Saturday, 4 November 2017

2017 season update

Long time since the last update. Had a decent winter season but we've been busy growing something else - our first child. Have still had a little time to get the garden together for the year while on extended leave from work. Despite all the usual media hype from a few unseasonably warm days early in spring, the rest of spring has been exceeding mild and not many consecutive warm sunny days, so it's been a bit slow going but it's coming together now.

First thing's first though, a bit of a rewind...

Early in the season, I dug out the main bed to line it with geotextile fabric between the gravel and soil layer. The two smaller beds were done last autumn. The best thing in hindsight would have been to line the ground underneath the bed with it (including under the edges of the bed), then add gravel layer, then another layer of the fabric, but it's too late for that now - not unless I want to pay some landscaper a fortune to do it for me. So this has to suffice and fingers crossed it keeps out most tree roots. Even if it's a fool's errand it will keep the soil and gravel layers from mixing too much, which is still worthwhile as I was getting more and more stones each year from digging over the beds.

If you look closely you can see many greedy tree roots (probably some from the hedge too). I'm kind of wishing I took this opportunity to rake the gravel to one side and try to line underneath too, but oh well.

Three layers in total, overlapping. If roots do come up the side through path of least resistance they should be relatively easy to sever.

Finished! Back and shoulders ache just from looking at it.

Here's how the garden is going as of early November. Added a few pavers to make getting across the lawn easier without walking on it, and also as "temporary" places to put pots (at the moment two Florida F1 dwarf tomatoes and the blueberry).

The blueberry was loved to death, not sure what it was exactly but all the blooms just died probably from one or a combination of anti-fungal sprays I was using to combat rust, or perhaps over-fertilising. It was overdue for a cutting back so I gave it a heavy one, hoping it'll now have a good long season to rejuvenate for next year. Shame about no blueberries this year (in truth, this is not the best variety for our climate) but hopefully as you'll see below, the raspberry crop will make up for it.

Just out of shot I have my usual assortment of small troughs above the worm bin, two shallots, two spring onions, two lettuces and one pak choy.  Speaking of pak choy I let two go to seed, a purple variety and another variety I started from a purchased seedlings back in autumn that I really liked because the leaves tore cleanly from the base. Let's hope they are true to type. I've noticed the smaller native bees in particular love brassica flowers so it's been good to have something for them. I have some bolting cabbages I might use for the same purpose before they get composted.

Radishes have been squeezed in here and there too, unfortunately the ones I was most looking forward to trying, "Watermelon", bolted right away despite being planted in very mild weather. I'll try them again in Autumn. I'll let a few go to seed because I've heard the seed pods are tasty and I am getting low on French Breakfast seeds.

New arrangement of the pots along the window, with 4 x 40L at the rear (including the two citrus) and 4 x 25L in front. One of the things I wanted to do this year with the layout is not have any tomato plants touching. I realise that disease is going to spread in such a small garden regardless, but hopefully it won't be like wildfire.

The smaller strawberry tub were all volunteers and have produce some really lovely strawberries, the existing "Temptation" strawberries in the larger self watering trough aren't much good though, so I'm thinking I'll compost those and then transplant the ones from the smaller trough to fill it when they start producing runners.

In the pots are my lemon and lime trees (the lime is flowering like crazy this season), Bullshorn, Jimmy Nardello and Marconi capsicums, Borghese and Blueberry tomatoes.

This is the new raspberry bed which was constructed from the two west facing side beds with the addition of a frame and wire trellis, and the potted raspberries were transplanted here in very early spring. They've done really well. We've got many more blooms than was possible in the pot they were in last two seasons so we're hoping for a decent amount (and hopefully the ants that spoiled so many last season will stay at bay).

This bed was also lined with geotextile fabric. I am also lining pots with it, mostly as a filtration measure to keep the saucers cleaner. Worms can still squeeze their way around.

In front are the Red Gauntlet runners that were propagated last season - although I am very disappointed with this variety too. Small and bland, at least so far, I'm wondering if they will improve now they have decent space. If not they will end up going if I get a decent amount of runners from the volunteer strawberries (probably sprouted from composted store bought strawberries which nevertheless taste infinitely better when grown at home and are much bigger). As usual I have more volunteer strawberries coming up all over the place but it's always a lucky dip.

Bottom right are two grow bags of potatoes (Sebago and Royal Blue).

This is the east facing fence. The peas and garlic will be gone soon, replaced by beans and cucumbers. I'm trying the Kiwano again this year too. Along here I am also growing another Principe Borghese tomato, Jalapeno (overwintered and already flowering) and another Bullshorn. Broad beans haven't done well this year, strangely they did a lot better in the native hard clay soil. I don't think I'll grow more than one or two plants next year if any as the space is better used by more peas. Speaking of peas I think I overdid it in the troughs with three rows, so it'll be two next season with a little more generous spacing.

In the whiskey barrels we have some beans, dumpling squash (to climb), crookneck squash, purple podded peas and lettuces. Also a new pot of swiss chard (bit disappointed with the variety of colours I germinated this year) and lettuce.

The mints are doing well but are starting to get shaded by the angle of the sun, the lemon balm needs repotting badly and have been infested with spider mites that survived winter. Fortunately the tiny black ladybirds that eat them also survived and I think I'll have a good supply of them this year to save my cucumber, bean and other spider mite attracting plants.

This is the main bed. There are a lot of Borage, Marigold and Heartsease volunteers, as well as shiso and Thai basil I am pulling like weeds.

In each corner are tomatoes (A nice medium red variety saved from supermarket, San Marzano, Sweetie and Red grape) as well as one Florida F1 dwarf. In the front are three capsicums (Chocolate Beauty, Poblano and Cubanelle).

There is also yellow squash and zucchini in this bed, two corn plants (I had planted ten, but I think I went too early and they rotted), a couple of Okra and two eggplant (one each Black Beauty and Tsakoniki). Also three Kohlrabi that I am hoping will be done soon as they are shading out summer crops.

Originally I tried to plant parsnips in the centre of the bed but they didn't germinate, probably seeds too old, thinking this area of the bed is hard to reach so it makes sense to have a long harvest once crop there. Instead I will transplant leeks there once they are big enough. I also had some bean volunteers I am thinking of pulling or transplanting but we'll see.

There are also radishes and a few new types of flowers in the bed (Salvia, Nasturtium, Corncockle, Alyssum).

In the two smaller beds we have a mirror planting, one tomato each (Tigerella and the large Yellow one I loved last year), one eggplant each (again, one BB and one Tsakoniki) and two capsicums in each bed (in this case, Yellow Marconi and Anaheim and Bullshorn and Shisito in the other). Each also has a Lebanese cucumber, some more flowers and basil. The beds won't be mulched until they really need it in summer.

Herb tower. Some things desperately need re-potting it's just a matter of finding the time!

On the second row left is a basil plant that was overwintered and has given me plenty of basil early in the season with no bitterness. Don't believe people who say it can't be done! This was done on the balcony in an unheated mini-greenhouse.

Speaking of the balcony, we have a kale plant destined for downstairs (then again I haven't had any cabbage aphids or whitefly attack it up here, so it might be the best place for it) and this year's chilli / small capsicum varieties. We have an Anaheim, Razzmatazz (in its third year), Caysan and Jalapeno (both overwintered) and two Shisito, a new variety I am trying this year.

That's all for now, hope your gardens are going well!

Friday, 21 April 2017

Lack of updates - and planning for 2017/2018 season

Sorry about the lack of updates since November - pretty much the whole growing season. I took plenty of photos but just too busy to organise them and write blog posts. I am working on starting up a proper YouTube channel in addition to the blog, will probably start that next spring.

It was a disappointing season in some respects and a good one in others. Did well with some of the cucumbers, really badly with the squash. Most of the tomatoes did really well with a few exceptions. An overload of Jimmy Nardellos the point I got tired of eating them. Other capsicums and eggplants were variable. Poor main bed design meant too much shading, hard to do pruning/maintenance in the middle of the bed and so on. Definitely planning to do things differently next season.

The lime tree gave us limes finally and it's still putting out new flowers in mid Autumn so we might even get more over winter. I plan to prune the citrus pretty heavily early spring to shape them and possibly pot them up one last time to a 40L pot.

Chillis were really successful on the balcony, in fact, all of them are still loaded with fruit. Will try to overwinter the Jalapenos to get an early start next year, but might give the hots a break next season as I don't really have a great method of preserving the huge excess of fruit outside of freezing. I did make some hot sauce and try pickling some but to be honest I don't really tend to use them much like this. I still have bags from last season in the freezer too, let alone this season.

Haven't had a frost yet, it's been a lovely Autumn really, with the first of the real cold set to arrive next week. A little late with starting my winter crops, ending up buying most of the brassica seedlings because I had neglected my own seed starts and they had been eaten pretty badly by caterpillars.

One note of good news this season was the arrival of a tiny black ladybug which feast on my arch nemesis, the spider mites. I sure hope they overwinter here so that they can keep them in check next season as they really do wreak havoc with cucumbers, beans and some other crops. I suspect my strategy of hosing them off every few days in summer rather than using pesticides is what allowed the black ladybird population to flourish.

Next season I plan to do the larger capsicums in pots. My favourites this year with the anaheim, although I got very few because I planted it in a really sub-optimal position, and a supermarket-seed saved variety called bullshorn, which were simply delicious roasted. Maybe one of the smaller beds for the tomatoes plus one or two in pots. Main bed probably corn and squash. I am thinking of moving my raspberries into a raised bed by the fence as although they seem to do okay in a pot (bar some annoying new ant I got this year eating much of the fruit) I think they'll do a lot better grown in a more traditional fashion. I could add a second variety too. Could probably put strawberries in front of that. My focus next season now that I have tried out a lot of varieties in the past two seasons will be a "less is more" approach, trying to get better production with fewer plants, being those I've enjoyed eating the most as well as those that have done the best in our climate.

Thanks for reading and I promise more photos and updates in the future as well as hopefully videos.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Grow-vember Part 2

Another November update. We had a week of 30 plus, a bit of rain, and now the weather is mid 20s again. Summer is just around the corner.

First some harvests.

Broad beans. These were double peeled and sauteed with butter and garlic. On hindsight the pod skins were probably tender enough to eat without going to the trouble of removing them.

Beetroot, kohlrabi, radishes and onions which went into a roast dinner. Onions didn't get very big but were a good size for roasting and salads. These were a year old, the ones that didn't flower.

Carrots, new parsley, cucumbers, beans. In the whiskey barrels in the back there are sugar snap peas, zucchini (right) marketmore cucumber (left) and some romano beans.

Cucumbers growing well now, should get first flowers on the biggest one soon. Peas nearing the end, sprayed for powdery mildew a few times to keep them going but won't be long now. The really large snow pea there is the Yakumo giant, has similar flowers to the Dutch purple podded. I have been enjoying the podded peas fresh.

This is the fenugreek which has flowered. I think those long parts are seed pods forming.

Leeks, only a few hours of sun here but I'm hopeful I'll get something edible by end of season. Beans in the back.

Broad beans have done pretty well. I've topped them and am waiting for the remaining beans to mature.

Behind the beans, scarlet runners have re-shot, as well as some new ones I planted.

Chinese broccoli needs to be harvested. Pot beetroots are getting to be a decent size.

Rainbow chard, doing just fine with only a few hours sun.

I chopped and dropped the miner's lettuce, hoping it had a lot of viable seeds that will come up at some point. Two of the sorrel plants are bolting, I want to see what the flowers are like but I might pull them before the seeds mature.

Lettuce is starting to bolt so I will need to start some more soon. I'm waiting for the seeds to mature on the spring onions on the left.

Beets forming nicely, and shallots starting to mature.

Basil seedlings.

Two 40L potted tomatoes, growing vigorously. On the left Principe Borghese, on the right Moneymaker. The fruits are forming. I have been pollinating flowers with an electric toothbrush.

Corn is growing nicely, gourds in the middle. The transplanted corn is a bit behind but catching up.

Harvested the pak choy and the biggest beetroots from this bed. Planted some cucumber (double yield) and beans here too. I'm not sure if it's worth keeping the bolting spinach, does it need a "male" plant to pollinate it?

This bed is going to become a corn bed when the rest of this stuff is harvested.

Remainder of the potted peas - the purple podded ones have been removed as they were dying. I'm hopeful of getting another flush of snowpeas before the plants are done - might need to move it into a place where it gets a bit of shade.

Remaining seedlings. Those are sweet dumpling squash in the yellow ones.

Spinach in a tub. Gets morning sun only and doing well. There are also a number of volunteer strawberries in here, which I might need - more on that later.

Main bed. Eggplants taking their time, seemed to be picking up some fungal disease from the leaves so I've sprayed them and they'll hopefully pick up. They are well behind this time last year. Tomatoes growing more slowly than the potted ones, which probably had a higher dose of fertiliser. I don't mind if they grow slowly though, there are still many months left of the growing season.

Beautiful "Johnny Jump up" violas. I have had the seeds for some time but hadn't grown until this year, really glad I did.

Various tomato fruits. 

Capsicums are getting their first flower buds too.

I finally freed these pots harvesting the last of the kohlrabi, which didn't all get to a decent size but were ready to come out anyway. Now I have transplanted in a late started cubanelle (left, with some Thai basil) and on the right, a sweet banana and spare Jimmy Nardello. I was going to give these away but I figure I can just give away the excess fruit instead.

The sweet banana already had some decent flowers forming so not a moment too soon.

This shaded side bed is actually producing really well this season. I did amend it with coco-coir and fertiliser as well as do my best to sever the tree roots getting in. It contains rainbow chard, spinach, pak choy, curly kale and beetroots. Still, I might convert this to container space after this season.

Bed potatoes. They are flowering. I don't know if that's good or bad at this stage in the season. But they look otherwise healthy, if small.

The bagged potatoes with significantly more foliage, also flowering. I will add some support soon but at the moment they are holding up fine by themselves.

I think the west facing fence, especially nearer to the house, actually does better for sun/heat loving plants than the east facing one. Gets a similar number of hours of sun but at a higher intensity.

Blueberries and strawberries. A disappointing year from the blueberries, but that's largely due to stressing the plant last year by waiting too long to prune and then transplant it, and not noticing the rust earlier this season.

I'm getting lots of strawberries though, even if I've made it hard for myself to get at them.

So here's my lineup of potted plants. Back row is raspberry, meyer lemon, yellow pear tomato, black cherry tomato, black grape tomato, Taihitian lime. In the front are 6 Jimmy Nardello capsicums. I have planted some zinnias in the spaces between those pots but I think the slugs are going to get them.

Everything is growing really well. The tomatoes I am pruning to three stems each.

 The tomato fruit.

The raspberry fruit - should get a lot more than last year if the birds don't take them. We'll see if they are able to get at these up top with nothing much to land on (I don't think they try to land on the spiky vines themselves).

Cute volunteer marigold. Much smaller than the ones in the beds but lovely nonetheless.

Neighbour's asmine flowers.

Herb tower, which I have connected up to the irrigation system for when I got on holidays. As the sun gets higher and higher the lower pots start getting shaded by the ones above, but it can't be helped.

I think this is a lacewing larvae. Between the lacewings and the hoverflies, there are barley any aphids this year. I do have a bit of a thrip problem but they aren't causing much damage at this point.

Hoverflies enjoying the flowering parsley.

I came home yesterday to find pieces of my balcony strawberry plants strewn in the garden below. I am pretty sure it was a cockatoo who ripped out stems and leaves and the early fruit. Very disappointing as I had no such problems previously. There is a little bit of the crown left in the one that was completely pulled out, if I am really lucky it will re-shoot. Otherwise I'll have to replace it with a volunteer.

Not sure how I'll go about protecting these - putting a cage up here would look really ugly. I'll have to think about it.

Here are the chillis. This was taken just after midday, and you see the sun just creeping into shot. They get afternoon sun only but get it until quite late because they are high up and facing NNW, so I am confident it will be enough. I produced an overabundance of chills last year so I can probably do without as many this season.

Overwintered razzmatazz with new growth and new fruit.

Jalapeno and lemon aji.

Caysan, Jalapeno and an unknown small red variety saved from the coast.

The cockatoo also took off the largest stem from this plant, it will be a set back but it will recover.

So that's how my garden is doing in the last week of spring. Thanks for reading!