Saturday, February 25, 2017

Citrus feeding time again, folks

It's a wet weekend at the end of February, and so that means it's ideal citrus feeding weather at the ideal time of year. I just did my lemon, lime and potted Thai lime trees, and garden smells glorious, although I'm not sure if Pammy and the neighbours totally agree.

Use whatever you like to feed your citrus. I prefer Dynamic Lifter (which is pelletised chicken poo, hence the aromatics) but there are lots of different citrus foods you can use. 

The reason for the wet weekend being ideal is that in a perfect world, you should apply fertiliser to damp soil, then water it in afterwards. There was rain overnight, the soil was nicely damp, and as showers are forecast for the rest of the weekend, the rain gods can do the rest. All I had to do was fling the dung.

Most fertiliser packets/bags actually come with instructions on how much fertiliser to use, so I suggest you follow those. It's hard to overdose with an organic food like Dynamic Lifter, but half a dozen handfuls scattered all around under the tree's canopy will do it. And concentrate most of the food on the ground that's under the outer edges of the canopy, not near the trunk.

And if the mulch has broken down a lot, it's also an ideal time to top up the mulches, because like citrus, mulch goes down best over damp ground.

Don't you love the way rainy weather is the ideal time to be out in garden? I do ...

Friday, February 24, 2017

Small beginnings for a little bonsai

I'm not an especially spiritual person, but I do believe in the power of coincidences to affect your life. Here's a simple gardening example ... there I was watering the garden (and that means making sure to water the pots in particular) when I looked at my potted curry leaf tree and felt a sense of regret that I hadn't ever got around to growing it as a bonsai, which I had promised to do on this blog about a year ago. Within one year it had grown too big for bonsai ... another plan that didn't happen.

A few hours later I opened my email inbox and there was a very nice email from a reader, Rehana, asking whatever happened to my curry leaf tree bonsai project. It was meant to be. Another coincidence working its magic. And so here is Day One of the curry leaf tree bonsai project! Thank you Rehana not only for your enquiry but also your exquisite timing.

Doesn't look like much at the moment, but patience is required. I have decided to raise my bonsai tree from seed, and keep it bonsai-sized from a very early age. Under the potting mix are two ripe seeds, hopefully doing their thing.

The potted curry tree is full of ripening seeds now, and unfortunately for the environment, these seeds need very little encouragement to sprout. Birds eat the seeds, then crap them out over bushland several kilometres away, and we have an environmental weed problem that gets worse the closer you are to the curry leaf trees' preferred subtropical climate. In Australia, these trees are becoming a problem on the NSW North Coast and into coastal Queensland.

This is our too-big potted curry leaf tree. Healthy and happy, it's already too big for its pot but I don't want to encourage it by putting it into a bigger pot. What I plan to do is cut the tree back fairly hard in early spring. Curry trees don't like Sydney winters, but they love our spring and summer, so if I cut it back in early September it will put on a lot of new growth in the months after that.

I'd hate to give you the impression that I know what I'm doing here. I don't really. It's all likely to be a big, mistake-filled experiment that might work out well, or might not.

All I know is that curry leaf tree seeds sprout very reliably and easy, which is why they are regarded as a weed. This is our second tree. We had our first one for many years in a pot, and it just grew and grew, and when its berries dropped to the ground they sprouted without any help from me. I pulled most of them out of the ground and composted the seedlings, but I also gave away one or two potted-up babies and they are now in friends' gardens, looking great and doing well.

So for this bonsai I hope the seeds will sprout. I will pick the healthiest of the two seedlings, and regularly clip it back and keep it small. My "starter" bonsai pot is too small for the eventual bonsai, so I will look around for a nice "big" bonsai style pot in the meantime. The challenge will be to clip back the bonsai plant both top and bottom: leaves on top and roots down below. Now I've made a start, I will post the occasional update on how it's all going. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The mossy wall

I'm not sure about you, but coming up with a plan can take me ages, and then at the last moment, just before I'm about to implement the agreed PLAN A, I come up with what I convince myself is a much better PLAN B, and that's what happened with our plans for "what to do with all that Spanish moss" on the weekend. 

To cut to the chase, here's what we did, pictured below. We've stuck it on a wall, or rather, hung it on a wire trellis on a wall.

Originally, we were going to distribute the Spanish moss in batches to every available spare tree branch on our olive, lemon, lime and frangipani trees. All this was made necessary by the demise of the moss's former home, a nice big old grevillea which blew over in a storm.

At the same time we were relocating our moss, PLAN C was to buy a replacement climber to plant under the wire trellis which has, for the last few disappointing years, supported Australia's least productive passionfruit vine. I pulled down the passionfruit vine in December, and we originally thought we'd plant something safe, such as a star jasmine climber.

The wire trellis is very solid, mounted on bolts drilled into this brick wall, with the wires fairly taut. And so I've just stuffed goodly handfuls of Spanish moss behind the wires, and draped the tresses over the front. We've already had two rainstorms and a fair bit of wind, and almost none of it has blown off, so it's "so far so good".

Our Spanish moss grows like crazy here, and that's because I water it a lot. We draped some light strands in our olive tree a year or so ago, and with regular watering they are now wonderful, thick manes of the stuff. As the the wall of moss is next to our thirsty lemon tree, I am sure I won't forget to give it a good, light spray whenever I'm in that part of the garden.

The only way we'll know if this idea works is if it works over a decent period of time. If it does, expect an update in a year's time. And if it turns out to be a dud, I'll let you know about that, too. But somehow I think it's going to work ... I'm a bit tragic like that when when I come up with my last-minute PLAN Bs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Frangipani dreaming

Well, it only took two months to get our latest frangipani planted. I thought it would take longer, being a pessimist about my workrate during summer, but the last two cooler mornings have seen the whole job done.

Regular readers might remember this blog posting from December, when Pammy came across this very nice little baby frangipani tree at a local ceramics gallery, where she conducts painting classes. Home it came to our place, I blogged about how wonderful it was, then followed the hottest, most humid and nasty summer for many years. In the last two days the weather looked a lot better, so I got to work.

First of all I had to remove the sprawling and very dead Grevillea which occupied this spot. That looked like a really daunting challenge in this weather, but I was wrong: it was so rotten and dodgy that it took about half an hour to cut off all its limbs and dig out the stump. And so this morning the task of planting the frangipani was all done by 7.30am. 
(I like to do my summer gardening very early each day ...)

As the frangipani isn't in full flower at the moment, here's a reminder of its many-coloured, pinky-yellow themed blooms. It's going to be a lovely complement to the white and yellow frangipani that shares our backyard.

If you haven't planted out a baby tree from its pot, the basics are simple. 

Water the pot first and let it soak for a while, to loosen the root ball, while you dig the hole. The hole itself should be no deeper than the pot itself, but twice as wide. Don't add any fertiliser to the hole. 

Take the plant from its pot, very gently! Sit it in the hole and do a few checks. 

Make sure it is facing the way you want it to face. 

Next, make sure the soil surface of the pot's soil is at least level with the surrounding soil. (Lay down a straight stick/rod to check your levels are OK.) Lower than the surrounding soil is bad, slightly higher is OK, level is fine too. Then fill in around the hole with the surrounding soil. Lightly tamp it down, but don't pack it down. And never cover the pot's soil with garden soil.

Did I say don't add fertiliser? Well, don't. Then water it generously from a watering can, to which you have added some seaweed solution (here is Australia it'd most likely be either eco-seaweed, or Seasol). That's it.

Now, finally, a photo to finish of the dead grevillea, and its empire of Spanish moss, because we've come up with a wonderful idea for where to put the Spanish moss (if it works). AND, I've also started up a bonsai growing project that has been on the back burner for quite a while. So expect a few more February postings from this little amateur gardener.

Farewell old Grevillea 'Peaches & Cream'. Sad ending, but you were a wonderful native garden shrub, stunningly colourful, a mecca for squabbling honeyeaters, and in your demise, a hauntingly memorable display stand for our beloved Spanish moss. You will be missed!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

What to do with too many chillies

Everyone loves a bargain, and the closer you get to paying almost nothing, the better the buzz. Bargains are different from freebies, of course. For a bargain, you have to pay at least a few cents, and today's gardening bargain probably has cost me at least 25 cents. I'll be coming back for more.

Way back in 2016, this little gardener bought some of his favourite largish red chillies at the supermarket. I saved the seeds from one of them, popped eight plump seeds into a punnet of potting mix, all eight came up in a week or so, and now, a few months later, I am harvesting my bargains.

I like these bigger than average chillies (they're about 3 inches long). They still have a chilli kick but it isn't too savage. And as I think I've mentioned before in this blog, I like to just toss a whole chilli into a tomato sauce and let it slowly infuse what the Italian restaurant menus like to call "a touch of chilli". Civilised heat.

I've always been fond of growing chillies, and if you are a beginner gardener they are one of your best bets for success. Chillies love life, and most of the time you should succeed in getting a colourful crop.

Yes, they do need a sunny spot, and yes, they like some fertiliser and a steady supply of water when they are young plants. The only extra care my chilli bushes received was the support from a garden stake. As the fruit grows, the plants can become top-heavy and blow over easily, so tying the trunk of the bush to a sturdy little stake will let the bush get on with the business of producing a bumper crop of fruit.

I love how chillies turn from green to red, almost in the blink of an eye. A few days ago all my chillies looked like this: very green.

And now they're turning into that vivid red. This one would have been green two days ago, and tomorrow it should be entirely red.

So, what do I plan to do with my glut of chillies? They keep quite well in the crisper section of the fridge, for a week or two, so some of them will go there for general use in all sorts of meals. 

Another big batch will become my "Sambal Ulek" chilli paste, which is an Indonesian basic ingredient (alternatively spelled sambal oelek).

At its simplest, Sambal Ulek is just minced chillies, preserved with some salt and vinegar. Whizz it all in a blender, pop it in a clean jar and it keeps in the fridge for several weeks at least.

If you go searching for Sambal Ulek recipes online you'll find people adding in extras such as garlic, ginger, lemon grass, shrimp paste, fish sauce, vegetable oil and sugar (as well as the salt and vinegar).

And opening up the spice-stained pages of my beloved bible of Asian cookery, Charmaine Solomon's Complete Asian Cookbook, she suggests substituting tamarind liquid for the vinegar, but her recipe is just salt, vinegar or tamarind liquid, and chillies. Nothing else.

However, to keep things basic, try this Sambal Ulek for starters. Aim for 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon sugar per cup of chopped chilli, and enough vinegar to turn the fairly stiff chopped mixture into a paste in your blender (so just add a tablespoon of vinegar at a time until it's a paste — for 1 cup of chopped chillies this should be 1-2 tablespoons vinegar). Oh, and whatever you do wear disposable gloves from beginning to end when handling big amounts of chilli. They prevent regrets.

Some people add a surface covering of peanut oil to the paste in the jar, to help seal it up. Of course store it in the fridge at all times, and if it ever changes in the way it looks, that's your big signal to be sensible and throw it all out.