Garlic planting time – again

garlic1 March and April are good months for planting garlic in temperate to warmer parts of Australia. This year we are going back to growing the ‘Italian White‘ variety as our winters are becoming too mild for the hard-necked varieties. ‘Italian White‘ is a soft-necked garlic more suited to warmer areas. Cloves are slightly smaller than the purple hard-necked garlic but it has a lovely flavour and keeps longer than the hard-neck varieties.

We will sow ours in the middle of April (during Full Moon phase), after separating the knobs into individual cloves. The larger cloves from each knob will be planted, flat end down, just below the surface into soil rich in compost with a pH close to neutral. We usually plant our cloves 15 cm apart in rows 30 cm apart so that the canopy formed by the leaves helps to keep the mulched soil cooler. Garlic needs regular, deep watering (not a daily sprinkle) and hates competing with weeds. Green Harvest has a range of garlic for planting, and their garlic page will help you to decide which variety is best suited to your local climate and needs.

If you want to grow a small quantity of garlic from knobs purchased from your greengrocer, make sure it is Australian garlic. Imported garlic is treated with methyl bromide, a nasty gas that has been banned in Europe and may prevent cloves from growing.
Garlic takes 6 to 8 months to develop a bulb depending on the variety and climate.

Excess figs

Brown Turkey Our ‘Brown Turkey’ tree has produced lots of lovely, sweet figs this hot, dry summer – far too many for the two of us to eat. Not wanting to waste any of these delicious fruits, I searched my recipe books for a way to use the excess figs and came across a recipe for fig and ginger conserve. With a slight variation in the method from the original recipe it produces a thick jam that is scrumptious on crackers with some Brie or tasty cheese.

FIG AND GINGER CONSERVE
1 kg ripe figs
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon sweet sherry
1 1/2 Tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 cups sugar

Gently wash figs, remove stems and chop roughly.
Combine figs, juices, sherry and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer, covered, until figs are soft (about 15¬20 minutes).
Stir in sugar over simmering heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring mixture to the boil, reduce heat to simmer and stir continuously to prevent sticking until mixture is quite thick.
Transfer mixture to hot sterilised jars, and seal.

Strawberries – starting new plants

strawbrrs

Vigorous, young strawberry plants produce the best berries. As strawberry cropping slows, plants produce long horizontal stems (runners). Along each runner a small plantlet begins to form and tiny white roots will appear at the base – see photos below. Vigorous runners can produce two or three plantlets along each runner. If you remove mulch from the area under each new plantlet and anchor plantlets to the soil surface by placing a stone on the runner on the parent side of each plantlet, you can produce many new plants for your strawberry patch. Anchoring plantlets in this way allows the crown of the plantlet to sit on the soil surface. (Strawberry crowns will rot if buried.) If your strawberry bed contains plenty of organic matter, all you need to do is give the bed a drink of seaweed extract tea to stimulate root growth and build disease resistance, and keep the soil damp. Otherwise, add a handful of mature compost to the soil surface under each plantlet. Each parent plant will provide nourishment to the new plants until they develop enough roots to grow independently.

strawbrnr1 strawbrnr2

 

 

 

 

 

When plantlets are well established in autumn, the runners connecting them to the parent plant can be cut, and the new plants can be left where they are or transplanted to a new spot.
Tip: While strawberries are still cropping, place a marker beside the plants that produce the best berries and only use the runners from these plants to improve the quality of produce in your strawberry patch.

Windy weather

Transpiration Garden beds dry out very quickly in windy weather, including those beds protected by mulch. The reason is that plants maintain some humidity around them by drawing water from the soil and releasing it through tiny holes in their leaves, a process known as transpiration. As strong wind constantly removes the moisture, more and more water is drawn from the soil in an effort to maintain humidity. As soil dries out, cells collapse in the soft tissues of plants causing drooping of plants and possibly death of small seedlings.
A way to avoid this problem in windy weather is to use plastic soft drink and juice bottles to funnel water directly to the root area of susceptible plants. This is a quick and very efficient way to hand water during water restrictions or windy weather. Limp tomato seedlings will freshen up in about 10 minutes after watering by this method.

wtrbttle.jpg Simply cut off the base of each container, remove the lids and bury the necks of the containers about 8 cm deep near outer edge of the foliage of plants. Large shrubs may require several containers. Pour water into the container until it begins to drain slowly – an indication that you have dampened the soil in the root area.


For plants that are generally sensitive to wind, filtering the wind rather than blocking it provides better protection for delicate plants. A solid cover or wall causes wind to whirl around on both sides of the screen, but a lattice trellis or product called ‘Windbreak’ on the side of the prevailing wind reduces the impact of the wind, as indicated below.
windbreak

Seeds that need light

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost seeds germinate in dark, damp conditions and need to be covered with a suitable depth of topsoil. However, some seeds need light for successful germination.
In the vegetable patch, only varieties of lettuce, Cape Gooseberry, Tomatillo and the Asian greens Seakale and Shiso are ‘light responsive’, but a number of herb and flower species also require light for germination. These include: Angelica, Anise, Arnica, Ashwaganda, Caraway, Catnip, Chamomile, Chervil, Dill, Echinacea, Elecampagne, Evening primrose, Feverfew, Gazania, Lady’s Mantle, Lemon Balm, Mignonette, Rosemary, Summer and Winter Savory, Valerian, Watercress, Wormwood and Yarrow.
Sowing seed for these plants can cause difficulties as the seed is merely pressed into the soil surface and require close attention to prevent them drying, resulting in germination failure. Or, they are scattered on the surface of a punnet where they can be easily washed into clumps at the edge of the punnet despite careful watering.

A way to avoid problems with these seeds is to fill a punnet with damp seedling mix and then cover the surface of the punnet with a single layer of gravel or small pebbles. Then sprinkle the seeds sparingly over the gravel and water very gently, being careful not to flood the surface. The gravel provides crevices for the seed to settle while still allowing them to receive light, and also helps to keep the growing mix damp for germinating seeds.

Gardening chat

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I will be giving a talk about organic gardening at 10 am at the Wingham Farmers Market on Saturday April 6th.

If you are in the area, come along and find out how easy it is for you to make your entire garden healthier and more naturally resistant to pests and diseases.

Wingham Farmers Market is a great source of fresh local produce.

The market is held on the first Saturday each month from 8 am to noon at the Wingham Showground in Gloucester Road.

Passionfruit – hand pollination

Passionfruit vines rely on bees to pollinate their flowers because they have a large gap between the pollen-bearing male parts of the flower and the female part. Only when the female part of each flower receives passionfruit pollen can the flower form a fruit. If you don’t have a lot of bees around your passionfruit vine, or if you have a young vine with few flowers, you can pollinate the flowers by hand.

All you need is a small, soft watercolour paintbrush for the job, and this short video by “woodyfriendron” demonstrates the practice beautifully:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eicamZk1qis

Kid’s vege patch

Primary school children have opportunities to learn about sustainable gardening at school, including the Organic School Gardens program provided free to all Australian school students by Biological Farmers of Australia, but younger children can also have a lot of fun learning to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Although they have a shorter attention span, very young children learn quickly when copying adults especially when they have a small patch of soil or some large pots for their own organic garden. International research has shown that children are more likely to enjoy eating vegetables that they have grown themselves, or helped to grow.

Vegetables that mature quickly or are miniatures are appealing to small children. Small lettuces such as heat-tolerant ‘Little Gem’ or ‘Mesclun Mixed’ and cherry tomatoes: “Tiny Tim’, ‘Tommy Toe’ or ‘Yellow Cherry Cocktail’ are fast-maturing. ‘Butter Bush’, ‘Provider’ and ‘Strike’ produce small pods of beans with good flavour. ‘Little Finger’ carrots mature quickly and ‘Bolthardy’, “Bull’s Blood’ or ‘Golden’ beetroot harvested as baby beets are rich in health-protecting antioxidants. ‘Golden Nugget’ is a small bush-type pumpkin and children enjoy digging for ‘chat’ potatoes in summer.

In cooler weather, ‘Di Cicco’ broccoli, ‘Snowball’ cauliflower, ‘Sugarsnap’ and ‘Oregan Snow’ peas, milder flavoured ‘Bloomsdale’ English spinach and baby leeks harvested when 2 cm thick can all be appealing to children.
Strawberries, melons and corn all take longer to mature but are popular with children. ‘Minnesota Midget’ rockmelon and ‘Sugarbaby’ watermelon are fast-maturing; ‘Golden Bantam’ sweet corn and ‘Golf Ball’ or ‘Ontos’ popcorn usually produce multiple cobs per plant. Corn is a whole grain, and organic popcorn is a popular and healthy snack food for kids. (See Growing popcorn)
Seed varieties mentioned above can by obtained from Eden Seeds or Greenpatch Organic Seeds.

Pumpkin problems

Karen has had disappointing results from her Queensland Blue pumpkin vine which produced pumpkins with very little flesh and she wants to know how to avoid problems in future.

Karen, if the seeds are soft and immature, you may have picked the pumpkins before the ‘fruit’ has fully developed, and pumpkins are fruits although we call them vegetables. However, if the seeds are mature, a common cause of this problem is hunger, and this can occur in several different ways even though you may have thought that the plant was well fertilised.

If soil is not damp, nutrients can’t be absorbed by the roots. If soil pH is too acidic or alkaline plants will go hungry because the soil pH controls which nutrients are available to plants, and pumpkins need a soil pH of 5.5-7 for good growth. Pumpkins vines can produce an enormous amount of foliage – and it is a huge task for the roots at the base of the vine to provide moisture and nutrients through the whole plant. When pumpkin vines are allowed to wander over soft earth, they will usually put down extra roots along the vines to assist with water and nutrient absorption.

You can encourage the formation of extra roots, see Assisting root growth.

Pumpkin flowers are pollinated by bees and occasionally a flower or flowers can be pollinated by pollen from a cattle pumpkin, which usually results in fruits that are tough and pretty tasteless. (If your neighbours are growing cattle pumpkins, you may have to hand-pollinate pumpkin flowers).

I’d advise you not to save any seeds from pumpkins that have little flesh or tough flesh as any vines grown from these seeds will probably produce poor quality crops. Only use seed from your best home produce or purchase seeds from a reputable supplier.

Pumpkins thrive on compost, so make compost through the winter ready for next season’s vines. Turning the heap a couple of times a week will keep you warm, keep the heap aerated, and speed up the composting process. If you live in a cool climate, put some black plastic over the top of the heap to help absorb heat. Use the compost to get your pumpkin vine off to a flying start in a different spot in your garden when soil warms in spring.

Growing potatoes update

A reader has asked if potatoes can be grown in the plastic tubs that are sold by Bunnings, Big W, etc., and I will answer it here as the links may be helpful to other readers.
Yes, Rebecca, they would be suitable if you add plenty of drainage holes and put several centimetres of gravel in the base of the tubs so that the potting mix does not block the drainage holes.
Opaque tubs provide similar conditions to small or medium drums (in that the young plants will be more shaded) and you should use those instructions for the tubs in this post. Basically the seed potatoes need at least 15-20 cm of potting mix underneath them and 15 cm of mix above them. Seed potatoes should be sown/planted 30 cm apart and, if they are the tubs I’m thinking of, you would probably only get one plant per tub as there is not really enough room for tubers of 2 plants to form.
The how and why of ‘hilling-up’ potato plants can be found in this post: Growing potatoes.

Advice on suitable soil conditions for the best results from potatoes can be found in Potato beds.
Also see: Other ways to grow potatoes.