|51. Mary Turner: A disease on the leaves of my sweet potatoes started slowly but is gradually overtaking the whole plant. What is the disease and do I need to destroy the plant before harvest? Also, how to I tell when my sweet potatoes are ready to harvest?||
Angelo Eliades: The photos are taken too far away for accurate diagnosis but if the brown patches have a yellow halo around them and they are on older leaves which eventually drop, then it’s likely to be the fungal disease Alternaria leaf spot. This disease is more prevalent when dry and rainy periods occur, or when plants are watered overhead wetting their leaves, especially in the evening. Harvest sweet potatoes when the leaves and ends of the vines begin turning yellow.
[Editor: I harvest when the vines die back but, if in doubt, I leave them a bit longer as most of the bulking up is done in the last few weeks.]
|50. Cathy Romeo: I recently bought some prickly pear fruit in Mount Beauty – I spotted them on the nature strip as I was driving, where an elderly couple had little fruit stall. Although I have bought some for now, I am interested in knowing where one can get them from in Melbourne. Can anyone suggest anywhere local where I can buy prickly pear fruit?||
Mick Sheard from Imbue Distillery: We use prickly pear fruit in our gin. It is very difficult to buy in the shops and we usually get ours by either foraging (e.g. in Wattle Glen) or from roadside stalls (e.g. in Melton).
Linda Wall: I’ve seen them for sale at Preston Market. I also have a prickly pear cactus in my garden and am happy to sell some of the fruit.
|49. Guy Palmer: Can anyone suggest where I can buy custard apple fruit (not the plant, just the fruit)?||
Karen Olsen: I have found custard apples at the Vic markets and several Asian food grocers. I discovered custard apple when I moved into my first share house at university. Every week, one or two housemates would do the weekly shop at the Vic markets – the variety of the whole market, including custard apples, was a food revelation!
Helen Simpson: Many years ago I used to buy them in Coles. We used to have an ‘unusual fruit tasting’ every week and custard applies often featured.
Choon Yeok: I have bought custard apples from Woolworth and Coles before.
|48. Vicki Jordan: Almost all of my golden delicious apples, but none of my jonathans, look like the photo. As you can see, the disease is only on the skin and does not penetrate into the flesh. Does anyone know what the disease is?||
Bruno Tigani and Lyn Richards both wrote it to say that it is ‘apple scab’, which is a common disease caused by the fungus Venturia inaequalis.
Bruno referred Vicki to this web page.
Lyn added: My guess is that golden delicious are vulnerable for just the reason that we grow them – thin skin, moist fruit, deteriorate rapidly off the tree. The good news is it’s cosmetic only, doesn’t harm the fruit, but pity the apple farmer who gets it. And it clearly can get nastier – if you Google ‘apple scab’ you get horrific images of far worse damage than you have, and to the leaves as well. Control measures are the usual for fungus – clear fallen leaves and fruit, keep base of tree clear, avoid overhead watering. Read this Agriculture Victoria page. Plant resistant varieties – I can’t find a list of them, but one appears to be my heritage Rome Beauty apple – not a spot on its huge red fruit.
|47. Rebecca Haschek: Where can I buy some ‘point of lay’ (POL) chickens. I don’t want ISA browns … I’d rather get some heritage breeds as I want a number of chickens to help process my organic waste and don’t want to be overrun by eggs. Friendly, gentle breeds are a must for the kids. Bantams are ok too. I’ve found some breeders, but they are over an hour away and I’d rather get them from the local area if possible. I live in Diamond Creek.||
Here are some suggestions:
Yummy Gardens got the most nominations. As Gina Wilson said: Greg [Parsons] has been breeding and selling chickens for years, with my latest chicken from him being a crested cream legbar who lay blue eggs (see the dark brown chicken in the photo). He also builds chicken coops, like mine, to suit individual needs and backyards. And he designs and constructs vegetable gardens.
|46. Hanh Truong: I have used bokashi before and I just don’t like the idea of pouring chemicals back into the garden. I remember tipping the waste into my compost bin and the worms wiggle like they don’t like it so I stopped using the bokashi bin. What are your thoughts on pouring chemicals into kitchen waste and then back into our garden? Also, is composting better to have than a worm farm?||
Tom Danby: The bokashi juice is the contents of plant cells, released by the fermentation/rot process, so it is not surprising that the worms object. It should be diluted at least 1:20 or 1:100 before spaying back over the plant. It is concentrated minerals, enzymes, plant proteins and more, so technically chemicals but with no pejorative overtones.
Robin Gale-Baker: Bokashi mix contains living micro-organisms, wheat bran, rice husks, water and molasses – none of which are ‘chemicals’. It is an excellent addition to compost.
If I had to choose between a compost heap and a worm farm, I would always choose compost but they have different applications so both are valuable for the gardener. If you do not want to attract vermin to your compost, then a combination of bokashi and worm farm works well for food scraps.
Lucinda Flynn: Bokashi bins use a process of fermentation to break down organic waste, as opposed to decomposition (which is what happens in a regular compost bin). The powder that you sprinkle on a bokashi is not a chemical as such; rather, it is living microorganisms stored in an inactive form in a grain base. You can compare it to freeze dried baker’s yeast, which remains inactive until you mix it with warm water. Once the grain base is sprinkled into the bokashi bin and gets wet, the organisms come to life and start fermenting your food scraps.
When you put your bokashi scraps into a compost pile, the worms might not like it initially because it is probably a bit acidic – think of wine or vinegar, both fermented. But it is still good, healthy material to add to your garden.
Angelo Eliades: There aren’t any ‘chemicals’ with bokashi. It utilises a combination of microorganisms to ferment food scraps and the end product is acidic, just like yoghurt. Fermented bokashi can be dug into the ground or put into compost bins.
Most people don’t understand which garden recycling systems should be use for what purpose. Compost is for garden waste, prunings and clippings which break down slowly; worm farms are for kitchen waste which breaks down quickly; and bokashi is for kitchen waste, including foods that can’t go into worm farms. Food scraps can go into compost (and many people do it) but it attracts rodents and worm farms and bokashi are better systems for processing them. If there are worms in your compost, this is an indicator that ready to use and should be placed in the garden.
I have written a number of relevant articles on my website: Bokashi composting, how to process waste that can’t go in your compost or worm farm; What materials can you put into your compost bin and what not to compost; and Can you put earthworms in the compost bin?.
Charles Dickerson: Bokashi does not use ‘chemicals’ at all. You either spray a liquid or sprinkle a bran inoculated with microbes onto your food waste. These microbes then ‘pickle’ your food waste (hence the vinegary smell). You can then either add it to the ground directly or add it to the compost bin. I think of bokashi as a pre-compost step and the longer you keep it in its container the more pre-composted it gets.
To add it to the ground, dig a hole and bury the waste at least 10-15 cm down is the traditional method. Place wire netting over the hole to keep your dog from digging it up. It is completely broken down in a month.
To add it to a compost bin, mix some straw/leaves through the waste beforehand to blot up any liquid (if you add the neat waste it will upset the worms as it is acidic). I also place a 30-50mm layer of straw/leaves in the compost bin first as this keeps the waste away from the worms until it has broken down.
The benefit of bokashi over a worm farm is you can put any sort of food waste in the bin. Citrus, oil, meat can be added to bokashi whereas that’s a no no for a worm farm. Regarding oil, blot it up with shredded copier paper (from a home paper shredder) and then add that to the bokashi bin.
Mary Rogers: “My compost bin is a worm farm. I think the worms are the garden variety and they love living there.
|45. Pauline Webb: What grub or slug is eating my potatoes while they are in the soil? Is this skin potato scab or something else? How should I control it?||
Angelo Eliades: If the rusty discolouration visible on the potato is only skin deep and has ragged edges, then the problem is potato scab. This condition is worse in light soils under dry conditions. To prevent it, dig in compost before sowing tubers and do not add lime to soil. If, however, there are large holes eaten in the flesh of the potato tuber, that’s a sign of slug damage (slugs can burrow and feed underground).
Aimee Maxwell: It looks like potato scab to me. Read the treatment suggestions Plant Natural Research Center website.
Vera Herman: If Pauline searches for ‘potato diseases in Australia’, there are lots of info and pictures of potato diseases. Did Pauline check that her soil was slightly acidic? Did she plant seed potatoes & practice crop rotation? Diggers recommends a 3-year crop rotation for potatoes, i.e. don’t plant potatoes in the same spot for 3 years.
|44. Alison Raven: Is there any way of recycling the old fruit tree netting that will be illegal come September, when the netting laws in Victoria change? Agriculture Victoria says: ‘When disposing of the old netting, reduce the chance of further entanglements by placing the old netting into a strong biodegradable bag before putting into landfill.’ I don’t want to put it in landfill unless there is absolutely no other option. I assume it is made of some kind of plastic, so I would have thought it could be recycled somehow. There will be mountains of old nets going into landfill otherwise.||
Nillumbik Council: Unfortunately we have not been able to source any options for recycling plastic netting material.
REDcycle: Whilst the material itself may be able to be REDcycled (only if it is polypropylene PP, LDPE or HDPE, not if it is actually nylon), the problem with this is that they have had long exposure to the sun, meaning the plastic has already started to deteriorate (and some are often quite dirty as well). Any materials in this state cannot then be used, as it impacts the structural integrity of the final products made from the plastics. Further, unfortunately we are not actually able to accept commercial/industrial or large volume soft plastics like this. Even if the bird netting is clean, it would all need to be cut to A3 size pieces or smaller before we could accept it, otherwise it becomes entangled in the processing machinery.
|43. Susan Arnold: My beans and other veggies are covered in tiny white bugs with wings (aphids?). When I hose, it disrupts them and they swarm around the plants but then return. I have tried garlic spray then Eco oil, but it seemed to burn the leaves and have little effect on the bugs. What are your recommendations please?||
Susan (replying to her own question): I have done some investigating myself and the bugs I have are whitefly. I have found that vegetable oil combined with dishwasher liquid diluted with warm water in a spray bottle works a treat. I have sprayed my beans, tomatoes, zucchinis and cucumbers and the bugs are now mostly (95%) dead. The plants remain lush and healthy days later.
Angelo Eliades: Tiny white flying insects that swarm when you spray then with water sound exactly like whitefly. They are tiny moths and can be controlled with eco-oil, neem oil or horticultural soap. Horticultural oils should never be used when the temperatures may reach 30 degC or more, as the leaves will burn, and that sounds like what might have happened with Susan. On really hot days, just hose the bugs off with a moderate pressure spray to reduce their numbers.
Clare Quinlan: It sounds like whitefly. A vacuum cleaner can be great to sucking the majority off. Constantly disturbing them is great to, but can get exhausting and boring standing there all day disturbing tiny creatures from eating their dinners. Garlic spray and eco can work but only if it gets on the actual fly apparently. I aim to leave whitefly up to beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings. I also leave my fennel to go to flower which creates a ladybug nursery where their numbers grow over summer.
Anjana Mukherji: Try 1 litre of tap water 2 drops of washing liquid soap and 4/5 drops of Neem oil. Shake well and spray.
James Petty: I have had similar problems. They fed on my tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, eggplants, jerusalem artichoke (stems and leaves), rocket, parsley, coriander, rosemary, carrots, parsnip, potatoes, cornflowers, and everlasting daisies. They killed several potato plants and (I suspect but don’t know) were the vector for a virus in my tomatoes. I initially assumed that they were whitefly, except that they weren’t white. However, after I sent them a photo, Museums Victoria IDed them as probably vegetable leafhopper (Austroasca viridigrisea). Here is AusVeg guide to the vegetable leafhopper.
As for treatment, they resisted everything I tried: horticultural oil, neem, coffee spray – nothing worked. The most effective was a combination of vacuuming (daily) and ‘puffing’ diatomaceous earth all over the plants (leaves, stem, underside leaves). However, this took a long time and the puffing is also likely to impact beneficial bugs like predators and pollinators. And within a week, the hoppers were back to full numbers anyway. I have resigned myself to their presence and tried to reduce their habitat. They seem to love rosemary so I pruned it back to a stump.
|42. Velyne Moretti: Is this the dreaded Queensland Fruit Fly?||Angelo Eliades: The small puncture marks with oozing sap look like QFF to me. The possible alternative is codling moth, but this would leave a larger hole in unripe immature fruit, with brown residue exuding from the hole as the larvae eat their way through the apple. Cutting the apple will yield a definitive answer. White, banana-shaped 1mm long eggs just below the skin, or a small creamy yellow carrot-shaped maggot 8-11mm long with dark cutting jaws at the narrow pointed head end which bends into a U-shape and jumps, indicates that it is QFF. If it’s codling moth, the culprit will be a plump, large, fast crawling caterpillar with a shiny rounded brown head.|
|41. Mary Shiel: I have a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) that has been growing well for about 6 years but that is now looking very sick, having been attacked by something (see photo). The damage starts at about 120cm from the ground. I’m assuming that it’s a kangaroo attack, as we do have a lot of kangaroos around. Do you agree? More importantly, is there anything I can do to save the tree? Some of the lower branches are now starting to die, although a couple still look quite healthy.||Heather Stanley: Arborist here. It’s feral deer rubbing their antlers on the tree. It’s distressing (for both you and the tree!) but not necessarily a death sentence for the tree. Keep your tree mulched, water it on hot days and give it a monthly dose of seasol. The wound will gradually seal over as the tree continues to grow, don’t paint it or put anything on the exposed tissues. Consult an arborist if you notice any insect activity or weeping from the wound.|
|40. Anita Merson: Many of my plums (that are green just now and about 1-2cm big) are falling off my tree. The tree has a lot of fruit and it is not all the fruit that is falling off; rather, it is just the smaller ones. Is this just natural fruit thinning or is it a problem? If the latter, what might be the cause and how can it be avoided in future?||
Angelo Eliades: There are three questions that need to be answered to identify the cause:
|39. Louise Nolan: How can I get rid my garden of both whitefly and thrips? I’ve never had such huge numbers before, plague proportions on nearly every single plant in my garden. I have no idea why this has occurred. I don’t spray with any non-organic products but I do use Eco bio oil and Eco Neem.||
Angelo Eliades: Whitefly and thrips can be controlled with horticultural oils such as eco-oil or neem oil sprays, but it’s better to let predatory mites do the job. These beneficials thrive in mulch layers above soil, so it’s important to keep the soil mulched to give them a home. Also, don’t dig up every bit of soil, as this destroys their habitat and kills them (and all the other soil biota too).
Heather Miller: In a spray bottle, mix together, 1 litre of warm water, 1 tablespoon of molasses and 1 squirt of dish detergent (preferably organic). Mix and spray over the affected plants, making sure to spray on both sides.
|38. Susan Faine: How do you make firm yoghurt from low fat milk without adding milk powder or gelatine? I’ve found that if the culture is full fat it works but, as the generations of yoghurt follow from the preceding batch, and the fat content is increasingly diluted, the yoghurt doesn’t set much at all.||Maria Ciavarella: I strain my yoghurt through a very fine mesh to make it thicker. You can use the whey left over in cooking too.|
|37. Nancy Mills: Has anyone actually tried composting any kind of recently-produced packaging materials labelled as compostable or home-compostable and, if so, what was the end result?||Lucinda Flynn: Certified home compostable products (to Australian standard AS5810) are really easy to home compost (as they must be to achieve the certification). So this is things like the compost-a-pak corn-starch bags, and sugarcane fibre plates and bowls. Commercially compostable products are not guaranteed to compost in a home compost, usually because they have a need for either heat or movement to start of the process. However, I have been able to home compost the certified commercially compostable Biopak biocups (FSC pulp with a thin lining of PLA bioplastic) pretty easily in my home compost (even though they are not certified home compostable). My home compost is not that hot and I just leave it to do its own thing (but I do give it a mix of food scraps with carbon – such as straw). Single cups are not a problem but it would be harder if you threw in a stack of biocups all joined together.|
|36. Rebecca Gray: I want to plant a grapevine and need to understand how far reaching its roots will get. I have clay soil and have had cracking problems on the house (brick walls) with other vegetation planted close to the house. How far away should a grapevine be planted to avoid cracking a brick wall?||Senia Kazar: Our grapevines are planted right next to some walls and there has never been any cracking.|
|35. Jacinda Brown: Can I graft a fruiting grape onto an ornamental grape?||
Angelo Eliades: Ornamental grapes are either Vitus vinifera, whose leaves look like regular grapevine leaves, or Vitus coignetiae, also known as Crimson Glory Vine, which has broad, slightly lobed leaves. Here in Australia, both our table grape and our wine grape varieties are the Vitis vinifera species.
So, if your ornamental grape is Vitus vinifera, you can graft fruiting grapes onto it.
If your ornamental grape is Vitus coignetiae, I’m not sure if you can graft fruiting grapes onto it. A literature search yielded no results but it is common practice in agricultural settings to graft Vitis vinifera onto other Vitus species rootstock for disease resistance, and several other grape species are used for the purpose, so it’s quite likely that you can do the grafting.
|34. Doris Glier: These larvae were on a gum tree. Does anyone know what they are?||
They are spitfire sawfly larvae (genus perga, family pergidae, suborder symphyta, order hymenoptera).
Stuart Rodda: They move vigorously when touched (with a stick) and can spit out a nasty liquid as protection. If you do disturb them, don’t stand under them unless you want a shower.
Anna Sanders: There are 200 known species of sawfly in Australia and we have found some in our garden too. Have a look at this video of them that I recently made. Read this page about spitfire sawflies.
Jeanette Lynch: Read this post about spitfire sawflies on the South Australian Government website.
Museums Victoria: they are one of the species of sawfly in genus Perga but it is not clear which. Despite the name, sawflies are actually more closely related to wasps than to flies. The larvae can exude a distasteful substance which probably makes them unpleasant for birds to eat. Contrary to what you might have been told as a child, they don’t actually spit at people but rather dribble an unpleasant tasting substance.
Wikipedia: During the day, the larvae congregate in clusters of 20 or 30 for protection and disperse at night to feed. When threatened, the larvae will raise their head and eject a strong-smelling yellow-green liquid, consisting predominantly of eucalyptus oil, to deter predators. This action gives them their common name of ‘spitfires’.
|33. Nancy Mills: How to you dispose of takeaway coffee cups? I’ve tried putting biodegradable takeaway cups in a compost bin. Over time, the cups start to break down, but they don’t fully degrade in the time that it takes to compost other compostable materials. And the ‘biodegradable’ lids don’t seem to change at all. Has anyone succeeded in fully composting the cups or the lids?||
Jules Jay: There are big differences between the terms biodegradable, compostable, and home compostable. This page from the CSIRO website explains some of the differences.
Biodegradable items (like the coffee lids) should be avoided if possible, as they’re often made from plastics that simply ‘break down’ into millions of tiny pieces (becoming microplastics), rather than reverting to natural substances that feed soil. This degrading process can take many years, so they’ll likely never break down in a compost bin.
Compostable items can also be confusing, as they fall into two categories. Much of what’s labelled ‘compostable’ can only be broken down in industrial composting facilities at high heat levels over a specific time period – and certainly not quickly in a home compost bin. Unfortunately, as there are a limited number of industrial composting facilities in Australia, not all compostable materials placed in the recycling bins will go to a proper facility.
Only packaging labelled as ‘home compostable’ will break down to become organic soil in the compost bin. So, it’s always best to check for the ‘home compostable’ logo (see picture right) and go for these products if possible.
Carrie Newbold: I spoke to one of the companies that sells them a few years back. They are only made to decompose in the high temperature commercial composting facilities. I am pretty unimpressed by this, as no one can access one of these (although I do believe the zoo has one). So I became one of those annoying people who would tell anyone who’d listen the ‘truth’. Pretty sure my effect has been nil though.
Angelo Eliades: Many ‘biodegradable’ materials, such as the coffee cup lids, only break down under hot composting conditions that sustain high temperatures of 55-65 degrees Celsius for extended periods (2-3 weeks), such as those of commercial composting operations, or home hot composting systems, or over very long periods of time (years) in cold composting systems.
Hot composting systems will also make woollen jumpers, cotton shirts or leather boots disappear over the same period of time, just to keep things in perspective. Even though many of these materials don’t break down very easily in slow cold composting conditions, they are technically still ‘biodegradable’.
|32. Lyn Richards: All sources I’ve found say that white-winged choughs only eat insects but I am convinced that the attacks on my tangelo crop were from choughs, since they mobbed around it and, when they left, I found numerous pecked and hollowed out fruit on the ground.||Louise Currie: According to The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, Vol 7, part A, pages 777–779. Food: mainly insects and seeds, but also other invertebrates, fruit, shoots and plant tubers. Behaviour: forage almost solely on the ground, among leaf litter and soil (one study showed 99.6% on ground, another 100%). Citrus is not specifically mentioned. I wonder whether it was windfalls that they were eating, not fruit on the tree, or maybe they could knock Lyn’s tangelos from the tree and then eat them on the ground.|
|31. Annelise Tedesco: I have rhubarb growing in a pot in my courtyard and yesterday I noticed that part of the leaves have been eaten and there is black poo around the base of the pot. I think there are rats getting into my courtyard at night. I have a cat and we have never had this problem before. How do I deter them from my garden without poison?||
Katrina Forstner: If the rats are in the compost bins, you can do a few things. 1. Pop some neighbour’s bokashi bin contents in as the fermented scraps is something they abhor. 2. Use galvanised aviary wire on the bottom of the bin (although I’ve seen determined rats still get through). 3. Mix your compost regularly, give it a loud tap every time that you go past and water the compost from time to time. I’ve heard (though not tried) that opened containers of toothpaste deter rats. Finally, I protect my edible plants with upcycled freezer baskets that I’ve found in hard rubbish, plus I’ve recently found that aviary cages are perfect with their small gauge or mesh.
I have used rat traps bought from hardware shops effectively. The problem is disposing of the caught rats.
There are many YouTube clips using a large (usually glass) bowl filled with olive oil, sometimes with a ‘walking plank’ with a food lure overhanging the oil. The plank collapses and the mice/rat can’t get out because it’s too slippery.
Place orange nets of cat hair around the garden. This also deters possums.
|30. Susan Faine: I want to buy some injera flatbread and have it delivered to a friend in Doncaster. Does anyone know of anywhere where I can order for Doncaster delivery?||Catherine Mortimer: Injera flatbread is easy to make with three ingredients and a non-stick frying pan. I have only ever made it myself (or eaten it in a restaurant) and have never seen it sold anywhere. I would be happy to send a recipe or show someone online if they need.|
|29. Emily Lim: I am looking for insect/cabbage moth cover or exclusion nets. What type should I get and where should I get it from?||Robin Gale-Baker: Fine white net bought off the roll from Bulleen Art & Garden nursery is my preferred net. It is very wide which is much more useful than packaged nets which are about half the width and often do not provide enough coverage.|
|28. Dassana: Last summer, after a blast of heat, all my bean and tomato flowers died and it took ages for them to send out new ones and so for fruit to set. Any tips on managing weather extremes? Also, why do the tops of zucchini flowers sometimes rot?||Robin Gale-Baker: Deeply water for a number of days before the heat starts – a well-watered plant will not be stressed. Scrape away some topsoil to make sure the water is penetrating. Cover the plants with some kind of shade cloth or even old sheets. I knock 4 star pickets into the ground, attach some kind of covering and secure with yellow star picket caps. Alternatively, grow your vegetables in a wicking bed.|
|27. Chris Kent: Does anyone else suffers with attacks on their citrus during the winter?||Meg Montague: We are on the fruit bat flight path from Horseshoe Bend to the city gardens and have been suffering from bat attack this year for the first time! The bats go for the oranges on the topmost branches of our 10 metre high orange tree, hollowing out the fruit at night. In addition, during the day we have seen wattlebirds sipping at the juice of the opened fruit that are still hanging on the tree. We don’t really mind as we can rarely reach the fruit at the top of the tree, but I am wary of handling the fallen oranges without gloves due to potential bat viruses!|
|26. Doris McAllister: Why I can’t collect any worm juice? I have a plastic 3 litre kit, it’s tilted and the tap is clean but still no juice. Any suggestions?||Jo Buckle: There is no ‘juice’ because what’s in the worm farm is dry (e.g. dry leaves). There will only be liquid coming out if the contents are wet (e.g. rotting lettuce). If you want to test that the drainage isn’t blocked, pour some water in and see if it comes out through the tap. Some people think that the ‘juice’ is valuable worm tea, but it’s just seepage from the contents. Worm tea is made from diluting worm castings (the smooth, black finished product after your worms have eaten what’s in the farm).
Rebecca Haschek: Worm juice as described by Doris is actually called leachate and is the product of an over-moist worm farm. An over-moist worm farm leads to anaerobic conditions and can actually be a breeding ground for bad bacteria. A healthy worm farm is moist but does not produce leachate … if you take a handful of bedding and squeeze it, it should at most produce one or two drips. Leachate can be used on the garden but, as it is possible for it to have bad bacteria, it is not recommended for edible plants and should certainly be kept away from edible leaves. Having said that, many people who don’t know this use it without a problem. If you want to make worm tea for your edible garden, you can make a worm casting tea bag, then steep it in some aerated water overnight. An old aquarium air bubbler or similar will keep the water aerated and stop any anaerobic activity. Worm tea can be used on edibles as long as they are rinsed thoroughly before consumption.
As an aside, sometimes worm farm instructions suggest pouring water through the farm periodically. However, as well as creating leachate, this can make the bedding too moist for the worms and attractive to unwanted creatures such as pot worms and mites.
Angelo Eliades: Worm farms only produce leachate when there is excess water. If your warm farms are kept outside, keep the tap open with a bucket underneath. After it rains, there will be a bucket of worm wee to collect. Most fruit and vegies are around 80-90% water so, if you’re adding enough kitchen scraps, there should be excess water and there will be small amounts of leachate draining through into the bottom tray of the worm farm. Using a worm blanket or whole newspaper to cover the food scraps helps retain the moisture and creates a moist, protected environment for the worms to feed in. The bedding material of any worm farm should be as moist as a squeezed out sponge; if it’s drier than that then it will soak up any moisture released.
Maria Ciavarella: Winter food scraps tend to be less wet than the scraps that you might supply your worms in the warmer weather. So that’s why there’s less worm wee output in winter. It won’t harm your worms to give them a little shower every now and again and you’ll soon hear the dripping of the leachate going into your liquids’ tray. Do this by using a watering can over the worm blanket covering so as not to shock them instantly! Also, it might be a good idea to lift off the worm trays and see what is happening in the liquid accumulator tray. You might find a lot of castings have made their way into this tray and are blocking the tap.
Sam Dixon: I get more worm juice when I very carefully aerate the contents of the worm with my hand trowel. I do this at least once a week.
|25. Melita Proebstl: Will my her strawberry fruit ripen at this time of year (Winter)?||Helen Simpson: Whilst some strawberry plants will fruit all year, the fruit won’t ripen fully in Winter due to lack of sunlight.|
|24. Paul Hemsworth: Why do earthworms end up drowned in our bird bath? Admittedly it’s at ground level but it’s on concrete tiles at least half a metre from soil. What is the attraction of a plastic container of water?||
Michelle Cheah: It seems that earthworms are attracted to moisture. They come out of the ground on a rainy day not to escape drowning in the ground but because the extra moisture helps them take in more oxygen through their skin and also to migrate longer distances across soil. They can move further over wet soil overground than they can underground by burrowing. The pool of water in the birdbath is concentrated moisture so that is probably what is drawing them towards it. I have also found that earthworms don’t drown per se and can live fully submerged underwater for days, although extended exposure to sunlight can paralyse them and make them appear dead. I suggest that Paul checks the bird bath daily and rescues any that he finds. Alternatively, raise the bird bath if practical to do so.
Deb Thomson: I am assuming the earthworms are seeking out that extra moisture and then drown. Perhaps Paul could try wiping the outsides of his bird bath, down to the ground, with eucalyptus oil to see if this deters the worms on their suicide mission.
Tracey O’Neill: I have seen birds dropping earthworms into a bird bath. Perhaps they don’t realise how deep the water is and are unable to fish the worm back out?
Peta Heywood: I think birds (magpies) go to have a drink and leave their worm behind. I can’t prove it yet.
|23. Beata Clark: I’m looking for advice about sustainable potting mix, particularly the mineral content. I’d like to make my own and I produce a lot of compost but need something to improve drainage. I don’t feel good about using river sand. The British use a lot of grit, which is a quarried product. Is there anything I can use that is more eco-friendly?||Saimon Boyle: 50% sand to 50% compost should provide both the drainage and the nutrients needed.|
|22. Georgina Aquilina: has anyone got any tips for keeping possums away from veggie boxes?||
Angelo Eliades: The easiest way to keep possums out of veggie beds is to cover them with 10mm woven bird netting or, even better, 2mm insect exclusion netting (which also provides 20% shade). Just use some cloche hoops or other supports to hold the netting up to give the plants root to grow. The insect netting, as the name suggests, will also keep insect pests out and comes as either 2.8m wide or 6m wide netting on a roll, so you can purchase the length you require to cover the garden bed.
Elle Lawrence: A hungry possum will eat anything; goodbye to anything with flower heads on them also. The only way to protect your hard work in the garden is to have a barrier they can’t get into. I’ve used possum repellants of every type but they don’t work. I finally resorted to building a walk-in, wire-covered structure with gates. As shown by the scat on the ground, they crawl over the top of the wire roof trying to get in.
|21. Darryl Wilson: My wife is looking into medicinal plants for pain relief, healing of injuries and reduce inflammation. Are there any courses that she may be able to pursue? The back story is that her brother is paraplegic living in a third world country with limited medicines. His welfare is of concern to us and this is our next step into looking for other aides for his condition.||
Melissa Tripodi: I am studying naturopathy and have plenty of resources on medicinal herbs to share with Darryl. The Shift Network has some courses on aspects of mind body medicine.
Pam Jenkins: the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food at Monash University runs a free, three week online course entitled Food as Medicine.
|20. Stella Ramos: This plant is growing in my brother’s backyard. What is it, is it edible by humans and can he feed it to the birds? The dark beans are those which are dried out. The pods are a bit fluffy. All the beans have a distinct white line along the edge. My brother is not sure if it’s safe to eat but he tried some and says it tastes a bit like peas but not as sweet.||It is a hyacinth/lablab bean (Lablab purpureus). Here are some relevant links: How to grow hyacinth or lablab beans (video), how to grow hyacinth been vines, fair dinkum seeds and Wikipedia. Karen Ye: In Asia, we eat them properly cooked. The raw ones may be poisonous. According to Wikipedia: the fruit and beans are edible if boiled well with several changes of the water (otherwise, toxic); the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked like spinach; the flowers can be eaten raw or steamed; the root can be boiled or baked; and the seeds can be used in tofu or tempeh.|
|19. Velyne Moretti: Can anyone tell me what this is? It looks like a lychee but is mushy orange inside. The birds love them and this tree is next door.||The answer is Irish strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo).
Angelo Eliades: The fruit is edible but very gritty, tasting like strawberries and sand mixed together!
Karin Motyer: I’m sure that you and others know that Velyne’s photo is of and Irish strawberry. [Editor: well we should know because Karin herself sent in a picture of one for our 13th May newsletter.]
Maude Farrugia: I wrote a guide to them in the latest issue of Pip Magazine, including recipe for very yum Irish strawberry jam.
Pam Jenkins: I have never tried them but you can make jam with them. I have heard that they are not very tasty just straight off the tree and that the jam is not much better!
Ros Hardy: As Velyne says, the birds love them but I am not sure if they are suitable for human consumption.
Shelley Evans: Last week I made feijoa and Irish strawberry sorbet. I then used this as flavouring for my homemade ice cream. My very fussy family loved it and want more but they will have to wait until next year’s harvest.
Stephen Onians: The fruit is edible when ripe. It has a slight narcotic effect and should not be eaten in large quantities. It makes good jelly. Your local council may have it listed as a weed.
|18. Jan Akeroyd: Does anyone know what is going on with this grapefruit tree (see picture)? It is an older tree which is healthy and productive but which has multiple areas where, like in the photo, the bark is missing on its branches.||
Velyne Moretti: I think it is because the tree may have been in mild drought and must have received some big, big rain which quickly expanded the trunk, causing it to split. So nothing is wrong with the tree.
Carrie Newbold: We had a similar occurrence with our kaffir lime tree this year. We blamed rats for eating the bark. The fully ringbarked branches eventually all died. Thankfully the tree is a 3-4m monster, and has seemingly brushed off their alleged poor behaviour.
|17. Gerard O’Donnell: I planted capsicum seedlings a while back. They’ve grown and fruited rather well. I expected that the fruit would change from green to red but, instead, they have stayed green and developed black stripes (see photo). Is this black colouring natural or is something wrong?||
Bruno Tigani: The black or purple stripes are very likely to be anthocyanin development in the fruit. This is probably due to colder temperatures, such as the very cold nights recently, with the anthocyanins being a protective mechanism in the plant against the temperature. Many vegetables exhibit this discolouration if it gets very cold, such as purpling in broccoli. The capsicum fruits are ripening very slowly now and may not turn red at all, as it is too late in the season here in Melbourne. If the fruit did mature to full colour, then the streaks would fade and you would be left with a red capsicum.
Pauline Webb: My observations of my own capsicums when they have dark marks or lines is that it is always late in the season when there is a lack of both sun and heat. At this time of year, no capsicum can turn red. It pays to pick them before they have little visitors inside as caterpillar frass is near impossible to wash out.
Moira Tucker: I think it is just a natural mutation and/or a cross of colour types. Keep the seed and see if the colour variation is stable as it has potential as a variation!
|16. Shiva Vasi: I want to get a trailer load of manure (ideally sheep or cow) for my garden, thereby avoiding plastic bags. Can anyone suggest where I can buy manure in bulk?||
Angelo Eliades: Bulleen Art & Garden nursery sells bulk cow manure. You can either get it delivered, fill a trailer, or borrow the courtesy trailers that they have.
Claire Smith: Whilst it is bagged, it is possible to get free manure from the RSPCA in Burwood East. If you ring them (9224 2222) and ask for The Barn then they can tell you how to access it.
Moira Tucker: Try a wool grower as they often accumulate manure beneath their shearing shed. It is a pity that the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show was cancelled this year as there would be have been a lot of shepherds there. There are many small specialist flocks where the fibre is grown for hand spinners. The Handweavers and Spinners Guild of Victoria (based in Carlton North) may have some useful contacts.
|15. Jo Buckle: What is this on my apple tree?||
Heather: Woolly aphid. Cute, but naughty.
Angelo Eliades: Woolly apple aphid (Eriosoma lanigerum). They cover themselves with white, cotton-line secretions to form a protective cottony mass. They are a common pest of apples. You can spray them with eco-oil to get rid of them.”
Judith Chivers: the latest newsletter from Leaf, Root & Fruit has an article about woolly aphids, which includes the following sentence: “Although not majorly detrimental to the tree in small numbers, in large numbers they can cause significant stress and damage the tree.“
|14. Vicki Jordan: What is eating my pumpkins (see picture right)? Is it birds, rats, rabbits or something else? One day they are fine and the next time I look they are eaten. The smaller ones are not on the ground but on a trellis around 1 metre high. The large ones are on the ground and just have bits taken out of them.||
Rats, mice, brushtail possums, deer, kangaroos, wallabies or wombats?
Robin Gale-Baker: Rats. I once saw a half acre full of beautiful pumpkins devastated by rats overnight. Hundreds of them devoured! I picked 3 pumpkins high up in our feijoa tree before the stem withered as, the moment they ripen, the rats go for them.
Pam Jenkins: Rats. They don’t mind climbing a trellis. Unlikely to be possums as they don’t like being on the ground. I’ve never heard of rabbits eating undamaged pumpkin – I hope they don’t!
Joanne Driver: Rats. I have had the same trouble this year with tomatoes and some apples. Our cat has a daily home on the compost pile near the bins and we have seen a few results.
Kris Filmer: Rats. We have had the same problem, as well as our potatoes being eaten underground.
Peter Bevz: Rats or mice, almost certainly. I’ve had identical issues in the past. Nowadays, when my pumpkins are ripening, I check them every day and, at the first sign of any nibbling, I harvest them all.
Marsha Merory: Brushtail possum. I lost 5 pumpkins (2 golden nuggets and 3 jap pumpkins) to a large brushtail possum. I then put metal waste paper bins on my last 3 pumpkins, with 2 bricks on top of each – so far, so good.
Angelo Eliades (before seeing Duang’s response below): Rats or possums, as rabbits aren’t capable of eating veggies hanging 1 metre off the ground, and birds wouldn’t eat that much and would leave tell-tale pointed pecking marks. The simple way to tell if it’s rats or possums is to net the pumpkins: if possums are the culprit then the pumpkins will be protected by the netting, but if rats are the problem then they will chew through the netting and eat the pumpkins!
Duang Tengtrirat: Deer. When we lived in Research, our pumpkins were eaten and the carcass looked just like the one in the photo. We first blamed the kangaroos then the rabbits, both of which there were plenty. After installing a camera, however, it became clear that the culprit was actually deer (a big deer with antlers).
Angelo (after seeing Duang’s response): Kangaroos and wallabies, maybe. If you live somewhere rural, then kangaroos and wallabies, as well as deer, would also be possibles. But, unlike rodents, none of these animals would chew through netting.
And Angelo again: Wombats, maybe. At Bulleen Art & Garden nursery (BAAG), we once caught a wombat on our security cameras eating the blueberries in the driveway!
|13. Sandie Downes: I have two olive trees, variety unknown. Lots of the olives are falling off. They are small and green. Any suggestions about how to use them?||Morgan Koegel: You can either preserve them (e.g. through brining) or press them into oil. For pressing, you only receive back about 10% as oil (the pip and pulp are discarded) so you need quite a lot of olives to justify undertaking this adventure.|
|12. Carol Woolcock: A feral tomato that has popped up in my garden. I first thought that it came from the compost but I have never bought or grown one that looks like this. It is fleshy and sweet with few seeds. Should I save some seeds to grow next season? Is it a named variety?||
Stuart Rodda: It looks very similar to one I have been growing for a decade or more from saved seed (see photo). It is a Roma-like tomato called ‘reggae’, which is a smooth-skinned, smallish, indeterminate tomato (4-6cm long, 2-3cm wide). It is resistant to disease and pest attack, keeps well after ripening, develops fruit in large clusters, is not fussy about soil quality and does not need regular watering (i.e. does not split if a dry period is followed by rain). The flavour is good and it is easily sliced. All in all, an excellent tomato for most uses, albeit a bit small.
Vanessa Reynolds: It looks to me very much like one of the egg-shaped Italian types, such as Roma or San Marzano, both of which are good for passata or canning.
|11. Richard Lee, from KABUU: I would like to learn about vegetables indigenous to the African continent. I’m thinking about plants we could potentially grow in Melbourne as a food crop. Having a greater diversity of species would increase food security. Which African crops could we grow in Melbourne?||Heather: Okra has been planted by an African resident at a community garden I work at in Burwood and is doing very well. [Editor: also see this Facebook post about Ajak, an okra farmer in Coburg.] Also, teff is a grain used to make artisan bakery foods, including Injera, a traditional bread in the Horn of Africa.|
|10. Kerryn Johnson: My son brought home a mango from a property in Brunswick that he was working at a few weeks ago. The mango had been grown in their backyard! It was a lot smaller than your average mango, with a much smaller pip/seed. As any good gardener would do, I’ve saved the seed. How should I propagate this seed and can one grow mangoes without too much work in Melbourne or am I wasting my time?||
Guy Palmer: If it is the fruit that you are after, I think you would be wasting your time but, as an experiment, I think it could be quite interesting. I have both avocado trees and banana plants. With quite a lot of effort on my part (e.g. shade cloth in both Winter and Summer), these plants now thrive, and they even have baby fruit, but the fruit never mature and ripen. My understanding is that mangoes are even more difficult to achieve success with in Melbourne. However, they are included as a possible in Louis Glowinski’s book.
Angelo Eliades points out another problem: the mango seed is likely to be fertilised and thus its DNA will be a combination of both of its parents rather than a clone of its mother. So, for example, just because the mother plant is hardy enough to survive in Melbourne doesn’t mean that the seed will be. More generally, it is because most fruit trees don’t grow true to seed that they are usually propagated by grafting or cutting rather than by seed. Putting this another way, if you plant a seed from a Granny Smith apple, you might well get an apple tree but it certainly won’t be a Granny Smith apple tree. And, indeed, all the Granny Smith apple trees throughout the world have originated by grafting or cutting from a single chance Australian seedling from 1868. Finally, Angelo points out that, if Keryn decides to plant the seed, she can find mango seed planting instructions on The Western Australian Government website.
|9. Tracey Bjorksten: Most planting guides say that you should plant Brussels sprouts at the same time as other brassicas (i.e. around now) but that sounds suspiciously late to me. For those of you who have grown Brussels sprouts successfully, when did you start their seed and when did you transplant out?||
Angelo Eliades: In my opinion, February is the month to plant, with the harvest time of 14-28 weeks that will mean harvest in mid-June to September before it gets too hot.
Bruno Tigani: There is a large Brussels sprouts grower in Coldstream. Their transplanting season runs from November to February, growing different varieties all the way through and harvesting from March to September.
Guy Palmer: The farm that Bruno is referring to is called Adams Farms. I spoke with the farmer there, Jeremy Adams, and he confirmed Bruno’s timetable, which means that their seeds are planted from September to end December. I asked Jeremy when home growers in North East Melbourne should plant their seeds and he said that it all depended on the variety. For example, whilst Gustus is a cool season variety which should be planted in late December, Gladius is effectively a warm season variety which they plant in September. He said that people could ring him in November on 0433 396 444 and get some seedlings from him. Thanks, Jeremy!
|8. Louise Nolan: I heard somewhere that you can freeze herbs in oil? Chop up the herbs, place in ice cube trays, fill with olive oil and then place in the freezer. When wanting to use place the oil cube into your cooking. Has anyone tried this? Any problems with this method?||
Meera Govil: According to Jamie Oliver’s website, wash the herbs gently, dry on kitchen towel, chop finely before packing them tight in ice cube trays and covering with water before freezing. Delicate herbs like coriander, chives, dill are good for this method. More robust herbs, like rosemary, oregano, mint, lemon verbena, are better dried. My mum cuts the herbs on a coolish day, washes and dries them on a cloth kitchen towel for about 1 hour before snipping off the thicker stems and laying the herbs out in a single layer on a sheet of newspaper in semi sun. She brings them in every evening for 3 days before grinding them in a little spice grinder and then putting them into small glass bottles for her (grown up) grandchildren.
Samantha Patterson: I have tried this and continue to practice it, finding it has its place among other ways to preserve excess herbs. However, one must be aware of its limitations. The freezing process does bruise the herbs (especially softer ones like basil), and one must be careful with ‘when’ in the cooking process the oil-herb cube is added – if added at the start, the herbs can over cook and the flavour is quite different. I successfully use oil-herb cubes in soups and casseroles, or used as a ‘rub’ on toasted bread for bruschetta. It also works well for a quick light ‘stir fry’ of leafy greens like kale. And I also use this oil freezing process with crushed garlic.
|7. Sue Doman: I have picked my sweetcorn too early. Will it continue to ripen?||Guy Palmer: no, sweetcorn does not ripen after being picked (technically, it is non-climacteric). I judge whether my cobs are ripe by breaking a kernel with my fingernail and seeing if any milky substance oozes out – if yes, then it is ripe.|
|6. Meera Govil: Does anyone know how to dry oregano and mint so that they remain green when dry?||
Tracey Bjorksten: All herbs are going to fade a bit when dried so it all depends what shade of green you are aiming for. Here is a picture of my peppermint and oregano, which were dried in a Miele oven at 80 degree C, fan-forced, for probably somewhere between 30 min and 1 hour. Time will vary between batches according to the water content of the leaves, the quantity being dried etc so they need to have an eye kept on them. I consider these to be a good shade of green. The flavour is also excellent.
Robyn Currie: I just gather bunches of oregano, about a half inch in diameter, tie and hang upside down in an out of the way place in the kitchen (usually a cupboard doorknob). After a couple of weeks or more, the leaves are dry and a dark green.
|5. Ann Stanley: Are micro-greens grown from special seeds or are they just densely planted and therefore stunted shoots of normal seeds?||Bruno Tigani: the seeds used for micro-green production are generally the same varieties that are used to grow full sized plants. They are sown at higher density and harvested at an early stage, often with just the cotyledon leaves.|
|4. Ann Stanley: Are micro-greens more nutritious than ‘macro’ greens and, if so, why?||Bruno Tigani: according to this research paper, the nutrient density in micro-green cotyledon leaves are likely higher than those of a mature plant. Among the 25 commercially available microgreens tested, red cabbage, coriander, garnet amaranth, and green daikon radish had the highest concentrations of ascorbic acids, carotenoids, phylloquinone, and tocopherols, respectively. However, as Bruno observes, you might eat 100gm of broccoli at a mature size compared to 10gm as micro-greens, so the absolute amount of nutrition is probably higher from eating mature broccoli.|
|3. Susie Scoullar: How does one make black garlic and where can it be bought locally?||Chris Newman: per Wikipedia, black garlic is made by heating whole bulbs of garlic over the course of several weeks and the taste is sweet and syrupy. You can buy it on ebay but it is very expensive (around $160 per Kg) and I am going to try making using a black garlic fermenter, which is available on ebay for around $100. Apparently, you just choose the fermenting mode and put the garlic in for up to 12 days and then afterwards let it dry for 5 days.|
|2. Amanda Gutierrez: Does anyone know about any classes or workshops on maintaining goats?||
Pauline Webb: Sylvia Allen, wife of Pete the Permie, knows all about goats. I’ve spoken to Pete and he agrees with Pauline and said that people are more than welcome to ring Sylvia and himself to ask their questions. Phone number: 0418 665880.
Fay Loveland: PIP magazine has published a podcast interview with Maria Cameron about keeping goats in a shared backyard context. Maria is from Hibi Farm in Heidelberg West, where she shares some goats with some of her neighbours.
|1. Vicki Jordan: Are there any facilities for recycling corks?||
Julie Cabrol: Darebin Council has made the following bald statement: “there is currently no recycling option for corks in Australia.” According to the Ecobin website, this is because corks are not virgin cork and contain other resins.
Lucinda Flynn: whilst they no longer get collected for the zoos, they are fine to put into the compost.