Soil – grow your own!

I missed the United Nations World Soil Day, 5 December, this year, but by way of compensation I have found this post on making compost from earlier in the year, which never made it beyond draft stage. Don’t worry about the references to Autumn, compost making is a year round activity. Enjoy!

As autumn moves along we are clearing out the last of the summer veg and rejuvenating our soil before we plant new crops for winter. This means digging in some of the lovely compost we’ve been ‘growing’ over the last few months. OK, so we’ve just added the material to the bins and the worms, slaters, and other microorganisms are doing the hard yards at breaking the stuff down.

The  tomatoes have been cleared out and compost and dolomite lime added ready for new plants

The tomatoes have been cleared out and compost and dolomite lime added ready for new plants.

If you have space for a compost bin then setting one up is a no-brainer. It is an excellent way to reduce some of the costs involved with renewing your soil to ensure your plants get plenty of nutrients.
The golden ratio when it comes to making compost is 1 part of green waste to 3 parts of brown waste. In laymans’s terms the ‘green’ can include household veggie scraps (no meat), or green garden waste such as prunings or fresh grass clippings, tea leaves and coffee grounds. Coffee grounds are an excellent source of nitrogen and they are not acidic after they have been brewed. While some tea bags are compostable many tea bags are now wholly or partly plastic, and you don’t want to include any of these in your compost. The ‘brown’ could include dry leaves, shredded or torn newspaper, shredded office paper, or used bedding from the chook pen. Our compost has a bit of all these.

A barrow load of goodness from our compost bins

A barrow load of goodness from our compost bins, which you can see in the background.

One of these bins is dedicated to the super-slow breaking down of leaves into leaf mould, the others are for compost in different stages of decomposition.

‘If I could say just one thing’ it would be to not make a compost pile or set up a compost system bigger than you can feed. If you live in a small household or only have a small garden you may not generate enough green waste to get your compost system working actively. If this is the case you have several options:

  1. set up a smaller system, eg by using and old plastic garbage bin with the bottom cut out, placed directly on the soil so the worms can get into it; or invest in a Bokashi system;
  2. dig small amounts of vegetable scraps into holes around your garden and let nature do the rest;
  3. find another source of green waste to add to your bin by collecting coffee grounds from a cafe or even leaving a small bin to collect compostable waste from where you work.

Having set up the bin you also need to feed and mix it up or ‘turn’ it regularly. Let’s face it the worms aren’t going to hang around if you don’t give them some new food every so often. Turning your compost bin allows the air to get into it, to ensures faster decomposition. It also reduces the risk of creating ugly smells.

If you have a compost bin it is just about impossible to turn the contents with a garden fork. If you have a heap or compartment system then a garden fork is fine. The best device I’ve found to ‘turn’ my compost is this strange piece of metal with a ‘screw’ on one end. By turning this tool into the compost you can easily mix the bin’s contents. To avoid giving yourself a hernia I suggest you make some shallow digs into the upper 15 cms before you drill further down. It’s really not too difficult.

My favourite compost turner!

Getting ready to turn the compost.

If you are checking the compost every week (you should be adding stuff to it regularly), then you should be able to head off potentially unpleasant compost situations. If your heap does go wet and nasty make sure you add lots of dry ‘brown’ material and mix it through thoroughly. Keep a close eye on it until the compost is evenly damp, rather than a foetid mess.

Before I forget, you can also re-cycle your spent potting mix through your system. The potting mix will get nutrients as your heap decomposes and the potting mix will add some structure to what’s in the bin.

Re-use and re-cycle also applies to old potting mix!

Re-use and re-cycle also applies to old potting mix!

So happy belated world soil day!

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Spr-inter

Yep sprinter is definitely here! I’m a firm believer in Tim Entwisle’s re-definition of Australian seasons. We are not quite finished with winter but the garden is well into spring, never mind the calendar.

I may not have heard the Bronze Cuckoos yet, but the Spotted Pardalote’s are actively inspecting our compost heap and drilling test nest burrows and the magpie’s are mating on our neighbour’s lawn (don’t look Gladys!).

pardfem
The female Spotted Pardalote sitting just above the nesting hole
pardmale
The male Spotted Pardalote waits near the nest

Elsewhere in the garden I am seeing the first flowering of the hellebore plant’s that our friend J and neighbour V, gave to me two year’s ago. Unfortunately my plan for a woodland vignette has descended into a replica of a miltary redoubt, surrounded by wire and posts to keep the marauding chickens out.

hellebore
Hellebore under siege

Never believe anyone who tells you that chickens and your garden can cohabit happily. For along with all those tasty insects, they will devour your favourite plants. Our chickens appear to have inherited the palates of dissipated Roman emperors. Nothing is beyond their capability to eat, should they desire it. So far they have demolished both the leaves of my waterlily and the known toxic Small Leafed Nardoo, (Marselia angustifolia), toxic to humans that is, but obviously not to chickens. I placed both of these plants in my stone water trough, thinking that they might help oxygenate the water, but once the chickens found them they were decimated in days.

Meanwhile in the front garden my Blue Veronica (Veronica perfoliata) has put on several flower shoots and the yellow-flowered Bulbine Lily (Bulbinopsis bulbine) is thrusting out of the ground bearing fattening buds.

Veronica
Veronica perfoliata with flower shoots
bulbine
Bulbinopsis bulbosa, the yellow flowering Bulbine Lily

The flowers of the only Australian ground orchid in my garden, the Blunt Greenhood orchid (Pterostylis curta), have pushed up above the rosettes of leaves filling their terracotta pot. I have also sunk a pot of these orchids into the front garden. I will soon plant them out properly as I see that they have managed to survive the winter frosts (so far).

greenhood
Buds of the Blunt Greenhood orchid, Pterostylis curta

We have taken advantage of this wonderfully sunny day to plant out lots of Native Bluebell’s (Wahlenbergia sp.) that my partner has a real knack for propagating. I’ve also committed three Eremophila and a Correa, grown from cuttings to the ‘mercies’ of the real garden, death by being ignored in a pot being the alternative.

Alas the weeds have also registered the upswing in the season. At least I can feed them to those marauding imperial chickens!

Getting moving!

Mid-afternoon it hit me, OMG I haven’t planted any seeds for summer crops! I’d like to blame it on any manner of distractions, including re-planting the front garden (going pretty well), but I’ve clearly been drifting along these past few weeks.

Wahlenberia, aka 'Native' Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden
Wahlenberia, aka ‘Native’ Bluebell, an established clump enjoying the new soil in the front garden

Luckily we have boxes, I do mean it, of seeds so I pulled out some trays and pots and got stuck in. Peas and beans are at the top of the list. Purple Podded Peas, Snow Peas and Lazy Housewife Beansand some White Eggplants. All of theses seeds have come from our own plants so they are well adapted to our garden.

I also planted some Sweetcorn Honey Bicolour that was such a success last year but #### I just checked and confirmed my suspicion that this variety is a hybrid so the seeds will either be sterile or revert to one of the parent stock. So I’ll have to get out some other corns seeds instead. 

Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons
Plant labels from old plastic milk cartons

I made labels for the pots from an old milk container, but couldn’t get my pencil or marker to stay put. I ended up covering the end with masking tape and writing on that. As I worked I settled in to the rhythym of the afternoon, not too hot and a pleasant breeze. I could see House Sparrows moving around the old kale plants, a sure sign that the plants are failing and as they do so attracting insects to their decaying leaves. I also noticed that my Alpine Strawberry already had some fruit – which disappeared shortly after this photo was taken!

Alpine Strawberry with fruit.
Alpine Strawberry with fruit.

I checked out the regular strawberries and found my first ripe fruit of the season there as well. Time to feed the chooks their afternoon scratch and toss the chicks some green weeds to tear apart with their voracious little bills.

Time too to pick young broadbean pods and asparagus from the garden which are joining an eggplant for a Japanese inspired dinner this evening.

Dinner is on the way.
Dinner is on the way.

Happy spring seed raising to you.

Hot pods!

Selfie with snow peas, the first of the year. Straight into tonight’s dinner.

First pods of spring
First pods of spring

Just remember to keep picking your snowpeas. The more you pick, the more they flower, the longer you get pods to eat. I think that’s a ‘virtuous circle’.

And just because I can. Here is a shot of my rose’s leaves last week. They look like they have been beaded with crystals.

Roses with dew beads - just beautiful.
Roses with dew beads – just beautiful.

Weather

Another day of icy Antarctic blasts after that tempting warm spell late last week. Today we had 37 mms of rain in the gauge so that at least is a positive. The long term forecast is for an El Nino this year so we can expect above average temperatures and a lot less rain. So any soil moisture we can get now, along with run-off into the dams is welcome. On the negative side – the strong winds have torn several holes in the polyhouse roof which will need fixing quite quickly.

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in ...
Fixing a hole where the rain gets in …

Luckily the only seedlings I have in there are tough old brassicas, Kailan (sometimes spelled kailaan), or Chinese Broccoli, which will be able to stand the cold for a while.

Small but tough Kailan seedlings
Small but tough Kailan seedlings

Walking around the garden after the rain I spot some self sown seedlings. Two brassicas, one Red Russian Kale and this Red Mustard – a favourite in salads.

Self sown Red Mustard
Self sown Red Mustard

Saving the best until last, another one of the hen’s started laying today. Which just puts the pressure on the last one to get a move on. Hooray fresh eggs again!

Saturday in the garden

I’d like to say that after an afternoon in the garden that I felt a pleasant ache in my body, but my right knee is making a strong case for a nagging pain instead. Nontheless jobs have been completed.

Watering can ballet (with apologies to Olive Cotton)
Watering can ballet (with apologies to Olive Cotton)

The task today was to re-pot my citrus plants so that they stand a chance of not just surviving, but thriving. My Meyer Lemon, is currently showing it’s disapproval of not being re-potted last year by only producing three golf-ball sized fruit this winter. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to see that my Red Centre Lime (a cross between and Australian bush lime and a mandarin) is starting to show a number of deep maroon fruit.

It turned out the easiest way to complete this task was to put down a large piece of plastic on the ground, then tip the pots onto it, scraping out enough soil to let me finally pull the plant from the pot. I could then replace the pot in the right spot and start re-filling it. I took the opportunity to mix in some citrus and rose food in the bottom of the pots before replacing the plants and topping up with good quality potting mix. I also added some trace elements as my plants always seem to be displaying some type of mineral deprivation. A final topping with shredded sugar cane mulch and the task was done.

Re-potted citrus and a few other random plants.
Re-potted citrus and a few other random plants.

I also managed to transplant my Alpine Strawberry into a larger pot. I will need to scavenge some pine needles from my neighbour’s garden to renew the mulch.

I know I could avoid most of this travail if I could only commit to putting these plants in the ground. But there doesn’t seem any good spot to plant them without the plants being prone to frost damage. So I will continue on as I have started and plan to just remember to carry out this task every year.

A little piece of somewhere else

Our garden has some fairly clear distinctions when it comes to planting. The front is almost all Australian plants (except for two small veggie beds) and the back garden is for vegetables, chickens and other utilitarian purposes.

Despite of my intense love for Australian plants I have to admit that there are  non-Australian ring-ins in my ornamental garden. So I have been trying to work out how I could combine some ornamental plants from elsewhere into my garden without it looking too odd.

A little bit of somewhere else in the garden
A little bit of somewhere else in the garden

What I came up with is a small area that is focused around a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) which was an early purchase for my garden and has grown into a lovely small tree. One of my neighbours and another friend have gifted me hellebores, which seem to be getting their roots into the ground under the tree, after an uncertain start. Last but not least I bought some miniature cyclamens from the hardware store that dare nor mention its name. Bowls of seasonal bulbs are also added to the mix.

Some early morning sun on my latest garden feature.
Some early morning sun on my latest garden feature.

A recent visit to Bowral and a stay at a house with a lovely European-style garden encouraged me to look for another feature for this little spot. I found what I was looking for in the garden section of Dirty Jane’s Emporium and Antiques Market. It is a lovely stone trough!

The trough has some layers of paint on the outside but I’m hoping that they will genteelly wear away given time and some Canberra frosts. Speaking of frosts, the day after I heaved this weighty treasure into pace we had one of our -5 degree nights, so you can see the solid block of ice that formed below.

A very small ice skating rink!
A very small ice skating rink!

 

At last, my corn has come along! not to mention the tomatoes

It seems an age but our corn is ready to pick and darn yummy with it. Due to our trip in October/November our spring planting was delayed and I had to resort to buying corn seedlings (will I ever be able to live with myself), to get a crop in. Now here it is in all its fully grown splendour, Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn. This is the first time that we’ve grown this variety, (we usually grow Golden Bantam) and I’ve been quite impressed with how it has grown. We have had much better pollination and far fewer gaps in the cobs that we’ve previously experienced. The plants themselves are shorter, but they are still producing plenty of cobs. I’d be happy to go with this variety again next year.

Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!
Our Sweet Honey Bi-colour corn, ready for a quick steam and then into our stomachs!

The day I planted the corn seedlings I also planted out tomato seedlings from our friend M. They have also finally started to ripen, although with the rain we’ve been having we are getting quite a bit of blossom end rot – that nasty black patch on the tomatoes’ bottom – you will note that I have carefully designed the photo not to show that bit!.

Ripened tomatoes at last!
Ripened tomatoes at last!

Thankfully our eggplants and zucchini are producing steadily and at least one of our chickens has started laying again. Ah summer bliss.

All the signs …

Spring is nearly here, just under two weeks to go until the official start of the ‘growing’ season. The wattle is flowering, the chickens are laying more consistently (well at least two of them are), the days are getting longer and most incontrovertible of all, I have an overwhelming urge to go to the nursery and spend up big on any plant I see.

Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.
Newly bought seedlings and some early seed propagation in the polyhouse.

I’ve found it all so hard to resist. We gave in last week and bought a few punnets of plants, pak choy and lettuces, that will be able to survive in the current low temperatures and will survive the inevitable frosts. And yes, at the back, that is a tray of pea seeds that I planted in their traditional loo roll tubes, yesterday. By the time they are up they will be well able to cope with the outside temperatures. Parsley, at the front, was transplanted from tidying up in the front veggie garden. Most of these are destined for give-aways to friends and neighbours.

I am also trying to be a bit more logical in assessing what we have in the garden and what we need to source for the garden. A case in point are the strawberries. Our current crop are well past their use-by date as can be seen in the spotty, virus laden foliage. These have to be rooted out, quite literally and replaced.

Bad strawberry!
Bad strawberry!

I have some previous years runners in pots, but I still have to check whether they are clear of viruses. I did buy four new plants of the strawberry variety Hokowase, which originated in Japan and friend M says she will give me some of her runners. So once I wrestle with digging out the old plants, tossing them in the bin to avoid any further infection and replacing the soil in the brick niches I will be able to replant.

I’m working off, or perhaps working up, my spring gardening urges by reading gardening books and listening to gardening podcasts. Top of the reading list at the moment is A Year at Otter Farm, by Mark Diacono (Bloomsbury Press 2014).

A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.
A year at Otter farm, cover illustration by Andrew Lyons.

Yes, I was sucked in by Andrew Lyons’ beautiful cover illustration, but equally so by the fact that Mark has a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke cake. Anyone who grows these yummy tubers will know that, like zucchinis, you can never have too many recipes for using them all up! This book ticks all my boxes. It’s seasonal, the recipes are sorted by main ingredient and the recipes are sensibly listed on the page where the vegetable is discussed. Such an obvious idea and yet I think this is the first time I’ve seen it in use. Mark is also growing some of the less common veggies and it’s great to get his growing tips and learn from his experience. While Mark is living in the UK it is easy enough to follow the seasons through the book by simply ignoring the month listed at the chapter heading.

I’m also going overseas for my favourite podcast over at You Grow Girl. Gayla Trail’s blog (Gayla is based in Toronto, Canada) was one of the first gardening blogs I found all those years ago. I must say that I had not been catching up with it recently so I was pleasantly surprised when I dropped by the other day to see that she is now podcasting. Her podcasts go under the title of What’cha Growin. I like what she is doing – I’ve listened to four podcats so far – Gayla has some really interesting guests. Some are experienced, others raw beginners from both rural and really urban gardens – have you ever had a gunshot victim laid in your garden while waiting for the ambulance? I’ve been really disciplined starting from her first podcast, but I’m building up to episode 7, when she interviews Alys Fowler, one of the UK’s leading veggie garden promoters.

Bring spring on, I’m ready!

 

 

 

Early one morning

Not much beats the enjoyment of taking a stroll around the garden early in the day. It was a bit foggy this morning and everything was fresh from a bit of overnight rain.

Looking down the garden to the last of the nectarine blossom and a rampant green manure patch. In the fore ground a corner of the new mosaic border for the strawberry patch.

Spring_garden

The chooks pottering around their pen.

Chooks

The first potatoes growing out of the potato stack.

Potatoes

The Japanese maple unfurling its new leaves against the grey sky.

Maple

Last years kale on their ‘walking stick’ legs, going to flower and soon to make way for new plants.

Kale

Encouragement for new veggie growers – pots of seeds being planted ready for the school fete.

Seedlings