Friday, March 9, 2012

Raised Beds- Progress Report

And progress is good! The plants seem to be loving the raised beds, despite the majority of the growing media being a mixture of dried weeds, prunings and crummy soil with a 10-15 cm final layer of good soil, compost and old (used) potting mix. I haven't bought anything for it -no manures, sugarcane trash or lucerne, but I have included nitrogen rich leaves from Black Locust trees. (These are thorny and sucker badly, I don't recommend them for a backyard but they were well established here when we moved in.)

I've planted things much closer than usually recommended, and I'm hoping that being raised will buy me a bit more time as the corn, beans, tomatoes, basil and capsicums in the beds are very late in their season. We've had such an odd, cool summer and needing to do lots of bed preparation work really slowed me down with plantings. But next year I should have much more garden space ready for just quick refreshing/weeding and then plant.

The supermarket dried bean mix that I planted is doing very nicely, but soup mix packets give you cooking instructions not growing instruction.s so I had no idea if the beans would be bush, climbing or  a mixture. Some of these are definitely wanting to climb so I'll push in some twiggy branches for them to grab. The black eyed beans at the front of the photo look like they're a bush variety, but they're being slower to flower than the other sorts- just starting over the last few days. They're a good tasting, good textured bean so I hope they produce soon.

Pea Trellis the Old Fashioned Way

My husband came out the other day and found me busy weaving up a pea trellis out of plum, apple and grapevine prunings like you see in English gardening books- so of course he had fun taking some photos. I've planted Golden Podded Peas, Yukomo Giant snowpeas, Oregon Dwarf snowpeas down in front of the trellis and a row of Johnny-Jump-Up (Heartsease) violas between the two rows of climbing peas, where they'll hopefully make an attractive groundcover- and if I feel like it, their flowers are edible too.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Cardboard Roll Seedlings

Problem: If I start small seedlings directly in the garden I get a high fatality rate due to snails or hot days when the seedlings are too small to take it, but lettuce, root vegs…well most things really, grow better if they don't have their roots disturbed by transplanting.

Solution: Half toilet paper rolls placed on a seedling tray, filled with seedling mix, 1-3 seeds planted into each one. That way I can get the seedlings established in good soil without weed competition and plant them out to ideal spacing roll and all, minimal or no root disturbance.I've grown flower seedlings, carrots and cucumbers this way, and am currently planting winter leafy greens and brassicas (cabbage and broccoli family). 

A cut down soft drink bottle makes an excellent funnel to fill the rolls. As plants are set out in the garden I can add fresh rolls to the tray, and any that don't germinate I replant with something else. Preferably a recognisably different plant so that I can tell if the older seed has decided to come up belatedly.

I don't use snail pellets, because we've got native frogs, bluetongue lizards and lots of birds around our garden. If they eat the poisoned snails it can in turn kill them. Instead I put food tins with the top and bottom cut out around the seedlings as a barrier. Some still get eaten, but it cuts the losses dramatically. If I'm really determined to protect something I put some mesh e.g. flyscreen or bits of stocking over the top of the tin. This lettuce seedling is one I've just planted complete with it's cardboard roll "pot". 
Now my remaining problem is sourcing enough cardboard rolls!

Soil Rehab

I've started a roadside "pottager" out the front of our house, but most of the plants have really struggled due to the poor soil. It consists of: weedy grasses (chiefly kikiyu), over poor dusty soil with some builder's sand and gravel in it, over hard packed in quartz stones (up to fist sized), over dense black clay. Fair enough, for the last 150+ years it has been a road so I couldn't really expect fertile loam, but it is worse than I'd realised. We've got a typical goldrush era wide road, would have originally been dirt with gravel topping. The main town roads were made wide enough that a bullock cart would have enough space to turn around. Now it's 2 lanes width of bitumen down the middle with weedy dirt verges on either side deep enough to angle park a car with a bit over a metre to spare- so my garden bed is about 1m wide. That way when the town fills up on Booktown weekend there's still adequate parking space.  

I'm sifting the soil with the setup pictured- shovel the soil into the sieve and rock the pot around until it falls through. Any clods need to be broken up by hand. I'll be refilling the hole it came from with assorted organic matter and compost layered in with the sifted soil as per "no dig garden" recommendations (although this garden is anything but ;/). I've always planted such gardens immediately on completion and haven't had any drastic problems with either settling or nitrogen draw down.

The gravel and rocks are being put to good use elsewhere making paths and building up our gravel driveway. Big chunky ones down the bottom topped off with the smaller stuff. The garden bed next to our path is one I'm preparing for my 7 y.o. daughter. She says the santa statuette is her garden gnome. :) As good a use as any for it I guess. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Besser Block Bean Bed

Dare you to try saying that six times quick!
The beans I planted in here are all soup varieties, not easy to find as seed packets but very easy to find if you buy a plastic bag of bean soup mix from the supermarket. I sorted out the various bean types- haricot (white), red kidney, stripy borlotti beans and black eyed beans. All have had good germination. Over winter I'm planning to grow blue boiler soup peas (more starchy than fresh pea varieties). Forget the split peas of course because being hulled and split in half all they'll do is compost, but with some looking around the whole ones do turn up sometimes.
Next year I'd like to try mung and adzuki beans as well, which I think our friendly Indian grocer in Ballarat sells. I did try growing lentils a few years ago, but they're very fiddly with lots of tiny little pods holding two lentils each! We don't really eat chickpeas so won't bother with them. I'd be curious to try the big white lima beans but I've read that they need a long growing season so I'd have to be ready to get them into the ground immediately after last frost and even then it might be risky.

I'm still planting green bush beans in the garden which will hopefully just make it to maturity before our first frost. It's too late for climbing varieties which take longer to mature. I'll be putting in my last few plantings over the next few days then switching to the pea family instead.

I've got bean beds all over the place. I figure they'll be improving the soil as they grow so I'm using them to establish/re-establish veggie beds. This one below is busy reclaiming a strip in a weedy corner. I'm also growing pumpkins among the weeds.

 I let things get a bit deliberately wild down the back of our yard to blend into the creek area. Native trees and shrubs plus a few drought hardy but non invasive exotics, and only the tough veggies planted between them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


This is my Yacon plant. It's a South American vegetable related to Jerusalem Artichokes. It's meant to grow to 2m tall with a spread of 2m. As you can see from this photo, mine is "sulking" :( But then my pumpkin and zucchini etc. were also sulking until recently and have only over the last few weeks started flowering and putting on some growth, so maybe it's still going to take off for me. I'm looking forward to trying the roots, which have been described as crispy and sweet like carrot or apples.
The bottle behind it is my watering system. I've punched holes in the base and buried it about 1/3 into the compost/soil that the yacon's growing in, so that I can fill it up with the hose and have the water come out at the roots.
I'm on frost countdown- we usually get a "killing" frost about the end of April, and maybe some mild 0-1 degree frosts a bit earlier. So anything in the open ground needs to mature before then. Thus, despite the current hot weather, it's time to get moving planting crops for winter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Yummy Plums!

So who said seedling trees are a waste of time? :) These gorgeous fruit are from self seeded trees in our garden that I left to grow, just in case. Yes, they took a few years to reach fruiting size, but they got there! The yellow plum is small and freestone (the fruit separates easily from the stone) so has proven to be very good for cutting in half for drying or other preserving methods. The red one is a proper blood plum with sweet deep red fruit, possibly grew from seeds from a supermarket plum. It's about half the size of the ones on the supermarket shelves but that's still big enough.

I've been using a damaged wheelbarrow covered in glass and a net curtain as a dehydrator. It's working very well.

Other uses for the plums have included plum cordial and plum icecream as well as lots of them eaten fresh- breakfast for a few weeks now has been a half toasted muffin and a bowl full of fresh stone fruit (apricots, peaches, plums) maybe with some tinned fruit too and a blob of cream. Yum!
The apricots have finished for the year as have the early peaches (Goldmine variety) but the late peaches (seedling trees again) are still ripening.

Pick a large saucepanful of plums. Just barely cover with water and stew gently. Strain the juice- I put the pulp through a colander first to get out the stones and skin, then put the rest through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. Measure the juice into a saucepan, and for every two cups add two cups of sugar and a teaspoonful of citric acid. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 mins. Bottle, store in fridge unless you can sterilise it in a Fowler's kit or similar. Fairly strong, use at about 1:6 concentration or to taste.  

Keep the pulp for other recipes- jam, sauce or my aforementioned icecream. 

Whip 300ml. of cream. Separate 4 eggs, beat the whites until stiff and add the yolks to the pulp with sugar to taste- probably 2-3 tablespoons. Combine whites, cream and fruit mixture. If you have an icecream machine use according to instructions. I just put it in a container in the freezer and stir it up every hour until set. 
RAW EGG WARNING: If you're pregnant or for any other reason worried about listeria, you can heat up the fruit mixture gently until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, then cool and proceed with final steps. Can't do anything about heat treating the whites though. The raw egg method is no more hazardous than chocolate mousse made with raw eggs, but use your own judgement as to whether you feel safe with this recipe (or ask a doctor).

Asparagus Peas

This is a veggie with a difference that I'm trying for the first time this year. Not the same as Winged Bean, which is a tropical plant in the Lotus family, and would not like our sometimes chilly climate at all! I didn't have much seed and some of the plants which I started early in pots didn't transplant well, so I'll only have a small "taster" harvest this year. I'm planning on saving some of the seed to try again next year with hopeful wisdom gained from this year's experience. 

Raised Beds

There's a patch near our back door that's never really grown anything for one reason or another. I recently decided to bring it into production so started digging it over...or trying to anyway. Turned out the soil profile consists of about 10-15 cms. of poor soil over a layer of bitumen over a layer of decaying concrete over fist sized rocks. Yeek! Not exactly ideal.

So I've somewhat broken up the old bitumen etc. to give a semblance of drainage then built up instead of digging down. I've used a previously tried temporary measure of filling cardboard boxes with layers of soil and organic matter (crummy soils down the bottom, better stuff for the top 15 cms.) then planting. Yes the boxes do decay but by that time the organic matter has also broken down, the bed is only about half the height and can have a more lasting edging put on it. I've planted a mixture- corn, beans, capsicums, lettuce, tomatoes, basil and some cosmos. All doing well.

The top layer of compost I used has a lot of seed in it- both
ordinary weeds and grasses and self seeded plants like borage, fennel, calendulas, tomatoes and coriander. Most of these are getting weeded out but I'm transplanting the tomatoes (just in case they fruit before our first frost) and I'm leaving the coriander alone. It doesn't transplant well and I don't have enough growing.

Behind the cardboard boxes is a more conventional raised bed using besser blocks as edging. eventually we plan to use these for construction purposes but they won't suffer for being useful while we store them. This bed was half finished in the photo (with temporary metal divider); I've now finished the other half and I'm waiting for the bean seeds I've planted to come up- drying varieties for winter soups.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Busy Days

Have been absent from blogging for a while. Life's been a bit too "interesting".

Just over a year ago our garden looked like this when the creek behind our place reached the highest level it's got to in over 100 years. Possibly the most water to come downstream since white settlement.
Didn't do our carpets much good but gave the garden and the local wildlife a good boost. For the first time in 10 years I've been finding green frogs in our garden, and the more common pobblebonk frogs and brown frogs have been breeding too.

So now I'm getting stuck into the garden with a vengeance! Have set myself a project of using up a lot of seed that's been sitting longer than it should have, renovating neglected beds and creating new beds. My latest is a batch of 30 besser blocks bought for renovation work that I've temporarily diverted to grow soup beans (French Flagelot, borlotti, lima, red kidney, black eyed). Have marked my calendar with a countdown to the likely first frost date (late April usually) so I figure I've got about 14 weeks to get them grown and harvested. They should just make it.