- Urine as fertiliser.
- White cabbage moth.
- Strategies for lead contaminated garden soils.
- The green vegetable bug.
- Making jam with less sugar.
- Growing good tomatoes.
- How to dispose of doggy do.
- How to prune raspberries.
- Is now really the right time to plant garlic?
- Some guidelines for storing summer produce.
- Where to find finely ground rock dust.
- Get grass clippings from your neighbours.
- Plant your seeds in egg shells.
- Eat your pumpkin leaves!.
- Rockmelons: smell their bottoms or watch them change colour?
- Protecting seedlings from both slaters and snails.
- Growing strawberries in a small space.
- Keeping your worms cool.
- Using food leftovers/scraps and reducing food waste.
Urine as fertiliser (from Greta Gillies, May 2 2018)
Urine can be used to fertilise food crops in a number of ways. At it simplest, it can be added undiluted to the base of fruit trees. The Veganic Agriculture Network has a sensible and comprehensive article on the uses of urine in the garden.
White cabbage moth (from Leaf, Root & Fruit, March 7 2018)
On planting brassicas: be aware that the dreaded white cabbage moth tends to ruin any unprotected early crops. So plan ahead and have some insect netting ready to protect them. Or better still, just wait until late April to plant out seedlings. The white cabbage is a lot less prevalent in the cooler weather and your young seedlings will stand a better chance of surviving.
[Editor’s note: What happens is that the moths lay their eggs on the seedlings and the caterpillars hatch and eat the seedlings. Fine netting stops the moths from reaching the plants to lay their eggs. Another alternative is decoys: white bits of moth-shaped paper on sticks apparently make the moths think that the leaves are already home to caterpillars and thus they leave them alone.]
Strategies for lead contaminated garden soils (from Very Edible Gardens, March 7 2018)
- Get tested (by The VegeSafe project at Macquarie University).
- Wash. Wash your hands, and wash your vegetables.
- Add organic matter.
- Home test your soil’s pH.
- Add a high-phosphorous fertiliser.
- Grow fruit crops, not root crops.
- If you have chickens, keep them separate from the soil.
- Use raised beds. Ideally wicking beds.
- Isolate or remove any highly contaminated soil.
- Eat a healthy diet.
The green vegetable bug (from Julie French, February 28 2018)
I found these little bugs (see photo) in my garden last year. They were about the size of a ladybird. At the time I couldn’t find out what they were and didn’t follow up as they were only a few and only on the one eggplant. This year they’ve appeared in greater numbers on my beans and I’ve made more of an effort to find out what they are. In Australia, they’re called the green vegetable bug (Nezara viridula) and are pests on tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, beans and other veggies. The ones in the photo are nymphs; the adults are bigger and can look like green stink bugs (which is what they’re called in the US, I think).
Making jam with less sugar (from My Green Garden, January 31 2018)
Sugar is used in jam for 2 reasons (or maybe 3, if you include taste).
First, sugar acts as the preserving agent for the fruit. It acts to prevent bacteria and other food spoilants from taking hold. The ratio needed for this is at least 75% of the weight of the fruit has to be added as sugar.
Second, the sugar acts to help ‘gel’ the fruit. This happens with the combination of the fruit with its natural pectin, the sugar and acid (from the fruit or added as lemon juice).
So, without enough sugar, the jam might go mouldy and won’t gel, staying very runny.
This is true to an extent but it can be overcome.
To overcome the preserving issue, after making the jam I make sure that I heat-preserve the filled jars. This makes a great vacuum seal on the jars, which means there is no air in the jar. No air = no bacteria.
To make up for lack of a firm set, I cook it a little longer than I normally would with a full sugar jam; and then accept that it will be easier to spread on my breakfast toast than a commercial jam, whose sugar content may be even higher than the 1:1 ratio. So it might be called ‘spreadable fruit’ rather than a true jam.
I have also tried adding a minute amount of Xantham gum powder (available in the health food section of my local supermarket) right at the end of the cooking process, This does firm up the jam, so that it is still spreadable. But don’t overdo it as you might have rock hard jam.
Growing good tomatoes (from My Green Garden, November 8 2017)
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.
How to dispose of doggy do (from Carol Woolcock, July 19 2017)
Dog owners have an ongoing dilemma of how to dispose of doggy do other than placing it in their council waste bin. I came across a Bokashi product called Ensopet starter. It is supposed to be used with an Ensopet composter (a plastic upturned bucket gizmo) which costs around $70. I achieved the same result by using a 30cm plastic pot with the base removed. I dug a hole about 30cm square and 40cm deep and placed the upturned pot, with the base removed, in it about level with the surrounding ground. Dog poo goes in it and is sprinkled with Ensopet starter. I cover the pot with a heavy stoneware dinner plate. The holes are dug on the uphill side near the drip line on my fruit trees. I have 4 holes at present and simply dig another when they are near full. The ingredients in Ensopet starter include “beneficial microorganisms, wheat, sawdust, zeolite, molasses”. It costs $13 for 1kg and has lasted me for around 6 months. So no dog faeces in my bin, no odour and the fruit trees get a boost.
How to prune raspberries (from Guy Palmer, April 26 2017)
There are two types of raspberry:
- ‘Summer bearing’, which fruit once a year, on 2nd year canes in summer.
- ‘Everbearing’, which fruit twice a year, on 2nd year canes in summer, and on 1st year canes in autumn.
Now is a good time to be pruning your raspberries because, whichever type you have, it will have finished fruiting for the year. However, the two types should be pruned differently. If you haven’t yet worked out which type you have, prune them as though they are ‘summer bearers’.
For the ‘summer bearers’: cut all the canes that have fruited down to the ground (because they won’t fruit again). If you don’t know which canes have fruited, they are the longer and thicker ones, and they often have multiple lateral branches. Thin the others to 5-7 per plant, shorten them as desired, and tie the ends to your trellis.
For the ‘everbearers’: you can prune them like the ‘summer bearers’, in which case you will get two crops (in summer and autumn), neither of which will be prolific. Alternatively, you can sacrifice next summer’s crop for a better autumn crop by simply cutting all the canes down to the ground. Clearly, the second approach would not be good if your raspberries are, in fact, ‘summer bearers’ as it will result in no fruit next year! But it is (arguably) the best approach if you want raspberries in the autumn, and it is also the quickest.
I rather like the Wikihow raspberry pruning page.
To which Heather responded (in May 2017):
An alternative name for ‘everbearing raspberries’ is ‘autumn bearing raspberries’ (although, strictly speaking, ‘summer and autumn bearing raspberries’ would be more accurate).
My ‘autumn bearing raspberries’ haven’t yet finished flowering and fruiting and I am seeing big sweet berries every day at the moment. Last year, I picked my final fruit for the season on 30th July! (although they were not as sweet as the earlier ones). So it’s too early to cut these productive canes back. What I have done is tip prune them where the fruiting top segments of the canes have died but where more fruit is developing lower down these same canes. I have also removed other canes which were dead all the way down. And given the remaining canes some light fertiliser.
Is now really the right time to plant garlic? (from Guy Palmer, April 12 2017)
In this month’s excellent Sustainable Macleod’s newsletter (click here to read the newsletter or click here to sign up for future newsletters), Robin Gale-Baker ruminated about whether the recent warm weather means that we should be deferring our garlic planting. She and I have subsequently debated the subject in more detail. It is a tricky issue, with no clear answer. The salient facts are:
- In Melbourne, garlic is usually planted in April.
- Robin thinks that the soil is currently too warm for garlic planting.
- According to Gardenate, it is ok to leave the planting until May (or even June).
- Like onions, garlic plants are sensitive to the length of the day, with the start of bulb formation (and the end of leaf growth) being triggered by a day length exceeding X hours. (This website says that X=13 and this website says that this will happen on 13th October.)
If you plant too early (i.e. when it is too warm), a risk is apparently that the resulting bulbs don’t divide into separate cloves. If you plant too late, a risk is apparently smaller bulbs (because, per day length, the garlic starts trying to form bulbs when it is too young). One potential way around this paradox is to keep the garlic in the fridge for 30-40 days before planting. I am going to try all the possible options and will report back in due course.
Incidentally, plants whose behaviour depends on day length are called ‘photoperiodic’. One way that they ‘know’ the length of the day (or, more accurately, the length of the night) is because they produce substances (X) in the dark which degenerate to other substances in the light so the night length is proportional to the maximum daily concentration of X. For many plants, day length is at least as important as temperature and this is one reason why so many plants can be grown over so much of the world. This subject is discussed in Chapter 9 of Science and the Garden: The Scientific Basis of Horticultural Practice.
Even more incidentally: as per the article above, one of the plants that is most sensitive to light is soy beans. Indeed, if there is any street lighting in the vicinity, they apparently consider it to be daylight and often never flower. So, if you live in urban Melbourne, it seems unlikely that you can ever grow soy beans.
To which Heather responded (in April 2017):
For the past few years I have been growing soybeans, latterly of the Edamame kind, and getting a decent crop. Whilst the garden doesn’t receive bright street lighting, it does, until late evening, normally receive some light filtering in from the two townhouses next door.
And Guy Palmer later added to the debate (in November 2017):
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:
- The April plantings produced a normal number of normal-sized garlics with normal cloves.
- The May plantings produced the same results as the April plantings but in a bit less time.
- The non-refrigerated June plantings produced much smaller bulbs, half of which were not divided into cloves.
- The refrigerated June plantings (perhaps surprisingly) produced the same results as the April and May plantings.
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.
And Chris Newman and Guy Palmer later added to the debate (in December 2017):
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. 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.
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.
Some guidelines for storing summer produce (from Duang Tengtrirat, January 4 2017)
Here are a few tips on how to store your summer fruits and vegetables so that they last longer and taste their best. Keep your veggies cool. The fridge is your friend – know how to store your produce.
Rule #1: Keep fruit and veggies separated. Most fruits and berries emit ethylene gas which can cause your vegetables to spoil and change flavour. Keep them in separate drawers if refrigerated.
Rule #2: Bag them first. Loosely bag or wrap greens, broccoli, capsicum, cucumber etc before placing them in the fridge. Keep sweetcorn in its husks until ready to use.
Rule #3: Do not store root vegetables with their greens. The greens will take moisture out of the roots so cut them off first and store them separately.
Rule #4: Remove rubber bands, twisties or any other things that choke your veggies. Store them without any tightening objects for better circulation.
Rule #5: As a rule it is best NOT to wash veggies before storing because extra water creates dampness which is not ideal. (However, washing lettuce, spinach and salad greens makes it easy to use them. So, wash them and make sure to dry them before storing. This will make it easy to make salads and you will eat more of them.)
Where to find finely ground rock dust (from Stuart Rodda, September 14 2016)
An ‘organic’ source of many minerals, including potassium, is finely ground rock dust, particularly basalt rock. There are various suppliers of rock dust-based soil additives, such as Munash, but most of them have other additives to enhance the overall effect and are thus quite expensive (upwards of $2/Kg). If one just wants basalt rock dust, it can be bought at some local garden suppliers, but it is often quite coarse and would take a long time (decades) for the larger grit to break down in the soil and release its nutrients. Thus it is quite important that it is finely ground. I have one source of quite fine basalt rock dust and, while it is dearer (per cubic metre) than a lot of other garden soil additives, it is much cheaper than specially manufactured and packaged ‘rock dusts’. It is from Mercuri Garden and Building Supplies at 2, The Concord, Bundoora, and costs about $105 per cubic metre. This equates to around 10 cents per litre and, because it is quite dense (heavy), this is less than 5 cents per Kg, or thus a tiny fraction of the cost of packaged rock dusts. I am not sure what they would charge for small quantities but, for people like me with larger gardens who buy loose materials by the trailerload, it is a bargain.
Get grass clippings from your neighbours (from Mala Plymin, July 27 2016)
I recently agreed with one of the handymen who was mowing my neighbour’s lawn that he would give me the grass clippings for my compost. He used to take the clippings to landfill so he is now saving time and I am getting to make great compost with the extra grass clippings. Also, one less thing going to landfill.
Plant your seeds in egg shells (from Mala Plymin, July 27 2016)
I now plant my seeds in egg shells, so I no longer have to get small plastic pots. When ready, the seedlings in their egg shells can be planted straight in the garden. The shells biodegrade and provide the soil with calcium. When I crack the eggs, I make sure I do it close to the top.
Eat your pumpkin leaves! (from Karen Olsen, March 9 2016)
When I look at my veggie patch at the moment all I can see is zucchini and pumpkin plants. I often make stuffed zucchini or pumpkin flowers (ricotta and basil: stuff, dress with olive oil, salt & pepper, then bake in the oven until a touch golden). But sometimes there are not so many flowers. So I tried the same thing with young pumpkin leaves (the whole of the plant is supposed to be edible): they were great! And, of course, it made room for some other veggie patch occupants.
Rockmelons: smell their bottoms or watch them change colour? (from Guy, February 24 2016)
Sometimes growing vegetables seems easy. Last year, we grew cucumbers. We got millions of them (well, say 50). And they grew quickly, each fruit only taking around a week to go from first appearance to full size and ready for harvesting. And (importantly), my wife had a recipe for pickling them, with results that we both thought were yummy.
Sometimes, however, things seem more difficult (and, therefore, actually more interesting!). This year, our chosen cucurbit was rockmelons. Initial developments were promising: we successfully pre-germinated the seeds, then put them into seed trays, then transplanted them to the veggie patch. But the day after transplanting them, we woke to find that all bar one had been eaten by snails. How to protect the last one? Our solution (thanks, Google) was to put copper tape (thanks, Bulleen Art & Garden) around the remaining seedling. Apparently, snails get a slight electric shock if they touch copper, so they won’t cross it.
After a few weeks of prolific growth, the flowers started appearing and we began our daily task of hand-pollination (cucurbits have separate male and female flowers). Around 10 melons appeared within the next few weeks and grew to a reasonable (i.e. eatable) size. But they didn’t look ripe and, indeed, they didn’t pass my wife’s daily smell test (smell them at the stem end to see if they have developed a sweet aroma – she calls it “smelling their bottoms”). A fortnight later, my impatience got the better of me and I picked one but it was completely unripe. Perhaps our variety never becomes sweet, I thought. Just wait some more, said my wife.
So, we waited and waited, with ritualised smelling of bottoms each day. Then suddenly (i.e. overnight) one of them completely changed colour, from green to yellow (see first picture), with a noticeably sweet aroma. We picked it and, sure enough, it was as juicy and sweet as we could possibly have hoped for.
The moral is the obvious one: patience is a virtue (or, maybe, the wife is always right!).
Protecting seedlings from both slaters and snails (from Susan Palmer, December 9 2015)
Susan Palmer writes in to say she may have found a solution for her quest to limit the damage caused by slaters and snails without killing them. Last year, slaters started chopping down her young veggie seedlings at night, progressively devouring them over the next few days. Really irritating! Following a tip from the ABC website, she now puts plant collars (old pots with the bottom chopped out) on all her seedlings. She also puts copper tape (can be purchased from Bunnings) around the pot to deter snails. Once the seedling is well established, the collar can be removed as the tougher stems are less attractive to slaters. Since then, there has been no slater or snail damage.
Editor’s note: did you know that slaters are effectively land crabs? Or, that their ‘proper’ common name is woodlice? Or, that they are apparently called ‘butcher boys’ in Williamstown?
To which Evan Gellert responded (in October 2016):
The photo is of a large snail that wasn’t bothered by the copper film tape I fixed to my raised veggie beds around 2 years ago. The copper tape is still in good condition (it can be seen just below the upper plank of the raised bed, with a couple of nails through it). Although it is discoloured and oxidised, the tape still has physical integrity. The snail trail from below makes it pretty clear that the snail passed over the tape, and didn’t simply do a U-turn from inside the veggie bed.
Growing strawberries in a small space (from Elodie, December 2 2015)
Elodie says she may have found a solution for her quest to grow enough strawberries to be self sufficient without planting out half the garden. She makes strawberry towers (see the picture). Each tower holds around 35 strawberry plants. The large bottom pot is on wheels for obvious reasons but it also makes it hard for the crawling critters to get in, as does the copper tape (it acts as an electric shock barrier). There is a good layer of scoria for drainage in the bottom, with geo fabric in between the soil layer. The middle pot has its bottom cut out, so is really just a retaining wall for the next level. Coir mulch is used to hold back the soil in the pipe holes. A few sticks in the top can support a bird net draped over the whole lot.
Keeping your worms cool (from Fay Loveland, October 7 2015)
This week in the garden I’ve been trying to keep the worm farm cool. As I write this, the worms in my worm farm are enjoying slices of chilled watermelon! To keep the worm farm cool, it is positioned in a shady spot under a large tree. During the past few days, I’ve added a couple of plastic bottles of frozen water (think of a cold version of a hot water bottle). The worms ‘snuggle’ up to the chilly bottles. At night, I open the worm farm lid for a while and rinse the farm with fresh cool water. I have also sprinkled the worm farm with a little lime to keep the pH higher and to reduce odour. Finally, I’ve soaked many layers of old newspaper and laid that over the top of the worms. It might sound like a bit of work, but it’s worth it to keep the worms working, and nobody likes finding stewed worms after a few, hot, neglectful days.
To which Jane Trikojus responded:
Another simple way to get worms through heat waves is to remove the bottom liquid-collecting tray and place the worm farm on the soil. The worms will travel down into the much cooler dirt when necessary and up again to feed. Should be in the shade for summer.
Using food leftovers/scraps and reducing food waste
(from Duang Tengtrirat, December 7 2016)
Some of us enjoy leftovers, others don’t mind them and yet others would do anything to avoid looking at yesterday’s foods. No matter how hard we try there are always leftovers. Worse yet – no matter how organised we are, there are still leftovers and we feel compelled to use them rather than throwing them out. Here are some tips:
1. As soon as you put food into a container to store in the fridge, stick a note ‘EAT ME FIRST’ to it. Then use this first either as a re-heat or a re-purpose.
2. When preparing to put leftovers away, make it easy to use them again. For example, remove cooked chicken from the bone so it’s ready to use.
3. When ready to use leftovers, think of its ‘re-purpose’ use. How can you breathe new life into something from yesterday or the day before?
4. Look around to see what you have in your pantry that can work as ‘supporting casts.’ For example, in your pantry: rice, pasta, wrap; or, in the fridge: cheese, sauces dressings.
(from Carol Woolcock on how to use lemon rinds, December 4 2014)
1. Finely grate the rinds and store in a container in the freezer. Useful when only a teaspoon or so of grated rind is required and you don’t want to grate a fresh lemon (or you don’t have any).
2. Allow the lemon halves to thoroughly dry (in the sun or when you have turned the oven off after cooking). These make great fire lighters (and scent the room as well). I also save any lint from the clothes dryer and stuff the halves with this).
3. Remove the white pith and cut the rind into narrowish strips. Blanche in boiling water for a couple of minutes then drain and place in a sugar syrup over a low heat until semi-transparent. Remove from the syrup and drain on baking paper until dry (may take a couple of days). Can then be used in fruit cakes etc or dipped in melted chocolate for a treat with coffee. A couple of teaspoons of the lemony syrup can also be added to a glass of water (soda, mineral or tap) for a refreshing drink.
4. Dip the halves in a saucer of bicarb soda and use to clean soap scum from the shower door. Depending on how much scum is present, you will need to re-dip the skin. Rinse off with plain water for sparking glass. Farewell to easy off BAM!
Making vegetable stock from kitchen scraps: I keep almost all part of veggies that I don’t use in a freezer bag and throw it in the freezer to make stock. There are three key ingredients in stock: onion, celery and carrots. The rest you can be creative about and add anything you like.
Veggie scraps that I keep include: onion skins (brown onions only as red onions skins are bitter), garlic peels, coriander roots, green onion roots and green tips, celery tops, mushroom stems, spinach roots and silverbeet stems.
When I have enough in the freezer (2 and more cups), I de-frost them and add water, boil until soft, strain and throw away the solids, keep the broth in the fridge for 2-3 days or freeze the stock for later use. Note: The difference between broth and stock is that broth is spiced and stock is not. I prefer to make stock (no salt and no pepper) so that it is more versatile and add spices like ginger if I am making Asian food, oregano, thyme and sage if making risotto, for example.
Tip: I don’t use brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts) in making stock because (1) they add a bitter taste and (2) they are too strong and overpower the aroma of the stock.
(from the Little Organic Shop Hurstbridge, November 20 2014)
All our food scraps and veggie/fruit peels etc. go back to the chicken farm that we get our eggs from. Any waste that chooks don’t like or shouldn’t eat (onions, citrus, potato peel, etc.) goes into compost. Leftover milk from the coffee machine is either made into kefir and used in pancakes, scones and other recipes that call for buttermilk or sour cream, or use it to make custard or creamed rice. Vegetables that are misshapen, or that are getting close to use-by (but are still good to eat) we make into soups or sauces or find suitable recipes to use them e.g. one of our farmers recently brought in a lot of rocket that we knew wouldn’t last, so rather than waste it we turned it into a delicious rocket pesto with walnuts.
(from Sammy from Diamond Creek, November 13 2014)
Egg whites, can be frozen. As can egg yolks. In my experience, you then can’t use them in the ‘fussier’ baking recipes, but they are perfectly suitable (once thawed) for the more forgiving baking.
I am told whey can also be frozen, however I have never tried it. I give left over whey to my chooks – they think it’s heaven!
Lemons! My lemon tree is currently a non-producer. We rescued a friends potted lemon tree that was on the point of death due to neglect, no water, little soil and gall wasp like you wouldn’t believe. So, over the last 18 months, we have been giving it a lot of TLC and pinching out any blossom to help it save its energy for growing. Hence, if I see someone with extra lemons, I take them with open arms. But when you take piles of lemons, you have to do something with them.
Freeze the juice in ice cube trays – one cube is roughly half a lemon so it works out fine for measurements. Then I grate the rinds and freeze them also. Both turn out quite fresh and we have very useful lemon all year round.
You can also use scooped out lemon halves as slater traps in the veggie garden.