Posted on

Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Tomato seed is probably the easiest seed for a gardener to germinate and it is not unusual for gardeners to base their gardening confidence on success with this fruit.
Some insist that the seeds need to be soaked before planting but this is unnecessary and it is highly possible to damage seed when taking it from a soft submersive environment to a coarse soil one.
Sowing in soil, fill your pot, tamp it down lightly, spread your seed, sprinkle seed raise mix over the seed to cover it, water gently and then leave them alone to do what they do best.
Preparing for planting
Tomatoes must be planted in full sun—they don’t like shade at all! Like most vegetables, tomatoes do best in relatively loose soil rich in organic matter.
If you don’t have soil like this, you’ll want to work in some compost, composted manure, or another soil amendment a week or more before planting into the bed(s) where your tomatoes will be planted.
Many growers use plastic mulch for their tomatoes because the plastic can increase yields, reduce disease, and give you an earlier crop with little or no weeding. You do not need to use plastic to have healthy, productive tomatoes, but if you don’t you will want to mulch with something else (leaves, straw, cardboard, etc.) to prevent weed problems.
On the day of planting, you should have some tools (a trowel and a hose connected to water), and some organic fertilizer handy.
Plant spacing
It’s tempting to plant tomatoes too close together because they’re small when you transplant them.
If you do this, your plants will compete with each other for light, water, and nutrients and/or grow into each other such that harvesting is difficult.
Most tomato varieties should be planted at least 60 cm apart, and 90 cm is better. Cherry tomatoes should be planted 1.2m apart.
Care after planting
Once your tomatoes are planted, they don’t need much care besides caging or staking and perhaps occasional watering.
If you have used plastic mulch, you may not need to weed at all. If you haven’t, you will want to weed around them thoroughly until mid-November and then mulch.
All tomatoes should be caged or staked and tied beginning shortly after transplanting. Cages are simplest and work well, but ONLY IF you buy or make cages that are tall enough and strong enough to hold up a mature tomato plant.
The short, narrow wire style (about 60 cm tall, with three little pieces you stick into the ground) sold in many garden supply stores are completely useless for most common tomatoes.
Though you can buy good cages, the best cages are homemade wire cages made of concrete reinforcing wire or woven-wire stock fencing. If made properly, these can be used for many years (and you can store them in the garden over the winter).

Posted on

Grow Your Own Spice (1)

 We are very fortunate, living in Australia, especially all the way down the east coast, to have what is generally regarded as a ‘mild’ climate.
I say this seriously as, when compared to many European or American climates, it’s just lovely here if you are a gardener or if you just like to grow good food.
Many years ago I started to notice that the quality of cooking spices was declining and, rather than just accept inferior taste, I decided that if I could grow my own I could only blame myself if the taste of my food was not up to scratch.
Thanks to our developing cultural diversity, we now have access to many of the spices that had always been regarded as too exotic to contemplate having in the garden. Now, the possibilities are endless especially with the newest range of spices that we are being introduced to……Native Australian Spices! Who would have thought??? (More about them in another post)

The backyard garden is generally perfect to maintain a comprehensive spice garden.
Some spices require long term commitment to grow but many are so easy to keep and harvest that it is convenient to replace the flower garden with a beautiful, architectural, spice garden.

Let’s start with Ginger.
What a precious gem in any garden.
Ginger, Zingiber officinale is a tough plant and, once established will just continue to grow and spread, year after year, supplying a good steady supply of rhizome, in and out of season.
Ginger needs to have a well dug garden bed to start with and responds well to regular mulching but will do quite well anyway if you forget.

It responds really well to thunderstorms and rain and creates a lovely backdrop for a layered garden, looks great around a pool or verandah and, after a few years it will establish a wonderful screen.
During Autumn it will die back which is your cue to harvest some rhizome but there is no need to dig it all up at once, it keeps extremely well underground until you need it. Just take what you need and leave the rest to nature.

Turmeric, Curcuma domestica is similar in many ways in the garden.
It is a visually pleasing garden addition and different enough to Ginger to grow with it as a companion. It’s broad generous leaves are bright green and add a touch of opulence to the garden. Turmeric requires little attention apart from a regular watering and occasional mulching. Turmeric can be used straight out of the garden, fresh, or can be boiled and dried as it is treated this way to supply the powdered spice.

One more wonderful spice that shares many of the garden attributes of both ginger and turmeric is Galangal.
Galangal, Alpinia galanga has the same growth habit but with one advantage over the previous two in that it will stay green and active during winter in most areas of Australia.
If it is particularly cold and dry, it will adopt a dormant state, but generally it hangs around all year.
The wonderful rhizome can be dug as required but should be used sparingly as it is quite a potent spice. The dry root was once powdered and used extensively as a snuff.

Now that the background is achieved, your garden needs some lower spices to delight you.
One of the best and most luxuriant and impressive mid height spices to plant is Piper sarmentosum, often called ‘Betel Leaf Pepper’. This pepper will slow down during winter in most states but usually never becomes truly herbaceous. The leaves are it’s prize offering to your dinner plate and as a wrap for steaming it is unbeaten.
Betel Leaf Pepper requires a good loamy soil and thrives with constant mulching. It has large, generous glossy leaves that make you look like a great gardener at any time of the year.
It adds a very special peppery flavour to many seafood dishes and even though the fruit and the leaves will dry well for later use, there is rarely any need as fresh is almost always available.
While we are on the subject of peppers it is worth mentioning both Black Pepper, Piper nigrum and Long Pepper, Piper longum.
These pepper plants do require a reasonably controlled environment and do best where summers are hot. They both need cool roots during summer, so, as with Betel Leaf Pepper, regular mulching and watering are essential during summer.
Many suburban gardens are able to grow these plants as the nature of the micro climates created by the architecture of the suburbs, allows more control and protection from many of the damaging elements. As long as the soil is moist to dry during winter, they will survive well.

One more medium height spice that is so easy to grow and will continue to provide it’s much loved root for many years is Horseradish.
This old favourite needs a good wet Spring but apart from that is easy to grow and maintain.
It is suited to the Australian climate and necessary for the Euro-Australian diet.

For the lower levels of your spice garden there are some lovely Asian newcommers to the spice scene.
Firstly a very interesting and easy to grow spice is Kencur , Kaempferia galanga.
Kencur is perfect for the backyard, large patio pot or shadehouse and is always rewarding to grow. The low, ground-hugging leaves can get to the size of a dinner plate and then it produces stemless orchid like flowers directly from the root. It can be harvested at any time but is at it’s most pungent in Autumn and Winter.
The leaves die back and that is you cue to lift the plant and thin out the fleshy roots.
The plant can be re-planted, just leaving the knob slightly out of the ground, so that next year the process will repeat.
Another low growing Asian spice that is gaining popularity is Vap ca, Houttuynia cordata.
Vap ca is one of those spices that people either love or hate.
It’s slightly fish like aroma lends itself beautifully to seafood dishes and the leaves can be used raw or steamed in the dish.
Vap ca is a spreading groundcover that will occupy any space that you give it. It prefers only 3-4 hours of sun a day and will survive with much less as long as it is kept moist. Again, easy to grow and use all year through.

Another that comes to mind as an easy to grow spice is Krachai or Chinese Keys, Boesenbergia rotunda, which is best grown in a moist environment that is usually quite easy to achieve on the back porch.

Posted on

Winter can be Green too!

Ya gotta love Winter in the garden!

After the onslaught of the Australian summer and it’s ever changing gifts of unbearable heat, stifling humidity, unpredictable storms, and drying winds we are greeted in late Autumn by a slight chill in the air and the promise of, at last, being able to spend an hour or so in the yard without melting into a puddle of sweat.

Now, while many plants take this opportunity to become dormant, it leaves plenty of room for the ones that could never cope with the heat.
I often hear gardeners complaining that they hate the way their gardens look barren and wasted over winter but ours are always so full of colour and especially ‘green’ that it’s hard to tell the difference.

Winter is especially wonderful for the vegetable gardener.
It’s time to plant the best greens for the table, such as, Mustard Greens, Miners Lettuce, Corn Salad, Celery, Fennel, Broad Beans and Cos Lettuce.

Then, there are Culinary herbs that enhance everything that you cook during winter, such as, Coriander, Parsley, Rocket, Chervil and Chives.

And, there’s more.
Winter vege’s that you cannot live without are, Kale, Kolrabi, Radish, Leeks, Onion and Silverbeet. Siberian Tomato, Tatsoi, Pak choi, and Sugarbeet,

In the medicine garden, we sow Herb Robert, Borage, Cinqfoil, Dandelion, Fenugreek, German Chamomile, Common Mallow, Mustard (Yellow and Black), Calendula, Red Clover, Mullein, Stinging Nettle and Lupins.

For fruit we sow, Goji and Cape Gooseberry (Inca Berry).

but best of all…’s PEA season.
Now, I know that there are a lot of pea varieties available but we have narrowed down our preferences over the years to ensure that we have as much as possible for as long as possible.
Greenfeast is our favourite dwarf variety.
It bushes up nicely but rarely grows higher than 50cm. Perfect for large tubs or in front of other taller varieties.

For the full ‘pod and all’ effect in a dwarf variety we really enjoy Sugar Ann. It crops quite low as well and is literally straight off the bushes and onto the plate.

If you are layering your vegetable garden then just one step back from the Greenfeast or Sugar Ann you can sow the Bikini Snow Pea.
These are low climbers, rarely growing above 1 metre tall and they bush up beautifully.
We prefer to grow them on a low trellis so that we never miss a pod.
You can harvest these at almost any age and the taste and texture is fantastic.

Next step back at the rear of the garden is a sturdy trellis that will support the Mammoth Melting Moment variety.
This is also a Snow Pea and you can enjoy the pod and all. Ours routinely grow well over 2 metres, so it is necessary to convince them not to go any higher than the top of the frame.
Mammoth have a long season and are really worth the extra space that they require.

Because we believe that you can never have too many peas, we are very partial to varieties that just go on and on.
Probably the longest lived and consistently abundant variety is the very old fashioned, heirloom variety called the Field Pea.
These peas grow and look more like the festive Sweet Pea, in that the flowers have a wide colour range.

They bush up on a trellis or against a wall and will have a complete display of flower, young pod and mature pod at any one time.
They seem to be forever producing and every day there will be something to pick.
The flowers are also a wonderful edible addition to your plate and they taste just like the peas that they will become.

Towards the end of their long season, they are still producing pods regularly and, if you allow them to begin to dry on the vine, you can store them as dried peas to re-hydrate as you wish during the ‘off’ season.

Kept in this way, they are perfect for sprouts.
They will germinate quickly from the first soaking and are very nutritious pea sprouts. Because the bushes are so generous, it is easily possible to enjoy them right through the year.

While I am on the subject of heirloom varieties, I cannot forget to mention the fabulous Prussian Blue Pea.
Probably the oldest of the traceable pea varieties, Prussian Blue is a prolific producer that is tough enough to bear for just about any gardener.

First catalogued in the 1700’s, it’s name comes from it’s geography, in Prussia, rather than the tenuous connection to the vague green blue tint of the dried pea.
It is delicious as fresh pea but it’s real strength is that once dried, it will store for years for re-hydration later.
Ideal for Pea soups or simply pea salad, it is a reliable favourite.
Being one of the easiest vegetables to grow, the Prussian Blue is perfect for kids to start with.
It can be grown easily in a container but it will need some support to climb on.

As with the Field Pea, the season is very long and therefore well worth the space that you allow for them.

All peas produce terrific much as well so at the end of their season, they can go back into the garden to provide nutrition for the Spring planting.