Monday, July 27, 2015

Have a Very Berry Summer!

We have one more month of winter to go here in Australia and so I thought it time to tidy up my berries ready for the spring growth. 

In my garden I have blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
My blackberries did very well last summer for me. I have two plants trained up wire supports against a south facing fence. North facing is the hottest in Australia. Last year they yielded me, with very little effort on my part, 1200 grams of fruit, ( just over two and half pounds).  I've cut back all the old fruited wood, as blackberries fruit on the previous year's growth and got rid of all the dead wood. In spring I will dig in some compost and blood and bone and sprinkle a little sulphate of potash around their base. Sulphate of potash encourages the plant to make good growth and quality fruit.  I can just taste those blackberry and apple crumbles to come!

Raspberry varieties that I grow are Autumn Bliss and Lloyd George.

I choose to grow Autumn varieties because there is no complicated pruning required. You simply cut the canes back down in winter and they shoot again in the spring.  

Autumn Bliss produces large sweet fruit, while Lloyd George is a heirloom variety. It was first introduced in England in 1919 and is prized for being reliable and producing sweet delicate fruit with a sherbet flavour - what more could you want?!  

I haven't done anything to the soil except dig it over as I moved my raspberries into this new position. I have put around each plant a wigwam made up of four bamboo canes and this will help support these tall growing plants.  Come Spring I will do the same as I do for the blackberries, dig in garden compost, blood and bone and sprinkle some sulphate of potash around their base.  Mmmm raspberries, who could want for more.  ^_^

If you don't have room to grow any raspberries in the ground, don't despair, they grow just as well in pots.

You need a good sized tub and the best quality potting mix. I always choose premium which contains food for three months, water retaining crystals etc. Remember your plants will only do as well as you provide for them. The other thing potted raspberries will need is support. If your tub is big enough you can do the bamboo wig wam, if like my tub, it's not quite big enough, use a wire support. I recommend again planting an autumn variety, much easier to handle - this one is Lloyd George. This pot is facing north but in a shaded position, so it will get morning sunshine and shade at the hottest time of the day.

Strawberries - what would summer be without them! 

I've just prepared my strawberry bed in readiness for that luscious summer crop. I dug up each plant and cleaned it up, removing dead leaves and stems that were still trying to flower. Before planting back I dug into the ground some powdered down chicken manure, blood and bone and mushroom compost. The strawberries will love that! Then I replanted them and watered well. Next I sprinkled around each plant some sulphate of potash and scrabbled that into the soil, finally covering the whole bed with straw. That should keep the moisture in and their toes warm!  I've ordered some strawberry supports. These are circles of plastic that come in two halves and you place around the strawberry and it lifts the fruit off the ground, keeping it dry and away from slugs, snails and earwigs. Of course the plants will need to be protected from the birds, or you won't get many strawberries before those old blackbirds and thrushes do. I will place a tunnel of plastic netting over these plants once my supports arrive and are in place. 

By the way if you do have an earwig problem here is an organic and old victorian way of dealing with them and it really works! I first saw this demonstrated on the television series the Victorian Kitchen Garden and tried it out for myself last year. You take some thick stalks of the broadbean plant and cut into small lengths. You will see these form a tunnel of sorts. I laid mine among my strawberries and each morning checked them. Earwigs will crawl into them at night and all you have to do is pick them up and blow down one end and the earwig will come out and you can dispose of them how you like. I like to put them into my compost bin where they can do some good!

Blueberries. I'm really excited about this crop as I have never grown blueberries before. I have chosen a variety called Sunshine Blue. It's a low chill variety and suits the Melbourne area perfectly. It's suppose to be a heavy cropper producing mid sized fruit in summer.  

The variety is suitable for growing in containers and I have planted two. They sit in a easterly position where they will get in the summer morning sunlight and much needed shade in the afternoon. They are like azaleas, camellias and roses etc. and need an ericaceous compost (acid loving). In spring I will feed them with some azalea/rose fertiliser  But look how well they are doing right now, full of flowers that will turn into the lovely blue berries.

Growing berries is really not hard, there is a variety to suit your situation, so why not plant yourself some and have a Very Berry Summer!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Winter Colour

I guess I'm lucky living in Melbourne as the temperatures don't get so low as to stop you growing things during the winter months, although it's been a bit freezy the last day or two and frost has been around in the morning, which is a bit unusual here. I remember my English winters where the ground gets too hard to dig and snow lays like a blanket atop the soil while Jack Frost nips at your nose!

Here I manage to maintain some winter colour, most of the plants can be grown in pots or direct into the soil. One of my favourite winter plants is the Polyanthus and I always like to grow these in pots on the window sill where I can see them through my kitchen window.

Another favourite for this time of the year is the Primula. When planted in groups you get a lovely drift of lacy flowers. If planting in pots/containers I always recommend using a premium potting mix so as to give your seedlings the best start. Then a liquid feed once a fortnight will bring them on full speed ahead!  
What is also a welcome sight at this time of year is to see the yellow heads of daffodils and I particularly love the miniature variety tete a tete. When they open up it makes you feel spring is not too far away. 

The last of my potted plants is the cyclamen, it wouldn't be winter without these beauties. I always have one potted plant on my deck and when it's finished flowering, I replant it into a shady spot in the garden where it will flower winter after winter for years to come.

Winter also has a place for flowering shrubs and there is no  shortage of those to choose from. In my own garden I have a few varieties of camellias, both the sasanqua which flower first then are followed by the japonica. They give a wonderful colour at this time of the year with their rose like blooms.

One of my all time favourites for winter colour is the Jacobinia Firefly. It just lights up the garden with its bright red and yellow tubular flowers. All it needs is a light prune after flowering to keep it in shape.

Another with attractive two toned bell flowers is the Chinese Lantern (Abutilon) 'Marilyn's Choice.'

And for a big splash of colour you can't go past Osteospermum 3D Pink!  Although it does look more purply than pink.

Now I've talked about winter colour and how you can brighten up the cooler months of the year, but we must not forget that gardening is all about forward planning. If you want a spring display you do have to think ahead. 

The flower bed in the photo below was planted up in autumn and should provide a really nice show right through spring till summer.  The sweet peas at the back could last well into summer, while the cornflowers and the flanders poppies will eventually be replaced.

So if you're lucky enough to live in a climate that doesn't give you freezing winters, why not plant yourself up some colour and brighten those chilly days! 

Monday, July 13, 2015

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato - More! Container Planting

Photograph by Helen A. Howell

It's potato planting time during July - December in Melbourne and with so many varieties to choose from there is a potato to meet every one's taste. There are potatoes bred to meet specific needs such as ones for salads or mashing or baking and frying. Some of these breeds tick more than one of these boxes. For example you can get a potato that meets the needs of both chipping and roasting like Maris Piper or one that is ideal for mashing and boiling like Pink Eye. It all depends on how much ground you have to accommodate various varieties of potatoes.

I have limited space and therefore choose to grow an all rounder, that is one that will do all these jobs of chipping, roasting, boiling, mashing. I always go for King Edward. This is a 1902 Heirloom potato with a dappled pink skin. You can see them in the front of the basket of the photo that heads this article. Their flesh is a creamy yellow and they make the best roast potatoes and chips ever!  This year along with this favoured variety, I have also decided to give Royal Blue a go. They are listed as good results for boil/salad but excellent for boil/mash, baked potato, roast and chipping. Sounds good to me.  These potatoes have a deep bluey purple skin and I'm looking forward to seeing how they turn out.

Now on to how to grow these little babies.  To chit or not to chit that is the question?  I've heard comments from other gardening sources about the benefits of chitting  potatoes versus not chitting.  Having tried both methods I go with the chitting method which from my experience seems to give the tubers a better start in life. I look at it like seedlings versus seeds - you have a head start.

But what is chitting you may ask? It is a method whereby you place your potato tubers in a bright spot, like a window sill and allow them to make good strong purply green roots. This can take a while and my tubers have been in this process for around the last month.  You can read more about chitting HERE and decide for yourself whether it's a practice you want to adopt or not.

King Edwards  and Royal Blue chitting in the window:

This is a close up of what the roots should look like:

These are now ready to plant, but I will hold out until another week or so, when the soil is a bit dryer.

This is how I grow my potatoes in large tubs like these with the bottoms cut out so that the tubers are in direct contact with the soil.

First I dig in some rotted down chicken manure, a bag of which I bought from the garden centre, then on top of this I'll place a layer of mushroom compost. Don't have your tubers in direct contact with the manure. In each if these containers, depending on the tubers size, I'll place three to four on top of the compost. Then I cover with a layer of pea straw and another layer of compost or good garden soil and a sprinkling of blood and bone. As the green shoots appear I will let them get to around 12 inches high then repeat the process of straw, soil etc, leaving just the top of the leaves visible. I continue in this way until they reach the top of my container.  When the tops die back I'll know my crop is ready to harvest and what tasty jewels they will be!

Don't worry if you cannot use a container that has the bottom removed, you can use a large pot on a balcony, a potato growing bag even a large rubbish bin. Just remember to make sure that there are some drainage holes so that your crop does not get water logged and rot. Put a good layer of compost in the bottom and some slow release fertiliser, or alternatively place a thick layer of straw and well rotted manure in the bottom and a layer of compost over this. Put your tubers on top of the compost and cover with another layer of compost. Continue to layer up with compost until your plants reach the top of your container. Remember to keep the soil moist but not over wet and place the container in a sunny spot.

So  even if you don't have a big garden you can still grow potatoes in containers as I do - go on plant yourself some lovely tatters this season!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Introduction - I love gardening

Hello my name is Helen and I live in Melbourne Australia. This blog is about my love of gardening and in it, I hope to share with you all my experiences of growing vegetables and flowers in the warm climate of Melbourne. I was born in England and lived there until my early thirties. When I came to Australia I had to adjust to the temperature differences, and how that affected the things I chose to grow, while getting used to our seasons being the opposite to my homeland. Spring comes in September here instead of March.

I hope to take you through my growing year. Right now we are in the middle of winter and the garden is still productive. I have two gardens, one at my home and also a plot in the local community garden.  Right now both are supporting my winter crops.

In my home garden I have snow peas and sugar snaps, cauliflowers and broad beans, silver beet and lettuce.

Here are sugar snaps and snow peas

When I planted my peas I dug in some well rotted manure, mushroom compost and a sprinkling of lime.  Peas love lime.  It's still not too late to plant some peas, but better to put in plants now rather than seeds for a nice crop in spring.

This is a heritage variety that is self supporting called Novella. They have a web of tendrils that cling to each other for support, however I like to help them on their way with a few sticks.

I really do like to grow heritage varieties as they are open pollinated and enable one to collect seed that will be true to the mother plant for the following year. The variety of broad bean I am growing this year is called Chocolate and has beautiful dark flowers. I'm looking forward to seeing how well they crop.

Again it's still not too late to plant some of these lovely beans, but again I would suggest putting in plants rather than seeds as the soil is now cold.

I have quite a large vegetable plot in my home garden, but unfortunately it is shaded somewhat by the trees that grow in the house to the back of me and restricts what I can grow. However I do manage to grow an assortment of cooler weather and salad plants there.

My plot in the community garden is in full sun all day and I can grow a large variety of things very successfully there. Here's a little tour of my patch.


I hope you will keep me company as I share what I am sowing and growing in the coming year.

Happy Gardening!