Healthy tomatoes

tmtroots A strong, healthy root system that allows your tomato plants to absorb enough water and nutrients is essential for producing a good crop and allowing your plants to produce their own pest-deterrents. Tomatoes in their natural state, grow along the ground and will form auxiliary roots along their stems, but our method of growing tomatoes tied to stakes prevents this.
However, you can give them a helping hand to produce extra roots before planting out by lying potted seedlings on their side when they are 10-12 cm tall. Leave them like this for a week or so, depending on the growth rate, and remember to stand them upright for watering. As you can see in the photo, the main stem with make a 90-degree turn, and root buds will form on the horizontal part of the stem. Plant them out with the growth tip vertical and the horizontal stem just below the soil surface. Or, you can remove the seed leaves and plant them up to just below the next set of leaves, then hill soil around them slightly as they grow.

What to grow in August 2016

cldfrmesml In warm and some temperate climate zones, where days are warm but nights are still chilly, gardeners can get an early start on spring-summer vegetables and herbs by sowing seed in containers in a cold frame. Instructions for an easy to construct cold frame can be found here: A simple cold frame
Gardeners in cooler climate zones gardeners can start celery, leek and lettuce in a cold frame, but do not plant celery out until soil temperature has reached 13° C., or celery will run to seed quickly.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted in August in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants, can be found in my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009 and 2012) – now also available as an e-book.

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase..

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, open-headed Chinese cabbage, grain crops, lettuce, mizuna, silver beet, spring onions, tatsoi and dill can be sown or planted out, and rocket and a green manure crop of wheat can be sown directly into beds. Sow chickpea, nasturtium, and sunflower when soil feels warm to touch.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, and rosella can be sown. Capsicum, cucumber, eggplant, rockmelon, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown in a cold frame or warm, protected area.
During Full Moon phase, carrot, Jerusalem artichoke, potato (Brisbane and areas south), and radish can be sown directly into beds. Asparagus seed, beetroot, rosemary, thyme and watercress can be sown or planted out. Avocado, citrus, macadamia and potted grapes can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Gardeners in very warm areas have time to sow late crops of many varieties.
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, lettuce, parsley, and spring onions can be sown or planted out. Grain crops, NZ spinach, silver beet and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of wheat or lablab.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum, cucumber, eggplant, parsley, rockmelon, rosella, summer squash, sweet corn, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out. Bush and climbing beans and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, carrot, radish and sweet potato can be sown direct. Avocado, banana, banana passionfruit, citrus and passionfruit can be planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Sowing and planting this month will depend on whether your area is prone to frosts. Gardeners in Temperate areas with access to a cold frame can get an early start this month with some warmth-loving varieties.
Before the Full Moon, grain crops and mizuna can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of clover, field pea, barley, or wheat. Dwarf peas and chamomile can be sown directly into beds in colder areas. Celery, leek and lettuce can be sown in a cold frame.
In frost-free areas, Chinese cabbage, rocket, silver beet, spring onions, tatsoi and coriander can also be sown directly into beds.
During First Quarter phase, capsicum, cucumber, leek and tomato can be sown in a cold frame.
During Full Moon phase, Jerusalem artichoke and potato can be sown directly into beds; also carrot in frost-free areas. Asparagus seed and beetroot can be sown in a cold frame. In frost-free areas, rosemary, thyme, avocado, and potted grapes can be planted.

COOL CLIMATE
August is still too cold and frosty for most plantings.
Before the Full Moon, English spinach can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of broad bean (Faba bean) or field pea. Celery, leek and lettuce can be sown in a cold frame.
During First Quarter phase, dwarf peas can be sown directly into beds. Tomatoes and chamomile can be sown in a cold frame. In very cold areas, broad beans can be sown.
During Full Moon phase, Jerusalem artichoke and potato can be sown directly into beds, and late season onions can be sown or planted out. Asparagus seed can be sown in a cold frame. Herbaceous perennial crowns can be planted. In very cold areas, deciduous trees, shrubs and vines can be planted.

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For moon planters

Calwdgt2b

Colour-coded Calendars now available

In response to readers’ requests, Aussie Organic Gardening now has easy-to-follow, colour-coded, moon planting calendars for gardeners. Colours indicate suitable moon phases for certain garden activities and the best days within each phase. Weeks begin on a Monday, so that weekend gardeners can see at a glance which activities are suitable for coming weekends.
Our planting by the moon calendars are suitable for all gardeners in Australia, New Zealand and other countries in the southern hemisphere. The practice of sowing and planting by the moon, also known as lunar planting, has been used by farmers and gardeners around the world for many centuries.

Click on the links on the right side of the home page to purchase a planting calendar for the rest of 2016 or a planting calendar for 2017.
For readers not familiar with moon planting or gardening by the moon, information can be found here All about moon planting:

Frost damage

frostonplants Last night was unusually cold, and we had frost where we had not had any for many years. If plants in your garden have been damaged by frost, please resist the temptation to prune back the damaged parts. They may look unattractive, but there are probably more frosty nights to come, and the damaged parts will protect the plants from further damage. Pruning damaged plants is best done in spring after the weather warms.
If you have plants that are frost intolerant, you can protect these with a temporary cover. See: Cold and frost protection.
Seedlings are very sensitive to frost. You can provide protection for these by making a simple cloche. See: Cloche for seedlings.

What to grow in July 2016

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I never worry about growing too much English spinach. It has a more delicate flavour than silverbeet, can be picked progressively through winter and, unlike silverbeet, it freezes well. Spinach leaves can be chopped, packed into ice cube trays, topped up with water, and bagged when frozen for use through the year in a range of dishes for a vitamin and antioxidant boost.
Frosts can be severe in some areas. If plants have been damaged by frost, do not prune them until all danger of frost has passed. The frost-burnt sections will prevent further frost damage.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted in June in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants plus individual cultivation notes can be found in my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009 and 2012) – now also available as an e-book.
* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase..

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, grains can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of red clover. Cabbage and spring onions can be sown. Lettuce and silverbeet can be sown in a cold frame.
During First Quarter phase, tomatoes can be sown in a cold frame.
During Full Moon phase, Jerusalem artichokes, radish and turnip can be sown directly into beds, as well as potatoes in Brisbane and areas south. Beetroot can be sown in a cold frame. Asparagus and rhubarb crowns, fig, pistachio and other deciduous trees and vines can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, open Chinese cabbage, grains, lettuce, mizuna, rocket, silver beet, tatsoi, chamomile, coriander and sunflower can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of lablab or corn.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, popcorn and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and pumpkin, spring onion, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out. Capsicum and eggplant can be sown in a cold frame.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, radish, turnip can be sown directly into beds, and avocado, banana, fig and pistachio can be planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, a green manure crop of broad bean (faba bean) or field pea can be sown. In a cold frame, sow celery and lettuce. In frost-free areas, suitable lettuce and spring onions can also be sown or planted out. English spinach can be sown directly into beds in colder areas.
During First Quarter phase, dwarf broad beans and peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, potatoes and radish can be sown directly into beds, and mid season onion seedlings, asparagus and rhubarb crowns, kiwifruit, pistachio and other deciduous trees and vines can be planted. In frost-free areas, fig can be planted.

COOL CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, English spinach can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of broad bean (faba bean) or field pea.
During First Quarter phase, dwarf broad beans and peas can be sown directly into garden beds.
During Full Moon phase, late season onions can be sown, and asparagus and rhubarb crowns, deciduous fruit trees and vines can be planted where frosts are not severe. In cold areas that receive winter rain, it is better to delay sowing potatoes until August.

What to grow in June 2016

Oops, my apologies. I was so focused on writing the composting articles this month, I completely forgot that I hadn’t posted plantings for June.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, cold weather is setting in, which means it is time to start making marmalade, lemon curd or preserved lemons as citrus fruit ripens. It is also time to set up a support frame and sow broad beans and peas in temperate and cooler areas. ‘Coles Dwarf’ and ‘Egyptian’ are better varieties of broad beans for milder or windy conditions. Broad beans and peas love a humus-rich soil that is well-drained but avoid adding manures.
The following gardening advice is an abbreviated list for vegetables, fruit trees and some culinary herbs that can be planted in June in Australia and New Zealand. A comprehensive monthly guide that includes planting times for the entire garden, as well as when to fertilise, prune, weed, take cuttings or divide plants plus individual cultivation notes can be found in my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting (Scribe Publications, 2006, 2009 and 2012) – now also available as an e-book.

* For gardeners who do not use moon planting: sow or plant out any of the following list at any time this month, although you may find germination rates are lower when the Moon is in Last Quarter phase.

WARM CLIMATE South of Rockhampton
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, and grains can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of barley, chickpea, red clover, broad bean (faba bean), field pea, or triticale. Lettuce, radicchio, English spinach and spring onions can be sown or planted out.
During First Quarter phase, dwarf peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, radish and turnip can be sown directly into beds, as well as potatoes north of Brisbane. Asparagus and rhubarb crowns, fig, kiwi fruit, pecan and pistachio can be planted.

WARM CLIMATE Rockhampton and northwards
Before the Full Moon, cabbage, open Chinese cabbage, grains, lettuce, mizuna, rocket, silver beet, tatsoi, chamomile and coriander can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of barley, corn, lablab, or triticale.
During First Quarter phase, bush and climbing beans, popcorn and sweet corn can be sown directly into beds, and pumpkin, spring onion, summer squash, tomato, watermelon and zucchini can be sown or planted out.
During Full Moon phase, beetroot, radish, turnip can be sown directly into beds, and fig and pistachio can be planted.

TEMPERATE CLIMATE
Before the Full Moon, English spinach can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of broad bean (faba bean) or field pea. In frost-free areas, lettuce and spring onions can also be sown or planted out.
During First Quarter phase, broad beans and peas can be sown directly into beds.
During Full Moon phase, garlic and radish can be sown directly into beds, and mid season onion seedlings, asparagus and rhubarb crowns, kiwifruit and pistachio can be planted. In frost-free areas, fig can be planted.

COOL CLIMATE
Planting is extremely limited in cool climates during both June and July. Before the Full Moon, English spinach can be sown directly into beds, as well as a green manure crop of broad bean (faba bean) or field pea. Broad beans and peas grown as a vegetable can be sown during First Quarter phase.
During Full Moon phase, mid and late season onions can be sown, and asparagus and rhubarb crowns can be planted, also deciduous fruit trees and vines where frosts are not severe. In very cold areas, leave planting of deciduous trees and vines until late winter.

Compost – bins and tips

Compost Bins

Compost can be made in a variety of containers. The examples below show a double bin made from recycled timber, a double bin made from recycled, heavy gauge bird wire covered with knitted polypropylene shadecloth, and a commercial single bin. Double or triple bins are best as you can turn the compost from one bin into the next, with the third bin used to start a new heap.
dblcompost compostbins2
Compost tumblers (below, right) do the work of aerating the mixture. They are suitable for composting small quantities of fairly soft ingredients quickly, for people who are not able to turn compost easily, but the mixture may not generate enough heat to kill diseases.
SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503 SAMSUNG DIGIMAX A503
Homemade containers don’t require skilled carpentry. What goes into the compost container is more important than how it looks. The main points to remember in deciding on the size and site of your compost container are:

  • When ingredients form one cubic metre (i.e. 1 m. x 1 m. x 1 m.), aerobic bacteria will generate enough heat to kill diseases and weed seeds.
  • Open-base bins that are in contact with soil allow earthworms to enter the mixture (when it has cooled down) and provide worm castings to the mixture while they help complete the composting process.
  • Recommendations to position compost bins in full sun do not apply to many parts of Australia, as too much heat can kill off composting organisms. A shaded spot is ideal.
  • Compost bins need a cover to prevent the ingredients becoming sodden in heavy rain.

Some Composting Tips

If you are new to compost making, don’t be intimidated by statements of the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in compost making. Most recommended ingredients contain a mixture of both. With a little practice, you will quickly learn to identify and correct any imbalances.

  • Chop up tough items using shears, a shredder, or a sharp spade (spread items on soil or grass first to prevent jolting). This assists faster decomposition as bacteria work on the surfaces of organic waste. The more surfaces you can provide – the faster they can work.
  • The secret to making compost quickly to turn it regularly to keep it aerated, and to keep it damp as aerobic bacteria that commence the process require nitrogen, air and moisture to process the carbon.
  • The secret to fast composting is regular turning and mixing of the ingredients. Weekly turning while the ingredients are generating heat will produce mature compost very quickly. As the compost breaks down, the mass is reduced.
  • You don’t have to wait until you have a cubic metre of ingredients – turning and mixing ingredients will get the bacteria working.
  • If the pile looks grey or contains ants – it is too dry. Turn and mix the ingredients, while adding enough water to dampen the mixture.
  • Don’t be concerned about slaters in your compost heap. They feed on semi-decomposed organic matter.
  • If the pile is black with an unpleasant smell – it is over-wet. Air has been forced out, and anaerobic composting has begun. Turn and mix the ingredients, while dusting with agricultural lime every 15 cm, and adding some straw to the mix. Protect pile from rain.
  • If the pile seems inactive – it may need more nitrogen. Turn and mix the ingredients, while adding some manure every 20 cm. If manures are unavailable, you can substitute a generous sprinkling of poultry-based, organic-allowed fertiliser.
  • Your compost is ready when it is dark brown, crumbly, with a pleasant earthy smell and ingredients, apart from pieces of egg shell, are no longer recognisable. A 5 cm layer added to topsoil provides your garden with all the minerals that plants, animals and humans need for good health.

Compost materials

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Compost is made by combining organic waste than provides nitrogen and/or carbon. The advice to make compost from waste that is green (provides nitrogen) and brown (provides carbon) is a bit confusing when manure contains a lot of nitrogen, but most of it is brown. When suitable dampened materials are combined in a heap that has contact with the soil, heat is generated and millions of aerobic bacteria get to work transforming the fuel into a compost-making factory.

Good Fuels

  • Manure from animals that eat grass (lots of nitrogen)
  • Chicken manure (lots of nitrogen)
  • Weeds without seed heads (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Lawn cuttings that have wilted (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Green prunings – shredded (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Raw vegetables and fruit – chopped for fast break down (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Uncooked kitchen waste – including tea bags and coffee grounds (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Old plants – chopped for fast break down (nitrogen and carbon)
  • Bedding straw for animals that eat grass or seeds (lots of nitrogen and carbon)
  • Straw and hay (lots of carbon)
  • Cardboard boxes and egg cartons – shredded (carbon)
  • Undyed wool, feathers and hair (nitrogen and carbon)

In Small Amounts

  • Newspaper and waste paper – separate sheets crumpled or roughly shredded (carbon)
  • Woody prunings – shredded (carbon)
  • Wood shavings – (very slow to break down and tie up a lot of nitrogen)
  • Seaweed – well-washed (helps factory work faster)
  • Herbs – comfrey, yarrow and chamomile (help factory work faster)
  • Egg shells – crumbled (keep compost smelling sweet and earthy)

Do Not Add

  • Plastic or foil containers, wrapping or disposable nappies
  • Fruit or vegetables that have been attacked by fruit fly or codling moth (larvae can pupate in factory)
  • Plants with diseases
  • Cat, dog or human faeces* (these can spread diseases through compost)
  • Rats or mice* (can spread diseases through compost)
  • Grey water (upsets pH balance and slows process)
  • Soil – makes compost heavy and harder to turn (amount clinging to weed roots is sufficient)
  • Earthworms – the initial heat will kill them. Earthworms know when to move into a compost factory.
  • Synthetic fertilisers (delays process and deters earthworms)

If you only have small quantities of organic waste to recycle, a worm farm would be a better solution. See Compost Worm Farm.
For information on how compost makes garden soil healthy, see Compost.
** Cat and dog faeces, and vermin, can be composted anaerobically in a small pit or container, but this compost should not be added to garden beds.

Compost

compostbins2 Composting recycles organic waste into a product that makes garden soil healthy. Mature compost is a dark brown, sweet-smelling material that can be added to topsoil.
There are two ways to make compost – aerobic, which requires aeration during the process, and anaerobic, which is a slow, rather smelly process. Mature aerobic compost can be produced in about 6–8 weeks in most areas of Australia.

How does compost make garden soil healthy?

  • Compost keeps soil more moisture-retentive, yet better-drained.
  • Compost provides food for earthworms that increase the depth of fertile topsoil by leaving digested food along their deep tunnels.
  • Compost provides food and a home for the many helpful bacteria and fungi that help protect soil from soil-borne diseases.
  • Well made compost has a pH of 6.5 – where all plant nutrients are fully available, and the perfect pH for the majority of plants.
  • Compost buffers plant roots from an unsuitable pH in surrounding soil.
  • It also insulates plant roots from temperature extremes so that soil stays cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Compost contains all the minerals that plants, animals and humans need for good health, most of the soil’s nitrogen, plus lots of humus that forms the most stable part of recycled organic waste.
  • Humus and the minerals that plants need both carry a weak electrical charge. The electric charge holds the plant food minerals close to plant roots and prevents them from washing away in heavy rain.
  • Humus is able to control the release of trace elements needed in tiny amounts, and block absorption of poisonous metals in soil so that they do not end up in our food.
  • Humus stores carbon in soil for very long periods of time.
  • Humus, in compost, provides a habitat for a soil community of billions of beneficial bacteria and fungi that perform important functions.
  • Some bacteria species in humus make a ‘glue’ that is able to hold soil particles in a way that improves the flow of water and air through soil. This improves the structure of soil so that plant roots grow more easily. Strong roots help plants to resist the effects of drought and storms.
  • Mycorrhiza fungi in humus stick like hairs to the roots of plants, helping them absorb water and nutrients in exchange for sugars produced by plants during photosynthesis. Some 95% of perennial plants rely on mycorrhiza for healthy growth.