From Farm to Renting in the 'Burbs

Megan Ambrus, one of SGA's subscribers has written this inspiring account of her gardening experience.  Thank you, Megan!

Growing up on a farm we always grew our own food and space was never an issue. The kitchen led straight into an orchard, that had been there in one form or another since the house was built around 1800.

Tree branches bowed with the weight of apples, figs, walnuts and mulberries among many others. The vegetable gardens overflowed with corn, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and just about every other vegetable able to grow in the region. Herb gardens produced a myriad of fresh herbs. What wasn’t used or given away was composted or went to the chickens.

I moved to Hobart in 2000. Living in a unit, my yard was a tiny patch of cement. It left me so frustrated I stopped gardening and for the next fifteen years, my only plants were potted flowers.  Yet, the desire to grow my own food never left me. In 2015 I moved to my current location with a small backyard and it gave the motivation to start food gardening again.  Challenges soon arose.

The first was composting. I bought a black plastic compost bin. Everyone else I knew with a garden used them so I figured it was the way to go. The material in the bin turned in mass of stinking wet sludge. Even my neighbours complained about the smell.

Compost bins

On the farm, composting bins were nothing more than three sided wooden frames producing lovely rich compost. After the disaster with the plastic bin, I returned to this method and built a couple of bins from recycled wood. The end product was beautiful moist compost with a lovely earthy smell.

Having sorted that issue, I turned my attention to creating some gardens. My soil was heavy clay soil; boggy in the winter and rock hard in the summer. I decided to use raised beds instead.

Soon after in 2015 I lost my job and there was suddenly no spare money to purchase ready-made raised beds or the materials to build what I wanted.

I decided to plant directly in the ground. It took some hard work over the winter but eventually I got the clay soil to a stage it was suitable to grow in.  In spring 2015 I created two gardens and got some plants in the ground. I soon realised my little plots were not going to be sufficient as I wanted to produce a variety of foods. I had two choices. I could stick with growing only a few things in my plots or I could use containers.

The first attempt at container gardening in the spring/summer of 2015/16 failed miserably. Everything died. When I finally admitted defeat and pulled them out I found a wet stinking mass of soil in the containers.  Not prepared to surrender so easily, I spent autumn and winter of 2016 researching container growing and what had gone wrong.

My first big mistake was putting soil in the containers. My second was using plants that simply weren’t well suited. My third was overwatering. My fourth was using containers that were simply too big. The roots of the plants were not filling the entire space, resulting in compacting wet soil beneath. My poor plants just couldn’t cope.

In the spring of 2016, with the ground plots doing well for a second season, I was ready to try container gardening again.
This time, I did some planning rather than just sticking things in randomly. I used potting mixes with some of my compost as well more appropriate containers sizes for the various plants.

Blueberries

I researched the plants I wanted to grow in containers so I understood their needs. I raised the containers on bricks to aid in drainage and mulched properly. I made sure I checked if they actually needed watering rather than just drowning them regardless.

I was rewarded. The two plots produced an abundance of corn, peas and other foods. My herb and vegetable container gardens gave me among other things, blueberries, carrots, tomatoes, parsley and chives.

Spring Peas

There was so much I couldn’t possibly use or preserve everything. Not liking to see food go to waste the excess went others and community food programs and waste matter composted.

In 2017/18 I added dwarf fruit trees, cape gooseberries and other berries to the container garden.

The 2018/19 garden was grown from all my own seed.

Pests

On the farm, we never used chemical or poisons and never had a major problem with pests.  The dogs kept the herbivores away and the owls removed rodents. The blue tongues took care of snails and the birds and insect predators cleaned up other pests.

The birds did eat the fruit and the blue tongues loved the strawberries but with such an abundance, sharing it with them as a reward for removing pests was never a problem.

Here in my little suburban garden it’s no different. The herbivores don’t like the dogs so they stay away. The birds take care of problem caterpillars and other pests. The two resident blue tongues gorge on snails and an army of ladybirds and other predator insects appear to keep aphids and other pests under control.

Last year two owls moved into a nearby tree. This year, they hatched two babies and I’ve had the privilege of watching the family come at night. They’d perch on aviary, the parents swooping down to catch the rats living under the aviary, feeding their fledglings before consuming their own dinner.

As a result rodent poison is banned in my garden as poisoned rats kill the owls through secondary poisoning. Snail bait is banned as well as it also kills blue tongues and birds if they eat dead and dying snails.

The absence of poisons and chemical sprays means I have an array of beneficial bird, insect and reptile life visiting my garden. I’m happy for the birds and blue tongues to take a bit of produce in return for their work.

Nature’s natural pest controllers are a far better option than poisons and chemical sprays.

In conclusion

Starting a suburban garden had its challenges. On the farm unlimited space meant no containers and growing whatever one pleased.

In suburbs I have to think carefully about what I really want to grow and how I will use available space. The pumpkins and other vining plants grow on trellis instead of taking as much ground space as they please and I now grow some bush varieties that don’t vine.

Suburban gardening means more planning and being choosey about what I grow. It means there are things we grew on the farm I can only dream about growing in the suburbs due to limited space.

Golden Nuggets

Yet I have produced a healthy garden with so many more varieties of food plants than I thought possible in a small space. What isn’t used, preserved or given away is composted.

I’d love to be back on the farm, yet the challenge of finding ways to grow good food in a small suburban backyard and still produce more than enough to feed myself and others is very satisfying.

Now to find a bit of space for a couple of hens…


May In Your Patch

 

While the southern parts of Australia have donned winter pyjamas and flannelette sheets, the northern states are still revelling in warm, and mostly sunny autumn days. Regardless of the conditions in your little patch of paradise, there is still loads to do this month. Get set for those produce plants that need the cooler weather to grow.

May sees a lot of Australia experience the first damaging affects of frost, so why not spend cold or rainy days in the shed making some nice little frost covers from shade cloth offcuts? A couple of old garden stakes, some nails and a bit of (not too) hard yakka will see these covers ready to go when the temperature plummets. Your seedlings will thank you for it!

Cool to Cold Areas

Low temperatures for extended periods of time (all of Tasmania, most of Victoria, the southern highlands of NSW, the ACT and a tiny southern bit of SA)

  • It’s almost time for bare rooted fruit trees, so start preparing beds now;
    • Lots of lovely rich organic matter, a bit of moisture and some mulch will see the soil absolutely gorgeous by the time your trees are ready to go in!
    • Have a think about what tree varieties you are after, you may need to do some research into the best supplier. Especially if you are after an heirloom or unusual variety.
  • Give Brassicas a blast this month, and pop the following into your patch:
    • broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. Plant some sage with these guys as a great, caterpillar and moth-repelling companion!
  • By putting in peas and broad beans now, you are giving them the winter to extend their roots deep. This means that when the weather does start getting warmer and the frosts disappear you are ahead of the game.  Radish, Swedes, turnips and spinach will also crop well if planted now. Don’t forget spring onions either this month.
  • Set aside a bit of space and pop in an artichoke! These are gorgeous additions to the patch, look amazing and taste pretty good too!
  • Add some colour and movement to the patch and pop in some pretties;
    •  dianthus, cornflower, pansy, viola, verbena and lupins. Having these around your veggies will give some interest to the patch, and act as beneficial insect attractors!
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. Mulch to a depth of about 7cm after watering the patch. Keep mulch clear of plant stem, especially young seedlings. Choose a low environmental impact, locally sourced mulch that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Green manure crops, including oats, wheat, faba beans and field peas are good to go now… improve that dormant veggie patch, and get ready for next seasons heavy feeding plants!
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea, or any low environmental impact liquid fertiliser is perfect for the seedlings you’ve just popped in. Apply to the soil early in the morning and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • Weeds run rampant this time of year.  Cut down the competition between your produce plants and these space invaders. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding!   Try making a weed tea to feed your winter crops.
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Always check soil moisture before watering at this time of year….don’t waste your precious drinking water if Mother Nature has already done all the hard work for you!
  • Cold days mean a bit of shed time… why not build yourself a nice blackboard for the shed, to keep track of what has been planted in your patch where and when? This makes crop rotation a load easier, and allows you to keep track of feeding times and dates, what worked, what didn’t and what’s happening in the veggie garden.

Temperate Areas

Occasional winter frosts (pretty much the rest of Australia, most of the inland, some areas of Victoria, most of SA and the southern area of WA)

  • Still some good planting time left in this part of the world, so pop in some Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli. Peas and broad beans can also go in, as well as radish, turnips, swedes and spinach.
  • It’s time to get happy with herbs, so try some chamomile and lemon grass. You could give mint and lemon balm a go as well, but be careful to contain them as they can take over!
  • Why not try some lovely flowering stuff in your patch as well, like: cornflower, calendula, dianthus, pansies, viola, snapdragons, stock, ageratum and marigolds. These guys are great at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to your patch, and the flowers look good as well.
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year try faba bean, field pea, oats and wheat. This will improve your soil incredibly, and, for a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort!
  • Bare rooted fruit tree time is almost upon us, so start preparing beds for these guys now.
    • Lots of lovely rich organic matter, a bit of moisture and some mulch will see the soil absolutely gorgeous by the time your trees are ready to go in!
    • Have a think about what tree varieties you are after, you may need to do some research into the best supplier. Especially if you are after a heirloom or unusual variety.
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. Mulch to a depth of about 7cm after watering the patch. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose a low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea or low environmental impact liquid fertiliser is perfect, especially for the seedlings shoved in this month. Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • Weeding is an awesome job to do at this time of year. Cut down the competition between your tasty treats and these space invaders, and tidy up your patch. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding!
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Always check soil moisture before watering at this time of year….don’t waste your precious drinking water if Mother Nature has already done all the hard work for you!

Warm Areas

Frost free or occasional light frosts (North from about Coffs Harbour and all the way across to the west to Geraldton)

  • Time to plant some winter wonders – think about some leeks, beetroot, celery, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, turnips, onions, kale, kohl rabi, spinach and silverbeet.
  • Give peas a chance this May; they are a top addition to any patch. Just keep them away from onions and garlic.
  • Herb it up with lemon grass, spring onions, chamomile, thyme, mint, rosemary and lemon balm. Why not try the lemon balm in a pot around the outdoor area? It will stop it spreading, and keep away mozzies!
  • Stick in some potatoes, home grown is easy, and incredibly rewarding. The potato page is here! Don’t forget about sweet potatoes, they are great fun to grow as well!
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea, or any low environmental impact liquid fertiliser, is perfect for giving them a kick start as they establish. Apply to the soil early in the morning and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet. Don’t forget to give the fruit trees a bit of a feed as well (particularly paw paw).
  • Pretty up the patch with these flowering fancies- marigolds, lupins, pansies, cornflowers, violas, snapdragons, stock, verbena and lavender (non-invasive varieties of course!). Popping these in around your veggies will give some colour and interest to the patch, and act as beneficial insect attractors!
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year, try millet, oats, lupins or field peas. This will improve your soil incredibly, and, as a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort!
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Always check soil moisture before watering at this time of year… don’t waste your precious drinking water if Mother Nature has already done all the hard work for you!
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. Mulch to a depth of about 7cm after watering the patch. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Weeding is an awesome job to do at this time of year. Cut down the competition between your tasty treats and these space invaders, and tidy up your patch. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding!

Of course, this is just a rough guide, and many of you will find your situation varies from the above due to microclimates created in your garden, location in relation to your nearest major city, extremes of weather (Mother Nature does like to keep us on our toes) and garden type.

 


Overwintering Capsicum

One of SGA's staunch supporters and volunteers, Gianni Montalto, tells us his experience with growing capsicum.

"Over the last few years I have reduced the veggies I grow in garden beds, and instead have been growing more in large pots. Mostly along the east facing back wall of the house.

"The main reasons for the gradual move include:

  • The fruit trees in the garden have grown up, don't let much light through and they drink up practically all the water and any fertiliser I apply, before annual summer veggies can get a foothold. This has become even more of an issue with the earlier and hotter starts to summer in the last few years. Winter growing crops like broccoli that can get established before Spring turns to summer, do fine under the deciduous fruit trees or in the exposed beds, but I then mulch and rest that ground over summer.
  • Easier access - The pots are close to the back door and rainwater tanks for quick picking and watering.
  • More favourable light conditions at the east facing wall - they get full morning sun until the middle of the day and then shade in the hotter afternoon, but still mostly open to the sky. The plants may wilt on really hot windy mornings, but recover in the shady afternoons.
  • Better control of water - the pots sit in large dishes to catch runoff, which the plants wick up during the day.

"So being more efficient with water has been an unexpected benefit. Another revelation was finding that capsicum plants can in fact be grown over two seasons in Melbourne without a green house. I never found this possible by growing them in the ground in exposed garden beds, where they would inevitably wither and die. In the pots they grew well and produced a reasonable crop last summer. I left them there over winter, expecting them to completely die off, but they came back to life and are doing well.

"Keeping the pots under the roof eaves at the east wall over winter I think really helped. This meant they got protection from frosts and little if any rain, watering them rarely, just enough to keep the potting mix barely moist. Also, they continued to get morning sun and a fair amount of warming. The pots are ceramic so they retain some heat into the afternoon/night. I could have moved them to the north facing wall where they would have received more sustained sun over the day during winter, but that was too much work! I thought about covering them with plastic sheeting or with a temporary protective enclosure to extend the warmth of the day into the evening, but that would have reduced air circulation, increased humidity and may have resulted in mouldy plants.

"They gradually lost all their leaves and the thinner branches died off (but they did not go mouldy). The few thicker green branches that remained then began to sprout new growth as the days warmed in Spring. This was the signal to re-start watering and feeding them - I use liquid fish fertiliser at about a third the recommended rate once a week (or sometimes two or three weeks go by) and occasionally mixed manure pellets. They really took off, filling with green leaves, flowered and fruited in no time - certainly earlier in the season than last year.

"I did start with a good quality organic potting mix and I normally rotate what goes in the pots, so in the year prior to planting the capsicum, there had been a crop of basil, and tomatoes the year before that. Adjacent pots this year include basil, mint and tomatoes. The plants have not been sprayed or treated with anything.

By mid-summer the plants are still sending out new growth and flowers. The yield has already equalled last year's crop and it has arrived sooner, which is not surprising as the plants were essentially mature plants, which just needed a warm spring kick-along to get going again."


Kale

Belonging to the family, Brassicaceae, kale has been rediscovered as a superfood. It is mostly rich in lutein, folate, vitamins A,C, E and K, magnesium, iron and contains a load of anti-oxidants.

It originated around the Mediterranean and was grown for many centuries until the Middle Ages. In more modern times, it became popular in post-war periods because it was easy to grow and very nutritious. However, in the USA ornamental varieties were favoured for use in floral arrangements – even wedding bouquets – and it even has its own national day, the first Wednesday of October.

There are over 50 types of kale, both ornamental and edible. However, three varieties are readily available to grow:

Dwarf Curly, a compact, leafy green with mildly sweet, crinkled leaves
Red Russian, a blue-green variety with purplish-red veins
Black Toscana (Cavalo Nero - pictured above), a long dark-green/blue leaf variety.

Planting Schedule

Warm areas: March to April (in seed trays*), May to June (transplant seedlings)
Temperate areas: March to April (in seed trays*), May to June (transplant seedlings)
Cool areas: January to February (in seed trays*) April to May (transplant seedlings)

*You could also try sowing seeds directly in the soil if the soil is not too hot

Position, Position, Position

In temperate areas, all three varieties of kale like full sun. But in hotter regions, part shade will assist its growth. Also, being a winter vegetable, kale can tolerate mild frost, with Red Russian still able to thrive and survive at a temperature of -10 degrees C. Actually, frost tends to intensify its sweetness.

Talking Dirty

Kale, like many vegetables, prefers a well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. However, its pH range is a little towards the acidic side with a preference for a pH of 5.5 – 6.5.   If your soil is rich in clay you might add some sand and compost. If it is very sandy, try adding powdered bentonite clay or compost. Actually, compost is the magic ingredient for any soil!  Another useful addition to sandy soil is coir peat (ground coconut fibre). Coir is available in blocks which expand when soaked in water and will hold moisture when added to soil.

Feed Me!

Since kale is a leafy green, it needs a rich nitrogen source to thrive. A green manure crop planted and dug in before planting kale is ideal.  Or aged manures, pelletised chicken manure or “blood and bone” are important soil additions, but make sure you don’t overdo them – little and often is the way to go. Drinks of fish emulsion and seaweed extracts during the growing season will provide both food and moisture.

What about the Water?

Although kale is a winter vegetable and drying out is not such a problem, regular watering is required to provide the moisture it requires. Mulching around plants will protect the soil from moisture loss.

Are we there yet?

For most varieties harvest can start after around 7 - 8 weeks. If there are too many leaves for your household, take them to your local Harvest Swap, feed them to your chooks or add them to your compost heap or worm farm!

Pests and the Rest

Kale is generally pest-resistant, but can fall prey to cabbage aphids, harlequin bugs and cabbage white butterfly. The best way to deal with such pests is to prevent them by crop rotation, keeping the soil healthy and encouraging predatory insects into the garden by including flowering plants. But if all that fails, try hosing small ones off and picking caterpillars and larger bugs off and dropping them into a bottle containing soapy water.

Good Neighbours

Rhubarb, onions, cucumber, beets, celery, marigold, nasturtium, herbs (sage, dill, camomile).

Bad Neighbours

Climbing beans, mustard, strawberry or members of the nightshade family (tomato, chili, capsicum, eggplant).

Eat Me!

There are many recipes now for kale. When used raw it needs some extra attention to reduce bitterness. This may be by chopping it finely into well-dressed salads or including it in a smoothie with nut milk and fruit. However, it has a delicious savory flavour when chopped and baked to make “chips” or steamed, sauteed or stir-fried with garlic or onions. Just search online for one of the hundreds of recipes out there!


April In Your Patch

The perfect month for chocolate lovers and practical jokers alike, April is also a top time to get into the patch! There is a little bit of rain around, the weather is cooling down, and shed loads of stuff is ready to plant! So, don’t be a bunny, get into gardening this April! Hop to it!Read more


Crop Rotation

Crop rotation – despite what my non-gardening mates believe, is NOT the twisting of sunflowers to chase the sun (although, they do have a point… they are crops, and they are rotating!). Crop rotation is in fact a method of managing plantings, both on a small (vegie patch) and large (farm) scale to minimise the risk of pests and diseases, and maximise the yield and productivity of crops. Yup, it all sounds terribly technical, but I promise you it’s not! Hey, if I can manage it, I reckon just about anyone can!

What’s the Deal?

The definition of crop rotation I like the most is ‘The successive planting of different crops on the same land to maximise soil fertility and help control pests and diseases.’ Okay, it sounds very agricultural, but, in essence, this is the principle that we, as home gardeners, can apply to our vegie patches. And let me tell you, it works. The top notch vegies that we grow in our yummy yards, almost always, remove many and various nutrients from the soil during their growing periods. That said, a number of them replace nutrients as well (think beans, peas and other legumes). By varying what we pop in the patch, and what type of crop follows another, we can ensure that our vegies get what they need from the soil… and we get what we need from our vegies!

The other benefit of rotating our crops is that the process helps to interrupt the cycle of host specific pests and diseases. This means that harmful pests and diseases are unable to build up to damaging levels either in the soil or on the host plants themselves. Crop rotation has ‘moved’ their favourite host plants from the area, perhaps whilst the pests were ‘resting’ over winter, and essentially they are now unable to breed or, if they do breed, they no longer have a food source for their young to thrive. Hence the cycle is broken! Hurrah!! Crop rotation is a common practice in many large scale agricultural endeavours, such as in the rice paddies in Southern China. Over a two year cycle, a rice crop is generally followed by an “upland”, non-related crop (such as sugar cane) to help break the cycle and infestation of rice borer. And it must work, cause these guys have been doing it for a long, long time! In fact, crop rotation is reportedly one of the oldest cultural practices that is still kicking around….early civilisations in Africa and Asia used it, as did the Romans.

So how do you do it?

Everyone and their gardening book has a different method for successful crop rotation. After much discussion in the SGA trenches, we have come up with a system we like a lot. It’s simple, easy to manage, and it works!

Our system works on a four bed rotation, meaning there are four separate planting areas. Don’t fret if your garden doesn’t seem big enough to cope with all these beds. You can instead have just one bed and rotate the produce each season. It may mean you can’t grow tomatoes every summer, but you’ll have fun with a lot of other vegies in between! Vegies you can trade for tomatoes at your local vegie swap. If your garden is large enough, use what space you have available, and divide this up into four separate “zones”. Or, if you are starting from scratch, consider a mandala circle style vegie garden. While they look amazing, they will also maximise space, and allow for the zoning of planting areas (which in turn makes crop rotation even easier!). You can even have a spot for the chooks!

The Four-Bed Crop Rotation System

Lets get down to the nuts and bolts of the whole thing… how to do it. Firstly, we need to know a little bit about plant families, because this is a key principle behind crop rotation. Essentially, each area should be planted with a different plant family each season (generally every six months), to help avoid any nasty pest and disease outbreaks. So, who’s related to whom?

Amaranthaceae
Beetroot family
Beetroot
Quinoa
Spinach
Swiss Chard

Cucurbitaceae
Marrow family
Cucumber
Zucchini
Melon
Pumpkin
Squash

Solanaceae
Potato family
Eggplant(Aubergine)
Peppers (Capsicum and chillis)
Potato
Tomato

Compositae (Asteraceae)
Daisy family
Chicory/Endive
Jerusalem Artichoke
Lettuce
Salsify

Umbelliferae (Apiaceae)
Carrot family
Carrot
Celeriac
Celery
Fennel
Parsley
Parsnip
Dill

Cruciferae (Brassicaceae)
Cabbage family
Broccoli
Brussels Sprouts
Cabbage
Cauliflower
Kale
Kohlrabi
Mustard
Oriental Brassicas – e.g. Bok Choy
Radish
Swede
Turnip

Leguminosae (Fabaceae)
Pea & Bean family
Alfalfa
Beans
Peas
Clover
Fenugreek
Lupin

Alliaceae
Onion family
Garlic
Leek
Onion
Shallot

Poaceae
Grass family
Sweet corn
Maize

The principle is that one family member shouldn’t be followed by another family member in consecutive seasons. For example, once the tomatoes, members of the Solanaceae family, have finished fruiting and been removed, this area should be planted up with a member of another family such as a peas from the Fabaceae family.

There is another reason for this type of planting sequence as well. We know that some plants are referred to as “heavy” feeders, while others are “light” feeders. By introducing a crop rotation system, we can estimate the potential levels of soil nutrients remaining in the plot and plant up accordingly. For example, the Brassiaceae family are mainly heavy feeders and will take a lot of nutrients from your soil. However the Alliaceae family are light feeders and will not do well in a rich soil. Therefore it makes sense to plants onions after cabbages! Sounds complicated? I promise, it’s not! Just think logically and you can’t go wrong!

With these principles in mind, a suitable four-bed crop rotation may look like this:

Season One Season Two Season Three Season Four
Bed One Legume Heavy Feeder Light Feeder Green Manure
Bed Two Heavy Feeder Light Feeder Green Manure Legume
Bed Three Light Feeder Green Manure Legume Heavy Feeder
Bed Four Green Manure Legume Heavy Feeder Light Feeder

Heavy Feeders include potatoes, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, sweet corn, lettuce, cucumbers, zucchini, spinach, lettuce and Asian greens.

Light Feeders include onions, leeks, garlic, beetroot, carrots, parsnips and silverbeet.

Legumes include peas, snow peas, broad beans, runner beans, snake beans which fix nitrogen.

Green Manure Crops are crops grown, not to be harvested, but to be worked back into the soil. These are generally comprised of thickly sown annual grasses and/or legumes, that are tilled back into the soil before they flower or form seed heads. They add nutrients during their growing period and organic matter to soil in veggie patches, perfect for getting the next seasons edible crop off to a good start! Many nurseries stock pre-packaged green manure seeds.

Keeping Track of the Patch

Like a lot of things, crop rotation works really well in theory, but can prove a little daunting, especially if you’re memory is anything like mine. The solution – a blackboard in the garden shed, or a gardening calendar, outlining what was planted in what patch during each season. This is a great visual reminder of what’s happened in your yummy yard, and will help you keep track of the rotations happening in your patch.

There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to crop rotation, but, if you follow the four bed rotation above, and keep the following four tips in mind, I reckon you’re on the right track:

1. Don’t follow one crop with another from the same family
2. Don’t follow one heavy feeder with another heavy feeder
3. Do plant a green manure crop at least once in every 4 seasons to replenish your soil.
4. Do read the SGA fact sheets on individual plants when planning your next crops

Crop rotation may take a little bit of practice and patience to get right in your neck of the woods, but, once you’ve mastered it, it is as easy as 1,2,3,4!


Diverting Rubbish from Landfill: Recycled Treasures

“My garden is chock-a-block with rescued plants, rescued pots & garden furniture, mirrors, birdcages, wheelbarrows, barrel hoops, ladders and all sorts of other bits and pieces. Not only do I collect treasures from the hard rubbish and Op shops. My friends and work colleagues donate things too. Some are used ‘as is’, others are tweaked, tarted up, assembled or arranged to make them more useful or display-worth.” So says Tine Grimston, from Rowville, Victoria.

As well as using recycled treasures, Tine tries to be sustainable in other ways. She is a participant in the local council’s Garden's for Wildlife program and has fruit and nut trees, a veggie garden, water tanks, solar panels, indigenous and native plants and a pond.

Tine Grimston 10 (800x542)She and her partner, Wayne, purchased their nearly half-acre property in 1993. The house was 3 years old, and the garden consisted of grass, several knee-high Hakeas along the back fence and a couple of pittosporums in the front. Starting the garden was a challenge. It was extremely wet during the first year so that venturing outdoors required gumboots and necessitated drainage works. Since then the main battles were drought, regular frosts in winter and spring and a soil structure of compacted clay and builder’s rubble. In summer, cracks in the ground large enough to put a fist into opened up.

With such a large area of lawn to mow the quantity of grass clippings was enormous. Thinking that there would eventually be garden beds along the extensive fence-line which was shared with six neighbours, they piled the clippings there to form the beginning of a soil improvement program.

Tine Grimston 6 (800x450)Tine Grimston 16 (800x531)As time went by, the grassed area has diminished with every new garden project. They wished to have pleasant views from all windows, so began with a garden bed along the fence-line that was visible from the living area. They planted out wheelbarrows with succulent cuttings, and started collecting old wooden stepladders to give height to a new garden bed. Five of the six fence sections have been replaced with higher fences in the last two or three years, so there is a further need to find ways to hide them. Concrete Tine Grimston 17 (800x568)reinforcing wire rather than plastic lattice has been used and Ivy Leaf pelargoniums made a quick cover.

There is no overall design for the garden – it has developed in fits and spurts as time, money and inspiration have allowed. Influences were the need to incorporate some great gifts (the gazebo, a garden arch, two huge terracotta pots, new gates to Tine Grimston 25 (800x450)replace the closed-in wooden ones) and some great roadside findsTine Grimston 23 (800x450) (mirrors, birdcages, ladders, wheelbarrows, pots, garden furniture). Tine joined the Dibble and Hoe Garden Club about 10 years ago and the beautiful gardens of members have been inspiring. Plant swaps have been source material for much planting.

There is a large central lawn surrounded by flowerbeds to the north of the house. All the paths and garden beds have curvaceous, serpentine edges. The rear of the house faces west and gets the full afternoon sun. This part of the garden has a pergola draped with Wisteria and Bougainvillea to shade the windows, a pond, gazebo, circular veggie garden, Tine Grimston 37 (800x494)potting and composting areas and a number of fruit and nut trees. The south side of the house has a curving sawdust path, with a ‘geranium wall’, a herb garden and additional fruit trees.

Pictures: Tine Grimstone


February In Your Patch

As your summer crop is having a little bit of a last hoorah, it’s time to start preparing your garden for autumn planting. This month's newsletter has loads of tips and ideas of what to do NOW that will ensure your patch is ready to go. Wait until the heat of the day is off and then spend some lovely time in the garden.  Read more


January In Your Patch

January is here! Wondering what to do in the garden? What vegetables and herbs should you plant? It's the start of the New Year and whether it's time for a little rest and relaxation after a manic December, or you have a New Year's resolution to spend some quality time with your garden; it's  time to get out in your patch!  While we have been distracted with festive things, our patches have probably suffered a little and are in need of some serious loving right now. We have loads of  tips that will encourage your garden to flourish in the sunshine of Summer.

Warm Areas

Frost free or occasional light frosts (North from about Coffs Harbour and all the way across to the west to Geraldton)

It’s pretty hot out there at the moment, and it definitely isn’t the ideal time to be planting much. That said, you can try eggplant, zucchini, cucumber, capsicum, chillies and tomatoes; towards the end of the month.

  • Lettuce can be grown at the tail end of January, but consider popping them under a shade cloth tent.
  • Try Lemongrass if you haven’t already. Its woody nature helps prevent too much damage from the heat. Though wait until things cool down for any other herbs.
  • Still time to pop in some asparagus, just find a cooler spot in the patch.
  • It’s not too late for watermelon, rockmelon and pineapple. Mangos can go in this time of year also.
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea or low environmental impact liquid fertiliser is perfect. Throughout the growing period diluted worm teas can be added to your garden every couple of weeks. This will help keep up the growth and fruiting capabilities of your plants. Apply to the soil early in the morning, in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • Pretty up the patch with these flowering fancies: marigolds and sunflowers. Popping these in around your veggies will give some colour and interest to the patch, and act as beneficial insect attractors!
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year, try millet, lablab, or cow pea. This will improve your soil incredibly. For a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort!
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Our fact sheet Irrigation In An Arid Nation has loads more info on smart water habits.
  • If you haven’t done already, look into drip irrigation. This will put the water where it is needed as well as reducing the risk of powdery mildew when the leaves get wet.
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important if you are heading off this holidays. A hot summer tip is to mulch after watering the patch to a depth of about 7cm. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • On non-gardening days, why not head out to the shed, and construct a couple of shade cloth tents. They don’t have to elaborate, just a simple, moveable structure that you can pop over the top of some of the sun sensitive veggies (like eggplant, capsicum and others) as the heat becomes more intense. Think of it as slip, slop, slap for plants! Pop these around where required, especially on high UV days, windy days, and during your holidays.
  • Protect your pot plants while you are away this summer. Mulch the top of the pots, sit them in a saucer of water (or the bathtub if it gets enough light) and you’ll be set!  Or even run dripper lines to them from your main irrigation pipes.

Cool to Cold Areas

Low temperatures for extended periods of time (all of Tasmania, most of Victoria, the southern highlands of NSW, the ACT and a tiny southern bit of SA)

  • It’s cool inside (hopefully) and pretty warm outside, but there is still a lot of things you can pop in the patch at this time of year. Tasty herbs that are ready to roll include basil, parsley, watercress, sage and dill. You could give mint a go as well, but be careful to contain it in a pot, otherwise it can take over! As tempting as it is to plant coriander, that screams summer. It will not do well this time of year and will head straight to seed.
  • Tasty vegetables to plant this month: spring onions, leeks, lettuces and zucchini!
  • Add some colour and movement to the patch, and pop in some of these little pretties: stock, verbena and ageratum.
  • Time to pop in some sunflower seeds. Find a sunny spot where you would like to see some happy sunflowers later in the year and plant the seeds to double the depth of the seed. Cover lightly with dirt and be patient, they’ll be popping their heads up in no time!
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important if you are heading off this holidays. A hot summer tip is to mulch after watering the patch, to a depth of about 7cm. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Green manure crops, including millet and mung beans are good to go now. Improve that weary veggie patch, and get ready for next seasons heavy feeding plants! Check out the Crop Rotation article on the SGA website for a bit of information why and how Green Manure crops can help
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea or low environmental impact liquid fertiliser is perfect, especially for the seedlings planted in at the tail end of last year. Throughout the growing period diluted worm teas can be added to your garden every couple of weeks. This will help keep up the growth and fruiting capabilities of your plants .Apply to the soil early in the morning, in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • On non-gardening days, why not head out to the shed, and construct a couple of shade cloth tents. They don’t have to elaborate, just a simple, moveable structure that you can pop over the top of some of the sun sensitive veggies (like eggplant, capsicum and others) as the heat becomes more intense. Think of it as slip, slop, slap for plants! Pop these around where required, especially on high UV days, windy days, and during your holidays.
  • Weeding is an awesome job to do at this time of year. Cut down the competition between your tasty treats and these space invaders, and tidy up your patch. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding!
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Our fact sheet Irrigation In An Arid Nation has loads more info on smart water habits.

Temperate Zones

Occasional winter frosts (pretty much the rest of Australia, most of the inland, some areas of Victoria, most of SA and the southern area of WA)

  • It is pretty warm in this part of the world, but there are a couple of things you could pop in to the patch this January. Why not try leek, sweet corn, beans, cucumber, spring onions and zucchini.
  • Still too hot for most herbs, but lemongrass will take the heat if planted out now.
  • Time to pop in some sunflower seeds. Find a sunny spot where you would like to see some happy sunflowers later in the year and plant the seeds to double the depth of the seed. Cover lightly with dirt and wait. They’ll be popping their heads up in no time!
  • Why not try some lovely flowering stuff in your patch as well, like: nasturtium, verbena, petunias and marigolds. These guys are great at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to your patch, they look attractive and fresh as well.
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and nutrients to an overworked patch. At this time of year try cow pea, mung bean, soy bean and millet. This will improve your soil incredibly. For a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort! Check out the Crop Rotation article on the SGA website for a bit of information why and how Green Manure crops can help
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important if you are heading off this holidays. A hot summer tip is to mulch after watering the patch, to a depth of about 7cm. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Plants feel the need for a feed at this time of year. A seaweed tea or low environmental impact liquid fertiliser is perfect, especially for the seedlings planted at the tail end of last year. Throughout the growing period diluted worm teas can be added to your garden every couple of weeks. This will help keep up the growth and fruiting capabilities of your plants .Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the  morning, in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • On non-gardening days, why not head out to the shed, and construct a couple of shade cloth tents. They don’t have to elaborate, just a simple, moveable structure that you can pop over the top of some of the sun sensitive veggies (like eggplant, capsicum and others) as the heat becomes more intense. Think of it as slip, slop, slap for plants! Pop these around where required, especially on high UV days, windy days, and during your holidays.
  • Weeding is an awesome job to do at this time of year. Cut down the competition between your tasty treats and these space invaders, and tidy up your patch. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding!
  • Water smarter at this time of year. Water first thing in the morning, and instead of quickie irrigation, a nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial! Our fact sheet Irrigation In An Arid Nation has loads more info on smart water habits.

Of course, this is just a rough guide, and many of you will find your situation varies from the above listing, due to microclimates created in your garden, location in relation to your nearest major city, extremes of weather (quite possible at this time of year) and garden type.

But the one thing that remains the same for all zones and regions is this: start out the year as you mean to go on, and give your patch some much needed love!

Have a think about what you want to get out of it. Make a list ( if you don’t already have one). Due to the heat this may be the time where you sit back and plan what you want to achieve so that when the weather does cool somewhat, you’ll be full steam ahead.

Otherwise be smart about the time you spend in the garden, avoid the heat and direct sun and remember to hydrate. Early mornings and evenings can be a blissful time to spend in your garden.

Information sources:
Bagnall, Lyn, Easy organic gardening and moon planting, published by Scribe Publications, VIC.
McFarlane, Annette, Organic Vegetable Gardening, published by ABC Books, Sydney, NSW.


While most babies are cute, cuddly and adorable, this is definitely not the case for the offspring of the Black Sawfly Caliroa cerasi. The larvae, known to us as Pear and Cherry Slugs, are possibly the ugliest of all pests, and the mess they make to some of our favourite fruit trees is pretty unattractive as well!

Description

A beautiful deep, glossy black with a lighter coloured head, the Pear and Cherry slug grows to only 1cm in length and about 0.5cm wide. Mum is a Black Sawfly, a small, shiny, black wasp with a wingspan of 1 cm and a saw-like appendage with which she cuts leaves of the host plant to deposit her eggs.

Plant Damage

The female sawfly deposits her eggs in a small slit in the leaves of her favourite trees in spring. After about 2 weeks, the slug-like larvae emerge, munching the leaves to a skeleton. Heavy infestations of slugs can cause serious defoliation, and result in incredibly unattractive and unproductive trees. They drop to the ground where they go through the pupal stage allowing another generation of flies to develop. Slugs will appear in early summer, and, after the next lot of pupae have spent winter in the soil, again the following spring.

Plants Affected

Pears (incl. ornamentals), cherries (incl. ornamentals), plums, quinces, apples, hawthorns and crabapples.

What to Do

  • Blast them off the leaves with a strong jet of water and then band the tree with a low environmental impact horticultural glue.
  • Make a deterrent spray by collecting and squashing slugs and placing in a bucket of boiling water. Once this has cooled, spray this on the leaves (including the undersides) of affected trees and scare those slugs away!
  • Some recommend dusting the leaves with wood ash, but since most of us don't have open fires to collect it from, try other powdery substances like chalk or flour.  Talcum powder also works for some gardeners.  Others have mixed fine builders' lime (about a large handful in a bucket of water).  It won't dissolve so keep the sprayer agitated and remove any filters.
  • Since sawflies pupate in the soil, adding wood ash - or even powdered lime - to the soil can help too.  These substances may also benefit the soil if it is acid, but don't add too much.
  • Get a couple of chooks to scratch around the base of host trees over winter – they can’t resist the pupae napping in the soil!
  • Create a diverse garden. This encourages predators like other flies, lacewings and wasps and they will all attract insectivorous birds. Plenty of shrubs and herbs with many small flowers will be just the answer.

Photo: Sharron Pfueller