December In Your Patch

Life really starts ramping up festive wise at this time of year, so it is important to know some December gardening tips! Hopefully you’ve already put in loads of produce plants but it’s not too late to get some more growing, especially if you’ve had the pleasure of already harvesting some plants.  Keep up the good work in the garden -  despite the rising heat there’s still plenty to do this month in your patch.  And with Christmas coming, there are plenty of ways you can create gifts for family and friends.  Get some tips!

And if you’re heading off on a trip this break, read our tips on preventing “holiday-itis” in the garden.  It’s an all too common occurrence that can turn the most beautiful backyard into a garden grave in a matter of weeks! Give your garden the gift of a bit of your time this December… you’ll be so pleased you did!

 

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 warm, and fairly humid this month, but there are a few things you could still pop into the patch. You can put in some capsicum, chilli, eggplant, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and zucchini.
  • Too hot for most herbs, but you could try some lemongrass.
  • Still time to pop in some asparagus… just find a cooler spot in the patch.
  • It’s not too late for watermelon, bananas, mangos and passionfruit. Try a Bromaliaceae that fruits as well, sound crazy? Pop in a pineapple and see… perfect for summer Daiquiris!
  • 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 put in during November. They are probably in need of a bit of a feed by now. Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • Try some companion plants as well as these pretties: marigolds, cosmos 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 and for a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort! You just have to have a bit of forethought to what you want to plant in that space come the time to ‘dig over.’
  • 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 a sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • On non-gardening days 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.
  • Going away?  Consider installing a drip irrigation system in your patch before you leave.  These systems deliver water where it is needed, the roots, and when covered by mulch, are invisible garden lifesavers! Install on a tap timer and you’re set! Make sure you choose one appropriate to the needs of your plants; they come with a variety of ‘drips per minute.’
  • Weeding is an awesome job to do at this time of year. Cut down the competition between your produce plants and the weeds and tidy up your patch. It may sound tedious, but it’s incredibly rewarding! Weeds use nutrients that you have set aside specifically for your produce plants, don’t let it leach away!
  • 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.
  • Give the gift that keeps on giving. A productive pot plant! There are potted plants to suit every back pocket, and some awesome selections include chillies, cherry tomatoes, citrus, olives or a mixed herb pot. Get creative… and get giving!

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 a great time of year in the garden in this part of the world, and it’s not too late to pop these into the herb patch: dill, basil, chives, parsley, rosemary, pyrethrum, sage and thyme. Pop some mint into a couple of pots - good to grow now but it can take over if planted in the patch!
  • Add some of these highly productive plants to your patch this month; carrots, cucumber, eggplants, lettuce, french beans, leeks, pumpkins, silverbeet, squash, sweet corn and zucchini.
  • It doesn’t all have to be all edible, flowering plants assist to attract insects for pollination as well as making the area look  great.  Plant out some of these; celosia, petunias, snapdragons, phlox, marigolds and verbena.
  • 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 a sustainable, low environmental impact mulch, one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.
  • Green manure crops, including soy bean, wheat, millet and mung beans are good to go now. Improve that veggie patch that may be a bit nutrient deficient. Doing this will ensure that you are ready for the next seasons heavy feeding plants.
  • 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 during November. They are probably in need of a bit of a feed by now. Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • On non-gardening days 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.
  • Going away?  Consider installing a drip irrigation system in your patch before you leave.  These systems deliver water where it is needed, the roots, and when covered by mulch, are invisible garden lifesavers! Install on a tap timer and you’re set! Make sure you choose one appropriate to the needs of your plants; they come with a variety of ‘drips per minute.’
  • 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! Weeds use nutrients that you have set aside specifically for your produce plants, don’t let it leach away!
  • 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.
  • Give the gift that keeps on giving. A productive pot plant! There are potted plants to suit every back pocket, and some awesome selections include chillies, cherry tomatoes, citrus, olives or a mixed herb pot. Get creative… and get giving!

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, so if you are heading away for a while, it’s probably best to avoid planting at this stage. If you are hanging around at home, why not try some of these favourites; silverbeet, lettuce, leek, beans, corn, squash (summer), leek, eggplants, beetroot, carrots, chilli, cucumber, pumpkin and zucchini.
  • For some super herbs in the temperate areas, try basil (both sweet and purple), parsley, pyrethrum and lemongrass. Mint can be planted now but you might want to keep it in a nice sized pot, just to prevent serious mint invasion!
  • Why not try some lovely flowering stuff in your patch as well.  Nasturtium, verbena, petunias, marigolds, phlox and celosia are great at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to your patch. They add a touch of pretty to your patch too.
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year, try cow pea, mung bean, soy bean and millet. This will improve your soil incredibly, and return some nutrients that are needed for healthy vigorous growth. With a bit of forward planning you’ll find it well worth the effort!
  • 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 during November. They’ll be ready for a bit of a feed by now. Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.
  • 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 like pea or lucerne straw.
  • 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.
  • Going away?  Consider installing a drip irrigation system in your patch before you leave.  These systems deliver water where it is needed, the roots, and when covered by mulch, are invisible garden lifesavers! Install on a tap timer and you’re set! Make sure you choose one appropriate to the needs of your plants; they come with a variety of ‘drips per minute.’
  • 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! Weeds use nutrients that you have set aside specifically for your produce plants, don’t let it leach away!
  • 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.
  • Give the gift that keeps on giving. A productive pot plant! There are potted plants to suit every back pocket, and some awesome selections include chillies, cherry tomatoes, citrus, olives or a mixed herb pot. Get creative… and get giving!

Of course, this is just a rough guide, 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 and garden type.

But the one thing that remains the same for all zones and regions is this: the festive season is better outdoors! So, grab a cool beverage, slip, slop slap, and spend some time under your favourite tree, admiring your patch!

The SGA team would like to wish all of our readers (and their gardens) a safe and happy  holiday season… see you back here next year!

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.

Photos:  Joanne Bate, Elaine Shallue, Mary Trigger


All About Weeds

Let’s find out more about why we call some plants weeds and why they are not all really bad.  So that we can think usefully about removing unwanted species we need to get a full picture of their negative and, dare I say it, positive impacts.

There are many interpretations of what a weed is, dependent on, amongst other things, personal preference for plants and their particular role, use or contribution to a home, person or landscape. We thank Bridey Oliver for research and draft of this article.

What is a Weed?

….a weed is simply a plant which in a particular place at a particular time arouses human dislike…

William Stearn -Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 19561.

However at the environmental and agricultural level there is less room for personal preferences as weedy plants can have serious impacts.

Various bodies have defined what a weed is. Whilst not dissimilar, they are not exactly the same.

  • A weed is plant that is growing where it is not wanted2
  • A plant that requires some form of action to reduce its harmful effects on the economy, the environment,  human health and amenity3.
  • A species that adversely affects biodiversity, the economy or society4.

A useful overview was provided in a University of Melbourne course handbook5.  “Weeds are plants that grow where they are not wanted, can cause health problems in humans (hayfever, contact dermatitis etc), cause health problems in livestock, reduce the aesthetics of an area and can compete with desired plants for light, water and nutrients. A successful weed is a plant that can have high levels of seed production, seed dormancy, can propagate from other plant parts such as bulbs, rhizomes and can live a long time in the soil. Some weedy plants propagate by both seed and vegetative parts. They tend to establish quickly and can quickly occupy disturbed land areas. Many successful weeds can tolerate conditions that may be more challenging for non-weedy species. I.e, drier or wetter sites, hotter or shadier places. “

Many of our worst pest plants (weeds) are escapees from gardens. In fact, around 65% of pest plants that naturalised (became established) in Australia between 1971 and 1995 were imported as ornamental plants for gardens6. For example some of the worst weeds include plants like agapanthus and arum Lilies. Let's not forget, though, that native Australian plants can also become weeds.

Impacts of Weeds

Bearing in mind that a plant’s classification as a weed can be quite subjective, many plants considered as weeds can also quite useful. Potential benefits or drawbacks depend on a number of factors including species of weed, the location and the needs or desires of the user.

 POSITIVE 

NEGATIVE 

Provide  a  cheap/free  source  of  food  containing  high  levels  of vitamins and minerals if correctly chosen. Weeds provide competition for nutrients, light, water and space and can reduce those available for the desired species.
Can provide food or habitat for species of fauna (eg. Bees) Weeds can provide a breeding ground or home for a number of garden pests and diseases.
Important medicinal plants In the broader environment invasive plants can displace native species,  having  a  serious  negative  effect  on  native  habitat  (i.e. reducing food or nesting sites) potentially leading to extinctions.
Weeds,  like  many  other  plants,  can  give  an  indication  of  soil condition. In  Agriculture  weeds  can  be  costly,  through  herbicide  use  to reduce  or  remove  them  and  through  reduced  yields,  through injury  or  illness  to  livestock  (in  the  case  of  toxic  plants),  or contamination
Some weeds are also poisonous or irritating to people

Know your weeds

Being able to identify the common weeds in your garden allows you to take effective action for reducing them (if you want to of course).  The State of Victoria, under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 has declared a number of plants as noxious weeds. This means that they are harmful or have the potential to be harmful to the environment or cause economic harm or be harmful to humans.  Plants classified as noxious weeds are placed into one of four categories; State Prohibited Weeds, Regionally Prohibited Weeds, Regionally Controlled Weeds, Restricted Weeds.

Classification of Weeds7

Classification

Description

Example

State Prohibited Weeds Are either not yet present in Victoria or present in very low numbers but present a significant threat if allowed to invade. The State Government of Victoria is responsible for eradicating these weeds, but may direct landowners to take action on them. Mexican Feather Grass - Nassella tenuissima

Water Hyacinth

Eichhornia crassipes

Regionally Prohibited Weeds P Not widely spread through a region (catchment area defined within the CaLP 1994) but have the potential to do so. They must be managed with eradication the goal. Landowners (private and public) must take all reasonable steps to eradicate these weeds on their land Artichoke Thistle - Cynara cardunculus if prohibited in the Goulburn, North East and West Gippland Catchments.
Regionally Controlled Weeds C Usually widespread in a region. Control measures must be undertaken by landowners to prevent growth and spread of weeds on their land Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna in the Goulburn and Port Phillip and Western Port Catchments
Restricted Weeds R Plants that post a very high risk of spread within Victoria and also pose a threat to another state or Territory. It is prohibited to trade seeds, plants of these species. Hawthorn - Crataegus monogyna in the Mallee, North Central, Corangamite and Glenelg Catchments

Many local government areas (LGA) and Catchment Management Authorities provide identification resources for plants considered weeds or problem plants in the local area and management methods. These lists can usually be found online at the LGA websites or sometimes in hard copy in council offices, information stands/centres in parks and gardens. For example the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council produce a brochure that is available in hard copy and online to help identify invasive/pest plants in that area8.

Online weed databases such as Weeds Australia9 which is a website run by the Centre for Invasive Species Solutions (a research and extension partnerships between Australian Federal and State Governments, CSIRO, Government bodies and Universities).

For other sources of information relating to weeds, identification and management see our reference and resources lists at the end of this article.

Weed Categorisation

It is possible to categorise weedy plants a number of ways; by life cycle, life form, by survival strategies, by impact, amongst others. Categorising weeds can inform the most effective way to deal with them or if removal is necessary. The two easiest, therefore most useful to most people are life cycle and life form.

LIFE CYCLE

LIFE FORMS

ANNUAL - Complete their lifecycle in one growing season. They need to flower and then set seed each year in order to continue the next generation. BROAD LEAF (DICOTYLEDON) - emerge and develop two seed leaves, flat and broad leaves and the veins resemble a spreading network and a taproot system.
BIENNIAL - These plants complete their lifecycle in two years. In the first year they germinate and develop leaves and in the second year they flower and set seed. GRASSES (MONCOTYLEDON) - emerge and develop with one seed leaf, has long and narrow leaves that are characterised by parallel veins and a fibrous root system.
PERENNIAL - These live for many years and flower and set seed each year. Perennials may be fixed in position, generally only  reproducing  by  seed,  or  spreading.  Perennials  which spread  do  so  by  the  development  of  their  vegetative  parts including stolons, runners, rhizomes, corms, tubers, bulbs and bulbils as well as reproduction by seed.

Of course, if you’d like to learn to identify weeds for other uses (e.g. edible weeds) there are books to assist with identification and, in most Australian states, weed walks/foraging walks with experts who show you some of the edible and easily identifiable weeds.

http://www.edibleweeds.com.au/

https://www.eatthatweed.com/

https://pfaf.org/user/Default.aspx

References

  1. Stearn 1956. Review of Weeds by W.C. Muenscher. Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. p285.
  2. Richardson, DM,Pyšek P,Carlton JT. A compendium of essential concepts and terminology in invasion ecology. Fifty years of invasion ecology. The legacy of Charles Elton (ed. by D.M. Richardson), pp. 409–420, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
  3. Department of Environment and Water Resouces 2007. The Australian Weed Strategy. p. 21.
  4. Groves RH, Boden R, Lonsdale WM 2005. Jumping the Garden Fence. CSIRO Report prepared for WWF.
  5. University of Melbourne Burnley Lectures - 2016. NRMT20016. Plant Protection - Weed Management
  6. Commonwealth of Australia 2017. Australian Weeds Strategy 2017 – 2027.
  7. Agriculture Victoria. Invasive Plant Classifications. 2020. https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/biosecurity/weeds/invasive-plant-classifications
  8. https://www.mornpen.vic.gov.au/Your-Property/Environment/Flora-Fauna-Biodiversity/Environmental-Noxious-Weeds
  9. Weeds Australia. 2021. Centre for Invasive Species Solutions. Identify a Weed in Your Region. https://weeds.org.au/identify/

Other Useful Resources

Grubb, A Raser-Rowland A. 2012. A Weed Forager’s Handbook.

Aldous D. 1991. Weed Control for the Home Gardener. Lothian Australian Garden Series.

Herrera PJ, Dorado J, Ribeiro A.2014  A Novel Approach for Weed Type Classification Based on Shape Descriptors and a Fuzzy Decision-Making Method. Sensors14, 15304-15324.

http://www.edibleweeds.com.au/


Gardening Fun

This story from Stephanie Tulai is a wonderful example of gardening fun.

While listening to my favourite James Blunt playlist through the “buds” on my phone as I watered my winter veg in SE Qld, I peered closer at one of my “broccolini” plants. Now I bought these seedlings as the sprouting kind so I was a bit disappointed to find they were actually the classic broccoli plants. I’m a single gal, so it makes sense to plan for picking smaller portions rather than one large one. Then I spied what was boldly peeking up at me, and my heart flipped as I saw how big one of my broccoli heads had become. ‘It’s bigger than my own brain,’ I thought. So I picked that big mother.

She weighed in at 634grams. Although it was under half the weight of an adult brain I was still impressed and, after all, I’m sure there’s isn’t much going on in a “broccoli brain.” After all nature lives and creates by other means than we do. Ironically though, it did match my current weight in kilos: 63.4 and my age is 63 also and when I first planted it I would have been 63 & 4 months ….just sayin’.

I had no idea it was even there as my raised beds are covered in bug-proof netting and I’m gazing in other places as I water and the mind wanders through loving repetition. Also none of its punnet friends were even close to this one’s unexpected magnificence as it sneaked above and beyond it’s  call of duty. It wanted to be different. Perhaps it was getting back at me for my unkind thoughts when I realised they were not what I paid for.

In honour, I named it Peter as I’m a racing car fan and Mr Peter Brock was my favourite driver when he was hot in his Holden. It deserved nothing less than a star’s name for the star it was in my world regardless of its motives.

Once in my kitchen after I had finished watering the rest of my garden, I danced with “Peter” around the kitchen to a James Blunt song called When I Find Love Again (that happened to pop up on my playlist at the time). It was like I was holding the vegetable’s version of the head of my favourite super car star (lol). Perhaps he is destined for a hot lap or two around my wok in the not too distant future. A fitting end I would say.

But as with success, even unexpected ones like that, I must also share my recent bitterness of failure, a failure to pay more attention to the seed packet details, like the actual name of it and not just looking at the picture.  I bought what I thought was broccolini. As they grew I noticed they had different leaves to any broccolini I had grown before. With watering and fertilizing they quickly flourished into tall but robust plants with heaps of sprouts and I clasped my hands together at the prospect that these could feed me for many weeks, perhaps longer. In reality they were Broccoletti Raab Rapini.  They were a mystery to me.

Before I go on to explain how the Rapini tasted there was another memorable experience of personal  tastes not to die for. It was when an ear disease, that I still have some 27 years later, first began to manifest.  I went to see a Chinese herbalist on the Gold Coast. He took my pulse as a form of diagnosis and I described my symptoms. Behind the counter were rows upon rows of massive jars of “ weird things”. It was like a scene in Rosalee and Monroe’s exotic cures shop in the Grimm tv series. But at least I didn’t feel like I had to poke anything to make sure it wasn’t alive.

I watched him weigh some of those curiosities and place them into a paper bag. I was to make a tea out of the concoction of bark, roots and well I had no idea what half of it was and drink a cup morning and night. After the first slug it took me a while to clean up the mess. It was like one of those moments at a dinner table when you take a drink and end up spraying it all over someone after they said something outrageously funny before you could swallow it.  But there was nothing funny about this moment, nothing funny at all. If someone handed me this stuff as I died of thirst in the Sahara Desert I would croak through cracked and crusted lips, ‘do you have anything else?’   Yes it was that bad. If someone took a photo of my face the moment I tasted it and froze it in time as the only image that there ever was on record of me I would not be a happy vegemite about  that either that’s for sure. And so all this is leading a trail back to my short taste experience of the Raab Rapini‘s -Taste of the Mediterranean.

I steamed a couple of stems to have with my dinner (for those familiar with it in this now diverse country of ours… remember I am thinking it’s broccolini ) and after the first mouthful the bitterness was so overwhelming my liver almost had a heart attack. I have learned since that there is a particular way to cook them with pasta that makes them more palatable and they are in the same subspecies as the turnip, hence they have the characteristic bitter taste of this group.

If I had planted a whole heap of them I would have shoved them all down the throat of my garden mulcher just so I could watch it spit it out as well. But like coriander you are either a lover or a hater and apparently there is a gene if you have it that causes cilantro aversion.  Perhaps it is the same for bitterness, some like it and some don’t but for me I have to say, I will certainly take a second look at those labels on seed packets from now on.


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 in May in your patch. 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.

 


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!

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 time to love your leafy greens! Whack in the following this month: Asian greens, lettuce, mizuna, cabbage, silverbeet, rocket and spinach!
  • Keep the bunnies happy and pop in some carrots during April. Check out the Yummy Yards info sheet on carrots for all the tips!
  • Hop into the herb patch with coriander (try a slow bolting variety if it’s still warm), parsley, lemon grass, chamomile and oregano.
  • Stick in some spuds… home grown is easy, and incredibly rewarding. The potato page is here!
  • Go veggie crazy with artichoke, beetroot, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, chilli, garlic and radish.
  • If you are in the tropical north (anywhere north of Rocky) you could try some cucumber, pumpkin, sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes and zucchinis.
  • 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.
  • Pretty up the patch with these flowering fancies – marigolds, sunflowers and 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. A hot tip is to mulch after watering the patch, to a depth of about 7cm. Keep mulch clear of plant stems… especially young seedlings. Choose a 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!

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)

  • There is still a whole heap of things you can pop in the patch at this time of year. Tasty herbs in the ‘burbs that are ready to roll include our old favourite, coriander. You could give mint and lemon balm a go as well, but be careful to contain it, otherwise it can take over!
  • Try these tasty wonders into your Yummy Yard this month: Chinese cabbage, most Asian Greens, spinach, rocket, broccoli, spring onions, asparagus, celery, endive, squash, onions, silverbeet, leeks and lettuce. Don’t be a bunny, remember to plant some carrots during April!
  • 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 of these little pretties- dianthus, cornflower, pansy, viola, Echinacea, stock, 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. A hot tip is to mulch after watering the patch, to a depth of about 7cm. 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.
  • Green manure crops, including oats, wheat, fava 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.
  • 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!

 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)

  • Top time to plant in this part of the world, especially now that is has cooled down a bit! Why not try cabbage, Asian greens, lettuce, rocket, tatsoi, spring onions, spinach, carrots, celery, cauliflower, broad beans, leek, onions, radish, turnips and swedes.
  • It’s time to get happy with herbs, so try some parsley, basil, coriander (try a slow bolting variety if it’s still pretty warm), rosemary, marjoram and thyme. 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, nasturtium, verbena and marigolds. These guys are great at attracting pollinators and beneficial insects to your patch, and I reckon they look tops as well.
  • Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year try fava 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!
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds, especially important for weed suppression at this time of year. A hot tip is to mulch after watering the patch, to a depth of about 7cm. 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!

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 (Mother Nature does like to keep us on our toes) and garden type.

April is often a time that we overindulge, and often end up regretting it! Same deal with our Yummy Yards… don’t overfeed and over-fertilise at this time of year, while your plants may look as though they’re enjoying the extra food, you are probably doing more harm than good.


Green Manure

If you have a bit of space in your garden, growing green manures or cover crops is a great way to improve soil fertility and add organic matter to your soil. They can also be used as weed suppressants, and assist in the control of pest and diseases. So what are they, and where and when can you use them?

What is green manure?

Green manures or cover crops describe a range of temporary, fast growing leafy plants which are sown from seed generally in autumn or spring, grown through the next few weeks or months (depending on the season), and then, just before they begin to flower and set seed, they are slashed and turned in to the soil, or used as mulch for whatever's to be planted next.

Why is it grown?

You might consider growing a green manure crop in a new garden area to supress weeds, improve drainage, reduce compaction, stabilise the area to limit erosion, and improve the soil before you put in permanent plantings. Green manure crops are often used in vegetable gardens, in beds, or parts of beds which are given a break from vegetable production for a season to improve the soil and set the bed up for the next crop.

Vegetable gardeners might have some space to spare after the summer harvest, and if you have a crop rotation system, you could think of incorporating a green manure crop into the rotation – check out our guide to crop rotation incorporating green manure crops here.

When to plant

There are different green manure crops that will thrive in different climates and different seasons.
If you want to plant a cool/cold season crop and you live in:

• an area with cool/cold winters (Tasmania, Victoria and southern New South Wales, southern South Australia and southern Western Australia), the best sowing time is early autumn. If it's been very dry, wait for a bit of autumn rain before sowing. You can also sow cool/cold season crops in these areas in early spring;
• a warmer area (northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, warmer parts of South Australia and Western Australia) plant cool/cold season crops a little later – in April or May;
• in a frost free area, cool/cold season crops can be planted from autumn until the end of winter.

If you want to plant a warm season crop, and you live in a colder area, plant in spring, once there's no risk of frost. In warmer areas, plant in summer whenever you can rely on rainfall, or are able to irrigate. If you live in a tropical area, you can plant warm season crops throughout the year, so long as there's moisture available.

What plants to grow

Cool/cold season crops:
Fava beans, broad beans, tick beans, fenugreek, lupins, oats, subclover, woolly pod vetch, ryecorn, yellow and black mustard seed, other brassicas, feed oats, wheat or barley.

Warm season crops:
Buckwheat, cowpea, French white millet, Japanese millet, lablab, marigolds, mung bean and soybean

Benefits of Particular Plants

Different crops have different benefits, and can be grown in combination. Seed sellers will often sell individual seed types and green manure mixes. Some examples:

Biofumigants, like marigolds (Tagetes patula) planted in spring, brassicas (Brassica napus and Brassica campestris) and mustard, planted in autumn help to control root knot nematodes and root rot fungal pathogens. These crops must be dug in to release beneficial gases as they decompose.

Legumes, like lucerne, clover, beans and peas, which fix nitrogen and will make it available to whatever follows the green manure crop.

Weed smotherers include lablab, cowpea, lucerne and buckwheat.

Establishing your crop

it's usually as simple as choosing your seed mix, clearing the bed of weeds, broadcasting the seed and raking to cover, but check the seed packet to see whether your seeds have any special requirements. Most green manures will need moisture to germinate and while they're growing, so depending on rainfall, you might need to water the seeds in when you sow them, and to give them a hose as they grow.

Harvesting

For maximum benefit, harvest as your crop starts to flower – once the crop has fully flowered (and then set seed) the nitrogen content decreases, and, if the plant goes to seed, you'll likely see it pop up all over the place next season. You can either dig the crop in, or cut it and use it as mulch on the bed where it grew, or around the garden. If you decide to dig the crop into the soil, it will break down faster if you mow or chop it up a bit first. Allow 4 to 6 weeks after you dig the crop in before planting new seeds in the bed. If you need to plant seeds sooner, use your green manure crop as a surface mulch.

Obtaining seeds

Some garden centres supply mixes of different seeds or sell them individually. However, you can make your own selection quite cheaply by buying seeds of many individual species from bulk food stores which sell nuts, grains and pulses. These normally germinate well, but it might be wise to buy only a small quantity first and test their viability. This can be easily done by placing a few on moist tissue paper in a small container and watching for root formation.


February In Your Patch

Because it is warmer than summers 10 years ago, you might need to change what you normally do your garden.  Maybe in February in your patch some of  your summer crop is having a little bit of a last hoorah, you may find the tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum and still chugging along.  In any case, it’s time to start thinking about 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.

Weeding

Weeding is a great 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!

 Mulching

Top up the mulch on your vegetable patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds.  This is especially important if you are heading away or caught up in the bustle of back to school.  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 (this means different things in different areas), one that will enrich your soil as it breaks down.

 Planning
Time to think about what wonders you will whack into your patch come April. Preparing beds and plots now means that when autumn planting time rolls around, your garden will be ready and waiting. Removing spent plants, clearing areas of weeds and topping up organic matter is an excellent February job. A nail rake, some good organic compost and lovely sustainable mulch is the perfect recipe for productive patches of the future.

 

 Shade for your plants
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. Pop these around where required, especially on high UV days, windy days, and during your holidays.

Watering
Water smarter at this time of year and always first thing in the morning. A nice, deep drink a couple of times a week is far more beneficial than frequent, short watering.

 Green Manure
Consider a green manure crop to add some life and love to an overworked patch. At this time of year try lablab, cow pea, mung bean, soy bean and millet. This will improve your soil incredibly, and, for a bit of forward planning, you’ll find it well worth the effort!

 Warm Areas

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

  • Give leeks, capsicum, chillies, cabbage, silverbeet, lettuce, sweet corn, cauliflower, broccoli and tomatoes a go towards the end of the month.
  • It’s too hot for most herbs, but you could try some lemongrass. Wait until the end of the month to plant some basil varieties, including our old favourite sweet basil, and the always-stunning purple basil.
  • Want a super summer smoothie… for years to come? Then plant some banana, pineapple and mangos!
  • Pretty up the patch with some marigolds and sunflowers. Planting these around your veggies will give some colour and interest to the patch, and act as beneficial insect attractors.
  • The recent heat in the warm areas may have caused a bit of grief to many plants in the garden, with some foliage looking less than fancy. Don’t be too tempted to tidy these guys just yet – cruddy looking leaves will protect the new, young, sensitive shoots underneath from a serious case of sunburn. Wait until the evenings cool down in about a month or so to get your Edward Scissorhands to your scorched shrubs.

 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 is still fairly warm around these parts, but there are a number of incredible edibles ready to go in now. Try lettuce, spinach, leek, silverbeet, and some Asian greens towards the tail end of the month. Broccoli, leeks and spring onions could be worth a shot when the nights get cooler.
  • Add some colour and movement to the patch, and pop in some of these little pretties: stock, dianthus, viola, pansy, verbena and ageratum.
  • Give most herbs a miss just now, but, if you’re really keen, get rolling with parsley and watercress.
  • Garlic is good to go once the weather cools a touch.
  • Top up mulch on your veggie patches, herb gardens and ornamental beds. 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 shoved in at the tail end of last year. Apply to the soil early in the morning, and in the concentrations mentioned on the packet.

 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’s still pretty warm outside, but there are some tasty treats you can plant out this month. Try silverbeet, leeks, spring onions, Brussels sprouts, bush beans, broccoli, cauliflower and celery… but wait until the end of the month.
  • Lettuce is lovely at the end of February, but, because the days are still quite hot, consider popping the seedlings under some shade cloth, or a more established plant to protect its sensitive foliage form the sun.  Even try growing in partial shade.
  • Still too hot for most herbs but lemongrass will take the heat if planted out now. Basil is happy to go in now as well, so why not mix it up and try some purple, Thai and lemon basils, as well as our old favourite, sweet basil.
  • 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, and they look great as well.
  • Want to save some money? Avocados are relatively expensive at the moment, but in a few years time that won’t worry you. Towards the tail end of February try planting an avocado.

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 and garden type.

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. So, grab a cool beverage, slip, slop slap and spend some time under your favourite tree, admiring your patch!

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.

Photos:
Elaine Shallue - Basil and Zucchini


January In Your Patch

Wondering what to do in January in your patch? 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.


The Time is Now for Street Gardening

As our cities are densified, street gardening on nature strips and verges can make important contributions to biodiversity, beauty, increasing carbon dioxide uptake, working with neighbours and building community. An enthusiastic innovator, Emma Cutting, founder and CEO of The Heart Gardening Project, tells us the why’s and the how’s.  She writes:

“Street gardening is something I have been doing for a long time now - since about 2015 - and I love it! Such a sense of fulfilment from connecting humans to humans, humans to nature and nature to nature has completely changed my way of thinking about the city- for the better! My street gardening is built on the foundations of gardeners that have been in our street for decades and, indeed, street gardening is something that a lot of people do…..yet I feel it still remains a largely untapped goldmine of positive change being massively misunderstood, underrated and underutilised.

Adrian Marshall, a landscape architect who wrote his Phd on gardens in public spaces, says in his article in The Conversation

“In Melbourne…more than a third of all public green space is nature strips (that figure includes roundabouts, medians and other green bits of the street.)" and, in particular, he found  “road easement" green space (what most councils in Australia know as nature strips or verges) constituted 7.0% of land cover”.

Massive!

Before Gardening
After the Gardening Project

Most of what is there is dirt, grass, weeds and trees.  Think about our mammoth urban environmental problems such as the heat island effect and water retention, mental health issues and how urban biodiversity destruction.  If we were to turn that dirt, grass and weeds into joyful, wriggling, buzzing beauty on that huge % of public land then we will be addressing those massive problems and many more! Street gardening is a complete no-brainer and we have to get out there and, within local council constraints, create gardens in these spaces.

Street gardening is not guerrilla gardening

Though there are definite similarities (e.g. both are on public land), the big difference is that guerrilla gardening is defined as gardening done without permission on land which is not your own and street gardening is working out what can be done with permission in public spaces and then doing as much of it as possible -  creating positive change, garnering and increasing community support, participation and awareness and therefore pressuring authorities to further free up their street gardening policies and guidelines.

The word “guerrilla” indicates warfare and although it may sound exciting, doesn’t sit positively with many others. Street gardening can be a type of activism – but positive and non-violent - nothing like warfare. Street gardening is working with people, not against them!

However, I have to admit that, because some council guidelines can be a tad unclear, there may end up being hints of guerrilla gardening in street gardening!

Street gardening is not private gardening

 Although a street garden can be close to a front yard, they are very different. One is public land and one is private and approaching both with the ‘private land approach’ simply doesn't work. When people think like this, crankiness brews. Such street gardeners tend to tend to be more concerned with public land challenges like trampling (by humans and dogs), littering, theft and dog poo and to focus their time and energy on these, having little time to embrace the many positives that can come out of their street gardening efforts. They also tend to get cranky around what can’t be done rather than focussing on what can be done - what a shame!

 Street gardening is….?

 Looking up the meaning of street gardening the other day and finding nothing prompted me to write something myself. This is a combo of many years of mulling, learning, experiencing, chatting, listening and gardening.

Street gardening is creating a garden in a public space (often by a resident outside their home) combining site awareness, observation and immersion with a particularly determined, generous, positive and community-centred mindset.

This mindset is the key to successful street gardening and I believe you do not need to be a great gardener to be a great street gardener!

To give you an idea of what I mean, here are my top three tips on how to be a great street gardener (from my book, Melbourne Pollinator Corridor Handbook):

 

  1.  It is not your garden. However much money, time and effort you put in.  It is everyone’s and everyone will treat it differently
  2. Treat people big and small (and their dogs!) how you want your garden to be treated when you aren’t there.
  3. Do not expect anything from anyone regarding your garden because the moment you do your life won’t be so positive. No expectations means that when anything amazing happens (because it will) you can be grateful.

The raw, positive community power that is generated from street gardening is something special that needs to be harnessed more than ever before. So, if you can get a garden going within your council constraints and try to embrace this mindset (it can sometimes be tricky!), you will be taking part in a generous, positive action and improving your community and this planet. You will see many positive flow-on effects environmental and emotional.

If you can do it, go for it!!”

The Heart Gardening Project is a community initiative that brings humans and nature together through street gardening. See more on the website, and you can purchase a copy of Emma's book Melbourne Pollinator Corridor Handbook..

SGA always recommends consulting with your local council or relevant owner if you plan to undertake gardening on nature strips or land other than on the property that you own.

References:

Adrian Marshall: Our Land Abounds in Nature Strips. The Conversation.

Adrian J.Marshall, Margaret J.Grose, Nicholas S.G.Williams. 2019. From little things: More than a third of public green space is road verge  Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 44:  126423.


Thrips

Hi, my name is:  Thrip

I infect a wide variety of plants by sucking sap from leaves. There are around 6000 different species of this insect and many target commercial crops but others infect home garden plants.  In Australia, around 35 species cause plant damage and multiply much more rapidly as the weather warms up.

Describe yourself: About 1 - 2mm long, sometimes white and yellow but don't mind black. Quite slim, with lovely fringed wings! Don't be fooled, what I lack in size I make up for in tenacity. I'm very social and usually travel with lots of mates.

Hobbies: Laying eggs in unopened flowers, sucking sap, spreading viruses from plant to plant.

Likes: Most plants, but really fond of tomatoes, beans, roses, azaleas and fruit trees. I love any white or light-coloured flowers!

Dislikes: Soaps - like home made chilli soap, or store bought stuff. Don't get along with Ladybirds or Lacewings.

You'll know you've met me when: Your plants' leaves look white and a bit mottled, the petals or fruit turn brown, and flower buds fall off! Late spring is my favourite time to visit your garden - just as the roses start to bloom!

If you want to dump me, you could try to:

  • Irritate me by putting a flattened square of aluminium foil around the base of plants to bounce light on the undersides of leaves.

  • Drench me with a forceful jet of water in the early morning for 3 consecutive days.
  • Spray me with a home made garlic or chilli soap. Or use a store bought insecticidal soap. And target the underside of leaves where I usually like to shelter.
  • Prevent my adult friends from emerging from leaf litter in the early spring by applying a thick layer of organic mulch around susceptible plants.
  • Remove damaged plant parts as I also like to over winter in plant tissue or bark fissures.
  • Hit me with a pyrethrum spray if I JUST WON"T LEAVE, but be careful not to use when friendly pollinating insects are visiting the same flowers!
  • Deter me by cultivating the soil around your plants in autumn to a depth of 6 cm and again in the following spring.
  • Destroy all infected flowers and buds but don't compost them. Throw them out - and me with them!

Photographs:

Pic 1: http://www.dpi.qld.gov.au/cps/rde/dpi/hs.xsl/26_4282_ENA_HTML.htm
Pic 2: http://www.hort.uconn.edu/IPM/greenhs/htms/ghsemsg2007_07.htm Desc: Thrip damage on the leaf surface
Pic 3: http://www.bugsforbugs.com.au/product/41 Desc: Thrip predator mite... the mighty Montdorensis!


All about Mulch - Video

Wrap your soil up in a blanket of mulch to conserve water use, add nutrients, suppress weeds and enhance habitat. But what to use where? Meander through a multitude of mulches with Helen as she show us what to goes where, what’s sustainable, what’s not and how to avoid common problems when mulching. From straw, to stone, to living mulches, this flick makes mulch ado about mulching and will have your garden beds snug and warm in no time.


Pest Repellent Plants

Every garden is sometimes afflicted with pests - grasshoppers, cabbage white butterfly caterpillars, scale and aphids being very common.  Is it always necessary to use a spray, either bought or home-made?  Just having certain plants in your garden can help repel insects or confuse them with their strong scent.  If they are planted near susceptible plants they will contribute to keeping insects at bay.

Here are some suggestions, mostly  taken from the book Pest-Repellent Plants, by Penny Woodward (published by Hyland House). You can find loads more wonderful information at Penny's website at www.pennywoodward.com.au.

Marjoram and oregano

These two will deter pumpkin beetles when planted near cucurbits. They also confuse white cabbage butterflies when planted near brassicas. A hedge growing around an onion patch will protect the onions from onion maggot.

Marigolds

Planted randomly through a garden, marigold smell tends to confuse flying insects! Grow them amongst crops such as tomato to repel whitefly and soil nematodes, with carrots to deter carrot fly and with brassicas to mask their smell. Between rows of beans, marigolds will deter spider mites and a range of beetles.

Lavender

Strongly scented lavenders will protect nearby plants from insects such as whitefly, and lavender planted under and near fruit trees can deter codling moth. A hedge around onions will protect them from onion maggot, and lavenders planted near native plants can repel the moths that produce borer larvae.

Remember though, that there is a weed species of lavender and this must be avoided. Lavandula stoechas (Topped Lavender or French Lavender) and its 40 odd cultivars is still allowed into Australia but it is subject to legislation in Victoria as a regionally prohibited and regionally controlled weed, proclaimed in the Victorian Government Gazette of 18 December 1997 (www.dpi.vic.gov.au). It is also a problem in many other areas, especially South Australia.

Garlic

Garlic has the ability to repel airborne and soilborne pests. It deters beetles, spider mites and fruit flies. The smell of garlic and other alliums confuses carrot fly and white cabbage butterfly. When planted amongst raspberry canes garlic will protect them from a variety of grubs.

Basil

The general insect repellent properties of basil make it an excellent plant to grow throughout the vegetable garden. Basil especially protects cabbages, beans, and tomatoes. It even protects cucurbits from downy mildew. Grow basil in pots near doorways to deter flies.

Sage

Sage attracts bees but repels many pest insects and protects onions from onion maggot. Sage also repels ants, so grow it in pots near doorways, and lay sprigs of sage on shelves and entry points. It is also supposed to keep mice away.

Rosemary

Its scent masks the smell of other plants such as brassicas and deters carrot fly. A hedge of rosemary around a vegetable garden acts as a general pest repellent for insects such as whitefly. Add sprigs of rosemary to clothes cupboards to repel moths and silverfish.

Land cress Barbarea vulgaris

This plant is also known as Bittercress, Herb Barbara, Rocketcress, Yellow Rocketcress, Winter Rocket, and Wound Rocket.  It should not be confused with Barbarea verna, a different species, but which has similar properties.  It is very attractive to cabbage white butterflies which lay their eggs on it.  The larvae which hatch out and feed on the leaves, which have a high saponin content, die.  So when planted in your garden, maybe even amongst your cabbages and kale, it will minimise attack on these vegetables by these nasty caterpillars.

It is edible chopped in salads, but make sure you use the young leaves since bitterness increases as the plants mature.  It is best not to let the pretty yellow flowers go to seed unless you want a prolific crop of new plants.

Pics © Elaine Shallue and Sharron Pfueller (SGA)


Is Coir Soil?

Use of coir for gardening has become more popular.  It is used in a variety of ways, but from the labels on some coir products it looks like they can be used in place of normal soil.  So here we ask the question “Is coir soil?”

Products are made from the fibre from between the inner shell surrounding the edible portion of coconuts and the outer coat.  It is sometimes also called ‘Coco Peat’ or ‘Coconut Coir’.  But can you use it to grow plants just as you would garden soil?

What is coir?

Chemically, coir is composed of cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose and pectin – all chemical compounds  that are found in wood.  It also contains phosphorus and potassium and small amounts of calcium, nitrogen, boron, copper, iron, molybdenum, zinc, magnesium and chlorine.1 Obviously , it is very different from what we know as garden soil which is made up of various proportions of inorganic particles of clay and sand and also organic substances from plants, fungi, insects, microorganisms.

Traditionally, it has been used to make rope, mats, carpet, brushes, in upholstery, packing material and insulation and to hold back soil to prevent erosion on coasts and highway edges.2  Harvested from coconut shells, its fibres are 150 – 28 cm long.  For gardening, it has been used for a long time to create liners for hanging baskets and in the form of long coils, as in the image on the right, it has been used as mulch for pot plants and gardens.

However, for the increasing use in gardens it has been processed into shorter fibre lengths, as in the image at the top, and sterilized to remove bacteria and other microorganisms. It is available in disks to start seeds, as biodegradable moulded pots, as a support for climbing plants, as a soil stopper in the base of pots and in hydroponic systems.

Labels on garden products are sometimes unclear about what ingredients they contain and how the product can be used and this is the case for coir which has been compressed into blocks or bricks.   Technically speaking, coir is a growing medium, not soil as we know it. But labels on some of these products suggest that it can be used to fill garden beds and pots.  However, this will not produce healthy plants unless nutrient fertilisers are added.  And because of coir’s phosphorus and potassium content, added fertilizer should have lower P-K values than those in common use for garden soil.  Since coconut palms grow in coastal areas, coir may have higher sodium content from sea salt than conventional garden soil.

How Best to Use Coir

Given the characteristics outlined above, it would be wise to avoid using it to replace garden soil or potting mix. In an article on SGA’s website we suggested that coir was an alternative to sphagnum moss or peat as a soil amendment to improve water-holding capacity and create an open structure which allows easy root penetration.  Because coir consists of plant-based material, it will break down over time due to the action of microorgansims.  This breakdown acts as a small energy source for both the microorganisms and any plants growing in it.

From a sustainability viewpoint, it is a renewable resource and its supply does not endanger fragile environments as peat and sphagnum moss do.  It also does not have the acidic pH associated with either of those products.

However, during conversion of the original coir to the form used in gardens there are a number of steps involving heating, washing and filtering to get suitable sized fibres, so energy is required for this processing. It also lacks important constituents of a healthy garden soil i.e. beneficial microorganisms and the organic matter from which important nutrients are released.

Coir is a useful amendment to soil to increase its water-holding capacity and provide a looser texture which facilitates root growth.  It is very suitable for starting seeds and in hydroponic systems.  But it needs to be used in conjunction with nutrients from, for example, composts, manures and worm farm products.  Or, of course, artificial fertilisers could be added but these also require energy to manufacture and transport, and who would choose those if you are trying to garden organically and reduce your environmental footprint?

If you plan to buy coir, check the specifications carefully since some coir products have already had fertilisers added to them and remember that most coir products are not soil.

References

  1. https://www.hydroexperts.com.au/buying/resource-library/grow-knowledge-database/the-chemistry-of-coco-coir/
  2. Satyanarayana KG, Kulkarni AG, Rohatgi PK. 1981. Structure and properties of coir fibres. Proc. Indian Acad. Sci. (Eng. Sci.) 4, (4), 419-436.

Citrus Gall Wasp

Citrus gall wasp endangers productivity in gardens as well as in commercial orchards, especially in Western1 and South Australia2. So recognizing and controlling it are important tasks since it spreads easily.

What are they?

Many of our more persistent garden pests are not native to Australia but citrus gall wasp is definitely an Aussie grown garden variety pest. Originally, this native wasp was limited to Queensland and northern New South Wales and its preferred host was native finger limes.  But citrus gall wasp Bruchophagus fellis has rapidly adapted to the wider variety of citrus fruits now on offer.  Since the 1990’s it has successfully migrated from Queensland, through NSW and can now be found as far south as Melbourne where it is virtually endemic in the iconic back yard lemon tree.

Plants affected

All citrus especially lemons and grapefruit.

Damage Caused

The wasp larvae grow within the citrus stems until late summer when gardeners start to notice unsightly galls appearing on their trees.  These galls or calluses are formed in response to the presence of the feeding larvae. Galls cannot be ‘cured’ or reversed.  Old galls are unsightly but are also empty as the adult wasp will have left through the tiny exit holes.  Developing galls can be removed but this may also mean the loss of developing fruit at the end of the infected stem. Citrus gall is more damaging to younger citrus trees than older trees.

Control Methods

Controlling citrus gall wasp can be difficult but damage can be minimised by:

  • Avoiding high nitrogen fertiliser in spring as this promotes soft sappy growth - just perfect for the egg laying stage.  Feed trees in late autumn and early winter instead.
  • Removing all newly formed galls that don’t show signs of exit holes before mid-winter - "Prune in June".  Old galls have already been exited.  Prune only a maximum of 1/3 of the tree to avoid stressing it too much.
  • Preventing the wasps from maturing within galls that don’t show exit holes in winter by slicing off part of the gall on one side.  Don’t slice all around the surface of the gall as this will ringbark the branch.
  • From mid-August, hanging yellow sticky traps with a chemical attractant inside to trap emerging adult wasps. The yellow is an attractant and the sticky coating makes it impossible for the wasp to escape.  Remember to twist the top so that the chemical is released. Since beneficial insects may also be attracted to this trap, do not leave on after November as the wasps are no longer about and even small birds may become trapped.
  • Destroying infected stems by burning or bagging.

References

  1. https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/plant-biosecurity/citrus-gall-wasp-control
  2. https://www.pir.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/341450/Fact_Sheet_-_Citrus_Gall_Wasp_-_Nov_2019.pdf

Photographs:

Pic 1, 2 & 3: Elaine Shallue, SGA


Staying Safe While Gardening

Gloves, socks and sometimes masks are very important in preventing disease obtained by gardening -  the last thing you want, especially with the coronavirus around.  Since, currently, people are becoming more interested in gardening – both to grow food and to do general tidying up and planting because of increased time at home while social distancing, we really need to be protecting ourselves by wearing the right clothes!
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