Thursday, 26 July 2012

Mixing It Up in the Vegetable Garden

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.

The Good Earth

 with Permaculture Sydney Institute Director, Penny Pyett. The 6 bed rotation system is good if you've got the room or energy, but permaculture principles show us that there are other less back breaking ways. On today's show Penny outlines the backbone of a vegetable garden in permaculture-neither hard or messy. These principles even include IPM or integrated pest management, so that's got to be good.

Podcast Powered By Podbean Without realising it, I was following permaculture principles in my vegetable garden because I don’t have that many areas to grow produce. Mixing perennial plants, like perennial basil with your normal vegetables, like Penny said, can save you work when it comes to pest management. Self-seeding is another great idea, because a lot of the time, seeds of lettuce and parsley can be easily transplanted to other places in the garden. So I hope that’s given you some food for thought anyway.

Vegetable Heroes:

Potatoes or Solanum tuberosum. Always grow potatoes from Certified Seed Potatoes from reputable suppliers. Yes it is possible to simply buy some from a specialist green grocer and keep them for seed, or use leftover potato peelings. What’s wrong with that? You run the risk of introducing diseases such as Potato Virus Y, Potato Blight or Potato cyst Nematode. If you use ones that have sprouted from the supermarket or green grocers. You might think it’s only a small risk, but once you get potato blight into your soil, it’s their forever. No chemical will shift it.   Potatoes can be planted now all over Australia, in temperate and sub-tropical districts, August to October is the best time, in cool temperate zones, September through to January, and in arid areas August until December is your best time. Potatoes like to grow in a deep rich soil,  so plant seedling potatoes in a trench and as they grow pile the earth up around them. You will need to hill the rows or potato container several times until the potatoes have flowered To stop the greening of tubers and also protect them from potato moth. Doing this will give you more potatoes as they tend to form on roots near the surface, as you pile up the soil, you get new roots, , more potatoes.... I should have said earlier, pile in lots of cchicken manure or blood and bone  through the bed as potatoes need a lot of phosphorus but not too much nitrogen.  Too much nitrogen will mean lots of leaves rather than potatoes.  Keep the water up, but only water moderately as potatoes will rot in soil that is too wet. You can add fish emulsion and seaweed extract when you’re watering too. Potatoes can also be grown in your black compost bin if you’re not using it for compost. Plant the seed potatoes at the bottom, let them grow to about 50cm,( so with your ruler that’s  almost 2 x ruler heights) then, over the top and add 8cm of soil, let them grow a little more, add some more soil, and so on, in the end a stack of potatoes. Pick your potatoes when the vine has died down to the ground, that’s if you want the most potatoes, but they can be harvested from when the first baby potatoes are formed.  The lower leaves should be turning yellow – this happens about 3 to 4 weeks after flowering. For mail order or online, try              

    Design Elements:

Some people don't like too many plants in their garden thinking that it's too much maintenance.  Here's a suggestion for built structures in the garden for that ordered look.

Plant of the Week:

Grevillea "Superb" vs Grevillea "Ned Kelly."
Grevillea "Ned Kelly."
What's the difference?
Grevillea "superb."
In the 1970's, two hybrid grevilleas came out. One a cross from Grevillea banksii and Grevillea bipinnatifida. This was Grevillea "Ned Kelly." Grows to 2 metres high and wide and seen in many older gardens. The flowers, or more correctly, the racemes, have reasonably distinct bands of colour, starting as red, and fading to yellow. This shrub was successful because it attracted so many mainly larger birds like rainbow lorikeets, plus it's pretty hardy.  G. "Ned Kelly," can take light frost and grows best in full sun but any soil type. It flowers all year, and birds love it. Grevillea "Superb," was was created by Grevillea grower Merv Hodge. One of the parent plants is the white form of Grevillea banskii. The main difference is the foliage is a little darker, and the flowers a deeper colour- more red-apricot at the base fading to light pink. The third main difference is the floral tube is nearly always yellow. To me this is a neater shrub, growing to 1.5metres My preference is Grevillea 'Superb," but both flower all year long and don't need too much trimming to keep them bushy. You can prune them back reasonably hard if you have an old plant that's become overgrown and straggly looking. As with all grevilleas, if you fertilize your garden, these plants are phosphorous sensitive, so only use a native fertilizer or blood'n'bone around them. Why not send in a photo of your Grevillea?  c/- 2RRR PO Box 644, Gladesville NSW, 1675 Win a garden hat or some seeds with your gardening question, or simply fill in the survey below.
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Friday, 20 July 2012

Warblers and Mushrooms

 REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
Today I opened the show with some information about using tea and tea leaves on your garden.
Did you know that tea leaves contain some of the big three nutrients, N-P-K, as well as some trace elements? Tea also contains tannic acid, which is helpful if you're watering your plants with hard water.
A used teabag left in water overnight can be used to water ferns, hydrangeas, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.
Of course, you can also add tea leaves to your compost pile.

Wildlife in Focus:

Magpies with John Dengate.
Magpies are very opportunistic and will come around all the time if you start to feed them. Not a good thing to become reliant on you to feed them, so only occasionally feed them with bits of bacon rind, chopped up small, wild bird seed or as I do, save the curl grubs when I’m digging around in the compost or garden and put them in a shallow saucer in a little water so they drown. Maggie will find them.
Everyone would know what a Magpie looks like, but do you know how to tell the difference between a male and female Magpie? And are the Magpies in England and Europe the same as we have here? Let’s find out..

King Oyster Mushroom
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Vegetable Heroes:

Mushrooms or Agaricus species. The only natural source of vitamin D in the produce aisle of your supermarket!  100g of Mushrooms have more dietary fibre than the same weight of celery or a slice of wholemeal bread.
I have grown white button Mushrooms in the past, and having seen different varieties being grown in Europe, I snapped up a mushroom pack of King Oyster Mushrooms from the local markets. This is sold as a bag about…5cm round and 20 cm high. Your Oyster Mushroom grow bag has a cleaned straw and sawdust substrate that’s been pre-inoculated with your chosen variety of Mushroom spawn. What is mushroom spawn? It’s that white filamentous growth used for starting mushrooms. When you get your mushroom bag or kit this is what you need to do. Keep it in a dark place, it doesn’t have to be pitch dark, but under the bench in the garage is good, under the BBQ cover or a shady spot in the garden. But not in a cupboard or a box. You need fresh air around your mushroom kit. The preferred  temperature range is 10 - 26 degree. So if you have frosts in your area, consider putting it inside somewhere. Cut off the top of the bag leaving about 1cm of plastic around the edge. Spray clean water into the opening. Keep the mushroom sawdust mixture just damp with twice daily sprays. Some suggest spray once in the morning and once at night, but don’t let your mushroom kit dry out.          If your growing mushrooms are looking wet, that’s too wet, so cut down on the spraying. When the mushrooms are ready for picking, remove the entire clump or group of mushrooms by cutting at the bottom of the stem. This well then let the next cluster of mushrooms start to grow.          Now you need to cut the plastic around the top of the bag opening down to about 12mm or ½ an inch from the top of the mixture. Fold the plastic in over the top of the mixture. It won’t stay completely folded, but that’s alright.          Locate where the next group of mushrooms are starting to shoot from. Usually the area with most humidity on the top, (is where they’ll shoot from.) Lay the bag on its side with the new shoots at the top.  Once you notice your mushrooms begin to grow they’ll double in size every day. Remember: spray daily, around the growth of the mushrooms to keep the mixture damp but don’t waterlog. After the first crop, you should get crops further crops every week or so. These are called flushes. You should get 3-4 flushes of mushrooms over 6-8 weeks. If your bag has gone a couple of weeks without growing, the suppliers recommend that you stick it in the fridge for a few days and then put it back into your growing area. Keep up the spraying. Store your collected mushrooms in a brown paper bag in the fridge. After a month or two the sawdust mixture and straw substrate is spent and it’s time to get another lot. Find more info on

Design Elements:

Structure in the garden with hedges. Recently a friend of mine sent me some photos from English gardens she was visiting. The garden looked very cottagey, with blowsy perennials falling over everywhere, and disorder seemed to be the theme.  My eye couldn't focus on anything in the picture and I felt dissatisfied with the whole effect. Natural gardens that look good are hard to achieve and  I've got to say my preference is for a structured look with clipped Buxus or clipped Lilly Pilly. You still can have all the garden styles or themes in such a garden. Listen to garden designer Lesley Simpson discuss Structure with Hedges.

Plant of the Week.

This week it's a weed! Montbretia or  Crocosmia x crocosmia Some cottage garden plants have become environmental weeds because of their tenacity to multiply at full speed. This one, also commonly called Crocosmia, is definitely a no no, and if you’ve inherited it from a previous gardener, it’s probably time to rethink your planting and start pulling it out. I remember my elderly neighbour giving me some bulbs when I moved in twenty years ago. they grew easily and spread everywhere. I'm still pulling them out in different parts of the garden that I'm sure I never planted them in before. Montbretia has sword shaped pale green leaves that look similar to Gladioli leaves.  The flower spikes are thin and arching and not unlike other perennials with tubular flowers either in an orangey-red or yellow.
After the flowers die down the seed set along the stems forming a decorative spray and apparently were used in floral decorations by florists.
Below ground are coppery brown corms forming vertical chains with the oldes corm being buried deep below all the others. When you pull on the leaves, the contractile roots make sure that only one or two of the corms come away leaving the others behind to continue growing. They also spread horizontally growing bulblets on their rhizomes. The best way to get rid of the is digging with a spade or trowel rather than pulling on the leaves.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Growing Tea and Loving It

 REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.

Compost Capers:

with Cameron Little from  By now you might’ve guessed that I think that composting plays an important role in the garden. You might remember a few weeks ago I mentioned that some gardeners refer to the liquid you get from worm farms as worm tea or black gold. In fact, recently I’ve used a dilute mixture of worm tea to green up some yellow looking Slipper Orchids. Magic. But sometimes getting a worm farm going can be problematic. Hopefully Cameron can fix all that.
The worms and other micro-organisms break down the food scraps before they have a chance to rot. Did you know that around 90% of greenhouse gas emissions from landfills are a result of decomposing organic material such as food waste? If you’re having problems with your existing worm farm, drop us a line to and Cameron or the RWG team will be happy to help.

Vegetable Heroes:

O.K. I hear you. Growing tea is not vegetables, but it is growing something that you can consume nevertheless. Commercial growers use two varieties of Camellias. The China tea bush, or Camellia chinensis var chinensis, produces small tea leaves and grows to about 1.6m. It’is a very hardy, multi-stemmed but slow growing shrub. The leaves are dark green, glossy and small as you would expect being a Camellia. The second variety, which will be hard to source for the home gardener is the Assam tea bush (Camellia chinensis var Assamica) The Assam tea bush has much larger leaves-almost twice the size leaves of the China tea bush. The leaves grow up to20cm or 8 inches. It’is quick growing and loosely branched. Assam tea leaves are light green and glossy. What’s nice about growing the tea plant, is that right now it has small, (about 8cm wide), single white flowers with a bunch of yellow stamens in the centre. The white flowers set off the dark green leaves- so very attractive. The Camellia sinensis var sinensis plant is a small shrub about 1.6-2 metres in height, though it will grow taller if you don't prune it. Camellia sinensis  can withstand hot droughts and severe winters so you can grow it virtually in all climates of Australia. You don't need a large garden to grow your own tea and being a small and slow grower, pot or tub culture suits this plant right down to the ground. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, or the Tea Camellia, grows just like any other Camellia bush that you might have growing in your garden. I’ve got to say though, it’s one of the slowest growing Camellias that I know. If you’re having trouble getting plant, you can grow it from seed, available from  and online organic seed company called To make  green tea -Pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds. Blot the leaves dry, and let them dry in the shade for a few hours. Steam the leaves (like you would vegetables) on your stove for about a minute. Spread the leaves on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 120 C for 20 minutes. Store the dried tea leaves in an air-tight container To make black tea- Pick the very youngest leaves and leaf buds like before. Roll the leaves between your hands, and crush them until the leaves start to darken and turn red. Spread them out on a tray, and leave them in a cool location for 2-3 days. Dry them in the oven at 120 C (250F)  for about 20 minutes. Store in an air-tight container. Tea bushes can be attacked by mites, scales, aphids, and caterpillars, but most pest problems can be solved with horticultural oil, that kills pests by suffocating them, without harming birds or other beneficial insects.
Barnsley Manor, England. photo:M. Cannon

Design Elements:

  Design Elements is a garden design segment that not only lets you find out about different ideas for your garden, but also what some design features actually mean and how they can shape the appearance of your garden, turning it from a bit more than ordinary to extraordinary.  This series begins a lesson on Structure in the Garden with Lesley Simpson, garden designer. Let’s find out more.

Plant of the Week:

Grevillea "Pick O the Crop". Released in 2011. Genus species:  Grevillea bipinnatifida x thyrsoides This is what I would call a sub-shrub, sort of between a ground cover and low shrub, growing to 30cm high but spreading to over a metre. The plant breeders, Austraflora say that it has a medium frost tolerance that means down to  -30 C.     Grevilleas like full sun to light shade and you can grow it in all parts of Australia, because according to Austraflora, it will do well in  Cool temperate to tropical & semi arid; 1st line coastal.
As will all Grevilleas, a well drained site will gaurantee success. Pruning is minimal with groundcover types of Grevilleas, just trim off the finished flowers and give it a tidy up about once a year.
Grevilleas of all types attract nectar feeding birds, and if you plant a corner of your garden with various Banksias and Grevilleas of differing heights, with perhaps a birdbath or some sort of water for the birds, you should be successful.
For a picture of this particular Grevillea, go to

Friday, 6 July 2012

Aussie Trillers in the Garden

REAL WORLD GARDENER Wed. 5pm 2RRR 88.5fm Sydney and Across Australia on the Community Radio Network.
The complete CRN edition of RWG is available on , just click on 2RRR to find this week’s edition.
Wildlife in Focus:Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike. Is it a cuckoo or is it a shrike? Why are we talking about this bird today and do you have the sort of tree to attract this bird to your garden? Listen to ecologist Sue Stevens talk about this bird and hear it's call.
Bird call provided by Tony Bayliss from the Australian Wildlife Sound Recording Group.

Vegetable Heroes:Spinach  or Spinacia oleracea.  Oleracea is latin for edible. In Cool temperate zones, you can plant spinach from April until September. In Arid zones, you’ve hit the jackpot because you can plant Spinach all year round. In temperate zones you had from February until the end of May, and in sub-tropical zones, from April until the end of July.  These times are only a guide, and personally, I plant some vegetables and see how they go even though it might be a month or two out of their supposed best planting time. So, I have some Spinach seedlings coming up in my garden right now, even though I’m in a temperate district. Germination of spinach seeds can take anything between a week and 2 weeks. Don't plant too close to avoid getting fungal problems on your Spinach leaves. Spinach is what’s called a heavy feeder when it comes Nitrogen. Spinach being a leafy vegetable will require lots of it to grow well. If you haven’t already applied Blood and Bone or cow manures to the soil a month or two ago, your soil will run out of nutrients. During the cooler months of winter, organic matter doesn’t break down that much and to get the needed Nitrogen, applying liquid fertilisers such as compost tea or fish emulsion often, will be the best way to get Nitrogen into that growing Spinach..Another thing to remember is that Spinach grows on shallow roots, so don't dig vigorously around it, but that makes it suitable for pots and tubs. In about 6-7 weeks, your Spinach plant has put on enough big leaves so you can pick them one by one like you might cut and come again lettuce. The leaves will keep regrowing for quite a while. Otherwise pick the whole plant for Spinach pie etc. Make sure you wash spinach leaves well - soil is not tasty!  When you want to store Spinach in the fridge a tip to remember is that Spinach is highly ethylene sensitive. To stop leaf yellowing don’t refrigerate with apples, or tomatoes.
Grevillea "Pink Ice."
 Design Elements:what makes an Australian garden Australian? Leslie Simpson, garden designer, and I think we've cracked the code. Listen here for this week's Australian themed garden. Plant of the Week: Annuals might not be your cup of tea, although I see potted colour walking out the door every week at the produce markets I go to. What about an annual that has it all and doesn’t take up as much of your time in planting it as all the others? Pansy Spreading Lavender has medium-sized flowers with faint whisker markings. Pansy Spreading plants have a better branching habit that the standard pansy, (according to the growers) and flowers that recover quickly after rain and watering. These spreading pansies will spill beautifully from hanging baskets and window boxes, as well as making an ideal ground cover in full sun or part shade. If planting pansies in pots, always use a good quality potting mix and apply fertiliser of your choice each week to stimulate quick growth and flowering.
Tip: All annuals flower more if you tip prune the flowers that have finished.
Flowering Time: Autumn through to late Spring.Weeks to Flower: 6-8 weeks after planting .They're also extremely cold-hardy, easily surviving sub-zero temps.Plant any annuals, and Pansies are no exception, in fertile, well-drained soil. Full sun is best, but they'll also take part sun. Give them a drink of water soluble fertilizer (the aqua blue stuff or for the organic gardener some seaweed solution and worm tea mixed together.) at planting and keep the soil moist, but not soaked. Plant them farther apart than normal pansies -- remember, they spread.Mulching between the plants before they spread is a good way to prevent weeds until they meet up with each other.
Otherwise you could plant spring bulbs, like daffodils, between these pansies now and enjoy a layer of colour next spring.