Scallions or Spring onions

True scallions (Allium fistulosum) that originated in the Far East do not form a bulb. Also known in Australia as spring onions or green onions, these onions are a versatile herb that are used as raw or cooked vegetables In some areas they are sold as shallots, however, true shallots (Allium aggregatum) form a light brown bulb. Scallions are harvested as required as they cannot be stored for long periods. Their pencil-thick stems and hollow green leaves provide a mild flavour used raw in salads, or cooked in many Asian dishes. Chinese herbalists value them for various medicinal properties.
Scallions are easy to grow in all climate zones in Australia, and can be ready to harvest in 8 – 10 weeks. Young seedlings respond well in a compost-rich soil and an application of weak, fermented manure tea watered in several days after transplanting.
Seed of green onions does not keep for long and seed collected for sowing next season will produce a vigorous crop as this seed will have come from plants that have adapted to your local soil and climate conditions. Leave several of your green onion plants to produce seed from their globular flower heads (umbrels).
To save seeds from your spring onions, see Spring onions – saving seed

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.

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


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.

Heat wave protection

Some parts of Australia are enduring extremely hot weather and, apparently, there is more to come this summer. Periods of intense heat can cause scorching in many gardens.
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, in a similar way to humans perspiring.

A bit of shade
shdeclth Providing some light shade during the hottest part of the day can prevent sunscald on susceptible crops, and, by keeping the plants cooler, reduces their water consumption, an important consideration where water restrictions apply. We use lightweight, knitted shade cloth, supported by arches made from 38 mm irrigation pipe attached to garden stakes or star stakes, or you can use old light-weight curtains or sheets.
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. Instructions for making these can be found in the post Sun and heat protection.
However, in an emergency, any old curtains or pieces of lightweight fabric will do. Tie the corners to garden stakes to provide some relief for garden beds during the hottest part of the day.
If possible, move potted plants to a shaded area of the garden, and group them together. This provides more humidity around the plants, and reduces their water requirements.

Water is essential
wtrbttle.jpg Adequate soil moisture is essential for your vegetable garden to maintain good growth during heat waves. Mulching garden beds is very helpful. A method that we have found very helpful to water mulched beds 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, heat waves or windy weather. Limp tomato seedlings will freshen up in about 10 minutes after watering by this method.
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.
Seedlings and pot plants are usually the first to suffer during heat waves, and you can find advice on how to revive stressed pot plants here: Pot plant stress

Water for wildlife
Birdbath Don’t forget to provide water for birds and bees that visit your garden. A bird bath, or containers of clean water positioned where cats and dogs can’t reach them will provide relief for the insect-eating birds and the bees that pollinate your crops. Chlorinated pool water is toxic to these helpful creatures. A container of water under shaded foliage will be appreciated by your resident frogs too.

Yellow leaves – potted citrus


A reader wanted to know what what is causing yellowing of new leaves in her potted, dwarf lemon tree. From the photos she e-mailed, it does look like this tree has an iron deficiency, as yellowing is showing in the young leaves. This can be caused by a number of conditions:

a) potting mix (or soil) that is too alkaline from excess bio-char or calcium in the mix or fertiliser containing a lot of poultry manure
b) cold and wet soil or growing mix
c) if there is a build up of fertiliser salts from synthetic fertilisers, or
d) where there is an excess of potassium from synthetic fertilisers or over-use of seaweed liquid fertiliser.

The first thing to do is check that your pot has ample drainage. Large pots should not sit directly on a hard surface. While smaller pots usually have ample drainage holes around the sides at the base of the pots, large pots often have only one large hole in the base and this can easily become blocked resulting in poor aeration and/or a concentration of fertiliser salts if synthetic fertilisers have been used. Large pots should have pieces of tile placed under the pot to allow a small space between the base of the pot and the verandah or paving. If you notice crusting around the top of the soil line (fertiliser salts), flush the plant with clean water, once drainage has been improved.

The next step is to check the pH of the mix with a test kit. A suitable pH is important to all parts of your garden as the pH in soil or mix controls the availability of nutrients. Test kits are very economical to use and readily available from larger nurseries. If you find that the pH is above 7.2, you could repot the tree using an organic-registered potting mix as organic matter is an important source of iron. However, to do so may result in the loss of this crop of fruit.
The addition of flowers of sulphur (elemental sulphur) is the usual way to reduce pH in soils, but it is easy to overdo this in potted plants. You can apply iron chelates (the form of iron in organic compost) to the mix in the pot at the recommended rate. Citrus trees do not absorb iron chelates well through foliar spraying. Or, you can fertilise the tree with a weak solution of Multicrop’s Ecofish. This is an organic-registered liquid fertiliser that contains soluble iron and has a low pH, qhich will help to reduce the pH in the pot. Ecofish contains iron, manganese, sulphur and zinc (trace elements needed by citrus). Manganese deficiency is also caused by high pH or poorly-drained soil.

Passionfruit – hand pollination

To ensure that your passionfruit vine produces lots of delicious, juicy fruit, you may have to hand-pollinate the flowers. Passionfruit vines rely on bees for pollination because their flowers have a large gap between the 5 oval, pollen-bearing male parts (anthers) and the 3 V shaped, female parts (stigmas). There are generally less bees around recently, and they don’t like to venture out in wet or windy weather.
The oval anthers release their pollen early in the morning, but the best time to pollinate is mid morning when the stigmas at the top of each flower bend downwards and secrete a sticky fluid that helps the pollen to adhere to them. The photo below shows the ideal position of the stigmas for pollination.

Only when the female parts of each flower receive passionfruit pollen can the flower form a fruit.
If there aren’t many bees around your passionfruit vine, or if you have a young vine with few flowers, you can pollinate the flowers by hand. The best way to do it is with a soft watercolour paintbrush, and this short video demonstrates the practice beautifully: Hand-pollination of passionfruit
Another way to hand-pollinate is to remove an anther and brush it onto the stigmas. However, each flower needs at least a hundred ovules to develop into seeds for healthy fruit. Otherwise, the fruit will be hollow, or lightweight and not juicy, so the paintbrush ensures a good dusting of pollen where it is needed. Dust the pollen gently over the underside of all 3 stigmas of a different flower on the vine, then repeat with the next flower.**
Passionfruit take 2 – 3 months to develop and ripen – the very popular ‘Nellie Kelly’ slightly longer. Passionfruit, like good wine and cheese, taste best when they are mature. Fruit should have a deep colour and feel heavy. They are juiciest when they are slightly wrinkled.
** Some hybrids and cultivars need a second variety for good cropping. Check with your nursery before purchasing a vine.

Rust diseases

There are hundreds of types of fungi that cause ‘rust’ on plants but each type has a limited number of host plants so that your whole garden is not likely to be overrun by rust.
Rust can occur in various seasons but it does need moisture to grow. It typically causes yellow or brown markings on upper surface of leaves, and small yellow or brown powdery growths on the underside of leaves. The powdery substance consists of fungal spores that can be blown about by wind, infecting other plants that are susceptible to that type of rust fungus.
Below, on the left, are pictures of rust on the underside if a frangipani leaf and typical signs of rust on grasses. Some leaf markings can be confused with fungal diseases. On the right are pictures of hail damage on a cycad and spores on the underside of a fern frond – which is how ferns reproduce.

Basically, rust diseases are a sign of malnutrition that produces an unsuitable pH on the leaf surface. Plants, like humans and animals, are more prone to diseases when they have a poor diet, and rust diseases can be avoided by keeping plants growing vigorously – but this is not always possible in extreme weather conditions. Sulphur or copper are the usual treatments for rust. Both of these are nutritional elements that can be supplied by various fertilisers, including seaweed extracts. Seaweed also contains plenty of potassium that strengthens cell walls, sulphur, and trace elements (including copper) that boost plants’ immune systems.
For mild cases of rust, remove damaged parts of the affected plant and burn these, or dispose of them in a sealed plastic bag. Don’t ever compost them, as the spores may not be killed. Then give the plant a foliar feed of seaweed extract tea and water some into the ground over the root area. Improve your fertilising program using a complete organic fertiliser.
For deciduous plants, rake up and dispose of dropped leaves to avoid reinfecting the plant. Apply the seaweed tea at bud swell.
For more severe cases, after removing damaged foliage, plants can be dusted with elemental sulphur (flowers of sulphur. However, as the spores are under leaves and the dust can be difficult to apply, affected plants can be sprayed with wettable sulphur in cool weather only, as sulphur will damage plants when temperatures are over 24 degrees Celcius. Be aware too, that sulphur will also kill pest predators. If these are present on affected plants, apply chamomile tea (one tea bag to 500 ml water) instead.

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.)
If bee activity is low, flowers of this family remain unpollinated, and fruit is unable to form. When this happens 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. See examples below.

Cucumber flowers – Male on the Left, female on the right.








Zucchini flowers – Male on the left, female on the right.








handpollin To hand pollinate, take a clean, dry, soft-bristled paint brush and ‘tickle’ the centre of a male flower to collect pollen on the tips of the bristles, then gently transfer the pollen to the stigma at the top of the style in the centre of female flowers, making sure that it is well-covered with pollen. (Image shows hand pollination of female cucumber flower.)
Or, you can 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.

Traditional Moon Planting

All about traditional moon planting

Traditional Moon Planting is an ancient agricultural practice that has been used by farmers for several thousand years and is still practiced today. It is based on the synodic period of the Moon from one New Moon to the next, an average period of 29.5 days.
Over time, farmers observed that all aspects of farming were affected by the interaction of the gravitational forces between the Sun, the Moon and Earth. These are the same gravitational forces that affect ocean tides around the world. Because the Moon is closer to Earth, its effects are more noticeable. These observations were handed down to younger generations as their community’s survival depended on getting the best results from their crops.
Scientists have more recently confirmed that variations in sap flow, biological functions in plants, and subtle changes in Earth’s electro-magnetic fields, correspond to the Moon’s gravitational pull. Scientists have also confirmed that the Moon has an influence on breeding and feeding cycles of many life forms on this planet. As plants contain a high proportion of water, it is not surprising that they would also respond to a force that can move huge bodies of water. And, when you consider that plants absorb nutrients as ions that carry either a positive or negative electric charge, you can see how changes in electro-magnetic fields can affect the growth of plants.
The Lunation Cycle
Each lunation cycle the Moon passes through four phases – New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon and Last Quarter. The number of days between each change of phase can vary from 6 3/4 to 8, so to make it easier for you, the current moon phase and its duration can be found by clicking on the ‘Current moon phase’ icon in the menu bar.
The Waxing Moon
During New Moon and First Quarter phases, the Moon is increasing in light. In these two phases, sap flow increases in the above ground parts of plants, and these are the most suitable phases for sowing and transplanting annuals (and biennials). Flowering annuals, grains, melons and spring onions do well if planted in either phase but, generally, New Moon phase is best for leafy annuals and First Quarter is best for fruiting annuals. Liquid fertilisers will take effect more quickly if applied during the waxing phases. Shrubs and trees can be pruned in First Quarter phase when you want to produce new growth quickly, such as pruning spring-flowering shrubs or summer pruning of roses. When pruned while sap flow is high, sap is quickly diverted to the lateral shoots. When sap flow is low, regrowth is slower and dieback is more likely to occur in some plants. First Quarter phase is also good for grafting and budding because these require a high sap flow for successful results.
The Waning Moon
During the Full Moon and Last Quarter phases the Moon decreases in light and sap flow in plants is more concentrated in the root area. As sap flow gradually slows during these two phases, Full Moon phase is best for sowing and planting because germination is lower, and regrowth slower, during Last Quarter phase. Because sap flow is lower in the foliage part of plants, crops or seed harvested for storage or drying are less likely to rot if harvested during the Moon’s waning period.
Full Moon phase is best for the sowing and planting of both root crops and perennials (plants that live longer than two years). All trees, shrubs, vines (including fruit trees and vines), globe artichokes, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, herbaceous perennials, bulbs and lawn grasses are perennials. The reason that these plants are planted (or sown) in the root vegetable phase is that perennials have a different type of root system from leafy and flowering annuals. Roots of perennial plants have, like root vegetables, the ability to store carbohydrates and nutrients, and this type of root system is important for the longevity of perennials.
Because Full Moon phase favours root growth, this is also an excellent phase for taking cuttings, or for aerial layering, because root growth must form to support new foliage growth. This is also the best phase for dividing plants for the same reason. Prune dormant plants during Full Moon phase. Last Quarter phase is best for cutting back rampant shrubs and vines, – regrowth will be less vigorous.
Fertile and Barren signs
Traditional moon planting uses the tropical zodiac that divides the celestial belt into twelve equal parts of 30 degrees, named after the constellations that were closest to them in the second century B.C., and ignores that fact that the actual constellations vary widely in size. The twelve segments were also given labels of ‘positive’ or ‘negative’. The equal divisions were basically markers for degrees of tension from the major permanent points of reference (the Solstices and the Equinoxes), which occur within 24 hours of the same days each year.
Negative segments are considered ‘fertile’ and the best days within a phase for sowing, planting, taking cuttings, budding and pruning to encourage growth. Positive segments are considered ‘barren’ and best days within a phase for collecting seeds, harvesting crops and for storage and weeding.

Does traditional moon planting work?

As someone who has obtained certificates in both astrology and horticulture and had been working in horticulture for some 40 years, I felt competent to test and assess the various moon planting and gardening guides available to the public. Over a period of eight years, I experimented with and compared different forms of moon planting against detailed records of sowing, germination, growth, harvesting and pruning.
Some moon or lunar calendars and guides advised readers to plant all plants that produce fruit above ground during First Quarter phase. This ignores the different root system of perennials. Other guides totally ignored moon phases and focused on the astrological signs. The tray below on the left was sown during Full Moon phase, which is an incorrect moon sowing phase for leafy annuals. The tray on the right was sown two weeks later during New Moon phase. Both were sown in the same seedling mix and received the same amount of care.

I found that most moon planting guides in women’s magazines are prepared by astrologers who have used the astrological ‘rulership’ of plants rather than moon planting methods that have been handed down through the centuries. These interpretations have produced some results that make no horticultural sense and must be confusing for readers.
The designation, by traditional moon planting farmers, of fertile and barren ‘signs’ varies slightly from the fertile/negative and barren/positive labels applied in astrology, and I feel there had to be a reason for this variation to remain constant through the centuries. Although there has been no scientific study into this part of moon planting, I believe it relates to the changes in the Earth’s electro-magnetic field and the absorption of plant nutrients, which must be absorbed as water-soluble electrically-charged ions.
Some moon or lunar planting guides will tell you to avoid watering your garden on ‘fertile’ days while others will advise to avoid watering on ‘barren’ days. A perusal of rainfall records will show that Nature doesn’t follow these rules. Gardens should be watered when they need it.
After comparing the various methods of Moon Planting, I came to the conclusion that the traditional moon planting method, although the simplest to follow, made the most horticultural sense, and it works best for us. The basic rules, or principles, are described below.

Traditional moon planting ‘rules’

1. Avoid sowing, planting or taking cuttings from 12 hours before to 12 hours after the exact change of moon phase.
The twelve hours immediately before and after the exact change of each phase is not a good time for sowing, planting, or taking cuttings. We have found that the increase or decrease of unfavourable energy is gradual and it will not have an obvious effect if you run an hour or so into this period when you have a lot of sowing or planting to do. While this is not a good period for sowing or planting, this time can be used to prepare beds or compost heaps, apply mulch, etc.
2. NEW MOON PHASEthe best time to sow or transplant leafy annuals (we eat the leaf or stem), and flowering annuals. Also sow annual grasses, green manures, and apply liquid fertilisers. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant fruiting annuals.
3. FIRST QUARTER PHASEthe best time to sow or transplant fruiting and flowering annuals (we eat the fruit or seed bearing part), and grains. Also sow annual grasses, green manures, and apply liquid fertilisers. Prune to encourage growth and deadhead roses and flowering annuals. Carry out grafting and budding. Mow lawns to encourage growth. This is the second best phase to sow or transplant leafy annuals (we eat the leaf or stem).
4. FULL MOON PHASEthe best time to sow or plant out root crops and all fruiting and decorative perennials, including fruit trees. Also sow lawns or lay turf, harvest for storage, take cuttings, divide plants, prune dormant plants and apply solid fertilisers. Mow lawns to slow growth.
5. LAST QUARTER PHASE – no sowing or planting during this phase. This is a good phase for attending to your soil; weeding, applying mulch, making compost, preparing manure teas, applying solid fertilisers and digging or ploughing, if necessary. Prune to restrain growth, and mow lawns to slow growth during this phase.

A current, colour-coded, easy-to follow traditional moon planting and gardening calendar is available for purchase HERE.