Revised edition of my book


The 2012 edition on my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting has been re-printed with the section on Moon Phases and Best Gardening Days updated to the end of 2022.
This book is not just about growing food – all your garden will benefit from organic cultivation. It has 500 pages packed with easy-to-follow guides and secrets on how to maintain good health in your whole garden so that all your plants become naturally pest and disease resistant, and more tolerant of climate change while saving water.
The monthly gardening diary of what to do when for all climate zones can be used with or without moon planting, and there are spaces in the diary for you to add personal notes and reminders. For more information about this book, see: Recommended reading

The new revised edition book will be available from 1st June 2017

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.

Cloche for seedlings

cloche With very cold weather set to continue over much of Australia for some time, gardeners can protect young seedlings with an easy-to-make cloche. This simple structure named for the French word for ‘bell’ keeps plants warm on chilly nights and can be easily ventilated so that they don’t get too warm during the day. When the nights are milder, the structure can be easily folded and stored until it is needed again.

Instructions for making cloches can be found here: Cloche for seedlings.
** And remember to leave frost-damaged parts on shrubs until all risk of frost has passed. They may look unattractive but the burnt portions are protecting the plants from further damage.

False spring

cloche Chilly days and nights after a brief period of perfect gardening weather occur every year in many parts of Australia. Australia is the only place where spring is said to start on the first day of September. Everywhere else, spring starts at the equinox when day and night are of equal length. This year, the spring equinox occurs on September 23rd.
Unfortunately, Australia’s deviation from world-wide practice tricks some gardeners into planting out seedlings while nights are still longer than days and soil is still too cold for root growth of warmth-loving plants. The problem can be solved by placing this simple cloche over beds that contain cold-sensitive seedlings. See: Cloche for seedlings.

Limit frost damage

Some gardeners may not be sure whether they are in a Temperate or Cool climate and, where frosts occur, the position of a property within a neighbourhood (the microclimate) can affect how much frost may affect your garden. The diagram below indicates where frost is more likely to affect parts of your garden.
The position of garden beds can also have a marked effect on the amount of plant damage that frosts cause. Cold air, like water, always flows downwards; anything that blocks the downward flow will result in frost damage in that area. Buildings, solid fences and shrubbery, and flat land at the bottom of a slope can all allow cold air to pool, and plants in these areas are more likely to be damaged by frost.

frostareas

In temperate climates areas that can be affected by frost, gardeners may find it helpful to use the guide for ‘cool climates’ in autumn and winter and use the ‘temperate climates’ guide in spring and summer because the world’s climate is changing and we have recently experienced harsher winters and hotter summers. It appears that the standard climate zones may have to be adjusted slightly in future. If unsure about what to plant at a particular time of year, a reputable local nursery will have suitable plants in stock and be able to advise you on what is best for your local microclimate. Be cautious though when buying seedlings from Australia-wide nursery chains, as some tend to send the same seedlings to stores in all climate zones.

By the way, advice to orient beds in a north/south direction to allow plants to receive ample sunlight comes from northern hemisphere gardening practices and only applies to very cool climates in Australia. Most areas of Australia get more than enough sun to ripen crops. In fact, plants can benefit from some relief from harsh afternoon sun in warmer climates during summer months. It is more important to position beds across any slope in the ground to ensure that all plants in a bed have equal access to water. Avoid placing vegetable garden beds under trees, as trees are very competitive for both moisture and nutrients.

Pot plant stress

Forecasters are warning of more hot days to come. During heat waves, pot plants become stressed more quickly than plants in garden beds, and your pot plants may not getting as much water as you think.
If potting mix dries out, the first sign may be complete collapse of a plant. If you water dry potting mix in the normal way with a hose or watering can, your plants may not be getting as much water as you think. This is because potting mix shrinks slightly when it dries, leaving a narrow gap between the mix and the pot. When you water, most of it runs into the gap and out through the drainage holes, leaving the mix around the roots still dry. Seedling punnets and smaller pots can be thoroughly watered by immersing the entire pot in a bucket half filled with water, or use a laundry tub if a lot of pots need reviving.
Water should come over the top of the pot. Leave the pot in the water until bubbles cease to rise. Short term immersion won’t hurt the plants. Then lift the pot allowing it to drain into the bucket or tub. This method of watering also works very well when your water supply for plants is strictly limited.
For pots too large to be immersed in a container, fill some large soft drink or juice containers and insert 2 or 3 neck down into the potting mix. Provide support if necessary and allow them to empty slowly into the mix. Re-fill the bottles and repeat watering until water is being drawn into the mix very slowly. If heat is likely to continue for some time, place some mulch or stones on the surface of the potting mix to slow evaporation.
Potting mix can become incredibly hot when pots are in full sun. During extreme heat conditions move pot plants to a cooler spot, including under trees. Grouping them together helps retain humidity around the plants and reduces water loss through the leaves.

Greenpatch Organic Seeds

With some women it’s shoes or handbags, but with me it’s seeds, so I have to practice restraint when I go to Greenpatch Organic Seeds, as I did recently. Greenpatch supply a wide range of open-pollinated, organic seeds for vegetables, herbs, flowers, and grains, grasses and sprouts. You may have seen their seeds for sale at nurseries. Organic, open-pollinated seeds are not hybrids or GM seeds, and that means you will be able to save seeds from your crop for next season. Open-pollinated vegetable seed varieties are grown for flavour and vigour rather than shelf life.

Many of the seeds are produced at Greenpatch, but where cross-pollination can be a problem, other varieties are produced by local growers. I like buying organic seed that is produced in Australia because the seed comes from plants that have adapted to Australian soils and seasons. Previously, I had found that imported seed did not perform particularly well, and I achieved better results from seed I saved from those plants. We do save seeds from some of our crops but saving seed from all our vegetables and herbs can tie up garden beds for long periods while the seed matures, and being able to buy locally-produced seed makes life much easier.

Greenpatch also has a huge selection of fruiting plants, herbs, cottage garden and aquatic plants. Neville and Sophia have been producing seeds and plants on their farm for 20 years, and you can order seeds and plants by mail but, as Greenpatch is just off the freeway at Taree and only a short drive from our farm, I enjoy paying a visit and browsing through their stock for plants to add to our collection. You can see their catalogue at Greenpatch Organic Seeds.

School gardens update

Wptscarecrow2 Recently I visited Westport Public School at Port Macquarie to see their school garden. The garden is cultivated according to the lessons in the ‘Organic School Gardens’ program that I wrote for BFA and is available free to all Australian schools on the internet.
I was delighted to see how much the children and the dedicated staff at Westport have achieved in a few short months during what has been a very busy year. The Holiday Coast Credit Union and the local Bunnings store have shown great generosity of spirit in providing funding, equipment and labour to get the garden started. The children have had fun discovering how good organically-grown vegetables and strawberries taste and how vigorous and pest-resistant plants are when using organic cultivation methods, and are justifiably proud of their efforts. Well done, to everyone involved.

You can find the program at organic school gardens
Wptgarden3 Wptgarden2a Wptcrops2

I will take this opportunity to wish all my readers and their families a very happy and safe Christmas season, and may the spirit of Christmas and good gardening weather stay with you throughout the coming year.

A busy time ….

fungipt2

If it appears to readers that I have been neglecting my blog lately, I apologise. My absence has been due to helping the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA) prepare an organic gardening program for school children.
Although it is a very interesting project to be involved in, we have a deadline to meet, and it is currently taking up virtually all my time. I hope it won’t be too long before things get back to normal. In the meantime, please be patient. I will do my best to answer any gardening problems as quickly as possible.

Sun and heat protection

Some parts of Australia have been enduring extremely hot weather recently and, apparently, there is more to come. Last summer, a period of intense heat caused scorching in many gardens.

shdeclth

To protect our vege patch this summer, we have been busy over the past few weeks putting up arches to support shadecloth canopies over our vegetable beds. Although European-based garden texts recommend full sun for most vegetables, where summers are hot and air pollution is low, full sun can result in sunscald. While Australian natives have evolved to restrict loss of water through leaves in hot, dry conditions, very hot plants, especially those that originated in cooler Northern Hemisphere regions – such as most of our vegetables and fruits, lose a lot of water through their leaves in an effort to keep cool.
Providing some light shade during the hottest part of the day can prevent sunscald and, by keeping the plants cooler, reduces their water consumption, an important consideration where water restrictions apply. Each canopy is positioned to allow morning sun to reach plants, yet not restrict air flow around them. Poor air flow (such as in fully enclosed areas) can produce conditions suitable for some fungal diseases to establish. Light shade can be provided by shade cloth or old netting curtains or sheets.
We use a lightweight, knitted green shadecloth, which probably gives about 30% shade, and has eyelets along the selvedge edges to make it easier to tie to the posts with strong garden twine. This allows us to adjust the canopy as the sun moves to its highest position around December 22nd (Summer Solstice), then moves northwards in the sky through January and February, our hottest months.
We have used ordinary wooden garden stakes to support the canopies. Due to the extremely strong winds this spring, we have had to drive the stakes deeper into the soil for stability – a process easier said than done at our place. We have shale subsoil, and the stakes tended to veer off at strange angles when hitting a lump of shale. No doubt star stakes would be easier to drive home vertically, but we have a roll of 38 mm plastic irrigation pipe that is the right diameter to slip over the ends of wooden garden stakes. Star stakes require a heavy-duty 51 mm polypipe for arches, or the 38 mm polypipe has to be lashed to the star stakes instead of slipping it over the ends.
Once the stakes are positioned, in pairs, 1.5-2 metres apart along beds, the pipe can be cut to size. The formula is half the width of the bed multiplied by ‘pi’, plus twice the length of the pipe to extend onto the stakes. But, cutting each piece of pipe one and a half times the width of the bed plus 70 cm, is a good rough guide for most garden beds.

shdeclth2I then measure the length the arches cover and cut the shadecloth to that length plus a quarter of a metre. I then turn in 11 cm of shadecloth each end and, using a doubled strand of strong fishing line and a bagging needles (although gardening twine is shown here for clarity*), I run a line of stitching across the shadecloth, 8.5 cm from the folded edge. Then we slip the end arches through this ‘hem’ to anchor the shadecloth. *The polypropylene tends to abrade garden twine during periods of very windy weather.
If neatness is very important to you, you can brace the end arches to eliminate any sagging in the shadecloth but, without the braces, it does the job and that’s the important thing. Although the shadecloth can be removed when no longer needed, the arches can be left in position permanently to support netting, when needed, or frost protection, if required.
There are other actions you can take to protect your garden in hot, dry conditions. See Heat wave first aid

shdeclth1As you can see from the last photo (taken as the shade cloth was being installed), the tomato plants have responded beautifully in just three weeks.
Tip: if using wooden garden stakes, pay the little extra and buy the pointed ones. They are easier to keep straight when driving them into soil.