2014 winter garden – taking stock

Last weekend I ripped out a lot of the remaining winter veg, and composted everything up ready for the summer seedlings to go in. I think on balance it’s been a very successful winter, especially since it’s the first season for our veggie garden. We’re eating heaps more veggies, and are saving plenty of money – especially on high price items like herbs.

Lessons Learned:

  • Next year I’ll net the brassicas in autumn to avoid the worst of the cabbage moth.
  • The back bed doesn’t get any sun for about three months in winter. Next winter I’ll try putting the silverbeet and leafy greens back there and see how they go.
  • I have to get better at succession planting.

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Successes

  • Mini worm farms – they are full of baby worms! And I often spot worms in the actual beds, so they are venturing out as well.
  • Wicking beds. I filled the beds once all winter – rain did the rest. They’re awesome. Barely any weeds. At a good height for this heavily pregnant lady.
  • Carrots (grown from seed – I planted a punnet too and they were pretty dismal). I was sure my carrots were a failure, until I went digging around and found heaps of good ones.
  • Snow peas
  • Broccoli – the broccoli went to seed pretty quickly, but we ate all the flowers as well, so it was a good producer
  • Leafy greens: rainbow chard, cos lettuce, rocket, black russian kale. All excellent.
  • Celery – the celery harvest has been epic and ongoing. We have WAY too much celery.
  • Rhubarb – so much for waiting two years for a good rhubarb harvest, ours was great after only a few months.
  • Radishes
  • Chioggia beetroot – and whatever the yellow ones are called. But the red ones were disappointingly small.
  • Holiday house potatoes – epic harvest.

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Failures

  • Backyard potatoes. Only got a handful of decent spuds. Trying again for spring spuds.
  • Native fingerlime. Killed it.

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Undecided

  • I’m pretty sure my garlic will fail this year – the back bed just doesn’t get enough sun in winter, and they’re covered in aphids despite my best efforts.
  • Leeks – looking quite promising.
  • Onions – less promising.
  • Red cabbage – of the six I planted, I got three small heads. Meh.
  • Brussels Sprouts – sprouts are growing, but I’m worried they won’t stay tight. I’m not sure when to harvest, they’re still pretty small.
  • Broad beans – they were fine, but not a bumper crop, and they got blown over in a storm so their lives were prematurely cut short.

Summer seedlings go in this week – a bit early perhaps, but as the babby is due in a month, I thought it’d be better to get it over and done with before I’m too busy!

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Planning

I’ve spent the winter creating and revising my garden plan, and I’m getting pretty happy with it. I’ve read up on crop rotation and companion planting and plant families – there’s lots of contradictory advice out there!

I’m going to try square foot planting in four 2.4x1m raised wicking worm beds, although the exact spacings and numbers I’ll play by ear a bit. This year will be all about experimenting. I also have to do some thinking about sun and trellises, so they don’t shade things.

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Bed 1: Solanacae

  • Tomato (I’ll talk more about specific varieties in future posts)
  • Capsicum
  • Eggplant
  • Basil

Bed 2: Cucurbits, umbelliferae & sweet potatoes

  • cucumber
  • zucchini
  • watermelon
  • rockmelon (the melons will ramble down over the lawn)
  • carrot
  • celery
  • sweet potato

Bed 3: Brassicas and lettuces

  • Brussells sprouts
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • lettuce
  • rocket
  • radish

Bed 4: Beets and beans

  • beetroot
  • silverbeet
  • broadbeans
  • edamame
  • parsley
  • coriander

In winter, some crops will change. Bed 1 will fill with alliums, Bed 2 will get a green manure crop and Bed 4’s beans will become peas. Then everything is rotated in Year 2.

To plan my garden I used the GardenPlan app for iPad from Growveg.com, which is a really awesome way to plan a garden. It has lots of useful crop rotation tools – I just wish there was a southern hemisphere setting for the month-by-month plans!

Waiting and wicking

We’ve been through about three new backyard studio plans this week, as Yarra Valley Water keeps finding new and exciting things to prevent us from building where we want to (currently it’s a manhole on someone else’s property… grr). But I’m keeping my spirits up by planning my eventual veggie garden.

I’ve been reading about wicking worm beds. With our increasingly hot and dry summers, water is going to become one of the most expensive aspects of gardening. A wicking worm bed requires MUCH less water, because there’s almost no evaporation and the drained water is wicked back up into the bed. Some bloggers have reported only needing to fill the reservoir once a fortnight in summer!

It looks like this (with lots of variations depending on your own opinions/preferences):

The ‘pool area’ is filled with a layer of gravel, a layer of shadecloth or some other mesh, then a layer of sand, which helps the water wick back up into the soil.

I love the idea of having the worm farms built in to the raised beds – saves space in our small garden, and time, because you don’t have to transport the castings around – the worms do it for you! It looks a bit more fiddly at the beginning, but I think will definitely pay off in the long term.

Back to the drawing board.

The planning process for our backyard studio has ground to a halt AGAIN. It turns out that as well as avoiding water/sewage assets on our property, we also have to avoid the ones on our neighbours’ property as well, even though there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to find out what/where they are, until you’ve gone to the trouble of having plans drawn up and had them rejected by the water people. Boo.

So the veggie garden plans are also on hold until we figure out a solution. I’ll just sadly flip through my Digger’s Annual and keep dreaming. But we’re still harvesting lettuce, lots of herbs, silverbeet and kaffir lime. So that’s something!

And there are still nice surprises in the garden, to lift our spirits. Like this anemone!

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First home, first garden

our little garden with hideous shed

our little garden with hideous shed

This is our first proper, non-rental home, in wonderful Thornbury, Melbourne. It has a long, skinny backyard (north-facing) with a hideously enormous asbestos shed, which will be disappearing soon. The plan is to knock down the shed and build a music studio for Michael, keep a little bit of lawn and install some raised veggie beds.

When we moved in, the garden was already reasonably well established, with:

– a glorious gnarled magnolia

-a very sick kaffir lime (which died despite my best efforts)

-a rosemary bush

-some wildish flatleaf parsley

-an enormous tangle of vietnamese mint

-a weedy grove of mint

-four hardy chili bushes, one of which produces chilis so hot they are inedible

-some straggly tomatoes which actually produced pretty well last summer

-two pretty camellias (one pink, one white)

-a lillypilly in the front yard

-a compost bin

-a young liquidambar

-two other young, ugly straggly trees planted in stupid locations

-some weeds growing in an old wheelbarrow

The straggly trees and the liquidambar will be removed – the liquidambar is gorgeous at this time of year, but it’s too close to the house and those things get ENORMOUS. The Hills Hoist is going to have to go too, much as I love it. It’s way too big for this little garden.

Since moving in nearly a year ago, we’ve planted a new kaffir lime, along with a tahitian lime and a Eureka lemon. I’ve planted the wheelbarrow with herbs and spring onions, and have created a raspberry and garlic patch. I’ve added wisteria to our patio, and am growing rhubarb, strawberries, lettuce, roquette, bay, aloevera and blueberries in pots. There’s also some unkillable silverbeet in the back corner.We’ve just submitted our studio plans to council, so fingers crossed that our makeover project is approved!