February update

It seems safe to assume that summer is almost over, with less than three weeks to the autumn equinox, although 30º+ temperatures are predicted for the next week.

I added up my rainfall figures on the calendar and the total came to 5 mm. Surely there was more than that! Melbourne’s average for February is 46 mm. I can see the effects, in the dead and dying plants in the garden and also in the bush. I only water food plants, nothing else. The big 9000 litre tank is down to half and I’ve stopped using it, because it’s my drinking water (I won’t drink mains water with its load of toxic fluoride). The 2 smaller 4500 litre tanks are being topped up from the mains supply. I do this because it’s easier to water from them with a low pressure sprinkler than it is to water directly from the mains where the pressure is so variable.

I’ve been more than happy with yields from the garden this season.

Strawberries are still going strong in their wicking buckets, although the fruits are smaller now. They’ve been bearing for at least 6 months.

Cherries. The tree is in it’s second year and I got many more than last year. I can’t seem to find a photo of those. I expect most of them didn’t make it into the house.

Tomatoes have almost finished and I stopped weighing them when I reached 25 kilos. I cleaned some self-sown parsley out of one of the wicking boxes and topped it up with fresh compost. A few tomatoes germinated and have grown quickly :


I’ve staked them and might get a few more fruit before they succumb to the cold. No idea which variety. It will be a surprise!

Pears. I’ve been really happy with yields from the two trees. A Bartlett with a Josephine for pollination—both planted in the same hole. I’d let them get too big (visions of huge old pear trees dripping with fruit) and so too big to net and the birds/possums have always got them all. Last year I cut them back really hard, so now they’re not much taller than I am. They flowered and set fruit, but instead of netting them (my biggest net was over the apple), I put the little apple pouches on each fruit. It has worked and nothing has attacked the fruit :




I checked out Louis Glowinski’s book on fruit growing to see when I should pick them (pears ripen inside, off the tree) and the trick is to grab the hanging fruit and pull it up into a horizontal position. If it’s ready to pick the stem will snap at the abcission layer (the layer of weaker cells at the top of the stem). So each day I go down and tweak all the fruit. It’s working and this is the yield so far from the Bartlett :


The fruits of the Josephine are smaller and maturing a bit later, but so far I have these :


Pepino. There are huge fruits forming on the pepino in the wicking box. This box is at ground level so the wire is to keep hungry rabbits at bay :


Beans. A slow start when most of the early-sown seed rotted, but it’s picked up and I’m eating beans with every evening meal now. Beans are one thing I never buy (along with tomatoes), so I really look forward to bean season.

Cucumbers. Lots of success with those and there are 16 jars of bread & butter pickles in the fridge. There were more cucumbers than I could eat fresh and I discovered that the chooks loved them sliced down the middle. They eat out all the seeds and flesh and leave only the paper-thin skins.

Berries. Raspberries and blackberries fruited for the first time and although the yields weren’t large, it means two additions to the diversity of food from the garden.

Apricots. A reasonable yield from one seedling-grown tree and about a dozen from the named variety, Moor Park (only in it’s first season). These are the apricots (and cherry plums from the self-sown tree) :


Zucchini. A disaster. I got two. I pulled them out early. Male and female flowers just didn’t manage to co-ordinate themselves.

Pumpkins. Pulled out most of those, too. They were in a hugelkultur bed where the underlying wood hadn’t broken down and the ants kept bringing up the sand around them. It doesn’t hold water and I couldn’t keep enough water up to them to maintain growth.

But….there’s still one left in a recycling crate and it’s doing well. It’s the variety called Naranka Gold which is commercially grown exclusively for Coles supermarkets. I grew it last year but it went in late and didn’t produce any fruit. This year it’s climbing all over the wood heap (the leaves are meant to be that variegated yellow colour; it’s not a deficiency) :



and hidden under the leaves is this :


Quinces. The quince tree was grown from seed. From memory I think I planted three seedlings close together and they have all suckered into a large clump. It’s huge now and has flowered and fruited each year. I don’t really bother about it and last year the parrots got all the fruit. This year, since it’s next to the pear trees, I put apple socks on some of the quinces as well, so it looks like I will get a few :


The remains of a couple that didn’t get ‘socked’ :


Under-ripe quinces! Bleahh! Parrots apparently have no taste buds!

I’ve had more problems with roots entering the wicking tubs. Regular readers might remember this post where a grapevine found its way into the drainage hole at the bottom of a tub. It happens because there are zillions of ants here. They bring the sandy soil up to the surface around the base of pots and because it’s moist around the drainage holes, roots slide their way in. I don’t notice because the base of the tub eventually gets part buried in the sand. But I did notice that there was one tub that I could never seem to keep moist even though I watered it every day. It was nowhere near the grape vine and over 10 meters from the nearest tree. I thought the plastic in the bottom was probably perforated and it wasn’t functioning as a wicking tub any more. It’s a 51 cm diameter tub and very heavy. There’s a capsicum in it at the moment. I yanked it forwards from the back and it came away from the ground easily. No root problems there, so I cleared away the sand from around the front. See that thing that looks like a giant worm :


That’s a tree root that has come out of the soil, done a 360º about face and entered the tub! What a cheek! I cut it out and sniffed it. Eucalyptus! From now on all the wicking tubs will be raised up on bricks, well off the ground!

Around the middle of last year I was given a small pot with one sick-looking leaf in it. I think the owner thought I might be able to bring it back to life. The label said ‘turmeric’.  I was rapt. I’ve been wanting to grow turmeric for ages, but couldn’t find any greengrocer selling the rhizomes to plant. I tipped it out of the pot. The ordinary roots looked white and healthy; there was no sign of a rhizome. I hoped it wasn’t sick but just heading into winter dormancy, so I potted it into a slightly larger pot, left it in the polyhouse and kept it just moist.

In spring, to my delight, a little green shoot appeared. I fed it some Dynamic Lifter and began to water it regularly. The green shoot grew and another appeared. Eventually I repotted it into a much larger pot. This is it now :


If it grows any bigger there won’t be room for both of us in the polyhouse. Even if I wanted to put it outside, I can’t lift the pot. I’m hoping it’s making lots of turmeric rhizomes because I’ve promised to share with the original owner. Has anyone grown it away from its normal tropical home? Should I put it outside for the autumn/winter? I thought it probably wouldn’t like a low-humidity Melbourne summer, that’s why I left it in the polyhouse and misted the leaves every day. Here’s hoping for some nice rhizomes I can dry and crush.

My blueberry seedlings are growing and reaching the stage where I want to put them in their final growing spots. There are four left out of the six I had in October :


I bought some large plastic pails and drilled a drainage hole a third of the way up from the bottom (so they’ll be wicking pots) and used them this season for tomatoes :


They worked well, so I think I will use them for the blueberries. Not sure whether I’ll put them on the deck (it’s looking like a forest up there now), or stand them in the garden somewhere. They’ll be too tall for the rabbits and they’ll be easy to get a net over when they’re fruiting. One thing I’m going to do is buy an acid potting mix (for azaleas/rhododendrons) and use that, as blueberries like an acid soil and the chook poo compost I use for veggies tends to be alkaline.

Eggs. Bonny is still going strong with an egg every second day. She’s been laying constantly for just on a year now; surely she will take a break soon. She’s full of beans, eating like a horse and charges at me, pecking my foot, every time I go into the run. The other three stopped laying and moulted after Christmas. I’m not expecting any more from them until spring.

Well, I think I’ve just about covered most things. All I need now is some rain. A lot.

16 Responses to “February update”

  1. Bernadette Borg Says:

    Thanks for all your tips. We are having similar problems here. I am new to growing vegetables, so started very small this year and because our soil is clay and I didn’t have enough compost to improve it, I didn’t plant anything out. I put lebanese cucumbers and lettuces in an old shower stall which is lying on it’s rear wall. tomatoes, herbs and strawberries in pots and capsicums and a zucchini in my attempt at a raised garden bed with limited resources. the lettuces did well and then bolted, but I have managed to save quite a bit of seed. The cucumbers were doing well until something systematically chewed each plant off at it’s base (I suspect rats). The zucchini succumbed to an unseasonal frost early on. Something ate all the banana capsicum plants, but left the 2 bell ones and the tomatoes have had a series of mineral deficiencies, been attacked by white fly and now ants…Sooo many ants! The tomatoes are fruiting, but apart from the cherry tomatoes, are slow to ripen. A mouse/rat decided it liked my strawberries, but I managed to save some with my trusty onion bags and the herbs are thriving. Not the most successful start to my endeavours and the Goddess only knows where all the fruit went, apart from the netted cherries which were abundant.

    I never thought I would say ” On no, not another blue sky!” We have two 23,000 litre tanks here. One is plumbed into the house, but also has an outside tap and the overflow one is solely for the garden. I’ve been watering everything that I really don’t want to lose and we also have to top up a pond. We’re also on town water which is quite horrible, so we use tank water for drinking and cooking. I’ve been taking cuttings and saving seeds wherever I can as even with the hours of watering, I’m still losing a variety of plants, but most of them are ornamental.

    We went to see a very small, very productive small backyard recently, but the owner had completely replaced his soil with Permafert, not an affordable option for us, but I think we’ll be trying Vermicast next year, if only in raised vegetable gardens. Ah…And we really need to see about housing some chooks!


    • foodnstuff Says:

      I think you’re wise to start small, so you can easily cope with the work involved. Growing food is a huge learning curve and doing too much too soon can be so overwhelming that it can put you right off the whole thing. I tend to try and do too much, but I’m impatient and hate having to be dependent on supermarkets.

      You are lucky having so much water storage. I don’t have any more room to put a large tank, even if I could afford it.

      Keep at it. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of growing your own, not to mention the benefits to your own health and that of the planet.


      • Bernadette Borg Says:

        So good to hear all these comments and have it confirmed that others have similar issues. I know that conditions are really bad this year, but there’s always the nagging doubt that I’ve got brown thumbs! We bought what to me, is a huge block (1 1/4 acres) after living in suburbia and the previous owner planted most of it with gay abandon, obviously a surplus of cash and not a lot of forethought, He’d tried irrigation at some stage, but it’s badly planned, so we’ve been dragging hoses around but yes, we are very lucky that he put in the water tanks, as even though the garden one is down to less than half, that’s still quite a bit of water.


  2. narf77 Says:

    Ditto on the rain. Tassie has really done it tough this year and even though we get precious little rain in summer, we usually get a lot of rain in spring. Not 2015 and none through winter either. This summer has almost broken us and our hydro dams are down to breaking point. About the only good thing is that it might break our Liberal “no such thing as climate change, nothing to see here, keep using as much water as you like…” State government as now we have to get our electricity via imported generators at a predicted $14 million dollars a month! NO idea who is going to pay for that but I have a sneaking suspicion it will be the poor consumer that wears it (despite Hydro selling off power for profit and depleting our own stocks earlier in the year…) We are completely changing Sanctuary after this year. No more standing watering for hours in the wee small hours for moi! Our new plan will see us wicking most of the garden thanks to your brilliant influence Bev 🙂 . About your turmeric. I bought some rhizomes from a health food shop a few years ago and potted them up. I kept them in my glasshouse over winter and managed to get a few plants. I then, bravely, planted them into the ground! They grew well in the ground over summer last year but (obviously) died back and I waited…and waited… and WAITED for them to return this year. Nada. I thought that they had died over winter or been eaten by last years rat plague (dealing with this years with baits I hope…) but they were just taking their time and only started growing mid February. I was given 3 rhizomes that I potted up and put on the deck and they all started growing a month before the plants in the ground. I figure Tassie is probably colder in winter than where you live so you could put the pot out if you like in my opinion as mine, in the ground, grew back. We just had 2 rogue chooks emerge from the undergrowth with about 30 chicks between them…back to rooster soup in about 6 months 😦 The joys of living in the country eh? 😉


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the info re turmeric. I’ll wait till I get some rhizomes and if there’s enough, I’ll put some in the ground, but some still in pots to be on the safe side. What sort of conditions is it in in the garden. Sun? Shade? Soil type?

      I note you’re having success with the ollas in Sanctuary, but doesn’t filling them take at least as much time as handwatering did?

      How often do you fill them and what size are they (I had the idea they were mostly soft drink bottles)?

      Could you do a more detailed post on what you use, how you prepared them (drainage holes?), and how often you fill them?

      Liked by 1 person

      • narf77 Says:

        I planted it into a mound of soil (silty rubbish soil) and they are in full sun for most of the day. The ola don’t take that long to fill now that I have the routine down pat. I used 2 litre to 4 litre milk containers and I fill them twice every second day (now that we are almost out of water here in the North!) I could do that (detailed post). I have a Permablitz we are going to on Sunday so will most probably post about that this week.


  3. Bek Says:

    Excellent progress. It’s really nice to see what’s been going on at your place.
    On the rain front I agree, it looks like we have had very little. I really should get a rain gauge so I can properly measure. The front yard is not happy, but the established plants and trees are just surviving. The backyard wicking beds are growing great stuff. I wish I had more.
    I’m so doing strawberry wicking buckets this year with some runners!
    My blueberries in wicking buckets are in very similar containers and have done well. Only thing they really didn’t like was being in full sun from smash onwards, I had to move them to a place with morning sun and afternoon shade as they totally dried up and lost their leaves despite daily watering. They really didn’t like the strong sun. But they are recovering and leafing out again now.
    I pick my pears when I can gently pull them from the tree, probably very similar to your method. Never had one that didn’t eventually ripen and taste delicious!
    No idea on the turmeric, good luck though!


    • foodnstuff Says:

      A rain gauge is an essential garden item, IMO, as memory is so unreliable. I have records on a spreadsheet, going back the 16 years I have been here, so I can see instantly how things have been over the years.

      I will take your advice and put the blueberry buckets in a shaded area. The deck will be just too hot in summer (plus I won’t be able to lift them if I decide they’re in the wrong spot!).

      Glad I’m doing the right thing with the pears. Only one has ripened so far, and yes, it was delicious!


  4. fergie51 Says:

    You are getting a great harvest considering the conditions. We too are struggling! No zucchini nor pumpkin again this season, tomatoes have just dropped dead overnight. I’m pulling the plants this week and hanging to let fruit sitting ripen. Our grass cutting man at work says he will be out of work in 2 weeks and he’s never seen things this dry. On the bright side, its been good for our builders, no wet weather hold ups! Have to hang on to any positive 🙂


  5. Pam Goetting Says:


    This one paragraph: “That’s a tree root that has come out of the soil, done a 360º about face and entered the tub! What a cheek! I cut it out and sniffed it. Eucalyptus! From now on all the wicking tubs will be raised up on bricks, well off the ground!” is worth its weight in gold. Thanks!



    • foodnstuff Says:

      LOL! I couldn’t believe the way it turned right round and went in the hole! I look at that tree now and wonder if it’s mad at me!


  6. brymnsons Says:

    Wow your produce looks amazing! You had me drooling by the end 🙂 I live in a rented house so mainly grow herbs. I had some cherry tomatoes go a bit off so I let them breakdown a little and then planted them out in a pot. I had little plants popping through in a week! I have divided them into 4 pots and they are going great guns. I’m taking a pot to the local community garden today. Hopefully they will go well, we do get some cold days here but mostly beautiful sunny mild days.


  7. Chris Says:

    You did very well, considering the dry conditions. Fingers crossed, we all get some decent rain before winter arrives. 🙂


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