The cabbage family

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This family, called the Brassicas, tend to be more susceptible to attack from the Cabbage Moth and the Cabbage White Butterfly when conditions are too warm for them or when the soil they are growing in is too acid for their liking, especially while the plants are young.
The cabbage family includes Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, swede, tatsoi, turnip, watercress and stock, and is also related to radish. These plants need both boron and molybdenum for healthy growth and these are only available to plants when the soil pH is close to neutral. If you know that your soil is acid, and your Brassica plants are being attacked, give the bed a drink 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 the application if pests are still hanging around in two weeks.
In the meantime, remove all pest eggs from under leaves and leave crushed caterpillars on the leaves. This helps to deter further egg laying.

Saving tomato seed

To improve the quality of your tomato crop next year, save seed from one or two plants that have cropped well for you this year because these seeds will be from plants that have already adapted to your local growing conditions.
It is easy to save tomato seed from plants that were grown from open-pollinated seed. Hybrid seeds are unreliable because seed from hybrid varieties can be sterile, or revert to the traits of only one of the parent plants. A wide range of open-pollinated seed for tomatoes is available, with varieties to suit all Australian and New Zealand climate zones. You can order them by mail on the internet from companies including Greenpatch Seeds, Green Harvest or Eden Seeds.
To save tomato seed, first select one or two fully ripe tomatoes that you would like to grow next year. For medium to large tomatoes, one fruit is usually enough for the home gardener. For best results, keep them at room temperature until they are just beginning to get soft.
Then cut the tomato into segments and use a teaspoon to transfer the seeds and their surrounding jelly into a clean glass jar. For Italian type tomatoes that don’t contain a lot of jelly, you can add a very small amount of water to keep the seeds moist, but don’t drown them.
Leave the jar undisturbed in a warm place, out of direct sunlight, where you can observe fermentation. Within two or three days a foamy mould will form on the surface of the tomato mixture and it will look as though something has gone horribly wrong. Don’t worry. This is a beneficial fermentation process that kills off several diseases that can affect tomato plants, but the mould can cause premature germination of the seed, if it is left too long.
As soon as the thick foam forms, scoop it off and fill the jar will clean water. Viable seed sinks to the bottom of the jar. Carefully pour off loose jelly floating at the top of the jar, then pour the jar contents into a sieve. Wash the seeds thoroughly in the sieve to remove all the jelly, then tip the seeds onto a sheet of smooth paper. Avoid using paper towels for tomato seeds because they are hairy and difficult to remove from absorbent paper. Allow the seed to dry for thoroughly, indoors. After they have been drying for a few hours it is easy to rub them between your hands to separate any clumps of seed. I usually leave them to dry for a week before packaging in a paper envelope and storing in a biscuit tin in a cool place, until they are needed.

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Excess tomatoes

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Sometimes home grown vegetables crop so well the family gets tired of eating them. If you find yourself with more tomatoes than you and your friends can use, freeze them for use during winter months. Vine-ripened tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene. This antioxidant helps keep the reproductive system healthy, and is said to be particularly beneficial to the prostate gland.
We use a simple method that has no added flavourings so that the thawed tomatoes can be used in soups, casseroles, or pasta sauces, as the occasion demands. Many flavours, such as onions, garlic and other herbs taste better when they haven’t been frozen.
We chop fully ripe tomatoes without peeling them as the skins float to the top of the pan during cooking, and can be skimmed off. Nor do we bother to remove the seeds but, if you don’t want seeds, you can either scoop them out with a teaspoon before cooking or put the cooked mixture through a sieve. Removing seeds before cooking also removes a lot of moisture from the tomato pulp and the seedless mixture requires constant stirring to prevent it sticking to the pan.
Place the chopped tomatoes in a heavy saucepan and gently heat to boiling, while stirring the mixture. Reduce heat, and allow tomatoes to simmer gently, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not leave the mixture unattended as ripe tomatoes contain natural sugars and the mixture can stick if the heat is too high or the mixture is not moved around in the pan. After 20 minutes, turn off heat and cover the saucepan. Allow tomato pulp to cool, then ladle two, four or six cupfuls into separate freezer containers for later use.

No crops on cucumbers or squash?

This post has been updated. See Squash family not forming fruit?

The squash or Cucurbit family that includes chokoes, cucumbers, grammas, gourds, pumpkins, rockmelons, squash, watermelons, and zucchinis, produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, and rely on insects, such as bees, to pollinate the female flowers and produce fruit.
Although we eat many of this family as vegetables, in gardening terms, their produce is fruit.
With large areas of Australia experiencing prolonged overcast weather, and other areas experiencing smoke from bush fires, bee activity tends to be reduced and cucurbits may not be cropping. In circumstances like these, you may have to hand pollinate your plants to reap the benefits of your hard work. This is quite a simple procedure.
First identify the the female flowers on your vine or bush. At the base of each female flower you will find a miniature version of the mature fruit of that particular species. For example, cucumber vines produce what looks like a tiny gherkin at the base of each female flower while watermelon produce a watermelon miniature, often complete with stripes. The bases of male flowers, on the other hand,
join directly onto a vine stem.
Remove a male flower from the vine, and carefully peel back the petals so that the pollen bearing part in completely exposed. Then dab the centre of the male flower into the centre of a female flower. Repeat this process, replacing the male flower as pollen is removed. Then stand back, and allow nature to take its course.

If you can only find male flowers on your cucurbit vine, the problem takes a little longer to overcome. Pinch off the end of each long runner. This will stimulate the plant to produce side shoots called laterals. Some members of this family tend to produce female flowers on laterals. Once female flowers form, proceed with hand pollination if there are not many bees around.

If your cucurbit plant is producing small fruit that yellow and fall off before maturity, or turn mushy at the end furthest from the stem, you have a different problem altogether. Either you do not have enough calcium in your soil, or watering has been erratic and calcium has not been available when needed. Like us, plants need a good balance of calcium and magnesium to form a strong structure. Calcium and magnesium are required for growing tips of plants as well as fruit production and, if there is not enough of these nutrients to go around, growing tips will get priority. Dissolve a generous handful of dolomite (a mixture of calcium and magnesium) in a full watering can, and apply this around the root area of each plant – one full watering can per plant, or two around large vines such as pumpkin and watermelon. If you know that your soil has plenty of magnesium, you can use agricultural lime instead. §

A bit about me

Since completing a Landscape Gardening course thirty years ago, I have been actively involved in horticulture, garden design, writing articles for gardening magazines, and advising gardeners, including work at major retail nurseries. My husband and I are certified-organic gardeners and farmers on a small property on the lovely Mid North Coast of NSW where we grow fresh herbs for market, fruit and vegetables, and wine grapes. Although I originally learnt to garden by conventional methods, it wasn’t long before I was drawn to organic gardening because I could see the benefits for our family and the environment.
Over the years, I have collected many tips on how to get the best from gardens in Australian conditions. These have been compiled into my book, Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting, which was released by Scribe Publications in 2006.

About the book

Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting is an essential reference for all gardeners who care about their family’s health and the environment.

Written for Australian gardeners to assist them in addressing the challenges of climate change and improve the health of their gardens, Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting is packed with information and easy to follow step–by–step guides on:

how to drought-proof your whole garden
getting the best results from water restrictions
how to convert water-repellent dirt into healthy, productive garden loam
how to make top-quality fertiliser from worm farms
making excellent compost, quickly
using green manures to maintain the health of your soil
how and when to grow your favourite fruit, vegetables and culinary herbs
how to garden in pots and boxes
how to care for trees, shrubs and flowering annuals
how and when to prune
propagating from seeds and cuttings
coping with frost, hail and bushfires
how to treat garden pests and diseases without using poisons.
This practical handbook also includes a perpetual monthly gardening calendar advising you on what to do when in your garden for all Australian and New Zealand climate zones, plus space for you to add personal reminders. And, for those who follow the ancient gardening practice of moon planting, a listing of the best days for different gardening activities up to the end of 2010.
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Scribe Publications 512 pp. PB – ISBN 9781920769666 $ 50.00
Order your copy direct from: WAHMania

Some Reviews
“Lyn Bagnall has produced a reference work of incredible proportions … It should become a benchmark among the many smaller and not-so thorough ones on the subject … Aspiring and experienced gardeners of all kinds will find the wide range of this book extremely helpful.” – Pat Coleby, author of Natural Farming

“If you had to reduce your organic gardening library to just one book, this would be a good choice.” – Warm Earth

“This book certainly has a good crack at covering all the basics of organic gardening plus much more … a very enjoyable read, written by an experienced, passionate organic farmer and gardener … A useful reference tool for novices and experienced gardeners.” – Josh Byrne, Gardening Australia

“This is the most comprehensive guide to complete organic gardening with the added bonus of a moon planting guide … a fabulous resource both for the beginner and the more experienced gardener.” – Earth Garden

“An immensely readable primer written in a friendly way … this organic lark is not tricky at all.” – Your Home & Garden NZ

“I recommend this comprehensive text to the dedicated gardener … the fundamentals are well covered … a great guide to drought-proof plants … Bagnall makes a good case for adopting moon planting.” – National Parks Journal

“This is really the only kitchen gardening book you’ll ever need.” – Habitat Australia

“This terrific book shows you how and why it can and should be done … It could answer all my queries – in a straightforward, practical sort of way. “ – Readings, Melbourne

“A detailed guide to organics ranging from seed germination and nutrition to practical pest and disease control … The moon planting guide provided is simple enough to plan a year’s production in advance (for all climate zones of Australia) … Get growing! – The Organic Gardener

“This book gathers all her knowledge and experience, providing an essential reference for all organic gardeners, and for those thinking about it.” – SA Life