Sunday, December 16, 2012

A few little things

 If you've ever got some kind of mildew on your plants, you can bet you'll have a few lady beetles show up to help fight the fire. But as far as timing and attendance go, they're a lot less like the fire brigade, and much more like the demolition crew who come to knock down whatever didn't burn. This lone member of the cavalry is on the scene weeks after the infestation on my swedes. Luckily, the combination of removing dead & sick plant material, as well as spraying with milk really pulled the crop through. All that leaves is for the lady beetles to be aesthetically pleasing, I guess.

 Some miniature mangoes. I won't be keeping all of these, but I'm hopeful I'll end up with two or three.

This is what a sad yacon looks like. After two days without a kiss good-morning from the hose, it really didn't have a great time in the heat today. It'll bounce back after the drenching I gave it, but these ground apples are going have to taste absolutely amazing to get invited back to my garden. They're just so needy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The unlikely friendship dynamic of Pumpkin and Yacon

When I planted these pumpkin in the yacon bed a few months back, I had intended for the yacon to shade the pumpkin leaves and afford it a bit of protection from the hot western summer sun. As you can observe, it didn't quite turn out that way.

You might need to take a closer look to even see that I wasn't just having you on about the yacon in the first place:

But building on the luck that underpins many of my most celebrated successes, it seems to be working out nicely all the same. These yacon are far less drought tolerant than I'd been led to believe - a day or two without watering and the wrong end of the plant will be trying to acquaint itself with the soil. The huge pumpkin leaves shade the plants and the soil from the heat of the afternoon, and I'd imagine are doing something to reduce the amount of leaf burn I'm seeing on the yacon after particularly hot, dry days.

Another unexpected revelation in this whole yacon growing adventure is that the cabbage white butterfly seems to know something about how nutritious the leaves of the plant are, too. The green caterpillars can be hard to spot directly, but luckily this one (pictured) left an enormous steaming pile of overcooked nuggets to help me pin point its location.

Never one to laze around in a bed, the pumpkin have started their summer offensive on the lawn, and as far as I'm concerned, they have the full run of the yard for the next four months. Of course, I don't really have a choice because the female flowers only seem to appear once the stems reach a certain distance over the lawn.

These are some variety of Kent pumpkin, and they seem to double in size between blinks. I'm sure given time I could probably grow one to the size of a Volkswagen - I'm tempted, but I think that will have to wait another season. I always forget to plant giant pumpkin somewhere that has fork-lift access.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Racing Jalapenos

I was out drinking with some mates after work back in September, and sometime after the third round conversation abruptly and unexpectedly turned to this very literary masterpiece, yours truly, Le Vegging Gardener. I know, I was surprised too - cause I wasn't even the one who brought it up. My mate, otherwise fondly known as The Wombat, told me that his disillusionment in supermarket chilli had lead him to pot a Jalapeno plant on his apartment balcony. A first-time jalapenos grower, he'd visited the blog and left bitterly disappointed, as while the Jalapeno regularly features in my garden, it hasn't so much on said blog. So never wanting to disappoint, I said I'd buy a plant and write about it.
And this is where the true genius comes in: The Wombat says to me "We'll have a race!".

So nursing a 'mild' hangover I walked into my local nursery the next morning, and walked out twenty minutes later with this punnet of jalapenos for $2.49. (Not bad huh? Jalapenos regularly cost $29.95/Kg)I could have picked one larger plant for the same price, but decided take the more economical option and try a few different planting options. And anyway, if you knew nothing about the form, you'd always bet on the guy who had the seven horses in an eight horse race, right?

Like all peppers, jalapenos like a warmish soil - so September wasn't a bad time to kick off the racing season. I planted in three separate locations: Three plants went in the herb garden where there's pretty much all day sun year round - this spot is warm and sheltered, and in the past has produced jalapeno even in winter. Three went in a slightly shadier, more open position - I didn't expect such great results here, and only in Summer. The final plant I put in a black pot (I figured it would keep the soil warm either side of summer), which I placed with all the other pot plants on death row. I have a terrible track record with anything that grows in pots - I'm pretty time poor, so anything that needs more than an occasional look in wouldn't want to find itself in the waiting line in my yard.

Site #1: The Herb Garden
Site #2: The forward retaining wall
On The Green Mile
All plants started in a hole with a good helping of moo poo and a handful of blood and bone. Being a little rushed to get off the mark, I didn't get around to checking the soil acidity - but I'm fairly happy that almost every part of my garden posts a neutral pH, which is just a little above the 5.5 - 6 ideal, and certainly not tragic for chilli.

So some ten weeks into competition, where are my seven horses?

Only one of three in the herb garden is really performing, it's tall and green, while the other two are shorter and a little more sickly in colour - They're all flowering. There's not an awful lot of difference between where they're planted, so it's hard to say why there's such a big difference.

Two plants remain at site #2. The plant that fell behind did so quite early in the game, and the slugs did the rest. The remaining two are tall and strong, and are covered in bloom. I have supports ready in place to carry the weight of the branches as the fruit forms.

Then there's the saddest little pea in the pod. The victim in the pot. It fell out of the starting blocks and has pretty much laid there crying ever since. I suspect its got a lot to do with the size of the pot as much as it does the lack of regular feeding and water that a potted plant requires.

But all things considered, a few losses isn't anything to cry about - for the amount of jalapenos we eat, I only need a single plant to cover our usage. I really was expecting most of the plants to be chewed to the ground by slugs in the first week. So if you like Jalapenos and you happen to be my friend - Well. Its going to be a good year for you.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Milking swedes

A lot can happen in the garden over a week, and so you find there's never a really good time to take a week's holiday. Still, I prepare as much as possible, pack my bags and hope for the best - and here I am, a week later, assessing the damage. At this time of year I tend to worry most about getting a scorching hot week and returning to a patchwork of dead and wilted hopes and dreams. However what I got this round was a warmish week of light rain, cloud cover and humidity - and while that might seem like a better deal, my crop of swedes copped the raw end of it.

I planted these guys at the end of August, and as a winter crop, that's about as late as you want to plant them in my neck of the woods. It's the first time I've tried growing swedes, and up until now they've been entirely self maintaining - and thus quickly working themselves to becoming a regular winter staple of my garden. But the powdery mildew currently spreading across the leaves is a pretty big first problem.
Pumpkin is still in the clear.
Mildew is sort of like your annoying third child (and I say this as someone who has ongoing mildew problem, and as an annoying third child): You could have done a lot to prevent it, but now it's here, it's kind of hard to get rid of. I think a lot of my problem here, aside from untimely absence, is that they're growing in a slightly shady position, at a time of year that tends to be warm and humid, and possibly a little too close together. However, they're getting pretty close to being ready to crop, so while my chances of eradicating the mildew are almost zip - all I really need to do is keep the plants alive long enough to get them over the line.

Zucchini in the eternal cherry tomato bed.
So to start, I stalked around the garden bed with a pair of secateurs picking off all the leaves that were far beyond saving, and removing any dead material out from around the base of the plants. All this ended up straight in the waste instead of the compost, in what can only really be called a symbolic attempt to prevent further spread of the problem around the yard - removing mildew from the yard is the horticultural equivalent of whack-a-mole. Beyond reducing further sources of infection, trimming back also opens up the space around the swedes for better airflow, which will also hopefully make for a less inviting place for mildew to grow.

Then its time to start with the heavy artillery, using a little trick known by cows ever since bovine-kind began intensively farming cucurbits. So armed with a pressure sprayer, I covered the foliage with a full-cream milk spray, mixed one part milk to six parts water. Milk has some awesome anti-fungal qualities that should help to prevent further spores getting a new foothold on the leaves - but you don't want to go overboard with the milk in the mix, because that will open the door to other problems. I've also chosen to spray in the morning so the plants have the full day to dry out again. It's also a good opportunity to spray the pumpkin and zucchini with the leftover milk mix, because if there's mildew anywhere in the yard, it'll only be a matter of time before its everywhere.

The final step is to sit back... and hope.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Finally, a new fence

The new fence went in a week or so ago, with far less trauma than was expected. In fact, the guys who put it in for me made a huge effort not to destroy any of the garden around the fence, and even took the long way round-the-path-and-up-the-stairs, rather than just straight-through-the-herb-garden. Most impressive.

There was only a single casualty for the day - one of four lavender bushes gifted to me by Rognvald, ironically, to save them from roving, unchecked hoards of tradesmen unleashed in his own yard. I'm afraid to report that this pile of bricks doesn't seem to be attracting beneficial insects in the same way as the plant it now crushes.

But overwhelmingly, I can only see positive things in getting back this ten square metres of hopefully tradesman-free veggie-bed. The Colorbond this fence is made from should present far less of a challenge for attaching plant supports, or frames to support netting or shade-cloth covers. I'm already starting to formulate a hundred crazy little projects this change will facilitate. In the meantime however, its time to squeeze in a little more spring planting, methinks.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Little plums

A quick follow-up on this.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A little discipline for the lemon tree

It was just so young and innocent
(January 2008)
When I was young, I tended to get a little over-excited. Never was this more apparent than when we bought the house and, for the first time, I found myself with my very own Eden. Back in those days plants were bought on impulse, often with little or no thought to where they'd go, what season it was, or what preparation was required. And that's the setting in which this story begins: The Tale of a Very Disturbed Lemon Tree. It's a good example of what not to do.

I bought a Eureka lemon tree in autumn 2007, soon after we moved in - it was on special for $23 at Bunnings, and for that price, it was a very lucky thing I didn't end up with a small orchard. I also picked up a pot slightly larger than the root-ball, figuring that it wouldn't be long before I'd have it in the ground and everyone would be happy. Little did I realise that it would be over three years before it would move out of that pot. Lesson one: Never buy a tree you don't already have a hole for.

Oh so close to the ground, but still in the pot
(Late 2008)
In the ground, finally (August 2010)
Come spring 2007, it was flowering. In the first one or two years of ownership, it's generally the best to remove the flowers and let the tree focus on growth. But herein lies one of my greatest weaknesses as a gardener; especially when I was younger. I was way too excited about having fruit. And not surprisingly this lack of will power would give this tree a sour start. By the end of summer 2008, the fruit was so heavy on the young wood, branches were leaning over like a fishing rod with a whale hooked. At first I began staking them up - but so much support was required that soon it more closely resembled scaffolding. Lesson Two: For god's sake, they tell you to remove the flowers for a reason.

Doesn't look espaliered, does it? (October 2012)
If that wasn't enough, shortly before I could claim any of these ill-sought-after lemons, the tree was almost totally destroyed by the local possum - after all, if the branches couldn't support the weight of a few lemons, what chance did it have in supporting the weight of the world's least intelligent marsupial? You see, as I've come to understand, the possums in our neighborhood have something of an eye for lemons, but if not the taste. They rip one off the tree, take a single bite, then discard it for the sourness. Of course, every other lemon must then be tried for a better taste. The result was snapped branches and a yard scattered with half eaten lemons.

In August 2010, the lemon finally made the ground, in a place I never would have imagined three years earlier. I planted it in a recently made garden bed against the eastern fence - which was built over the top of a water easement. The soil is relatively shallow, but that's perfect for shallow-rooted citrus. My plan was to espalier it along the fence to wisely use the space in this walk-through garden bed.

I don't know where the time has gone, but I noticed last week that two years had passed - and this sad old lemon was still sitting there against the fence waiting for some form. Weighted down with fruit again, and growing wild and barely stronger than the day I'd bought it, something had to be done to give this poor bastard the shot at life it'd never had.

I removed all the oddly-formed lemons, then went to work building a simple frame out of a variety of garden stakes I had lying around. I then gently pulled the four healthiest looking, green wood against the horizontal stakes, and tied them down (I use Velcro strips in the garden these days for tie-downs - they're easily moveable and re-usable). Every other branch that didn't conform to the shape got the chop. Spring isn't necessarily the best time to be pruning citrus, but there's no time like the present for work this far overdue.

And maybe most surprisingly, the last thing I did was remove all the spring flowers. Because for all the pain I'd caused this tree over the years, we really don't go through that many lemons. I think I'll survive without for a few seasons.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How's that mango tree going?

One of the more frequently asked questions about the garden (which is really just a euphemism for "someone I know asked me about it more than once") is "how's that mango tree going"?

I guess, to most people, growing a Bowen mango in a pot is one of the more unusual things I've tried. As far as potted mango goes, I'm certainly not alone in the world - A quick search will bring up loads of links about growing mangoes in pots. It's just none of them will recommend growing a full sized Bowen in a pot, which makes complete sense - it's a bit like trying to launch a catamaran in a bathtub. Still, I occasionally get a page hit from someone searching "Bowen mango in a pot" - So this either means I've slipped into a niche as the worlds foremost expert on growing Bowen mangoes in pots (unlikely), or someone I know couldn't remember my blog's URL and knew that I was the only idiot that would do such a thing (a little more likely).

Well to my surprise (and probably everyone else's), I actually managed to get a very palatable mango off the tree in March 2011, and we probably all looked toward the tree with a new kind of hope. Since then however, with my long absence from the garden, the most attention it's received is the occasional glance, sometimes a look of pity, and from time to time, I may have bumped into it when i walked past. It wasn't a great year for mangoes. The tree did however fair quite well without me, surviving on just rainfall for the good part of twelve months (granted it was the wettest twelve months I can ever remember).

In the past few months I've refocused on giving the tree a real shot at a record crop of two mangoes. Sure, this is a few short of a tray, but as one of the handful of Australians that doesn't seek mangoes with a vegemite-like fanaticism, two will do me just fine.

I started by giving it some more support in the form of some recycled plastic stakes, as the main branches have never really thickened and strengthened that much. These also help to control the balance of weight around a sensible centre of gravity, by allowing me to train larger branches in different directions. The main challenge is in keeping the hungry beast fed. At the start of spring I applied a handful of blood and bone, and a granulated slow-release fertilizer - then topped the pot up with cow manure. Every few weeks since I've given it a drink of some seaweed extract, and I'll gradually add more slow-release granules as the season progresses. I'm in a habit of watering it most mornings now, which will become increasingly important when fruit sets. Mornings are also a great watering time so the tree has the full day to dry out, and not encourage any fungal disease.

So that should bring you up to date. The warmer weather has seen new shoots from the base of the tree, and flower-heads forming on the two main branches. I'm very hopeful for the 2012/2013 mango season!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A few updates

If you hadn't been able to tell from the eight posts I've made in the last thirty or so days, I'm well and truly back in the garden. And I'm enjoying it - even ignoring the fact that 6am is about the only time of the day I get a quiet twenty minutes out there. I've been up at 6am a lot.

Here's how things are looking out there.

The plastic trellis I set down around the orange trees is definitely doing its job. I've still only been letting the chickens in intermittently, but they're perfectly able to keep the area free of weeds without bringing about the destruction of my citrus crop. However, anywhere without trellis is turning into a deep trench, so pretty soon I'll be extending this little experiment.

The Sacred Basil started shooting this week after a long, tense wait. I'm even pretty sure that is basil - and not just some random weed that found its way to the pots on the wind.

With two additional bottomless pits of food consumption in the house now, we're producing mountain-loads of kitchen scraps - I regularly add a 4-6 litre container's worth each and every day. And so when I turned the compost this morning, I found I had something I've never had before in the history of the plot. A steaming pile of... compost. The heat generated is amazing, and will hopefully kill any seeds mixed up in there - it may be well the first compost I've produced that doesn't freely propagate tomato. Its a touch wet in there, so I'll be adding some more dry material soon. But just look at that black gold down there.

I've planted pumpkins around the yacon - these are of the gigantic type that Grandma-of-Legend always sends us home with. The pumpkin these seeds came from kept for six months and took us two weeks to finish. There's a great reason I've planted these here - the towering form of mature yacon should shade the pumpkin from the worst of the summer heat - and located along the western fence, they'll be protected from the worst of the late afternoon inferno.

That's if they survive that long through the usual slug apocalypse.
Talking about the yacon, it's just popped up out of the soil. It's centre frame - please quietly ignore all the weeds around it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A few visitors

Had a few visitors in the garden today...
Looks like maybe there's yet hope for them there plums.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Herd of Yacón?

Early last week a small package arrived at my house; the much anticipated yacón delivery. While we've already established that yacón is not a breed of alpaca, I thought I'd bring you along on my journey of discovery as to what it actually is.

Yacón is a plant with edible tuberous roots, and what this package contained is a collection of ventilated plastic bags that loudly compelled me to plant their contents immediately. The tubers enclosed are gnarled, knotted and twisted exactly like its cousin, the jerusalem artichoke. If that still doesn't give you a good feel for what they look like, then just try to imagine what would happen if an alpaca ate too many burritos, and left the result to harden in the sun.

As you might imagine due to their shape, these aren't the easiest kind of tuber to prepare for general consumption, and from my experience with jerusalem artichoke, if these were the intended product I'd probably have fed them to the chickens at this point. However, while edible, these gnarled tubers are mainly reserved for propagation - yacón are usually grown for the additional gigantic, ovaloid storage tubers that are reportedly bigger than that fish your uncle caught last summer and won't shut up about.

What attracted me to the yacón, other than trying to grow something completely different, was evaluating the claim that they'll happily grow without any attention what so ever. And seriously, who do you know that would better run that test? Its resume reads exactly as it should for a position in my garden. They're also supposed to taste sweet like an apple (hence its other name - the Peruvian ground apple), and since I'm not doing all that well growing sky apples, I thought I better hedge my bets.

My preparation of the bed hasn't been perfect  considering my long absence from behind the garden-fork, which isn't a problem because apparently yacón will also grow happily in poor sandy soils too, just not as vigorously. So with only a single bag of caca de la vaca to spread over some of the area, I'll be experimenting by planting yacon in two kinds of soil - poor soil, and poorer soil.

I've planted them along my western fence in four separate holes, each about a meter apart, and a few centimeters under the soil. They should grow into a tall unruly mass of leaves and yellow flowers that you could easily mistake for a group of hippies at an open air festival. When they die back after the summer, I'll hire a small crane to lift the tubers out. And the tops of the plants are supposedly highly nutritious veloci-chicken food - so nothing will go to waste!

Will keep you posted on the progress!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Liberating sacred basil seed

After months of staring indifferently at this tray of dried basil flowers, tonight I finally started liberating the seed to much fanfare (which in this case really boiled down to the Wife's stern why-is-that-still-there look reducing to the slightly more moderate, well-it's-about-time look).

I probably could have been much more time efficient, just crushing and burying them shallowly beneath the soil, but all this warm weather does something funny to my motivation - I'm carefully separating them this evening.

It's also important to get this right, because it isn't easy to come by basil with just the right sweet flavour - and I know this one is perfect, because it came from the Eternal-Basil-Bed that is grown by Grandma-of-Legend. And the sacred basil must be treated with the correct respect.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lasagna with a touch of Grevillea, to taste.

As a general rule of thumb, if you can't put it in (or with) a lasagna, its probably not growing in my garden. Failing that, you better be able to make a dessert out of it - or even better, it be a dessert in its own right. Suffice to say, I don't have an awful lot of ornamentals growing around the place because they just don't tick enough of these boxes - and instead tend to get pushed aside in an endless pursuit of more crop space. But within such menu-driven planting decisions, there's the hidden danger that not enough pollinators will show up to the party - leaving me with plenty of blossom, and not enough birds 'n the bees

So given that I barely find enough time to organise planting my edibles - let alone a streaming succession of flowering plants to keep the bees interested - I began to search for the compact, year-round flowering plant that needs no attention, should such a divine expression of nature exist.

Luckily, my mate Rognvald is a bit ahead of the game than me, and I was delighted when he showed up at my place on the weekend with a Silky Grevillea he'd managed to strike from a cutting. From a year-long study in his yard down the road, it is reportedly covered in flower for most of the year, and is irresistible to bees.

Fingers crossed; this is a first step to more produce - and a small break to the general rule of my garden, lest lasagna start tasting a touch more exotic.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My yacon has been posted

(3:09:10 PM) Me: My yacón has been posted. Should be here in a few days.
(4:06:15 PM) The Wife: Your what?
(4:06:28 PM) Me
: My yacón
(4:06:48 PM) The Wife: What is that?
(4:06:54 PM) Me
: A breed of alpaca.
(4:07:20 PM) Me: ... would you be upset if I had some alpaca on their way to our house?

(For the record, yacón is actually a tuberous perennial plant)
Some twenty minutes later: 

(4:27:23 PM) The Wife: Oh, its that ground apple thing  

Life just isn't as fun when she has access to Wikipedia.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Elephants in the Orange Trees

 It wasn't until almost the entire centre of my Seedless Valencia had turned yellow that I woke up an realised something might be wrong. I guess the more you think your ship is unsinkable, the more surprised you are when you hit an iceberg - and maybe more to the point, the less likely you are to be concerned. That would definitely be the story of my orange trees - they just seem so self reliant.

At first I thought this maybe be a recent chicken problem expressing itself in citrus form, or just due to the lack of rainfall recently... but to be so localised in one area of one tree - no, couldn't be. And then I got closer and saw the sooty mold (which always means a sap-sucking insect) and the millions of tiny nodules seeming growing from the leaves and bark. A scale infestation.

How could I possibly miss this, you might ask? It's not like it's a small infestation, so much as a full-scale invasion. But with an average of about fifteen minutes a day to keep my garden in order, hell, you could hide a herd of elephant amongst my orange trees and I wouldn't know about it until the trees weren't there any more. So, I should add, I actually caught this one early.

So I spent my 10 minutes this morning mixing up the concoction of sunflower oil and dish-washing detergent that is white oil, as per described by my mate Jerry. Its basically a mix of 1 part detergent to 4 parts oil, diluted to 2 or so teaspoons per litre of water.

Its not a perfect time of the year to be applying white oil, because ideally you don't want to be covering spring blossom with the stuff - but as the tree is under so much stress at the minute, its a little more worried about the life being sucked from its limbs than producing fruit in a timely manner.

Hopefully over the next week most of the scale will suffocate along with a few other pests, like leaf miner, that will conveniently get caught in the crossfire. Then just to be sure, I'll hit it with oil again. And again.

Also, where I usually leave fruit on the tree until I need it, I'll be lightening the burden completely in the coming week so the tree can focus its full attention on not dying.

Juice, anyone?

Monday, August 27, 2012

A fence post

One might say that a wooden fence is only about as strong as its weakest post. And after that post gives in to gravity's temptation, the weight of all that wood is enough to convince every other post in the row to follow.

Last thursday briefly took a few minutes of its time to throw a couple of 90km/h gusts of wind roughly perpendicular to our 25-year-old hardwood fence. I'm sure it groaned like an old man when it finally decided enough was enough. Discovering I had to squeeze along the chicken run to collect the eggs that evening was a sour ending to an otherwise beautiful winter spring day. Full credit to the chicken coop though - had it not been there, I would have been crying over the loss of my recently flattened orange trees.

So disappointingly, this year I'll again be continuing my habit of missing the start of spring. A new fence means hiring tradesmen -  which, to my garden beds, would be roughly the equivelent of inviting a convoy of M60 Pattons to drive through my yard. In my experience tradies and seedlings just don't mix.

But everything aside, I'm kind of looking forward to the opportunities a new fence will present.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

An eternal cherry tomato patch

Take a look at this garden bed. Do you think there's even a shred of hope that I won't be growing cherry tomatoes in it for the rest of eternity? Long after the collapse of civilization, I suspect nomadic tribes will be stopping here for a quick, sweet snack on the way to the coast. Luckily for me, I don't have a problem with that. I like nomadic tribes. I also don't mind the odd cherry tomato.

What's amazing is that I haven't planted cherry tomatoes in my garden in years - because once I did, they just seemed to take care of planting themselves after that. And here's a perfect example of what happens when one "facilitates" (i.e. does nothing about) such independence. I can't help but let them grow - its the only kind of tomato I've been able to grow that doesn't attract every imaginable kind of pest and disease. And they taste great.

So I'm not even going to bother trying to clean up this piece of contemporary gardening. If whatever I plant here next doesn't work out, I'll have a backup. Best to just let nature run it course. As you can see - it already is, regardless.