Just a reminder that April is a good time for planting spring-flowering bulbs in most areas. Gardeners in warmer climates can put bulbs into the vegetable crisper of the fridge for a month’s chilling before planting in May.
Add plenty of compost and some complete organic complete fertiliser to the planting area. Nutrients will be absorbed by the plants during the growing season and withdrawn into the bulbs as the foliage dies back to ensure good flowering the following season, so remember not to remove foliage before it becomes brown. Bulbs are normally planted at a depth twice the width of the bulb. In warm climates, plant suitable bulbs up to twice as deep as indicated on the packet. After planting, mulch the area in early morning when the soil is cooler and keep the planted area just damp until growth appears, then water regularly. For moon planters, Full Moon phase is the best time to plant bulbs. This year (2014) the Full Moon occurs on 15th of April and May.
March and April are good months for planting garlic in temperate to warmer parts of Australia. This year we are going back to growing the ‘Italian White‘ variety as our winters are becoming too mild for the hard-necked varieties. ‘Italian White‘ is a soft-necked garlic more suited to warmer areas. Cloves are slightly smaller than the purple hard-necked garlic but it has a lovely flavour and keeps longer than the hard-neck varieties.
We will sow ours in the middle of April (during Full Moon phase), after separating the knobs into individual cloves. The larger cloves from each knob will be planted, flat end down, just below the surface into soil rich in compost with a pH close to neutral. We usually plant our cloves 15 cm apart in rows 30 cm apart so that the canopy formed by the leaves helps to keep the mulched soil cooler. Garlic needs regular, deep watering (not a daily sprinkle) and hates competing with weeds. Green Harvest has a range of garlic for planting, and their garlic page will help you to decide which variety is best suited to your local climate and needs.
If you want to grow a small quantity of garlic from knobs purchased from your greengrocer, make sure it is Australian garlic. Imported garlic is treated with methyl bromide, a nasty gas that has been banned in Europe and may prevent cloves from growing.
Garlic takes 6 to 8 months to develop a bulb depending on the variety and climate.
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.
FIG AND GINGER CONSERVE
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.
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.
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.
Garden beds dry out very quickly in windy weather, including those beds protected by mulch. The reason is that plants maintain some humidity around them by drawing water from the soil and releasing it through tiny holes in their leaves, a process known as transpiration. As strong wind constantly removes the moisture, more and more water is drawn from the soil in an effort to maintain humidity. As soil dries out, cells collapse in the soft tissues of plants causing drooping of plants and possibly death of small seedlings.
A way to avoid this problem in windy weather 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 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.
For plants that are generally sensitive to wind, filtering the wind rather than blocking it provides better protection for delicate plants. A solid cover or wall causes wind to whirl around on both sides of the screen, but a lattice trellis or product called ‘Windbreak’ on the side of the prevailing wind reduces the impact of the wind, as indicated below.
Most seeds germinate in dark, damp conditions and need to be covered with a suitable depth of topsoil. However, some seeds need light for successful germination.
In the vegetable patch, only varieties of lettuce, Cape Gooseberry, Tomatillo and the Asian greens Seakale and Shiso are ‘light responsive’, but a number of herb and flower species also require light for germination. These include: Angelica, Anise, Arnica, Ashwaganda, Caraway, Catnip, Chamomile, Chervil, Dill, Echinacea, Elecampagne, Evening primrose, Feverfew, Gazania, Lady’s Mantle, Lemon Balm, Mignonette, Rosemary, Summer and Winter Savory, Valerian, Watercress, Wormwood and Yarrow.
Sowing seed for these plants can cause difficulties as the seed is merely pressed into the soil surface and require close attention to prevent them drying, resulting in germination failure. Or, they are scattered on the surface of a punnet where they can be easily washed into clumps at the edge of the punnet despite careful watering.
A way to avoid problems with these seeds is to fill a punnet with damp seedling mix and then cover the surface of the punnet with a single layer of gravel or small pebbles. Then sprinkle the seeds sparingly over the gravel and water very gently, being careful not to flood the surface. The gravel provides crevices for the seed to settle while still allowing them to receive light, and also helps to keep the growing mix damp for germinating seeds.
Passionfruit vines rely on bees to pollinate their flowers because they have a large gap between the pollen-bearing male parts of the flower and the female part. Only when the female part of each flower receives passionfruit pollen can the flower form a fruit. If you don’t have a lot of bees around your passionfruit vine, or if you have a young vine with few flowers, you can pollinate the flowers by hand.
All you need is a small, soft watercolour paintbrush for the job, and this short video by “woodyfriendron” demonstrates the practice beautifully:
Karen has had disappointing results from her Queensland Blue pumpkin vine which produced pumpkins with very little flesh and she wants to know how to avoid problems in future.
Karen, if the seeds are soft and immature, you may have picked the pumpkins before the ‘fruit’ has fully developed, and pumpkins are fruits although we call them vegetables. However, if the seeds are mature, a common cause of this problem is hunger, and this can occur in several different ways even though you may have thought that the plant was well fertilised.
If soil is not damp, nutrients can’t be absorbed by the roots. If soil pH is too acidic or alkaline plants will go hungry because the soil pH controls which nutrients are available to plants, and pumpkins need a soil pH of 5.5-7 for good growth. Pumpkins vines can produce an enormous amount of foliage – and it is a huge task for the roots at the base of the vine to provide moisture and nutrients through the whole plant. When pumpkin vines are allowed to wander over soft earth, they will usually put down extra roots along the vines to assist with water and nutrient absorption.
Pumpkin flowers are pollinated by bees and occasionally a flower or flowers can be pollinated by pollen from a cattle pumpkin, which usually results in fruits that are tough and pretty tasteless. (If your neighbours are growing cattle pumpkins, you may have to hand-pollinate pumpkin flowers).
I’d advise you not to save any seeds from pumpkins that have little flesh or tough flesh as any vines grown from these seeds will probably produce poor quality crops. Only use seed from your best home produce or purchase seeds from a reputable supplier.
Pumpkins thrive on compost, so make compost through the winter ready for next season’s vines. Turning the heap a couple of times a week will keep you warm, keep the heap aerated, and speed up the composting process. If you live in a cool climate, put some black plastic over the top of the heap to help absorb heat. Use the compost to get your pumpkin vine off to a flying start in a different spot in your garden when soil warms in spring.
A reader has asked if potatoes can be grown in the plastic tubs that are sold by Bunnings, Big W, etc., and I will answer it here as the links may be helpful to other readers.
Yes, Rebecca, they would be suitable if you add plenty of drainage holes and put several centimetres of gravel in the base of the tubs so that the potting mix does not block the drainage holes.
Opaque tubs provide similar conditions to small or medium drums (in that the young plants will be more shaded) and you should use those instructions for the tubs in this post. Basically the seed potatoes need at least 15-20 cm of potting mix underneath them and 15 cm of mix above them. Seed potatoes should be sown/planted 30 cm apart and, if they are the tubs I’m thinking of, you would probably only get one plant per tub as there is not really enough room for tubers of 2 plants to form.
The how and why of ‘hilling-up’ potato plants can be found in this post: Growing potatoes.
English spinach is an annual that loves cold weather. It is a fast growing, small plant that forms a rosette of green leaves and stems with a flavour more delicate than that of silverbeet.
It is a versatile vegetable that can be steamed or used in pies, quiches and soups, and is rich in folate, vitamins A, B6, C and E, as well as magnesium, iron and fibre.
In well-drained soil containing plenty of compost and a scattering of organic complete fertiliser, spinach plants are ready to harvest in 8 weeks. Sow seeds in pairs, 1 cm deep and 25 cm apart, directly where they are to grow, and seedlings should appear in 7 days. About a dozen plants are enough for the average family. Keep seedlings well-watered and give them a drink of half strength manure tea or organic liquid fertiliser about a fortnight apart until plants are well established.
When seedlings are about 5 cm tall, remove the weakest seedling of each pair, and use the well-washed thinnings in salads or soups. Where winters are long, progressive sowings can be made each month through winter. Don’t worry about sowing too many plants as English spinach freezes well. Blanch the washed leaves, pack them into ice cube trays with a little water, and freeze. Then transfer frozen cubes into a ziplock plastic bag for storage in the freezer.
This spinach is ‘Galilee’, a variant developed in the Middle East that is a lighter green and more tolerant of warmer winter temperatures – seeds available from Green Harvest.