Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Collection of some of Helen's Flower Photography 2016

Here is the second Video, and again I hope you enjoy viewing this.  May I take the opportunity to wish all my readers a Very Happy and Peaceful New Year!  See you later in 2017!

Video created using Apple Photos slideshow 
Music by Helen & Garage Band

A Collection of some of Helen's Insect Photography for 2016

Just to end the year I'm sharing with you a couple of videos.  This one is a small collection of the insect photography I have taken through the year.  I hope you enjoy viewing them as much as I did taking them.

Video created using Apple Photos slideshow &  
Music (Lazy Sunday ) By Helen and Garage Band

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

More Peas Please!

Having already grown my winter peas and harvested them, the variety being Willow, and very yummy they were. (You can find my tips on growing peas here: Easy Peasy ,) I decided to get in a late crop with the hopes of having peas by Christmas.

The variety I have planted is an old heirloom called Purple Podded.  This variety is believed, according to my Diggers Seed Catalogue, to have been grown by Capuchin monks in the 16th century.  Apparently they are consider the best variety for drying and using in soups etc.
But of course can be eaten like normal peas if you pick them when ready rather than leaving them to dry.

The flower to this variety is very pretty.  It has a soft shade of pink on the top petals and a deeper shade, almost maroon, don't you think, below.

These beautiful flowers are followed by striking purple pods, that look just fabulous hanging  there getting fatter by the day.                                           

Finally when the pods have swelled out, the peas will be ready to harvest. The peas contained within, are green just like any other pea.

I'm excited to try this variety for the first time and with any luck I should be eating peas for my Christmas dinner!

So why settle for just one crop of peas when you can have another a little later in the year.  Happy Gardening!

Photographs are taken by Helen.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Time to Choose Those Tomatoes!

Photo by Helen

It's that time of the year where you sit down and try to decide which variety of tomatoes you want to grow for this year. I find myself searching through my catalogs and looking for new heirloom varieties that may have been discovered. I love reading about their different colours, textures and flavours.

Each year I tell myself that I'm only going to grow a couple of so plants,  but choosing is always so hard!  

Now this season I have got myself a heated propagator which should help ensure a better ratio of germination, as it will keep the seed trays at a constant low heat, warming the soil and encouraging those little seeds to sprout.

Previous years I have placed my seed trays over the heating vents. My tips on growing tomatoes, capsicums and egg plants can be found here:Ready Steady Sow

One of my must for the garden for reliability is the tomato called Money Maker. I've been growing this variety for years. It produces a heavy crop of medium sized tomatoes. I must have at least two of these!  And a another red tomato that I have tried before and loved is Granny's Throwing Tomato, a beefsteak variety. 

In the yellow varieties I have chosen two cherry types, one called Lemon Drop, little zesty bites of deliciousness and one called Yellow Pear.

Moving onto black, I grew for the first time last year Black Cherry. This is also on my list for this year with its dark sweet juicy flesh that resembles large cherries. A new variety I added this year, although I believe it's been around a long time, is Gardener's Delight. I believe it is a tall growing variety with bite sized fruit of an excellent flavour. I'll have to let you know what I think of it.  

My last choice for this season is Florida Basket. This is a miniature tomato plant growing no taller that 8 inches high but bearing full sized cherry fruit which has a sweet delicious flavour.

That completes my choice of this season, seven different varieties of which I may grow one to two plants.  

I hope you enjoy choosing your plants as much as I do - Happy Gardening!

All photographs are taken by Helen

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Helen's Latest Flower Photograpy

Here is a short video of my latest flower photography.  I hope you enjoy viewing this as much as I did taking the pictures.

Video created using Apple Slide Show
Music by Me and Garage Band

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Grow Watercress At Home without a Pond or Stream - It's Easy

When we think of where watercress grows, babbling brooks and country streams springs to mind. The main requirement for watercress is a damp environment.  So how many of you have thought I can't grow it at home? I know for a while I did. But now I have discovered that you don't need a pond in or a stream running through your backyard in order to grow this peppery delight.

First decide on the type of watercress that you want to grow, I'm growing a large leaf variety which has a mild peppery taste. Then fill a pot with good seed sowing mix. 

I sowed my seeds of watercress at the end of autumn. I chose to use a terra-cotta pot as these clay pots are porous and so allow good air circulation for the roots. Sprinkle the seed in sparsely in order to give the developing seedlings room for growth and sift over a light covering of soil. Water your pot carefully so as not to disturbed the seeds. (Just a tip, if you are going to use clay pots, soak them in water first, that way they will not suck all the water out of your soil.)

Then I stood the pot in a small saucer of water and placed it in my greenhouse. From then on I kept the water topped up in the saucer. It wasn't long before my seedlings appeared. If you don't have a greenhouse, then a plastic propagator tray and lid will do just fine. Just position it in a warm spot.

I allowed these seedlings to grow on, making sure that their water supply never ran out and when they reached a reasonable size, I potted them on into their final growing pot, using premium potting mix and again a clay pot.

At this point I moved them out of my 
greenhouse and put them in a sheltered spot outside to harden off, before moving them to their winter growing position. Remember to keep the saucer full of water.

I left them in this hardening off position for about three weeks before choosing a spot where they get the winter sunshine. Watercress can tolerate the winter sunshine but in summer you need to find them a shadier spot where the harsher sunshine does not burn their leaves.

That's all there is to growing it at home. Just remember to keep their saucer full of water and to pick the leaves when they are young and tender, but don't forget to not strip the plant so that it can make new tasty growth.

Follow these simple instructions and you too will be picking your own tasty watercress for salads and sandwiches. - Happy Gardening!

All photographs shown in this post are my own.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Helen Gives A Talk At Her Local Community Garden

Joy of The Earth Community Garden
Photo by Helen

A couple of weeks ago my 
local Community Garden 'Joy Of The Earth,'  invited me to give a talk and demonstration  on seed sowing and raising seedlings. 

I was honoured to be asked and more than happy to share what knowledge I had on this subject.

In this blog post I will give an outline of what I covered in this talk and I hope you enjoy reading it and can take something useful from it away with you.

Firstly why bother to sow seeds and go through the motions of raising them, when you can just nip down your local garden centre and buy a punnet  of seedlings?  Well, I'm the first to put my hand up to admitting that there are two lots of seeds that I don't bother to grow for myself, that is spring onions and leeks. Why? Because you can buy a punnet for a small amount of money and this is one of those times when you get more than enough seedlings contained within that punnet. The other varieties, e.g.  lettuces, cauliflowers etc. usually only give you 6 to 8 plants a punnet.  However, the main reasons I grow from seed are: a) I  like to grow heirloom varieties which are not  always available as seedlings and b) I can grow enough seedlings to meet my needs.

Raising from seed is not a difficult process, but one of the things I would remind you of is that you only get out what you put in. I'm referring to in this instance, your choice of soil. I would always recommend using the top quality seed raising mixture. I, myself,
use professional grade and also when I come to the potting up stage I use premium potting mix.  

What is the point of putting in the time and energy when you choose to use poorer quality growing mediums.  Your seedlings will do so much better in the best you can give them.

Always read the sowing depth given to you on the packet but as a general rule of thumb most smaller seeds like lettuce etc need to be planted 1/4" (5mm) deep and bigger seeds like peas, beans etc around 1" (25mm) deep.
Fill your punnet with the required amount of soil and firm down. I use another punnet to do this, it creates a nice surface on which to sow your seeds. Don't sow your whole packet in one go, that packet should last you several goes. Just sow your seed thinly. I have found especially with small seeds that a neat little gadget called a seed sower really helps you distribute  your seed evenly and gives you control over the amount you sow. 

This little gadget is worth its weight in gold and is an inexpensive purchase.  You can find them really cheap on e-bay  Seed Sower Link

Once I have sown my seeds, I like with smaller seeds to sieve the seed raising mix over them to the right depth, rather than sprinkle it by hand.  What using a sieve gives the seeds is a finer mixture which is easier for them to push through. 

Sieves come in all sizes and prices. I use a small metal one and I find this easy to handle and perfect when I'm sowing into a punnet. Of course, if you are sowing bigger seeds like beans for example, then you just need to fill your punnet to the top. There is no need to sieve. Instead place each seed in position and just push it down with your finger to the right depth. 

Now you could water your seeds from above, and this is perfectly ok for those larger ones, but when seeds are small you do stand the risk of dislodging them. So I like to stand my punnet in a tray of water and let it soak in from the bottom upwards. This way the punnet has plenty of moisture and those tiny seeds stay safely in place.

The next step is to give those seeds somewhere warm to germinate. The soil will have to reach a temperature of  somewhere between 45 - 85 degrees F or 7.2 - 29.4 C. If you don't have a greenhouse or a heated propagator, then you could use a cold propagator and place it somewhere it will catch the sun, or if it's in the colder months somewhere in the house where it's warm.  I've used in the past my heating ducts in the floor. If you haven't got a propagator then the bottom cut out of a plastic drink bottle will work too or a warm facing windowsill. Don't let your seedlings dry out, but don't drench them either. I use a spray bottle to damp them down when required.

When your seedlings have emerged and grown a couple of true leaves, remember the first leaves are called seed leaves, then it's probably time to pot on. 

I have another couple of gadgets that help me do this. One is for lifting the seedlings out without damaging their roots. It is divided at one end and has a spatula at the other. The second gadget allows me to make a deep hole and pop my seedling in with as little trauma to the plant as possible. Both these gadgets I purchased from my local garden centre at a very cheap price.

You can pot 6-8 seedlings into another punnet containing good potting mix or you can pot them up into individual plugs or pots depending on how big you would like to grow them before planting out. Remember when potting up seedlings never to hold them by the stem but instead hold them by a leaf. If you damage a leaf it will grow more, if you damage its stem it most probably will not recover.

So there you are, seed sowing and raising is a simple thing to do. My golden rules are use the best quality soils, provide the seed punnet with the required heat and moisture. Pot up when the plant has at least two true leaves.

Happy seed sowing!

All photographs shown are my own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Cabbages and Cauliflowers

Photo by Helen

Cabbages & Cauliflowers

Autumn in Oz in the cooler areas is perfect to plant out seedlings of cabbages and cauliflowers, as the temperature is starting to drop it's a great  time to get these cool season vegetables off to a good start.

Now, you can go and buy seedlings from your local nursery, or like me raise some for yourself in a seed punnet.  Whether you grow full sized cabbages and cauliflowers or miniature ones is entirely up to you.  I prefer to grow the mini variety as I find that is enough for two people to eat.  
Photo by Helen

You need to remember that although these plants are a cool season crop they still do need a fair amount of sunshine and 5-6 hours would be right for them. Before you plant your seedlings out, you will need to do some soil preparation. Dig the site over and add plenty of good compost and well rotted manure or any combination that will enrich the soil.

Now you're ready for planting. Plant your seedlings and firm the soil around them. Water in well and you can at this point water them with a diluted liquid feed.  Don't forget to feed you plants at regular intervals in their growing period.

One of the pest for cabbage and cauliflowers is the white cabbage butterfly, which can lay a mass of eggs on the underside of the leaves and soon those caterpillars will make light work of eating them. To be wholly organic, which I am, I put some hoop supports over my planting bed and cover this with a net that is insect proof. By the time the plants have got big enough to reach the top of the net, the butterflies will have gone because the temperatures will be too cold for them.

Photo by Helen
When your cauliflowers start to form those lovely white heads, don't forget to bend their leaves over the top to give them some protection from the weather and keep those heads nice and white.

It's worth the effort growing some of these for the sweet taste of fresh cabbage and crisp cauliflowers.

Go on plant yourself some for a winter crop this year.   

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Helen talks about Leeks

Photo by Helen

It's April in Oz and it's autumn. Time to get those winter produce planted.  April is a splendid time to be planting members of the allium family which includes, leeks, onions, garlic, chives.  Today I'll be talking about leeks.

Leeks are a much milder in flavour to the onion. There's nothing nicer than a fresh leek as a simple vegetable to go with roast pork or as the main ingredient of a delicious leek and potato soup.  Leeks are not hard to grow but you do need to do a little soil preparation first.

To give your leeks a good start you need to pick a sunny spot and then dig over the planting area . To improve the structure of your soil add plenty of good garden compost and some animal manure, or blood and bone.  I like to throw in a handful of lime too to sweeten the soil.  

Planting leeks is an easy process and I just dig a hole and drop the leeks in all the way down to the middle of their leafy tops.  Leeks do like a good feed of liquid organic fertiliser about once a fortnight. If you feed your leeks regularly you will promote a good strong and healthy plant that is delicious to eat.
Photo by Helen

Now, some people recommend hilling up your leeks as they grow in order to get those stems white, but I don't do that. The method I have adopted and it works for me is, when the leeks have grown a bit I dig them up and replant them deeper again and that's where they stay till I harvest them. The plants are strong and the shanks remain white.

Leeks are really delicious when you pick them younger, so why not plant yourself some leeks this autumn and don't forget the other alliums - you can find my tips on garlic here: Growing Garlic

Monday, March 14, 2016

Raspberries the Jewels of Summer

Autumn Bliss
Photo by Helen

Now that we are into autumn in Australia, you should be harvesting those delicious autumn raspberries. Growing raspberries is not difficult and if you don't have space in the garden, the autumn varieties do just as well in a large container or pot.

I choose to only grow autumn varieties as there is no complicated pruning and they will fruit on this years new growth. The two varieties that I grow are Autumn Bliss and Lloyd  George. Autumn Bliss produces large sweet fruit, while Lloyd George is an heirloom variety first introduced in England in 1919. It is a variety that is known for being reliable and producing sweet delicate fruits with a sherbet flavour.  The best thing about autumn varieties is that you don't have to support them like you do summer varieties.

I said growing them is easy so let me walk you through what I do.  First pick a site that is sunny, raspberries will survive in a bit of shade, and where I am, I do have to plant them with some protection from our harsh afternoon sun. Fork the ground over and add some organic compost, some well rotted manure or blood and bone. I also like to add a sprinkling of sulphate of potash around the base of each plant. Raspberries don't like their feet wet as this could cause root rot, so make sure they are planted in a well drained soil. Keep your raspberries well watered especially during those hot summer days and give them a feed every now and again.

That's all there is to growing autumn varieties, don't forget to cut down your canes in winter so that new shoots grow up in the spring. Oh and remove the suckers that appear a small distance away from the mother plant.

Go on plant yourself some raspberries they're definitely the jewels of summer!

Monday, February 22, 2016

You Can't Beat a Beetroot!

Photo by Helen

You can't beat a beetroot!  I plant some every spring and autumn. As we are approaching the end of summer I will be sowing some seeds into punnets ready for an autumn planting.

Beets are one of the easiest crops to grow and are a versatile vegetable to have in the kitchen.  You can pickle them, boil them, roast them or grate them raw into a salad and of course you can eat the greens too! 

The variety I like to grow is called Perfect 3 and is a smooth rounded beet (photo above) with a sweet flavour. It tends not to bolt and sits well in the ground. 

You can direct sow into the ground or like me, grow first in punnets to transplant later. I prefer the grow in punnets method as there is no need to thin seedlings as you can space them out at planting time.

Beetroots like full sun and given the right conditions should be ready to harvest around 3 months from planting. Before planting you need to do a little work on your soil, fork it over to make sure it's free draining and dig in some of the lovely organic compost you are all making in your gardens, then fork in some general fertiliser like blood and bone for example. 

Now you're ready to either direct sow into your ground or transplant those seedlings you've been growing. If you direct sow, then when the seedlings are around 1-2 inches high you'll need to thin out in order to leave room for those lovely fat roots to spread. Keep the plants watered and I usually give mine a fortnightly feed of an organic liquid fertiliser.

You can harvest your beets when they are baby or let them grow on to maturity. Then you can take them into your kitchen to turn into a beetiful delight for your taste buds. 

So why not add some beetroot to your crop this season.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Helen with one of her Potimarron Pumpkins

This year I decided to try my hand at growing a rare French variety of pumpkin called Potimarron. It is said to have a rich chestnut flavour and an edible skin. The plant is supposed to produce fruits of 1-2 kilos (2-4lb) which are ready to harvest within 13 weeks from planting. If the plant is given the right conditions then it should yield up to 7kg  (15lb) of fruit per plant, (so the brochure says.)
Photo by Helen

Pumpkins need a fairly long warm summer to produce their best, so pick a nice sunny spot to plant them, where they will get at least 6 hours of sunshine a day. I prepared my soil by digging in some lovely compost and manure, so that they have a good organic bed to rest their roots in. Then I planted out my seedlings, at least 3 ft. apart and mulched with some pea straw. 

I gave them some love and attention and a liquid feed every now and again and was so excited to see how well they were doing.  There's nothing nicer than looking at a healthy plant in your veggie plot.

Pumpkins are heavy feeders, so once a fortnight through their growing period is a good idea. You can vary what you feed them from liquid organic feeds, to a sprinkling of blood and bone, whatever you give them they will gobble up.

Photo by Helen
My excitement at how well they were doing was doubled when the first pumpkin embryos started to swell. Each fat little ball held the promise of things to come.

I kept them well watered especially through very hot days (our summers can be and are scorching on some days) and they did suffer a little from the heat, (we also have sandy soil) but they picked up again on the cooler days. 

As the sun shone down on them they carried on growing and turning a lovely gold colour and now I'm able to harvesting them. 

How does one tell when a pumpkin is ready to harvest?  I've heard tell that one way is to give them a bit of a thump and if they sound hollow then they're ready.  The colour is a good indication too, if they're that lovely golden colour all over then they should be ready. The last way is to check on the stalk. When their stalk is dry, woody and brittle then your pumpkin is ready!

I can't wait to try these babies and see what their chestnut flavour is like.  If you don't have a garden plot big enough to take one of these, they do tend to sprawl all over the place, then you can grow them in a tub and let them creep over the sides and down a path.

Once planted they are easy to grow, just remember to water and feed them and they will reward you with those lovely fruits at the end of summer.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunflowers Make One Smile!

Nothing spells summer like Sunflowers. Big or little their golden heads look up towards the sun and brighten the day of anyone who looks upon them.

One of the easiest flowers to grow, every garden should have at least one variety of sunflower. They range from small enough to grow in containers to enormous enough to be a considered a giant!

Photo by Helen
I grow some every year and am partial to the small variety called Sunsation. They flower earlier in the season and their sunny heads are a welcome sight in my backyard. 

These little beauties work well in a good size pot. Just give them a good quality potting mix and a little love and attention and they will perform for you over the next few weeks.

You can plant the seeds direct into the soil or like me grow them in punnets first to plant out later. If growing direct into the garden know that they will survive in most soils but of course the better the soil is, the better the performance of the plant. 

Photo by Helen
The one thing sunflowers don't like, is to have wet feet, so it's good to make sure that your soil is free draining. Other than that they don't need too much attention.  Just regular watering, especially during very hot weather. Although these babies are fairly tough and will stand up to dryer conditions.
Photo by Helen

If you are going to grow the tall varieties, then of course you must put into place some sort of support for them.

Now having already said that they will grow in most soils, the poorer your soil the smaller the flowers may well be. If you put a bit of effort into preparing your soil and making sure you're giving them a good start, then they should reward you with lovely big blooms.

So whatever size your garden is, you should have space for one sort of sunflower. Go on plant yourself some sunshine this summer!