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.

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.

Zing ginger

stemginger Recently, I received a sample of certified-organic Zing ginger, and it certainly suits its name. It was grown on Bauer’s Organic Farm in the Lockyer Valley. Rob Bauer is a very knowledgeable and dedicated certified-organic farmer and I always look out for his produce when shopping.
We use a lot of stem ginger, especially in stir fries, but it does not grow at its best in our area. At this time of year, we also make a delicious grapefruit and ginger cordial to use our excess fruit.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is an amazing herb. We all tend to add ginger to foods for flavour, however, ginger has a range of medicinal properties and you can find these are listed on the Zing website, although they seem to have forgotten its long history as a preventative for motion sickness. The Zing ginger site also provides 101 recipes of the many, different ways you can use this wonderful plant root.
Zing ginger can be found at Woolworths supermarkets.

Bees and lavender

Beelavender Bees love lavender, and because French lavender* flowers during winter, it provides them with nourishment when there is little else in flower. Lavender is known for its calming effect on people and it has the same effect on bees. A hardy plant, French lavender prefers a gravelly soil with a close to neutral pH. It is an efficient water user and requires little complete fertiliser, suits warmer climates, makes an attractive hedge, and is happy in beds or a large pot. All it needs is a light hair cut when flowering has finished.
Bee numbers are declining around the world. This is a matter for concern for all of us as we rely on bees to pollinate a good number of our fruits and vegetables. As well as growing some French lavender or some winter-flowering annuals, please ensure you keep some clean water available in your garden as bees need clean water, too. Many drown each year from trying to drink chlorinated pool water. A bird bath or large plant saucer, regularly topped up with clean water, is all they need.
* French Lavender (Lavendula dentata) is also known as Toothed Lavender, so named for the edges of its leaves.