Sunday, 24 January 2016

Hardy summer plants

Since the start of January we have been away from our garden - at the Woodford Festival and visiting family interstate. Considering that over that time, the garden has not been watered and there has not been much rain, I am so impressed at how so many of the plants are just thriving.

The plants are thriving - my first job will be to manage that abundance.  My first attempt was trimming back some plants over the pathways - these cuttings I took to the children's workshop on Saturday.

Before I went on holidays, I added extra mulch and opened the soil a bit with a garden fork to allow moisture to percolate more easily.  In a previous post, Holiday Garden, I talked about how I prepared the garden. It worked.

I had hoped of course for a little bit more summer rain to help the salad seedlings to thrive - some have some haven't. Enough survived.

What also worked was the weed suppressing ability of my no-dig gardens.  I have very little weeding work to do after a month - mostly a bit of trimming around the paths and edges.  It's great!  Not having to weed saves a lot of time in the garden. Of course there's the odd weed that comes through, but these seem weakened and easy to pull out.  If you want to give it a try, I posted the instructions earlier this month - My Simple and Successful No-Dig Garden Method

Eggplant in the new no-dig garden area - hooray, no weeds!

Here are just some of the plants that are looking great after a month of no care and no watering. Building soil fertility, integrating water harvesting features, mulching very well and choosing hardy plants really do make a difference.

The spectacular flowering amaranth - very drought tolerant.

The structure of Brazilian Spinach prevents wilt.
The incredibly hardy Society Garlic growing here amongst the Brazilian Spinach.

Japanese Mint is thriving under the shade of the Navel Orange
The Lemonbalm is flourishing too in the semi-shaded positions.

The Lemon Myrtle has grown so well it needs a haircut.
I like to keep the new growth low where I can easily harvest it

Madagascar Bean - an immature pod. I wait until these are brown and dry, then harvest the lovely purple spotted dry bean inside the pod and use it like a lima bean.

The vine of the Madagascar Bean - so abundant it grew too heavy for the trellis.  This needs attention!

New pumpkins are emerging. That's good - I recently finished eating the last crop. These self seed. The vines are offering some nice young green leaves and flowers for dinner too (but not these female flowers).

Welsh Onion is such a hardy plant. It almost always is upstanding! This Welsh Onion plant I first started growing 23 years ago. I keep dividing and spreading it.  I have it all over the garden and have given away so many. In this spot, it is surrounded by parsley.

Pelargonium in the really really dry spot - I appreciate it's ability to grow in such harsh conditions.

Pigeon pea flourishes in the dry spots too. It has after all grown in India for over 3000 years and providing a dried pea that is used in dahl.

Red hibiscus spinach is starting to bush out nicely. I enjoyed this thoroughly in a stir fry tonight.

The Rosella bushes are coming along too - also a drought-hardy hibiscus. I am looking forward to making some rosella tea.

The Mexican tarragon is thriving. A lot of this will be going to a daylong herb workshop I am doing at Northey Street City Farm in a couple of weeks.

I am so impressed by this tuscan kale - it is perfect!  It's roots were covered with a lot of mulch. Another kale in spot that was too dry and had less mulch is almost all bug eaten. 

The hardy Peruvian ground apple - Yacon. The young leaves are edible while we wait for the root to form. In winter, the top will die back and we can harvest the sweet roots.

I am so keen to get in and start work, but I think it's really important first - before getting in with a flurry of activity - to stay in observation mode for a little while longer. I am assessing where the garden is - how all the plants are doing, how the system has evolved, what gaps are there, what problems are happening, what are the priority tasks, what new structures are needed, where could I put in my new herb crops, what needs changing, where will the children's new gardens go, where can they build their treehouse...

I love the process of keeping the design alive - evolving and adapting to the changing conditions and needs.

Happy gardening everyone!


  1. I'm really impressed with the results you have achieved by preparing your garden before your time away from it.

    There is a lot for me to learn from that as I tend to leave my allotment fallow over the summer months as I cannot be there to tend it every day in the heat. I take that opportunity to build up the soil in preparation for my next growing season, but after reading your blog I realise I could do more to have my allotment producing during this time.

    However, I have some wonderful snake beans as I planted them in time to get a good root system in place. And my turmeric is growing amazingly. I'll have a huge clump of it at harvest time.
    But for the rest - I'm building my soil up with horse manure from the adjoining paddock and letting it work it's magic (hopefully!)

    1. Snake beans are great aren't they - such a great plant for the hot summer months. Spending time focusing on the soil is definitely a great strategy. The healthier the soil, the more resilient and robust your plants will be. With so many perennial plants I find that I am often doing a lot of top dressing and remulching to keep the fertility up.

  2. Do you have any tips for disease control, Morag? I live in Ipswich (Qld) and everyone says their pumpinks grow like weeds and they just let them go. Mine go really well until the vine is established, and even til it fruits, then it gets attacked by (I think) powdery mildew which damages it so badly the fruit gets stunted and the vine withers up. What could be the imbalance in my garden, and how can I fix it?

    1. Powdery mildew is a very very common problem, especially for pumpkins and zuchinnis - they produce a lot of leaf and therefore need a lot of water and nutrients to maintain their health and resilience.

      I have come to accept that in this climate at this time of year, you can never completely rid the garden of powdery mildew- just slow it down and get a couple more weeks of harvest from your plants.

      In order to prevent the outbreak, what you need is a lot more ladybirds and really look closely at your soil. Let me explain a little more:

      Plants tend to be affected by powdery mildew if there is some stress. The first thing to do is to check that your plants have sufficient water and nutrients, and that the soil pH is suitable for them to absorb what they need for healthy, disease-resistant growth. Plants can only absorb nutrients from the soil as water-soluble ions. If the soil dries out, plants can’t absorb the nutrients they need to produce the compounds that deter pests and disease.

      Smaller outbreaks of powdery mildew on pumpkins will be controlled naturally by the fungus eating ladybird, Illeis galbula - they feed entirely on powdery mildew. The fungus eating ladybird has very bold black and yellow colouration. Both adults and larvae feed on mildew fungus - a really common problem in gardens.

      It’s often recommended that you remove the affected stems and burn or bin them. But if you spot the powdery mildew early, you can carefully remove the stems and put them in a far corner away from other things that might be affects. This allows the helpful ladybirds to keep feeding and build up their populations and so they can come back to the plants when they became reinfected. It is almost impossible to have a garden without powdery mildew.

      If you have a larger outbreak of powdery mildew some people spray plants with one part fresh milk to five parts water and repeat this weekly. The benefit of using milk and water is that it will control fungus without harming any of the useful ladybirds.


    2. Thank you for your advice, I had noticed lots of the little lady bugs and thought they might like the mildew, but obviously there is too much of it even to fill their bellies! I will dig in some more compost and worm castings and see if my next round of pumpkins does any better. It's a shame we are only renting- this particular patch has some very large, hungry trees that seem to suck all the nutrients out of anything I add to the soil before my veggies get a chance. We have grand dreams for our own plot one day. One day, one day ;)