down and discovered: a wall. An old retaining wall to be exact, made of railway sleepers, that had been buried under the old rainwater tank. I am a pretty good digger, but I am not strong enough to dig out a retaining wall by myself. I consulted with my husband and we decided that as we are building a new retaining wall in that section of the garden, we will dig it out together when we do that.

Oh look, a wall

So now I have seed potatoes and nowhere to plant them. If only I had thought to check for buried retaining walls before I bought seed potatoes. Silly me.

Giving up the spud planting for today, I decided to dig out the overflowing compost bins and spread some compost around. I do this every six weeks or so, and I think this is why my garden has not really missed me in the past couple of months. The soil is so healthy that with a fully planted winter garden, I can leave it go for quite a while. I dug out about ten buckets of lovely compost, and turned over the rest. I was pleased to see that the compost worm colony has expanded significantly since I last dug over the bins.

I call the big one ‘Wormy’

Compost worms are not earthworms. They are tiger worms or red worms, and they just like to live in compost and worm farms. They are great little critters. I am not a pet person – I don’t have a cat or a dog, and when people talk about their fur-kids I admit I tune out. But I am really happy to be breeding wriggly worms in my compost bin. They are my friendly little compost buddies, bought in a cardboard box from Bunnos for $20.

Some people will say you can’t feed them this or that – I throw any type of vegetable scrap in the compost bin, including onions, citrus, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. The worms really don’t seem to care. I don’t put meat or fat in the compost, to avoid rodents, but the worms would eat it if I did.

Once I finished digging over the compost and saying hi to the worms, I weeded a bit, thinned the carrots and beetroot (that means going through and pulling out plants that are growing too close together so the carrots can form good sized roots), and picked some veggies. Today I picked Tuscan black kale (also known as Cavolo Nero or Dinosaur Kale), a few carrots and radishes, and some turnips. My husband helpfully picked peas and ate them off the vine.

Cavolo Nero

I grow lots of kale – a dwarf curly kale and the Cavolo Nero. Some of the Cavolo Nero was heavily attacked by green cabbage moth at the start of the season, so I let it be the sacrificial plant and the caterpillars went ham on it. They pretty much left everything else alone while they munched on three Cavolo Nero plants. This is one of the strategies I use for pest control, and I find it works well. I keep an eye on what the pests really go for, and let them have one or two plants to nom out on. I find that if they are allowed to do that, they are like kids at a party: the Cheezels disappear and the grownups are left to enjoy the Camembert. After they pigged out on the Cavolo Nero, they buggered off or turned into cabbage moths or whatever, and my garden has been left alone. They also are a bit thick, so they left the other three Cavolo Nero and all of the curly kale alone. The plants they ate recovered, and now I have all the kale I can eat.

With a huge bunch of kale, I made Ribollita, an Italian kale, white bean, and bread soup. It was so delicious, even the soup-disliking eldest inhaled it like a cabbage moth on a kale plant.

Weekend garden jobs, May 10 2020

After several wet and stormy weekends, it was lovely to have a cool but sunshiny day to spend out in the garden. As it happened to also be Mother’s Day, I exercised my motherly rights and left all household tasks to my husband while I spent the entire day outside.

It was perfect.

I had many jobs that needed to be done. Due to the cold weather and an uptick in my workload (yay), I have only trotted outside to pick some salad leaves and check the brassicas for cabbage moth caterpillars. This is probably an exercise in futility: I keep squishing them and they keep coming back, but eventually I will end up with enough cabbages and broccoli for Springtime. The rest of the garden has been patiently waiting, and growing weeds, until a lovely, work-free day, for my attention.

First task was harvesting pumpkins. I grow Kent (also known as Jap) pumpkins. I use the term ‘grow’ somewhat loosely. I have never planted Kent pumpkins. They come up from the compost, happily seed themselves, and take over a spot, and I allow it. I don’t feed or water them. I do hand pollinate them if the bees don’t seem to be doing the job well enough, but once the fruit is set, I leave them alone until the weather starts to turn. Then I place a brick under each pumpkin so it is raised up from the damp soil and the base doesn’t rot. I wait as long as I possibly can into Autumn before picking.

To pick, use a strong knife to cut a couple of inches of stem (see below). Wipe over the pumpkin with a rag to remove excess moisture and dirt, and check the blossom end for any dried up bits of the pumpkin flower, and remove it. I usually store my pumpkins in a cool dry place – we have a cellar so that is perfect. They can keep for quite a while, but check every week for any softening spots or mould, particularly in thinner skinned varieties like the Kent. If you notice any softening, you can still eat it – just put it in the fridge and start planning pumpkin soup asap. If I have an excess of pumpkin, I often steam and purée the flesh and freeze it to use later in chocolate brownies, pasta sauces, and cannelloni.

Harvesting is easy. Removing the old pumpkin vine is not so easy. As I mentioned, I let the vine ramble across half the backyard, which means it is an enormous vine by harvest time. I cut it into smaller pieces with my gardening knife, and shove it piece by piece in the green bin. It had very long roots, so to dig it out I had to dig carefully around the base and then follow the roots back along the garden bed to fully remove. It was a very happy plant.

I have tried growing other pumpkin varieties, and nothing really grows as well in my yard as the compost-seeded Kent. When I deliberately plant a pumpkin and nurture the damn thing, I might get one or two pumpkins. As they take up so much space, it’s just not worth it. But the Kent is always reliable, and one vine produces around 5-8 lovely heavy pumpkins, averaging about 4kg in weight. Kent also taste good and have a nice texture, which is not guaranteed with some pumpkins.

Next on my list was to remove the old eggplant bushes, and turn the compost. My lazy hips were not really happy with me for all that digging and lifting, after so many days sitting in front of a keyboard, so I switched to lighter jobs: planting bulbs, seeds, and seedlings. I finished planting the bulbs I bought last month, finally planted sweet peas (Spencer Ripple and Hi-Scent), and lettuces (Tennis Ball and Freckles), red cabbage, and silverbeet (Fordhook Giant). I thinned a few turnip and radish seedlings, and staggered back inside for a cup of tea and a cinnamon muffin by the fire, body aching, to watch my husband cut up one of our pumpkins for roast dinner. Happy Mother’s Day to me (and to all the awesome mothers out there, including my own wonderful Mother, my gorgeous sister, and the dear friends who play the role of Deputy Mothers to my kids).

Social distancing garden jobs, 6 April 2020

There is something so relaxing about sitting in yon pumpkin patch. I think it is because pumpkins are the least demanding of all vegetables. Although I have pumpkin seeds, I rarely plant them. The pumpkin patch in my backyard is entirely self-seeded from compost, and that’s fine by me. I never water them. I never feed them. The closest I come to care and attention is the regular hand-pollination I do in the mornings while they are flowering, but I am not even doing that anymore (it’s getting too late in the season). Once they start fruiting, they require no further care. They quietly swell until they are ready to be picked.

By contrast, brassicas are fiddly and demanding beasts. I have to keep a close eye on the seedlings to fend off cabbage moth caterpillars. Today my eldest daughter and I spent a good twenty minutes scraping caterpillar eggs from cabbage and kale seedling leaves and squishing the occasional baby green caterpillar that had just emerged and was munching away. Whenever she saw a cabbage moth my daughter would wave it away, yelling “Go away, you monster!” That was entertaining, if fruitless.

Today I:

  • Started trimming back woody herbs (mint, thyme, oregano, lavender) with my trusty plant chainsaw aka electric hedge trimmers. My friend calls electric hedge trimmers a ‘plant chainsaw,’ which I think sounds much more bad ass. This is a job that will take me days to do, given the overgrowth in the yard, so I am taking it a few bushes at a time;
  • Fell down the front steps while plugging in the plant chainsaw to charge. We have a big front staircase, and it was still slippery from yesterday’s rain. Ouch;
  • Cleared up some unwanted plants (self-seeded lavender and mint) and weeds (Oyster Plant and the dreaded creeping Oxalis) that were making themselves quite comfortable.
  • Dug up some lavender and geraniums for my sister to plant at her place. She specifically requested “unkillable.” Bless;
  • Removed the spent Love-In-A-Mist seed pods and was happy to see baby Love-In-A-Mist plants already popping up;
  • Spread some Calendula seeds about the place;
  • Checked out the pomegranates to see how they are ripening. Not much longer!
  • With my daughter’s help, planted out the garlic, and mulched it with chopped sugarcane straw;
  • Planted out some Curly Kale, after double-checking it for cabbage moth eggs;
  • Prepared a new planter box for Asian vegetables (most likely Pak Choy and Coriander);
  • Sat in the pumpkin patch, drank a coffee, and meditated on life for a bit.

My body is aching like hell, mostly because of the aforementioned fall down the stairs, but I feel good.

Tomorrow I will try hard not to be a clumsy goose, trim some more plants, and hopefully plant out the broccoli seedlings that are now looking lovely and ready to go.

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!

Gardening jobs, June 20 2019

Bloody hell, it was a cold one today.

I am not a fan of the cold. I know I have complained mightily about the lack of rain around these parts over the past few months, and I stand by my concerns, but I am a Summer person. I like the heat. I am the last person to turn the air conditioning on, and I am that person in the office that keeps a cardi on when everyone else is complaining that it’s too hot outside.

So Winter just kills me. I feel almost perpetually cold, even when I am rugged up like I’m preparing for an Antarctic mission.

This morning was clear and crisp, and less than five degrees outside when I contemplated heading outside for a spot of gardening. I am on annual leave, and I had a rare clear day. Only one appointment with my kids, a couple of phone calls to make, and then: freeeeeedommmm! What else was I going to do, but go out into the garden?

If I could just brave the cold.

I mentally prepared with a cup of hot chai and some inner cheerleading. I reminded myself that my roses needed much love, and I had some seedlings to plant.

Suitably attired, I started with the simplest of jobs, and one that would help me later in the day: stocking the indoor wood pile ready for tonight’s fire. That helped me to build up some inner warmth, and that done I was fired up and ready to go.

Roses

Mr. Lincoln rose. Sad face

My climbing roses are a sad and sorry bunch. I planted them two years ago in memory of three of my grandparents, who were all rose lovers. I have a Pierre de Ronsard, a Gold Bunny, and a Mr. Lincoln. All are doing quite poorly. I posted a query on a Facebook gardening group about whether to just pull them out (reluctantly) and try again. A local gardener from Adelaide who is a successful rose grower suggested some things I could do to save my roses from the green bin: removing all mulch from the crown of the roses, spraying the crown with a low dose of iron chelates, and then feeding with pelletised chicken manure. So that was one of my jobs this morning. You can see in the photo above how much mulch and organic matter surrounds the crown of the Mr. Lincoln rose. I didn’t realise this was a problem, but apparently it is! I will let you know if these treatments help my roses return to health. And thanks to my friendly Facebook gardeners for sharing their knowledge so freely!

Planting

I pulled out some carrots that seem to have been growing forever, and planted some new carrots in among my lettuces. I also planted some red spring onions next to a row of leeks I planted out last weekend.

Coloured heirloom carrots

I love to grow carrots, but am not very successful. Don’t be fooled by this photo: this was a closeup. They were teeny. We did eat them, of course, and I used the tops to make a serviceable pesto, but honestly I have never really grown nice big fat carrots that Pete Cundall would be proud of. And damnit, I want Pete Cundall to be proud of me.

I think that I am not tough or consistent enough in thinning. I need to be ruthless. I have too much ruth.

Feeding

After all the weeding and planting, I gave everything a weak liquid feed of seaweed extract, fish emulsion and Go-Go juice, and got the heck back inside like a sane person.

Gardening Jobs, Weekend 9-11 March 2019

A miracle happened today: I went to the Big Green Shed and only bought the item I intended to buy.

I know, I’m freaked out too.

The truth is, there is not much point buying new plants right now. The weather is still too unpredictable to plant anything, and the soil is too sad and depleted from the hottest Summer on record (it’s official, sadly). We still have not had a decent rainfall, and I am not sure when it will come. I looked at all the beautiful plants and thought: patience, my pet. I could see their future if I gave into temptation now and planted them in my dry and sad garden. So I bravely left them on the stands, and walked away, sad but resolute.

Also, I’m going to the Melbourne Flower and Garden Show in three weeks and you know I will be blowing a wad of cash on bulbs, seeds and garden paraphernalia designed to attract the green thumbed and gullible. The Big Green Shed will still be there when I return, broke and happy.

So what did I do this weekend? Maintenance. Boring, necessary garden maintenance. Everything needed a feed, a weed, and a water, so that is what I did. No fun planting or buying, just the basic boring jobs that every gardener must do to keep the soil healthy and the garden looking decent mid-season until it is time to do the exciting stuff.

That is why I have no pictures: a broom and a pile of weeds just aren’t that interesting. I did discover some more of the amazing Kenternut pumpkins (from another vine), bringing the total to about six. I hope these hybrid pumpkins taste good, or I will have been watering and growing a bad pumpkin all Summer. I’ll do a taste test soon and let you know. Fingers crossed for deliciousness.

I also picked another pile of rhubarb, and another dozen or so passionfruit from the vine that just keeps on giving. I am going to make a passionfruit slice, a dessert that has fond childhood memories for me, and possibly a rhubarb and strawberry pie.

Gardening jobs – Weekend 22nd and 23rd August

ranunculus photos 1
Ranunculus in full flower

Spring has sprung well and truly, and the weekends are finally fine enough to be out in the garden at least one day (preferably both) of the weekend.

I love everything about Spring. I love that the vegetables I planted in Winter have finally come to fruition, and I can pick enough fresh, homegrown vegetables to feed my family for almost every meal. This week I am picking: green sprouting broccoli, Green Romanesco and Purple Romanesco broccoli (see below), carrots, snow peas, Chioggia and Golden beetroot, onions, coriander, silverbeet, and Purple Podded Peas.

romanesco broccoli
Purple Romanesco Broccoli

The Romanesco Broccoli is my favourite vegetable I have grown this year. To say I have been waiting for it patiently would be a lie: I have grown these babies from seed as I have not been able to find seedlings, so it has been months from start to table. These are extremely slow growing but totally worth it. They hold their colour when cooking in any way (we have roasted, lightly boiled, and steamed), and they are delicious. The best way of cooking so far was roasting with olive oil, diced golden and red beetroot, onions and garlic to make a warm salad. Very delicious.

Another aspect of Spring that I love is the flowers. At the moment the ranunculus are in full flower and they are spectacular.

ranunculus double
I love this – it looks like a ladies crinoline dress

I grow a mix of Spring flowering bulbs, including: crocuses, daffodils, Sparaxis (violet and mixed), and ranunculus, and Spring flowering annuals including my favourite Sweet Peas, pansies and violas, calendula, and nigella (Love-In-A-Mist). All have just hit their stride and the garden is looking (and smelling) gorgeous. I also grow perennial flowering plants like lavender, violets, daisies and herbs. Bees are having a field day right now.

This weekend was weeding, feeding, and planting time. I spent a couple of happy hours propagating and planting new plants for the Summer vegetable patch.

seedsThis year I am trialling a few different types of tomatoes and a few different ways of growing them. Last year, I tried tomatoes from seed but started the seeds too late in the season, so they weren’t too successful. This year I have purchased a little greenhouse and I am testing whether jiffy pellets or seed raising mix leads to better results when starting seeds. I also bought punnets of some tomato plants and I am planting them out into small pots to let them grow larger before I plant them into the ground. I am hoping that giving them a little boost first will lead to stronger plants.

From seed, I am growing San Marzano, Pineapple Tomato and Moneymaker Tomatoes. These are all heirloom varieties. From seedling I am growing an F1 hybrid called Truss, recommended by my neighbour, and an heirloom variety called Rouge de Marmande. In my garden five varieties should be enough, but I do not yet have a cherry tomato in the mix so I will buy a couple of cherry tomato plants to grow in pots.

I also planted out some more strawberries, and some heirloom cucumber seedlings called ‘Sweet and Stripey.’ I am historically terrible at growing cucumbers, but I planted these on top of a trial compost trench and built a decent trellis for them so I am hoping that I have some success this year. I can grow zucchinis like a boss so why do cucumbers elude me? I should ask my Mother, who is the Queen of the Cucumbers (official title).

Finally after I did the fun propagating first, I had to do the less fun job of extensive weeding. Ragged Robin, a pretty pink-flowered weed, had taken up residence in the front yard, so I removed all of it, along with the kikuyu grass that continues to invade from next door. My Mother loves Ragged Robin and actually took some home with her last time she came to visit, but I wanted it out of there, along with some creeping weed that was having a lovely time sneaking around the Pomegranate tree and down to the Passionfruit vine. Begone!

I managed to weed only about one third of the front yard, and occasionally as I stood to stretch my back I considered the wisdom of doing this the hard way (by hand). But then I stood looking at my apricot tree and watched a lacewing and a shillion* bees hover over the blossoms and I realised that this is a beneficial bug friendly place because we do things the hard way. I can do the rest of the weeding next weekend.

Besides, my husband was doing it much harder, on his hands and knees with a Ho-Mi, weeding in between the pavers. Misery loves company, they say.

 

*A shillion is the largest number in the world. Invented by my daughter at the age of four.

Gardening jobs – Weekend 25th & 26th August 2018

Each week for the past eight weeks, I have checked the weather report anxiously on a Thursday, checking to see how it will be on the weekend. Each week, it has been the same: some version of raining, stormy, windy, and cold.

Not that I am complaining: parts of Australia are in severe drought, and farmers are suffering. When it rains here, I feel thankful that we have it, and hope that some of it is heading the way of the farmers and animals that need it.

However, it has meant that each weekend – the only days that that I have a chance to garden – has been scuppered by truly terrible gardening weather (good for the garden, bad for the humans that want to be outside gardening). I love gardening, but even I have my limits. I am not going to freeze my parts off to dig around in the mud and rain. I am just too old to cope with that level of rain soaking into my bones.

Last week though, the weather report was a cracker. Two perfect days: 18 degrees, sunny, cloudless. I planned to spend one day in the garden and the next painting ceilings in my daughter’s bedroom.

Sod that for a joke – there was no way I was going to waste the first fine weekend in two months indoors painting a ceiling! Instead, we spent both days in the garden, and it was a joyous experience. Our main task was eight weeks’ worth of weeding, which sounds terrible, but was actually very fun (I have been told I have a weird idea of fun, but whatever). When the soil is damp, weeding doesn’t have to be painful. It also gave us the opportunity to look closely at the garden to see what had changed lately. Answer: a lot.

Pickwick Crocus

I have been waiting for the crocuses we planted last year to return. I admit, I have been impatient to see them again, as these rate along with sweet peas and violets as my favourite flowers. As I had not seen even the leaves come up at all this year, I thought they were not coming back. But suddenly, here they had arrived! Most importantly, my very favourites, the Pickwick Crocus, a purple and white stunner with a bright orange stamen, had arrived in its glory. Crocuses do not make good cut flowers and you cannot buy them in florists. They have a brief lifespan of only a couple of days, so to see them you really need to grow them. I was so excited to see they had arrived again. Now that I have seen their return, I look forward to many years of lovely crocuses. I also have white and yellow crocuses. The white crocuses also came back, but no sign yet of the yellow.

Closeup of Erlicheer Daffodils

This year I planted a Daffodil called Erlicheer, which is really more of a Jonquil type Daffodil. It is a really lovely mini-Daffodil with a clutch of cream flowers on the end of a long stem. I planted ten bulbs, and I am looking forward to an annual display. I won’t cut these to bring inside, partly because I love them in the garden, and partly because Jonquils have a strong scent that make my husband and daughter sneeze.

White daffodils planted in a rockery with other flowers and herbs in the foreground
Erlicheer Daffodils in the rockery

Also in full flower were the many types of lavender across the garden, single and double Violets, Calendula, Harlequin flowers (Sparaxis), and Star flowers. The Ranunculus, Anenomes, and sweet peas I planted in Autumn are getting ready for their spring display, and the Nigella (Love-In-A-Mist) that has self-seeded from last Summer is looking like it will be lovely. The only disappointment so far is the Drumsticks (Allium), a striking bulb that I planted in Autumn, and that I cannot find has grown at all.

After weeding, we cut back the oregano and mint that was looking a bit ratty. Since we first planted a prostrate style oregano when we moved here three years ago, it has spread rapidly. We do use it for cooking, but it grows faster than we can ever eat it, dry it, or give it away. We also have a lawn that we hate – I call it a ‘lawn’ but really it is more a flat green collection of weeds. Whatever lawn variety is there was taken over by clover and other weeds a long time ago. My husband has tried various methods to weed it, feed it, mow it, and keep it going, but I think at this point we are ready to give it up as a bad job and try again. But today we had the bright idea to dig up clumps of the oregano and transplant it into the lawn. I am hoping that it will take over there and grow into a prolific herbal lawn that we can mow just as we mow the weed-lawn now.

We also decided we needed another tree in our front yard. We already have a Mulberry Tree (black English, the best kind), an apricot (Trevatt), a sad baby lemon tree that is struggling mightily, a pomegranate, and a bay (laurel) tree. We also have a large and rambling Nelly Kelly passionfruit climbing over an archway. However, I wanted something else to add more structure. My mother gave me a lemon myrtle that has remained happy in its pot, but it is a full sized tree that really should be given the room it deserves to grow. We decided to plant it in the lawn. If we don’t succeed with the oregano lawn, at least we will have a beautiful tree to distract us from the weed-lawn. Lemon myrtles are also native trees and attract bees.

Lemon Myrtle Tree planted in the lawn
Lemon Myrtle Tree

So far our little lemon myrtle seems very happy. In the background of this picture, you can see hollows in the lawn where I have planted clumps of the oregano.

My daughter came home while we were in the middle of our weeding and tidying up. She spent a little while trying all our sensory plants. We have planted a range of herbs and plants that she can visit when she wants to feel or smell or taste something lovely. We have Lamb’s Ear to touch, violets and climbing roses to smell, and fun herbs that trick the senses, like Passionfruit Daisy and Pineapple Sage (pictured below). It makes the garden a welcoming and relaxing place for her.

Pineapple Sage in flower

 

The next day was focused on the backyard, where our winter veggies were keeping company with a lot of nettles and mallow weeds. While my husband was on weed duty, I turned the compost and tried my hand at trench composting.

Trench composting is very simple. Dig a trench, and fill it with organic matter. I used a mixture of weeds and some of the organic material from my compost bin that still needed to break down further. Then cover with soil. I am trialling this in different spots in the garden, and then I will plant my summer vegetables there. I am going to test whether my vegetables do better in the trench composted areas, compared to my usual method of cow manure, mushroom compost and homemade compost.

Next fine weekend, it is time to start tomato seeds for planting out in October. Next weekend is predicted to rain however, so I guess I can’t put off the painting any longer.