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.

What to grow in December (Cool/Temperate Climate)

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I’ve been so busy with my garden at home and at work lately that before I knew it, the first week of December had already passed…so apologies for this late blog on what to grow this month. We’ve had a very high rainfall so far in December (a bit too much in some areas) and combined with the warmer temperatures, your vegetables should be growing right before your eyes.

If you’ve got some space left in your vegetable garden here’s what to grow this month:

You can plant: potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers, capsicum, chillies, eggplant, zucchini, squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, corn, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, spring onions, lettuce, leeks, basil and other herbs.

You can sow from seed: kale, silverbeet, lettuce, beans (bush and climbing), beetroot, Asian greens, corn, cabbage, carrots, leek, spring onions, zucchini, squash, spaghetti squash, turnips, swedes, parsnips, smaller pumpkin varieties, cucumbers, perennial spinach, radishes, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and celery.

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How to sow seeds

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When you’re new to vegetable gardening the easiest way to get started is to buy some seedlings from a garden centre and plant them out. However the range of things to plant and the varieties available are very limiting, so sowing from seed is the way to go. There are many organic seed companies that you can order from online, or you may have a gardening friend who saves their own seed and is happy to share some with you. Beware though, looking through seed catalogues is addictive and often results in you buying more seeds than you have space for in the garden!

Here is my guide for some common vegetables and how best to sow them:

Seeds that should be sown directly into a garden bed:

Parsnip
Swede
Beetroot
Carrot
Radish
Beans
Peas
Turnip

Seeds that are best sown into seedling punnets and planted out as seedlings:

Tomato
Capsicum
Eggplant
Broccoli
Cabbage
Brussel sprouts
Kale
Cauliflower
Celery
Onion

Seeds that can either be sown direct or into seedling punnets first:

Rocket
Pumpkin*
Corn
Zucchini*
Squash*
Cucumber*
Leek
Spring onion
Spinach
Lettuce

*Careful not to disturb the roots of these seedlings when planting out

It’s also important to plant seeds at the correct depth, generally 2 to 3 times their width. Keep soil moist after planting but not soggy; if you let the soil dry out after the seed germinates it will die, if the soil is too wet the seed may rot before it even starts to grow. And remember to sow your seeds in their correct season!

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Sowing peas directly in the ground

What to grow in November (Cool/Temperate Climate)

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It’s 15ºC and raining outside on the first day of the last month of Spring. It’s just as well I’ve been too busy lately to get my summer vegetable seedlings planted early as the temperatures have been much cooler in our region this last month then they were this time last year.

The weather can be unpredictable sometimes and if you find that the early tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants etc. you planted on a beautiful sunny day in October are now shivering in an unexpected return of winter weather, you can always protect them with a mini greenhouse made from plastic bottles with the base cut out or some plastic plant guards until the warmer weather returns.

With the hope of sunny days ahead here’s what you can plant this month:

Potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, eggplants, capsicum, chillies, cucumbers, sweetcorn, celery, celeriac, globe artichokes, jerusalem artichokes, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Asian greens (pak choy, bok choy, wombok etc.), carrots, beetroot, swedes, turnips, radishes, beans (climbing and bush), spring onions, leeks, yacon, perennial spinach, zucchini, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, rocket, mizuna, basil, parsley, coriander, chives and most other herbs…

…and of course lots of sunflowers to bring out the sun!

 

Knowing when to harvest your garlic

garlic

Growing your own garlic is not difficult but does require a bit of patience as the time from planting till harvesting can take 7-8 months. If you harvest garlic too early, you are left with very small cloves that are frustrating to peel, harvest too late and your cloves will have burst apart making your bulbs look unattractive and you will also have reduced your garlic’s storage life. In order to know when the right time to harvest your garlic is, you need to understand a little bit about the growth stages of garlic.

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Garlic growing in mid-October. The weather is warming up, days are getting longer and bulbs are growing.

In Melbourne garlic is best planted in early Autumn (April-May). Planting at this time ensures that your garlic puts on lots of growth before turning its energies into forming bulbs. Once bulb formation is triggered by increasing day length and higher soil and air temperature, leaf growth stops. Garlic that is planted too late in the season won’t have enough leaf growth to support the formation of large bulbs. Temperatures above 33ºC signal the end of bulb growth and the start of drying off, this process is irreversible, so early, unseasonably high temperatures can sometimes result in a disappointing garlic crop, especially for gardeners in warmer climates as garlic bulbs can double in size during the last month of their growth.

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The ninth leaf from the top is starting to brown…still a while till harvest time.

Your garlic is ready to harvest when the sixth leaf (counting from the top of your plant) starts to brown off and there are therefore only five green leaves left on the top of your garlic plant. Each green leaf corresponds to a layer of protective skin that will cover your garlic bulb after harvest and is required for the optimum storage life of your garlic.

If you are growing a hardneck variety of garlic you will find flower stems (scapes) developing from your garlic plants during the last months of growth. It is best to harvest these on a regular basis (by pulling them carefully from the centre of your garlic plant) so that they don’t take the energy out of the garlic bulbs that are forming. Scapes can be chopped up and used as a garlic substitute in many dishes.

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Garlic scapes ready for harvesting.

For more information on growing garlic visit my blog article: How to grow garlic

 

What to grow in October (Cool/Temperate climate)

pumpkin seedlings

The warmer weather is finally here and now that the soil is also warming up you can get busy planting out your vegetable beds with a huge variety of vegetables and herbs.

Early October you can plant/sow:

Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Broccoli, Kohlrabi, Cauliflower, Asian greens, Cabbages, Spinach, Leeks, Lettuce, Celery, Endive, Spring onions, Radish, Carrots, Beetroot, Parsnip, Swede, Turnips, Peas, Snow peas, Rocket, Celeriac, Yacon, Potatoes and most herbs.

Late in October you can continue to sow/plant the vegetables listed above, as well as sow/plant into a warm part of the garden:

Tomatoes, Tomatillo, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Corn, Pumpkin, Squash, Bush and Climbing Beans, Chillies and Capsicums.

Note: This advice is based on my experience in growing vegetables in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges areas.

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Spring into the garden

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The weeping cherry blossoms are abuzz with bees

It’s the fourth week of Spring and it’s finally safe to say that winter is now behind us. The bee hive is buzzing, there are flower buds opening everywhere around the garden and the goats are shedding their winter coats.

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The back vegetable garden late September

Even though we’ve had plenty of rain in the last month, the increased temperatures heading into summer will mean the ground can quickly dry out. Now is the time to get your vegetable beds mulched using pea straw, straw, sugarcane mulch or if you can afford it, lucerne hay, which will also feed your vegetables as it breaks down.

september- potatoes

The potatoes which were planted mid August are growing strongly and have been hilled up with soil and then mulched with pea straw.

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I don’t usually mulch the garlic, but the soil in this bed dries out quickly (thanks to our gum trees) so I’ve given them a light cover with pea straw.

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The brassica bed with Tuscan kale, Red Russian kale, broccoli and cauliflowers will hopefully mature before the Cabbage White butterflies emerge and lay their eggs on the leaves, so won’t need netting. 

I love the start of Spring when vegetables nursed through the Winter start to mature. We’ve been feasting on asparagus the last few weeks, both green and purple. If you haven’t grown asparagus before, have a go, the two year wait before harvesting is worth the many productive years that follow of the best tasting, freshest asparagus you’ll ever eat.

September- broadbeans

The broad beans are worth growing just for their flowers delightful scent and the leafy tips of the plants make a wonderful addition to a spring salad.

Broad beans and snow peas are starting to pod too and we’ve eaten the broccoli and cauliflowers with a succession planting maturing soon. There’s plenty of kale, silverbeet, spinach and red chard and the endive is ready to be lightly steamed and mashed with potatoes (it’s a Dutch thing-don’t knock it until you try it!)

oranges

Planted at the top of the driveway in a our best sunny spot, the oranges and grapefruit are thriving and we are juicing and eating citrus galore. Our citrus trees love the spent straw from the goats pen as a mulch.

True-blue wildlife

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The bower of the male Satin bower bird at my work in 2012 

Hidden in a small clearing, between the bushes at the bottom of the vegetable garden at my work is a bower from the Satin Bower bird (Ptilonorhynchus violaceus). These birds are commonly seen in our vegetable garden, feeding on scraps in the compost heaps, tearing the ends of our lettuces and silverbeet and hopefully eating a few of our insect pests while they are at it!

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The male Satin Bower bird (photo credit: Australian Museum)

Satin bower birds are about 30cm in size and are found along most of the east and south-east coast of Australia. The immature males and the female birds are both olive green in colour with a cream-brown scalloping on their chest and brown wings and tail and will often live in small flocks. The mature male obtains his beautiful glossy blue-black plumage between the ages of five and seven and defends his own territory. Males then build and decorate a bower as a courtship arena to attract the females during the breeding season which starts in early spring.

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The bower of a younger male which also includes yellow objects such as wattle flowers, dried onion skins and yellow leaves. When doing his courtship display to impress the female bower bird, the male was dancing with some yellow wattle in his beak. (Photo from the vegetable garden in 2017)

The bower is build on the ground and consists of two parallel walls of sticks decorated with bright blue objects, younger males also use yellow objects as decoration. The Bower bird at my work has used blue baling twine, feathers, bottle tops, a pen, clothes pegs, a blue cookie cutter and blue foil wrappers to decorate his bower. He would have performed an elaborate dance while carrying one of these blue objects in his bill near the bower to attract a female early in spring.

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A female or immature male Satin Bower bird 

If the female is impressed enough with his efforts, mating takes place in the bower. The female lays upto 3 eggs in a nest loosely built of sticks in a bush or tree about 10-15m off the ground somewhere nearby. She cares for the young on her own as the male will go on to mate with numerous other females.

It’s worth retaining native habitat on your land wherever you can do so, to ensure that these amazing birds and other Australian wildlife species can survive and continue to fascinate future generations.

What to sow in September (Cool-Temperate Climate)

Spring seedlings

Nothing signals the arrival of spring more than blossoming fruit trees, a greenhouse bursting with vegetable seedlings waiting to be planted out and the birth of baby animals. However with a very cold winter behind us, don’t be too quick to plant out all your spring vegetable beds in the first week of spring, as we may have more cold weather to come. Staggering the sowing and planting of your crops throughout the growing season will also give you a more gradual harvest and helps to prevent getting caught with a glut of vegetables.

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Our new Spring chickens are still a bit camera shy!

It’s still too cold outside too for our new additions to the hen house and they are keeping warm inside the shed until the temperatures outside become a bit more pleasant and their feathers have fully grown.

There are lots of sowing calendars available online for different climate zones, but really the best way to learn what to sow in your own garden is to take the advice given and then experiment a bit with your garden’s own particular micro-climate. In my garden I might plant a particular vegetable in a different month of the season depending on whether it’s going into my front or backyard vegetable beds or in the greenhouse, as they all have very different micro-climates.

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Parsnips and Red Chard

My work garden is a certified organic vegetable garden (with NASAA) so I’m required to keep notes on what I’ve sown, when I’ve sown it, how much I’ve sown and what garden bed it went into. For my own information I also add notes on how well things grew or if there was any unseasonal weather or pest/disease problems. It sounds like a lot of work but really it doesn’t take that much time at all to record it on a chart and it has become a valuable tool to look back on when planning what to sow the following year. You can do something similar for your home vegetable garden and over time this will allow you to see what does and doesn’t work and you’ll create your own sowing calendar. Remember too that each year is a bit different, weather and pest wise, so don’t be disheartened if something doesn’t grow well, take notes, learn and try again the following year.

Seedlings ready to plant

Here’s what seeds you may want to sow into punnets in September for planting out later in Spring:

Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Asian Greens, Spinach, Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Leeks, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Eggplant, Capsicum, Chillies, Cucumber, Zucchini, Pumpkin, Squash, Celery, Endive, Spring Onions.

You can also sow directly into your vegetable beds the seeds of:

Radish, Carrot, Beetroot, Parsnip, Swedes, Turnips, Spring Onions, Peas, Snow peas, Rocket and Endive

You can plant out seedlings of:

Kohlrabi, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Cabbage, Asian Greens, Spring Onions, Spinach, Silverbeet, Rainbow Chard, Leeks, Lettuce, Celeriac, Globe and Jerusalem Artichokes and Rhubarb.

September is also the time to plant more seed potatoes as well as most herbs.

Note: This advice is based on my experience in growing vegetables in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley and Dandenong Ranges areas.

How to grow potatoes…

chitted potato

A chitted potato ready for planting

As a Dutch-born Australian my diet while growing up featured a lot of potato meals: curly kale mashed with potatoes, beetroot mashed with potatoes, carrots and onions mashed with potatoes, sauerkraut mashed with potatoes…you get the picture! As an adult I still love potatoes (and I still serve them up mashed with other vegetables from the garden) but now they taste even better as I grow them myself.

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A colourful variety of heirloom potatoes

There are many more varieties of potato available to home gardeners than the small selection of commercially grown ones you’ll find at the supermarket. Heirloom potatoes come in many different shapes and colours and  you may want to try some of these great heirloom varieties: Bintje, Burgundy Blush, Brownell, Kipfler, Pink Fir Apple, Purple Congo, Red Norland, Russian Banana, Salad Rose and Sapphire to name a few. To get started purchase certified disease-free seed potatoes (google heirloom seed potatoes in your country or state to find a retailer), this way you won’t risk introducing soil born pests and diseases of potatoes into your garden. These pests and diseases can also be prevented by not planting any vegetables in the Solanaceae family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum, chillies, eggplant and tomatillos) in the same garden bed each year, but have them on at least a 2-3 year rotation instead.

potato bed ready to plant

Potato bed ready for planting

It is time to plant potatoes once there is no more risk of frost in your garden. I plant in late August here (as my garden is protected from frost) and by the time the potato shoots emerge above the soil, spring has arrived. You can sow successive crops of potatoes throughout the warmer months here in Melbourne by choosing a cooler part of the vegetable garden to plant them in during summer, that way they won’t get heat stressed. Make sure though that the last sowing has at least three months to mature before the first frosts arrive in late autumn. The instructions below are for growing potatoes in the ground or a raised bed but you can also grow potatoes in cylinders made from chicken wire, in hessian sacks or in a no-dig garden.

potatoes laid out

It’s best to plant your potatoes 30cm apart in rows about 50 cm apart

Potatoes prefer a soil that is rich and free draining with plenty of organic matter, such as compost, added and some pelleted organic fertiliser. To plant your potatoes dig a trench about 20 cm deep and plant your seed potatoes 30 cm apart in rows of 50cm apart. Fill the trench with soil and hill soil up around the potato plants as they grow and emerge from the soil. Keep your potatoes well watered especially during the warmer months. When the plants get even bigger, spread straw thickly around the potato plants to exclude any light from getting to any potatoes that may be developing just under the surface of the soil. Potatoes exposed to sunlight will develop a green colour, which is chlorophyll and enables the potato to photosynthesise and sprout. At this stage it also develops a poisonous chemical called solanine which makes the potato taste bitter so animals are discouraged from eating it. You should therefore never eat potatoes that have developed green patches on their skins.

potato trench

Your seed potatoes should be planted about 20 cm deep as most of your potato crop will develop above the original seed potato.

Potatoes are usually ready to harvest in around 12 weeks after they’ve flowered and start to die back. If you have trouble waiting that long, you can harvest a few early potatoes by carefully digging around the base of your potato plant with your hands after about 8-10 weeks, but you’ll get a bigger harvest of larger potatoes if you’re prepared to wait! Once harvested, let the soil on your potatoes dry so you can brush most of it off and store your potatoes in a cool, dry and dark place. Don’t wash your potatoes before storing as this will make them more prone to developing rot during storage, the aim is to keep them as dry as possible. To store, you can put your potatoes in a hessian sack or in a cardboard box underneath a few layers of newspaper to exclude them from any light but still allow good air circulation. Any potatoes whose skins were cut or damaged during harvest should be eaten first and not stored with the rest of the potatoes. Regularly check your stored potatoes and discard any that develop rot. Stored properly your potatoes should stay good for at least 2-3 months.