Mar 252020

Given the coronavirus, and as envisaged last week, this newsletter will not be advertising any upcoming events for the foreseeable future. Most upcoming food-related events have been cancelled anyway and those that haven’t been cancelled yet probably will be soon.

The exception is markets, which appear to be mostly continuing at the moment, and which will continue to be listed in the right hand sidebar. Note, however, that the Wonga Park Farmers’ and Makers’ Markets for March and April have been cancelled. Also, Kingsbury Drive Community Market has been cancelled until further notice.

Event listings are the heart of this newsletter and without event listings it is not clear to me that I will have enough material to continue with the weekly newsletters during the crisis. There will certainly be a newsletter next week. If you have any material that you think might be of interest to the readership, now is the time to submit it. Email me.

Ann interviews Adrian O’Hagan, from Forest Hill

Adrian O’Hagan has several claims to fame, including being a prime mover behind Permablitz Melbourne and the seller of The Bearded Bee honey. Ann Stanley recently interviewed Adrian as a home grower. As Ann says in her write up: “With a nine-to-five job, a family and several other commitments, Adrian has limited time to spend in the garden and finds wicking beds invaluable. Adam Grubb helped him with the first one and Adrian has since built more, some of which are overgrown or housing self-sown veggies. He describes his garden as ‘not exactly straight-lined’, yet the site is productive and full of life. There are numerous apple trees, an apricot, feijoas, a lemon tree, a prolific loganberry bush, and bumper crops of cauliflower and broad beans. Amongst all this lives rocket, chamomile, parsley, rosemary, calendula, hydrangea, self-sown strawberries, edible weeds and many other species … There are quite a few chickens of various breeds including wyandottes (which Adrian has a fondness for), one araucana, and a brood of fluffy speckled Sussex chicks.

Read Ann’s full interview write up.

In recognition of the publication of the interview writeup, Adrian would like to give away 4 jars of his Bearded Bee honey, to be picked up from either Forest Hill or the CBD (next to the Immigration Museum). As is now traditional, the winners will be randomly chosen from those who correctly answer the following question: what was the first vegetable that Adrian ever grew? (Hint: the answer is in Ann’s write up.) Email your answer.)

Another free giveaway

Bruno Tigani has donated a large number of leek seedlings. People can have, say, around 20 each. Pickup at my house in Eltham (and I’ll also show you round my veggie patch and orchard if you want). Email me if interested.

Robin’s veggie growing tip – the emergency kitchen garden

An emergency kitchen garden consists of quick growing veggies from each of the major categories of vegetables: root vegetables, onion family, leafy greens, Asian greens, brassicas, legumes and herbs. In 4-8 weeks, you could be harvesting young, tender veggies.

The following were planted in a 2 square metre patch at the Macleod Organic Community Garden on 15th March, some as seeds and some as seedlings:

  • Root vegetables: seeds of 2 types of baby carrots, 2 types of baby beetroot, 4 types of radishes, plus seeds and seedlings of kohlrabi.
  • Onion family: seedlings of spring onions and chives.
  • Leafy greens: seedlings of spinach, silverbeet and 2 types of lettuce plus seeds of wasabi rocket.
  • Asian greens: seeds and seedlings of pak choy and bok choy plus seedlings of tatsoi.
  • Brassicas: seedlings of purple and green broccolini plus 2 types of kale.
  • Legumes: seeds of bush peas and sugar snap peas.
  • Herbs: seedlings of parsley plus seeds of chervil and coriander.

Most seeds were up 8 days later.

The keys to success are how you prepare your soil and how often you water your plants.

A slightly acidic soil (pH of 6-7) is ideal. Buy a pH kit from a nursery (or borrow from a friend) but do follow the instructions especially the one that tells you to dig down 10-15 cm for your soil sample. Note that, for ‘technical reasons’, pH kits don’t measure the pH of compost correctly.

The best way to bring your soil towards pH7 is to add compost. Also, if your soil is too acidic then you can add dolomite or mushroom compost. If it is too alkaline then you can add sulphur or even azalea mix. To enrich your soil, add compost but not manure (especially fresh manure): manure can cause forking of root vegetables, over-growth at the expense of heads of brassicas, and soft leaf on leafy greens.

Root vegetables and the onion family require a very fine soil. Dig your soil over, removing clods and sticks and stones to the depth the vegetable will grow (plus a bit) and dig in the compost, likewise breaking it up if necessary. As we are looking for crops to grow quickly, it is worth doing this for all the veggies.

The way that you plant is important too. With seedlings, bury them so that the base of the bottom 2 leaves are covered with soil, particularly for brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflowers, etc) as this anchors them in the ground so that they will not wobble in the wind (which can prevent them producing good heads). Some seeds will give you a head start if soaked overnight (e.g. beetroot, silverbeet and spinach).

Watering is a must. Water your veggies at least twice a week, deeply, even if it rains. Under 10mm of rain is useless. If you have a heavy downpour, check how far it has penetrated by digging down into your soil – you will often be surprised by how dry your soil is. Water transports nutrients to the plant and is essential to its healthy development. Mulching will also help. Finally, my experience is that parsley and lettuce are bad companions as are peas and onions so plant these at least a metre apart.

Read more of Robin’s veggie growing tips.

What seeds to plant in April

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


Mustard greens
Pak choy

Cool season veggies

Broad beans

Leafy greens




April is a good month to plant your cool season veggies. So, plant those broad beans, peas, garlic and brassicas. Also, plant some leafy greens.

Leaf, Root & Fruit have written an interesting guide to autumn plantings in the context of the coronavirus.

Read Helen’s 2016 articles on growing brassicas, growing garlic and on autumn plantings.


Everything you wanted to know about coronavirus but were afraid to ask

Angelo Eliades has posted three(!) major articles about coronavirus:

Weekly veggie boxes

During the current crisis, Community Grocer is extending its fruit & veg boxes which can be bought online and then picked up on Wednesdays from various locations in Coburg, Fawkner, Fitzroy, Heidelberg Heights and Reservoir.

Home deliveries of food in postcode 3095 and surrounds

In response to the current crisis, Organic Fix, the health food store in central Eltham, is starting a home delivery service for postcode 3095 and surrounding suburbs. They sell a wide range of nuts, seeds, grains, spices, fruit and vegetables, as well staples like bread, milk, eggs, oats and soap. Most of what they sell is Certified Organic. The home delivery service will be free to anyone in postcode 3095 subject to a minimum $50 order. Orders in surrounding suburbs will be $8 delivery fee for orders $50-100 and free for orders of $100+. You can order either over the phone (9424 1861) or by dropping off your list.

Try and cheer someone up?

Pauline Crosbie has written in to say that someone sent her some seeds and a card in the post and it made her happy. She suggests that, if you have young children, get them to create and send cards to their elderly neighbours to help cheer them up.

Watch some videos

Formidable Vegetable are producing a series of videos entitled ‘grow-vid-19’ permaculture pandemic. The first two videos are about a) how to grow food and b) edible weeds.

Good Life Permaculture are producing a series of weekly videos entitled crisis gardening. The first video is about growing fresh food fast.

Pip magazine are producing a series of weekly videos entitled simple skills for self-sufficiency. The first video is about an introduction to the series.

Which link was clicked most times in the last newsletter?

Buying Joes’s Market Garden veggie boxes online on the Open Food Network.

Proverb of the month

Plum job. Meaning: a highly desirous job. Sometimes used more specifically to mean a job which is well-paid but relatively easy. During the 17th Century, ‘plum’ was a slang term in England meaning £1,000 (with ‘monkey’ meaning £500 and ‘pony’ meaning £25). Back then £1,000 was a seriously large amount of money but it was the fixed amount that some politicians received for some government roles. This was considered by some people to be a lot of money for doing very little and, as such, these posts became known as ‘plum jobs’. These days the phrase is more often used in admiration rather than the contempt it started with.

Read more proverbs.

Gardening quote of the month

Gardens are not made by singing ‘oh, how beautiful’ and sitting in the shade.” by Rudyard Kipling.

Read more quotes.

Joke of the week

What did one flea say to the other one when they came out of the movie? Shall we walk or take a dog ? Submitted by Lee Hirsh.

Read more jokes.

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