Archive | March, 2011

What’s wrong with my apple?

29 Mar

My apple leaves are going brown

The leaves on my apple are going brown. I know apples are deciduous, but I’m not sure that’s what’s happening. I don’t want to plant this one out if it’s going to spread some nasty infection to my other apple tree.


In other news, my delivery of garlic and seeds from the Diggers Club has gone missing in the post, so today J and I planted the 2 bulbs of organic garlic (the ones I was keeping just in case I thought I needed more) under the roses as planned. The two bulbs were only enough for under two of the roses, so when the others turn up (hopefully), I can plant the rest out under the others. It really is going to look very strange, but hey – with the amount of sudden impact and lucerne mulch that those spiky blighters get fed, they really need to give something back 🙂

Extending the tomato season

28 Mar

Fading tomatoes

I love, love, love tomatoes. So I get sad at this time of year when the plants are dying back and the fruit are looking dodgy.

I’ve been trying to raise some cold-tolerant varieties of tomatoes from seed, but for some reason they are a bit slow off the mark. My main tomato plants have died back significantly, and although they still have lots of fruit on there, it is high on the plant (so suffering from sunburn), and some of the fruit is getting leathery. The growing tips however still look wonderful and healthy, which gave me an idea.

Tomato cutting

I have read about growing tomatoes from cuttings. The idea is that you cut out a growing tip (either the top of the plant or a lateral shoot) and bury it deeply in some soil. Apparently you need to keep it well watered and protected for a few days, then it will take root. Apparently cuttings produce hardier plants than the original, but I’ll have to test that one out.

J helps me plant the cutting

I took a few cuttings high up on my plants, and J helped my plant them into some pots. I used a mixture of cow manure and potting mix as the medium, and watered with a mixture of seasol and tomato fertiliser. After that they were looking a little worse for wear, but I hope they will put out roots and recover. After this photo was taken I covered the leftmost one with a plastic bag to keep the humidity up, and this evening I brought them under cover. I’ll leave them in shade until they either recover or die.

The tomato cuttings looking worse for wear

Tonight I pulled out the dying tomato plants. I experimented today with the remaining green fruit by making green tomato cupcakes, which are a bit like a apple, sultana and walnut muffin. The green tomatoes are tart like granny smith apples – it works surprisingly well! While you are checking out the recipe, have a look at the $120 food challenge blog – it’s full of great budget recipes and resources.


Update: After some advice from those in the know, I’ve lopped the side leaves off and planted them much deeper. Hopefully they won’t lose as much moisture that way, and will survive. Fingers crossed!

You can’t erect a teepee without freaking out the neighbours

27 Mar

We’ve been away for the past few days. We travelled to Tamworth for the funeral of P’s grandfather, and I’m totally sick of driving. It is more than 5 hours each way (without children), and much longer with them.I’ve never been to that part of our country before, and I was really struck by the beauty of the landscape. The hills shine golden in the sunlight and the dark green crops provide a rich contrast on the plains. As we drove past a field I was always curious about what was growing, but I could never tell.

Now that we’re back, I was really keen to get the rest of the front garden bed prepared and planted, and also to get my new fruit trees in. I was aided by the fact that the kids are quite sick, and they always sleep more when they’re snotty.

Almost as soon as we arrived home last night I worked P like a slave driver. He ripped out the remaining roses, worked the soil to a reasonable depth, added copious cow manure, and spread sugar cane mulch along the entire bed. All ready for planting out today.

Our block faces south, so I’m trying to plant the tall things at the front so they don’t shade everything else. For this reason, I want to plant climbing peas and beans along the front of the bed, but I haven’t been sure about how to best support them. I bought some bamboo poles with the vision to drive one in every metre or so, but I don’t want it to look like a fence. I asked P what he thought, and he said that whatever I did was going to look weird, so he went inside and refused to help. Thanks a lot.

The front yard, complete with teepees

I’ve been watching with interest in Friz Haeg’s Edible Estates project, and I noticed that he’s been using teepees as structures for climbers, so I thought I’d give that a go. I only had ten poles, so I constructed my teepees out of only three poles each. I hammered the poles in with a rubber mallet and bound them together with jute twine. When I was finished, P came out, declared them to “not look too bad”, but suggested that my triangles should all be equilateral. If one is going to criticise my geometry, one shouldn’t bail out before the hammering starts.

As I constructed my works of modern art, I noticed that the cars driving down the street were going a little slower past our place. Look at the crazy lady making teepees!

Below the teepees I planted a combination of climbing sugar snap peas and sweet peas. I hope that that flowers (sweet peas) will make it slightly prettier. Around the same area I planted quite a number of greenfeast peas. They don’t climb as such, so I should be able to support them in other ways, like sticks etc. I’ll work out the details later – any ideas?

Also today I planted out three globe artichoke plants at the very right hand side of the bed, some garlic chives evenly spaced right along the back, and scattered an entire packet or french marigold seeds along the bed. I wonder if any will grow? I think I might be pushing my luck a bit considering how much mulch I’ve spread.

I planted these a couple of weeks ago

The first batch of seedlings that I planted a few weeks ago are coming along really well. I particularly like how the golden shallots look along the back – so spiky, and such a lovely green. These were a gift from a lovely elderly lady at church – now I wish I had more of them! The mini wombok cabbages are exploding – they grow so amazingly quickly. I hope I can think of enough stuff to cook with them, because I planted quite a few.

The green manure is coming along nicely

An update on the green manure. Is is growing nicely along the bed immediately in front of the house. Unfortunately my seed scattering wasn’t very even, so I have a few bare patches and it actually looks like I’ve just let weeds take over. Maybe I should add something else in the bare patches. You can see also that my kaffir lime is well and truly dead  now 😦

My fig has its new pot!

Today I also bought a small half wine barrel pot for the fig tree. J helped me fill it with potting mix and I transplanted the fig. Grow little tree! Make me figs!

I’ve decided that planting the dwarf lime out in the garden bed is too risky. The mandarin I planted is looking a little sad, so I’m going to wait and see before risking my new little baby out there in the big wide garden. Instead I uprooted a nearly-dead azalea and absconded with it’s lovely terracotta pot. You can see the unfortunate azalea in the photo above of the green manure. Should I take pity on it? You can’t eat azaleas, you know.

My beautiful dwarf tahitian lime

So my plan with the lime is to put it in the pot on the back deck for a while (careful not to overwater this time), and put it out into the full sun of the front yard once it is well established in the pot (and harder to steal). If the mandarin recovers, I might plant it out into the garden, but I’ll leave my options open in the meantime.

Terms of trade

21 Mar

Good ol' fashioned bartering - home grown macadamia nuts

My friend Vanessa came around with her kids the other day for a playdate. It was fun, and as a bonus, I got to show off my garden!

Poor V was probably bored stiff by my excited ravings, but in passing conversation she mentioned her macadamia tree, and the fact that she can’t be bothered cracking the nuts. Was she serious?! Can’t be bothered? Macadamias! So we teed up a trade. My excess tomatoes for her bag of unloved macadamias.

Anyone else agree that the terms of trade were somewhat in my favour?

Problem is, my family are a little too keen on macadamias – they’re all gone already. Shouldn’t be surprised considering they are more than 70% fat 🙂

Edamame and some new fruit trees

20 Mar

Golden Dorset apple, dwarf tahitian lime, black genoa fig

During the week my replacement fruit trees arrived. I ordered a replacement dwarf golden dorset apple and dwarf tahitian lime, plus (differently this time), a black genoa fig. My friends in North Rocks have a fig that they grow in a half wine barrel, and this year (after only 18 months) it produced 60 figs! I have serious fig envy 🙂

Plants arrive on my doorstep

I buy my fruit trees online from Daley’s Fruit, and they arrive boxed up and always in perfect condition. I have also pre-ordered a sheppard avocado, which I will pair with a wurtz avocado for cross-pollination. Should be a few months before they arrive though. There are so many fruit trees that I would like to grow, but so little space for them. My block isn’t tiny, but the house is big and it doesn’t leave much space for trees. I’m also conscious not tot to plant trees in places that will shade  areas where I want to grow other edibles. I plan to get some dwarf stonefruit trees and espalier them along the east side of the house, but they are generally available over the winter months. Can’t wait!

My edamame (soybeans) are almost ready!

We have  had a LOT of rain in Sydney these last few days. My rainwater tank is full again, and our lawn has even started to recover after going brown and crispy in February. It is perfect timing for my edamame soybeans, which have just reached the stage where the pods have set and are filling up. That’s when they need plenty of water. Should only be a few days before they are ready to start picking.

Bokashi composting

14 Mar

I compost all my food scraps – fruit, veggies, onions, citrus, dairy, meat – even bones! Sound revolting? Well, for the past few months I have been experimenting with a new type of compost. It’s a Japanese method, and it’s called Bokashi.

I always loved the idea of composting our food scraps, but in the apartment it just seemed impossible. I tried a worm farm for a while, but there were so many no-nos like onions and citrus, and then somehow I managed to kill them. Every time I dumped food scraps and old leftovers in the garbage I felt terrible, but it all seemed too hard. I discovered bokashi once we moved to the house, and I was an instant convert. I started raving about it to some friends at a party, and funnily enough, all but one of them was already using it, so I must have been living under a rock.

Bokashi is an indoor composting system that uses microorganisms to ferment the scraps. Because it is a process of fermentation, the smell is minimal and is similar to a yeasty/beery odour. The container is airtight, so even that minimal smell is completely contained.

Cheap bokashi buckets

To get these microorganisms, you buy a special treated grain powder (I get it from Bunnings) and add it to your food scraps in a bucket that you can keep inside. You can get the kits with the powder and bin at Bunnings or online, but I have gone the cheapskate solution, with simple multipurpose buckets from the hardware store. The drawback with my method is that my buckets don’t have a tap. To make the process most efficient, you are supposed to drain off the liquid that accumulates in the bottom of the bucket and use it as liquid fertiliser, but I find that I fill the buckets so quickly that it doesn’t matter.

My process is:

Little bucket for collecting the scraps during the day

1. Collect the food scraps in a little bucket throughout the day. With bokashi you can compost all on the normal no-nos, like meat, citrus, onions, dairy – even bones! I literally put everything leftover from the kitchen in it.

2. Empty the scraps into the big bucket at the end of the day, or when the little bucket is full. With toddlers and babies in the house, we generate sooo many food scraps. The kids just chuck food on the floor during their meals, and I hate to see it go to waste.

Scraps go in

3. Compact the scraps down to remove air pockets, then sprinkle the bokashi powder over the top of the new layer. A thin, even layer is best, but I can’t sprinkle evenly while taking a photo 🙂

Sprinkle the bran powder in a thin, even layer.

4. Close the big bokashi bucket, insuring that it is air tight, because the bokashi process is anaerobic.

Full bucket after sitting for a couple of weeks

5. When the bucket is full, leave it for a couple of weeks to continue fermenting. This is optional – sometimes I bury it straight away. After a few weeks you may get some white mould growing on the top – this is normal. Don’t expect that the food scraps will be at all broken down – that won’t happen until it is buried.

Bokashi bucket contents in the hole

6. Dig a hole somewhere in the garden and empty the bokashi bucket

Cover the hole with soil

7. Cover over the hole

8. Leave for 4-6 weeks, before digging up and using as fantastic compost. After this time you may still find some vaguely-recognisable bits, like egg shells and tissues. They take a bit longer to break down, but it shouldn’t smell anymore after 6 weeks.

I generally fill the 20 litre bucket once every 3 weeks or so and the bokashi powder costs $16 for about 5 months’ supply. Really cheap compost, and an almost empty garbage bin. One week I put the first bag into the garbage bin on the morning it was collected.

I have used the compost from my bokashi bucket as the planting medium for my dwarf banana tree. It has absolutely thrived!

Front garden update

12 Mar

This afternoon, J and I went out to continue preparing the front yard veggie bed. Actually, I prepared the garden while J dug holes with her hands and unintentionally buried the seedlings that we planted during the week.

The extensive roots of the carpet roses are still right throughout the bed, so preparing the soil requires some heavy work with the mattock, then adding cow manure and mulch before planting. I’m generally disinclined to do hard manual labour, preferring instead to lean on my shovel while P does the hard stuff. We helped his brother move house this morning, so gardening in the afternoon wasn’t a popular suggestion. I think that J only agreed to help because the alternative was a nap.

I’m conscious that my veggie bed in the very front of the front yard is very much on display, and I’m very keen to make it look attractive. I hope to plant some flowers through the bed to attract bees and make it pretty, but my main strategy for the garden is just to pack it so full that it’s overflowing with greenery. I figure that a teeming-full garden bed with reasonable variety within it must look ok.

So after today I have prepared half of the bed – 5 square metres – and planted with the following:

  • Silverbeet
  • Lettuce (little gem)
  • Baby Carrots
  • Rocket
  • Leeks
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage ‘Golden Acre’
  • Mini wombok cabbage
  • English Spinach ‘Winter Giant’
  • Brussels Sprouts ‘Long Island Improved’
  • Red (Spanish) Onion
  • Brown Onion
  • Golden Shallots
  • Turnip
  • Swede
  • Dill
  • Coriander (slowbolt)
  • Continental parsley
  • Chinese broccoli

Still to go are the legumes – broad beans, greenfeast peas, sugar snap peas and other things that I can fit in front of those.

I hope to get the rest of the bed cleared out, prepared and planted this coming week so I don’t have an obvious difference between the two sides.

Attack of the aphids

9 Mar

Aphid infestation on my radish leaves

I had a few aphids on my radishes. Since they are radishes (and the good bit is underground), I figured I’d just live with them and see if the beneficial insects would control them. That was a mistake – the population has exploded, and is now overtaking the gherkin/cucumber that is growing above them too.

Aphids on my cucumber

I did a bit of a search about organic aphid control, and was convinced that I could control them effectively with a tomato leaf spray. This is basically several cups of chopped up tomato leaves steeped overnight in water, then strained and sprayed over the aphids. I gave it a try, but I don’t think I used enough tomato leaf for the quantity of water, becauase I could almost hear the aphids laughing at me. I came back later with a bit of pyrethrum and sprayed one leaf with it. Those aphids weren’t laughing.

I’ll try again over the weekend with some more tomato leaf spray, but I’m mighty tempted by the pyrethrum.


The rest of the garden is going pretty swimmingly. My first batch of green bush beans are just reaching full production, my silverbeet still looks wonderful and glossy, my tomatoes seem to be resisting the possums and birds, and the edamame soybeans are in full flower and just about to set their pods. My dwarf banana is surging upwards at an amazing rate – I hope to get fruit next summer.

My new garden bed along the front yard is 20% prepared and planted out, and I’ve packed it to the brim with brassicas, various onions and leafy winter crops. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to prepare the rest of the bed over the weekend and get it planted out soon. Can’t wait to get the peas and broad beans happening!

Happiness is a kid with a mulberry tree

8 Mar

My first ripe mulberry

I grew up climbing a mulberry tree and gorging myself on the fruit. Our next-door neighbour had a massive tree that was perfect to climb and hide in, and we hung out up there for hours on end during the summer holidays.

My dwarf mulberry isn’t going to be much fun for climbing. Apparently it won’t reach any higher than 3 metres, but I plan to prune it to keep it lower.

I received my tree in a pot in mid January, and despite my abuse it has already fruited. Today the first berry finished ripening, and I couldn’t wait for my 3 year old, J to taste it. I wasn’t disappointed – she was mighty chuffed!

Another one starting to ripen

I have several other berries ripening on the tree. I lost quite a few after spraying (inappropriately) with iron chelates, so I know I would have twice as many now if I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic. The remaining ones shouldn’t be long, and I’m hoping I’ll get another flush of fruit before the season is over.


5 Mar


Well I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Ever since I potted my fruit trees and placed them in the front yard people have been telling me that someone will steal them. It was still a shock though when this morning we went out to pull up more carpet roses, and three of my six trees were gone.

What also surprised me was that they didn’t take the trees in the bonsai bags (with convenient handles). They simply plucked them out of the soil and nicked off with them. Victims of the plant-napping were the eureka lemon, the tahitian lime and the dwarf golden dorset apple. The dwarf tropical anna apple was spared, but not before they attempted to uproot it too. I guess something must have scared them off.

I will order replacement trees from Daleys, but I have decided that the only way I’m going to stop the rotten thieves is by planting in the ground.I was going to keep the hedge along the side of the lawn for a little while at least, but now I’ve decided that it is better to remove it and put the trees in there.

P removing the hedge

So this afternoon, instead of just pulling up carpet roses, P pulled out and mulched the hedge while I prepared the first part of the front bed for the vegetables. By the end of the kid-free window (nap time), we have the hedge removed and mulched, and most of the seedlings planted in the first 2 metres of the front bed. The kids woke up in time to help plant the last of the seedlings.

After church tomorrow we will prepare the soil for the planting the fruit trees. In the meantime, the remaining trees are in hiding 🙂