Invaders! Plant problems and a magazine review

Invaders! Invaders! Red alert! Red alert! Red alert!

I picked off the aphid infested leaves for the chooks.

I have my first invaders of the insect kind in my garden. Well, in my gutter gardens to be exact. My gutter garden has been going great guns and we have had several harvests from the lettuce growing there. The rocket is not far from harvest either. It still hasn’t made it to its final home and isn’t even hanging up. My husband – an engineer – felt the existing hooks weren’t strong enough to carry the weight. I have to concur but it isn’t worth new hooks before we move so it’s currently resting on some chairs. So, once we move I will have some strong hooks installed and the garden will be hung up. I can’t even take it up until I am able to get up there at least every 2 days to water it either. Frustrating, as the 4 sugar snap peas planted to grow up the wires, are starting to be in need of some support.I may have to provide some temporary stakes I think. Well, anyway, as I tried to deal with Orik who was feeling grumpy and destructive due to being tired, he grabbed a lettuce leaf and tore it (no big deal as the chooks can have it) but I noticed that there was something on the back of the leaf which wasn’t up to the standard of the other leaves. An aphid! So this is the first time I have had to deal with pests in the garden. Dr Google and Pinterest are always a great help and I found this page with a recipe for a natural aphid insecticide. It is safe enough that it wouldn’t be a problem if my kids ate the leaves, although they may find it doesn’t taste so great. We would still wash before eating but I love the fact that we don’t absolutely HAVE to!

My poor sick lemon tree

I’ve had some other issues I’ve needed to look into too. My new lemon tree which I bought at CERES a few weeks back is looking a little unwell and has lost many of its leaves. Again, Dr Google has helped and I am thinking that my poor plant is probably hungry. Lemons are high nitrogen feeders so time for some grass clippings and a top up of compost I think.

Next health check is for my avocado trees. They have been grown from seed by my parents and I am hoping to be able to supply most of the Eastern Seaboard with fruit from them. My parents tree is a prolific bearer so here’s hoping they have passed that wonderful trait on to their progeny. Well, all three of the trees have some leaves that are looking pretty sick, one in particular. A quick look on Dr Google and it appears I have not sufficiently neglected my tree and I have possibly given it too much water! You have to laugh – killing it with kindness (and not very much kindness at that). Apparently they are very sensitive to change, so a car ride for 40 minutes and the loud noises that emanate from my children have probably sent they 3 dears into full on panic mode! I shall move them to a semi-rain sheltered area on my deck then leave them until the Ballan move. Here’s hoping the drier conditions and easily neglectable position will help them recover before being moved and transplanted out.

The almonds that are no more.

The fourth problem I have had to deal with this morning is more in the nature of a small child. Someone thought it would be fun to pick the growing almonds off my almond tree and throw them around the garden. I have lost several of what was a fairly prolific second crop. Last year the poor thing grew 3 almonds that never reached maturity. This year I was overjoyed and a little dismayed to realise it has like 20-30 fruit growing nicely, and all of good size too. Sadly I now have around 10 less! My dismay at the fruit is due to the fact I had assumed it was not self pollinating or able to fruit and had decided not to repot it in winter to take to Ballan. Now I have missed the chance until probably May next year, by which stage we shall probably have tenants in the house. I’m not sure yet if I will be able to take it with us, which I would dearly love to. If I can, both the almond and the apple (of unknown cultivar) will come with us. Ah for opportunities lost.

My 34th birthday has thankfully come and gone with little fuss again this year (I absolutely despise my birthday). I received a wonderful gift from my family though – a selection of gardening magaines. And it is one of these that I wish to share as I have found it informative and helpful for beginner gardeners like myself. The magazine is Good Organic Gardening and it came with an extra included called The Organic Backyard. It is, as it says, “Your complete guide to growing  vegetables and herbs”. I was able to sit down, with the crop rotation information chart I found on page 26, as well as the vegies A-Z (pages 31-78) and plan out what I was planting where and with what I would plant it. Excitement much?

Carrot top seeds

Sunflowers and pumpkins

Other news to report is that our planted carrot tops appear t be setting seed! STOKED!, my corn and pumpkin seeds are doing well, my watermelon seeds didn’t appreciate being transferred into their newspaper pots so I am hoping they recover before I plant them out in a couple of weeks, zucchinis, more tomatoes (I’m hoping for a glut for canning and bottling), more sunflowers (great for the chooks to eat and hopefully we can have some for us too), tomato seedlings are all doing well in their newspaper pots although they all need a little more sunlight than they get so I have a new tray on a chair that gets moved to the sunlight patches system that seems to be helping. My mandarin is also in full bloom so hoping for a prolific first crop.

3 strawberry flowers!

My seedlings and Minnie cat watching over them

Other than that I am watching Jasper chasing butterflies, Allegra is swinging and Orik sleeping. The sun is shining and it’s a lovely day.

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Planting seeds

In the interest of keeping up the changes I’m making to really stick to my goals of planting and harvesting from our garden this year I am endeavouring to do a little gardening every day. Even if it’s just watering something. Yesterday we didn’t have such a good day, the children and I and we didn’t spend any time at all in the garden sadly. It probably would have done us all good. Oh well. Today, being Tuesday, we have a regular playdate with friends – all the Mummies get a good catch up and the children do too. They also turned the water off here. Made for another reason to go. 🙂

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Upon coming home I had the urge to do some form of gardening. I decided to plant out some seeds today with the children. Orik was down for a sleep so Allegra and I headed out onto the decking with some egg cartons, some seeds, some ice-cream sticks with the seed names written on them and some cling film. We planted Tommy Toe Red, Tommy Toe Yellow and German Johnson tomato seeds. I know Jasper LOVES eating little “marties” so the Tommy Toes are for him and the German Johnson is apparently one of the parent plants of the Mortgage Lifter tomato, so named for its prolific nature and the fact that it enabled its developer, Radiator Charlie, to clear his $6000 mortgage in 6 years. The German Johnson is a big meaty tomato and great for slicing and also great for canning or preserving which is primarily why I chose it.

We also planted some Cayenne chilli seeds – great for drying and grinding as well as using fresh. I love the teensiest dash of cayenne pepper in my macaroni cheese so looking forward to dehydrating and grinding my own. I think I might end up with a gross oversupply so I will have to see what else I can make with chillies. I had some Californian Wonder capsicum seeds too so in they went. I hope they fruit heavily as I absolutely love capsicum.

And for something different I planted some Sugarbaby watermelons too. They’re smaller with a black skin but apparently prolific fruiters so in a way I hope that the 6 seeds I planted don’t all sprout. Then again. 🙂

Once we had planted our seeds we watered them in using an upcycled golden syrup bottle. It is easy for the kids to use and hard for them to over-water and wash out the seeds. We gave them all a good watering  and then covered them all in cling film. Part of me cringes at the idea of using cling film. It’s a non-reuseable, non-recyclable landfill nasty made with horrid plastics but we don’t have a green house and we needed something to keep them all warm. And with that we “cuggled” our baby plants and came inside.

Sorry for the dodgy photo, it was getting dark.

Also as an update, almost ALL our seeds have sprouted! I can’t quite believe it to be honest as I didn’t expect anything from our split peas/lentils. The kidney and cannelini beans are yet to sprout but the kidney beans have nearly doubled in size and even the cannelini beans are showing signs of swelling so I have high hopes. 😀

Gardening with my children

As previously stated, I’m not much of a green thumb. Well, I haven’t been until now. It seems the gardening bug has finally bitten me hard enough to keep me infected. Well, here’s hoping anyway.

I’ve spent the last 2 days trawling eBay for my seeds. I was determined to avoid anything genetically modified although I have purchased a hybrid sweet corn which is apparently a natural cross (I don’t mind this so much but would have preferred an heirloom variety). I’ve had a wonderful time deciding if I should get traditional heading broccoli or one that grows more like the florets I would cut it into, and which of the wacky and wonderful colours to buy them in. Did you know that there are heirloom varieties of brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower that all come in purple! I decided to go for a traditional cauli but the purple broccoli I just could not go past. And Martin opted for purple sprouts too (they’re bought for him to eat after all, I don’t like them).

I’ve bought rainbow carrots, black skinned watermelon, purple beans, purple cabbage (seems to be quite a purple theme in both vegetable and in my choice of varieties) as well as some other less traditional food plants. I’ve bought nasturtiums which are pretty, easy to grow and the leaves and flowers are both edible. The baby leaves are quite nice, albeit spicy as I remember from picking through my grandmothers garden but I think the larger leaves were a bit too bitey for me as a child. I thought the children would enjoy enjoy growing sunflowers too (as would I as I have never grown them either) and I’ve also bought dandelions. Yes, the bright yellow flowers with their “clock” seed pods. The flowers, leaves and roots are all edible and the roots can be harvested and used as a coffee substitute.

This last point is one of the reasons I bought them. I LOVE my coffee but all coffee where I live here in Melbourne comes with some usually substantial carbon miles, even more so for decaf if it has been decaffeinated using Swiss water technique. Once peak oil strikes, coffee is going to become very very pricey and probably an excellent source of currency. Yes, some coffee is grown in Australia but it is not going to be anywhere near enough to supply the caffeine addiction of Australians. Having something I can replace it with would be great. Anyway, I figured it’s worth a try. The leaves and flowers can all be used in salads too and I believe there are also medicinal uses for dandelions. I fully intend on growing them in a gutter in order to prevent my garden beds and lawn from being taken over by what most of us consider to be a weed though.

I’ve also bought hyssop and marigolds. Hyssop was an impulse buy as apparently it attracts insects but repels white cabbage moth and I know that white cabbage moth can decimate brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbages) so I figured it would look great planted at the end of my vegetable beds and be nice and useful too. Marigolds are a wonderful red, orange and yellow flowering plant and although I’m not sure if I have the correct variety, I know Calendula is another name for it (or at least some of them) so I may have a wonderful healing herb on hand as well as something that is great when grown with tomatoes.

One of my other main objectives over the next 2 months is to get my children, Jasper in particular, interested in gardening. So far so good. We started with growing alfalfa in egg cartons cut lengthwise which had added pipe cleaners and drawn on eyes for hairy caterpillars. Surprisingly and happily I discovered that Jasper enjoyed eating the sprouts too. Win-win there I’d say.

Our second foray into kids and gardening was to sprout the carrot tops we’d cut off from our heirloom carrots we’d blanched last week. The helpful point here was that many of the tops had already sprouted so I just popped them in a cloth lined tray and kept the cloth damp (out of paper towel). Some have done well, others not so well but today we planted them in soil. I know they won’t grow a new tap root (the part we eat) but I am hoping to be able to grow them to produce seeds which means I will have scored some heritage organic seeds for nothing more than the price of some potting mix, a little water and 2 milk cartons, 1 apple juice carton and an orange juice carton which is what we cut down to plant them in. I am all out of pots. Apparently they should grow into quite a pretty ornamental plant too so another win-win here.

Jasper and I also had a bonding day a few weekends ago where we went to Bunnings and bought a pot, potting mix and something to plant in it. Completely Jaspers choice – he wanted to plant some flowers. He chose 2 punnets, 1 of yellow toned violas and 1 of black violas for tiger flowers.we planted them together and we water them together when they need it. I am very much looking forward to masses of flowers to reward him for his hard work.

gardening with childrenOur next gardening job will be to plant our seeds to have seedlings ready for planting out once we’ve moved as I plan to get in our veggie beds the minute we get settlement on the house (planning ahead much for a house that we haven’t even yet purchased? lol). We will start planting our seeds in 2-3 weeks. Until then I need to keep our thumbs green so I am looking for some more kid gardening ideas. I’m thinking egg heads with alfalfa hair for a start but I could use some more ideas. I also plan to make some newspaper pots for growing our seedlings in which I think the kids will love helping with that, and we might try and grow some spring onions from the cut tips too. I also want to try and sprout some cannelini beans or borlotti beans (depends which I have in the pantry), some chick peas and even some chia and quinoa, all of which we could subsequently grow to harvest.