Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making Compost

Around my garden there’s always plenty of garden waste so there’s no shortage of raw material for making great compost. Now that my garden has grown in size, the black plastic compost bin I bought a few years ago isn’t big enough to keep up with demand. So, I knocked together a couple of wooden frames which stack on top of each other and I use the 2 systems in combination which seems to be working pretty well.

The above picture shows the end result, but once I’ve taken all my lovely compost and dug it into the garden, it’s time to start all over again. This is what I do...

Over a period of months I’ve been collecting all our kitchen scraps, lawn clippings and other organic waste into the black bin, plus each year when I do any big garden tidy up, I gather up dead punga branches, hedge trimmings and any other stuff that’s too big and woody to fit in the bin. When gathering this into heaps I usually do it in layers giving each layer a dusting of lime, which controls acidity and encourages insect life. I sometimes add a spade full of soil which I reckon helps in the decomposition process as it’s usually full of all kinds of micro-organisms. I leave it sitting in a pile for about a year in a shady corner of the garden.

Using the wooden frame (which has 4 pointed corner posts which poke into the ground) I use my body weight to dig the stakes into the ground, positioning it wherever I have space. 

Then I start forking the contents of the bin into the box, spreading it evenly in layers.

Each layer I give a dusting of lime as I alternate between the wet mushy contents of the bin and the dryer more twiggy, punga branches etc, which is already partly decomposed, making it like a huge multi-layered sandwich. I reckon the twiggy stuff helps to keep the stack airated which also encourages insect life.
This process of layering serves the same purpose as giving a compost heap a good mixing which is recommended in order to achieve the right consistency, not too wet, not too twiggy and coarse, but crumbly and full of insect life, especially worms. By the time it’s ready to use it will be well on the way to being returned to soil but full of rich goodness and life. 

When I’ve used up all the ingredients I put something over the top to keep the rain off it and then leave it for about 4-6 months. In the mean time I work at filling the bin again and gathering up more branches for the next batch. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Plums & Pollenation

Successful pollenation is all about TIMING and PROXIMITY.

There are a few different pollinators (some say 'pollenizers') for the Black Doris plum. They include the Billington, Sultan, Purple King or Elephant Heart varieties. When I originally planted my Black Doris plum I wasn’t too concerned about which pollenator to get so long as it did the job. I had a few to choose from at the Nursery at the time. Up until recently I couldn't remember which one I actually got. So after doing a bit of research here I've concluded that I must have the Billington variety.

The Billington's plum blossoms earlier than the Black Doris, you might say a little bit too early. As you can see below the Billington Tree (background) is almost finished blossoming before the Black Doris’ flowers (foreground) are ready to open.

There was a slight overlap between the two which this year only lasted a day or 2. Unfortunately, around that time it rained and all the pollen on the remaining blossoms got wet. Thankfully, before the rain arrived I’d plucked off a couple of nice looking blossoms and manually painted them onto the Black Doris blossoms that were open, of which there were only about 4 on the whole tree.

Needless to say, my hopes of having many fruit on the Black Doris this year look pretty slim. One thing I learned about the Billington and it may well be partly the reason why I chose it was that it itself is self-pollenating. The last 2 or 3 years it has fruited tremendously. 

According to one of my neighbors, whose husband planted a Black Doris tree some 30 odd years ago, the tree had never fruited until I planted my Billington. Perhaps because of the size of the neighbors Black Doris tree which is much bigger than mine, there is a sufficient overlap of blossoms to enable pollenation, even though they're about 15 metres apart. You can see where they are in relation to one another in this pic...

I’m hoping the blossom-overlap between my 2 plum trees will get longer as my Black Doris gets bigger. I’m just glad the bees know what they’re doing.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Potted Colour

Winter has a way of making things in the garden look they’ve been abandoned, like this garden planter which has been completely taken over by weeds.

When spring finally arrives it’s time to get out in the garden and get everything back into some kind of order. I started by emptying the planter and giving it a bit of a scrub to clean it up a bit.

Then came the fun bit... filling it with garden mix and a few flowering plants. I chose Pansies, Lobelias and Sweet Williams. I bought them before they’d started flowering as they were cheaper to buy that way, which meant I didn’t know what colours I was going to get until they started flowering.

I probably wouldn’t have chosen pinks and purples if I had the choice but I reckon I probably couldn’t have chosen the colours any better.

It’s amazing how a bit of colour can brighten up your day.

The way it turned out the colours tied in nicely with the orchids which I moved from their storage area, to brighten up the front of the house.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Is it Worth all the Effort?

When I first started growing my own vegetables, this was one of the main questions I kept asking myself.

Up until recently the answer in a monetary sense has mostly been “No”, especially if you factor in the cost of establishing the garden in the first place and of course I’ve only started gardening recently. So I decided to view those costs as an investment into the future viability of this whole endeavour. At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that all my vegetables are organically grown (I don't use pesticides and sprays) and everything we eat from the garden is fresher than you could buy anywhere. I reason that there’s got to be some value in that.

I must confess I don’t even know how much vegetables cost these days, as my wife usually does all the shopping. But I went shopping with her recently and decided to take my camera with me. I decided to take note of the prices of some of the same vegetables that I’m growing in my garden...

To help get it all in perspective I also took a photo of some seedlings I got from the plant shop. In this case it was the new Bunnings store that just opened which has a gardening section. Keep in mind that the price shown is for 6 seedlings.

Now it doesn’t take much math to work out that a half dozen brocolli at 2.99 ea. comes to $17.94 less the price of the seedlings leaves $16.65. The cauliflower cost twice as much @ $2.99 for HALF a cauliflower resulting in a crop of a half dozen cauliflowers worth $34.59. The cabbages work out to $28.71 for 6 whole cabbages. 

You only have to grow a half dozen of each of these 3 kinds of vegies before you’ve saved yourself about $80 at the supermarket. Admittedly these are winter prices and it’s harder for most people to grow vegies in the winter as their gardens are too shady and wet. But under the right circumstances and conditions it’s definitely worth it growing your own.

The cost of pumpkins blew me away. If you read my post here about growing pumpkins last summer you may have seen my comment on the price at the time at $1.50 each. Come mid-winter and the price has rocketed up to almost $9 each. Of the 10 pumpkins we grew last summer we still have 2 left. They keep well and will last all year. On this basis, even if you didn’t grow your own, you should almost buy them in bulk in the summer and store them ‘til the winter.