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.