Monday, November 22, 2010

Shade solutions for Melbourne Summer

As plants have started to spring up in our vegie boxes, I've noticed that a number of them that started off quite strong appear to have been scorched by some of the hot days we've had. I'm still getting the hang of Melbourne spring. The weather really is all over the place and when the sun is out it certainly has some bite. I'd put down some mulch, but even with the mulch I noticed that the soil was drying out and getting a hard crust on top, which was causing the young seedlings a bit of trouble.

I'd seen a couple of shade options in the Gardening Australia magazine and TV show that used shade cloth stretched over poly pipe. So with some vague descriptions of this given to the Cunning Plans Dept, we toddled off to Bunnings in search of shade cloth, poly pipe, cable ties and other random bits and pieces.

We ended up getting 50% shade cloth. I'd read somewhere that 30% was the stuff to go for, but the lowest Bunnings had was 50%. Still, I think it will work fine.

The Cunning Plans Dept rigged up some frames using the poly pipe and cable ties.
He drilled through the pipes to tie them together so that they wouldn't shift around each other. The frames just sit inside the vegie boxes and aren't anchored down (we'll see how they go if we get any strong winds).
The shade cloth is simply draped over the frame and pulled down tight by hooking it onto rows of nails on the sides of the boxes. Not high tech, but it works.
It also makes it easy to unhook the shade cloth from any side and pull it back to get to the plants for weeding and watering.
Ta da! Shaded vegie boxes!

To give the plants an extra boos t, I sprinkled some a ll purpose fertiliser and gave them a good soak before putting the cloth back on. Two days later, I checked the plants this morning and they are looking noticeably better. More fresh growth and less burnt leaves. The soil also seems to be retaining the moisture better.

And of course it wouldn't be a proper project if the pups didn't "help" out. Gracie (who loves the shady spot in between the boxes) very helpfully minded the power tools, while Hudson "helped" by eating the plastic lid of the nail container. We'll have to wait and see how "lab-proof" the shade covers prove to be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A new vegie patch, in boxes

We've been looking at options for creating vegie patches at our new place that are not permanent, as we're renting and there are no established garden beds and we get the impression that our landlord isn't keen on permanent structures.

We decided on some kind of raising vegie bed, which also has the bonus of being more ergonomic for me to manage. We'd seen these pre-done vegie boxes that were wooden crates filled with soil and pre-planted for around $350. The CPD then spotted someone selling ex-fruit crates for $20 each. We picked up 3 of them (that's what would fit on the ute we hired). We lined them with some builders plastic, with a few drain holes in the bottom.

Next step was to order some soil and mulch. We decided that rather than fill them just with soil, we'd fill the bottom half with mulch, which would drain well and also be a little cheaper than soil.
Yesterday the soil and mulch arrived and we set to work filling up our vegie boxes, with supervision by the dynamic duo - Hudson and Gracie.

Today I planted seeds into the boxes and hopefully we'll be looking at our first Brunswick harvest this summer :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Starting a new patch: Seed raising

Today I took advantage of the fine weather to get started on some seed raising for what will be the new vegie patch here in Brunswick. I'd nabbed some free shallow punnets at CERES the other weekend and had also saved a couple of other containers. I also decided to try the coir pellets that came in the bundle of gardening stuff I got via Gumtree.
While I was getting to work on the seed raising the Cunning Plans Dept asked the rather pertinent question of "where are you going to put them?". I had initially thought down the side of the house, but that may not get enough sun to keep them warm. The backyard would be better, but required puppy-proofing. The CPD came up with the solution of attaching a shelf to the back wall of the house so I could put my punnets and trays up out of reach of the dogs, but still getting the warmth of the sun.
Voila! Planted in the coir pellets are spaghetti squash, butternut pumpkin and gem squash. In the punnets I've planted another spaghetti squash (I really want to grow these!), some mini capsicums, heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, red Russian kale, apple cucumbers, Lebanese cucumbers and garlic chives. To my dismay I found about half the spaghetti squash seeds I'd saved had gone moldy. I'm airing them to see if I can dry them out a bit more. I think I may need to get some of those moisture absorbing sachets to put in my seed box.

I also potted out the continental parsley and mint I picked up a month ago. The parsley punnet actually had 3 plants in it, so I've planted them out separately and hopefully they'll grow nice and bushy.
There is also movement on the small strip of garden by the side of the house that I'd dug over and planted a month or so ago. The row of marigolds have sprouted, as have 4 of the lettuce, one of the dwarf snow peas, and some of the spring onions (and a bunch of weeds, but I'll get to those soon).

It may be getting close to the end of September, but it is finally starting to feel like Spring is arriving. Buds are bursting on trees and we're starting to see the sun for more than a fleeting moment. After having just experienced my first Melbourne winter, I really appreciate the coming of Spring :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Thrifty Gardening: Urban pots and herbs

While we were walking up to the local primary school to vote a few weeks ago, we saw a good size plastic pot abandoned amongst other rubbish near the pedestrian bridge over the freeway. I made a note to pick it up on our way back home as I need pots. At the school, post-voting, we noticed that CERES had set up a little stall selling seedlings and potted herbs. I picked up a mint and a continental parsley for $5, which I thought was a bargain (granted the parsley was cheap because it looked a bit straggly).

I also discovered that CERES have a free pot recycling bin at their nursery, where you can nab used pots and then bring back any you aren't using anymore. And their shop sells a number of bulk goods (food and cleaning products) by weight. You can BYO container or use some of the recycled containers or paper bags they have at the store.

We popped in on the weekend to stock up on some eco-friendly dishwasher powder (is anyone else disappointed that it is hard to get eco-friendly dishwasher powder in the major supermarkets? My local Coles stocks eco-friendly dishwasher tablets, but our little dishwasher drawer doesn't need much). And since I'm now on the exclusion diet from hell, I also grabbed a paper bag and stocked up on some quinoa, before heading to the cafe to get a soy dandy. I also love that the market has "Puppy Parking" (i.e. a place just outside the market where you can tether your pooch while you shop), though I'm not sure I'd trust our dynamic duo not to wreak havoc. We exited via the nursery and pot bin to get a few medium pots to pot on my herbs and some small trays to get some seed raising going.

I love Brunswick :)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thrifty Gardening: Free seeds and fertiliser

Continuing with the sustainable and thrifty living concept, I've set myself a challenge to establish a garden at our new place without spending any money if possible.

We brought with us our collection of seeds and tools, so that's our starting point. The things we had to leave behind included our fertilisers and pots.

So I've been looking out for possible freecycling options to replenish our stocks. I saw an ad on Gumtree from someone giving away a box of fertiliser and assorted seeds. I replied and on Monday popped into town on my way back from a meeting to pick it up. Talk about a good haul of freebies! I'm so glad I brought my fold-up trolley otherwise I would have really been stuffed trying to get it home on the tram.

Check this out:

The fertiliser etc.. includes:
  • Richgro Premium complete fertiliser plus 5kg bag
  • Naked Farmer Organic Soil Activator sample pack
  • Hortico All purpose compound fertiliser 500g tub (open)
  • Brunnings Tomato & Vegetable Starter fertiliser 1kg tub
  • Jiffy small peat pellets 12
  • Water storage crystals 250g far (1/2 full)
  • Miracle Gro Seafeed 3 in 1 250ml
  • Charlie Carp 500ml
  • Yates Thrive Shake 'n' Feed 700g (1/2 full)
  • Garden ties 15
  • Brunnings Rose Planting Mix coir block (open)
  • Seasol 20ml sachet
  • Eco-cweed 5g sachet
  • Rainsaver crystals 10g sachet
  • Searles Penetraide re-wetting granules 2 x 40g sachets
  • Searles Flourish soluble plant food 3 x 20g sachets
The assorted seeds includes:
  • Cucumber Lebanese (open)
  • Snapdragon
  • Tomato Roma (open)
  • Dwarf snapbean (open)
  • Sunflower
  • Pak Choi (open)
  • Broccoli Royal Dame (open)
  • Beetroot Perfect (open)
  • Spinach Emerald Star (open)
  • Squash Gem
  • Lucerne (open)
  • Eggplant Listada di Gandia
  • Peanut Virginia
  • Okra x 2 (open)
  • Miscellaneous bag that appears to have a mix of coriander, pumpkin and possibly spring onion)
Not bad for free, eh?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Bonjour Brunswick!

The move to Melbourne went very well. We arrived last Thursday evening, moved everything in on Friday, and by the end of the weekend were mostly unpacked and ready to start the work week. As of last night, we have finished unpacking all the boxes and have a giant pile of flat packed cardboard boxes to show for it.

Our new place is really a blank slate from the garden perspective. The back yard is a decent size and the only things in it are a shed, a clothesline strung between two concrete posts, and some very bare skinny trees, which I haven't identified yet. The backyard faces north, so gets plenty of sunshine. Right now, in the middle of winter, we're appreciating it, but I'm guessing summer will be another story.
Left: Backyard facing north - Right: Backyard facing south

The front yard is also fairly nondescript. Being on the south side, it's mostly in shade and just has patchy grass.

I can't wait to get started on building new gardens. As we're renting, we just need to check that the landlord is okay with this. We're also thinking about building more of a container garden so that if we move when our lease finishes in 12 months then we'll be able to take most of the garden with us.

We're also going to have to start new compost and worm farms as we left the others behind in Figtree. While we're still waiting to sell the house in Figtree, we're being very conservative with our finances. However, I jumped onto Gumtree and managed to get a second hand compost bin for $20. It's missing one of the side pieces that hold it together (it shouldn't be gaping like that), but that's a fairly easy fix.

I also managed to get a pair of plastic clam shells (kids sand pit/wading pool) for free! This will definitely help keep the pups cool in summer.

I've also found an unused (still in packaging) 2-tier worm farm for $40, but it's about an hours drive from us, so I'm still tossing up whether it's worth a trip that far and when we'd be able to do it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Farewell Figtree

Well it seems like it was only a few months ago that we made the decision to move to Melbourne, but today seems to have come around fast.

Today we said farewell to Figtree. I was hoping to take some final photos of the garden, but it decided to absolutely bucket with rain (not helpful for the removalists trying to pick the truck). At least it meant I didn't have to water the garden before we went. So sadly, no parting photos.

Yesterday I did some maintenance on the vegie patch to get it ready for being unattended for a while. All the beds are mulched. The new irrigation timer has been installed and set. All the plants are looking healthy. The snow peas are just starting to reach the twine that they'll eventually climb. The broccoli heads are forming nicely. It is finally looking like a well established, mature garden. I would like to hope that it will bring joy to the future occupants.

I don't find myself missing the garden, as I've enjoyed the process of gardening as much as the end product. I would have liked to have seen the fruit trees mature and start to bear fruit. I'm looking forward to the challenge of starting a new garden in Melbourne. I'm bringing our seeds with us, many of which we've saved from what we've grown in Figtree, so it will be like bringing a bit of our Figtree garden with us.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Summer success stories

Despite the last post, it wasn't all gloom and doom in the patch this summer. There were a few success stories.

We had two different bean varieties this summer. Rattlesnake beans, (below left) which are a climbing variety, where planted in the front garden to climb (and help cover) the bit of lattice underneath the front porch. The other variety is a butter bean called Sex Without Strings (below right), which is a bush variety and was planted into the main vegie patch in a couple of beds where we had space.

Both beans have gone well, with the Rattlesnake beans being the most productive. We only have two plants going, but have probably yielded just over a kilogram of beans so far. I've started to write down the weight of each harvest so we can have a better record.

The Sex Without Strings beans have been pretty productive per bush (we've got 4 going), but probably overall half the yield of the climbing beans. And true to the name, they are a lovely stringless butter bean. Both beans are very tasty and have been a regular addition to our dinners.

The tomatoes may have failed, but the basil has been going off! I transplanted around 6-7 basil seedlings in around the tomatoes and all have thrived, to the point that I had to seriously cut back some of them as they were smothering the tomatoes and capsicums.
The basil harvest has already been turned into a few jars of basil pesto, some basil butter, and some diced basil frozen into an ice cube tray for use later in the year. And there is still loads in the patch, which the bees love and we'll let go to seed.

We've tried to get in to the habit of have a couple of lettuce plants on the go so that we've got lettuce for salads and meals. The best variety so far has been one of the freebies we received from Digger's Club, Australian Yellow Leaf (left).
It has bright yellow-green leaves and is a 'cut and come again' type of lettuce (non-hearting). Crisp and delicious. We've also been trying some heirloom varieties (middle and right) from a mixed pack. These have been nice, but in the crazy summer weather have tended to bolt to seed.

The strawberry patch was quite productive, and when we managed to beat the birds, slugs and labradors to them, we were treated to the tastiest luscious red fruit. I don't think that many made it to the kitchen, it was too tempting to eat them straight from the garden.

The two rhubarb plants I put in during winter, which I was so worried I'd killed, sprang into life in spring producing thick stalks and enormous leaves that were so heavy some of the stalks were coming off from the weight of the leaves pulling them down.

We'd read that in the first year you shouldn't harvest any stalks, to let the plant establish and feed the crown, so we left it to grow. It has recently died down to nothing, which I'm hoping is just what rhubarb does and that with all the rain and humidity the crowns haven't rotted. The crowns do look very much like they did when I bought the dormant crowns, so hopefully they'll burst back in to life next spring.

Last winter, on the winter solstice, we planted a number of onions. We had two varieties of brown onion - Creamgold and Australian Brown - and one red onion. To experiment a bit with yield, we sowed a row of Australian Brown directly into the bed, and sowed the Creamgold and red onion in a seed-raiser tray, then transplanted them as soon as they were big enough to handle. The direct sown seeds certainly produced larger onions, but the others were a good medium-small onion.

We harvested them on the summer solstice (following the traditional planting guide of planting on the shortest day of the year and harvesting on the longest), which was just as well as we got them out before the deluge of summer rain hit. We strung them up in net under cover to dry out, and are now storing them inside in mesh bags. The yield was around 3.8kg of brown onions and 2.4kg of red onions.

Like the onion, our garlic harvest went reasonably well. We got around 12 good sized cloves of red italian garlic, plus a few bonus garlics from the compost heap. Interestingly, none of the italian red garlics flowered. We had read that you wait for them to flower before harvesting, but they never did and the stalks just seemed to die off, so we pulled them out. One of the compost heap garlics did flower and the flower ends up producing seeds that look like tiny garlic cloves.

We've probably got enough garlic to last us until next crop, when I think we'll plant some more of the italian red garlic and also try some of the seeds that we saved from the compost garlic.

Other successes in the garden have been the carrots, which continue to grow well though we need to remember to keep sowing more seed to get a progressive crop. The herbs in the front garden are also doing well and it is nice to be able to just duck out the front to snip a few when cooking.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Summer of rain and shine: A tribute to the fallen

Well, to be more accurate, it has been the summer where our poor vegie patch has been scorched and drowned, often in the same week. Back in late spring I was happily raising seedlings and anticipating a summer where our kitchen would be overflowing with produce. Sadly, like many fellow gardeners I've spoken to lately, much of our patch simply didn't survive the scorching hot days, followed by torrential rain, with mould, mildew, and disease inducing humidity in between.

So a tribute to the fallen of the Summer of 2009/2010...

Remember the great potato patch we made back in September? From strong beginnings the plants then seemed to suddenly wilt and die. I suspect either potato blight or black leg. After a while we decided to excavate and see what had happened. Many of the spuds had started well, but the heavy rain had compacted the sugar cane mulch and compost into a thick, wet, rotting layer and anything above that layer died. Our yield was a handful of small deformed potatoes.

However, on the upside, the potatoes that were voluntarily growing in the compost heap seemed to be unaffected and yielded a good number of decent sized spuds. And while some of the ones from the main patch weren't edible, they were possibly the rudest looking potatoes ever grown, so we got some giggles.

Back in October I had started planting tomato seeds and by early November I had so many seedlings I was giving the excess away to family, friends and anyone who happened to drive past. Later in November saw us going on holidays for a week, during which we had several absolute scorchers and I came home to some rather scalded and sorry looking tomato seedlings. Still, we planted them out and thought they might just come good, only to have them drowned in rains, scorched again and getting every tomato affliction under the sun. A number have rust, much of the fruit has blossom end rot from the erratic rain, a lot of fruit has simply split or rotted while still green, and to top it off we've got fruit fly. I've tried spraying a Bordeaux mix to see if that helps with the rust. We've had a few good, if small, tomatoes from what I think is a Red Tommy Toe. Sadly, I think what I need to do is pull them all out to try and stop disease spreading further.

We had 4-5 mini capsicum plants and 2 regular size plants. They've been strong and early on had lots of flowers and fruit developing, but the insane weather has meant that most of the fruit are rotting before they're ripe. We have managed to get a couple of very cute mini capsicums, but don't hold much hope for the rest in this humid weather.

I really thought the corn was going to be alright. Sadly, the humid weather isn't great for corn either. A lot of the cobs had aphids and some kind of borer. The ones that looked okay were very disappointing to eat. They tasted like glue - bland and starchy. I don't know whether we didn't have enough of them to get good pollination or there was some nutrient deficiency, or both.

There is one lone apple cucumber that has survived against the odds. Two plants were lost when the dogs got into the patch and had a bit of a rampage. The other one succumbed to the rampant powder mildew that threatened to cover every curcubit in sight. Diligent spraying with diluted milk seems to have saved my lone survivor and we even got a decent sized and quite edible cucumber from it.


The rhubarb grew to epic proportions with massive leaves and thick stalks. However, in the last few weeks, I think the rain and humidity has taken its toll as many of the stalks became rotten and I think the crowns may actually have rot from being too wet for too long. This is the first time I've grown rhubarb so I don't know if they're meant to die back at the end of summer or whether this is actually crown rot. There are still some new green stalks emerging from one so I'm hoping it will hang in there.

However, it hasn't all been bad and in many ways we've learnt a lot from those plants that didn't make it.