Archive for the ‘Propagation’ Category

Keeping records

February 9, 2017

In the last post I quoted information from my records on propagation and planting dates and a few commenters said, wow! (or words to that effect 😉 ) about my record-keeping. Being science-trained, I suppose keeping records is second-nature to me—and I know how unreliable memory can be. Besides my gardening records go back through years of propagation and planting and no memory is that good.

I use an ordinary exercise book for day-to day records. A double page to a week. It looks like this :



At the end of the week I transfer those records to a computer database. I use Microsoft Works, which is a 3-in-1 program incorporating a database, spreadsheet and word processor. I don’t think it’s popular now, but I’ve had a copy on various computers for years. I don’t use the word processor much, but the database and spreadsheet are invaluable for storing and retrieving large amounts of information. I use the spreadsheet for anything requiring calculations—household and personal finances, my solar panel outputs, etc. The database is used for just data and the ability to sort columns into any order or find any records is a great feature. The propagation database deals with all my plant propagation records. It looks like this (photo of computer screen) :



In separate columns I record—the date; the name of the species; an ‘S’ for seed sown, or ‘C’ for cuttings and the number (e.g. C4); the date the seed germinated or the cuttings struck; the source of the seed and the date on the packet if purchased, or the date collected if from my own garden; the number of seedlings or cuttings potted up and the date; any notes, like, ‘poor germination’, ‘mouse dug up seed’, ‘snails ate all the seedlings’, (shit happens!) and so on.

The database allows me to search for any and all records of a species—amazing how consistent germination can be when you have dozens of records of the same species to look at and compare. It can also show the best time of year for sowing seed, for instance, some seed will sit there for weeks if sown at a particular time of year and yet germinate very quickly when sown at another time. The seed knows when it’s ready and I know to wait until it is. I’ve learned never to throw out seed trays until I’ve checked the database and I’m certain the seed is long past its usual time.

The database was very handy when I was growing plants to order some years ago. I could look at the germination times of a particular species and give the customer a fairly good approximation of when the plants would be ready for planting out.

I also have a planting-out database where I record what plants I plant, how many and where (just for shrubs and trees, not annual vegetables). Each major area of the property has a number, or other designation (FF is food forest and so on), so I was able to look back and see when I planted the Japanese Raisin Tree, which was the subject of the last post.

I have a seed bank database too, where I record my seed collection which is stored in packets in various boxes. This is a great help for knowing where I’m at with respect to seed, especially how fresh it is and whether I’m out of a variety and need to buy or collect a new lot.

While I admit I’m a record-keeping geek, even though I don’t spend a lot of time on it, I realise it isn’t for everyone. But it can be an invaluable aid to making a successful garden, especially if you grow and collect your own seed.


Brassica time

March 14, 2016

Brassicas are all those members of the cabbage family—cabbage itself, plus broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and all the numerous varieties of Chinese and Japanese greens.

In this part of the country brassicas are generally considered winter vegetables, so sowing seed should commence in late summer and autumn, to get a winter and early spring crop. I’ve heard that some gardeners sow as early as mid summer, but I’ve never managed it, because tending to summer veggies usually takes all my time and effort.

However, I’m into it now and have been sowing seed daily, some direct sown and some in punnets to be potted up later.

The wonderful thing about brassicas is that they germinate so quickly. Here’s some of my seedlings; the fastest (black kale, on the left) took 2 days and the others took 3-4 days. As well as the black kale, there’s Wombok Chinese cabbage, Dwarf Siberian kale and mustard Osaka Purple (just coming up on the right) :


The problem with brassicas is that they are the food plant for the Cabbage White Butterfly, which lays its eggs on the leaves and the green caterpillars which hatch set to straight away and demolish all the leaves. I can keep my seedlings in the polyhouse until the cooler weather puts an end to the butterflies (or they’ve laid all they can manage and have gone to god with the satisfaction of a job well done), or I can put them out in the open when the butterflies are still around and monitor them daily for a caterpillar squashing session (of course I can net them too, but that gets a bit cumbersome). I like to get them out as soon as possible because they tend to get leggy in the polyhouse, owing to the shadecloth over the top of the plastic (which I can’t get at to remove now and in any case it gets far too hot in there in summer without it).

There hasn’t been nearly as many white butterflies around this season as normally, but there are still a few to make life difficult for the ardent brassica grower. So inspecting and squashing becomes part of the daily routine.

If I get in early before the eggs have hatched, I can simply rub the eggs off the leaves with my thumb. They’re quite easy to see (glasses on) and are usually on the underside of the leaves (the butterfly thinks I won’t see them there, but she doesn’t know I have a (slightly) bigger brain than her and worked that one out long ago) :


Sometimes I’ll leave eggs on a few trap plants to hatch and wait till the caterpillars get to a reasonable size, because the chooks love them as a treat.

I’ve also direct-sowed a lot of seed too. This is Mizuna, a Japanese green that comes in both green and purple-leaved varieties. This was mixed seed collected from the garden, but it seems to be all green :


I’ve sown it in the second-hand bath which I received from a family member for Christmas. I harvest it by cutting handfuls of leaves just above the growth point with scissors and it keeps growing back :


That’s a really good net—the openings are too small to allow the butterflies in and it will also keep the rabbits from browsing the leaves around the edges. In a couple of weeks I’m going to plant my garlic in the other half of the bath.

This is broccoli in a large tub :


Although all these self-sown seedlings are very close together, I’ll be continually thinning them and either eating the thinnings or giving them to the chooks. They love all brassicas, especially kale.

October update

November 6, 2015

I was expecting to begin this post by saying we’d not had one drop of rainfall for the month…the first totally dry October since I began keeping records when we moved here 16 years ago, but lo and behold we had a thunderstorm on the last day of the month that delivered 14 mm. Melbourne’s average for October is 65 mm, so it was still well below that, but I got a useful 2000 litres in the big tank and all the swales filled so I was happy, even if it did wreck my plans to burn off. With tiny fruits swelling on all the trees, this is the time when moisture in the ground is really needed. Even better was yesterday’s fall—22 mm—a bit less than half November’s average. So things are a bit rosier on the rainfall front.

The dwarf Stella cherry is in its second year and is being well-watered and netted. There are many more fruits than last year. I counted at least thirty tucked in amongst the leaves. I want to get all of them! :


My new thornless blackberries surprised me by producing pink flowers instead of the familiar white of the wild blackberries :


I scored a useful compost bin from a friend and I’m going to use it for food scraps and the stuff from the composting toilet. I’m hoping the contents won’t dry out so much over the summer like they do just sitting in an open wire cage. I have 2 worm farms under the house, but I want to de-commission one and so I’ll have extra food scraps to deal with. This new bin has come at just the right time :


I’ve had problems with introduced black rats eating tomato seedlings planted in wicking tubs and boxes near the house. Never before has anything ever touched a tomato seedling here, so I was gob-smacked, not to mention furious, to find just leafless sticks the day after I planted them. I’ve managed to get some planted in other spots well away from the house, but planting in Zone 1, near the house, is temporarily on hold. I’ve baited and 6 rats have gone to god so far and the scuffling noises in the ceiling have gone too.

I’ve established a bed of nettles under my plant benches (these are the stands that hold over 600 tubed plants). The nettles don’t invade the path beside the benches, because the soil is more compacted there and they get water and fertiliser runoff when I water the tubes. I just have to remember not to get too close in summer when I’m wearing shorts :


A classic example of permaculture design where the outputs from one part of the system become the inputs for another part of the system.


The foliage in the strawberry wicking buckets died right back over winter and I was afraid I’d lost them, but they’ve burst into new growth and flowers and fruits. I topped the buckets with chook poo compost which has obviously helped :



I’ve written before about mini tomato cuttings using plants thinned from pots where I’ve sown 2 or 3 seeds. I snipped off a few seedlings at the base and stuck them in some water till I could get round to putting them in as cuttings. I was busy and they sat there for a couple of days. They couldn’t wait and started growing roots in the water :


Tomatoes definitely have a will to live!

This beautiful ferny foliage belongs to the tomato variety Silvery Fir Tree :


It’s a determinate variety, so doesn’t need staking, and is one of the earliest varieties to bear fruit. I’ve been growing it for about 4 years now. The fruits are large and slightly flattened and have a good flavour.

Looks like I might get a good crop of dill seed this year. I use a lot of it in pickling cucumbers and my local supermarket doesn’t carry it, so I like to have a crop of my own each year. This is in a wicking box :


I’ve been eating asparagus almost every second day. The trouble with asparagus is that if you don’t check the bed every day they have an inordinate desire to reach the moon :


The two small ones in front are about the size you’d get in a bunch at the supermarket. It’s not a lost cause, however. Snapping up from the bottom, to remove the woody bits, still leaves two-thirds of edible stem and I can chop up the woody bits in the Thermomix, blanch and freeze them for winter soups. Valuable fibre shouldn’t be discarded!

These 6 little seedlings are worth more than gold! :


They’re blueberries. I’m indebted to rabidlittlehippy for showing how to propagate them from seed. She put the berries in the freezer….actually no, I think she used purchased frozen blueberries. Anyway, I put berries from my own plant in the freezer. I didn’t record how long they were in there, but I took them out in March (at the equinox actually), extracted the seeds from the fruits and sowed them. They took nearly 60 days to germinate and then sat there all winter doing nothing. They started to grow in early spring and I potted them up at the beginning of October. There were 8 but 2 died. In the environment where they grow naturally, they probably drop from the bushes in late summer or autumn, then sit on the (?frozen/snow-covered) ground  until spring and then germinate. Which makes me think they took so long to germinate for me because I should have had them in the freezer over winter and sown them in spring. So I’ll try that next time. It has been a real thrill to succeed in growing blueberries from seed as plants are expensive to buy. Thanks RLH!

And that, as far as I can remember, was October. Oh, but I forgot the Girls again. Two eggs a day (and sometimes three), from the four of them. Enough for me and some to share. Self-sufficiency is alive and well.

February update

March 2, 2015

February wasn’t such a bad month weather-wise…a few days in the 30’s, but nothing that couldn’t be coped with. I’m hoping that’s it for summer. According to the weather bureau, Melbourne didn’t receive a single day over 40 degrees this summer. Bit of a change from last year! Only 3 weeks to the autumn equinox, when things will really start to cool down.

I’m weighing all the food that comes into the house (via garden and supermarket) for 12 months just to see how I’m going with the self-sufficiency effort. I did it a couple of years ago and found that I was growing about 50% of my fruit and vegetables, which accounted for about 20% of total food input. I decided to do it again this year…..starting last September…..because I felt that I wasn’t really improving and might even be going backwards. The end of February marks the halfway point.

In 6 months I harvested 67 kg of food from the garden and bought in 86 kg of fruit & veggies and 175 kg of groceries. So I grew 44% of my fruit and veggies which was 20% of total food. So I’m not doing any better, just holding steady (although some of the garden yield gets picked and nibbled on the spot and greens and herbs generally don’t get weighed). The next 6 months won’t be as good because winter in the garden is usually a lean time.


The strawberry wicking buckets continue to provide good yields, albeit with a bit of variation in size :


The tiny one clocked in at 5 g and the biggy at 25 g. If strawberries were sentient beings, I’d imagine the little one is feeling pretty cheesed off with life right now.


I’ve had huge yields of cherry tomatoes with the result that I’ve already filled two 1 litre jars with dried tomatoes and there are still plenty more coming :




The cucamelons started producing, not immense amounts, but at least enough to take a photo :


Pumpkins and zucchinis were a disaster this season. There weren’t many flowers and those that did appear failed to produce fruit because of poor, or no pollination. I was pollinating the earlier flowers with a paintbrush, but got a bit lax with it towards the end of the season and got no fruit at all. I think I proved pollination was the problem by hand-pollinating one last zucchini flower and getting a fruit from it, before I pulled the whole lot out in disgust and disappointment. Maybe the lack of flowers was due to low potassium levels in the soil…..they were planted in a hugelkultur bed….so I will add plenty of wood ash from the fire before next season.  Lack of bees is a greater concern. Perhaps I need to plant more flowers to attract them.


Last year I put half a dozen raspberry plants in a hugelkultur bed. They flowered in spring and I picked some berries, but there were so few that I didn’t bother to net them. The old canes that flowered died off and several new canes appeared. Now they’re flowering and there are plenty of tiny raspberries coming, so I thought I’d better do something about netting :


Star pickets at each end of the row. Melaleuca sapling cut for crosspiece and wired to the star pickets. Pieces of 19 mm poly pipe wired to crosspiece :


That should do it :



Mystery seedlings. I have a tendency to not throw out seedling trays when I’ve finished potting up from them, until I’m desperate for room in the polyhouse. I do chuck out the labels, though. Silly. I was about to consign this tray to the compost when I noticed the 4 seedlings in the corner :


I didn’t recognise them. Unlikely they’d be weeds as the seedling mix is pretty clean and they couldn’t have blown in because all my seedling trays are kept in the polyhouse. The leaves at the top belong to zaatar, an oregano-type herb which I’d finished potting up. So I checked on my propagation database to see what I’d sown about the same time. Well, with  great surprise… could have only been elderberry! And I’ve sent away for elderberry seed so many times and never got it to germinate. So much so, that I was rapt when Maree of Around the Mulberry Tree brought me an elderberry plant late last year. Here it is, planted and doing well :


Same pinnate foliage…..surely that has to be it! And then I remembered; the seed came from Phoenix Seeds in Tassie. I’d always sent for European Elderberry before; last time I asked for American Elderberry. It obviously germinated, but has taken its time. Now I need to look up the differences between the two. It looks like I’ve gone from having no elderberries to having five!


I found this piece of ginger in the cupboard :


I’ve tried to grow ginger (unsuccessfully) once before and almost threw this piece out, but then thought, what the heck, I’ll give it another go. So it’s in a pot in the polyhouse, where I can keep an eye on it :



I had a plant of Red Russian kale which flowered and went to seed. I cut off the top part with the seed heads on and the bottom part shot out new clusters of growth from the leaf axils. I’m always looking for new ways to propagate plants, so I broke off a few of the clusters and put them in as cuttings. It worked! They grew roots :


I’m starting to prepare beds for planting garlic and potato onions at the March equinox. I’ll plant my own potato onions harvested from last year, but my garlic was very small, so I’ve sent off to Yelwek Farm again for more bulbs.


I’m very disappointed with my bamboo. I planted it 9 months ago and I thought by now I’d be cutting stems for stakes. I watered it with comfrey tea which made it greener but it didn’t grow. At least it hasn’t died :


We had 26 mm rain during the month, less than half Melbourne’s average of 46 mm. March began with 11 mm. I hope it continues; I have dozens of plants waiting to be planted.

And finally, this from the morning paper a week or so ago :

 Australian health authorities are reviewing the case for fluoride in drinking water amid concerns scientific evidence supporting the benefits and risks to people’s health may have shifted

My views on fluoride in drinking water are here. If I didn’t already have a water tank, I’d be putting one in.

January update

February 5, 2015

The best thing about January was the weather….only a few days with 30+ temperatures and rainfall (64mm) which exceeded Melbourne’s average for the month (57mm). I was well pleased…living on a bush block in a bushfire zone, with a warming climate, I tend to get rather paranoid in summer now.

Tomatoes were the biggest bearer. I seem to have a lot of cherries this year, but that’s alright. They’ll be sun-dried :



The goal is to fill this jar with dried tomatoes :


San Marzano, a Roma type. Most of these will be frozen for winter cooking :


There are still Black Russian, Green Zebra and Debarao to come. This is my first time growing Debarao (sometimes called De Barao). It’s a Roma-type too, with egg-shaped fruit with less watery pulp and will also be useful for cooking. I freeze a lot of tomatoes and use them over winter for making relish and pasta sauce. Rather than juicing them and bottling and storing the juice, it’s much easier to just defrost the quantity of whole tomatoes that I need, when I need them.


Pepinos are forming. This plant is in a wicking box on the deck. When I plant them in the garden, the rabbits demolish the fruit. I wish I could fit the whole garden up on the deck! (then I suppose the pesky rabbits would learn to negotiate steps!) :


It’s amazing how much growth can be fitted in a wicking box. Not only is the pepino in this one…:


but there’s gotu kola…:


self-sown lemon balm…:


a cucumber…:


and what looks like a self-sown tansy…:


but wait, there’s more…:


…a self-sown alpine strawberry.

An example of what permaculture guru Geoff Lawton likes to call, ‘abundance’.


I forgot to mention in the December update that I had a visit over the Christmas period from Maree, who writes Around The Mulberry Tree blog, and who brought me a healthy-looking elderberry plant :


I’ve sent away for elderberry seeds so many times and have never had any germination, so I was delighted to get an established plant. I can see elderflower cordial and elderberry wine somewhere in the future. Thanks Maree!


I’m disappointed in the cucamelons. The plants have climbed skywards and wound themselves around the deck railings, but there’s no sign of fruit. There are plenty of female flowers with little pre-cucamelons behind them and some male flowers, but it seems no pollination is occurring :




The plants in the strawberry wicking buckets have done well after a poor start in which the first fruits were badly deformed, due I think, to poor pollination :


I’ve picked a steady supply of strawberries, not a huge amount, but enough to have a few on my breakfast mueslii each morning, so I’ll plant a few more buckets for next year. I haven’t even had to net them because they’re up on the deck where birds don’t usually come. The plants are putting out new runners at the moment and it’s easy to pot up a few. Runners grow a tuft of new leaves along their length :


At the base of each tuft of leaves is a collection of roots-to-be :


I peg the runner down into a pot of potting mix with a piece of bent wire, but leave the runner attached to the parent plant :



Once the roots have grown down into the new pot, the runners can be cut away from the parent plant. I wish all plants were as easy to propagate as these.


The New Girls are 24 weeks old and there’s still no sign of eggs. The Old Girls laid at 22 weeks, so I’m anxiously checking daily. The Newbies are so full of beans; any unsuspecting butterfly stupid enough to get through the wire is snatched out of the air with a huge leap; they rocket up and down the 7 metres of connecting corridor between the two runs like mad things; they come when called (well, most times); they love the green grubs off the kale (Molly and Cheeky won’t touch them), and they’re into everything—a perfect trio of lively, alert, naughty kids. That’s two of them on the left (looking good, eh, Julie?) :


And the remainder of the trio. She’s wondering if the camera is something to eat. (Cheeky behind on the right and Molly bringing up the rear) :


If I can ever tell them apart, which seems unlikely, their names will be Bonny, Missy and Clover (the last after the rabbit in Watership Down….there’s no connection, I just like the name), but until then, they’re just the Newbies, or Newbs, for short.

I’ve been giving Molly & Cheeky a daily treat of grated carrot and yoghurt, which they love. At first the Newbs weren’t interested—they didn’t understand ‘treats’—but lately they’ve taken an interest. Of course, M & C won’t allow them anywhere near, but Molly is moulting and a bit off-colour so less aggressive and Cheeky has become a bit indifferent to them (only whacks them occasionally), so they’ve managed to elbow their way in and steal some and they like it. So I call them down to their own quarters and give them a bowl on their own. The squeals of delight as they wolf it down and peck splattered yoghurt off each other’s faces has me in stitches.

Not a happy Moulting Molly :



I’ve finally got my act together and planted kale and broccoli seeds early. I always seem to leave it until autumn and then have to wait as they grow too slowly through the cooler winter. I was reading someone’s blog where they said they sowed their winter brassica seeds at the summer solstice (21st December), so I did the same and now I’ve actually got kale in a wicking box growing well. Of course, Cabbage White butterflies are still around, but if I inspect the plants every few days and rub off all the eggs before they hatch, I’m able to keep on top of the problem :



These are Tepary Beans. I have to thank Fran of Road to Serendipity blog for sending the seed a couple of years ago. The first year I grew them I just left them to set seed. I forgot to grow them the following year and thought I’d better put them in this season and collect more seed. I’ll probably leave them for seed again this season then finally grow them to eat. They’re said to be extremely drought tolerant :


Pods are forming :



Basil & endive going well together in a wicking box :


And what’s that in the back left corner? Looks like a seedling plum :



You wouldn’t believe it, but under all that growth on the left, there’s a planter box just like the one on the right :


In the left-hand box there are two cherry tomatoes and some beans that didn’t have a label (looking like climbers). This box had a liberal dose of chook poo compost before planting, hence the rampant growth :


The other one has Purple King climbing beans at the back and basil, kale and silver beet in front. These aren’t wicking boxes, so they need watering every day :


Well, that’s about it for the January wrap-up. I hope February will be as good temperature-wise, but next week is forecast for over 30 C every day, so all I can say is, “roll on autumn”.

Before I go, here’s a really useful post from the Permaculture Research Institute about tomatoes. And check out the link to given in the article. Another useful site worth bookmarking.

Hen’s teeth?

August 22, 2014

It was a nice day and warmth is forecast for next week, so I thought I’d sow some of the seeds I bought yesterday—the cape gooseberries and the goji berries. The cucamelons will be left for a bit longer—when it’s really warm.

Are goji berries THAT rare?

This what I found in the seed packet:


A tiny glass vial containing 8 seeds. Eight!

That works out at just under 57 cents each!

Now I’ve grown goji berries before—a few years ago. All I did was buy a packet of dried berries in the supermarket, soak a couple in water and extract the seeds. They germinated well but the plants didn’t survive in the garden. Hence I thought I’d have another go and buy ‘proper’ seeds this time, from a seed supplier.

I’ve been well and truly had.

They’d better germinate.



August 19, 2014

Cucamelon, aka Mouse Melon or Mexican Sour Gherkin.

Aren’t they cute?

Never heard of it? Neither had I. It was written up in the daily paper a couple of weeks ago (which I threw out by accident).

So I Googled (as you do).

Here’s a good site (the source of the above photo), that tells you all about it. I’m always looking for new foods to grow so I wanted some seeds. A quick look at the various seed suppliers indicated it’s not common. Diggers sell it, but I don’t like Diggers (actually it’s Clive Blazey I don’t like), but then I found it at 4Seasons Seeds. So I’ve ordered a couple of packets. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tamarillo update:

I had 2 goes at collecting seed from my tamarillos. I couldn’t find any mature seeds in the first lot I picked, so I let them mature for longer on the trees; in fact I waited until they were actually dropping off. I treated them in the same way as you do tomatoes (fermenting the pulp), and eventually got a very ordinary 12 seeds from 6 fruits. Not wonderful. So I’m afraid that I can’t send seeds to those who wanted some, because I’ve sown them all myself. Sorry.

I’ve had good seed set in other years, so I don’t know what was wrong this year. I never noticed any insects at the flowers, but would have thought if they produced fruits, then pollination must have occurred.


Handy Hint Corner

If you’re using slow-release, pelleted fertiliser on tiny seedlings, make sure the pellets aren’t sitting up close against the stem of the seedling. The influx of strong chemicals against the tender stem can burn it and the seedling will collapse. Put the pellets well away, towards the side of the pot.





Larger plants, with a layer of protective bark, should be OK.

June update

June 30, 2014

I’ve been doing a bit of reblogging lately, since I learned how to do it, but it’s because I find other people can say what I want to say so much better than I can, and it seems almost criminal not to spread good blogs around.

So for something original for a change, I thought I’d do a regular end-of-month post about all the things that have happened on the property during the month and also include the monthly solar update as part of it. Since I only just thought of this brilliant idea, I can’t remember the first couple of weeks of the month, but from now on, I hope I can remember to document and take photos regularly.

Last week. What a shocker weather-wise! Gale-force winds nearly every day and bitterly cold to boot. Trees down all over Melbourne. I didn’t venture outside much, as I don’t like working in the bush under trees that tend to fall over or drop huge branches without warning.  I lit the wood fire and worked inside on my new chook coop (of which more later).

I did go outside briefly, to check on damage and found this. It has popped up, at least 2 months early by my reckoning:


It had a tiny mate:


Means I’d better get some chook poo compost on them to boost a few more spears. I really don’t mind climate change if I can get fresh asparagus in June.

Solar generation continued to be down, with most of the readings between 2.5 and 5 kWh per day and of course, I was taking more from the grid, but still sending a little bit back. Which is good, because they pay me more for my electricity than I pay them for theirs. I received my next bill during the month—the one I’d been waiting for, which was only 5 weeks overdue (!!) and true to form the retailer got it wrong again! Surprisingly it wasn’t the meter reads they got wrong this time—they agreed with my readings—it was in working out the solar credits. Would you believe they managed to subtract 1838 kWh from 2854 kWh and come up with 125.463 kWh!!!! To three decimal places, what’s more!! I thought all this was done by computer. It meant I got a credit of $41.40, when I should have received $335.28. So I rang, AGAIN, and pointed it out and I’m still waiting for the amended bill.

I imported an average 2.6 kWh per day from the grid; sent 2.1 kWh per day back to the grid and the panels managed 2.9 kWh per day.

It’s been 8 months since the solar was installed and although it’s too soon to tell yet, it’s looking hopeful that I might wind up at the end of 12 months with an overall credit. Which means I will have not only saved about $1200 in electricity bills, but an additional credit might also pay for all, or some of, my bottled gas bill. Which would be very satisfying.

The winter solstice happened during the month and I was so wrapped up in the idea that the sun would be heading south again (thinking solar generation), that I forgot it’s also when I start sowing my tomatoes. So I got to work and filled dozens of small pots with a mixture of sieved potting mix and a little bit of blood and bone and went through my seed bank. I soak about a dozen seeds in water overnight and sow three to each pot—4 pots of each variety. They’ll be thinned to the strongest seedling:


They’re in a plastic box inside on the kitchen table. When they germinate, I’m going to put half the tubes out into the polyhouse (in the cold, poor things) and leave the rest inside as a control. This is because I spoke to the old chap who sells tomato plants at the Sunday Market and asked him how he gets his plants so big by August when he starts selling them (they’re 30 cm tall with stems as thick as my little finger—I could never manage that!). He said he puts them outside as soon as he’s potted them up, BUT they should have protection from cold winds. Well, they’ll get that in the polyhouse, but it certainly won’t be warmer than inside.

So far, I’ve sown—Silvery Fir Tree, Reisentraube, Grub’s Green, Black Russian, San Marzano, Burnley Surecrop, Checkmate and Red Pear Cherry. I have plenty more varieties in stock and will keep going with it.

I’m still picking tamarillos and having a couple on my breakfast cereal each morning. I’ll really miss them when they’ve finished:


And finally, rainfall for June. We had 109 mm (Melbourne’s June average is 43 mm) making up for the abysmally low February (8 mm; average 46 mm) and low May (36 mm; average 68 mm). Everything is nicely soggy.

Storing potatoes

March 27, 2014

Potatoes are so easy to grow and I always seem to have more than I can eat at any one time. As a result of which, in the dim depths at the back of the cupboard under the sink, this often happens:

saturday 002 (2)

Sometimes it’s even more embarassing and this happens:

saturday 002

So I need some other method for storing them where they won’t sprout. I investigated freezing and found that it’s possible but they need to be blanched first. So…peeled and diced, dropped into a pot of boiling water, then removed when the water comes back to the boil. Dropped into iced water to cool quickly and stop the cooking process. Drained and frozen in batches:


I’d hoped that when defrosted, they’d be suitable for potato salad, but I found that when I tried to mix them into the dressing they were too soft and broke apart. However they’re just great for mashed potatoes. Into the microwave for a minute or so, add butter, S & P, chopped parsley, a dash of milk and mash. Quick and delicious!


Handy hint corner

An old spice container full of fine sand, makes a great shaker for covering fine seeds after sowing:


Here endeth the summer

March 24, 2014

Well…I hope so.

The autumn equinox has been and gone, we’ve had an inch of rain, the days are cooler and the plants are making new growth.

I’ve planted my garlic and potato onions from Yelwek Farm. Some went into the garden and some in a wicking box. I had success with one potato onion bulb (just one!) in a wicking box last year and I want to see if that was a one-off or whether they will tolerate the extra moisture in a wicking box. The drainage will still be good and if I need to, I can shelter the box from excessive winter rains. I’ve grown garlic successfully in a wicking box before, so no worries there.

Potato onions in the garden:


Garlic in a wicking box:


I’ve also planted asparagus in the first of the hugelkultur beds I made.  By spring, this bed will be in its third year and the underlying wood is starting to break down, at least enough for me to get the treeplanter into it without hitting any resistance:


I’ve staked and tied up the ferns for the time being to keep them tidy and to dissuade the rabbits from investigating them. I’ve had to protect each side of the bed with wire to stop the blackbirds tearing it apart. The ferns will die back over winter and I’ll side-dress each plant with chook poo compost before the spears emerge in early spring. I doubt they‘ll be big enough to harvest this year but should be OK for the next:


In the spaces between each asparagus plant I’ll sow cucumbers next spring/summer and let them ramble over the mound. By that time the asparagus will have stopped bearing and will be at the fern stage. The ferns, which grow to over a metre tall in mature plants, should provide some shade for the cucumbers during the summer. So the asparagus will do two things—provide me with a yield in spring and shade for other plants in summer. An example of the permaculture principle which says that each element in a permaculture system should perform more than one function.

Garlic chives are flowering. The bees love them. I’ve got a couple of dozen new plants in pots and will plant them everywhere:



Tamarillos are ripening. I made sure I kept the water up to the plants in summer and it looks like a bumper harvest this year:


New batch of potatoes coming on. These are Kipflers:


Dandelions for use in casseroles and soups this coming winter:


The last of the tomatoes ripening. This one is called Nicoleta and the seed came from a member of the Ozgrow forum. It’s a good size and shape and has a beautiful flavour. I’ll be growing this one again:


Still getting a few strawberries from the wicking box on the deck. The blackbird has found them so I’ve had to put a net over them in addition to the ring of wire around the tub. Did I mention I hate blackbirds?


This is purslane. It self-seeded in a wicking box and I’m hoping it will flower and seed there again. It has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a crunchy texture and can be eaten in dozens of ways:


The oca has kicked on with the recent rain and should form lots of tubers by winter when the plants will die back:


It wasn’t the best of summers from a food-growing point of view. Yields were woeful compared to past years. The most important things I learned were that I have to make provision for shade on 40-degree-plus days and that plants in wicking boxes will do better than plants in ordinary garden beds.

It also wasn’t the best from a personal-keep-cool point of view either. Before next summer I’m going to have an evaporative cooler installed. I don’t need to worry about electricity use, because the solar panels will run it through the day. No more do I want to try and sleep in a house where the temperature is in the high 30’s.