Dec 162017

Mac’s tip of the week

All produce gardeners should have a clump of bamboo. Be it potted, contained in an old bath, or a controlled clumping form, these plants can be very useful. No, I don’t mean eating the shoots. I mean for homegrown stakes, climbing frames and edging. If you want to be sustainable, why buy stakes when you can grow your own? And the plants look good too!

Read all of Mac’s tips.

The 2017 Golden Seedling awards

Now in their third year and now expanded to 16 awards. As Sustainable Macleod said last year after being told of their award: “we are very chuffed!

Maybe there should be a judging panel, or maybe voting by the readership, but at the moment it is just my 2 cents.

Awards to organisations
  • Community garden of the year – a difficult award as I only visited a minority of the community gardens but I’m going to give it to St John’s Riverside Community Garden (Heidelberg): they have clearly gone from strength to strength over the year. Honorary mention – SEEDs Communal Garden Brunswick: regular working bees, food swaps and workshops plus a lively Facebook page.
  • Food swap of the year – another difficult award as I only visited a minority of the food swaps but I’m going to give it to the Forest Hill and Box Hill South food swaps, both run by Whitehorse Urban Harvest: free talks at many of their swaps and, importantly, they tell people by email about the talks before they happen. Honorary mention – Warrandyte Food Swap: a great ambience and they actively recruit people to receive this newsletter.
  • Library of the yearWatsonia (for the second year running): for their free, monthly events on different topics and their hosting of a community garden.
  • Innovation of the yearReally Really Free Market Preston: yes, everything is free and there are no catches.
  • Villain of the yearMicrosoft: for classifying this newsletter (and all other MailChimp newsletters) as spam for no reason in November, admitting this, but then effectively saying that they can’t be bothered fixing the problem.
  • Newspaper of the year – not awarded: The Weekly Review now has no local stuff and The Leader’s search facility has, for some reason, been crippled.
Awards to individuals
  • Overall contributor of the yearPaul Gale-Baker, of Sustainable Macleod: always indefatigable, energetic, obliging, and helpful to others. Honorary mention – Felicity Gordon: also indefatigable, energetic and obliging plus a wonderful painter of plants and veggies.
  • Newsletter contributor of the yearHelen Simpson (for the third year running): for her interviews of local home growers; her growing guides from previous years are also some of the most popular pages on our website. Honorary mention – Mac McVeigh: for his weekly tips, which are always informative and often witty.
  • Workshop presenter of the yearMaria Ciavarella, from My Green Garden: for her 20 or so workshops during 2017 at her own home plus many others at various other locations. Honorary mention – Rasha Tayeh: for her workshops on unusual topics.
  • Council officer of the yearLee Tozzi, of both Darebin and Moreland: for her leadership of the Homemade Food & Wine Festival, the Backyard Harvest Festival and other food initiatives. Let’s hope there is more competition in future years.
  • Entrepreneurial spirit – shared between Cath Lyons (aka Tiny Trowel), for her Crowd Harvest initiative, and Deb Graham (from Blue Pantry): entrepreneurial spirit is difficult to define but you know it when you see it.
Newsletter links

An extra Warrandyte Food Swap + extra Warrandyte Riverside Market

They had to cancel on 2nd December due to the weather so they are both having extra ones on 16th December.

News about local food producers

Best Of Health is a new organic bulkfoods store in Greensborough. Inter alia, they sell the products of AVS Organic Foods, who are from Watsonia North.

PoppySmack, from Warrandyte, now sell a kit to make rice paper rolls.

Local food production in the news

The community garden in Condell Street, Fitzroy was the subject of an article in The Age.

Which link was clicked most times in last week’s newsletter?

Briar Hill Primary School gardening job application.

Joke of the week

What did the skeleton order for dinner? Spare ribs!

Read all the jokes.

New events

In last week’s newsletter, I said that I would include January events this week. In practice, however, hardly anyone has yet announced their January events.

Really Really Free Market Preston end of year celebration

What: Join the Really Really Free Market (Preston) community for an end of year celebration lunch which will replace the market for the month of December, as it falls on New Years Eve and many of them are busy. Bring some food to share (but only if you can, no obligations, there will be plenty for all!). There will be a kitchen you can use if you want to join the communal cook-up beforehand at 11am.
When: Sunday, 17th December, 12.30-2.30pm.
Where: Preston.
Cost: free.
Bookings: just turn up.

How to make sense of food labels

What: Tour a supermarket and learn how to accurately read and understand food labels and choose healthy foods that are suitable for the whole family. You will also receive a show bag with information sheets and a healthy shopping guide booklet. The tours are led by healthAbility’s qualified dietitian and open to anyone interested in healthy eating.
When: Thursday, 11th January, 9.30-11am.
Where: Woolworths, Eltham.
Cost: $15 (includes a healthy shopping guide booklet).
Bookings: by phone (9430 9100).
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Summer fruit tree pruning

What: Traditionally orchards are pruned during the dormant winter months, but there are benefits to pruning after the harvest in summer. Learn and practice your pruning skills with expert supervision, working in the farm orchard. Merrin Layden is a horticulturalist who has spent the past 5 years working at The Orchard Project in London teaching urban fruit tree skills. The skills that you will learn from Merrin will be put to use on the day in the farm’s orchard. Morning tea provided. BYO lunch, secateurs and gardening gloves.
When: Sunday, 21st January, 9am-midday.
Where: Bundoora Park Farm.
Cost: $26.
Bookings: Eventbrite.
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Summary of upcoming events

In December
In January

View the complete calendar of upcoming events.

Dec 062017

Mac’s tip of the week

My tip this week is all about whiteflies. These sap-sucking pests are what look like ‘flying dandruff’ when heavily infested plants are disturbed. At the moment, that may well be many of your veggies. As they suck the sap on the underside of your leaves, you will see yellow or white mottling on the upper surface. Ladybirds, lacewings, hoverfly, parasitic wasps, spiders and birds can be natural predators, but often you may have to get involved as the whitefly population explodes.

Squirting with a hose, especially the undersides of the leaves, while shouting ‘GET OFF’ or ‘BE GONE’ at least once a day for 3 or 4 days can quite often work and gives great satisfaction.
Hand picking older leaves to remove young whitefly stages also helps.

I have also heard that vacuuming (seriously) your plants in the early morning (when whiteflies are cold and slow moving) can remove many of the adults before they have a chance to lay many eggs. I would, however, suggest that you don’t drag out the Dyson but instead use a smaller battery car cleaning type vacuum device instead.

If spraying becomes necessary, be sure to spray underneath the leaves, preferably late in the afternoon when predators are less active. Suitable organic sprays include Natrasoap, Eco Oil, and Eco Neem.

Read all of Mac’s tips.

Do you want a paid, part-time job as a gardening specialist?

Briar Hill Primary School has a vibrant garden environment, with the capacity for fruit tree growth, vegetables, herb and indigenous plants. They are seeking a gardening specialist to take overall responsibility for planning and maintaining the garden. The applicant will need a strong background in selecting, delivering and leading a gardening program. They would deliver lessons on 2 days a week (18 days per term), starting at 11am and finishing at 4pm, and will be paid for 10 hours’ work. The rate of pay per hour would be dependent on relevant knowledge, expertise, qualifications and experience. Read more and/or apply.

The 2018 Home Harvest FEASTival

The 2018 Home Harvest FEASTival for home growers in Nillumbik and Banyule will be on 4th March at Edendale. As last year, it will be a picnic. They are already encouraging growers to register.

The associated ‘harvest month’ will be stretched out over a 3 month ‘harvest time’ (February to April), with talks, workshops and open gardens. If you have a garden that you would potentially be happy showing off to like-minded people, email Pam Jenkins. If you would potentially like to give a talk, run a workshop or share a skill with other members of the community, also email Pam. Note that the local libraries will be venues for some of the talks and they would like presenters to let them know early so that they can get their advertising brochures out.

The great garlic growing debate continues

In last week’s newsletter, I discussed the initial results of a garlic growing experiment covering Monaro Purple hardnecks. Chris Newman has written in to say that he is concerned that my wording might be taken to mean that people should have harvested all their garlic by now. Rather, as Chris says, one should wait until the green tops have died back and the timing of this might vary by variety, when they were planted, their watering regime, etc. As the picture shows, Chris’s garlic has not yet reached this stage.

Chris also pointed out the aphorism: ‘plant your garlic cloves on the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) and then harvest them on the summer solstice (the longest day of the year)’. For me, this aphorism is in the same category as ‘plant your tomatoes on Cup day’ – both timings are a month or so too late.

Finally, Chris is also growing elephant garlic, an alternative to garlic which is technically a leek (Allium ampeloprasum) rather than a garlic (Allium sativum). According to Wikipedia, elephant garlic, unlike standard garlic, does not have to be harvested each year but can be ignored and left in the ground without much risk of rotting. Chris says that the the Macleod Organic Community Garden elephant garlic has had some little babies on the side, so he will be leaving some in the ground at home to see what happens. Elephant garlic has a mild, sweet flavour that is somewhere between garlic and onion. Thanks for all the info, Chris!

My Australian White hardnecks have now died back and I have therefore harvested them. Here are the results:

  • Normal-sized garlics: the April plantings, the early May plantings, and the refrigerated June plantings.
  • Small garlics: the late May plantings and the unrefrigerated June plantings.

So, based on my experiments, the conclusion remains: continue to plant your garlic in late April or early May even if the weather is warm. If you forget, try putting your garlic into the fridge for a bit before planting.

Crepe Collective

Eltham-based Crepe Collective have been added to the Local Food Directory. They sell ready-to-eat savoury galettes and sweet crepes at Eltham and Carlton Farmers’ Markets. Their savoury galettes include potato, mushroom, capsicum, tomato and other vegetarian options. Their sweet crepes include lemon, choc-hazelnut, strawberry and banana. All their batters, spreads and sauces are homemade and they use speciality flour, such as buckwheat, to cater for the gluten intolerant. They aim to leave as little a footprint as possible, so their menu is designed to avoid food wastage and their packaging is biodegradable. They are currently scheduled at Eltham Farmers’ Market on the 4th Sunday of each month but there is no market on 24th December so you might well have to wait until 28th January to try their crepes. Welcome Mel!

Local food producer news

The eggs of Top Hundred Acres, from Yan Yean, can now be bought at Nature’s Harvest Hurstbridge.

Community garden news

There is now a page on our website about the community garden at La Trobe University, called The Patch. That makes a total of 39 local community gardens that are described on the website. Welcome Ashley and colleagues!

Although many of the local community gardens have Facebook pages, most do not have newsletters. One exception is Macleod Organic Community Garden, which has regular monthly newsletters. Read their latest newsletter. Sign up for their future newsletters.

Banyule Council grant recipients in 2017

In 2017, Banyule Council awarded $50,000 in environmental sustainability grants. They included:

  • Ivanhoe Children’s Community Cooperative: establishment of a low maintenance composting system which will recycle the kitchen food waste.
  • Mary Immaculate Primary School: funding for new compost bins to enable recycling of food waste at the school.
  • Murundaka Cohousing Community: hosting of workshops, including introduction to composting and beeswax food cover making.
  • St Pius X Primary School: establishment of garden beds to provide fresh produce for gardening workshops and community harvesting events.
  • Watsonia Heights Primary School: installation of ten raised wicking beds to grow vegetables, herbs and native plants.
  • Watsonia Library Community Garden: new fruit trees.

Which link was clicked most times in last week’s newsletter?

Helen Simpson’s interview with Guy and Susan Palmer.

Question of the week

What’s a turophile?

Joke of the week

Why didn’t the melons get married? Because they cantaloupe.

Read all the jokes.

New events

Events in January will be covered in next week’s newsletter.

Petty’s Orchard – collection, maintenance and discussion

What: They need to graft some more trees and so will have a demo of green grafting. Possibly mowing and putting more guards around trees. They always discuss plans for the orchard and encourage new ideas.
When: Wednesday, 13th December, 9am-midday.
Where: Petty’s Orchard, Templestowe.
Cost: free.
Bookings: by email.
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Mulching for Summer

What: Discuss mulching methods and other water-wise tips for your garden this summer with Heide gardener Katie Grace.
When: Thursday, 14th December, 11am-midday.
Where: Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen.
Cost: free.
Bookings: Eventbrite.
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Summary of upcoming events

Over the next week
Over the rest of December

View the complete calendar of upcoming events.

Dec 032017

Helen Simpson interviews Guy and Susan Palmer

For her swansong, Helen decided to interview my wife and I. Here is how Helen introduces her write up: “Susan greets me with a cheery welcome as I arrive at the front gate and walk through to Guy and Susan’s well-designed, splendidly looked-after and large Eltham garden. There’s plenty to admire on our way to the front door – meandering gravel paths with dry stone edges, wonderful garden art, well-kept native plants and an extensive ‘orchard’ of well-pruned fruit trees basking in the sun.Read the full interview.

Once again, I’d like to thank Helen for all her efforts: her growing guides are among the most popular of our website pages and her home grower interviews have been widely acclaimed. She has also been great to work with, in part because of her reliability and collegiate approach.

We are still (desperately!) looking for more people who are willing to be interviewed. If you are potentially willing, email us.

What seeds to plant in December

Here is a list (see the planting guide for more detail):

Warm season veggies


Perennial herbs


Other veggies and herbs

Mustard greens

December is not a good planting month: (arguably) too late for most summer veggies and, although you can plant leafy greens such as lettuce and mustard greens, they are likely to go to seed pretty quickly.

Mac’s tip of the week

Remember to train your tomatoes! Now that they are growing fast, you will need to tie them about every 20cm of growth. As they are starting to flower as well, best to tie loosely above the cluster of flowers. If you have single stakes, and planted close together, best to train to a single stem. This means pinching out side stems (aka branches) that are growing in the crotches between the leaves and the main stem. If you have a cage or trellis, or have spaced wide apart to allow more support stakes, allow maybe four main stems but pinch out further side stems. Older heirloom varieties often do better with multiple stems rather than a single. By training you will not only get a tidier plant, but also less fungal problems and quicker fruit, as your plants put more energy in to flowers and fruiting rather than to stem and leaf growth. Potassium is a key to success and liquid tomato food is full of it, as is sulphate of potash.

My Green Garden’s take on tomato pruning from a few weeks ago: as your seedlings get bigger, you need to decide whether to prune out the laterals or leave them to grow. The answer to the question will determine how many tomatoes you end up with (don’t prune = more); the size of the tomatoes (do prune = larger); and whether or not you are prepared to use several stakes for each plant (don’t prune = more supports needed). Also, the laterals pruned out can be rooted in water to create another plant if you need one.

Also, read Helen Simpson’s guide on how to grow tomatoes.

Read all of Mac’s tips.

Ever wondered what happened to the Eltham Farmers’ Market wicking beds?

I’ve managed to track down 2 of the 4 beds and they certainly have found a good home: newsletter reader Nada Cunningham has upgraded and incorporated them into her veggie patch and is currently growing lettuce, tomatoes and other veggies in them.

The first results of the great garlic experiment are in!

In the 12th April newsletter, there was a discussion about the right time to plant garlic. Garlic is usually planted in April but, this year, some people thought that the soil was still too warm and thus that planning should be deferred. We decided to run a controlled experiment, the first results for which are now available.

The first results relate to Monaro Purple hardnecks. Rows of garlic were planted two weeks apart over an 8-week period from mid April to mid June. In addition, some garlic was kept in the fridge for 40 days from mid April and then planted. All the plants died back at the same time (second half of November) and were harvested on 24th November. The key results were:

  1. The April plantings produced a normal number of normal-sized garlics with normal cloves.
  2. The May plantings produced the same results as the April plantings but in a bit less time.
  3. The non-refrigerated June plantings produced much smaller bulbs, half of which were not divided into cloves.
  4. The refrigerated June plantings (perhaps surprisingly) produced the same results as the April and May plantings.

I asked farmers Warren McKimmie, from Strathewen-based Sugarloaf Produce, and Mark Sherwin, from Montmorency-based The Mushroom Shed, what they thought of the results. Neither was surprised.

The conclusion: continue to plant your garlic in April or May even if the weather is warm. If you forget, try putting your garlic into the fridge for a bit before planting.

Have you got gall wasp?

In July, Leaf, Root & Fruit, from Hawthorn East, blogged about an experiment they are conducting on an alternative approach to treating citrus gall wasp. They have now written a Facebook post which requests people with infested trees to post photos of their infestation.

Want to learn more about bush foods?

Bush Foods and Survival Plants of South East Australia is an upcoming book which you can effectively pre-order at the Pozible website for $40.

Bush foods & herbs for courtyards & balconies is a presentation by Karen Sutherland at Bulleen Art & Garden on Thursday, 7th December.

Newsletter reader Julie Merlet sells Australian native fruits, herbs and spices online on her website. The products include davidson plum, desert lime, kakadu plum, aniseed myrtle, bush tomato, lemon myrtle, mountain pepperleaf, pepperberries, peppermint gum, quandong, riberry/lillipilli, rivermint, saltbush, sea parsley, strawberry gum and wattleseed.

Local food producers in the news

Yarra Coffee, from Lilydale, won a silver medal in the ‘organic (expresso)’ category of the 2017 Golden Bean awards. Quists Coffee, from Research, won a bronze medal in the ‘milk based’ category. Readers with a good memory may remember that Quists were inducted into the Australian Coffee Roasters Hall of Fame in 2016.

‘Crowd harvest’ – seeds for Christmas

Gardeners everywhere often harvest more seeds than they can sensibly store. Gardeners with excess seeds are invited to send them in a Christmas card or holiday card to one or more not-for profit organisations listed below, each of which has a certified horticulturalist employed and ready to look after the seeds, either to start the seeds, store the seeds or distribute to others in need who know how to start seeds. Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Footscray, DIVRS in Preston, STREAT in Collingwood or Carrington Health in Box Hill (ask for Alex Salmon). Any questions, contact Cath Lyons (aka Tiny Trowel) by phone (0401 814679) or email.

A simple, but illuminating, experiment

See a science experiment on soil erosion, which demonstrates the relationship between precipitation, soil erosion, protection of watercourses and vegetation.

Every newsletter needs a good picture – brazil nuts

The flower of a brazil nut tree can only be pollinated by an insect strong enough to lift the coiled hood and with tongues long enough to negotiate the complex coiled flower. In practice, this means the female long-tongued orchid bee.

Bees only exist where they can mate. So, the smaller male bees are also required. But they are only attracted by a certain type of orchid. So, the tree needs to be in the presence of that orchid.

The tree’s fruit is actually the size of a coconut and the brazil nuts are seeds rather than nuts (8-24 within a single fruit). So, the fruit needs to be cracked open and this requires a large rodent (i.e. an agouti).

So propagation of brazil nuts requires agoutis, orchids and strong, long-tongued bees.

Which link was clicked most times in last week’s newsletter?

Judy Vizzari’s interview with Evan Gellert.

Proverb of the month

The moon is made of green cheese. Meaning: a complete impossibility; the same as when pigs can fly or when Hell freezes over. These are all ‘adynatons’, which is where a hyperbole is magnified to such an extent that it is totally infeasible. Note that the phrase ‘green cheese’ refers to ‘young cheese’ rather than to the colour green. So, perhaps more technically correct is the moon is made of cream cheese. The reference is to a simple soul who sees a reflection of the moon in water and mistakes it for a round cheese wheel.

The phrase was originally formulated in 1546 by a man called John Heywood. Mr. Heywood apparently made his living, at least in part, by collecting/inventing proverbs, including: out of sight, out of mind; look before you leap; two heads are better than one; beggars can’t be choosers; all’s well that ends well; the fat is in the fire; I know which side my bread is buttered on; a penny for your thoughts; Rome was not built in a day; better late than never; the more the merrier; you can’t see the wood for the trees; don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; and you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Read all the proverbs.

Quote of the month

Do not spread the compost on the weeds.” by William Shakespeare (in Hamlet).

Read all the quotes.

Joke of the week

Why did the doughnut go to the dentist? Because it needed a chocolate filling.

Read all the jokes.

New events

Cooking master class

What: Enjoy 3 tasting size courses cooked by chef Bek McMillan, from Gourmet Living, who will demonstrate step by step. All recipes are included. Menu: beetroot & brie bruschetta; gnocchi; and Christmas mousse.
When: Thursday, 7th December, 7-9pm.
Where: Gourmet Living, Templestowe.
Cost: $42.
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Cooking master class

What: Enjoy 3 tasting size courses cooked by chef Bek McMillan, from Gourmet Living, who will demonstrate step by step. All recipes are included. Menu: tomato & goats cheese tart; tangy tamarind prawns; and Christmas Eton mess.
When: Thursday, 14th December, 7-9pm.
Where: Gourmet Living, Templestowe.
Cost: $42.
Bookings: Eventbrite.
Further information: LFC calendar entry.

Summary of upcoming events

Over the next week
Over the next month

View the complete calendar of upcoming events.