Sunday, 3 May 2015

Cabbage Leads by a Head


with ecologist Sue Stevens

A few years ago, while the Better Homes and garden film crew where recording a segment with presenter Graham Ross in my garden…this was when I was a gardening researcher for the show.; Graham would always look at this particular bird that visited and wonder what it was.

At that stage neither of us knew what the bird with a black head, white band and grey body and beak that reminded me of a Kingifsher beak was, It turns out it's a Butcher bird.

Let’s find out so more....

Other birds in the same family include the Australian Magpie, the Currawongs, Woodswallows and other members of the Butcherbird genus Cracticus.
The grey butcherbird is a regular visitor to my garden and probably why I don’t have the wattlebirds and other smaller birds visiting.
Even though it’s an aggressive predator, the grey butcherbird has a lovely song and in summer sings close to the house and sometimes perches on the clothes line.  
In this case he’s probably looking for lizards and insects.
If you have any questions about the Butcher bird or have a photo you want to  share, send it in to or write in to 2RRR P.O. Box 644 Gladesville NSW 1675.


Cabbages are in the Brassica family along with Brussel sprouts. Caulis and Broccoli. 
Brassica oleracea capitata.  
Cabbage comes from the French word Caboche meaning head.
Did you know that the cabbage has been grown as a vegetable for more than 4,000 years?
Cabbage is native to the Mediterranean and when it was first grown,  it looked more like a leafy kale and didn’t have much head at all..
The ancient Romans loved it, and used it for several purposes. A clever roman named Cato said that eating cabbage soaked in vinegar  before going out for an evening of heavy drinking, prevented you from getting a hangover, but if you did get a hangover then the remedy was simply more cabbage. 
Although cabbage is often connected to the Irish, the Romans brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C
Since cabbage grows well in cool climates, yields large harvests, and stores well during winter, it soon became a major crop in Europe.
It’s no surprise that the explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries carried cabbage in their ship's stores for their crews to eat, and the high Vitamin C content helped stave off the scurvy that was so common among sailors.
 It was also useful for binding wounds to prevent gangrene and that was because of the sulphur content in the cabbage.

How to grow cabbage
To sow cabbage, in temperate, sub-tropical and arid districts, March until June is the best time,  but temperate and sub tropical districts can have another go from August until November,
March until May is best then August in cool temperate areas.
Cabbages do best in a reasonably firm soil, so leave it for several months between digging and planting.

Why firm soil?
So they don’t fall over when they grow those heavy heads.
Like all brassica varieties dig in plenty of well rotted manure or compost in the autumn - don't dig in the manure close to planting time.
So if you haven’t done it this autumn, don’t worry, throw on some general purpose garden fertiliser and leave for a week.
Pick a reasonably sunny spot for the site where you are growing cabbages.
If you can, use a site where peas and beans (Legumes) where grown the recently, and if you dug in manure or compost  for them then no more is needed.
By the way, don't dig up those pea and bean roots as they contain lots of useful nitrogen that plants
require.You can either sow seed or put in some seedlings but either way, only put them 7.5cm  apart so they won’t grow thin and spindly.
Cabbage seed needs temperatures between 40-240 degrees C to germinate, so now’s a good time.
Seeds  take about 6 days to germinate and 8-16 weeks before they’re ready for picking..
TIP: it can’t be said often enough but if you’re planting out seedlings you need to make sure that you firm the soil with your hands or trowel around the seedling because firm planting helps grow firm tight cabbage heads.
If you plant them now they’ll mature when it’s still cool and you’ll have the firmest best tasting cabbages.
Stagger the planting so you don’t have 12 mature cabbages at once.

When your first seedlings are about as tall as your hand, plant the next lot.
I’ve been told that transplanting cabbage seedlings helps them to grow strong roots , so if you are starting from seed, sow them in a punnet.
Now the next problem is pest patrol-possums, aphids and white cabbage butterfly.
Try some veggie netting-a very fine mesh that you can throw over your cabbages, or put cut off plastic drink bottles over the seedlings.
To treat those caterpillars, there’s the organic Dipel and another product Yates Success, that contains an organic ingredient Spinosad.
Both very safe.
Don’t forget to feed your Cabbages with liquid fertiliser when they’re small
Pick your cabbages when they’re still firm and they’ll stay that way for months in cool weather.
Why are they good for you?
Why grow them? Cabbages contain 90% water and are really low in kilojoules.
Also high in vitamin C, you need only eat 100g to get your daily requirement.
They also have dietary fibre, folate, potassium and help balance fluids when you’ve eaten too much sodium-salty foods.


with landscape designer Louise McDaid

Do you have any pot plants in your garden?
One or two or twenty two?
They seem to have multiplied when you weren’t looking didn’t  they and now you’re wondering how to look after them all when you go away.

Having pot plants requires much more maintenance than if those same plants where in the garden.
But it’s not all bad news if you know the right tips and tricks.
Let’s find out about keeping those pot plants healthy.

If you’re finding that you’re not able to manage all those pot plants, you might just have to give them away or plant them out in the garden.
In the case of too many and not enough space, and you couldn’t possibly bear to part with them, get someone to help you with an irrigation system that waters your plants when you go away.
There are those that are operated by a battery powered timer and are cost effective too.


When the first colony arrived it wasn’t long before they were short on just about everything and tea was just not available.
The soldiers and later settlers, tried all sorts of plants to see if they resembled their favourite brew if you poured boiling water on the leaves.
One of them was the coastal tea tree or Leptospermum laevigatum.
Well, I’m not saying that it makes a great tea, but this next plant sounds like it could be in a nice cool drink.
Let’s find out some more

Leptospermum petersonii  “Lemon Lime and Bitters” is a dwarf selection
that would suit a lot of low borders, as hedging or softening the edge of a rockery. 
Attractive, colourful and tough is a big ask of any plant, but not only does this tea tree have it all, but its leaves are full of citronella oil and it’s covered with white tea tree flowers in spring, which the butterflies love.
Moist clay loam or sandy soils in cool temperate to sub- tropical climates will suit just fine, and you decide its shape by how little or how much you prune it.  As it only grows 50cm high and wide, this isn’t a great chore.

If you have any questions about growing tea trees why not write in to

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