Welcome to Mascha’s garden

summer harvest

 

Welcome to my blog! The purpose of this blog is to share with you some of the adventures in my garden and scatter the seeds of my knowledge. While growing food is my forte, blogging is a new adventure…so… if you are keen to learn more about growing your own organic vegetables and fruit, permaculture, wildlife habitat and maybe even keeping some chickens, goats and bees…welcome to Mascha’s Garden!

 

 

© Mascha’s Garden, 2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mascha’s Garden with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Upcoming workshop – An introduction to organic vegetable growing

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For those of you in Melbourne a chance to visit Mascha’s Garden;

An Introduction to growing organic vegetables at home.

1st October 2017 1pm-4.30pm

This workshop teaches you what you will need to know to successfully grow organic vegetables in your own garden:

  • Get to know your garden soil by analysing a sample of your own garden soil and learn how to improve it
  • Learn the basics of composting, setting up a wormfarm and green manure crops to improve your soil fertility
  • Make a no-dig garden
  • Learn how to successfully sow seeds in the gound and in punnets
  • Included on the day will be a tour of Mascha’s Garden, a 2 acre permaculture property, which combines fruit and vegetable growing with chicken, goat and bee keeping and native habitat conservation.
  • Finish the day with afternoon tea (provided) and question time

For bookings and ticket information click below:
Eventbrite - Introduction to organic vegetable growing workshop

The big chill…frost protection in the garden.

frost damage on capsicum

Although surviving to mid-winter in the protected environment of the poly tunnel, overnight temperatures of -5ºC were too low for these capsicum plants as they finally succumbed to frost.

We recently experienced three consecutive nights where the temperature dropped below 0ºC, yes winter is here and with it comes frost. While frost is welcomed by some plants in my garden such as kale, broccoli, carrots, parsnips and cabbages, which taste much better after a frost and also by our apple trees and berry plants, which need a period of cold weather to set good fruit the following season. Other plants, such as the last of our warm season vegetables and our more temperate, sub-tropical plants can suffer if not protected from frost.

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Typical blackened, droopy foliage of a frost damaged plant… in this case Arrowroot.

When temperatures drop below 0ºC the water inside a plants cells freezes and expands causing the cell walls to rupture, creating droopy often blackened looking foliage. Young plants and those with large soft leaves are more susceptible to frost damage. Plants which are classified as frost hardy have adapted to cope with frost by having small, tough, leathery or dense foliage which is more resistant to damage from frost; while other plants are protected by being deciduous and dormant during winter.

frost damage on pineapple sage

The foliage on this Pineapple sage planted in a frost pocket had no chance surviving three nights in a row below freezing, but will bounce back from new growth produced in spring.

To minimise the damage frost can do in your garden there are some measures you can take. Frost often settles in low lying areas, so don’t plant frost prone plants at the bottom of a slope or uphill from a thick hedge or wall which can trap cold air coming down the hill and create a frost pocket. Here in Melbourne, a north facing brick or stone wall can act as a thermal mass, radiating warmth for frost sensitive plants planted near it. A large body of water can also act as a thermal mass, so having a large pond or dam can provide some protection for plants nearby.

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Even the chillies in the poly tunnel got chilly!

Large plants can be protected by covering them with hessian, horticultural fleece, old sheets or weed matting on nights when frosts are likely. Small plants or seedlings can be protected by placing an empty pot plant over them at night, but make sure to remove any covers during the day. If it’s too late and frosts have already damaged your plants don’t be tempted to cut the unsightly and damaged foliage off straight away. The damaged foliage can protect the rest of the leaves and any new growth underneath from further frosts, potentially saving the plant. Prune frost damaged plants once there is no more risk of frosts (which here in Melbourne may not be until mid spring). After a frosty night, wetting the foliage of plants with a hose early in the morning, before the sun is out, can slow the thawing process and therefore minimise frost damage too.

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Ginger Lily damaged by frost.

A seedy business

Seeds

To start with a seed…that you plant into the soil and nurture as you watch it grow into a plant…then to harvest from this plant food to feed yourself and your family and friends… then to save some of the seed to start the cycle again the following season…this would have to be one of the most satisfying, rewarding and empowering experiences you can have.

There is so much to write about seeds so in this post I’m concentrating on highlighting some of the different types of seed you may come across and what some of the terminology on your purchased seed packet means. I’ll follow on from this with a post at a future date which will cover: how to sow seeds successfully and another on how to save your own seed.

Seeds can be classified into Open-pollinated, Heirloom, Hybrid and Genetically Modified.

Open-pollinated seeds are from plants in which pollination occurs by insect, bird, wind, humans, or other natural mechanisms. This means that if you want to save your own seed, these seeds will be true to type (produce very similar characteristics as their parent plants), as long as they are not crossed with other similar varieties of the same species. They also produce exceptionally tasty crops that have a staggered maturing time (great for successive harvest in a home vegetable garden). The only down side is that some varieties produce less bountiful crops. However if you save your seed from your strongest plants from each crop, over time you’ll start to get seed that is adapted to your local soil and climate and produce better plants each season.

Heirloom seeds are all open-pollinated but are also seeds that have a history of being passed down within a family or by a community.

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A bright selection of heirloom tomatoes bursting with flavour.

Hybrid seeds are seed that have resulted from cross-pollinating plants. This can happen naturally in nature, but has been taken to the next level in modern agriculture where plants with specific desirable characteristics are cross-pollinated over many generations to produce highly inbred new hybrids. These hybrid seeds are specifically favoured in modern agriculture, mainly for their high and often earlier yield times, disease resistance and general uniformity in harvesting times. The down side is you can’t save seeds from hybrids as the seeds you save will generally not breed true and revert to the parents’ traits. The popularity of hybrids has also meant the loss of many heirloom varieties and a loss in the diversity of food crops for future generations.

Genetically Modified seeds are produced in laboratories by combining the genes from one species with that of another (think chicken genes in wheat and rat genes in soybeans!) to produce seed with herbicide resistance or other desirable traits. These genetically modified seeds would never naturally occur in nature and the health and environmental impacts these seeds pose are enormous. Most GM crops also contain terminator genes which means seeds are sterile and farmers are required to purchase new seed each year from the companies that own the patent rights for them. Luckily GM seeds are not (yet) available to home food growers but their use in major agricultural crops such as wheat, corn, canola, cotton and soybeans and the inconsistency in labelling on food products means we may all have consumed GMO’s at some time without realising it.

Treated seed has to be labelled as such on the packet you buy it in and is usually covered in a bright pink or blue fungicide or pesticide dust or coating. These coatings are restricted to those seeds which are particularly susceptible to attack by soil borne fungus or insect damage in the pre-germination stage. Vegetables that often have treated seeds include corn, beans, peas, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers. Some seeds are treated with neonicotinoids, a group of chemicals which can be absorbed by the whole plant and are potentially carcinogenic and can make the pollen from the plant toxic to bees who forage on the flowers. When the seed packet warns ‘not to eat the seed or feed to animals’, would you even want to plant them in your garden and eat the vegetables grown from them?

corn seed treated with fungicide

Treated corn seeds

Certified Organic seed is produced using organic farming practices and standards allowable by an organic certifying regulator. These seeds are always non GM and untreated. They are the best seeds to buy to ensure you minimise your exposure to harmful chemicals while also supporting farming practises which minimise harm to our natural environment.

What to grow in July (Cool-Temperate climate)

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The vegetable garden where I work at the Gawler Cancer Foundation.

The mornings here in the valley hover only just above freezing, but there are still the occasional days that the sun makes an appearance and being outdoors is a joy.

July is onion seedling planting time here in cool/temperate Australia. Onion seedlings can be planted as individuals or in little groups of three or four, if you prepare your soil well the developing onions will still get to full size and you’ll fit many more onions in a small space. It’s also time to plant spring onion seedlings and shallots now.

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If you have an established rhubarb patch that’s getting a bit crowded, you can dig up your rhubarb plants and divide them, planting divisions at least 50cm apart. Leftover divisions make great presents for friends or neighbours. If you’re not already growing rhubarb, July is a good time to buy some crowns and plant them out in your garden.

rhubarb

Who doesn’t love freshly harvested asparagus? If you’ve never munched on an asparagus harvested straight from the garden, do yourself a favour and buy some asparagus crowns to plant now. Asparagus crowns are a small investment that, when looked after well, will give you fresh asparagus for the next 20 years!

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Lastly, if you still have some space in the garden for more vegetables you can plant out seedlings of Globe artichokes or tubers of Jerusalem artichokes.

 

 

Winter in the garden

 

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Photo credit: Mieke Florisson

Working outdoors as a gardener I know winter has arrived when… I arrive at work at 8am in so many layers of clothing that I can hardly move my arms…and my colleagues who work in the office complain how cold it is (although they have little blow heaters placed under their desks to warm their feet)…and no one says ‘it must be so nice to work outside all day!’… and I’ve lost all feeling in my nose, toes and fingers by the time I’ve walked up the hill to unlock the garden shed and gather my tools. That said, I love working outdoors and experiencing the changing weather with each season…it helps me feel connected with nature.

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Hammering some clouts around my garden bed edges for securing bird netting

Although things are growing more slowly in the garden now, there is still plenty to do. If you haven’t done so already, you can safely remove your insect exclusion nets from your brassicas as the cabbage white butterflies disappear with the onset of the colder weather. The fine mesh of the insect netting can restrict light and air circulation so is best removed for the winter months. If you have problems with birds or possums attacking your vegetable seedlings you can replace the insect netting with bird netting as I’ve done. The larger mesh size of the bird netting will allow more sunlight to reach your seedlings and improve air circulation which can help prevent disease. Leave your framework of hoops in place and drape the bird netting over them, you can secure the netting by hooking it over some clouts nailed along your garden bed edges. If you keep your netting secured tightly over the hoops and don’t leave any gaps along the bottom of the nets, birds won’t get tangled or trapped.

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Some of the beds in my vegetable garden in the front yard

In winter I also like to remove any thick mulch from around my vegetables. The straw mulch is much needed during the warmer months to help retain moisture in the soil, but during winter the straw not only makes a perfect breeding ground for slugs, it also keeps what little sunshine there is from warming up the soil.

organic snail pellets

 

Although I don’t normally promote or advertise any products on my blog, if slugs and snails are eating your young seedlings, I recommend using Protect-us snail pellets which are the only snail pellets I’ve been able to find that are registered for use in organically certified vegetable crops here in Australia and are safe for wildlife and pets. It uses elemental iron which forms  an iron salt when consumed and causes the snails and slugs to stop feeding and hence leads to their death. Uneaten pellets break down in the soil and add iron nutrients which can be used by the vegetables you grow. You can buy Protect-us pellets online or ask your local garden centre to stock it for you.

How to start a vegetable garden…advice for first time vegetable growers

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If you’ve always wanted to grow your own vegetables but have never got around to it because you are waiting until you have more time, or until you have a bigger garden, or until the kids move out, or until you retire, then stop procrastinating…the best time to start a vegetable garden and reap the health benefits is now!

So now that there are no more excuses and you’re actually committed to starting a vegetable garden, here are some of my tips to making your vegetable garden a success.

Start small-It’s easy to get carried away when you’ve finally decided to grow your own vegetables, but limit yourself to one or two beds that you will have time to weed, water and learn from and if after a year you are going well and want to add more beds…go for it!

Raised beds, in the ground, in pots or join a community garden?-This is the next decision; if you have great garden soil and don’t mind some initial hard work to dig the soil and a bit of bending to tend to your vegetables, then one of the cheapest options is to make your vegetable beds directly in the ground. Many people however, decide to use some type of raised garden bed as these are at an easier height to work with and if your garden soil is no good, you can fill a raised bed with more suitable soil. Better still, you could start a No-dig Garden in one. There are many prefabricated raised garden beds available these days or you can make your own. Just remember to use a non-treated timber sleeper such as white cypress and stay clear of recycled railway sleepers which may have chemical residues left on them.

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Building the part-raised beds in the slope of the home-vegetable garden at the Gawler Cancer Foundation

Another option is to have a potted vegetable or herb garden and this is a great option for people who may not be able to make a permanent vegetable bed somewhere because they either don’t have the space, are renting, live in an apartment or only have a balcony to garden on. Many vegetables and herbs will thrive in pots and they can be moved around from season to season to follow the sun in your garden. Alternatively you may have a community garden in your area which you can join and either tend your own garden plot or share a growing space with others. Community gardens are also a great place to get to know other people from your community and there is usually always someone around who’ll be happy to share their gardening knowledge with new gardeners.

Where is the sun?-Vegetables like a bit of sun, preferably 6 hours, but don’t be dismayed if your garden, like mine, gets less than this. As you can see from my blog there is lots you can still grow if your garden gets filtered or only part sun for most of the day, you just need to learn where your micro climates are. As a rule morning sun is more beneficial to your vegetables than afternoon sun, so keep this in mind when deciding where to make your vegetable garden. Many vegetables, especially leafy greens, grow better when shaded from the hot afternoon sun in summer. I find that silverbeet, rhubarb, carrots, spinach, kale, lettuce and peas grow fine in my vegetable beds that only get 4 hours of sun. Other vegetables like tomatoes, capsicum and eggplant really need the heat and so it’s best to plant them in the warmest spot in the garden, in pots, or in a small greenhouse (if you have one).

How to water?-Our summers can be hot and dry and as a result watering your vegetables can become a bit of a time consuming chore; forgetting to water vegetables is a common reason they fail to thrive. So my advice, if you are going to have a sizeable vegetable garden, is to invest in putting in a drip irrigation system with an automatic timer. I have this set up at work and it saves a lot of time as well as being one of the most efficient ways to water a vegetable garden. At home I’m still hand watering and using hoses and sprinklers from our water tanks, but an irrigation system is definitely on the wish list.

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Drip irrigation is an efficient way to water

If you’re only starting off small you can hand water in your first season and see how you go, but I do advice that you invest in a rainwater tank so that you can harvest your roof water for the garden. Having a water source close to your vegetable garden will also make watering easier. Regardless of what you use to water your vegetable garden, watering deeply (to encourage deep, strong roots) a few times a week when the weather is dry, is better than a little bit of water every day as this will encourage weak, shallow rooted vegetables.

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My rain water tanks water all our vegetable beds

Great soil is the key to healthy vegetables-If you are planning to plant directly into your garden soil it’s worth spending the time to get your soil right before planting your first vegetables. Firstly learn about checking the pH of your soil and make amendments if needed. Vegetables also like a well structure free draining soil so dig in plenty of organic compost and maybe some gypsum if you have a heavy clay soil. However don’t dig your soil while it is very wet or very dry as you will collapse your soil and destroy its structure instead. Planting a green manure crop (a crop that is grown and then cut before flowering and dug back into the soil), will also greatly improve your soil structure and fertility. Depending on the time of the year, suitable green manure crops include oats, peas, vetch, broad beans, rye corn, lupins or clover.

What to grow-This is an easy one; grow what you buy and eat most. Surprisingly some people get this one wrong and end up growing vegetables their family either won’t eat or know what to do with. If you buy broccoli and carrots every week, then grow broccoli and carrots. If after a few seasons of growing your regular crops, you want to experiment with more unusual vegetables you can’t buy locally, go for it, but remember to have a few recipes in mind that will incorporate these new vegetables. And as for what to do with fussy eaters in your family, the rule in my house is… if I’ve grown it, you eat it…no further discussion.

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Be inspired…the home vegetable garden at the Gawler Cancer Foundation where I work

Crop rotation-In your first year of growing vegetables you don’t have to worry about this one. Once you’ve had your first season of growing it is worth learning though which vegetables belong to the same plant family (I’ll be listing these in a future blog post), so that you can avoid planting related vegetables in the same soil, season after season. Plants in the same family are often susceptible to similar diseases and pests and if planted in the same soil over a long period of time these pests and diseases can build up in the soil and become a problem. It’s therefore best to move vegetables from the same family (eg. potatoes and tomatoes) around to a new garden bed each season with at least a three year rotation.

Start with healthy seedlings-discounted seedlings or ones that have been sitting around a retail nursery for many months, looking leggy and pale, will rarely thrive when planted and often run straight to seed. When buying seedlings look for young healthy seedlings, which have not been allowed to dry out and which don’t show any sign of disease on the leaves. Alternatively you can grow vegetables by sowing from seed directly in your garden beds or into your own punnets for planting out later.

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healthy tomato seedlings

Plant seeds and seedlings at the correct spacing and depth-This is an important point to remember especially when planting out your very first vegetable bed. Don’t try and squish everything you’ve ever wanted to grow into this first bed. Some vegetables need a fair bit of space to grow to full size without competing with other vegetables for light and nutrients. Cabbage for example, requires a 50-60cm spacing between seedlings, so a punnet of eight seedlings takes up a fair bit of space in your vegetable garden. If space is limited it is sometimes better to only plant half the punnet and share the other seedlings with a neighbour (unless you are planning to make sauerkraut, you probably don’t need eight cabbages which are ready to harvest at the same time).

Some vegetables such as peas, beans, parsnip and carrots will do better if sown from seed. Take note of the suggested planting depth on the packet though as burying the seed too deep or too shallow can be the cause of it failing to germinate. Some larger seeds, such as beans and peas, don’t need to be watered again after planting until after they start to emerge or they can rot; whereas some small seed, such as carrots and parsnip, need constant soil moisture to germinate.

Build a compost heap-Every vegetable gardener needs a compost heap-in fact every household regardless of wether they grow vegetables or not should have a compost heap. For more information on composting, I’ve covered how to make a compost heap here in a previous post. When growing vegetables, a compost heap is a great place to recycle all your crop waste (the bits you can’t eat) and turn them into beautiful compost brimming with humus and beneficial microorganisms to add to your vegetable garden soil.

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You can never have too much compost!

Use a mulch in summer-As mentioned earlier, summer can be hot and dry, and covering your vegetable garden soil with an organic mulch of straw, pea straw or sugarcane mulch will help keep the moisture in your soil and keep your vegetables and the beneficial microorganisms and worms in your soil happy.

And lastly…if a crop fails, don’t give up, but try and try again-Even the most experienced vegetable growers will have some season that a particular crop fails for one reason or another. Try and learn from your failures and grow your knowledge along with your garden.

And remember I’m always here happy to answer any of your questions, either through the comment option at the end of each blog post or if you prefer, you can email me via the Contact page.

Happy growing!

What to plant in June (Cool-Temperate climate)

 

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My greenhouse increases the variety of crops that I can grow over winter…and is a great place to potter on a cold, wet winter’s day.

June, being the start of winter and cooler weather, marks the start of a quieter time in the vegetable garden. There are some crops though that need to be planted now; it’s time to sow onion seed (brown, red, white and spring onions), sow a succession crop of english spinach, broad beans, snow peas and broccoli (in punnets). It’s also time to divide or plant asparagus crowns which are now dormant, as well as rhubarb, artichokes (Jerusalem and globe), shallots and chives.

If you are fortunate enough to have a greenhouse with vegetable beds to extend your growing season, then you can still plant out any of the seedlings from the May planting list into these beds. Lettuce, rocket and other salad greens as well as herbs such as dill, chervil, parsley and coriander will all thrive and give a regular harvest over winter in this protected environment.

 

 

How to grow Yacon…the apple of the earth

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A good harvest of Yacon tubers all from one plant!

Resembling a sweet potato, Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is sometimes referred to as ‘the Peruvian ground apple’, an apt name for this crisp, sweet, underground tuber that can be eaten raw like an apple. This ancient-looking plant from the Asteraceae family, originated in South America and is grown for its sweet edible tubers which were known to be valued and cultivated by the Incas and are a staple in the diet of South Americans today.

I first started growing Yacon about fifteen years ago by planting a small rhizome bought from an online nursery. I instantly fell in love with this amazing plant after tasting the tubers from that first long awaited harvest. Since then I always grow some each year both in my own garden at home and my garden at work; where I love introducing new food gardeners to Yacon’s tasty tubers.

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A row of yacon plants in my garden at work

Yacon is an impressive plant, growing up to 2m in height with large arrow shaped furry leaves and small yellow daisy flowers which are produced in autumn. It is relatively easy to grow and can be grown in most mainland areas of Australia. Around the base of the stem of a Yacon plant, clusters of small rhizomes are produced which are very different in appearance to the larger edible tubers which form below.

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Purplish coloured rhizomes that form at the base of the stem, just below the ground, are used to propagate new Yacon plants

These rhizomes can be divided and planted out mid to late spring after the last chance of frost or when they start to sprout. Each plant produces many rhizomes, so there are always plenty of extras to share with other gardeners; once you have a Yacon rhizome you’ll never need to buy more. Plant rhizomes, containing a few growing sprouts, about a 70-100cm apart, a few centimetres below the surface, into deeply cultivated soil enriched with plenty of compost and manure.  Yacon requires a long growing season and will take 6-7 months to reach maturity (after flowering). Water regularly and consistently as sudden changes in moisture levels can cause the tubers to split.

yacon ready to harvest

Yacon’s less than impressive small flowers are dwarfed by the size of the rest of the plant…people often think my Yacon are very strange sunflowers

Harvest Yacon after the foliage dies back in winter after flowering, by carefully loosening the soil around the plant before easing the entire root system out of the ground.

yacon uncovering roots

The edible tubers can then be snapped off from around the crown and the rhizomes kept and divided for a new crop. The edible tubers can grow up to 30cm long and weigh as much as 1.5kg. It’s not unusual to get twenty or more tubers from one plant. Allow them to dry in the sun and store in a dark cupboard for a week to sweeten further. Don’t wash them, but just brush the excess soil off before storing, they will keep for a few months.

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Rhizomes ready to be divided for planting out in spring after the last frost

Yacon has an interesting apple-carrot flavour with a texture similar to nashi pears. Tubers can be peeled and eaten raw, boiled or baked. The skin needs to be peeled off before eating as it can be a bit bitter. Once peeled the flesh discolours quickly so sprinkle it with a little lemon juice to prevent this and peel just before needing to add it to a meal. I love eating it just as I would an apple or pear, but it is also amazing cooked in a stir fry where it retains its crunchy texture and absorbs the flavours of the other ingredients. You’ll find many yummy recipe ideas online. Interestingly the main stem of the plant can also be eaten; it’s eaten like celery when young and traditionally the leaves were used to wrap other food during cooking.

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A tasty snack of Yacon slices (consumed while writing this blog post)

Despite its sweet taste, Yacon has a low kilojoule content and is high in fibre. It contains high levels of inulin, a form of sugar that is hard to metabolise making it a popular choice for diabetics. Inulin also aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine. Yacon is a good source of antioxidants, contains a great balance of 20 amino acids and is high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. What more reasons do you need to give this amazing vegetable a go!

How to grow broccoli

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Broccoli and its fancier relatives (Brassica spp.) would have to be one of my favourite vegetables to grow, both for this nutritious vegetable’s many culinary uses and for its shear beauty. Most people are very familiar with the common supermarket variety of green broccoli, however less well known (and rarely available in supermarkets) are Broccoli Raab, Romanesco Broccoli and Sprouting Broccoli (with both green and purple varieties available).

Romanesco broccoli

Beautiful Romanesco broccoli with its spiralling patterns which are a natural representation of the Fibonacci sequence (one for all you math geeks!)

At home we eat broccoli several times a week and hence I try to grow it for most of the year. In our Melbourne climate this is possible if you plant seedlings every 4-6 weeks throughout spring, summer and autumn. Unless you have a greenhouse, seedlings planted in the cold of winter tend to struggle, so plant some extra throughout autumn to get them off to a flying start while there is still some warmth left in the soil. I avoid planting at the hight of summer too as seedlings often struggle with the high air temperatures. You may have some success planting into a garden bed shaded from the afternoon sun (by other plants or taller vegetables) at this time of the year.

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The vegetable garden at the side of our house with many members of the Brassica family off to a good start before winter.

Broccoli and its relatives like a nutrient rich soil with plenty of compost and some organic fertiliser added and with a pH between 6.5 and 7 , to learn how to test your soil’s pH click the link- Testing the pH of your soil . You can sow seed in seedling punnets and transplant into your garden bed once your seedlings have their second set of true leaves (the first leaves to appear are seed leaves and look different to the true leaves). Plant your seedlings deeply (right up to the first true leaves) as plants can get top heavy and are prone to toppling over on windy sites. Most varieties of broccoli will need to be planted about 30cm apart however, sprouting and Romanesco broccoli, are large plants at maturity and may need to be planted 50cm apart.

During spring, summer and early autumn you can cover your broccoli plants with an insect exclusion tunnel (click this link to learn How to make an insect exclusion tunnel ) to protect them from the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. Alternatively you can spray with Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) sold under the name Dipel, which is a bacteria that acts as a stomach poison in caterpillars and is an allowable input in organic gardens. You will need to spray regularly though, wetting all leaf surfaces, as Bt washes off with rain and irrigation. Keep an eye out for aphids too, especially during warmer weather. They often appear if plants are stressed from lack of water or fed too much nitrogen, so make sure to water your broccoli regularly and don’t over fertilise. If aphids do appear you can spray with soap sprays or natural pyrethrum.

broccoli in May

Once the weather is cold enough (usually in May in Melbourne) you can take your insect exclusion nets off as the cabbage white butterflies are gone and your broccoli will benefit from the extra light and air flow.

Broccoli can take about three months to grow (depending on the time of year), before it is ready to harvest. With broccoli that forms a main head, once you harvest, leave the plant in the ground as you will get a second harvest of smaller side shoots. Sprouting broccoli forms many small florets that can be harvested as needed but are best harvested before the florets open up. Any broccoli heads that aren’t harvested and that flower are not wasted as the yellow flowers are edible and make a great addition to salads and stir fries and the bees love them too!

The art of procrastination…aka, taking photos of bees

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Most of us have busy lives these days and mine is no exception. As I work four days a week, the one weekday I’m home is usually crammed full of all the running around jobs that don’t get done on the weekend…paying bills, buying stuff needed for school projects, car servicing, housework (ugh!), however there is also gardening… walking the dog…watching the chickens and their antics…feeding the goats…observing the bees as they enter their hive…following an echidna as it waddles along our bush track…checking each snow pea seedling’s progress as it climbs up the trellis…yes, it’s easy to get distracted when there is so much life in the garden.

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So it’s not surprising that with a long list of things to get done today, not only am I now writing this blog post when I should be vacuuming the house, but I’ve spend the last hour following the bees around my garden, as they feed on the Salvia flowers, trying to get a good photo. The job might not have taken so long if it wasn’t for the fact that I’m trying to capture a creature which has no appreciation of the meaning of procrastination and hence doesn’t stop moving for one second as I try to get a photo, that is even remotely in focus, on my HTC mobile phone. So apologies to all you photographers out there for the quality of my photos, a great photo of a bee definitely requires a better camera.

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Nevertheless I thought I’d share these photos with you as for one, they took so long to take and secondly, it’s an opportunity to highlight the importance of having something flowering in your garden late autumn for the bees as they are heading into the cold months of winter.

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For autumn flowers you can try growing some of the larger winter flowering varieties of Salvia. They are not only a hardy and low maintenance plant to grow, but are a great source of pollen and nectar for bees on sunny, late-autumn days such as today. Some of my favourite Salvias are Pineapple sage (S. elegans), Mexican sage (S. leucantha), Salvia dorisiana and Salvia ‘Costa Rican Blue’.

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