March update

Well, summer is officially over, but the weather remained warm all through March, with temperatures in the high 20’s and sometimes nudging into the low 30’s.

I’ve pulled out most of the tomatoes—the plants looked awful, with dead, shrivelled lower leaves, extending upwards in some cases. Surprisingly, yields were pretty good, especially of the cherries, but then there were more plants of those than the bigger varieties. I didn’t bother to dry any cherries, but instead froze a large box of them, to use for winter soups and casseroles. There’s still one self-sown plant going well in a wicking box down the back, just starting to bear fruits.

I picked 2 more eggplants and there are still 3 on the plants plus a couple more flowers which may produce fruits. I’ll definitely grow these again next season. Six fruits from 3 plants wasn’t a bad effort for a first-time growing :

I decided to try peas in a ‘tepee’. It’s worked well for beans in the past. These are a tall, purple-podded variety. They germinated well….. :

…..and after a week or so I put up the supporting strings for them to climb on :

I’ve put more peas in a wicking box. These are a short-stemmed variety which have a lot of tendrils so they hang onto each other. I’ll just put 4 stakes in the corners of the box with a string around them to keep the whole bunch from falling over and that should do. The tiny seedlings are self-sown chickweed which the chooks will get eventually :

I may get some pumpkins this year. There are 2 on this plant. With any luck they’ll get big enough to ripen before the weather breaks:

Capsicums, sharing a wicking box with climbing beans, are fruiting :

The prize for the top-bearing plants this season would have to go to the 5 thornless blackberry plants I put in 2 years ago. At the height of the season I was picking a small handful of delicious berries every couple of days. I decided I would definitely get more bare-rooted plants from my local nursery this winter and then discovered Bunnings had them for sale in small pots. They’re a Nelly Kelly variety :

I’ve put one in a large tub beside the deck and will train it up onto the deck :

I haven’t decided where to plant the second one yet. I didn’t keep the tag of the original plants and think they were just called ‘thornless blackberries’, without a variety name. They were just pencil-sized, bare-rooted stems when I planted them. These Nelly Kelly varieties have thin little stems and small leaves. Maybe that’s just due to being young plants in pots. It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

It’s been a good year for pepinos :

The new season’s silver beet is also bearing well in a wicking box :

I had a wicking box on the deck with Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) in it. Also known as arthritis plant, it’s native to Asia and is reputed to cure many ills as well as arthritis. I intended to use it to make a herbal tea, but didn’t like the bitter flavour and so it wasn’t used much. I planted a pepino in there to keep it company. A self-sown alpine strawberry also appeared :

The pepino grew well and produced several fruits but eventually got big and woody and I hacked it back, not caring whether it sprouted again or not, because I had others in the garden. It didn’t…..and the gotu kola took over. I trimmed it back occasionally but generally ignored it.  Finally, it occurred to me that the wicking box was just being wasted and I’d be better to plant it with something I would actually use.

So, I tipped it on its side and then upended it :


As I suspected, the bottom half of the soil mixture was bone dry and the roots in it were dead. I’d been watering it every day, but the water was running out of the drainage holes before it was able to soak into the soil and saturate the lower reservoir. The plant had been living on its daily drink. The box just had too much growth in it.

The dry soil was friable and worth saving. There had been worms in it and they’d either died or moved on, so it was likely most of the soil would be worm castings. I broke it up with the spade and sieved it :

I got a large tub of soil that will be useful as a seed-raising mix :

I filled the wicking box with new compost and sowed seeds of mizuna, a fast-growing Asian green, which both I and the chooks like :

A few weeks later and it looked like this :

The grassy stuff is wheat. The chooks don’t eat the wheat in their grain mix and wherever I use the chook poo compost made with the floor sweepings from their run, I get wheat germinating. I decided to leave it there. The chooks will only eat wheat if it’s sprouted first, so it makes some sense to grow it for them for sprouting. I used to grow it years ago, but gave up when the parrots kept raiding the ears while they were green. Because there are still cabbage white butterflies about (and will be, until the weather gets colder), I’ve had to put a cover over the box to prevent the female butterflies laying eggs on the mizuna :

Mosquito netting is the only thing that will keep the butterflies out. I’ve always used half-inch netting in the past but was stunned to see a butterfly fold her wings back and actually squeeze through it. So now I have a (relatively) new wicking box with a more useful crop.

I planted garlic on the equinox. Only a few cloves have sprouted—not worth a photo. I’ve failed dismally with garlic the last couple of years, but I still keep trying. Last year the plants rotted away in winter; the year before that they didn’t produce any bulbs. I’ve had good garlic in the past—don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I felt a bit better when my Italian neighbours told me their garlic has failed too—if Italians can’t grow garlic, there must be something more at work than my own incompetence.

I tend to divide my growing year into 2 seasons—spring/summer (October-March) and autumn/winter (April-September) and always grow more food in the spring/summer season. In total, in the season just finished, I managed to grow about 30 varieties of food, including more than a dozen different fruits; 6 greens; 4 root crops; onions and leeks and asparagus, plus a variety of herbs. Oh, and eggs (the Girls helped with those). There wasn’t a huge amount of anything (except maybe tomatoes), but I’m aiming for diversity anyway. Pretty happy with what I’m able provide for myself.

We had 37 mm rainfall in March; 32 mm in the 3rd week and 5 mm in the final week. Melbourne’s average is 44 mm. Let’s hope the warm weather and rain continues through autumn.


Those thornless blackberries from Bunnings—

I went out to take a few more pics for this post and noticed that the blackberry I put in the large tub by the deck had a flower on it :

It’s white! The other thornless blackberries I bought at the local nursery had pink flowers :

So there is a difference. I think I need to do some research on thornless blackberries. As I understand it, they’re hybrids of the normal blackberry with something else. Something else what? The first 5 plants I put in have had really good yields. I hope these 2 new varieties are as good.

7 Responses to “March update”

  1. narf7 Says:

    Where do I start with this magnificent post Bev?! I use you as my barometer for when to plant seeds. I now see I should be getting some peas in if I want to grow them. You are that bit further ahead than we are here and when you post about planting things I know I have a couple of weeks leeway to get some in. I planted a San Mazano and a Grosse Lisse tomato in wicking beds this year. We had SUCH a slow year at first that I didn’t think that we would even get ripe cherry tomatoes but we have been harvesting and using them every day for the last month and a half so we are most pleased with that but suddenly the San Mazano and Grosse Lisse went mental and started producing tonnes of fruit. I have to harvest it before the slugs arise like the Phoenix and harvest them themselves but that’s the gardeners lot isn’t it?

    My eggplants both died. I now know that in my eagerness to keep everything green and verdant I top watered the wicking beds and totally drowned them in one fell swoop. I hadn’t yet learned that watering them via the reservoir was the only way to water them and didn’t realise that the soil was actually getting sodden. I almost killed some chillies this way. I was a bit miffed to discover that my Hungarian Wax “chillies” were in fact, Hungarian Wax capsicums but I now have capsicums and will process them to make some tomato sauce (if the slugs will let me have the San Mazanos 😉 ).

    I have a rogue pumpkin festering in Sanctuary. To be honest, we won’t get any pumpkins off it this year but I let it go as it was extra/additional green mulch. Not that Sanctuary needed it this year. Simply turning on the drip irrigation (heavily mulched beds) for an hour about 2 times a week all summer when it wasn’t raining gave Sanctuary back her groove. I was most happy with how she grew this year and the cherry trees that we planted went nuts. My seed grown avocados are taking off and I am thinking about planting out my babaco that a friend gave me as it was out all winter long in a pot last year and despite losing all of its leaves, it regrew them in spring.

    My thornless blackberry had a rocky start as I planted it last year and it didn’t like the drier conditions at the rear of Sanctuary. Now that it is drip irrigated, it has put on a spurt of growth this year so hopefully I, too, will get a decent result next year. I got tonnes of blackberries this year but most of them were inedible as they were underwatered initially. Mine was a Nelly Kelly variant as well.

    I got 5 pepinos this year. 2 the rats scoffed but I actually got to taste a ripe pepino and it was magnificent! I always thought that they would be a bit like a watery cucumber with a mild melon taste but the ripe one (with a few rat nibbles that I cut away) was magnificent. I saved the seeds. Bollocks to rats!

    I am constantly miffed that Bunnings sells all kinds of seedlings in spring that really shouldn’t be planted out then. Silverbeet is one such miff. Mine grew like topsy in the wicking beds and then descended into a rapid decline of powdery mildew. I fed most of it to the chooks. As a beginner veggie gardener we need to know what to plant when and Bunnings doesn’t help at all! I know that I planted a lot of things that really shouldn’t have gone in back in spring but you live and you learn.

    I was given Gotu kola by a friend. Mine tastes more like parsley than bitter. Maybe it’s the strain you are growing? It’s still in the wicking boat that I no longer water and is surviving along with a tonne of grass and weeds. Note to self “Resurrect the wicking boat”. I might get Steve to help and empty it and haul it out and use it as a herb wicking bed in the main garden. I am thinking about creating a large mulched keyhole style garden around the orchard area (Earl permitting) and this would work well as a centrepiece.

    I haven’t planted the alpine strawberry seed yet. I am waiting till next spring or should I do it now?! Conundrums! I got plenty of wheat growing in Sanctuary last year from the wheat straw that we used to mulch inside the area. I just left it as its a halfway decent green crop and it is still growing in Sanctuary. I don’t mind. One day I might grow enough to harvest myself a quarter of a muffins worth 😉

    I laughed this year when the white cabbage moths descended forlornly in Narnia. There was nothing that they fancied and they ended up having most of their equally forlorn babies being scoffed by wasps. The ultimate revenge on brassica scoffers is to remove their food of choice.

    I have garlic growing under a fruit tree miles away from the house that someone must have planted once and it just keeps on coming back. It’s that big elephant garlic stuff and no matter how much I harvest, there is always some left to start growing again. Oh, by the way, my thornless blackberry had pink flowers as well. Sorry about the huge response to your post but your post was most exciting to this newby veggie gardener 🙂


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Fran, you are anything but a newbie veggie gardener—you often do better than me with growing some things 😉

      I actually try to get peas planted in Feb but had no spare space this year. I needed to rip out all the tomatoes first. Once the weather cools (as it seems to have done now), they can rot if the soil is too wet and cold.

      Surprised that you drowned your eggplants. I always water my wicking beds from above, because the pipe I should be using to do it is too small to get the water in adequately and the boxes are too small to waste space on a larger pipe. I only use the pipe at the side to see if there is water in the bottom. Are you sure your wickers are draining properly? How about the soil you used? Was it heavy with a big water holding capacity or light and open? How deep is the soil above the drainage holes?

      I usually plant silver beet for eating in winter because I don’t eat it in summer when salads are more the go. I’ve never had it get mildew though. Do you think all the netting you’ve got over and around Narnia might be restricting airflow a bit? That might keep the whole thing more humid inside and promote mildew.

      Yes, I think I would leave the strawberry seeds till spring. The seedlings are really tiny and won’t grow much over winter. They’ll germinate and grow faster in spring with the warmer weather coming on.

      Bunnings still have french bean seeds for sale and it is way past the time for planting them now, however I think it’s not their fault with that as their seed racks aren’t replenished by them but by the person from the supplier who comes in and changes over all the stock. Plants are another thing though—they shouldn’t be selling seedlings that are past their use by date and only going to run to seed when planted out.

      Thanks for the comment and all the info about your growing experiences. Good to compare and contrast. Every garden is different.

      Liked by 1 person

      • narf7 Says:

        The soil was holding water really well and I check the drainage holes every time I water the wicking beds so I reckon it was the additional top watering that did it. I have stopped doing it and most of the problems I was having have disappeared. The soil is far enough above the drainage holes (about 25cm – 30cm) to give most plants a good buffer. The netting has really big holes so I don’t think that it is restricting air flow. It’s got a 1 inch hole diameter so it’s more air than hole ;). I just dug a strawberry plant out of Sanctuary and I am guessing a rat ate strawberries and deposited the seed in the garden. I will keep my eyes open for more strawberry plants popping up.

        Seeds are different to seedlings. I planted an all seedling garden this year as we only got the wicking beds sorted in December and to get any kind of harvest at all (especially with the weather we have had this year) I needed to plant seedlings. I don’t think Bunnings should sell seedlings out of their season as it’s misleading to newbies. I love your posts Bev, thank you so much for sharing them. I feel like I have won the garden lottery whenever you post posts like this :).

        Liked by 1 person

  2. notsomethingelse Says:

    Always useful information from you Bev. Thanks for sharing.

    I too am hoping for the weather to hold for a while longer so my pumpkins can ripen. Had an unexpectedly good apple season and a few other things going on but I held off planting much this year as I am building up my ground level beds ready for next year.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Thanks for the comment, Bernie. I heard about your apple successes via our mutual FB friend. I am back there again in a minimal way.


  3. Jane Says:

    I did ok on cherry tomatoes in pots by the back door. I didn’t plant any in the ground this year and just had the cherry ones. Zucchini did really well and it looks like pumpkins and melons and chilies will be good too. I planted silver beet about a year ago and it just hasn’t grown. It’s just like a big seedling still. I’ve got cabbage, kale and maybe cauliflower coming on. They’ve been attacked by caterpillars but I just take off the affected leaves and give them to the chooks. Revenge is sweet! I don’t have anything like the variety of produce that you have.
    I’ve been getting into Swales and read your post on the ones you made. Are you still happy with them? I’ve dug three so far and probably won’t dig any more until I see how these go. My main worry is that we might not get enough rain in one go to fill or even half fill them. I guess I could always fill them with mulch if they don’t work.


  4. Chris Says:

    I love planting peas and mizuna, as soon as we say goodbye to summer. Because they’re so easy to sprout, and quick to produce. I also love tatsoi, for the same reason.

    I’m curious to know, what of all the seeds I threw into the wicking boxes and hugel beds, will germinate. I think I can see coriander, coming through. Or it could be Italian flat leaf parsley.

    Glad your berries worked out for you. I always have to fight the native animals off the berries (strawberries/raspberries) if we do get any. 😉


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