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Citrus Espalier – Stage 1

29 Sep

Last weekend we bought the trees, but the backyard is not yet ready to take them. We still need to break up some garden beds, cut through some concrete, construct a huge planter box and erect some espalier supports before we can do that.

But I didn’t want to waste a growing season so I’ve started shaping the trees now. Luckily the railing of my back deck is made of tensioned wires that are perfect for training the trees against.

For the time being I planted the trees into bonsai bags. I had quite a few of these hanging about from when some trees were stolen. The bags are the same depth as the pots that the trees came out of, so perfect for the job. I filled the bags with potting mix enriched with dynamic lifter and mulched with lucerne.

You might recall that I’m aiming to follow Bob Magnus’ KNNN method of espalier, which looks kinda like this (excuse the terrible drawing):

I started of by bending the main trunks of the trees down to knee-level. This is the Eureka lemon. It wasn’t very cooperative.

And there’s the Tahitian lime:

And the Tarocco Blood Orange didn’t mind a bit!

Not sure yet what I’m doing with the cumquat on the right. I’m starting to think it would be better off in the front yard as an ornamental tree, but it grows slowly, so I have some time to think with that one.

And the Meyer Lemon and the Imperial Mandarin look good.

You can see that both are loaded with flowers and didn’t mind being coaxed into position, although not sure what I’m going to do with the mandarin because it really needs at least one of its main branches lopped off. Should I just go ahead and do it now?

And I’ll finish with a close-up of the lovely Meyer lemon flowers.

I have a good feeling about this one…

Berry Season

26 Sep

The first of the mulberries, blueberries and strawberries seem to be ripening at the same time. I picked this bowl of berries today.

P and I ate them for dessert topped with a sauce made with sour cream, brown sugar, vanilla and Tia Maria. Drool.

All of these berries can be grown in pots. The blueberries and strawberries were and the mulberry tree (shorter than me) will be transplanted into a pot shortly. You could even grow them on the balcony of an apartment.

Delicious, organic berries – easier than you think!

Big plans for the backyard

21 Sep

For a freestanding house our backyard is tiny. Once upon a time it was a reasonable size, but then the previous owners built a garage then an extension. This left a courtyard-sized section of lawn and a narrow strip along the back fence.

They previously  had a shadecloth structure over most of the back section and grew rainforest-type plants.

This photo (above) shows what it was like when the first section of shadecloth had been removed. It used to also cover the section shown here, between the shadecloth on the left and the house at the right.

This created quite a nice rainforesty atmosphere, but it just didn’t work for our young family. The kids wanted more space to run around and the wood chips hurt their feet to walk on it.  So we’ve been slowly pulling it down and out in preparation for something new.

The problem is that now it just looks terrible and barren. The chickens have free-ranged so often that they have all but killed the grass and the garden beds are now bare in preparation for their removal. We want to put more lawn in, almost back to the rear fence, but removing those garden beds is going to take a lot of work, and most likely a jackhammer.

We really need to get things moving, because it’s just depressing to be out there at the moment. The thing that’s been stopping us is the cost of landscaping, but the more pressing issue is the lack of any vision. I want more grass, but I don’t want just grass. I would like something edible, but not sure how practical that is in the space.

The Plan

Thanks in part to a comment by Bek on a previous post, during the week it came to me. I’ve been envious of Louise’s espaliered lime tree. I’m going to construct myself a whole wall of espaliered citrus trees!

Now the back fence doesn’t get a spectacular amount of light. It’s under the most enormous lilli pilli tree I have ever seen (the neighbours’), which is why the previous owners went for the rainforest approach. But the soil is rich, and the corner (near the banana) gets quite a bit of direct sun throughout the morning. The section under the lilli pilli itself would get at least 2 hours of direct sun per day. I’m pretty sure that a citrus is going to struggle to fruit under those conditions, but the foliage should look pretty and any fruit is a bonus.

So tomorrow we plan to head out to Dural and buy some baby citrus trees. I have a 10 metre stretch to fill, so I think I can fit 6 trees in the space, maybe 7 at a stretch. So on my shopping list I have:

  • Ruby Grapefruit
  • Nagami Cumquat
  • Tahitian Lime
  • Imperial Mandarin
  • Emperor Mandarin
  • Meyer Lemon (not sold on this, open to suggestions)

Next on my list will be to start the training. We’re not suite ready to plant them out, but I don’t want to miss the Spring flush of growth(at the right height/shape). So I’ll start training them against a wire immediately, ready for planting out when we’re ready.

I’m still not sure, but I think we’ll construct a raised planter along the back to plant them in. I was going to make something out of retaining wall blocks, but they are expensive, and considering we’re ripping out something similar, we may be able to construct something ourselves from the materials. I’m just worried that it will look too informal against the espalier itself.

What do you think of my plan? Is there another citrus variety that you think would be better suited?

Let’s start with a confession…

31 Aug

I neglected the raspberries. Not just a little bit – I planted them in pots along the back fence then abandoned them.

No staking, trellising, fertilising, weeding or attention. I picked a couple of berries late last season, but they didn’t do much in their first season. I’ve been meaning to construct a trellis for them to grow on, but getting the materials home from the hardware store and actually constructing the thing seems quite difficult. You’d thing I’d be able to manage tidying them up and fertilising though,  wouldn’t you?

Well no.

This is the disgrace that is my back yard. The raspberry plants are in the pots along the back fence. The garden in front was holding my capsicums and chillies protected over winter, but they’ve come out of their pots into the front garden bed and I’ve just left the pots sitting there. Imagine an indoor version of this scene and you’ve pretty much got my kitchen.

Each of the pots even seems to have its own unique affliction. The first one has been overtaken with ivy.

And the second with a different weed.

The third seems to be missing from its pot entirely (I blame the chickens for that one), and the next is most definitely a chicken victim.

But when I brought myself to actually examine the plants, they actually look like they are still alive. And not necessarily in the places I was expecting…

There’s a completely new plant in the middle of the garden bed! And when I looked down between the pots, there was another more advanced cane, popping directly out of the ground!

My raspberries have escaped!

How that happened, I really don’t know. The pots seemed pretty sturdy, and the garden bed that they have popped up in is completely lined along the bottom with concrete.

So I guess I’m going to have to construct that trellice, and soon. Unless I want the triffids all over our back yard.

Sticking with a good thing – Blueberries in Sydney

10 Jun

After last year’s roaring success with my 2 Nellie Kelly blueberries, I concluded that I really had to expand my collection. So when Daley’s announced a ‘buy 3 and get one free’ special on blueberries, I really couldn’t resist.

I ordered 4 different varieties – Misty, Brightwell, Biloxi and Legacy. These will join my two Nellie Kelly (Sunshine Blue variety) plants, bringing my total to six.

I am hoping that by having a number of different types it will extend my harvesting season.  I have also read that having multiple varieties improves the yield on each plant. I can’t say I was having much trouble on that front, because it looked to me like almost every flower yielded fruit, but I guess more cross-pollination can’t hurt.

Being no blueberry expert, I will stick with my tried and tested formula for success with my other 2 plants:

  • Self-watering pot
  • Azalea potting mix (more acidic)
  • Occasional feed with dynamic lifter
  • Mulched well

I’ve recently moved the blueberries to the front yard where they will get full sun instead of half-shade, but I can only imagine that that is a positive thing.

Now to find some self-watering pots of the right size to plant them in.  And I’m also keen to try propagating some more plants from cuttings, but I’ve heard that that is easier said than done. I love a challenge.

Australian Native Finger Limes and Speckled Finger Lime Curd

4 Apr

After much resisting, Louise from Garden Glut‘s boasting about her finger lime tree just made me too jealous. In a moment of weakness I ordered a tree of my own, and it arrived from Daley’s (in Kyogle) yesterday.

It is beautifully structured and incredibly spiky. Might have to position it strategically to stop Little D from climbing the retaining wall towards the street.

If you have never encountered a finger lime, you are in for a treat. They are an Australian native citrus with a flesh that resembles caviar – tiny little balls of limey deliciousness. You cut them in half and squeeze out the flesh – great in salad dressings because you get little surprise bursts of acidity with an amazing texture.

They also come in a great range of colours – from clear  through to light green, dark green, pale and dark pink. The flavour varies too from quite sweet to very acidic like a normal lime.

I had 2 finger limes in the fridge (a gift from a friend) and a handful of beautiful tahitian limes from my next door neighbour that I wanted to use.

The finger limes were dark-skinned and vivid pink in the flesh. The limes were large and juicy – freshly picked from the tree. I thought they all deserved to be used in a special way.

So I planned a lime curd – a special one with little pink speckles. Very decorative and appropriate for Easter I thought.

I based the recipe on this one from

I added half the finger lime flesh before it thickened, then reserved the remainder until it was finished – concerned that I’d overcook and curdle the mix, then need to strain it to salvage the situation. It was fine in the end – induction cooking is incredibly good for fine control at low temperatures.

I agonised about the level of thickness. Recipes use useless descriptions such as ‘so it coats the back of a spoon’. What does that mean? I wanted a thick curd, but I knew it would thicken further when cooled. In the end I let it thicken to the point that it wasn’t quite thick enough for my liking, but passable if it didn’t get any thicker. Whenever I stirred it vigorously it stuck to the sides of the pan without running back down on its own.

The finished product was quite pretty in the jars – I gave a jar to my neighbour who supplied the limes and I have another for my friend who gave me the finger limes.

I planned to water bath preserve the curd at the end so I could store it in the cupboard, but I chickened out, concerned that the eggs would overcook and go lumpy in the jars. Maybe some things are just better stored in the fridge.

Protecting tomatoes from fruit fly

24 Feb

Never before have I had problems with fruit fly. So much so that I didn’t know what they actually looked like or how much of a menace they are. This year however I’m growing a larger variety of fruit, including large slicing tomatoes. I’m no longer so naive.

So for the past month I’ve been fighting a fierce war, which mostly involves a lot of stamping my feet and pouting.

I concluded that I can’t wait for the fruit to ripen on the plants – they get stung long before then. So I started to pick them green, just as they start to blush. That’s no longer working.

I tried harvesting them anyway with a view to cutting around infected flesh. But even the fruit with minor stings (even just on ripening) are well and truly gone by the time they are red enough to cut. These blighters ruin tomatoes – quickly.

I’ve learned my lesson – once the fruit is stung there’s no use keeping it on the plant.

So this evening I went out and discarded all fruit with stings. There was more than 4 kilograms, which would have been much more if I’d let it keep growing until ripe. A couple were extremely large Brandywines – maybe 400g each already. Heartbreaking.

The chooks are getting spoiled – they leave the green ones  on the coop floor until they start to ripen, by which time they are crawling with grubs. Bonus points! Funnily enough they’re not getting through the layer pellets very quickly – I think my eggs are simply tomatoes with added protein, rearranged.

But I did have a plan. I’ve done a lot of reading and concluded that baits and traps are helpful, but won’t prevent losses. What does seem to help however is exclusion.

So I bought these nifty bags. They are made of lightweight mesh, allow plenty of light and airflow, and can be reused for different crops over multiple seasons. Most importantly, they apparently stop the fruit fly.

I bought 10 of them as a start, and bagged whole trusses at a time. It would have been more efficient if I didn’t already have to throw out a significant portion of my crop, but I’m confident that the fruit I have bagged should be safe.

I’m going to see how they go and probably buy some more bags if they are successful. I’m going to need a whole bunch soon to protect my second crop of Anna apples – 14 fruit have set on my dwarf tree already, with many new flowers open now. Not bad for a follow-up crop. I think I will have to thin them, but we all know how good I am at that!

So who else struggles with fruit fly? Any other strategies I should know about? I’m I setting myself up for disappointment?

Tonight I planned Thin-sliced beef with sesame for dinner, but after getting home from work I really couldn’t be arsed. So instead, we had:

Can’t be arsed salad (that won’t stick to your arse)

  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • 1/2 an avocado, cubed.
  • 2 tomatoes, roughly diced
  • Handful of pitted kalamata olives
  • Small tin of Tuna in springwater
  • a few spoonfuls of baby capers
  • A handful of green beans
  • Japanese fat-free sesame salad dressing

Basically, I just grabbed whatever salad-type ingredients I had on hand and chucked them together.

I use this Japanese salad dressing constantly because I LOVE it, and it’s great for P’s diet because it has basically no fat and very low in calories. It’s just a mixture of vinegar, soy, rice wine, honey, and thickeners. There is quite a dose of flavour enhancers thrown in for good measure, but I’ve never been particularly afraid of MSG. In fact, I even add it to my cooking sometimes. I should be ashamed to admit that, shouldn’t I?

Harvest Monday – 6th February 2012

6 Feb

Saturday's harvest

How can it possibly be February already?  The summer harvests are still going strong, although I fear that they are slowing.

This week I harvested:

2 Apple Cucumber –   getting a bit sick of these now. They have a bitterness that I’m not keen on.

4 Golden Nugget pumpkins – I think these are on the downhill run. I tried to move the vine during the week to mow around it, and I snapped the growing tip off the most productive plant. Now I’m just molly-coddling the seed-donor pumpkin, because I don’t have seeds for this amazing and highly productive variety.  I really hope that they grow true to type next year.

1 Lebanese cucumber – My lebanese cuke plants have finally started producing. I imagine I’ll get quite a yield from these if it doesn’t cool off too quickly.

18 lebanese eggplant – still going extremely strong. I made baba ganoush during the week, and I’m finally starting to enjoy eggplant.

1 ‘Double Yield’ cucumber – I really should have looked after these plants better. They are still producing, but only just.

3 ‘Tigerella’ tomatoes – I’m having to pick these severely underripe to prevent fruit split. We’ve had 66 milimetres of rain over the last week, 44 of which fell last Friday, playing havoc with a lot of my fruit. The most devastating was the much anticipated 1st rockmelon that split on Friday.

1 Rockmelon

I had to pick it before it was infested through the split. Unfortunately it was only days under-ripe – still edible, but not great. Thankfully I still have another on the vine. As long as we don’t get any more downpours I might actually get to enjoy it.

1 ‘Rouge de Marmande’ tomato – These don’t seem to have split as easily as some of the other varieties, and they are so productive! This plant isn’t much to look at, but it is simply covered in fruit.

7 cobs corn – The corn is still going really well. My 2 year old loves it, and we get requests for corn every night for dinner.

2 kilos ‘Ruby Lou’ potatoes – I harvested one of the potato growing bags this week. It had died off long ago but I was storing the potatoes in the bag. I’m really enjoying growing potatoes this way, and as long as I have 2 or 3 bags on the go at all times, I think I’ll be able to produce potatoes all year round.

4 green capsicum (green bell pepper) – I made the mistake of growing the capsicums in the middle of the bed between 2 rows of eggplant. The eggplants now dwarf the capsicums, so there is very little light reaching the capsicum plants. My lovely plant that was covered in capsicum dropped all its fruit during the week. The 4 I count here are the ones that could be salvaged.

1 ‘birds eye’ chilli – This chilli plant is amazingly hardy and really productive. I picked a chilli during the week, and I have many more coming.

Next week, I’m hoping the edamame will be ready to harvest!

For other great harvests around the world, head over to Daphne’s Dandelions.

Harvest Monday – 30th January 2012

30 Jan

The summer crops are really coming along now.

5 Golden Nugget Pumpkins

The pumpkin harvest continued this week, although the plants are suffering with untreated powdery mildew. I picked 5, and chose a lucky one to be my seed donor for next year’s crop. I didn’t specifically hand pollinate this one, but I’m willing to trust the bees this time. I hope they chose a good ‘daddy’ pumpkin and not one of the zucchinis or rockmelon.

20 Lebanese Eggplant

These are producing a bumper harvest. I could have picked another 10 or so today, but I’ve held off for later in the week.

1 lettuce + extra leaves

400g Green Dwarf Beans

The beans are still producing, but slowing down a little I think. I’d like to get enough from them to make a few jars of dilly beans shortly.

2 Cucumbers ‘double yield’

Still not producing with the vigour I hoped, but another 2 fruit nonetheless.

3 carrots

I always have a supply of carrots in the garden. I store them in the ground and just pull them as needed. We are blessed with a climate that allows year-round production and very few pests. I’m eternally grateful that we don’t suffer the horrible carrot fly that many of you in the northern hemisphere seem to struggle with.

1 onion

I found an onion hiding under the beetroot that I have let go to seed. Not big, but I’m sure it will be tasty.

3 tomatoes

The tomatoes are finally getting there, although the frequent (sometimes torrential) rain neccessitates picking the fruit under-ripe. It is so disheartening to have near perfect fruit split just before harvest because of a sudden downpour.

2 cobs of corn

The corn is finally here! The kids and I picked 2 cobs this afternoon for dinner tonight. It was totally delicious and visually close to perfect in a way that home-grown corn rarely is (for me, anyway).

As soon as we brought the corn in from the garden Little D started begging me for it. More corn please Mummy! More corn, please!!I eventually gave in and gave him his half-cob before dinner, but that spelled disaster once everyone else started eating. I tried to salvage the situation by giving him a small can of corn kernels from the pantry, and that just made it even clearer how superior freshly-picked corn is to the canned variety.

Other happenings

On inspecting the garden this afternoon I noticed that the apple tree I just harvested from (Dwarf Tropical Anna) is in full flower again!

Its pollinating partner (Dwarf Golden Dorset) doesn’t have a single flower so if it sets any fruit it will be lucky, but it just shows how strange our cold summer has been. I’ve been disappointed that the Granny Smith / Pink Lady (multigraft) tree hasn’t flowered for me this year, so I guess my faithful Anna is trying to make up for it.

Happy harvests everyone! Head on over to Daphne’s Dandelions to see what other people are harvesting across the world.

Flowers but no fruit – too cold for passionfruit?

15 Jan

I won’t whine about the weather… I won’t whine about the weather…

We had a few days of sunshine and we’re winning the cricket. Life is grand.

My passionfruit vines are a year old now. I planted grafted Nellie Kelly black and panama gold vines next to each other and I finally have flowers.

Flowers, but no fruit.

After searching (fruitlessly, hehe) for a solution, I’ve concluded that whoever cracks this nut will be the hero of thousands of backyard passionfruit growers everywhere. Forum upon forum, hundreds of people have the same problem.

Flowers but no fruit.

I am normally appreciative of the good folk at Gardening Australia, but on this one they have failed to come up with the goods. In fact their patronising responses mock me.


I have plenty of bees, ants, and beetles. Heck, a few of my chickens flew past before they had their wings clipped – I have pollinators galore. I’ve even hand pollinated a few flowers just to prove my point, but the flowers still drop.

I’ve fertilised with dynamic lifter, with potash. The rootstock hasn’t suckered – the graftline is clear and healthy.

I’ve run out of ideas. I think I will just blame the weather. I think it’s just too cold and wet.

Any ideas would be gratefully received.