There’s lots exciting happening in my garden right now.
First, unfortunately, both of the chicks we hatched turned out to be roosters. What can you do? Given so few chicks hatched, and they were so distinct from one another, they grew up each very beloved—so the soup pot wasn’t an option for these two gentlemen. Sweet, cuddly, Polish Maharajah has been successfully rehomed to a place where his nature as a lap-rooster will be much appreciated, and he will have some lady friends to keep company. Gorgeous gold-laced Wyandotte Victor, we have decided to fit with a no-crow collar and keep for the moment, in the hopes of hatching our own eggs in the future! The no-crow collar seems very effective and doesn’t seem to bother him at all, so until he either develops an unpleasant nature or our next hen goes broody, we are stable again.
My citrus trees are doing very well. The Meyer lemon tree I have had for years but have never managed to get fruit off, has finally decided that fruiting is its purpose in life, and the only branches or twigs without myriads of flowers and bees, are the ones that already have developing fruit. I’m hoping I’ll be able to grow all the lemons I need this year—and I need a lot of lemons! My Cara Cara navel orange tree is newer—only a year or so in the ground—but its small form is similarly covered in flowers, the similarly aged Eureka lemon has proffered a single twig of flowers, and the even newer Seedless Valencia produced a whole branch of flowers. It broke my heart, but I knocked off all of their flowers to give them more time to establish. Thankfully, the brand new Okitsu Wase mandarin seems to have saved its strength so far for settling in. I noticed today that even the Tahitian lime tree, which is as old as the lemon but has appeared to consider the concept of flowers somewhat indecent, has started developing a few buds. I'm very pleased with my burgeoning citrus grove!
My other fruit trees are growing in and on—the peach looks like it will flower this year, the mulberry tried last year but I knocked them off to give it more time to establish, so I’m hoping it has another try this year. The Panama berry has been flowering well for some months but hasn’t managed to set any fruit, which confuses me. Maybe it’s just still young. The passionfruit had been obstinately fruitless, but this year when I turned my back on it for a moment, it escaped up into a tree and started raining passionfruit down on me! Ah, it wanted more sun. Problem solved. I was also pleased to see my native Atherton Raspberry has set fruit—it bloomed before we ate the last autumn fruit off the Heritage raspberries and has the fruit growing in now, so I’m pleased with that as a succession planting! I’m looking forward to trying them, and maybe also this year getting my first crops of the other berries we’ve planted—blackberry, loganberry, youngberry, tayberry... All the cane berries have masses of new growth around their feet, so they’re obviously happy and raring to go for another year. Most of the other fruit trees need a year or two more to settle in before I expect any action from them. I picked up some Lowanna and Joy strawberry crowns to go with the Temptation I’ve had for a while, and they have very enthusiastically burst into flower and are forming young fruits.
I harvested some lillypillies last year from our primarily ornamental bushes and made jam, in which the clove aroma was considered more overpowering than delicious, and has been sitting around as a no-other-choice-actually-you-know-I’m-not-really-hungry option ever since—but a month or so ago, I discovered I could add it in with some lemon juice to a chicken casserole, and the fruity-sweet-sour-clove aroma was just divine! Only a few weeks later we’re all out of jam. So this year, I’m planning to harvest as many as I can and make more of a chutney intended for savoury use, and I’ll probably add in a couple of extra spices as well: cumin, cinnamon, star anise—to round out those savoury notes... Yum!
I’m also very pleased to find that my native bee hive has grown enough that it’s ready to split! Hooray! I’ve been trying to think where to place the hives (we’re going to take the opportunity to reposition both, because the position we’ve had it in puts their flight path right through the outdoor seating area). My best idea so far for at least one of them, is to put it under a bush, right under the back corner of the exclusion cover I’ve been having so much success with keeping over my annual veg bed—with a little gap over their door so they can turn left into the exclusion area or right to roam outside. In the meantime, I’ve been opening the exclusion cover up during the days for pollination—while keeping an eye out for any flicker of cabbage whites, which have previously devastated my brassicas—and flicking the tomatoes for complete pollination, which has been very successful, but I would like to be able to leave it closed, as it seems every time I forget to tuck the veg in at night, the possums come in and eat everything that was even close to ripe.
I was quite late in planting this year’s cool-season garden—I was in one of my depressed cycles when it was planting out time, and then 2020 really kicked into gear and all the energy that others put into achieving amazing covid garden projects, I spent homeschooling three vigorous young special needs boys—but I did eventually get some plants in to enjoy the cool season! I’ve been harvesting beefsteak tomatoes—the largest one at 740g!—with plenty more coming on, lots of snap peas, some cauliflower and radishes, and plenty of iceberg lettuce. Still waiting for broccoli, potato, broad beans, wombok, carrots, onions, garlic and shelling peas to mature. I’ve also done a very late planting of a couple of varieties of leafless peas—Novella and Lacy Lady—which are meant to be particularly resistant to powdery mildew because of the increased air flow facilitated by being mainly tendrils rather than leaves. Some of these cool-weather crops probably won’t make it before the warmer weather kills them off, but best case I get a reduced harvest and worst case I’ve turned seeds into mulch and the soil has been improved by another season of active growing, and my mind has been broadened by another season’s trying.
For my upcoming dry-summer garden, I’m trying a few successful old favourites—orange sweet potato (far superior to the purple), f1 super-sweet corn and snake beans as a three sisters trio; tigerella tomatoes are a must; and rosella—as well as lots of new plants and new varieties. I’m growing Hopi corn and baby corn, Purple King bean and Yellow Wax bean, Pink Thai egg and Yellow Pear and Barry’s Crazy Cherry Tomato, Purple Beauty Capsicum and Jalapeño. I’m also growing eggplant this year, after my mum showed me how to enjoy eating them (I’ve got Ping Tung Long) as well as giving okra (red) a try. I’ve had a cucamelon self seed in the food forest, despite having not managed to produce any fruit (that I could find, anyway) last year, and I’ve given it a frame to ramble over this time which will hopefully pollinate better than lying on the ground. I’m having another go at yacon, which is meant to be easy enough to grow, but I think ended up with too much shade in the place they were planted last year when a tree filled out over the top of it. And I’m trying again with ginger, which has also never really cooperated for me. I have seeds, too, for Madagascar bean and Winged Bean, which I’m very excited to try when it’s time for them to go in.
I’m going to mound up the soil from the potatoes around the bottom of the tomatoes (if they’re still going) when I take them out, and grow this year’s greater yam on top of that mound. I first tried yam last year, and it wasn’t terrifically productive—likely my fault for the growing conditions—and while I did like the taste, it was terribly difficult to dig and broke into many pieces in the process. This year I’m hoping planting it atop a heap of loose, fertile ex-solinaceous compost will solve both those problems. I have also planted a number of seed potatoes (after I finally gave up on the accidentally sprouted grocery store potatoes I’d planted coming good, only to find them popping up a few days later while I was still chitting the purchased seed potatoes) in large cardboard boxes filled with a combination of shredded paper, chicken bedding, compost, coconut coir, and a couple of worms. I popped some wombok and broad beans into the same containers to fill them out a bit—and I’m liking how well the whole thing seems to be working. The wombok and broad beans certainly seem happy! I guess the proof will be when I tip them out looking for potatoes, as I know many brisbanites have decided they’re not worth the trouble—they’re looking very lush though, and either way I’m maturing some good compost in those boxes. I think when I do harvest them, I will move all the boxes down to a more suitable sunny place for summer against the retaining wall at the bottom of our property facing the road, and plant out my yacon sprouts into them, topped with some spreading petunias or miniature melon vines to spill over and hide the boxes from view. They won’t last forever, but they look sturdy enough to do a whole year. And when they do start to break down, I can put another row of boxes in front of them and inch forward a raised garden bed.
I’ve set up a salad bed in a part-shaded area on the edge of the pergola, where I’ve multiplied my lovely hardy Brazilian spinach, mushroom plant and wild rocket to hopefully take over the whole area. I’ve interspersed some Greenfeast winter shelling peas in there, for pea shoots and nitrogen fixation, maybe even peas depending how long they last, as well as some rainbow chard and Little Gem cos lettuce, and I’ve got beans growing up the fence beside them to give them a little more cover when the sun gets hot as well as adding some more nitrogen into all those greens. The whole thing is on the way out to the chicken coop, so it’s very easy to grab some fresh greens and the occasional coveted snail for the girls on the way out. I’m also harvesting plenty for them (greens and snails both!) out of the azolla & duckweed holding ponds, as well as the main aquaponic pond—and the egg yolks my ladies are giving me are an amazing dark orange.
I had lots of success last year with growing luffa as a zucchini substitute, as I’ve always found zucchini a little too prone to powdery mildew, but the place I was growing it made it difficult to spot the young fruits before they grew too big. I’m well supplied for scrubbing brushes now, but I would rather have had more zucchinis! (Not a sentiment common to many gardeners experiencing zucchini success. XD) This year, I’m growing it along high-wires over the top of the north-facing kitchen window and baking-hot paved patio to provide some much-needed shade in Spring and Autumn when it’s already hot but the sun hasn’t made it overhead yet. Hopefully seeing the fruits dangling down from the vine overhead will make it easy to grab them at just the right time. Over the same aerial wires, I’m also growing some climbers in large hanging pots: a standard cucumber for pickling as well as Armenian cucumber—I don’t tend to enjoy eating fresh cucumber because of digestive issues, but Armenian cucumber is in fact part of the rockmelon family, so hopefully it will completely bypass that problem—and also some sunset runner beans and a tromboncino. There’s probably not quite enough room for all of those to spread out as much as they would like—particularly if the grape vine that the wires were originally intended for finally kicks into gear—but I intend to thin them out based on what’s giving me the best product, also remembering that the primary crop is shade! Over the awkward boundary fence where I grew the luffa last year, I’ve put a Seminole Pumpkin, which should happily climb and fruit all through the wet season. Might put one in place to climb the mango tree, too, as we adore pumpkin. Seminole pumpkin shouldn’t matter too much though on the timing, and especially shouldn’t need me to check every day for little green-on-green luffa babies that are so good at hiding in the leaves. I’ve also got some Styrian pumpkins that sprouted beautifully from seeds from the bulk food store, which I’ve put in the corner of some extra large pots where I’ve been growing taro in the shade under the eaves. I’m planning to tie the vine up a post and let it sprawl on the flat tin roof of the pergola. We’ll see whether it works the way I hope, providing a green layer of insulation over that roof, and hopefully I can harvest my own naked pumpkin seeds!
Out in the food forest, last year I had pumpkin vines all over the floor, which did a great job on weeds and left huge amounts of organic matter behind, but also mostly smothered my attempts at rockmelon and watermelon vines and did its best to climb over and kill the young trees, too. I also had a fruit set problem that was difficult to solve, as I have a nasty skin reaction to pumpkins, and I had no desire to wade into a the waist-high jungle of doormat sized leaves and hand pollinate. This year, with the Seminole pumpkin on the fence, I can dedicate the forest floor to melons! Hopefully they will be a little easier to manage—otherwise I might have to resort to a beekeeping outfit, or maybe a full burqa, to get in there and do the bees' job for them. I’m planting Petit Gris, Ananas, Ha’Ogen, and Minnesota Midget rockmelon, as well as Piel de Sapo and Sakata Sweet melons, Orange Candy Melon (saved from greengrocer fruit), and Sugarbaby and Golden Midget watermelons. I’m not entirely sure how I ended up with so many varieties of rockmelon—some I got free, others I researched as more likely to give me success and purchased—but hopefully the multiple varieties will give me a better chance than last year, when my single-variety rockmelon vines (Petit Gris) succumbed to powdery mildew and died before the pumpkin vines even got the chance to choke them out. I’m hoping for something vigorous enough to look after itself and outcompete any weeds, but not so aggressive that it smothers the rest of the plants. I’ve also planted lots of flowers in the food forest that should be able to poke up through the sprawling foliage—zinnias and cosmos and alyssum and flamingo feather celosia, and plenty of sunflowers for the chickens to enjoy. Whole swathes of lavender that I planted in the ornamental beds some time ago look to be coming into bloom for the first time, which is very exciting. I’d forgotten I’d found such a pretty pink feathery variety!
I seem to have finally cracked raising seeds in a low-effort way to suit me—at least I have at this time of year, we’ll have to wait and see whether it translates as well to raising cool-season crops in the heat of summer! I’ve got solid trays filled with coconut coir, into which I nestle punnets also filled with coconut coir—except in the centre, where I nestle a terracotta pot whose bottom I’ve sealed off. The pot gets filled with water and topped with azolla to discourage mosquitos and evaporation, and fix nitrogen. The pot keeps the surrounding coir perfectly moist via osmosis. The moist coir does a good enough job via the drainage holes of keeping the coir inside the punnets constantly moist but not waterlogged. I can also put a touch of seaweed, worm juice or similar in the pot to provide a bit of liquid feed if I feel they need it. I’ve got a greenhouse lid I put over the top some of the time—mainly to defend against the possums!—which helps to speed up some of the warmer-weather seedlings, but I don’t actually think it’s been necessary to retaining moisture. I’m getting close to 100% germination this way, and very healthy transplants, so I’ve had plenty of extra seedlings I’ve been giving away to friends and family, or tucking into the ornamental beds around the place in the hopes they’ll flourish there without too much supervision, for a true cottage garden look. It feels great to have been so successful this season with something I’ve struggled with in the past.
I’ve been doing lots of intercropping, too, in my main annual veg beds—starting the next phase of plants establishing between the previous ones while they’re finishing up, and it’s been working really well. Definitely looking incredibly lush. The late winter garden means that some of these succession intercrops are all the same size as corn and beans race for the sky past the broccoli, but I don’t mind. Whenever I see a little space I want to put a plant in it, damn the official spacings, and my feeling is that as long as the soil is good the plants should be happy enough. It’s great to finally have soil good enough to support this theory.
I’m feeling a bit tentative about mulching this year. Last year, during the height of the bushfires, I had just covered everything with sugar cane mulch, and I must admit it made me feel a bit sick to look at it all out there, so flammable and right next to my house. I tend to lay out palm fronds (and we’ve got plenty of them!!) on the ornamental beds; they look quite neat when they’re arranged parallel, and I’ve heard they’re meant to deter Bush turkeys. We’ve got a fellow who pokes around the neighbourhood, and whom I always watch with suspicion. Not in my yard, mate! Of course first class, and always my preference, is living mulch, but that takes time to develop and spread. There’s quite a few of the ornamental beds which have now built up a sufficient covering of evolvulus blue eyes to serve all their mulch needs (and provide transplants for other areas) and the bees absolutely adore it the year-round blue flowers. The food forest is pretty bare at the moment following the dying back of the pumpkin vines—but the scattering of annual flower seedlings are germinating on the bare coconut coir I spread around all over it to top up the beds. I’m letting get started before I do the big round of hedge and brush trimmings from around the place and lay them out over it all, and then let the melons sprawl over it all with the flowers peeking up and through. As a perennial solution, I have a dwarf hardenbergia which is finally flowering, and I intend to scatter its seeds all through the food forest when they mature. Beautiful, native, fire resistant, nitrogen fixing... the only thing it’s missing is edible, but it nonetheless sounds to me like living mulch heaven. The veg garden on the other hand... I have decided that the creeping oregano I have been pleased with as a ground cover has become thuggish. Its roots choke out any plants that I try to set within it, and even when laying down newspaper on top of it and poking holes for individual plants, it is very good at finding its way to the hole, up and through. I sliced out a section like turf with my hori knife to plant a row of peas, but that was only a temporary solution, as the oregano is already closing over the top from either side. For the moment, I think it’s going to get newspaper and the thick chunky compost from the bottom of the chicken run over the top while I beat back the oregano—I guess we’ll see how the chunky half rotted sticks and mango seeds do as mulch, and I’ll resort to highly flammable sugar cane if I have to.
I’ve been enjoying doing a lot of planning and realising how much room we really do have for reasonable amounts of some staples. I’ve been focusing on scattering shelling peas through the ornamental beds this year despite the late start, because apart from dairy, frozen peas and corn are one of the few things I buy in plastic. We love our peas and corn. Most fresh vegetables, while it’s always nice to home grow, I buy from my local farm stall on Friday afternoons, only a few hours out of the ground. The quality and taste is great and they’re unsprayed, unpackaged and in season. Meat, I can get from a butcher who’s happy to use my containers; dry goods, I can get from the bulk store; bread and pasta, I’ve been making with sourdough; biscuits and snacks, I never stop baking to keep up with three hungry little boys. I’m a long way off keeping a dairy goat to eliminate that use of plastic, but putting away frozen peas and corn should be relatively doable if I’m organised. There’s some beautiful varieties of peas, too, and I have some pretty and fragrant flowered seeds I’m looking forward to trying out in the ornamental beds next year: Purple-Podded, Golden Podded, and Frank’s Pea.
I love the way gardening, at least for me, is so much about putting the right systems in place such that all I need to do is small interventions at the right time and then the plants will get on with it. It’s always been my greatest joy in any endeavour: finding the easy things to do that give the highest return on invested effort for minimal-effort staples we actually eat—tomatoes, pumpkins, peas, corn, lettuce, sweet potato, zucchini—and all the time learning and expanding the list of things that actually do turn a “profit”. I love how well my chicken compost run is working to keep the chickens entertained and turn out rich, living compost. I love the way being greeted with joy for presenting them with a few trimmings or caterpillars or weeds motivates me to stay on top of all the little jobs that were too easy to put off before. I love that my watering system and the last year’s soil building are working together for a garden that stays consistently moist and where the plants are just thriving in a way they never have before. I love spotting a little niche area where I can tuck another plant because conditions are just perfect for it—I now have strawberries growing in the drainage holes of the self-watering hanging baskets that service my highwires. They love sinking their roots in the cool, rich water that’s drained through the compost, their crowns stay high and dry in the little shadecloth cover I glued on to stop mozzies getting in, they’ll get plenty of winter sun and some summer cover from the vines above them, and droop their berries down out of the reach of possums to our upstretched arms... I love having my walk around the garden every couple of weeks with a sprayer mix of seaweed, worm juice, neem oil, and dishwashing liquid, wiping out any trouble areas before they occur. I love feeling like, even with failures or mistakes, on the whole things are getting better and easier all the time as I learn more and improve more rather than going in fits and starts that never get anywhere. Maybe as much as anything, that’s the stabilising effect my medication has had over the last couple of years, and the associated benefits to something that requires consistency, like a garden. In any case, I think this is the best time of year in the garden—I hope I still feel as motivated and productive in the heat of summer.
I still feel like I’m teetering on the edge of abundance. Like, any moment might suddenly be the time when all the plans and hopes I have for my garden might suddenly slide into place and it will start pumping out various things in quantities we can’t possibly eat. But when I look at what I’m achieving now, and the fact that right now at least half our meals have at least one, often two or more, home-grown components, the fact that we have already achieved that superabundance phase with eggs and mangos and seedlings, and that none of those things were anything more than a pipe dream a year ago... If I could add just a few more elements of that abundance to my garden every year... Yeah, I’d be pretty happy with that.
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