Aphids

Hi, my name is: Aphid

Describe yourself: I'm a real softy, small in size (around 2 - 3mm), with a shiny, transparent green or yellow body! I occasionally dress up in a white, woolly coat. I'm rarely seen on my own as I hang out in a pretty big group!  A particular version of me, the cabbage aphid, is more grey and particularly loves brassicas in winter.

Hobbies: Multiplying!!! Sucking sap; exuding honeydew; hanging out with ants which are attracted to the honeydew, encouraging sooty mould and passing viruses from plant to plant.  You'll often find yellow patches from these viruses on infected leaves.

Likes: Yellow flowers, warm moist environments, succulent new growth of just about every kind of plant (I really love roses, heaps of veggies, annuals and citrus trees).

Dislikes: Chives, coriander, garlic, onions, petunias and radishes. Soaps - like home made chilli soap, neem oil (Azadarachtin).  Don't get along with Ladybirds or Lacewings, Braconid Wasps, Hover Flies or Praying Mantis! Oh, and I hate sticky traps!  These predatory insects seem to be attracted by companion plants like Alyssum, Yarrow and Dill.

You'll know you've met me when: all your plants' new growth is seriously malformed; there are heaps of ants on the stems or plant parts are sticky from my honeydew. Oh, and yucky black sooty mold soon appears!

Breaking up ain't hard to do... if you:

  • Squash me and my mates by hand. It's icky but effective! Or pay your neighbours' kids to do the deed- they love squashing us!  In my death throes I emit a chemical signal that makes the other aphids take off quick smart!
  • Stop my ant friends from coming around by growing tansy or other ant repellent plants! Ants tend to our every need and protect us from garden bullies. Without their protection we are very vulnerable to being eaten!
  • Irritate me by putting a flattened square of aluminium foil around the base of plants to bounce light on the undersides of leaves.
  • Spray me with a home made garlic or chilli soap. Or make an insecticidal soap (2ml liquid Castille soap per 100 ml water) and target the underside of leaves.  Some claim that including mint tea in the water can also be helpful.
  • Suck me off with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Spray your plants' leaves with a strong jet of water (either with a hose or kitchen spray bottle) and knock me and my mates right off our perch!
  • Provide a bright yellow plastic dish, half filled with water, near my preferred plants.  I can't resist yellow things, but I can't swim either! You can work out the rest!

Photographs:

Pic 1: E Shallue, SGA
Pic 2: E Shallue, SGA
Pic 3: Bob O'Neil Purdue University


Produce in Pots

Plants in pots... it’s hardly a new or revolutionary concept... I mean, we are all well acquainted with the potted Maidenhair fern in the bathroom, a dusty 'Parlour Palm' struggling for life in the corner of the office, or the ubiquitous 'Peace Lily' given as a gift when we can’t think of anything better. But what about productive plants in pots? Imagine a 'movable feast' in your inner city courtyard, providing a fair amount of the food you love to eat? A bounty of beautiful herbs out by the BBQ, or tonnes of tumbling tomatoes at your townhouse? Just about anyone has room for a few pots at their place, and we reckon you will be amazed by just how much produce you can grow in just about any space!

Gone to Pot – Getting Started

Planting a productive potted plot is no different to getting going in a garden – it’s all about planning, position, potting mix, patience and productivity.

Position

This is all about the best position, not just for your plants, but for you as well.  Almost all edible plants will do best in a full sun spot, so spend a bit of time in your patch, and work out where the sun is at it’s most super!  Remember, this will vary considerably from winter to summer... but the beauty of planting in pots means you can move them as required to catch the rays!  Pop the pots somewhere convenient for you – the closer they are to the house, the more likely they are to be watered (very important) and eaten (also very important!).  Make sure that the pots are not blocking access ways, are not sitting in wind tunnels, and are not in the firing line of dogs, cats and wayward balls.

If you just can’t get the right pot position, why not consider going up, rather than down? There is a massive range of tasty treats that can be grown in hanging and wall pots, and this is often an excellent solution for light starved courtyards, or those spaces dominated by our little fur babies (yes, dogs and cats are cute, but they can be a gardener's nightmare!).  Turn the old Hills Hoist into a harvestable haven, or the side fence into a fresh food feast – they make excellent backyard features, and you’ll be the talk of the neighbourhood (in a good way)!

Planning

Containers look best when they're grouped together, with pots of all different shapes and sizes closely clustered.  It has a greater visual impact, cuts down on watering, creates some mini biodiversity and means you don't have to walk so far to enjoy a plethora of plants.  Group plants that require similar levels of watering together, bearing in mind that plants in terracotta pots will dry out a bit faster than others.  We know that pots can be pricey (no-one works in horticulture for the money), but check out our Renters Guide To Sustainable Gardening for some great tips for procuring pots.  The secret is to never let a pot pass you by... if you see a bargain (or even better, a freebie), grab it, you can always use it for something.

Potting Mix

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I have an unhealthy obsession with healthy soil (which is not a bad thing in itself, but does tend to make fairly boring dinner party conversation).  When planting productive pots, the growing medium is incredibly important, but the hot tip here is NOT to use garden soil in pots! Healthy garden soil contains a fantastic mix of microbes, bacteria, fungi and worms... which are great in the garden, but generally don’t perform that well in containers.  Garden soil in pots can often have significant drainage issues, and tends to go shabby pretty quickly.  The secret to awesome pots is to use a certified organic potting mix, and thankfully, there are now plenty of them around.  When opening bags of potting mix, it is important to be aware of the potential for harmful airborne critters to puff out of the bag and into your respiratory system, so consider wearing a mask, and wetting down the potting mix before handling.

Good organic potting mixes will break own over time, so you will need to refresh the pots with new potting mix every so often.  Oh, and don’t forget to mulch the tops of all pots with a straw based, locally sourced mulch, to slow down water loss, and prevent weed infestation.  As this stuff breaks down, your potting mix will be enriched with natural goodness, minimising the need for additional feeding, saving you both time and money.

Patience...

...is a virtue, so my mother tells me, but this is not always an easy thing to remember in the garden. Consider staggering the planting times of some of your edible favourites (that is, don’t plant 15 tomato plants at once), to prolong the harvest and therefore maximising the yield of your pots. Growing from seed is an excellent way to do this, and while it may be a slightly longer and more tedious process than using seedlings, the extended harvest and money saved may just make it worthwhile for you.  Plus, you can often collect and save the seed from many herbs and vegies from one year to the next, which is a good thing for the back pocket, and the planet. Use heirloom varieties whenever possible to ensure the seeds will be viable.

Productivity

Edible gardening is all about maximising productivity, and this is especially important in small space and container gardens.  The secret is to plant what you want to eat, and be familiar with plant families and Companion Planting. Depending on the size of your pot, you can often plant a number of different varieties of plant in the one container.

Here are a few suggestions for some winning containerised combinations!  Use these as a guide, remembering, the bigger the pot with these the better.  If your pots are a little small, use these combinations as suggested plantings for groups of pots... they’ll look great, and you’ll be amazed at just how many incredible edibles you’ll be able to fit into even the smallest space!

The Pasta Pot – One or two tomato plants at the back of the pot. Underplant these with some basil seedlings and a couple of marigolds. At the front of the pot, plant some trailing thyme, marjoram and / or oregano. These will soften the edge of the container, and mean that everything required for a perfect pasta or pizza is in one pot!  Plant this pot in spring / summer.

The Stir Fry – Underneath a Kaffir or Tahitian lime in a pot, plant some pick and come again Asian Greens (like Tatsoi, Bok and Pak Choi), and pop in some slow bolt coriander as well. If you don’t have a lime tree, why not use some snow peas as the vertical planting instead?  Grow these up a 'teepee', and underplant as above.  Plant this pot as required in autumn / winter.

The Kickin’ Curry Container – For any lover of home made curries... this container is a cracker!  In spring / summer, pop in an Eggplant (or two, if using the smaller Thai eggplants) at the back of the pot. These will need to be staked. Underplant with a Chilli, Spinach, Coriander, and a Curry plant or two, and you are set to whip up a super curry in a hurry.  Try this around September.  For a winter version replace the eggplant with cauliflower and the spinach with kale. Too easy and darned tasty!

The Season-All – This is a must have for any container gardener.  A bay tree in a nice big pot forms an attractive (but somewhat slow growing) centrepiece, surrounded by rosemary (either standard or trailing), thyme, tarragon, parsley and marjoram.  Once planted and established, you’ve got yourself an incredibly attractive, fairly drought tolerant, semi-permanent pot planting that will add interest both to the garden, and to your cooking!  Plant in spring / summer... and enjoy for ages!!

The Hot-Hot-Hot Pot - In a nice big pot (think half wine barrel size), pop in a capsicum at the back of the pot (remembering it may need to be staked).  Whack in a couple of trailing cherry tomatoes, a chilli or two (experiment with these, there are some real winners) and some marigolds for colour and companionship!  If you are so inclined, whack in some chives, and you’ve got yourself an instant Mexican feast in a pot!  Plant in spring / summer.

The Super Salad – This one is all about the lettuce, particularly the varieties that can be picked from continuously through their growing period.  Lob in some Lettuce under a teepee of peas, and pop in some rocket, silverbeet (or spinach depending on the season) and some chives, and you’ve got yourself the fixings of a nice, green salad!  Can be planted all year round, just keep the water up to this thirsty pot.

The BBC – Build a teepee, and plant a climbing bean or two. Underplant this by popping in a couple of cauliflower and broccoli seedlings, leaving about 30cm between them.  Interplant with a sage or two, and some dill.  These will enhance the flavour of the broccoli and cauliflower, and help keep Cabbage White Butterfly at bay.  Plant between April and August.

The Happy Apple – Miniature or 'Ballerina' apple trees are fantastic in pots, and with the right pollinators nearby, they can be incredibly productive.  Underplant these trees in pots with some nasturtium and chives, and you will have yourself a happy potted apple.  Plant anytime.

The Hanging Garden – There are so many great varieties of herbs and vegies that will do well in hanging baskets, but here are a few of my tried and true favourites: Strawberries, Tomatoes (in particular the cherry and “pot tumbler” varieties), thyme, marjoram, oregano, prostrate rosemary, mint and chamomile.

While these suggestions are awesome (if I do say so myself), they are by no means the only combinations possible.  Remembering the principles of backyard biodiversity and companion planting, you too can come up with your own cool containerised combination!


Cheap Tools are for Fools!

Like most people, I enjoy my gardening, but have to do so on a fairly tight budget (as they say, horticulture is a job you do for love, not money!). So, when it comes to garden tools, it used to be a case of 'the cheaper the better'. Not any more. I now buy the best I can afford, even if it means going without beer money for a week! Why? Well, there are a number of reasons, the first being that cheap garden tools just don't last, be they secateurs, shovels, shears, picks or loppers.

Why?

Longer lasting and money saving

Cheap, nasty cutting tools don't last, blunt quickly, are difficult to sharpen, rarely cut cleanly (thereby damaging plant tissue), and are more likely to injure you as you use excessive force to accomplish the job. I was replacing my cheap secateurs more often than I watered my pot plants - spending money, time, petrol and emitting carbon that I just couldn't afford. And don't even get me started on cheap shovels, mattocks and picks. In one afternoon alone I managed to bend the tines on a (new) fork, snap a shovel and axe handle, and crack the head of a mattock attempting to cultivate what was to become my veggie patch! Needless to say, I stopped buying cheap garden tools that day.

Environmental Impacts

The environmental impact of continually replacing cheap garden tools is astounding, and the main reason I now save up to buy the best tool I can. Consider the use of resources that go into the manufacture of most of the cheap, imported garden tools on the market, not too mention the (often) excessive packaging and transport costs. Embedded water, carbon emissions, and the significant contribution these broken tools make to landfill are reason enough to buy the best. So, while the initial outlay for some of these top of the range garden products can be a little daunting, consider the savings you are making in the long run. Good quality tools should last for years provided they are cared for.

Secateurs: Top quality secateurs (eg Felco) cut better, are easier to sharpen, are more comfortable to use, and easier to maintain. Look for handles with rubber shock absorbers and cushion to protect the wrist, toothed centre-nut for aligning the cutting and anvil blades easily and precisely for a clean, accurate cut. Remember to try the product out before you buy, and make sure it is the right size for your hands. Left handed gardeners should always choose left handed secateurs (eg Felco 9 and Felco 10).

Forks: for turning and breaking up clumps of soil, and aerating compost, forks are fantastic. Look for a fork with the tines drawn from a single piece of carbon steel and the shafts are made from hardwood. D-shaped handles are generally regarded as the most comfortable.

Shovels: this has a scooped blade (as opposed to the flat blade on a spade), which makes it suitable for moving garden material such as sand and dirt. Choose a size to suit you - small is right for most women, and medium is fine for the average man.

Select the proper handle length for a garden shovel, with the length of shovel handle dependent on the height of the user. A standard shovel handle length is 28 to 29 inches long and made of wood or metal, with wood being the preferred option, due to weight and durability. Opt for the garden shovel with a D-type hilt or handle instead of a Y-type hilt that could split if used for heavy loads.

Spades: this has a flat blade and is used for digging, cutting edges and dividing plants. The critical thing with spades is to keep them sharp (bevel the back edge off using a bench grinder or sharpening stone). Buy a stainless steel bladed shovel or spade for a lighter weight, non-rusting option, although a carbon steel blade is still the best all-around blade.

Loppers, Choppers and all things garden: for all the other garden tools around, it is vital you select the right tool for the job, and buy the best you can afford. Wolf-Garten, a German company, manufactures a great range of top quality garden tools with interchangeable handles, effectively increasing the versatility and usability of each tool. While the initial outlay may be high, the environmental and dollar savings are significant in the long run.

Using a diamond sharpening stone on secateurs is on of the best things you can do, and will reduce user effort and damage to plant tissue by keeping blades sharp. Clean and sharpen secateurs and loppers, and be sure to check blades carefully for rust, particularly if you've discovered the secateurs under a pot or abandoned in a garden bed! Careful use of steel wool and oil should restore good quality cutting blades to use.

If you buy the best quality tools you can afford and look after them, they will perform well for years. Don't leave them out in the rain! Look after timber handles with regular oiling (50% mineral turpentine and 50% raw linseed oil is best). Clean blades carefully and sharpen where necessary, and sand down rough splinters on wooden handles. To keep blades and the edges of spades and shovels sharp, use a bench grinder or a sharpening stone. Squirt some oil on saw blades and anything else that might rust, then rub the oil in with an old cloth. Oiling tool handles and blades is a great job for a rainy day.

Top quality garden tools such as shovels, forks, mattocks and picks should almost last a lifetime (Spear and Jackson offer a 10 year guarantee on their digging tools), are designed to reduce discomfort to the user, and makes the difference between a gardener that works daily in the garden and one that cannot get out of bed in the morning.

First class garden tools are both an excellent investment and an absolute pleasure to use by comparison with cheaper products. They are better for the environment, our garden, our health, and ultimately, our back pockets!


Black Spot of Rose

Hi, my name is: Black Spot of Rose

Describe yourself: Umm, my name pretty much says it all. I'm a black spot, kinda round with fringed margins and up to 12mm wide. I'm a fungus, and have been told I'm not that easy to love.

Hobbies: Hanging out on the upper surfaces of leaves, especially roses, making them look fully sick, and causing them to fall off!

Likes: Almost every type of rose, humidity, when you over fertilise your roses (oh yeah baby, I love that), shade and water lying around on leaves. I love really crowded gardens where there is no air movement.
Dislikes: Sun, well mulched garden beds, when you clean up fallen leaves, home made spray remedies (like milk sprays and bi-carb mixes), store bought good sprays I really don't like gardeners who monitor their plants all year round!
You'll know you've met me when: It's pretty obvious. Your leaves will be covered in irregular black spots, and the leaves will generally fall off! Cause I'm a fungus, I can drop my spores in the ground, and just keep infesting baby!

Breaking up ain't hard to do... if you:

  • Mix fat-free milk with water in a 1:1 ratio and apply it using a spray bottle. Spray the solution directly onto the clean leaves of your roses. The milk-and-water solution coats the leaves and leads to the growth of an invisible fungus that frightens off black spot!
  • To four litres of water, add 3 level teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda and a couple of good splashes of fish emulsion. Give it a good mix and spray it on weekly. Don't apply when it's hot. The Fish emulsion is very useful because it helps to make it stick. It also contains beneficial bacteria that have antifungal properties. And that's not all - the oils in fish emulsion will help to suffocate pests like mites/aphids/scale. You must use it weekly for it to be most effective.
  • A deficiency of potassium makes roses more vulnerable to this disease so regularly add sulphate of potash in spring, summer and autumn.
  • Seaweed sprayed onto the leaves changes the pH of the leaf surface making it less attractive to the fungal spores. It also strengthens the cell walls making it more difficult for the invading fungi.
  • Lime sulphur can be used as a preventative fungicide on leafless roses in winter.

Images from:
Pic 1: www.mooseyscountrygarden.com
Pic 2: www.nt.gov.au Description: Black Spot of Rose under magnification... ugly hey?


Companion Planting

Once the realm of the hardcore, hippy, home gardener, companion planting is now an incredibly popular practice - from beginner gardeners right up to large-scale agriculture. But, despite its popularity (it is huge in Europe), companion planting is often misunderstood, misused and misrepresented as the "cure-all solution" to problems in the patch.

So what is companion planting? Essentially, it's a method of growing plants together, with the idea that they will assist each other in some way, like deterring pests, improving growth, enhancing flavour, attracting beneficial insects, fixing nitrogen, disrupting "patterns" and trap cropping. But, just as we have good neighbours, there are bad neighbours as well. Some plants really dislike each other, and shouldn't be planted in close quarters, lest one of them struggle or meet its untimely demise.

Mythbusters - Does it Actually Work?

Now, the "Big Question": does it work? Well, yes and no. There is a fairly limited amount of actual scientific information on companion planting, but it is safe to say that some combinations do seem to work, while others can be a bit hit and miss. Why? Well, for starters, companion planting is a northern hemisphere concept that works a treat up there, but not as well down here in Australia.

Secondly, it doesn't work so well because it isn't understood. We've all heard that basil and tomatoes should be planted together, but why? How many of each is required? Is one basil per tomato enough? Who benefits? What are we deterring? Does it enhance flavour? For years, I planted one basil plant next to each of my tomatoes, and guess what? Nothing happened. There was no discernable difference in taste. Nothing seemed to be encouraged or deterred. Nothing grew better or worse than it had before, there was simply no advantage, other than me not having to walk so far to make a pasta sauce!

Do you know why? Because, for basil to successfully repel flies from tomatoes, an absolute shovel-load of basil is required in your patch. I'm talking several basil plants for each tomato, and even then it won't repel fruit fly. I love basil as much as the next gardener, but I don't love it that much, and, to be honest, I've never had an issue with flies on my tomatoes. But who knew this? And how many of us think that this is the quick fix for all our garden woes?

Get Your Fix - Companions that Work!

Well, companion planting CAN be the quick fix, and here's how: biodiversity! The best thing about companion planting is that it increases the biodiversity of your patch; that is, the variety of life forms in your garden. Some of the greatest companion plants in my garden are those which have nothing to do with my vegetable patch, but are the awesome locally native trees and shrubs I have planted about the place. Clever planning (if I do say so myself) has meant that my garden is never without blossom, and is therefore never without the array of critters that come with that: birds, pollinating insects (like butterflies, bees, and native wasps), reptiles, beetles and all sorts of helpful garden buddies.

By encouraging this assortment of good guys, my garden is almost completely without the bad guys, who never get a foothold in numbers that matter to me anyway! Remember, a lettuce leaf with a hole in it doesn't require chemical warfare, nor does it signal an attack of the dreaded munchies! So now that I've put you off companion planting all together, let me say that I reckon there are some combinations that really work, especially those that involve plants that have a fair odour to them. Also, there are definitely combinations that dislike each other, so I've made for you, dear readers, what is possibly the most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe.

Now here's my disclaimer... there is very little scientific garble to back this up, and some of them just work, so don't come bleating if nothing happens, or things have problems! But here is a pretty comprehensive list of some common companions and antagonists, some of which I have seen working, others... well, let me know. Enjoy! Oh, since you asked, my favourite companion in my garden is healthy soil, full of organic matter, worms and good stuff. And beer!

Sustainable Gardening Australia presents:

The most comprehensive companion planting chart in the known universe (maybe)

Plant Good Neighbours How it works Bad Neighbours
Apple Nasturtium, Chives Nasturtium climbs tree and is said to repel codling moth Potatoes
Apricot Basil, Tansy, Asparagus Basil and tansy are said to repel damaging insects
Asparagus Apricot, Basil, Chives, Comfrey, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Tomatoes Basil and Parsley are said to improve flavour. Onions and garlic release substances reducing growth. Garlic, Onions
Balm (Lemon) Tomatoes Attracts bees, said to enhance flavour and growth
Basil Tomatoes Basil said to repel flies and mosquitoes
Beans (climbing) Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Corn, Lettuce, Lovage, Majoram, Parsley Beetroot, Chives, Garlic, Gladiolus, Onions, Sunflower
Beetroot Beans (bush), Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Peas, Potato, Spinach, Silverbeet Bad Neighbours roots release substances reducing growth Beans (Climbing), Tomato
Borage Squash, Strawberries, Tomato Said to deter tomato worm and improve tomato flavour and yield. Said to increase strawberry yield.
Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Beans, Beetroot, Carrots, Chamomile, Coriander, Cucumber, Dill, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Mint, Nasturtium, Pea, Potato, Rosemary, Sage, Tansy, Thyme, Zinnias, Land Cress Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp. Nasturtium disguises and repels aphids. Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly. Zinnias attract ladybirds, which we love! Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth.  Land cress attracts Cabbage White Butterfly which lays eggs - when larvae hatch and eat it they die. Garlic, Rue, Strawberry
Capsicum, Chilli Carrots, Onions, Tomato
Carrots Beans, Chives, Coriander, Cucumber, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion, Pea, Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Tomato Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Dill, Celery
Celery Cabbage, Chives, Dill, Dwarf Beans, Leek, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Pea, Sage, Spinach, Tomato Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Carrots, Parsnip, Potato
Chamomile Cabbage, Onion Deters flies and mosquitoes. Strengthens neighbouring plants
Chives Apples, Cucumbers, Lettuce, Peas Prevents Apple Scab. Said to deter aphids Beans
Cucumber Basil, Bens, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Corn, Dill, Kohl Rabi, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Sunflower, Tansy Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Potato, Sage, Strongly Aromatic Herbs
Dill Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower) Dill attracts a Cabbage White Butterfly controlling wasp
Eggplant Beans, Spinach
Garlic Apricot, Cherry, Mulberry, Parsnip, Peach, Pear, Raspberry, Rosemary, Rose Deters aphids, especially from roses and raspberry. Repels Cabbage White Butterfly Beans, Cabbage, Peas, Strawberry
Kohl Rabi Beetroot, Onion Beans, Tomato
Leek Carrot, Celery, Lovage, Majoram, Onion, Parsnip, Strawberry Beans, Peas, Parsley
Lettuce Achillea, Beans, Beetroot, Cabbage, Carrot, Chervil, Coreopsis, Cucumber, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Onion, Parsnip, Pea, Radish, Strawberry, Zinnia Achillea, Coreopsis & Zinnia attract pollinators and offer shade for lettuce Parsley
Marigolds (French) Numerous vegetables, including tomato Kills root knot nematodes and eel worm
Melon Radish, Sweet Corn
Mint Cabbage, Tomato Deters pests such as Cabbage White Butterfly, ants and fleas
Nasturtium Cabbages, Fruit Trees, Radishes, Zucchini Flowers repel aphids and codling moth. Cabbage White Butterfly is attracted to this plant, and will seek it out over cabbages
Onion Beetroot, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrot, Chamomile, Leeks, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsley, Parsnip, Silverbeet, Strawberry, Summer Savory, Tomato Smell of onion said to deter numerous pests.  Onions release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours Asparagus, Beans, Gladioli, Peas
Parsley Asparagus, Sweet Corn, Tomato Said to improve flavour of asparagus and tomato
Peas Beans, Beetroot, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Parsnip, Potato, Radish, Sage, Squash, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth. Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as "living stakes" for peas Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots
Potato Beans, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Corn, Eggplant, Horseradish, Lovage, Marjoram, Marigold (French), Nasturtium, Parsnip, Peas, Sweet Alyssum, Sweet Corn, Watermelon Sweet Alyssum and Marigolds attract beneficials and suppress weeds.  Potatoes release substances reducing growth of Bad Neighbours. Horseradish should be planted at the corners of the patch Apple, Celery, Cherry, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Raspberry, Rosemary, Squash, Sunflower, Tomato
Pumpkin Beans, Cabbage, Eggplant, Peas, Radish, Sweet Corn Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Potato
Radish Beans, Carrot, Chervil, Cucumber, Sweet Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Parsnip, Pea, Spinach, Sweet Corn Radish is said to attract leaf miners from Spinach Hyssop
Raspberry Blackberries, Potato, Tomato
Rosemary Beans, Cabbage, Carrot, Sage
Sage Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Carrot, Rosemary Sage repels the Cabbage White Butterfly Cucumber
Silverbeet Beetroot, Cherry, Lavender, Lovage, Marjoram, Onion Basil, Wormwood
Spinach Celery, Eggplant, Strawberries
Squash Borage, Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Peas, Sunflower, Sweet Corn, Tansy Potato
Strawberry Beans, Borage, Chives, Leek, Lettuce, Marigold (French), Onion, Pyrethrum, Sage, Spinach Brassicas (Incl: Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower), Brussel Sprouts, Garlic
Sunflower Apricots, Cucumbers, Squash Beans, Potato
Sweet Corn Beans, Cucumbers, Lovage, Marjoram, Melon, Parsnip, Peas, Potato, Pumpkin, Radish, Squash, Zucchini Sweet Corn has traditionally been used as "living stakes" for peas. Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Cabbage
Tomato Asparagus, Basil, Celery, Borage, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrot, Cauliflower, Celery, Chives, Dill, Gooseberry, Grape, Hyssop, Lovage, Marigold (French), Marjoram, Mint, Nasturtium, Onion, Parsley, Parsnip, Turnip Marigolds said to repel white fly and root knot nematode. Bad Neighbours' roots release substances reducing growth Apricots, Beetroot,  Fennel, Kohl Rabi, Potato, Rosemary, Sweet Corn
Turnip Cucumbers, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Peas, Tomato
Watermelon Potato
Yarrow Most aromatic herbs When planted along pathways, is said to enhance essential oil production and herb flavour.
Zucchini Lovage, Marjoram, Nasturtium, Sweet Corn

and...

a couple of general plants that make great companions for other reasons

  • Basil helps repel flies and mosquitoes.
  • Borage in the strawberry patch will increase the yield.
  • Catnip repels fleas, ants and rodents.
  • Caraway helps breakdown heavy soils.
  • Chamomile deters flies and mosquitoes and gives strength to any plant growing nearby.
  • Chives grown beneath apple trees will help to prevent apple scab; beneath roses will keep away aphids and blackspot.
  • Elderberry a general insecticide, the leaves encourage compost fermentation, the flowers and berries make lovely wine!
  • Fennel (not F. vulgare or F.officionale) repels flies, fleas and ants.
  • French Marigold root secretions kill nematodes in the soil. Will repel white fly amongst tomatoes.
  • Garlic helps keep aphids away from roses.
  • Hyssop attracts cabbage white moth keeping brassicas free from infestation.
  • Mint repels cabbage white moth. Dried and placed with clothes will repel clothes moth.
  • Nasturtium secrete a mustard oil, which many insects find attractive and will seek out, particularly the cabbage white moth. Alternatively, the flowers repel aphids and the cucumber beetle. The climbing variety grown up apple trees will repel codling moth.
  • Pyrethrum will repel bugs if grown around the vegetable garden.
  • Rosemary repels carrot fly.
  • Rue (Rutus, not Peganum) keeps cats and dogs off garden beds if planted round the borders.
  • Sage protects cabbages from cabbage white moth.
  • Tansy (Tanacetum, not Senecio) repels moths, flies and ants. Plant beneath peach trees to repel harmful flying insects. Tansy leaves assist compost fermentation.
  • Wormwood (Artemesia, not Ambrosia) although it can inhibit the growth of plants near it, wormwood does repel moths, flies and fleas and keeps animals off the garden.

Information sources:
Bagnall, Lyn, Easy organic gardening and moon planting, published by Scribe Publications, VIC.
www.figtree.org.au.

Pictures
Companion Planting pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Borage pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Alyssum pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)
Marigold pic: Elaine Shallue (SGA)


Lettuce

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) – a reliable summer favourite, salad filler and sandwich staple! But it can be grown year round, with very little tender loving care after making sure that there is adequate feed. With a large variety of types and therefore flavours, lettuce isn’t just reduced to your Cos or iceberg! Available as seedlings, but also germinates readily from seed.  Sprinkle in some seed at any time of year and this quick growing vegetable will be ready in weeks.Read more


Grapes

 

There are a few contenders for the most popular variety of various fruits, but there is little competition about the most versatile. Grape vines provide us with fresh grapes, dried fruits, oils, juice and, best of all, wine!  But the most exciting thing about grapes is how easy they are to grow at your place.  For summer shade, winter sun and a bounty of fruit from February onwards, these deciduous perennial vines are a perfect planting in your patch.Read more


Chives

Allium schoenoprasum

Prized for the delightful onion or garlic flavour of their leaves, chives are a member of the onion family native to Europe, Asia and North America.  Chives are perennial herbs that are much easier to grow than traditional onions and garlic, with the added benefit of not taking as long between planting and harvest time. Chives are ideal plants for pots, make attractive grass-like plants in herb beds and can be used as pest repellent plants as well. 

Planting Time: September – March

Position: Full sun – part shade

Water Needs: Low

Difficulty: Easy

How Long: Any time is a good time for chives!

Both garlic and onion chives will thrive in a full sun to partially shaded position, provided they are protected from strong winds. When there is a dry period, water deeply to ensure the root system is well hydrated and mulch well to retain moisture.   If planting in a pot, go for one at least 30cm wide as chives can form clumps of up to 50cm wide.   To encourage continuous supply of leaves, cut off the flowers; they are edible too so toss them in a salad to dress it up.

Chives are definitely not needy and will thrive in just about any type of soil. A little bit of compost mixed through the soil prior to planting is ideal and if planting in a pot, go for an organic potting mix.  Chives in pots should have their soil replaced every three years to ensure flavour and performance is top-notch!

For those of you who with limited garden space, chives can be easily grown in pots indoors.   A bright and sunny position, good quality well drained potting mix and good pot drainage is all you need.  During winter when light is poor, you may notice that the plant will not grow much and may even die back a bit, but should spring back to life with the return of brighter sun in spring. It’s advisable not to fertilize during winter.

Possibly the least demanding of all our herbs, chives are generally happy not to be fed at all. If growth seems a little slow, or you have been harvesting a great deal, give them a drink of compost tea. Do the same if re-potting, or dividing up large clumps.

Chives are fairly drought tolerant, although those grown in pots (especially terracotta) have a tendency to dry out fairly quickly. A drink once or twice a week is sufficient if chives are planted in a rich soil or potting mix and mulched well.

Harvest as needed throughout the life of your chives.

As well as being hardy, chives are an excellent companion plant in the vegie and flower patch. Said to repel aphids, many rose growers swear by garlic chives as companion plants. They are also said to prevent apple scab,  but keep them away from your beans though.

Passionate home cooks recommend that chives be eaten fresh – much better flavour. Extra chives can be frozen by chopping up prewashed leaves into small pieces and freezing them in plastic containers, or in water in ice cube trays.   There is no need to thaw pieces out before using.

Here are a couple of recipes to get you inspired:

cheese chive scones

lemon chive dressing

Photos:   Elaine Shallue & Mary Trigger


Worms and Worm Farms

So, most of us have had a pet of some sort over the course of our lives, our pets bring us joy, love, laughter, and good times. But imagine owning over 500 pets that never need to be walked, are happy to eat your scraps, provide you with amazing fertiliser AND help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint! Sound too good to be true?  Well, welcome to the wonderful world of worm farms – top little carbon crusaders and garbage gobblers who just happen to be awesome (and fairly low maintenance) pets!

Now, for those of you who feel a little squeamish at the thought of hundreds of worms wriggling away, lets dispel some myths for you.  Firstly, despite the fact that worms munch away on our waste, they are actually pretty clean and their digestive system is so amazing it can destroy pathogens!

What is a worm farm and why would I want one?

 Australian studies have shown that every one of us throws away about 180kg of compostable food and green waste every year. Whilst that may not not sound significant, when this sort of waste goes into landfill and breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) a massive amount of methane is produced.  Methane is a gas 21 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.  So, our 180kg of tossed food and green waste ends up creating over 800kgs of carbon emissions per year, which is bad karma for us and really bad news for the environment!  By starting a worm farm and passing them our food waste each Aussie household can go a long way to reducing their carbon footprint, while pampering their plants with the wonderful worm wee (and poo) produced!

So how do we keep our worms?

We need to imitate the environment that worms inhabit naturally; cool, moist, dark spaces, and thankfully, this is not too hard to do.  The best worm farms give the little wrigglers room to roam, while allowing us easy access to worm waste products (both the worm wee and vermicompost – the poo) as well as sufficient drainage so the worms don’t drown.  Essentially, worm farms are made up of a couple of stackable boxes that provide different levels for different worm activity. Position is everything, so be sure to find a suitable spot for your worm, farm.  Choose a spot that is not affected by extreme temperature fluctuations or gets too much direct sun.  Some worm lovers even keep their little friends inside, with cool laundries often proving to be a great worm rearing locale.

There are a couple of ways you can go about setting up the worm farm, whether using the low cost make-it-yourself polystyrene box method, or purchasing a ready made worm farm from your local garden centre.  Whichever accommodation you choose, the bedding material is of utmost importance.  Worm bedding should consist of mainly carbon-based materials and the easiest is shredded newspaper. Mix it together with some aged (not fresh) cow manure or compost and then lightly sprinkle it all with some fresh water. Don't wet it too much - just enough to dampen the contents. This should all be prepared before you put the worms in!

Make Your Own Worm Farm

Step 1.   Grab a couple of polystyrene fruit boxes from the local fruit and vegie shop or market.  Most places are more than happy to let you take as many as you want, so hunt around and grab a couple with lids.

Step 2.   Punch some holes in the bottom of one of the boxes with a screwdriver.  This will become the “top box” in the worm farm.  Line the inside base of this box with mesh or insect screening, to stop the worms falling through the holes.

STEP 3.   In the box without holes (the bottom box), punch a hole and put a small length of hose or a tap as close to the base as possible, to collect the precious worm wee.  Place the top box (the one with all the holes in the base) onto the bottom box, and you’re half way there!

 STEP 4.  Now add the bedding material (shredded newspaper and aged compost or manure) into the top box and lightly dampen the contents.  The box should be about ¼ full of the bedding material.

STEP 5.   Head off and buy some worms.  Ordinary garden worms or earthworms are not suitable for worm farms and will die.   Worms are sold in boxes of 500 or 1000, this is the best way to get your farm going.  A thousand worms are ideal for a DIY worm farm.  These types of worms are generally Reds, Tigers or Blues and are often just sold as composting worms.  Pop the worms in the top box, they will soon wriggle down into the bedding.

STEP 6. Cover the worm bed with newspaper or a piece of hessian to help maintain a nice constant temperature and moisture level in the bedding material. Place the lid of the box on the top.

STEP 7.   What a worm wants! Let the worms settle for a couple of days, then add some food waste to the top box, under the hessian.  These scraps could include things such as:

  • Kitchen scraps like leftovers (cooked vegetables and stewed fruit leftovers),
  • Fruit peelings (avoid citrus fruits - the worms find their smell too strong),
  • Grass clippings (lightly sprinkled),
  • Autumn leaves (small amounts)
  • Paper, cereal packets, pizza boxes, junk-mail, (all torn up and soaked in water beforehand)
  • Tea-bags, coffee grinds, tea and coffee dregs
  • Hair clippings and vacuum cleaner dust
  • Vegetable scraps and peelings (avoid onion)
  • Crushed egg shells (these are excellent to help maintain the pH of the bedding)
  • Aged manures

Do the worms a favour and chop this stuff up before you put it in the worm farm...afterall, worms don’t have teeth, so the easier it is for them to digest the waste, the happier the worm farm will be!

STEP 8. Enjoy your results

 

What makes worms squirm?

Worms are fairly low maintenance pets, but they are not no-maintenance.  Don’t forget about them and ensure that their bedding material doesn’t dry out, this makes them very unhappy.  The presence of ants in the farm is a sure indication that the moisture levels are too low, add some soft vegies and a bit of water.  Overfeeding is a common issue too.  The secret is small amounts of food more regularly and in different spots.  If there is too much food in the farm, it will start to rot, making life unpleasant for your worms. Avoid putting meat and dairy products into the farm, whilst the worms will eat these foods, it can attract vermin, including mice and rats.

Worm Wee

After a few weeks, worm wee will begin to collect in the bottom box, this stuff is liquid gold!  Some of the best fertiliser around, worm wee is a lovely dark colour and needs to be diluted with water before use, ideally to about the colour of tea. This can then be applied to just about any type of plant.  Worm Wee is particularly great in the edible patch.

Vermicast – The Poo That Worms Do

Vermicast has got to be one of the greatest fertilisers ever. But be careful, it’s strong and needs to be used fairly sparingly!  In your home worm farm, vermicast will collect in the top bin and it does need to be cleaned out every so often.  To do this, carefully remove a small amount from the worm bedding. Mound it up into a cone shape. Any worms present will wriggle away from the light and collect in the centre of the vermicast and remaining bedding. Take the cone of vermicast away and put the worms back in to the farm.  Then sprinkle the worm poo around your plants and lightly water it in.

The Wily Worms What Ifs'

Every now and then, we can run into issues with our slimy little rubbish munchers, so here is a list of FAQ’s for you

How much will my worms eat?
This depends on how many worms you have, but grown up worms can eat half their body weight in food each day (most of which is converted to fertiliser and wee).

When should I water, and how much?
Sprinkle a bit of water into the worm farm every couple of weeks, as this will speed up the worm wee production, and keep the bedding moist.

I think my farm, has too many worms!
Think again! Worms self regulate their numbers, based on food supply and space, so your worm farm will never be over-populated.

Can I put worm farm worms in the garden?
Compost worms need moist, dark, damp situations in which to survive and thrive, so unless your soil is rich, damp and covered in a nice layer of mulch, don’t bother.

All the worms are hanging out in the lid – why?
Generally, this is a response to too much water.  The worms are just trying to move to higher ground so they don’t drown.  If your farm is out in the weather it may be collecting rain; if not, you are adding too much water in the farm.

All my worms died last summer!
Like all of us, worms are able to tolerate a fair range of temperatures, generally from about 10 – 30 degrees Celsius.  When the Aussie summer kicks in, we are subject to some really hot days, often well over 30 degrees, which makes both us and the worms unhappy.  In this type of weather, consider moving the system into a shady, cool position. Take the lid off and hose down the system (making sure the tap is turned on to allow the liquid to drain out).

There are flies or maggots in the farm!
Tiny little vinegar flies are occasionally present in worm farms (and compost bins) and are absolutely nothing to worry about.  If larger flies or maggots are present, it is generally a sign that food (especially meat) is rotting rather than being eaten by your worms.  Avoid meat in worm farms, and make sure you are not over-feeding your new pets.  If maggots do turn up, get rid of them by placing a piece of bread soaked in milk on the surface of the farm and remove after a couple of days.

My worm farm stinks!
This will only happen if there is decomposing food and a build up of waste in the farm.  The best thing to do in this situation is to stop feeding the worms for a while, add a handful of garden lime to the top bed and lightly aerate the bedding.  This should allow the worms more room to move and a happier home.  Start feeding them again when the farm is free of smells.

Enjoy your worms, they really are a gardener’s best friend, and they do make great pets!


Cucumbers

Cucumis sativus 

Used the world over, either fresh, pickled or as an ingredient in many a dish, Cucumbers have a lovely place in the Summer garden. Although they need a fair amount of love and tenderness they reward the grower with beautiful fruit. Home grown cucumbers are usually a bit knobbly and may not be as perfect as the shop bought, but they make up for that in their taste and texture.

 

Planting Schedule

Warm Areas: July to March
Temperate Areas: September to January
Cool to Cold Areas: October to December

Location
Cucumber’s can be a bit fussy about position. In cool zones, they love nothing more than a spot in full sun. However, in areas with hot summers, a little tenderness and shade will encourage your cucumbers. You can actually grow cucumbers in about 30% – 50 % shade in places where the air is warm. A simple shade covering, temporary or something more permanent will protect the plants from the harsh sun as well as reducing the risk of scarring the fruit, (it might have the added benefit of protecting your plants from pests too).

Another thing to consider with cucumbers is that they are essentially vines and  they need to climb. Pick a position that provides them with the right amount of sun and also gives them a bit of support. Fences and trellis do fine as do wire supports. Alternatively you can use sweet corn as a “living stake” for cucumbers. It makes the most of the space in your patch and is a sustainable solution for staking. This works best where there is good airflow ; and these two are excellent companions.

Soil
Good soil preparation is vitally important. Cucumbers need a friable (loose), well drained soil, full of organic matter, especially compost. Plant in a mound about 40cm across, with two cucumbers to each mound. This acts to improve drainage.  Add a good straw mulch to help keep the roots cool, stop the soil drying out and prevent the fruit come into contact with the ground,  helping to prevent fungal diseases, (more on that later).

Feeding
Being a fruiting plant, cucumbers require a reasonably high level of feeding, especially when it comes to fruiting. This means that they will pretty much take in whatever food is available and this is where you need to be a bit careful. A good amount of compost is the best starting point. Anything stronger than this can encourage a lot of healthy leaf growth but does not encourage fruiting.   Give cucumbers a feed at planting time with either watered down worm wee or a seaweed based liquid feed. Feed again when you see the first little fruits appear (they look like tiny gherkin).

What about the Water?
Cucumbers present a convincing argument for drip-irrigation and rainwater tanks - they are thirsty!   Installing drip irrigation in your produce patch should always be considered, but it’s almost a necessity with cucumbers. Drippers on top of the soil, under a nice 5cm – 7cm layer of mulch and directed around the base of your plants is perfect. Its puts the water exactly where it’s needed… the roots!

Cucumbers don’t respond well to other methods of watering as they are susceptible to fungal diseases if their foliage is wet.   Don’t let them dry out either or you may end up with bitter or dry fruit.  If you must hand water cucumbers, make sure you do it first thing in the morning ensuring that you are aiming mainly at the root zone of the plant avoiding the foliage.

Harvesting
The variety  of cucumber you chose will determine when it’s ready to pick and a number  of varieties that have multiple uses.  If you want gherkins, pick the long, green cucumbers when they are about 5cm – 10cm in length. Alternatively, these can be left on the plant and picked when they are 15cm – 20cm for tasty “salad” cucumbers. Same deal for Lebanese cucumbers. The round apple shaped cucumbers are best picked when they are about tennis ball size. Cucumbers generally take about 8 – 10 weeks to ripen, stretching out to 12 – 14 weeks for apple cucumbers. Make sure you monitor your vines regularly; it’s better to harvest when cucumbers are under-ripe, rather than over-ripe.

When harvesting its best not to pull the fruit off the vine.  Pulling them off can snap the vine in half and seriously jeopardise the rest of your crop. Cut the cucumbers off with a sharp pair of clean scissors or secateurs, making sure you leave a bit of stem attached to the fruit.

Pests and the Rest
Cucumbers, like many vines, are susceptible to fungal infections. Prevention is much better than a cure so; clean straw mulch, drip irrigation, good air movement, a trellis or support and root level or early morning watering should deter fungal spores.

Another issues faced by the cucumber is lack of bee activity to pollinate the flowers. Encourage bees into your patch by planting a diverse selection of flowering companion plants, edible and non-edible.   This will hopefully reduce the use of unnecessary pesticides in the garden that often wipe out the good guys as well as the bad.  You can hand pollinate your cucumbers if you are concerned;  simply pick a male flower (one without a small fruit forming at the base) and touch it lightly onto the centre stem of the female flower.

 

Final Tip
Give your cucumbers a little pinch!  “Pinching out” is a term that just means removing wee bits of the plants to encourage better growth and fruiting. Pinch out growing tips when they have formed about five to seven leaves; also pinch out the laterals (side shoots) that have produced a number of leaves (about eight to ten) but no female flowers ( the ones with the miniature cucumber where the petals start).

Photos
Photos taken by Elaine Shaulle (SGA) and Mary Trigger (SGA)