Archive for January, 2011

Another veggie garden on the way!

January 31, 2011

I’ve been visiting a nearby friend a lot recently and taking her something from the garden each time.

She’s rapt to receive fresh organically grown vegetables, especially varieties not available in the supermarket.

So much so, that she’s keen to put in her own veggie garden and I’ve been helping (oh dear, that’s another one I won’t be able to offload zucchinis onto).

We started small by installing a single water-wicking box:

There’s a wire trellis behind it and climbing beans are just starting to reach for the sky. There’s silver beet, chives and kale in the back row, and lettuces in front (the kale is surrounded by a circle of wire mesh to keep the Cabbage White Butterfly out). I dug up a cherry tomato seedling from home and planted it beside the box, where it receives the nutrient overflow from one of the drainage holes (the soil here is pretty poor; grey sand with not much organic matter) and it’s going well and is flowering. I hope she’s going to get a reasonable yield from it before the cool weather comes:

She found an old recycling crate (with holes in the bottom), so I lined that with heavy-duty plastic and made it into a second wicking box. That’s only just been planted, with basil, parsley, celery and more lettuces:

In the meantime, I’d bought the planter boxes I recently installed and she was eyeing them off speculatively. So the next thing that went in was—you guessed it—a planter box. The only suitable place for it was on the lawn, beside a path which gave good access to it, was near a tap for watering and she could see it from the kitchen window (important for monitoring Cabbage White Butterfly activity and mulch-tossing blackbirds). The lawn is inches-deep kikuyu and we two (a 60-something and an 80-something) paled at the thought of digging it out, so a little glyphosate was reluctantly applied:

The bottom third of the box has been filled with coarse prunings. Over that we’re layering horse poo and lawn clippings and will top it all off with purchased mushroom compost and some of my home-made compost. A wire trellis behind will enable her to grow climbing beans in the summer and peas through the winter. The coarse prunings will slowly rot and the material will gradually settle but we’ll keep topping it up with compost and add worms from the worm farm (I forgot to mention….she has put in a worm farm and they are the most pampered worms; they even get their food vitamised!).

We left a space of about 30 cm between the box and the path and I plan to plant comfrey, lemon balm and yarrow there as dynamic accumulators to pick up any nutrients washed down through the box. These can be regularly slashed and added to the box, under the sugar cane mulch (what my permaculture teacher, Cam Wilson, called the  ‘chop & drop’ method).

She’s now eyeing off another section of lawn and I expect any day to be informed that she’s ordered a second planter box!

Zucchini glut—so what else is new?

January 27, 2011

This is the time of year when you can’t give away zucchinis for love nor money. Everyone has them. I offered some to my neighbour, thinking, with a new veggie garden she mightn’t have gotten around to zucchini yet. “Oh….er….thanks, but we’ve got plenty. I was going to offer you some.”

My fault. Turns out I gave them the seedlings (I’d forgotten).

So I decided to pickle some a la cucumbers. I looked up my pickled cucumber recipe and have done a few  jars. They turned out so well, I probably wont be offering any more zucchini anywhere anytime soon. I used a combination of a yellow variety and the green Blackjack variety and  a few bits of red capsicum for added colour:

Here’s the recipe for the pickling liquid:

  • 3/4 cup vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tbsp sugar (I use raw sugar)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp dill seed
  • 1/4 tsp mustard seed
  • few sprigs of fresh dill

Put all ingredients (except fresh dill) into a saucepan and bring to just boiling. Heat jars in the oven and pack sliced zucchini, fresh dill and whatever else you fancy into the jars and pour in the hot liquid (carefully).

This weeks harvest:

  • Butter Beans  65 gm
  • Purple King beans  361 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes  1132 gm
  • Red Pear cherry tomatoes  23 gm
  • Reisentraube cherry tomatoes  60 gm
  • Principe Borghese tomatoes  160 gm
  • Burnley Bounty tomatoes  137 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  336 gm
  • Green Grape tomatoes  58 gm
  • Green Zebra tomatoes  45 gm
  • Gold zucchini  592 gm
  • Romanesco zucchini  937 gm
  • Lebanese zucchini  575 gm
  • Carrots  1122 gm


January 19, 2011

Some weeks ago I finally got around to buying Peter Bennett’s Organic Gardening book. It has been around for 30 years and is now in its new & revised 7th edition. I can thoroughly recommend it to new (and old)  organic gardeners.

In his book, Bennett talks about a bacterial inoculant called Eokomit. It is a culture of vigorous strains of thermophilic, anti-pathogenic and free-living, nitrogen fixing bacteria which can be used to accelerate the composting process and introduce more organisms into the soil.

After doing the soil biology part of my Permaculture Design Course, plus watching Geoff Lawton’s Soils DVD, I’m sold on the idea that healthy plants result from healthy soil full of microorganisms and I want to do all I can to improve the biology and water-holding capacity of my soil.

So, I was delighted, on my regular visit to a local Sunday Market, to find a woman selling organic growing products, including Eokomit. I bought a bag and will make it up this week to trial.


This week’s harvest:

  • Butter Beans  175 gm
  • Purple King beans  111 gm
  • Principe Borghese tomatoes  217 gm
  • Black Russian tomatoes  751 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  68 gm
  • Reisentraube tomatoes  42 gm
  • Gold zucchini  344 gm
  • Lebanese zucchini  609 gm
  • Midnight Tinge zucchini  373 gm
  • Pepino  386 gm
  • Plums  240 gm
  • Nectarines  102 gm

Plus lettuce, kale, sorrel, silver beet, purslane, wild rocket, alpine strawberries, rhubarb, blueberries (about half a cup—the first harvest from a plant in a pot) and a variety of herbs.

Some of the harvest—Purple King climbing beans and Black Russian tomatoes:

Around the garden

January 11, 2011

This year I decided not to put in my normal bean tepee for climbing beans but to just poke the seeds in anywhere there was a space and let them scramble wherever they could.

This one beat the others to the top of  the asparagus fern:

And more amongst a tomato, ending up on a trellis behind:

Purple King is the best variety to use because the beans are easily visible amongst all the green foliage.

Last year I was hoping my group of 3 seed-grown quinces would flower (after 5 years), but they leafed out without flowering. Then, amazingly, they tricked me by producing pretty pink flowers amongst the leaves:

And then….tiny furry quinces:

And it looks like I might get lucky with the persimmon this year with a few fruits forming:

I let a couple of kale plants go to seed last year and have a huge packet of seed. I decided to broadcast the seed into a wire circle (I grow my annual veges in wire circles high enough to keep the rabbits out, and half-filled with compost). I was determined to keep the Cabbage White butterfly out, and knowing she could get through the one-inch wire, I installed an inner circle of half-inch wire, then pegged mosquito netting over the top.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a butterfly in there! I’ve watched her flying frantically round and round outside the circle……. “I know my favourite food plants are in there; I can smell them”…….. but as yet I haven’t actually seen her get in. I wish I knew how she does it. So, I’m still having to check for caterpillars, damn it!

This is what the seedlings looked like 5 weeks after planting (that purple-edged one is a stray mustard seedling):

I’m thinning them out gradually and using the thinnings in salads, omelets, scrambled eggs and the like. Eventually I’ll leave half a dozen plants to grow on.

Some nice lush growth here. The ‘pompoms’ are leek flowers, waiting to seed. Behind them the leaves of sweet corn, the pink daisy flowers of Echinacea purpurea in front and the clover-like foliage of oca on the left:

Below are 4 tomato plants, planted in the bin which holds the humanure from the composting toilet while compost worms are finishing off the process. There are 2 Black Russian and 2 Burnley Bounty. I bought them at a Sunday Market. Because they’re in nice rich humanure they’ve gone berserk! They’ve pulled their stake to one side (you can see it poking up in the centre) and I’ve had to put other stakes in various spots to hold up the ever-expanding branches. They’ve flopped over the top of, and down into, the next-door bin, so that I can’t access that to put the next lot of humanure in there.

I haven’t grown Burnley Bounty before so I’m looking forward to seeing how they produce and what the flavour’s like.


This week’s harvest:

  • Butter Beans  184 gm
  • Purple King beans  149 gm
  • Blue Lake beans  140 gm
  • Beetroot  223 gm
  • Carrots  563 gm
  • Roma tomatoes  51
  • Plums  1927 gm
  • Pepino  105 gm

Water-wicking tubs

January 4, 2011

I posted recently about the water-wicking tubs I’ve installed in Zone 1.

Here’s what I wrote:

I’m also trying some water-wicking tubs for the larger-growing tomatoes. These are large plastic pots, 45 cm in diameter and 40 cm deep. Because they have normal drainage holes in the bottom and I want them to be water-wicking pots, I’ve cut a circle of heavy-duty plastic and pushed it into the bottom of each tub so that it forms a water reservoir in the lower one-third of the tub. Excess water will simply flow over the top of the plastic and out the normal drainage holes. As with the wicking boxes, the tubs are filled with nice, rich compost and a few worms. I’m going to use them for the larger, indeterminate tomatoes—Black Russian, Grosse Lisse and Green Zebra—one plant to each tub. These will be trained onto a wire trellis behind the tub. There will probably be room for a couple of lettuces or maybe even a trailing cucumber in the front of the tub.

Here’s one of the tubs just after planting on October 10th, with 3 lettuces and a Grosse Lisse tomato:

Here it is at the end of October, 3 weeks later:

And here it is at the end of December. The lettuces have gone (having taken part in a variety of salads) and the tomato is well over a metre high:

That’s a grapevine at the left beside the post, and there are Purple King climbing beans twining up through the tomato. There’s now room in front for something else and I have a strawberry and a pot of chives ready to go. I reckon they’ll both fit!


This week’s harvest:

  • Lebanese zucchini  350 gm
  • Desiree potatoes  4493 gm
  • Carrots  187 gm
  • Butter Beans  93 gm
  • Purple King climbing beans  34 gm
  • Blue Lake beans  206 gm
  • Plums  341 gm
  • Romanesco zucchini  410 gm

Year out, year in

January 2, 2011

2010—the best rainfall year in the 11 years I’ve been keeping records. We had 1025 mm (that’s 41 inches if you’re not metricized).  Melbourne’s average is just 640 mm (just under 26 inches). The amount of new growth on plants was just amazing. How I’d love to live in a climate with 40 inches all the time.

So it came as a bit of a shock to see the temperature rise to 40 deg C on the last day of the year. I was ready with shadecloth to put over the tomatoes and other tender plants. I’d watered well the day before and everything was as hydrated as it could be. Most things wilted but not alarmingly and as soon as the sun went off them and the air temperature cooled the growth firmed up again, indicating that there was still plenty of water in the soil. The wicking boxes, as usual, sailed right through with nary a hiccup. Plenty of water in the root zone and a modicum of shade seems to be the answer.

Also on the last day, I scored 3 humungous bags of lawn clippings from a friend’s lawnmowing contractor. He even delivered them right to my door! There was a moment of panic as I realised there was so much heat generated in the bags that I couldn’t put my hand in, but I managed to get them distributed between 2 compost bins and the compost tumbler, interspersed with sugar cane mulch (I’d been watching Geoff  Lawton’s compost-making technique on DVD, you see) and managed to keep the temperature below 70 deg C. (It wasn’t quite the proper way to make compost a la Lawton, but I’ve got a lovely lot of organic material ready to add to my vege beds).

So what’s in store for 2011? I don’t normally make New Year Resolutions (too easy to break them), but here’s what I hope to achieve:

  • Continue to work at food self-sufficiency, including researching new species to grow
  • Design a permaculture system for neighbours and help them put it into practice (already underway)
  • Help a friend begin to grow some of her own food (already underway—she already has her first water-wicking box and today we installed her a worm farm)
  • Start putting together a set of class notes for  my first attempt at teaching permaculture—only a short introductory course at first, but which will form the basis for ultimately having a go at teaching the full 72 hour course (still have to get a copy of the Designer’s Manual for that).

Phew! I think that’s enough!

PS The Geoff Lawton Soils DVD I’ve linked to above is really worth buying.