Perfect Christmas gift

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for someone who enjoys gardening?

EasyOrganic_cover.inddThe new edition of my book, ‘Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting‘ would be an excellent choice. 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.

Cara at WAHMania has a small quantity of stock and, for Australian orders placed before this Friday, books will be sent by Express Post to ensure that they arrive in time for Christmas. To order merely click on the ‘Buy the book’ panel on the right hand side of this page.

Catching up

eoged2sm.jpgI’ve had to neglect my blog somewhat in recent months as I have been kept busy preparing and promoting the new edition of my book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, which was released last Monday. I wrote the book to encourage more Australian and New Zealand gardeners to have a go at organic gardening and discover how easy it is, and how it is better for our health and the environment. For details, click on the ‘About’ button at the top of this page.
WAHMania’s competition to promote the new edition has now closed, and we will be announcing the winner here on Thursday, 12th March.
With the weather cooling slightly, I am looking forward to being able to spend more time catching up with my own gardening, and helping readers with any gardening problems.

More frogs…

It has been raining for the past ten days and I don’t want to seem ungrateful after so many years of drought but, I am anxious to get out in the garden again and get my hands dirty. At least the frogs are thoroughly enjoying the weather.
I really enjoyed visiting the Frogs Australia Network website, as it contains information about an amazing number of frogs, and you can listen to individual frog calls to aid in identification.

Pumpkin update

Now that the pumpkin vine is dying off, we are able to find the entire crop – 27 pumpkins from one vine. Compost and plenty of water are the secrets to healthy pumpkin growth. Despite prolonged periods of rain, the vine has remained healthy without a hint of mildew because full access to nutrients has provided the vine with a healthy immune system. The only down side to this luxurious growth has been that it has provided a multitude of places for our chooks to hide their eggs.

Frog update

Arthur from the Frog and Tadpole Study group (FATS) has informed me that the mottled frogs are “Bleating Tree Frogs”. We have heard these frogs in previous years but had no idea what they looked like. We thought we had lost them when one of our dams dried up during the drought, and our evenings became much quieter, so we are pleased to see that enough survived to restock their species.
Once the majority of the frogs had left the pool, we rounded up the few remaining stragglers and transferred them to our small frog pond. Among the stragglers were this tiny frog, and a similar froglet with a tail. Despite a thorough search of the pool, we were unable to find any more of this variety. I have never seen such a tiny frog before. He is sitting beside a 5¢ piece on the rim of the frog pond.

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Red leaves on citrus

Jane e-mailed: I have a question about my lemon tree. I bought a new one and planted it in a few weeks ago, and this week we have had a lot of rain. It has a fair bit of new growth, but the new leaves are red in some places. Is there something wrong with my tree?

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You have no reason to worry Jane, as you certainly have a healthy-looking tree.
Red colouring in new leaves is a common occurrence in plants that have adult leaves with a leathery texture, including avocado, citrus, eucalypts, oaks and roses. The colour is caused by the tree producing red anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant). These are believed to protect the young, tender leaves from ultra-violet light. The leaves will turn green as they toughen.
When citrus produce a lot of new growth as the weather cools, an application to the soil around the tree of seaweed extract at weak black tea strength will build the tree’s resistance to the effects of cold weather. Seaweed contains compounds that strengthen cell walls.

Frogs

After many years of drought, we had a lot of rain earlier this year. It was impossible to keep our pool chlorinated, so we waited until the sky cleared before attempting to clean the pool. To our surprise we found the pool contained many hundreds of tadpoles. Frogs are very welcome on our property because they eat insects and spiders. They are also a sign of a healthy environment. Many pesticides and herbicides are toxic to frogs and tadpoles.
The tadpoles were feeding on the algae on the sides of the pool, and looked quite healthy. Apart from providing some shade for them over part of the pool, and providing some ramps for froglets to get out of the pool, we left them to do what tadpoles do best. An old window screen prevents them from being sucked into the filter when we run the pump. I haven’t fed them because I haven’t had any lettuce growing, and I didn’t want to feed them lettuce that could contain systemic pesticides.

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There appears to be three types of tadpoles, one brown, one black, and a very shy type that is a pale, almost translucent, olive. These tadpoles don’t look the same as the small green tree frogs that bred in our small frog pond, as they were quite green by the time their tails had been absorbed (see below).

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The first to become froglets were the brown tadpoles; the other two types still have tails.
These mottled frogs with a dark stripe down each side, aren’t particularly nervous around humans and will allow me to get close enough to photograph them. In sunlight, the tops of their heads look almost like burnished copper, but at other times they look grey-brown. It appears that these froglets belong to the tree frog group because they have no trouble climbing the tiles at the edge of the pool. I spotted one of them hiding in a Birds-nest Fern the other day but most of the frogs are treating our backyard like Club-Med, and spend the day lolling around the pool. I have no idea what kind of frog they are, and would be grateful if someone could enlighten me.

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Harvesting pumpkins

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It’s about time to harvest pumpkins again. Our pumpkin vine this year was a volunteer that sprang up in the chook run from the remnants of an old compost heap. It didn’t get any TLC because we half expected the chooks to trample it before it became established. However, it defied the odds and performed magnificently – which only goes to show how good compost is for growing vegetables.
I think it was only watered once but it received plenty of rain during its growing period, and the vine has produced at least 14 JAP pumpkins that we have found so far. JAP pumpkin is closely related to butternut pumpkin, gramma and trombone squash (Cucurbita moschata). These are thinner skinned and don’t keep as long as the Queensland Blue types (C. maxima).
Because we couldn’t spare the water last year, we bought all our pumpkins and some of them weren’t the best because of the drought. Consequently, we were curious to see what we could expect from our volunteer plant and picked one of the pumpkins early. (As you can see in the photo below, the stem is still moist.) Pumpkins picked at this stage do not keep well but we are using this pumpkin immediately, so it doesn’t matter. Now that they are nearly ripe, we will put a broken piece of foam box or thick cardboard under each fruit to keep them drier and clear of the ground, so they are less likely to rot. We will be leaving the rest of the crop until the vine dies off, and the stems become brittle, as that is when they develop their full flavour and store well. If you can’t wait that long, at least wait until the tendril closest to each pumpkin browns off.
Don’t worry about frost on your pumpkins, it will only kill the vines, and it is said that frost toughens the skins so that pumpkins keep longer.
P.S. When the vines had died back a bit, we realised that the vine had produced 28 pumpkins. Not bad for a volunteer vine! There were, of course, more than enough to supply family and friends, and we were able to sell the rest through our local organic greengrocer.
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Garlic beds

It is still a bit too early to plant garlic in most areas, but not too early to prepare soil. Garlic needs a soil that is rich in humus but doesn’t require a lot of nitrogen so avoid adding manures to the bed. Uncomposted manures can cause garlic bulbs to rot, although processed poultry fertiliser is quite suitable for garlic. Garlic needs a full range of plant nutrients and trace elements for healthy growth. A drink of seaweed extract tea over the whole planting area will supply a full range of trace elements. Garlic also needs a soil pH of that is close to neutral. If you know that your soil is acid, give the bed a dose of dolomite or agricultural lime. Dissolve a generous handful in a full watering can and apply this to each square metre of the bed. Repeat again in a week or so for very acid soil.

Ladybirds

Ladybirds, except for the leaf-eating 26 or 28 spot ladybirds, are an asset to any garden. Both adults and larvae consume a considerable quantity of pests such as aphids and scale, and one type of ladybird feeds on fungus.
Most people know what adult ladybirds look like but ladybird larvae are strange looking creatures and many people confuse them with garden pests. As a result many of these hardworking pest predators are killed by pesticides, including organic sprays, and a decline in ladybird numbers is always followed by a pest outbreak. A common victim is the larvae of the Cottonycushion Scale ladybird which disguises it self so well, it is often mistaken for scale. A Brisbane web site has an excellent range of photos of ladybirds and their larvae. Check before you spray so that ladybirds won’t become an endangered species.
http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_ladybirds/index.html