Calling all gardeners

Seed sales for edible plants have boomed as many house-bound people have adopted the ‘green therapy’ of gardening. Organic gardening has long been respected for providing healthy outdoor exercise and mental health benefits while providing healthy, pesticide-free produce for your family.

My book Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting has been helping gardeners get the best from their gardening efforts since 2006. It provides practical advice on what to grow when in the perpetual monthly diary, and how to get good results in both your vegetable patch and ornamental parts of your garden. It can be used with, or without, moon planting. There are also sections on compost making, worm farming, drought-proofing your garden, and much more. See reviews:  My book

Easy Organic Gardening and Moon Planting is available as both a paperback and e-book, and can be ordered on-line, so you don’t have to leave home to find it. Happy gardening, everyone.

Leaf-eating ladybird

This ugly little creature is the larva of the leaf-eating ladybird. Stressed plants in prolonged hot, dry conditions attract these pests. The larvae become almost black as they reach pupa stage. Both adults and larvae of leaf-eating ladybirds are particularly fond of the Solanum family (tomato, potato, eggplant) and the melon or squash family where they do a lot of damage to leaves.

 

The adult leaf-eating ladybird has 26 or 28 spots in rows across its wing covers. They are slow moving and drop to the ground when disturbed. In summer, if you see the adults on leaves in your garden, be sure to look under the leaves for their eggs. Remove small leaves containing eggs and, on large leaves, use a knife to scrape the eggs into a container. As I dislike spraying my garden, I just squash the adults and larva with a gloved hand.
Unfortunately, the damage done by these ladybirds and their offspring have resulted in many gardeners spraying other species of ladybirds that are voracious pest predators. Both adults and larvae consume a considerable quantity of pests such as aphids, scale and mites, and one type of ladybird feeds on fungus. Peter Chew and his family have an excellent website, Brisbane Insects and Spiders, where gardeners can easily identify which creatures are beneficial to their gardens and which are pests, and includes a Ladybird Field Guide.
The photo below shows both larva and pupa stages of the 28-spotted ladybird.

Heat wave help

recycled juice bottle

 

With high temperatures predicted for many areas of mainland Australia this week, I would like to remind you that you can find tips on helping your garden to survive extremely hot temperatures here: Heat wave protection

Aubergine (eggplant)

eggplantwht Have you ever wondered why they were called eggplants? This variety is the reason. The small white fruit, which look like hens’ eggs hanging on a bush, has a delicious flavour but has been very difficult to find in recent years and I was delighted to finally find some seeds. Yates has ‘White Star’ and there is a variety called ‘Easter Egg’ available from an Australian grower on eBay.

Aubergines (Solanum melangena) are a member of the tomato family and require a similar position, soil preparation, and soil pH. However, they require warmer conditions for germination than tomatoes and are usually sown 1 cm deep in small pots in a warm, protected position. The small, white variety produces a compact bush and can be grown in beds or pots. Aubergines need staking because the stems are brittle, and they appreciate a light application of poultry-based, complete fertiliser as buds form. Regular harvesting increases production. Cut fruit from the plant with a 2 cm stem when the skin is firm and shiny.

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 10-15 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.

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.

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.

French beans

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Occasionally, garden gurus will say that “beans will grow on the smell of an empty fertiliser bag because they will fix nitrogen in the soil”. This is not true in Australia, where the soil bacteria that is necessary for these legumes to fix nitrogen does not occur naturally. Gardeners are often then disappointed to find that the lower leaves of their beans and peas have yellowed.
French or green beans (and peas) will benefit from the addition of some mature compost and a light application of complete fertiliser when preparing the planting area. Plants need more than nitrogen to be healthy and produce good crops, and compost in soil helps beans resist bean fly.
French beans do well in a sunny position with a soil pH not lower than 6. However, they may need some temporary shade during our heat wave conditions. Regular, deep watering and a 5 cm layer of mulch over the bed will help to keep them growing strongly. Bush varieties of French beans grow best when sown in a block rather than rows, and can be ready to harvest in eight to ten weeks after sowing.
For a continuous supply, sow a small quantity each month listed in the monthly planting guide for your climate.

Moving trees and shrubs

Sometimes it is necessary to move an established tree or shrub. Deciduous plants can be moved in winter or early spring, and evergreen plants in spring. This is best done in two stages if you have to move an evergreen plant, but sometimes situations arise, due to weather conditions or moving house where a shrub or tree has to be moved urgently.
This advice is for moving trees and shrubs small enough not to require the assistance of mechanical equipment.
dripline1

  1. Dig a deep trench around the plant you want to move, using a sharp spade to cut through the roots. The trench will usually have to be dug inside the drip-line of the plant, otherwise the root ball will be too large to handle. The drip-line is the area of soil directly below the outer edges of the foliage – where rain runs off the leaf canopy onto the soil. This is where the feeder roots usually lie.
  2. Water the area thoroughly, but do not apply fertiliser. Then prune back the foliage, or remove whole branches in the case of frangipani. This is necessary to compensate for a smaller root ball, so that the plant will not suffer water stress.
  3. If possible, leave evergreen plants in position for about a month, watering it regularly. This will help the plant to produce some feeder roots within the reduced root ball area.
  4. When ready to move the plant, make sure the soil is damp. Get a large piece of hessian, shadecloth or weed mat and some cord. This will help to keep the root ball intact during transplanting. A trolley, or tarpaulin or another large piece of strong fabric will help to use as a sled to drag the plant to its new planting position if the plant is too large to lift into a barrow.
  5. First dig the hole where the plant is to be positioned. Fill the hole with water. This is important for two reasons. How quickly the hole drains indicates whether drainage is good or you will need to plant the tree or shrub in a raised mound. If the surrounding soil is not damp when you transplant, the water you apply after planting will be drawn away from the root ball into the surrounding dry soil, and the plant will look stressed several days after planting.
  6. Work the spade around the trench dug previously, easing the spade further and further under the root ball until you have cut through all the roots.
  7. Place a clear mark on the north-facing side of the plant so that it will be positioned in the same orientation.
  8. Ease the fabric gently under the root ball. It will be much easier if someone helps by slowly tilting the plant to one side. Gather the fabric around the root ball and tie with cord.
  9. Carefully transfer the plant to the new hole positioning it at the same level it was planted previously. Untie the fabric and gently ease it out from under the root ball.
  10. Fill the hole with soil, adding some compost, if available. Do not trample the soil around the plant. Water thoroughly to remove any air pockets around the roots, and apply a 5 cm layer of mulch around the plant, keeping it a hand span from the trunk. Job done.

Staking a replanted tree or shrub will stabilise it until it becomes established in its new position. Gardening Australia has an excellent video on how to support plants using 3 stakes. See: 3 stake method

** Please note: Moving Eucalyptus taller than 45 cm, or other plants that have tap roots is often unsuccessful.