Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Where did the time go?

I see with some surprise that it's been nearly four months since my last post. It's not that there has been nothing to write about: I've just been too busy in the garden to write about it ...

What a great spring it's been for veggies. In our garden, particular success stories have been Florence fennel, red cabbages and Barletta early onions. Regular spring rainfall has helped greatly.

I first tried growing Florence fennel a couple of years ago, with disappointing results. The plants bolted to seed as soon as the weather warmed up, and the bulbs were tough and bitter. This year they have been huge, succulent and sweet. I put this down to generous watering as soon as the bulbs started to form (early September onwards) and plenty of balanced fertiliser (chicken manure pellets in this case). The fennel was grown in a no-dig bed which is rich in organic matter and has good moisture retention.

Now of course I'm itching for the spring veggies to be finished so I can get the summer crop started. (The trouble with a small garden.) Tomatoes have already gone in (Tommy Toe and Amish Paste). Capsicum seedlings have gone into 45-litre 'grow bags' from Diggers (1 plant per bag). This worked really well last year, using a 50:50 mix of organic potting mix and my own compost.

My eggplant seedlings are still tiny, at the moment they're still in peat pots in the cold frame, but going on past experience, they'll shoot up as soon as they get in the ground. I just need to harvest those last few leeks first, then I'll have room for them ...

When I first started growing tomatoes, capsicums and eggplant from seed, I had a definite inferiority complex, comparing my puny seedlings to the verdant monsters from Van Loons. Experience has since taught me that my home-grown plants soon catch up, and I get to grow the heirloom varieties I want, not whatever I can get from the nursery.

I also have one unusual eggplant - Louisiana Long Green - that I overwintered. I gave it its own mini-greenhouse made of some Solarweave (tough woven clear plastic) wrapped round a metal frame. Hope it crops as well as last summer.

The wicking bed has performed well. It didn't turn into a bog garden, so I must have got the drainage right, and on the few hot days we've had so far the lettuce and coriander have stayed perky. The only problem - way too many salad greens! They all bolted once the weather started to warm up, so now they've been pulled out and composted.

Wicking bed mid-November

I've filled the gaps with lemon grass, chervil, Vietnamese mint and Thai chilli. So my salad bed is turning into more of a herb bed, oh well.

The in-bed worm farm seems to be working well, and I'm now finding worms wherever I dig in the bed, so they must feel at home.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Feed the soil with green manure crops

At yesterday's Harvest Basket I was talking with Linda and Dave about soil. They have been in their house about a year and are getting a veggie garden established in their front yard. Up until now it has been lawn and the soil sounds as if it is poor and sandy.

I suggested growing a green manure crop to remedy this, but didn't have time to elaborate.

Although a lot of experienced gardeners use green manure regularly, it sounds like there are plenty out there who don't know about this great, low-cost and low-effort way of building a rich, living soil in their veggie patch.

The basic idea is as follows: in a bed that you don't need for a few months (at least 10 weeks), you sow seed very thickly to produce a lush, green blanket of young plants. These will out-compete any weeds that might germinate in your soil.

It's a good idea to net the bed until the seedlings are up, otherwise the pigeons and sparrows will have most of your seeds. You'll end up with fat, healthy pigeons but little else to show. (I've often considered harvesting the pigeons, but Susan isn't keen.)

When the young crop is about 20 cm high you slash it down and dig it into the soil, where it rapidly breaks down, providing food for microbes, earthworms – and of course the veggie seedlings you're going to plant into the bed.

It's important to dig in the green manure crop before it starts to get tough and woody, otherwise it will take a lot longer to break down.

Green manure is a way of keeping the soil 'working' until you need the bed. Watering needs are lower than with a food crop; if you sow the green manure in the colder months you shouldn't need to water it at all once the seed has germinated, unless there's a very dry spell.

Typically a green manure mix will contain legumes such as beans, peas, lupins, with grasses like barley and rye. These nitrogen-fixing plants are ideal for a bed where you intend to grow hungry plants like cucurbits (pumpkins, zucchini etc) or brassicas. Van Loons sell a good mix in 500g bags, or you can use your own left-over seeds from last year.

You can also choose your green manure for specific purposes. For about 3 years now I've been using mustard as a bio-fumigant green manure. It is supposed to clean the soil of fusarium (causing wilt in tomatoes etc) and repel harmful nematodes. It seems to work: I've had great, healthy tomato plants ever since and haven't lost one to wilt, whereas I used to lose a couple of plants each year prior to this. (Typically they would grow well until first fruit set, then the leaves would curl and turn purple and the plant would die.)

Diggers do a bio-fumigant mustard mix, and Green Harvest do a whole range of different green manures for specific requirements.

Quick update on the wicking bed (see July post)

I've been adding salad and herb seedlings to the bed these last couple of weeks and they're all looking fairly perky. We've had 36mm of rain this week but the bed appears to be draining well. I suspect that the sandy soil mix has been important in this regard, even though it went against all my instincts - I'd normally have a rich mix of compost, lucern straw etc in a raised bed. It will be interesting to see how things go once we get into the dry, hot summer months.

Friday, July 23, 2010

There's always room for one more veggie bed

In winter 2007 we dug up part of our driveway and installed new veggie beds, doubling the size of our edible garden at one stroke (or several thousand spade strokes, anyway).
Before … … during …
… and after.
Well, for a couple of years the new garden kept me busy, increasing my veg repertoire to include pumpkins, bush beans, sprouting broccoli, etc.

But for any keen veg gardener, too much space is never enough, so for the last few months I've been mooching around the garden looking for somewhere to squeeze in another bed. Susan rejected various schemes to site one in the middle of the lawn, outside the back door, etc.

An added motivation was my new-found enthusiasm for wicking beds. Having designed one on paper for the proposed Harvest Basket edible garden at SpringDale, I wanted one myself.

Finally I found a spot, outside the front door on the driveway. Yes, on the sad remnant of that once proud strip of reinforced concrete. But there's still space to park three cars on what's left.

The site isn't ideal, being west-facing, sloping and shaded from both the morning and the late afternoon sun, but I reckon there will be 5+ hours of sunlight for 9 months of the year, which ought to be enough for the salad and herb garden I have planned. I envisage it as our 'lunch garden': just outside the door, convenient to pick a few leaves to go in a sandwich, or a bunch of coriander to go on a curry.

I constructed the garden according to the plan on the downloads page, adapting the dimensions to 2m x 1.5m to fit the space and with an extra course of sleepers sawn at an angle to deal with the slope. The whole project is a (very) full weekend's work for one moderately fit and determined person. Here's the result:

Our new wicking bed
There seems to be a fair bit of interest in wicking beds amongst the Australian gardening community, so over the next few months I'll give progress reports on our trials, tribulations and (hopefully) triumphs with this method of growing veggies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Prune in June

This advice on winter pruning from Pauline Wilson, who will be giving a winter pruning demonstration after our next swap meet on 3 July:

For those gardeners who are beginning to feel the urge to prune, remember the rule: Prune in June. This applies to most deciduous trees because:
  • trees are generally best pruned when they are perfectly dormant; 
  • many varieties commence to shoot in July;
  • in areas prone to gummosis, spores are at their lowest numbers in June and cuts have plenty of time to dry out before heavy spore discharge in September.
Summer pruning is used when the aim is to dwarf or espalier a tree, to reduce vigour and stunt growth. Summer pruning should be avoided in areas where water is restricted.

The objectives of pruning fruit trees are to improve size and quality of fruit, to promote regular bearing and to maintain the tree in a healthy, robust condition.

Pruning is a means of adjusting the vigour of a tree to suit its environment (water, soil quality, space) and to your needs: fruit size and quantity, accessibility of fruit. Tall trees are harder to harvest for the home gardener and harder to protect from feasting wildlife!

What to remove from any given tree depends on the tree’s stage in life: planting to bearing, bearing to fully developed framework, maintenance or renovation. Fortunately trees are quite forgiving, and if mistakes are made they can be rectified over a period of two to three years. Get the tools ready now: clean and sharpen your secateurs, your long arm pruners and your pruning saw, and if in doubt, get advice before you snip!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


For all serious veggie gardeners who want to have chemical free plants that actually grow better and are better for you, and even taste like veggies used to taste, try reading the best ever gardening book, "Seasonal Tasks For The Practical Australian Gardener" by the gardening guru himself, (not me) Peter Cundall.

The book covers a whole year in the garden, week by week showing tasks to do, how to do them, when and why. It covers not only what veggie seeds or seedlings to plant, but also flowers, shrubs, trees, even landscaping. It also deals with tasks such as pruning roses and fruit trees, preparing garden beds, creating compost and using various types of organic matter as mulch. It is easy reading and not in complicated terminology.

Peter is the champion of home grown remedies, whether it be for garden pests, plant diseases or just for plants that are feeling poorly. These remedies are easy to concoct and mainly consist of everyday, cheap to obtain items. Above all, no nasty chemicals!

For those who have visited our garden and have expressed the necessary oohs and aahs, (which are appreciated), please remember it is the hand of Peter Cundall that is behind our success.

The only problem will be getting a copy of the book, it was published by McPhee Gribble - Penguin Books Melbourne in 1989, it may be available on EBay or through your local library, in any event it is very worthwhile tracking it down.

Mick W

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Fruit Trees

Having just purchased a 30,000 litre water tank I am feeling re-inspired about putting in new fruit trees at our place this winter. I am of course hoping it will rain over this time and actually fill with water!
So I am looking for advice from my fellow basketeers on tried and tested varieties of fruit trees that you would recommend. My husband Michael is also keen on growing a fig tree so not sure if there is anything I should know about this tree?
Hoping to hear back from you,

Sunday, June 6, 2010


At the June Harvest Basket Lizzie was asking for a grapefruit marmalade recipe as she has lots of grapefruits this year. I haven't tried this one but it is from a good source. Here it is.

Grapefruit Marmalade
2 kg grapefruit
4 litres water
6 kg sugar

Cut the grapefruit into quarters, remove the seeds and white centres and slice the fruit finely. Put the pips and centres into a small basin with a little of the water. Cover the grapefruit with the rest of the water and stand for 24 hours. Next day pour the water off the pips and add to the fruit. Put into pan and boil for 1 hour. Add the sugar and boil until fruit is soft and will set when tested. Bottle and seal.

Someone brought mandarins to the june Harvest Basket. I'm sorry I don't know who it was but they said the fruit was cumquats but I am pretty sure they are mandarins. Yummy anyway. Today I followed a recipe for Mandarin Marmalade that I have not made before. It was a bit of a fiddle as I had to boil the fruit until the liquid was reduced to half and then measure it and add cup for cup in sugar. It seemed like a lot of sugar but it seems to have turned out alright. However in future I will stick to my lemon marmalade recipe for mandarins. No fiddle with
that one. I will bring some jars of the marmalade I made today to the July Harvest Basket.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lots of Lemons

One minute we had no lemons on our tree and the next the tree is full of lemons that have all ripened at once. If this is also true for you, here are a couple of ideas for using some of them. Tried and true recipes we use all the time.

Lemon Cordial
1.5kg caster sugar
zest and juice of 7 or 8 lemons
1/4 cup citric acid
1 litre boiling water

Combine all ingredients in a pyrex or heat-proof china bowl (not metal). Stir until sugar is dissolved. Cover and stand over night.
Strain into sterilized bottles. I find it makes about 3 wine bottles worth.

Don't throw away the zest that is left over. It is yummy on ice-cream or stirred into plain yoghurt and keeps for quite a while covered in the fridge. 

Lemon Marmalade
6 lemons
7 cups boiling water
6 cups sugar

Slice lemons and cover with boiling water. Let stand overnight. Cook gently until rinds are soft, approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Add sugar, stir until dissolved and quickly boil 25 - 45 minutes or until fruit will gel. Put into sterilized jars.

I find it usually takes about 35 minutes and makes about 8 jam jars worth.

I have used the same recipe for limes as well as mandarins and it has worked just as well. I've also made lemon and lime.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tomatoes galore

It's the end of May and tomatoes are still ripening in our garden. Not many, but enough to make me procrastinate about pulling out the vines. They'll have to go soon, though, to make way for the broad beans.

Everyone I've spoken to in the Geelong area to seems to have had great tomatoes this year. We've had the perfect summer for it, with decent rainfall and warm weather without searing heatwaves to frazzle the vines.

I always grow my tomato plants from seed, and always heirloom varieties, which crop for longer and (I think) have more taste. I grew Tommy Toe and Amish Paste varieties this year (seeds from Diggers Club).

Tommy Toe is the mainstay of our tomato crop each year: they grow like weeds in our garden and the fruit is great for sauces, salads, on pizzas - you name it. Amish Paste was a first-time experiment. Despite the rather unappetising name, they're a good medium-large slicing tomato, sweet with low acidity.

Amish Paste do seem prone to blossom-end rot, though, and I lost a large part of the early crop, yet no trouble with the Tommy Toes right next to them! Regular doses of Tomato Magic seemed to help correct the problem, but I doubt this is an allowable organic input, so next year I'll try harder to get the soil calcium right before I plant.

Speaking of soil prep, I've never lost a tomato plant to wilt or nematodes since I started growing mustard as a bio-fumigant two years ago. (The young leaves of the mustard make a nice spicy salad crop too.) Sow in winter, then, before the mustard flowers in the spring, smash it down and dig it in. You can plant tomatoes into the bed within a couple of weeks. Works for me.

Tomato sauce recipe (works best with small, sweet tomatoes like Tommy Toe):
  • Enough whole fresh tomatoes to cover the base of a roasting tin or ovenproof dish
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (we always get ours direct from Lighthouse on Anderson Road)
  • A good pinch of sea salt
  • Fresh oregano or cinnamon basil leaves
  • A couple of cloves of garlic
  • Optional: a glug of vino cotto, balsamic vinegar (don't overdo it) or red wine

Roll the tomatoes and herbs in the oil to make sure they're well covered. (Go on, get your hands oily!) Put in a preheated oven at about 180 C for 90 minutes or until the liquid is starting to reduce and the tomatoes are caramelised on top. Leave to cool, then whizz up in a food mixer. Will keep in the fridge for 7 days, or freeze in small containers.

I've never bothered sieving the tomatoes, though you could if you wanted a smooth paste.

Alternatively, just serve the whole tomatoes hot from the oven with roast meat or with pasta.

Hi Basketeers!

Welcome to the Drysdale Harvest Basket blog!

I've set up this blog to provide Drysdale Harvest Basket members (and the wider gardening community) with the opportunity to discuss home veg and fruit growing and any other topics relating to our monthly Harvest Basket meetings.

So, if you want to swap recipes, share knowledge or get advice, post a comment below.

(All comments are moderated, so there will be a delay before your comment appears on the blog.)

Steve W