Kitchen Garden Guides

Saturday, June 10, 2017

January 2014 Kitchen Garden Guide

Despite this week of real summer heat, the previous months of cold, wet and windy weather means that many of us are having trouble with our “summer” vegetables. I have self-sown miners’ lettuce, a cold season, salad green, coming up in my garden now when it normally comes up in autumn. There is not much we can do about the weather so I have decided to move on to attending more to the soil and to sowing winter vegetables.

Observe and Interact

This is the first principle of Permaculture. I have observed the weather and my garden and decided to take some action to work with, rather than against, nature.
Here is what I am doing to areas of my food garden that I have decided are never going to produce a worthwhile crop this summer. It is a ruthless decision but a good one. Excellent vegetables are available from our wonderful, organic, local market gardeners and small green grocers and I will still hope that my tomatoes will produce.
1.   I push over all the plants so they lie in the one direction, flat on the ground. Then, using a sharp spade, I chop it all up and leave it on the ground, weeds and all (as long as they are not seeding).
2.   I then sprinkle lime plus ash from the fire over as most of our Tasmanian soils are acidic and most of the winter veg we grow like alkaline soil. Ash also adds potassium and trace elements but has no calcium. Lime has calcium.
3.   If you have homemade compost you can add it next. If not, then do not worry.
4.   The next layer, when broken down, adds organic matter to a thin or hard soil, and is lucerne hay (Available locally. See her advert. in this paper). It is expensive but full of nutrients and you don’t need a thick layer. Pea stray would be great too. If you really don’t want to buy these, then newspaper could substitute, especially if your soil is already lovely and friable. Wet the layers of paper well as you go.
5.   Then, separated from the lime by the lucerne or paper, I add mushroom compost or cow manure or pelletised chicken manure or sheep manure. (Manure should not be mixed with the lime or nutrient take up is affected. By the time the paper / lucerne breaks down, the lime has dissolved into the soil).
6.   I will then add a thin layer of mulch such as ordinary straw. This keeps the soil life from the extremes of temperature as they break down the layers below.
7.   Water well as you assemble the layers. That way any future rain will penetrate and start feeding your soil.
8.   Plant out your seedlings into this in autumn.

 What to sow now and why

At 43 degrees south the days shorten and the light softens to such as extent in winter that is seriously affects the growth of plants. Think of the leaves of, for example, kale, as solar panels. With short days and the sun low in the sky each leaf needs to be twice as big in winter as in summer to catch the same amount of sun to power the plant. To achieve this growth by the end of autumn we need to sow these big plants now!! Once we get to mid-May food plants need to be full size so we can begin to harvest them through winter.
Moreover, we need to sow twice as many now as we would coming into spring when days are lengthening, so that we can allow the plants extra time to regrow after each harvest.
Getting the soil to its optimum condition for this time by working on it now will ensure your winter vegetables flourish. There is nothing more beautiful than picking vegetables that are dusted with frost, when you are rugged up in boots and scarf, fingers cold and the light sparkling on every leaf as the ice melts.
So, in trays in a sheltered spot I am sowing all my favourite soup, casserole and roasting vegetables, to eat by the fire in winter while I sip my homemade raspberry ratafia, blackcurrant cassis and Tas. pepperberries in vodka!

Fire and the garden

The recent reminders in the news about the Dunalley fires need action. Is there anything we can do to help protect our homes from fire? Most fires are not as devastating as the Dunalley fires and we can do some things to help reduce the flammability of our surroundings. Lush, deciduous trees and shrubs can replace those closest to the house, which contain oils, such as gum trees and even rosemary. There are excellent flammability lists on the Fire Tas website:


Almost everyone I speak to overwaters everything!! In the Tasmanian climate only minimal watering is required, unless extremely hot days are forecast.
I stick my finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle (first knuckle for pots). If the very tip of the finger feels dampness, I do not water, unless I am expecting extreme heat.
This encourages the roots to seek water down deep, where the soil moisture and temperature levels are more constant. If a plant develops shallow roots, it struggles to manage on a hot day as the soil around its roots becomes hot and dry very quickly and appears to need more water. Train your plants well and they will be happy, like your dogs and children!
Sow now
Plant seedlings
Brassicas, chards, kale, beetroot, fennel, parsnips and leeks for winter eating. Yes, sow now!
Tomatoes (summer might come late!)

Summer jobs

  • Prune stone fruits, put through chipper and use as mulch around the trees
  • Mulch young trees thickly, out to the dripline to encourage soil life.
  • Liquid feed citrus with fish and seaweed
  • Water seedlings with seaweed
  • Dead head roses and other flowering shrubs

Websites and books for summer reading

Blog - Food Garden Group- for inspiration from a food gardeners group in Hobart. Join their forum here.
Book -Travels in Blood and Honey: becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo

June 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

It has been a topsy-turvy autumn and some of the plants in my garden are confused. The forsythia is flowering as was the philadelphus and there are a few flowers here and there on fruit trees. The ABC Landline forecast for winter in our area is for warmer than average day and night temperatures with a 50% chance of average rainfall. Warmer winter averages affects fruit set of anything requiring winter chill.

The Chill Factor

Cold sweetens vegetables such as chicory. The multitude of chicories in my garden are at their most delicious from now until September. They truly are also one of the most beautiful plants in the winter vegetable garden. For information and photos please look at the Gardenista website and search for chicory. Glorious!
Cold winters ensure a good crop of apples, cherries and pears which have a chill factor, which means they require a certain number of hours below 7C to ensure an even bloom period. However, during mild winters, as is forecast this year, the chilling requirement may not be met and could result in uneven bloom, and hence uneven pollination and less fruit set. The table below suggests the chill hours required by various fruits. Of course within, for example, apples, there are hundreds of varieties, each differing slightly in its requirements but this table gives a general guide.
Apple 300 - 1200
Chestnut 400 - 750
Apricot 300 - 1000
Almond 400 - 700
Cherry – 500 - 800
Walnut 400 – 1500
Fig 100 - 500
Avocado NONE
Grapes 100 - 500
Citrus NONE
Kiwi 400 - 800
Pear 150 - 1500
Peach 150-1200
Persimmon 100 - 700
Pecan 150 - 1600
Plum 275 - 1000
Nectarine 150 - 1200
Quince 100 - 500
Pomegranate 100 - 300
Olive 400 - 700


Tasmania is surrounded by sea and yet we tend not to forage the shores and shallows for food. Did you know that our soils are low in magnesium and that this means your vegetables are too (unless care has been taken to add magnesium to the soil)? Magnesium is vitally important for our health. Magnesium can be added to the soil simply by adding seaweeds to your compost or liquid feed. Magnesium can be added to your diet more directly by eating the seaweed yourself. All of the longest lived peoples of the world eat many different sea plants; think Okinawa (Japan) and Sicily.
Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) is a common seaweed in Tasmanian waters but it is an introduced weed, probably arriving on the bottom of ships and making a home from St. Helens to Dover. You can harvest it (or buy it) to your heart’s content because you are helping to control its spread.
Red Lettuce or Grateloupia turuturu  is another introduced seaweed to the Tasmanian coast. This one is nutritious and a colourful addition to your meal. Search the internet for photos so you can identify them. I don’t know of any plants in our seas that are toxic but, the sad thing is, some of our coastline has been raped by industry plus land and sea farming which has left toxic residues in our once pristine waters.

Winter herbs for health and flavour

Do you love pesto and lament the end of fresh basil from your garden? Well I make a wonderful pesto with chervil and almonds / tarragon and pistachios / parsley and walnuts.
There are so many lovely herbs that either grow and thrive only in winter or continue to hold their colour and flavour even in winter. The former includes the slightly aniseed chervil, with its pretty, soft ferny leaves which I grow as a block and clip by the handful, with scissors. Also in this category is coriander with its robust flavour and growth habit. A less well known and often misunderstood winter herb is angelica, with a pine-like aroma in its large, fern-like leaves. No need to bother with the stems which are traditionally candied, simply chop up the leaves and use them finely sliced with fruit or to line the bottom of a cake tin before baking. Parsley is a fabulous winter herb, readily self-sows and is useful all through winter in meals and as a wonderful source of vitamin C, in our climate where oranges are rare.
Interestingly, all these are members of the Umbelliferae or carrot family. The family also includes asafoetida, caraway, cumin, dill and lovage, to name a few.
Rocket is another herb that germinates and thrives during winter.
Herbs that hold their colour and flavour even in winter include rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, winter savory, bay and sage, although sage should be picked sparingly as it is much less vigorous in winter.

Local Crop Swap Group

Crop Swap Cygnet and Surrounds
“Crop Swap” groups started in NZ and are now Australia wide too. Check out Crop Swap Taranaki for a lovely video. Cygnet and Surrounds is a space to swap, give or share anything edible or related to food, in the spirit of abundance, generosity and fairness. No money will change hands. Whether you are a backyard gardener, home cook, forager, seedsaver, cuttings guru, pickle and jam maker or bread baker you are welcome. Check out the blog and facebook page now. Helpers also needed.

Seeds to sow in June
Sow in the garden:
Broad beans
Salad and spring onions
English spinach
Sow in trays to plant out later:
Globe Artichokes
Asian greens
Plant out
Asparagus crowns
Divide rhubarb
Winter herbs
Winter flowering annuals
Globe artichokes
Asian greens

May 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

    Late autumn is my favourite time of year in the kitchen garden. The harvesting and preserving pressures are finished, seeds have been collected and stored and the sowing and planting pressures of spring are months away. Now is the time to work on the soil, to reshape beds, to make compost, to prune, to make hugels, to protect tender plants and to sit on the verandah in the sun and watch the light as it changes day by day. Brassicas will be flourishing, Chilean guavas and cape gooseberries can be picked by the handful as you pass by, grape leaves are turning and apples arriving. Life is good.


    Energy is everywhere and now is the time to think about how to make your life attuned to capturing and storing it. In a handful of seeds is the energy to start a whole season’s food. In a bale of hay is the energy from a year’s pasture growth, ready to decompose and feed the microbes in your soil, which in turn feed your food garden. In a jar of fermented pickles are the fruits of a plant’s labour and millions of bacteria all working to provide your gut with life and energy. In a brick fireplace is stored the energy from the heat of firewood; trees that have grown for many years, capturing energy enough to warm us all winter. In water is the energy of life, without which nothing on earth can live.
    Which is the opposite of wasting energy - by driving cars out of your zone to get food, by draining your land instead of harnessing the water, by burning piles of prunings instead of making hugels, by throwing away your food scraps instead of making compost, by buying food brought from other lands, by using up oil reserves (eg in cling film, disposable bags, foam trays) we should be saving for important uses like saving lives.
    We are all worried about climate change. We are all the reason it exists. Therefore, only we can be the solution. By turning our thinking around we can all do it; by catching and storing energy instead of wasting it. Refuse packaged fruit and vegetables. Shop locally, really locally, starting in your backyard and those of your neighbours and friends. Then into your most local market and small, ethical shops. Eat what is there! Read books like The Food Clock by Fast Ed Halmagyi to help bring the joy of the seasons into your kitchen, your life and the future of humanity! It is not an exaggeration, dear reader. No excuse is good enough not to start today. It also brings such a joy of living and relieves so much stress just by changing one’s mindset.


    I think pumpkins must be the most celebrated vegetables in the world because everywhere you travel, there seems to be an autumn pumpkin festival. The shapes, sizes, colours and textures make us laugh with delight and the flavours can vary enormously from the French chestnut flavoured ‘potimarron’ to the sweetest ‘futsu’ and the crazy, knobbly ‘Galeaux d’Eysines’. Competitions for the heaviest pumpkin have brought fame to growers far and wide. I saw some of the most beautiful craft, using pumpkins, in a French pumpkin festival. Check out Victoria’s annual festival at a tiny place with the incredible name of Collector.
    And so I hope to encourage you to plan your pumpkin growing area now, browse seed catalogues, buy seed early and prepare yourselves for entering the fun of next autumn’s Cygnet Pumpkin Festival. Schools, clubs, families, individuals one and all, are invited. Details will emerge and grow, now that the seed of the idea has germinated!

    Weeds and more

    Many people in Europe still forage, not just for mushrooms, but for winter herbs and greens and roots which are native to their lands. Many of them grow wild in our gardens but we silly Australians pull them out, calling them weeds and give them to the chooks, who happily devour them because they are not so prejudiced! There is an excellent Australian book called The Weed Foragers’ Handbook, which I highly recommend. Soon, you will be eating from the garden without planting anything at all!
    Luckily, the cooler weather also heralds the end of the cabbage moth laying eggs on our brassicas. If you have not planted brassicas yet, it is now too late as the plants will not have big enough leaves to grow through winter. When spring comes, they will bolt to seed and you won’t get a crop.
    Autumn is a wonderful time for harvesting mushrooms, kale, French sorrel, salad leaves, early broccoli, rainbow chard, the last of our summer vegetables, the first of the winter weeds and a myriad of fabulous apples, pears and quinces. Many kitchen pantries are now bulging at the seams with preserves. Bring on winter and cosy nights by the fire with some home-made cassis and quince paste served with a delicious, local cheese!


    Tasmania is surrounded by sea and yet we tend not to forage the shores and shallows for food. That is a topic I wrote about in May 2016. Seaweed is wonderful for our food gardens too.
    As autumn and winter storms in the roaring 40’s send high seas crashing onto the shores of Tasmania, kelp and other sea plants are strewn on the beaches. I heard on the radio that we are allowed to collect seaweed from most beaches at the rate of 100kg / day in Tasmania. Seaweed is heavy, so that is not as much as it sounds. I have some great ideas for using it! Seaweed contains trace elements which we often neglect to think about in our food gardens (and our stomachs).
    1. Place tubs or large buckets here and there in your garden. Half fill them with seaweed and fill to the top with water. Cover if you like. Keep a ladle nearby. Whenever you see some plants looking a bit weak or off-colour give them a tonic of 1 part seaweed water to 9 parts water, in a watering can. Pour over the leaves.
    2. Completely cover your asparagus patch with a thick layer of seaweed during winter. Leave the rain and the worms to do the work.
    3. Seaweed is a wonderful addition to mulch under fruit trees.

    Sow in the garden now
    Plant Now
    Broad beans
    Bok Choy
    Mustard greens esp. frilly
    Miners’ lettuce
    Corn salad (mache)
    Shungiku (edible, Japanese Chrysanthemum)
    Salad and spring onions

    Leek bulbils
    Garlic cloves
    Large seedlings of Asian veg.
    Flower bulbs
    Sow in the hothouse to plant out:
    Broccoli raab
    Sow to stay in the hothouse or frost-free area:
    Sugar snap peas

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Not now.

I have written so many times about the joys, the necessities, the history and many more topics relating to seeds. I don’t think I have ever before written about the chaos of my own seeds! I have a cupboard devoted to seeds and a fine filing system for keeping them in order. I have another shelf for seeds that are drying and nice little bags and vials for storing them in, once dry. I have a wonderful garden that always has a few of my favourite vegetables going to seed. I have everything a seedsaver could want! So why are my seeds a mess and why am I constantly stressed about it?

The short answer is that seeds do not magically move from plant to filing cupboard. It happens more like this: I see that one or more plants has grown tall and lanky, has finished flowering and it is growing a wonderful crop of green seeds. The seeds get heavier and heavier as they grow. Everyday I think to myself I must go and tie it up to a stake so it does not flop over its neighbours. Everyone else’s gardens are so tidy but I seem to have a constant stream of plants adorned with magnificent seeds that make me smile but make others see only chaos. One day I do tie them up with brightly coloured, hay bale twine….. everyone else seems to have eco-friendly, designer twine and home made stakes!


It looks like rain. I must collect those seeds now, before the downpour. In the middle of getting the washing off the line I rush to the door, grab the nearest container and the secateurs, and in a few minutes I have removed the branches of seeds and plonked the whole thing into the bucket. Then I return to taking the rest of the washing off the line.

Weeks later the stems and seeds are still in the bucket but hey, it is all dry and all is good. Sometimes I even remember to label the seeds and include the collection date! Hmmmm…. sometimes I don’t but I am pretty good at recognising seeds, except when they are identical, like kale vs broccoli or one lettuce vs another.


One day I put something on top of the bucket that is home to the stems and seeds. Big mistake; out of sight, out of mind. Months go by and it is seed sowing time again and I was sure I had collected the seeds but they are illusive! Well, actually it doesn’t matter because hey, they have self-sown themselves into the garden anyway. Nice.

Then I start saving tomato seeds on paper towel and capsicum seeds into little cups. The whole kitchen becomes a seed drying zone. I want to eat lunch so do not always label the paper towel of tomato seeds I removed before turning the tomato into a salad. Same with the capsicum seeds.

Can you get the idea?

I look into my lovely seed cupboard and try to find space for a stack of paper towels dotted with dry tomato seeds. No room on the right shelf so I put the stack on the shelf below. Bad idea but I cannot sort it out now! Months and years go by….. until now.


I have spent all day today and half of yesterday spreading out ALL (nearly) my seeds and boxes and buckets and paper towels and cups and packets and containers and little, illegible notes all over my lounge room floor. I am exhausted but I have done it; I have 3 perfect shelves of orderly seeds, all sorted by sowing season again. And I have a bucket almost full of mixed everything seeds; some too old, some too voluminous, some of vegetables I don’t even like eating, which I am going to toss into the garden to fight it out amongst themselves. I also have a box of seeds to take to the seed swap in a week or 2, all neat and labelled but maybe not winnowed perfectly. I do so hope others won’t mind and that they enjoy the bounty.

What about that bucket of purple sprouting broccoli branches that was in my bedroom? Oh no, I just can’t do any more. It will be ok. I will label it in the morning!!


Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

When sitting down to write, at 5.30am on the Monday of the week of my monthly garden guide, I look back at what I have written in previous years at this time. April, more than any other, seems to be the month full to the brim with the wonderful joy of food gardening. Topics from the last few years include deep hay, garlic, self-sown winter vegetables, the 3 stages of eating beans, what to do now to keep your fennel producing, broad beans, onions, harvesting sunchokes, bio-char, picking pumpkins, fungi and your soil, lacto-fermented pickling and so much more. I would like these, and all the 5 years’ of my garden guides, to be available for everyone to peruse so I will slowly be adding them to my blog Vegetable Vagabond, where they will be easily found.

The perennial food garden, expanded

I have patches of food throughout my whole garden, for several reasons. First and foremost because many plants are social creatures and benefit from mixing it with other, complementary friends. This is called companion planting and also permaculture guilds. That is a topic in itself for another day. Second, when something dies down, why not have something else popping up there for a while? Why not have daffodils amongst your sunchokes or scatter coriander seeds amongst your asparagus as it dies down? In my garden, marigolds, rocket and the little, native Tasmanian violets pop up everywhere there is space, all by themselves.
Here are some vegetables that you only have to plant once but can harvest year after year and amongst whom you can dot some flowers or herbs or quick growing greens, for use after the main crop dies down.
·         Horseradish - some people say it can become invasive but mine never has and I wish it would as there is nothing more delicious than hot, roasted vegetables, straight out of the oven, with freshly picked horseradish root grated over. Or, grate it and immediately pack into small jars, with a little salt. It keeps in the fridge for years! Don’t screw up your nose until you have tried it as fresh horseradish is so much deeper in flavour than the stuff in jars. Once you have dug, harvested and replanted your horseradish roots a bit later in autumn, you could plant a quick-growing Asian green like bok choy or mizuna or flowers such as alyssum, which will self-sow as well.
·         Multiplier onions - Walking onions and potato onions – I love these because I am a lazy gardener who eats from the garden everyday and they provide all year round as well as multiplying at the same time. Lucky us! Some multiplier onions are also known as “walking onions” because they form a cluster of little onion bulbs in the summer, on a seed stalk. As autumn sets in, the stalk bends over and the already-sprouting bulbs touch the soil and root. So, after a while, your permanent onion area slowly expands! These onions make terrific spring and early summer green onions and as the patch expands, I pull some up to use as well. You could have them in your asparagus patch or you could plant some in flower beds.
Potato onions also make top-set bulbs, but the great thing about them is that they also make a “nest” of rather large onions underground. Some are as large as smaller storage onions. They taste great and store very well. You can remove the larger underground onions to store or use, taking some of the smaller ones to pickle, as well as some of the larger topset bulbs. Then, by planting the smaller bulbs, both topsets and underground bulbs, you can keep your potato onion planting going forever!
·         Sunchokes – aka Jerusalem artichokes or fartichokes! Wonderful as medium to tall border plants that will grow in the toughest conditions with no care. However, you will get better bulbs for eating if you give them compost and deep mulch. I have them as a narrow hedge and backdrop to part of my garden. Once I dig them in autumn, I replant some, at the same time digging in some compost, then plant lettuce there but you could plant winter flowering annuals. Next spring/ early summer I am going to sow bush beans amongst the sunchokes, which will have started growing by then, to give them some wind protection and support, in a similar way that people sow climbing beans amongst their corn.
·         Other perennial vegetables include globe artichokes, rhubarb, fennel bulbs, chives, garlic chives, asparagus….. and many more.


Plant out soft neck varieties such as Tasmanian purple, now, into damp soil but do not water until you see little green shoots appearing, or you risk them rotting. These will be ready to harvest before Christmas, when their soft stems brown off and flop over. If overwatered at this time the water seeps down into the garlic head and can cause rot or cause them not to store well.
Plant out hard neck varieties later and into May. Later they will produce tall, curly, green stems called scapes, which are fabulously delicious. I leave some to grow scapes but most I cut off so more energy goes into growing the bulbs. These will be ready to harvest in January or even February and have a hard stem, right down into the garlic head. In a wet summer, these survive better as they are less prone to rot because of the way they grow tight around the hard neck.

April jobs
Sow now
  • Lime brassica beds followed by liquid feed with fish emulsion.
  • Make compost in 1 cubic meter bays. Cover thickly with straw. Leave for winter.
  • Plant garlic, shallots
  • Harvest sunchokes, Chinese artichokes, horseradish, seeds
  • Pick pumpkins with at least a 20cm stem and set out to dry in a dry, warm tin shed
  • Look into making biochar from your own garden debris or buy and activate
  • Use natural lactose fermentation to pickle any hard vegetables such as gherkins, carrots, radishes
Asian greens
English spinach
Broad beans
Miners’ Lettuce
Spring onions
Sugar snap peas under cover
Green manure
Sweet peas
Winter annual flowers
Plant now
Spring bulbs
Evergreen shrubs and trees

March 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

As we move into March, many trees are telling us autumn has begun, while we all hope for some steady, warm days to ripen our tomatoes. At least the wind has abated!


The recent Koonya Garlic Festival has put garlic at the forefront of my mind and I will be preparing beds this week. I went to 3 talks at the festival, all with excellent advice on growing, eating and storing garlic. What it comes down to is that, whatever garlic cultivars you choose to grow, the state of your soil will determine how well the flavour develops. The growth of the bulb itself will be determined by soil and weather.
Garlic does not need a lot of fertility but it needs humus (well rotted organic matter) and for the soil microbes to be well fed. Here is what I am going to do:
1.   Dig to a spade’s depth and loosen any clumps
2.   Dig in plenty of aged sheep manure (cow would be even better, I am saving my compost for brassicas and other greens)
3.   Dig in a well known, pelletised seaweed, fish, humic acid and manure product available in large buckets. Seamungus.
4.   Really concentrate on improving the structure of the soil, with elbow and back grease!
5.   Mention was made of lactobacillus bacteria so I might dilute some kefir or pickle juice and pour it over!
6.   Water, mulch and leave, or sow a quick green manure.
7.   Plant out at times according to what garlic you have.

The planting, harvest and storage times depend on the cultivars you grow. I will be planting my 3 cultivars from late March onwards. I cannot reproduce all the information here but I suggest you search online for “Tasmanian Gourmet Garlic” and a book called “Garlic”.

March in the Tasmanian vegetable garden

Brassicas grow wonderfully in the cold and they are so healthful for our bodies during winter. Use them in winter soups, stews and warm salads. I love a plate of cooked kale, with scrambled eggs on top. There are hundreds of varieties from all over the world. European brassicas include broccolis, cauliflower, cabbages, collards, Brussels sprouts and all the kales etc.  My tips for growing these are:
·         Get good sized seedlings into the ground NOW and cover them with lace curtains or white shade cloth to keep off the cabbage moths which are still active. (The moths will disappear when we get a cold snap.)
·         Plant seedlings into damp soil rich in compost and lime to get them growing fast before the end of May when day length and low sun angle bring a halt to further growth if the leaves are too small to provide enough energy to do more than survive.
·         Protect with iron based slug and snail pellets.
Asian brassicas can be sown throughout autumn because they grow so fast that nothing slows them down all winter. These include bok choy, tatsoi, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, mizuna, mibuna, kalian, daikon, hakurei turnips etc. Most parts are eaten; stems, leaves, flower shoots and some roots. My tips for growing these are:
·         Wet the soil thoroughly. Put your fork into it and check it is wet down at least 15cms. Keep watering until it is!
·         Spread with well rotted sheep manure and some sea & manure pellets or similar then dig it all in well, to the depth of the wet soil. If you have good compost then use that. Asian Brassicas are less fussy about pH than European brassicas but prefer near neutral.
·         Rake to a fine tilth. Sow thinly. Asian vegetable seeds germinate quickly and reliably and will provide a long season of fabulous food right through late autumn, winter and early spring. Sow every 2 weeks for continuous supply.
·         To stop birds disturbing them while they germinate, cover wire crates (from a tip shop) with lace curtains and place over the area. I use this system a lot as rain and irrigation go through, white lets the light through and the lace reduces the wind.
·         Protect with iron-based slug and snail pellets.


I have staked and tied up several old parsley, kale, chicory and fennel plants. This week I will be harvesting the very dry parsley and kale seeds to share with friends and to sow myself. But I won’t need to sow much because it is all self-sowing where it is falling. I will transplant some of the seedlings elsewhere, give many away and leave some to grow where they fell. Seeds are so easy and, to me, they are the second crop, after I finish eating a plant.
How are your beans? Did you let a few pods get away and start to become knobby? I hope you will leave them on the plants to dry off completely then save them for next year. Beans do not cross and all are so easily saved and shared.
There is nothing better for you and your family, for eliminating food miles, for food security of our region and for the health of the whole earth than saving seeds. Of all the options we are presented with to help reduce our carbon footprint, none surpasses growing food from seed that has been saved and shared in your own area.
If you don’t want to save your own seed, look for locally saved seed at any of our great Huon Valley markets.
Sow in March
Plant out now
Tas. swede
Broad beans
Asian veg.
Spring and salad onions
Coriander, pennyroyal, cress
European brassica seedlings
Spring onions
Silver beet

Evergreen shrubs and trees
Spring bulbs (ixias, daffodils etc)

Tips of the month
·         Last chance to do summer pruning of fruit trees. Wounds will heal quickly and you can see where to prune while the leaves are still on.
·         Rake up all fallen fruit to reduce over-wintering of diseases.
·         Let your chooks range under the fruit trees to get rid of codling moth larvae.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

How to make soil and compost with no work

When it comes down to it, I am either lazy or clever….. probably lazy! As well as that, unlike many people, I don’t like buying things much, especially if they are in plastic bags and come from far away or if I have to get in my car to go and get them. I like staying at home and using what is around me which means I also like to sit on my verandah with a coffee and think about how not to have to go out, but still have things I need!


I like sowing seeds I have saved and I often need to have plants in pots for a while until there is room in the garden and I like compost; I just LOVE the feel and smell of beautiful compost. All this means I need something to put into my seed trays, something to put in my pots and something to dig into the garden….. and here is how it gets done at my place.

My chooks live in a kind of man made forest….. well, some of it is man made intentionally, some of it is a consequence of people living here. Some years ago someone planted two oak trees and a few fruit trees, all very much too close to one another, if you ask me, but they were there so I left them there when I moved here. Someone crazily planted 2 buddleias, which are now massive, one of which the chooks have chosen to roost in at night, instead of in the funny little tin and apple crate structure which they now lay eggs in, mostly. Then, unintentionally some mallow “tree” seeds probably blew in and a few wild plum trees grew on the neighbour’s side of the fence and some other weeds and plants got a hold and now it is quite a lovely forest for chooks. Add to this a lazy woman who throws most of the weeds from the vegetable garden and elsewhere, into the chook yard for them to deal with.


Next, the oak trees lose their leaves in winter and half the chook yard becomes literally 30cms or more deep in oak leaves. I keep tossing weeds on top, the mallow sheds its leaves too as do the  fruit trees, the other plants come and go and for months and months the chooks turn it all over, pecking at insects and edible bits and pieces, which they turn into eggs for me. Sometimes I can hardly open the gate because the chooks ALWAYS kick and scratch everything towards the gate! Oh lalalala, maybe the gate faces Mecca or something but I tell you what they NEVER kick it away from the gate!


So, one day when I was again in there with my spade trying to reclaim my desire to easily enter the chook yard through said gate I noticed how fabulous was this mound, how good it smelt and, kneeling down, how beautiful it felt running through my fingers…. I had discovered gold; a free, easy, continuous supply of beautiful, rich soil, hand made by a flock of assorted chooks of all ages who had been throwing it towards me for years and for which I had cursed them up until this moment.

All set to sift some gold for seed sowing
Now I have raked the area and the chooks are back to see what I have revealed for them!
4 buckets filled. The back right is sifted.
Here are the buckets, now by my potting bench which is next to the chook yard. All very convenient.

Now I can easily gather up a wheelbarrow of soil, which I sift well if I am going to sow seeds into it. If I want it as compost for the garden, I dig it in, acorns, little sticks and all (but I do curse those innocent acorns when they turn into oak trees faster than a speeding bullet!). If I want potting mix, I take the middle ground (like Goldilocks) and use the stuff that is not too fine and not too coarse and sometimes I mix it with some cheap potting mix from some of those wretched plastic bags I hate!

It does take some management because you have to get at it before the next lot of leaves fall and not just after you have dumped a load of the world’s worst weeds on top! Sure, a few grass seeds etc germinate but chooks have very beady eyes and do not let many seeds go uneaten!

All in all it is a brilliant system and allows me more time to sit on my verandah and contemplate other ways to avoid going out and buying stuff.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

February 2017 Kitchen Garden Guide

It has been a blustery summer thus far and many days that I intended to garden were instead spent visiting friends, painting my bedroom or cooking up a storm in my kitchen. Nevertheless I have enjoyed myself and my food garden is in pretty good shape.

Pear and cherry slug

If you see tiny little black ‘worms’ on the leaves of your pears, cherries, quinces and even plums and the leaves are turning brown and crisp, you have this slug. A simple control is to spray the entire tree with a mist of water then throw ash or lime all over it. Do this a couple of times and they will be desiccated. Try to stand up-wind!

Managing wind

Tomatoes: I have not tied up my tomatoes as they do not like wild wind ripping through their foliage. My tomatoes and lying all over the thick hay mulch and producing lots of fruit. There are several myths about tomatoes. Here are the facts: First, they are self-pollinated so do not need bees. Slight air movement is all they require and there is plenty of that! Second, the tomatoes themselves do not need the sun to ripen; they simply need warm air temperature. Mine are ripening beautifully and I am eating even the quite large Black Krim already. Third, you don’t need to bother pricking out the laterals but you can if you want more order. Fourth, if you pick them when they just begin to colour, take them inside to somewhere warm but there’s no need to put them on a sunny windowsill.
Fruit trees: Quince fruit seems to stay on despite summer wind, as do plums, apples, olives and Kentish cherries. Contrary to what you hear, citrus also seem to thrive on my verandah and in my garden despite the wind. Young trees bearing fruit will snap off in the wind so staking is necessary. I espalier my Bramley apple as the fruit are way too big and prolific for the branches. This means that the trellis takes the weight of the fruit and far fewer seem to drop off. If you live in a very windy area, I recommend you espalier the perimeter of your garden with fruit trees, all the way around. Actually this is a wonderful, practical and beautiful way to grow fruit and is common in many English and French gardens. You can find any number of shapes and patterns online.

Interesting snippets:

Strawberries: Did you know that strawberries require bees to visit the flowers several times for full pollination to happen? If you have mis-shapen fruit, the reason can be that bees are not visiting enough. I suggest you plant some other bee attracting flowers nearby, or leave some things to flower and go to seed, such as fennel, globe artichokes or chicory, all of which are magnets for bees.
Sage: This deep hay method has resulted in a vast improvement of many of my herbs. Unexpectedly I have discovered a fabulous way to multiply sage plants, simply by piling damp hay over some of the long sage stems and leaving it alone! This is called layering and came about because I am a lazy gardener. I now have a small forest of my favourite, purple sage. If you don’t cook much with sage, you must start! The flavour holds well so is wonderful in slow cooking or even on the BBQ as crisp sage leaves are gorgeous. Chopped and fried in a little butter or good olive oil, then folded into pasta is a quick and easy and totally delicious meal. Put a sage leave in the pot when you are cooking rice. If you have trouble growing basil, grow sage!

Hay time

Our Tasmanian soil was never meant to grow vegetables so the things we add to it and do to it cause changes that are not well documented, here at the bottom of the world. Imagine a forest floor, deep in leaf litter, old, fallen trees and tree ferns and dappled light….. now picture a cleared vegetable garden bed in full sun. Hmmmm how can we encourage the soil life, microbes and worms that once did live in our forested soil, to live there again and help make nutrients available to our vegetables?
The answer is deep hay, at least 20cms thick, all year round. I have written about this now for well over a year and, since now is the time to buy hay, I have some tips for you. Hay ain’t hay! Hay is made up of all the plants in a paddock so, watch out for cheap hay full of thistles, dock and gorse. You will curse buying it for 7 years while the weed seeds torment you and you will blame me for suggesting it!! Ask the farmer about the hay. Look at the hay, look at the weeds growing in the ditches nearby and don’t buy hay from a farmer that cannot answer your questions or a farm surrounded with thistles and bad weeds. And don’t buy hay from a farmer that uses chemicals as they also will be in the hay and end up in your vegetables. I can direct you to where I get hay. Email me at

Zucchinis, berries and more

If you need some recipes, check out Gardeners’ Gastronomy blog.

Seeds to sow now
Broccoli raab
Asian greens (late Feb.)
Spinach & silver beet
Spring onions
Hakurei turnips
Tas. swedes

Plant out now, yes now, or before!
Brussel sprouts
Broccoli – regular, sprouting and raab
Jobs for February
Plant or move citrus
Summer prune stone fruits
Prepare beds for autumn plantings
Save seeds for next spring
Give pots and the veg. garden some seaweed and fish liquid feed in a hosable spray.