Regional vegetable gardening advisors: local garden advice for you
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With Virginia Badger
More columns coming in spring.
Previous Anchorage updates.
With Lisa Pearson
Previous Boston updates.
With Jim McLain
The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Robert Burns was aware of this many, many years agoand he
wasnt even a gardener as far as I know. His quote from, To
A Mouse popped into my mind this evening as I was rototilling
the part of my garden that isnt in raised beds. I had just
moved a huge pile of garden refuse that I hadnt had time to
compost last fall. When I ran the tiller over the area, four mice
scurried away in four directions.
At the end of March I had planned to accomplish so much in the
garden in April. But as Bobby Burns reminds me, The best laid
plans of mice and men
we dont always get to do
what we plan. I suspect the mice had the same thoughts. Several
health problems caused my plans to go awry. But this is May! Surely
this month I will get to have fun in my garden!
Peas will be up before May begins. The first radishes are up as
well as the first planting of lettuce. But Im behindway
behind! I have neither planted onion sets nor Walla Wallas (sweet
onions). Spinach should have been planted and up, as well as beets.
(I think those of you in Australia call them beet roots.) Yukon
Gold potatoes should have been in the ground weeks ago. Then there
are the cole crops to transplantbroccoli, cauliflower, and
maybe a few early cabbages. Oh, and I need to get carrots planted
Some optimistic gardening friends have already set out tomatoes
with protectionwe are sure to have more frost between now
and the end of May. Several nights recently I have heard the wind
machines in neighboring cherry and pear orchards running for frost
protection. (I checked a sampling of blooms from several trees a
couple of days ago in the sweet cherry orchard. The results didnt
look good--eighty percent of the blooms I checked were dead.)
I am going ahead with my experiment of no-till in some of my raised
beds. In some I have been sinking my spading fork down about 6 or
8 inches and wiggling it up and down just enough to allow air to
get into the soil. In other beds I will just scratch a row just
deep enough to plant seed. For transplants, Ill dig only a
planting hole just large enough for setting out the transplants.
Our last average killing frost is May 15, so I dont usually
get in a hurry to set out either tomato or pepper plants. I had
planned to plant a few tomatoes by the middle of April under Walls
O Water. But now I think Ill be lucky to get around to setting
them out by the third week in May.
In the raised beds that I am spading, Im finding more earthworms
than I remember in previous years. Maybe it was the warmer than
usual winter that didnt send the worms going deep down in
search of warmth. Maybe it is because the soil has warmed up to
about 50 degrees in the top six inches. But I really think it is
because of the vast amount of organic material I have been working
into the soil and the mulch I have left on the soil the year round
the last several years. Anyway, the earthworms seem to be happy,
and I know Im happy just to be able to be out digging in the
Previous Central Washington
San Diego, California
With Bonnie Lara
Previous San Diego updates.
Yikes! Spring has arrived and I'm already behind the pace set by
my neighbors! It's hard to keep up with them... I work Monday through
Friday. Though they're slow, they're also retired and have the entire
week to spend in their beloved gardens. Frustration really sets
in when I see how much they have accomplished in my week long absence.
Plant starts in nice rows here, cadged peas over there... who knows
what's under that tarp two houses down?? This activity reaches a
crescendo every weekend when working stiffs such as myself try to
make up for lost time. I arise early to the sound of rototillers
and lawn mowers. Hurriedly, I get dressed, then go outside to limber
up. I do this by taking a stroll down my block. Great exercise,
but I also have a sinister purpose in mind. As I'm stretching aching
muscles and joints, I'm also performing covert reconnaissance. Walking
briskly eastward toward the main highway, my beady little eyes take
rapid fire note of who has what growing where in their veggie patches'.
With lightening mental speed, I note that Ralph Taylor has a large
area reserved for corn, and yes, Betty Spites is going ape with
tomatoes this season. Old man Leonard McKinely has a strawberry
patch that is now in blossom... Yes, I'm a walking snooper... my
brain churning like an old windmill, cackling and muttering to myself
as I visually invade one neighbor's patch after the other. Once
the summer harvest begins, I will be ready to pounce on these unsuspecting
micro-farmers. Just like a mirage, I will appear from nowhere, basket
in hand, more than ready for any handouts that come my way. As part
of my friendly veneer, I will compliment each on his or her wonderful
(insert veggie here) plants while holding out a tomato or two to
help prime the pump.(Of course, these exchanges are done for the
shear fun of it. Everybody benefits by spreading out their surplus
and truly there's nothing like barter to brings us back to our roots.)
Yes, summer in the suburbs can get interesting! For my part, I
try and grow just enough of each type of veggie to continuously
supply my needs over the coming months. This year, using the square
foot method, I have planted 36 square feet of leaf lettuce (about
45 plants), 16 square feet of onions and peppers (because I love
them). In addition, there are enough side plantings of radish, basil,
oregano to keep me happy. (If you get the idea I love salads, I
do). Inside my house are tiny tomato and cucumber seedlings waiting
for their turn to go outside when the weather warms. Next to them
are young starts of lettuce and chard that will replace my first
runs of lettuce. Later this month, I will plant a couple of hills
of Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I just love these guys in salads
and soups. They freeze well and are easy to harvest. What more can
you ask for? As a bonus, I always let a few pods fully mature at
the end of the season.
That's my plan for this season. I like to keep things simple and
uncomplicated. Just a simple square foot garden plan that always
has something coming or going. I weed only once a week because there's
so little space that is left over for weeds to take hold. I water
once a week if it doesn't rain and before you know it, I'm plucking
something from the garden almost every day. We'll see just how well
it works out come Fall. I may yet get bit by the garden bug and
go crazy like I did a few years ago, but that's another story. Talk
with you all next month.
Previous Southwest Missouri updates.
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
With Jill Winstanley
My husband and I have developed a technique that is extremely low
maintenance once in place. It saves on water,soil erosion,weeding
and allows plants of all types to flourish. Our method has been
adopted by all of our friends who are into low maintenace~high yield
veggie gardening. After construcing our deep beds(2 -3"wide
x as log as you want) we lay down drip irrigation hose and then
cover the entire bed with landscape fabric. From there you can either
cut an x and pop in your transplant or cut out a small strip and
For plants and areas that dont mind overhead watering, instead
of putting the drip line under the cloth we use small fan emitters
on a spike which we can place as needed. We noticed that our Strawberries
did not like the emitters, but with the drip line under the fabric
they produce an unbelieveable amount of berries, and very late into
the season. Our whole garden is hooked up to a little computer that
kicks on in the early morning just like peoples lawn sprinklers.
With the black landscape fabric, the soil warms up, the weeds stay
out, the water and manure tea go straight to the plant and not the
weeds. Come fall, you can roll the fabric back and plant a cover
crop to dig in in the spring. We get at least 3 yrs out of the fabric
and the cost to replace it is really minamal if you need to. In
early spring the garden stores always have it on sale for pretty
We just find that for what we save in water and weeding its definately
worth it. Its nice to be able to stand back and enjoy the garden
and put more time into harvesting and canning/drying.
We have tried lots of different mulching techniques and have just
found this to be the ultimate.
We let our chickens and ducks mulch up old hay, straw, kitchen(even
used paper towel and can labels) and garden waste doing the sheet
composting method. When we need compost we just dig off the top
layer somewhere in the coop.
For Potatoes I use big old garbage cans in our chicken coop. I
plant the potatoes in about 1 foot of dirt at the bottom and then
cover with more dirt as it grows leaving the top leaves exposed.
When we are ready to harvest, we just push it over, pull out the
taters and let the chickens scratch up the rest. Its a good way
to have potatoes in a very small space.
I learned a really good tip this year for repelling deer : one
egg blended into 2 liters of water. Put in spray bottle and spray
foliage early morning. Repeat after a rainfall.
This really works well.
Well , Thats a little about about me and our garden. Chow from
Canada ~ Jill Winstanley
P.S. ~ The trick is to NOT COVER the landscape fabric. As soon
as you do little weeds get a foothold in it and its over.
With Gavin & Paula Atkinson
It's really weird at the moment. One weekend I get a chance to
spend a couple of hours out gardening, which allows me to get most
jobs done (you know the fun stuff like weeding!), but the next fortnight
becomes so hectic that nothing get's done. Then, I get a chance
to clash with the new weeds. I'm losing an endless battle in trying
to update the garden, whether it's sowing seeds, planting out seedlings,
fertilising, mulching or even donning the gloves to squeeze the
aphids infesting my rose buds. I just don't seem to have the time
at the moment. This means that it still looks good, but it's not
getting better. Each weekend I have this hope that maybe this weekend,
if I'm lucky, I can start taking some steps forward.
The one thing I was really happy about, was I finally got our creeping
rose trellised up on the oversize lattice work on the side of our
house. It's made a big impact so that the side of the place is no
longer a monument to my neglect, but actually looks very presentable
now. Now if it could only flower....
I ended up losing one of my gerbaras at the end of April. Strangely
enough it was the gerbara that I thought was the healthiest. Just
goes to show what happens if you forget to water the things after
a week. At this time of the year the weather is very deceiving.
The days are getting cooler (as well as the nights) and it's so
pleasant to be out and about in the garden. But with little rain,
it's easy to forget to water the garden every week.
Of course, if I actually had some time in the garden (ha ha ha!)
I'd be doing some pretty serious fertilising, both with our homemade
compost, liquid manure, and all the organic good stuff you can buy
from the shops (aged animal manures, blood and bone and potash).
Out in the vegie garden the time is ripe to plant the winter garden
- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas and snowpeas, turnips, parsnips,
leeks, onions and garlic. Here in south east Queensland we can still
continue growing lots of other stuff too - carrots, beetroot, tomato
and capsicum seedlings, lettuces by the truckload, and asian vegies.
It's sometimes a little difficult to find 'green manure' seeds (legumes,
lupins and a range of nitrogen rich crops) in the nurseries and
hardware shops. I usually get mine from Green
Harvest and sow them where I've previously grown my gross feeders
(like corn, melons, zucchinis, cucumbers and pumpkins). It helps
replenish the soil after the previous season's busy efforts.
I hope you have more joy in getting out into the garden than I
do at the moment!
Previous Brisbane updates.
Central Victoria, Australia
With Liz Ingham
Confessions of a Weekend Hippy - Part 2
The moon comes into its own in the dark months. I'm more aware
of it, watching from the outdoor bath at sunset as the new moon
materializes low on the horizon, out of thin air, or the full moon
sending shafts of silver as it comes up through the trees, or slivers
of pale daytime moon on those clear days.
Some recent good news - our application for revegetation funding
has been approved by the Catchment Management Authority. They are
going to pay for seed, seedlings and a circular fenced enclosure,
and we can start as soon as the soil is ready.
In this rough terrain, planting native seeds directly where they
are to grow is a better idea than planting tubestock in holes in
the hard baked clay. We're also going to try disturbing the soil
in some areas, and seeing what comes up from dormant seed already
in the ground. We're also building a circular enclosure to keep
Swampie (wallaby with arse like troop carrier) and kangaroos out,
using a new technique of making the fence angle outwards, rather
than straight up. The theory is that they can jump high, but don't
like jumping high and far at the same time.
I'll be arriving at Clydesdale by bicycle tomorrow, and hope to
eat completely out of the garden, except for a few cupboard staples.
Last week I planned a few menus:
Potato chunks with spring onions, new season broccoli, lots
of garlic and sea salt. Good and filling after a long ride -
boil the spud pieces, fry the rest in olive oil, making the
garlic all crispy, then add the spuds and fry until yummy, maybe
adding sesame oil or more good olive oil at the end. This only
works with strong-tasting greens like home grown broccoli, brussels
sprouts or Choi sum/Chinese broccoli.
Zucchini bread - just make bread but include grated zucchini
and dark-tasting herbs like thyme or rosemary. That's if the
zucchini wasn't finished off in a frost during the week.
Salad with rocket, lettuce, spinach, chocolate capsicum (still
ripening in the cool weather, but not as tasty as the thick
red ones), nearly-the-end tomatoes and herbs.
Snow peas and the last of the beans with beetroot dip - boil
beetroot in skin with tail and an inch of stalk attached until
cooked, remove skin and stalk, mash with olive oil, sea-salt,
pepper and lemon juice/vinegar. You can put in greek yoghurt
instead if you're not travelling by bike.
Stir fry of bok choi, young broccoli leaves and almonds.
I should be cooking kohl rabi. It's mature, but it's just so pretty,
I can't bear to hurt it.
I haven't been planting much lately, except for a few follow-up
rows of spinach and beetroot, since I've been researching root-barrier
fabric and want to wait until the tree root problem is solved before
I waste any more compost on those greedy giants. Sadly, there seems
to be no fabric that can keep tree roots out and still allow water
to drain away. All the root barrier materials are meant to be placed
vertically to keep roots from moving sideways under the soil surface.
My problem is with tree roots coming in from underneath the raised
This weekend I'm going to dig up some areas that were lined with
newspaper in an experiment last summer, and see if that at least
delayed the tree root re-invasion. I'm going to buy some lard and
smear it around the stalks of affected plants to stop the ants farming
aphids (that's if the aphids haven't been frosted off - for the
last month it's been too cold for predators and warm enough for
aphids - a bad combo - I've never tried the lard method before,
so I'll let you know if it works).
And I'll sit and think. There are difficult decisions to be made
about the fruit trees and perennial plants
Previous Central Victoria
With Rachel Bucknall
Rachel's rocket and lettuce taking off!
Bugs, bugs, bugs. I've found lots of them while digging up the
vegie patch, so I figure I must be doing something right! Digging
didn't happen over Easter as partying took over instead (I figure
I've got to make the most of my 20s while I still have them) and
then uni time management issues have taken over since then...the
patch is back on the agenda now!
Given that my previous attempts and gardening have been thwarted
by too much to do and too little time to attempt it all (let alone
learn from it) I'm keeping to just two beds this time round. I've
sorted through my seeds and mum's promised some seedlings to make
sure we have *something* to eat at the end! The rocket and lettuce
in mum's planter bed are going great guns though.
Previous Melbourne updates.
With Marion Macgregor
Previous Perth updates.
NSW North Coast, Australia
With Betty Fowler
May in the Garden.
May his here at last and so is the cooler weather. We have had
a lot of rain - showers mainly but it has been so good for the garden.
Everything is growing so well - very nice to be able to watch it
growing instead of having nothing but weeds in the garden as we
had over the last growing season due to the drought.
My pumpkin vine, the one that has encroached on part of the garden,
it has paid off by my leaving it there. I have counted about 8 large
pumpkins growing on it - just as well. It is still growing and producing
flowers and has a number of little pumpkins starting on the ends
of the runners as well. These will have to get a move on before
the cold weather sets in.
We have been picking the lettuce I put in earlier - my 6 plants
(about 24 from my friendly nurseryman) have all grown well. I am
giving a lot of them away to help with the oversupply. I have other
lettuce coming on as well. I planted the seed of a selection of
lettuce varieties all out of the same packet. These contain the
oakleaf, cos, buttercrunch and a couple of other varieties. I have
a few rows of these planted on and these are growing well and we
should be able to pick them in a couple of weeks. This year I have
also tried rocket. Nothing like a mixture of salad greens.
The cabbage have been attacked by the grubs which I am trying to
keep at bay each day. I may not win the battle with these - the
first crop here is always the same. No matter, the chooks love cabbage
especially laced with grubs.
The broccoli is growing steadily and has a few grubs on it - easier
to find on the leaves than the cabbages. The caulies, I still have
about 3 plants standing - I do not know what happened to the others
as they seem to have disappeared - just chewed off at ground level.
(looks like cutty grug activity - they are hard to find as they
come out at night and do their damage). This has happened to some
of the other plants that I have put in previously - joys of gardening
I suppose. I have planted another few cabbages, broccoli and caulies
out and these have taken off now the cooler weather has arrived.
I find it is better to keep them coming in stages than planting
a lot and then having none to follow on.
I have just about pulled all the beans out apart from one or two
stragglers which are still flowering and producing. Some of the
beans on the trellis are still valiantly trying to flower and grow.
I should be hard and pull them out and plant peas on the trellis
---- next week perhaps. I have one trellis of peas planted already
- these are sugar snap and snow peas. These are up and just starting
to get a bit of size in them before they start to climb. I am going
to plant a couple of rows of garden peas as well - I have the seeds
of massey gem (an early variety) and green feast. (later variety).
I often wonder if it is worth the effort as the parrots watch the
peas ripen and have keener eyes than me at times. Nothing like sharing
It is time to plant broad beans this month as well. John and I
plant a crop of broad beans and peas for a green crop. What we don't
eat we chop back into the soil. Over the years it has helped with
the fertility of the soil.
The turnips, swedes and parsnips I have planted are doing well.
The purple top turnips have started to bulb and I have managed to
pick one or two - rather on the small side of course - just to put
in the soup for flavour. John is hanging out for the pasties I make
with the turnips or swedes and other vegies. Great winter food.
It is surprising how many people do not use turnips or swedes or
even parsnips. They have a great place in cooking , I use them a
lot. Growing them quickly (plenty of manure and water) is the secret
to keeping them sweet and not strong flavoured. A good frost helps
sweeten the swedes I have found - This means that they have to be
growing early and bulbing before it frosts.
I have planted a packet of bok choy (chinese greens) seeds and
every one of them came up within 4 days. They are fast growers and
I have started thinning out the plants already and using them as
greens mixed with a few leaves of spinach to help make up the quantity.
I will let the other plants grow on till they are more mature. These
are really delicious steamed with noodles and a little soy sauce
I planted some onion seeds last month and these have started to
come up along with the weeds. I will plant out some of the onions
seedlings when they get large enough to handle. Using the young
plants as shallots helps get rid of the excess if you do not want
them to grow to maturity. Our area is not a good area for growing
onions. When they are to be picked we usually get rain. This also
brings a bit of disease (mainly mildew) to the plants as well. I
have also planted leek seeds and these have started to poke their
heads above the ground. I usually buy a punnet of seedlings and
plant these out. I am being very virtuous this year, planting as
many seeds as I can instead of going to the nursery.
The carrots and beetroot seeds I planted have germinated and the
rows are well defined. The beetroot will have to be thinned out
a bit - these will make another row - I can't bear to throw the
excess away. The carrots will grow and I will thin these out gradually
as they fill out and use them as baby carrots. Great with parsnip
if you have both growing.
We have been carting plenty of compost out of the chook pens and
putting it on the garden beds before planting this year. This with
added lime and blood and bone have kept the fertility up. I am so
happy with the way the soil has built up over the years with everything
that we have put in it. It is a pleasure to dig in it. The depth
of soil is great and the drainage is superb.
I just like wandering through the garden and seeing what is growing
- good early morning activity. I love it especially when it is frosty
Our citrus fruit is starting to colour already. Great, I can hardly
wait. It will be good to pick our own fruit again this year and
of course a few of them will end up in the jam pot as marmalade
jam. The orange trees, (I have 4 of them) cover quite a long period
- starting with an early navel orange and progressing to a really
late valencia. The Tangelo is a great juice fruit and fruits from
July onwards. The later in the season the riper the fruit gets of
course - I start using them as soon as they colour up enough. I
have also a couple of mandarin trees, a lemon , lime and grapefuit
trees as well.
We had a lot of cherry guavas on earlier - these I was planning
on making some jam out of but time beat me as usual. We ate quite
a few of them fresh. I often picked a few and put in my pocket when
I went for my early morning walk. The yellow guava did not do as
well this year. I am sure the drought affected it a lot. We had
a few fruit on it - much larger than other years but not as many.
We missed out on being able to have stewed guavas this year and
the guava jam did not get made.
Well I have again rambled on long enough.
Happy gardening till next time.
Previous NSW North Coast updates.
23 October, 2008
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