Monday, 16 May 2016

Autumn clean up complete

I wasn't going to do another post this month but it was too nice a day today to not get out with the camera. We had a lot of rain a week ago but the last few days have been sunny and warm. We had one night min of 0 but it couldn't really be called a frost. Certainly not enough to kill anything.

Chillis up on the balcony. Hard to believe it's mid May and these plants are still going and still ripening nicely. Next season I plan to do all the hots (5 in total) up here, and probably use this space to harden off my seedlings.

Habanero, razzmatazz, caysan and nardello.

Mini cabbage, bought as seedlings. They've already put on some nice growth.

Garlic. Thinking of planting more. Sweet banana capsicums still haven't come out, will do it before the first heavy frost.

Mint, lemon balm and coriander enjoying the autumn sun. Mints were all cut back heavily a few months ago. I'll see how they go over winter in this sheltered pot and decide which need repotting early spring.

Strawberries getting eaten by parrots. These were all transplanted runners which I'll probably use next year for the balcony pots.

Still waiting for the store bought shallots (left) to sprout but I am hopeful they will.

Inside the greenhouse covered beds the brassicas are doing well and the mizuna and spinach has finally sprouted.

Main bed, things growing very slowly due limited sun (even the sunny part is only for a few hours). Most of these will be not be ready until mid spring just in time for the summer crops to go in.

The kiwano vine and beans have been removed. I'll let the vines dry out and fall off on their own. I didn't sever the stems of the Scarlett Runner as there's a chance they may shoot new growth next spring. I have also planted peas and broad beans here. I just hope the rats don't find them.

I found a surprise kiwano over the neighbour's side of the fence, the ripest of the bunch. This is an east facing fence and the kiwano clearly needed all day sun from both sides, so if I ever grow it again I'll need to keep that in mind.

The celery was harvested too. I cooked most of it, it was probably the equivalent of one bunch as the stems were thin and hollow, but taste wise no complains. I'll let the celery leaf sprout from the bottom and see how it goes with the frosts. The onions look good here despite only dappled sun, I can see a few of them forming bulbs. There is also self seeded corn salad here - I pulled a lot out thinking it was a weed but there are still many plants remaining.

Under the tarp is most of this season's potting soil in tubs, which I will re-use next year after amending with compost and fertiliser.

Sorry about the blurry photos. The miner's lettuce has sprouted (I probably sowed far too many of them) and the sorrel is growing happily here in the shade. I did notice those spot gets an hour or two of reflected sunlight from an upstairs window this time of year, so that's nice.

Far side this chard isn't going to do much until spring, at which point it'll probably just bolt. Hopefully I get some production before that happens.

This bed is now a compost of the annuals, leaves, coffee and scraps. I will plant either potatoes or corn here next season, and not until late spring at the earliest, so it should have plenty of time to break down. If it doesn't break up as fast as I hope I'll plant potatoes as I don't think they need very fine soil.

Compost tumbler has been moved off the lawn to this spot. It's still a bit chunky but hopefully will be ready by spring, at which point I'll use it to top off the beds and then start up a new batch of leaves, coffee grounds and scraps. There is good population of volunteer red wrigglers in there to help it along.

The line up of remaining pots to maximise sun for the winter. The lemongrass (which has had a haircut) will be harvested before the first heavy frost. I'm debating whether I'll grow it again next year as it takes all season, takes up a lot of space and is fairly cheap to buy.

Lawn looks great, going to mow it this afternoon, probably won't need mowing again after that until spring. Those are bean seedlings from some dried pods that must have been mowed over, and there are even some corn seedlings popping up.

Topped the hedge for the final time before next spring.

Some good new growth from the cutting back. I'll wait until early spring (when this side of the hedge will get sun again) and then give it a light trim to encourage branching from this new growth, as well as the front.

That's all for now. Probably won't be an update for a while as things grow very slowly this time of year, except in the greenhouse beds.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Tumbleweed Can-O-Worms review

This is the first review on this blog. I'll update it with pictures when I have time.

I have had this bin for 2 years now and it has produced a lot of castings for me, in a small space, and consumed countless buckets of food scraps and cardboard.


Pretty easy. The instructions tell you to put the packaging at the bottom of the bottom tray. I found this coated cardboard didn't break down after a year at the bottom of the farm. It's good to put something at the bottom to keep the bedding from falling through the holes too much but this packaging cardboard probably restricts airflow. So probably better to use something more permeable like a few layers of newspaper.

I had also purchased two worm blankets. In practice I found the worm blanket to become a hassle after a while. Initially it's easy to remove but eventually the worms start to live in the blanket and fill it with castings, it gets several inches thick and really heavy, and eventually breaks apart (but doesn't actually break down very fast after that). Better to just keep the farm topped with a layer of say, shredded newspaper or cardboard and during warmer months at least, make sure it's in the shade (I cover mine with a tarp in summer and year round with shade cloth and they have survived 37 C highs and -8 C lows).

The Australian model comes with two trays, I have seen the US model come with three. I purchased a third tray. More is not recommended as it might become too heavy for the plastic legs.


At first it may be advantageous to cut your scraps up a bit more for the worms. I've even seen people put them in a blender or food processor. However, once you have a large worm population, especially in the warmer months, the worms eat very fast (helped probably by the warmer temperatures breaking the food down faster). I've put a heavy compost bin full of coarse scraps in there and had it disappear in a few days. It might not be a bad idea in winter though, but I don't usually bother. I will usually coarsely chop large scraps (like watermelon rinds) before I throw them in the compost bin though. I don't put in citrus but I doubt it is harmful in small amounts - the worms will avoid things they don't like until they are sufficiently broken down enough to eat. Many seeds will germinate inside the worm bin and because of this, they are safe to include. This includes things like pumpkin and cucumbers. Others, especially those that require light to germinate, you are probably best avoiding putting in as these will likely stay dormant and then pop up as "volunteers" (ie. weeds) in the garden bed later.

Make sure to include "grits" like a handful of sandy soil now and again, coffee grounds and ground up eggshells. I let my eggshells dry (after rubbing off the egg white residue on the inside under running water, which is where salmonella can breed) and then grind them up in a mortar and pestle.

I also add shredded and soaked cardboard on top after each feeding. I got a shredder from Officeworks (Ledah PX880) which importantly is rated for corrugated (packaging) cardboard (many paper shredders say they don't do cardboard, although thin cardboard probably works) and also cross cuts into small pieces, so it's perfect for this purpose.


I'll describe what I've found be the best harvesting method for this type of multi-tray bin. If you just need a few scoops for potting or planting hole, you can lift off the top tray and scrape some off the top of the tray below. During warmer months, there are more worms in the lower layers likely because it's cooler there but during the cooler months, most of the worms are actually in the upper tray where the decomposing matter provides warmth as well as food.

Before harvesting, don't feed and definitely don't water the worm farm for at least a week. Leave the spigot open so the worm farm is well drained. I usually dilute this runoff or "lechate" and use it on hardy non-edibles like the hedge. Letting your worm farm dry out a bit will mean the castings are more "fluffy" and less sticky and gluggy which makes them a lot easier to harvest. It will also make the trays less heavy - they can be very heavy if water logged, especially if you are moving more than one at a time.

I've read a lot of harvesting guides that say if you feed before harvesting "most" of the worms will then congregate around the new food. This hasn't been my experience - at least in the warmer months, as stated above. So you can't really count on the lower trays to be free of worms. Nor am I a fan of dumping out castings on a tarp and making a worm poop pyramid - not when you have multiple trays you can take advantage of. So I'll describe what works for me and it's relatively mess-free.

Harvest on sunny but calm day. The sunnier it is (in terms of brightness, not heat) the easier it will be. First, take the top (feeding or working) tray out and place it on a work table or tarp of some sort. Then take the tray you want to harvest out and place it on top of this tray. I have three trays - if you only have two, what you can easily do is take out your full (bottom) tray and then place the working (top) tray back onto the base. Then place the full tray back on top of this. This will allow the worms to escape back into the lower tray as you harvest.

It shouldn't take long that any worms near the surface will burrow down to escape the light. Now take your trowel and scrape off a layer of castings into another container. You will expose some worms, who will then burrow down further. Keep going until you reach the bottom - at which point most of the worms will have escaped into the tray below, where you want them, or be clustered in the corners. If you only have the two trays - you're done. And your now near empty tray is your new working tray. If you have three trays, you can now invert this tray and dump out any remaining large scraps/worms into the tray below and then grab the second full tray and place it back on top of your working tray and continue. When you are done, the fullest tray should go on the bottom and the emptiest on top. If you keep the harvested castings outside cover them. If they get rained on they become a bit like poop jelly and are harder to mix into soil or potting mix.


I have at different times had infestations of red/brown soil mites, springtails, soldier fly larvae and so on. Generally you don't need to worry about them as they respond to favourable temperatures/conditions and then decline when they change and help in breaking things down anyway. Do add garden lime or "worm farm conditioner" every few weeks (ground eggshells serve the same purpose) or if the worm farm starts smelling sour, as well as aerating the surface a bit. When I open the bin generally a few hatched black soldier fly will make their long awaited escape. They are harmless and do not bite or sting. The base also accumulates castings over time so a yearly hose out (over a lawn or garden bed, preferably) is a good idea, as well as the lid especially if the ventilation holes become clogged with castings or mite eggs. In summer during heat waves you may need to water the farm occasionally, just run water through it with a gentle shower from the hose and then use the runoff to water the lawn or trees (probably not a good idea straight on the vegie bed). Feed less and more often if possible during very warm weather as large amounts of decomposing food will also add heat to the farm. I have had the farm overheat on occasion from this (also being late to cover it with the tarp when we had our first really warm spring days) and the smell is unpleasant to say the least, and the worms didn't enjoy it much either, poor buggers.


Well, that's about it. It's a good product and produces great castings out of your kitchen scraps. If I had the space or budget and my time over I'd probably have gone a continuous flow system like the "Hungry Bin", but you're still going to get runoff, have some heat/pest problems and you still need to scrape the castings out from the bottom, so it's still messy - not to mention a lot more expensive. But it would mean less lifting and shuffling of heavy tubs of castings.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Beautiful May and a close to the growing season

It's been a beautiful Autumn, warmer and sunnier than usual. I'm know the rain and frosts will be here soon but it's been mostly glorious weather the last few weeks and it's been a pleasure working in the garden.

It's been a sad time too though. A week ago my grandfather passed away. As well as a scholar and pastor he was an avid lifelong gardener. I don't know if I caught the gardening bug off him or off my mother or it's just in most of us to get back to earth and to appreciate where our food comes from. Still I was always in awe of the beautiful gardens and produce he produced. The last time I saw him he was showing off his lettuces and brassicas. I'll miss not having him there for his gardening wisdom, although thankfully he passed a of that on to my mum. But mostly I'll just miss not having him there.

I'm not strictly an organic gardener. For example I often use processed fertiliser to give a boost to seedlings where there isn't much soil biology to break down what's in the soil. But obviously I'm trying to make more and more of my own compost and worm castings so I don't have to buy so much bagged stuff. It's tough with limited space though - for example it's hard to just leave a bed out of the rotation for a season or grow green manure crops in it. If and when we buy a new place I'll have a much bigger patch then, but having a small area is a pro as well as a con as it's relatively low maintenance.

My second season was at least twice as productive as my first, so I'm hoping for an even better 2016/17 season.

These were the last of the big capsicums (chocolate beauty and poblanos mostly), and the majority of the jalapenos and nardellos from a few weeks ago. Nardellos were my favourite discovery this year, even though I didn't start them until summer. I'll grow several plants next year.

Last of the tomatoes for the year, mostly ripening off the vine. I have several bags of cherries in the freezer and some pasta sauce too.

And today is the last big bake up, farewell to capsicum season 2016. I still have a few chillis ripening and a few sweet banana on the bush but that's about it.

The yellow capsicums were from a store bought one, and have been until today seedless. However I found a small number of seeds in a few of the last ones, which I have kept. These capsicums were small but prolific and very sweet. I might plant some of these seeds next year and see what happens. It could be the ones with seeds are the ones that were cross pollinated and I could end up with something unexpected.

Speaking of seeds, much more so than last season I have been letting a few things go to seed and collecting them, as well as saving seeds from other things. The life cycle is always interesting to watch.

Up on the balcony these are the last few chillis still producing or ripening fruit. The caysan especially still has quite a few young chillis, and this position maximises the sun and will provide a shelter from perhaps the first light frost or two. The habanero has been harvested for the second last time. It's produced probably 150 pods this year and is a lovely looking little bush.

Not to waste the space and sun, some mini-cabbages have been planted behind. I re-used the potting soil from the chillis, with some blood & bone and worm castings added. I have written a review of the Can o' Worms worm bin and I'll be posting that soon.

Aerial view of late Autumn garden. Lawn has come back nicely. Lawn loves the spring and the autumn, does not enjoy the summer. 

All the mints are back on this tower sheltered by the entrance way, which is now receiving good sun due to the low angle this time of year. I suspect this will help them survive winter without dying back too severely, and early spring I will repot them from root cuttings.

New coriander on top. Wasn't able to grow it at all over summer really but it's enjoying autumn much like it enjoyed spring.

These herbs all getting good sun, we'll see what dies and what comes back in spring. The wall behind should provide some frost protection.

Greenhouse bed one. These were all started from seed a few weeks ago, so are not advanced. It's buk choy and brocolli, I think one is a chinese cabbage. There are also a few self seeded dill and some beetroot here. They should grow fine over winter with their cover and be ready early spring, earlier if I am lucky.I won't need the bed again until the warm season.

The second bed. I decided to put the two kale seedlings I had here as there was nowhere else. The tuscan one was pretty root bound and not happy so we'll see how that goes. The dwarf curled is already putting on flush of leaves. I did grow it last year from a bought seedling and it was nicer than the tuscan type. We'll see how this goes.

Also in this bed is rocket from saved seeds, and mizuna and spinach that haven't come up yet. When the plants in these two beds are bigger I'll mulch them.

I transplanted the red veined sorrel here next to the green sorrel from last year. This receives no direct sun this time of year, but is still fairly brightly lit and sorrel seems to be one of the few things that grows okay in shade.

Onions and rocket. Again, no direct sun here. It will be interesting to see what happens. This rocket has grown very very slowly but it is also not leggy.

Not many beans from this vine as it's also in shade but I have managed to save a few from this yellow romanesco bean and will be planting it next year. 

I plan to cut this kale back in early spring and see what happens. It's mostly been eaten by whitefly and aphids but I'm hosing them off and spraying with pyrethrum once in a while. I haven't pulled down the beans yet. I did try the ripest kiwano and it was very interesting, but I probably won't grow it again (certainly not anywhere but full sun, as it needed the whole season). I have three left I am hoping ripen a bit more before I pull them off.

The garlic is looking great, and it will have as long as it needs next spring to finish maturing, unlike next year. I have lots of parsley but I know it will not grow very quickly over winter, so it's good to start with a lot. The sweet banana capsicums will come out very shortly when the last few are a decent size (or if we get a frost forecast).

I harvested my first edible beetroot from this little pot. Absolutely delicious. There is one more of decent size in there but the others don't fill me with confidence. I'll put the tarragon on one of the shelves soon to give it a little frost protection, but it was one of the first things to come back last spring so I'm sure it won't die completely. On the right is more coriander.

Autumn fennel is doing well, I'll need to cull it down to 5 or so plants soon, then mulch the pot. The volunteer strawberry is doing nicely.

Lemongrass and blueberry. Lemongrass needs to be harvested soon. Not sure if I will try to save a few stalks indoors for next season or start with a new one.

I rotated the lemon and lime. I'll give the lime a sunnier aspect next season in the hopes of getting fruit. I'll probably give them one last potting up to a 40L.

Main bed now mostly in shade. The leeks and carrots will probably not put on much growth until next spring now but hopefully will survive the frosts okay.

Far right bed might be a better choice for biannual or perennial greens as it still gets a little bit of sun this time of year, unlike the one on the left. Then again it gets good sun during late spring and summer so is ideal for corn. It's basically an open compost bed now of the undiseased chopped up annuals, coffee grounds and leaves.

One set of the shallots have come forth. The second were a purple variety from the store. I'm hoping they shoot too. Parrots have found our last strawberries of the season and stolen pretty much all the ripe or ripening ones. These have no powdery mildew at all so I might transplant these to the balcony next year and throw the existing ones away.

Thanks for looking.