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When Spring approaches….

Now, we are on the tail end of Winter and it was a dry one for most of the country, but, on the positive side, the cold, dry atmosphere will have decimated a lot of pupating and developing pests that seem to take the wonderful edge off a good Spring.
For many gardeners Winter will have left the Vege and Herb gardens a little worse for wear, but these things are easily remedied with a pair of cutters, digging fork and the wheelbarrow.
Now is a great time to sow your Spring Annuals to ensure a bumper crop. Coriander, Basil, Tomatoes, Parsley, Chives, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Beans, Strawberry, Nasturtium, Chinese Greens and Asparagus.
If frost and chilly mornings are still on the cards, then be sure to sow your seed indoors or at least out of the wind and frost.
Sowing early will ensure that you will use efficiently the best part of Spring for robust growth. Don’t be tempted to fertilise just yet though as the plants can only use it when they are naturally active.
For edible Spring Flowers, sow Borage, Calendula, Heartsease, Nasturtium and Sage.
For Chinese Stir fry and salad, sow Pak Choi, Mizuna, Radish, Birds Eye Chilli and Bitter Melon.

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Companion Planting

It is true you know that good neighbours create a great Garden.

Experiment with companion planting as there are some very unusual combinations that exist outside of the usual suspects.

Here are some that we have have noticed but the list will grow as our observation increases.

Alfalfa Everyone except tomatoes.
Angelica Nettle and Dill.
Anise Coriander, Peppers, eggplant,  lettuce, kale, cabbage and beans.
Basil Tomato, peppers, oregano and asparagus.
Borage Beans, strawberry, eggplant, cucumber, squash, tomatoes and cabbage.
Caraway Strawberries, peas, radishes, beans, corn.
Catnip Eggplants.
Chamomile Cabbage and kale, cucumber, onion.
Chervil Radish, lettuce and broccoli.
Chives Carrots, tomatoes, brassica family, melons, peppers, lettuce, pumpkin and spinach .
Comfrey Around established Trees.
Coriander Anise, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, tomato, beans, peas, potatoes, nasturtiums, corn, catmint and roses.
Dill Brassicas, broccoli, cabbage, corn, eggplant, fennel, lettuce, onions, cucumbers.
Fennel Does not play well with other herbs and Vege. Keep it on it’s own.
Flax Carrots and potatoes.
Garlic Peas, brassicas, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, parsley, Chinese cabbage and potatoes.
Hyssop All Brassicas.
Lavender Chamomile, lettuce, brassicas, onions, tomatoes, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary, basil, lemon balm and squash.
Lemon Balm All mints, basil, oregano, chives, tomatoes, lettuce, okra, cabbage, carrots, radish, squash, berries, fruit trees, rock melon, watermelon, marjoram, sage, thyme and parsley.
Lemon Grass Most herbs and vegetables.
Lemon Verbena Alfalfa, lemon grass, fruit trees and other herbs.
Marjoram Eggplant, carrots, cucumber, peppers, loofahs, pumpkins, radish, strawberries and tomatoes.
Mint Brassica family
Oregano Tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, cabbage and cucumbers.
Parsley Asparagus, corn, beans, broccoli, carrots, celery, kale, lettuce, spinach, strawberries and tomatoes.
Peppermint Alliums, brassicas, cabbage, peas, tomatoes – in general the same as mint.
Rosemary Cabbages, beans, brassicas, carrots, thyme and sage.
Rue Goji’s and lavender.
Sage Brassicas, rosemary, kale, cabbage, beans,  carrots, strawberry, tomato, marjoram.
Spearmint Onions and Garlic’s, cabbage, peas and tomatoes.
Stinging nettle Chamomile, mint,tomatoes, valerian, angelica, marjoram, sage and peppermint.
Tarragon Everyone.
Thyme Lavender, cabbage, onion, sage, tomato, eggplant, salad burnet, potatoes and strawberries.
Valerian Mints, bee balm, chamomile, calendula and other flowers.
Wormwood (Artemisia) Brassicas and carrots.
Yarrow Cucumbers, lemon verbena, marjoram and oregano, corn, melons, roses, tomatoes.

 

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Common Germination Problems.

The most common causes of seeds not germinating are:
1. Soil was too heavy (Clay).
2. Soil was allowed to dry out. (Only once is enough to kill the emerging seed)
3. Seeds were not given enough time to germinate before sower gave up. (Many seeds
have slow or erratic germination.)

The most common causes of seedling loss are:
1. Damping off, caused by over watering or fungi.
2. Using containers that don’t hold enough soil. (Containers need to be at least 6cm deep and
filled to the top with seed-raise mix.)
3. Using potting mix, common garden soil, or previously used soil. (It’s best to start fresh
each time to avoid fungi, etc.)
4. Insufficient air circulation.
5. Planting in previously used containers that were not properly cleaned. (Wash containers in
a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water before re-using.)
6. Overcrowding. If you’ve planted too many seeds and they’re all competing for space and resources.
7. Introducing seedlings to full sun or outdoor conditions too quickly (not “hardening off”).

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Pumpkins and Squash

Pumpkins are not particularly recommended for small gardens because of the plants’ size but they are not difficult to grow and are fun for children.
Pumpkins are closely related to winter squash and to other vine crops like cucumbers. They are also grown very much like winter squash.
Pumpkins can be eaten cooked, either boiled, steamed, baked, or microwaved.
Large varieties grown for carving at Halloween tend not to be flavorful and don’t store well.
Smaller traditional varieties are better for eating on their own, for use in pies, and for storage.
Most pumpkins, when they are mature develop a hard rind that resists pressure. In general, harvest pumpkins after the first frost kills the vines but before a hard frost.
Cut stems of mature pumpkins leaving a ‘stalk’ or handle if you intend to keep for a long period.
Store pumpkins in a warm, well-ventilated room to dry (or “cure”) for about a week, then store in a dry, cooler place for up to 6 months, checking regularly for soft rotting spots.
It is important to remember that Pumpkins are not at all fussy whose pollen the bees will deposit when they are ready accept.
For this reason many gardeners get quite a shock at the result of their harvest when it looks more like the bloke down the roads pumpkin than what was intended.
Sow the seed at the beginning of Spring and harvest in late Autumn.

Some varieties will very conveniently climb a trellis and bear fruit in air.

Ours often share an overhanging grape arbour which frees up quite a lot of space on the ground, all you need to do to help the fruit ripen to full maturity is to use an ‘onion bag’ to help the vine hold up the weight. As illustrated.

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Which Tomato to grow?

As with other crops, each tomato variety is either a variety bred in modern times (often a hybrid is the offspring of several very different varieties) or a traditional, open-pollinated variety unchanged since WW2  (We call that an “heirloom”). 
Within each of these two large groups, there are several importantly different types of tomatoes:

1) Slicers (large, fairly round tomatoes, often red, with a high water content, for use in sandwiches, etc.), 
2) Roma, plum, or Paste tomatoes (smaller, oval, with a lower water content, useful for drying or making tomato paste), and
3) Cherry or Pear tomatoes are small, bite-sized tomatoes of varied colors, shapes, and flavors, including yellow pear tomatoes and red cherry or grape tomatoes (good for eating whole, like grapes).

It’s good to know which of these you want before you plant!
Every tomato variety is also either determinate or indeterminate.
Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain size (about 1.2-1.5 m) and then stop growing.
All of their fruit becomes ripe in a short time window, usually about 2 weeks, and then the plants begin to die, producing no additional fruit.
Indeterminate tomato plants, by contrast, grow from the time you plant them until they are killed by frost, and can reach heights of 2-3 m if they are supported.
They produce and ripen new fruit steadily until frost.
Both indeterminate and determinate tomatoes need to be caged or staked, even so-called “dwarf” varieties.

Most (but not all) modern hybrid varieties are determinate, including most large red slicing tomatoes and most Roma or “paste” tomatoes.
Most (but not all) traditional or “heirloom” varieties are indeterminate.
Most (but not all) cherry tomatoes are indeterminate and can grow very, very tall.
Before you plant a tomato, find out it if it is indeterminate or determinate!
Many people are disappointed when their determinate tomato plants die in May or early June, even though it’s completely natural.

Information about tomato planting times.
Tomatoes have no frost tolerance and must be protected carefully if they are planted while there is still risk of frost.
It’s safest to wait until all risk of frost has passed before planting tomatoes.
Many growers plant a first planting of determinate tomatoes as early as possible, then put in a second planting of indeterminate tomatoes 4 to 6 weeks later.
The determinate tomatoes will yield a large amount of fruit quickly (good for summer canning, freezing, and eating), after which they stop producing and can be removed to make space for other crops. The indeterminate tomatoes start producing soon after and keep going until frost.

 

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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…..it’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.

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Growing Bitter Melon

Bitter Melon – Momordica charantia

The seeds are easy to strike with germination being very high with our fresh seed.
They can be germinated in a pot and planted out when they are old enough, or strike them where you hope they will grow and take it from there.
They prefer the weather a little cooler than is possible during summer. We usually plant when the heat of summer has eased but in mild climates, even late Autumn should be quite suitable.
It is best to strike them in full sun as they grow weedy and thin in the shade.
Place the pots in the garden where you intend to grow them for a week and then transplant them when they seem strong.
Don’t be too impatient at the start, as they are slow starters but once they begin to take off, there is no stopping them.
They are not big feeders so just a general sprinkling of fertilizer when they begin to flower is enough.
The seedlings of Bitter Melon need to be protected from chill, wind and strong sunlight.
They will not do well if kept constantly wet but suffer from drying out, so you can be a little fussy to start with but there is no need to be careful once they are mature.
We grow ours over large frames to allow them to climb as much as they wish
They can climb on and over fences and trellis’s or, to conserve space and resource we often plant them in the same bed as the pumpkins.
They begin to crop in roughly 60 days from germination and will continue to produce fruit until the plant is exhausted.
Fully mature, green fruit is ideal to consume and the best reliable indicator to maturity is that the seeds from white to pink.
Once the seed coating is red, the fruit is absolutely overripe and may be inedible.
Immature green fruit is often preferred for soups for frying and larger fruit is ideal for stuffing and baking.
They do not store well in the refrigerator and should not occupy the same space as tomatoes and bananas.
The cooked fruit really does drop sugar levels. Quite quickly too.
For continuous use during the year, it is best to create some chutney like spreads.

 

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