Friday, November 19, 2021

Looking good

While my enthusiasm for garden blogging might be on the wane, the opposite is true for gardening itself. I've never enjoyed it more. Perhaps the blogging has been getting in the way of my enjoyment of gardening? In recent years I suspect so, hence very little activity here on the Garden Amateur blog.

So here's a rare posting on how things are going here in spring. I may post  something during summer, but right now in spring there is almost too much to talk about.

The one thought that hit me the other day as I was admiring all the flowers and crops is how spring makes you feel like you're a better gardener than you probably really are. Everything grows so well, it all seems so easy. Plant something new and whoosh! It races away like happy children in the park.

Summer in Sydney, however, brings you back to earth with a thud. The humidity, the heat, the sheer difficulty of helping everything to merely survive is hardly a joyful pursuit — it's an important part of the gardening year of course — but gardening here in spring is a much more wonderful time to be out there among all the plants. 

Encouraging little garden sprites whisper in your ear "Hey, you can do this!" and "That worked well" as you tour the flower and vegie beds. It's good for your soul to be out there soaking up the success. 

So, here's my usual little 'photos with captions' essay on what's happening here now. It's very pretty, a lot of fun, and I sometimes wish spring would last forever. 

The amazing Geranium Rozanne is getting bigger and better all the time. It started flowering its head off in midwinter when we bought it and has never let up. It's now spreading about three feet wide and rising two feet tall and it's covered in the prettiest purple flowers.

This feels like cheating, but I love it. All you need to do is buy a La Sevillana rose in flower from your garden centre, bring it home, whack it in a bigger pot and let it flower on. This is one of "Pam's plants". She saw it at a friend's house, loved the clear red colour, issued orders on what we needed next and a week later it was brightening up our pergola area. It's so lightly scented that you barely notice it at first, but I have never seen anyone admire a rose without sticking their nose into the centre. However, Pam being an artist with an eye for colour, this is definitely the rose she wanted.

This is our society garlic, or Tulbaghia, in flower. Lots of variegated strappy leaves with these pink trumpet flower clusters on tall stems rising up. I admire its tenacity. All sorts of horrid weeds like to bully it but it never gives up and always shows up.

Our potted New South Wales Christmas Bush is getting better at timing its display of coloured bracts for the festive season

Boy, are we eating a lot of spinach and silver beet right now. Pam loves it Japanese style, chopped and steamed with a sesame dressing, and I love it Indian style, in dishes such as Palak Paneer and Chicken Palak. The golden rule with these prolific spring crops is that if you think you haven't planted enough, you've probably planted too much already.

Lettuce thrives in spring but soon gives up the will to live once summer comes around. Fortunately we're a little pair of salad munching bunnies, and Pammy also loves to make up egg and lettuce bread rolls for lunch.

I'm a sucker for multi-coloured bowls of salad greens, and so I find all seed packets of "mixed lettuce" to be irresistable. Here's another crop approaching harvest time.

My other must-have crop in our garden is shallots, or green onions, or scallions, or whatever you call them in your part of the world. I'm still perfecting my skills at sowing enough — and especially not too many — seeds to raise the next punnet of seedlings while the current crop matures, but this is much more satisfying than buying a punnet of far too many shallot seedlings at the garden centre and only planting half of them.

Who me? Impulse-buy a Grosse Lisse tomato plant at the local Woolies supermarket? Yes, of course. Total sucker for growing tomatoes, with a very ordinary success rate on the big tomatoes, and a perfectly acceptable success rate on the cherry tomato front. So of course I am attempting to keep a big climbing tomato happy in spring. Summer will be the seasoning of reckoning, but I am prepared to take on the challenge.

On the other hand, all the potted succulents are looking forward to summer's heat. Ever since I repotted them they are all loving the new potting mix. And though it's hard to see here, there's a very thick layer of pine bark mulch spread between the pots and all over the formerly weedy succulent patch, and for the meantime at least, the weeds are not enjoying life at all. They're probably biding their time, waiting for the mulch to break down, but right now the succulent patch is a peaceful village of potted contentment.

So there you have it loyal readers, all 10 of you. Pammy and I are both really enjoying this year's spring in our garden. 

Pam's art students love wandering around and finding something to draw or paint, and for me as a gardener that's plenty of job satisfaction right there.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Small change, big difference


These YouTube videos are making a lazy blogger of me!

Yesterday, for reasons unrelated to gardening (ie, I was changing where I parked my motorcycle in the backyard) I ended up moving my potted Thai lime tree from the spot it has occupied for the last five years to a new spot just four or five feet away.

And this morning, when I stepped out into the backyard I was taking in a much more colourful, flower-filled view of Garden Amateur Land than I have ever enjoyed before. The spring flowers no doubt help, but moving a "blocker" from the foreground has worked wonders.

And the only thing that prevents me from changing my name from Garden Amateur to The Lazy Garden Blogger is that I am too lazy to make the change right now. It's sunny, 27°C, light winds, perfect picnic weather, and a 30-second video is all I can muster the energy for right now.

Monday, September 20, 2021

The bare and the beautiful


There is no time of day to compare to the mornings in our garden. As you stand at the back door and look out, the low morning sun appears in the far right corner of the north-facing property and steadily lights up every plant as it rises.

However, as an early riser who's often out there before the sunbeams appear, the truly best time to view it all is that gentle brief time between dawn and the moment the sun starts casting shadows. 

That soft, low morning light allows the many different greens and the subtle greys to do their version of glowing, before old shiny guts appears over the fence and starts bleaching the light for the rest of the day.

So, early this morning was the ideal time to attempt my next video of the garden, and my focus this time was on the bare beauty of our two frangipani trees. They're all just branches right now. It'll be another couple of weeks, early October, before the leaves appear, followed by the fragrant flowers in November.

So for this next attempt at a low budget, iPhone video production, I've learned my lesson and will only post a link to the YouTube video, all 1 minute 19 seconds of it.

Here's where you click and watch the show:

Meanwhile, here's a few photos of what to expect later this spring, plus as a special bonus for language lovers, one of my favourite pieces of wordy trivia.

The 'big' tree grown from a cutting is the classic Sydney frangipani, the white one with the yellow centre. I love it.

The smaller tree, also grown from a cutting supplied by a local art studio where Pam teaches, is a much more tropical looking, colourful piece of confectionery. I've called it Frangipani 'Serendipity' because it has been such a happy discovery.

And now for my favourite piece of English language trivia. 'Serendipity' is an invented word, and we can almost trace it back to a specific day and date: January 28, 1754, in a letter written by Horace Walpole to a friend. Pictured above is the page from The Oxford English Dictionary's definition of Serendipity.

The word Serendip is the ancient Persian word for the beautiful island we know of today as Sri Lanka, and as Walpole explains in his letter, in the fairy tale 'The Three Princes of Serendip' the heroes were always making discoveries by accident, of things they were not in quest of. Happy accidental discoveries, if you will. And to describe that fortunate phenomenon, he invented the word 'serendipity'. 

What all this has to do with gardening is precisely nothing, other than for the fact that whenever I go out into the garden I don't always think about gardening.

Take yesterday morning as an example. There I was pulling out all the weeds growing around the base of my little tropical frangipani, and instead of contemplating the exacting business of pulling out weeds, I was thinking of dictionaries, writers, Sri Lanka and invented words. 

And before I knew it the drudgery of weeding was over and it was time for a cup of tea.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday cook up

Way back in the good old days when the word "lockdown" was mostly used when reporting on the aftermath of prison riots, I loved the tradition of a big Saturday cook up – a more spectacular weekend meal where I'd go to a lot of trouble to make something nice.

Being a very enthusiastic but not especially skilful home cook, sometimes there'd be triumphs when everything turned out perfectly ... and other times there's be slight depressions and post mortems about where it all went wrong.

And so, despite our current existence taking on an imprisoned-at-home monotony of samey days that we all desperately wish to be over, I've decided to keep up a few weekend traditions, and that includes the Saturday cook up.

A lot of locked-down people are reporting that their sleep patterns are totally weird, and I'm definitely in that category. It's nothing unusual for me to be awake at 3 or 4 in the morning, unable to sleep. So instead of lying in bed I get up and read, or in the case of this early Saturday morning, I get up and cook. Or, to be more specific, I get up and bake bread, just like proper professional bread bakers do every day of their working lives.

One thing I love to be is unfashionable. (You should see my wardrobe of plain check shirts!). In the 2020 edition of covid lockdowns, everyone was baking sourdough bread, it seemed at the time. So I was determined not be fashionable and take up the craze, even though I've always been fascinated by the idea of baking bread. This year, it seems bread baking is out of fashion, so this was my big chance to strike while the iron was cold! Here's this morning's sourdough loaf, which will be turned into toast on Sunday morning, and topped with scrambled eggs for Pammy.

This year's foray into bread baking came about by accident. Just prior to the latest covid breakout in Sydney, Pam and I visited our good friends Margaret and Rob in Adelong, in southern New South Wales. When we arrived Marg was baking a loaf of sourdough bread, and it was delicious, and so she put some sourdough starter into a plastic container and it came home with us. I still don't know how to make a sourdough starter. All I had to do was say "thanks Marg" and it was mine.

That was back in June, and since then I have been learning how to make and bake sourdough bread every weekend. Some successes, some failures but I've been getting steadily better at it, I think. 

Pam says I fuss over my sourdough starter like it's a pet. That's because you have to regularly "feed" your starter to keep it active and healthy. Basically, starter is just flour and water and natural yeasts from the atmosphere. The yeasts feed on the flour and water, and once a week you need to add some more to keep everything bubbling away. It isn't rocket science, but it is science.

A set of digital kitchen scales makes life much easier. For example, if you have 100g starter, feed it with 50g flour and 50g water. Stir well, put the lid back on the container and leave it in your fridge. There are only one zillion websites pontificating on sourdough starters and sourdough baking, and some of them are a wonderful source of information, others are mostly disinformation that will lead you astray ... reminds you of any other hot topic right now?

Enough of this morning's cooking enthusiasm, tonight I'm returning to a cherished favourite cuisine, North African cooking using the spice blend "chermoula" and the whole meal cooked in a tagine.

The fun part of making chermoula is that you can do it with a mortar and pestle. I just love the ancient low-tech vibe of a mortar and pestle, and I think it actually gives you better results than whacking everything in a blender. The ingredients used vary depending on whose recipe you use, but they usually include ground ginger, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, garlic, salt, olive oil, fresh coriander and fresh parsley.

I finely chop the coriander and parsley before adding to the mortar and pestle in small batches. After 5 or so minutes of village-peasant pounding, all the ingredients fuse together into a fragrant, luscious marinade that you can then use with whatever meats and vegetables take your fancy. I've used it with fish, then another with lamb, and tonight we'll be enjoying a chicken tagine flavoured with chermoula. You need no other spices, but most recipes do ask for chopped tomatoes and onions to enhance the flavour.

This is my snazzy Scanpan tagine that Pammy gave me for our 20th wedding anniversary, way back in 2009. While I freely admit that as an enthusiastic but not very talented home cook that I have my  fair share of successes and failures, I'd have to report that the magical combination of chermoula and a tagine has never let me down yet. And I think it's because it's a "pop in the oven, set and forget" style of cooking.

So there you have it, the Saturday cook up continues.

Meanwhile, out in the garden I've cut back the big clump of lemon grass so it's now a set of clumpy stumps about 30cm tall. 

I've gone crazy and impulse-bought a Grosse Lisse tomato seedling from my local Woolworths supermarket. "No more tomatoes," I've told myself before, "too much trouble" I said. And there it is now, out there in the garden, making a start.

And the never-ending battle of the weeds continues ... but at the going down of the sun, we're off to Morocco!


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

What seeds have taught me about patience


One very strange thing I haven't been doing lately is visiting gardening centres. Prior to all this covid disruption, you'd probably find me browsing through a garden centre at least once a week. They were right up there with bookshops for me: regular haunts. But that was back then, and I haven't been to a bookshop for quite some time, either.

So, instead of picking up a punnet of seedlings at the local garden centre, for the last few weeks I've either been sorting through my stash of seed packets, searching the small section devoted to seeds at my local supermarket, or — by far the best fun of all — I've been browsing seed catalogues online, placing orders, then waiting for our poor overworked Postie to deliver me the goodies.

Another small padded envelope of seeds arrived in the mail today, and so I thought it's about time to share with you "What seeds have taught me about patience". It's not all good news, but it isn't a disaster story, either. 

On with the slide show.

I love the way coriander seeds hang around on top of the baby leaves until the very last moment. It looks like the baby plants are telling the seeds to "buzz off, now scram!"
It's a tiny bit late in the season for coriander — I normally start sowing seeds in autumn — but this will be my last batch for 2021. They have just a couple of months to grow into lovely leafy herbs before summer comes on. O
nce things get seriously warm they go berserk, become seedy in no time, and the leafy herb I love is no more.

I only sowed these basil seeds last Monday, and they're up as fast as those other legendary quick sprouters, rocket. I'm looking for a crowded pot of little plants that will look very photogenic for a few weeks and supply lots of leaves for tossing into the mix with tomatoes, especially. What a team!

I'm not fussy about where/who I get my seeds from, and my seed tin stash has all major and minor companies represented.

These English spinach seedlings came up only a day after the basil, and it's a good thing they're making a fast start. They're another crop which does better in the autumn and winter months, but I've got them in a partly shaded spot to avoid the heat, and I plan to fertilise the daylights out of them to make them grow faster. If we get a good crop, there's nothing Pammy likes more than a Japanese style Gomayagochi spinach salad with her grilled Teriyaki salmon. Home-grown spinach flavour here we come.

Once you get addicted to growing plants from seed, as well as actually planting some of the seeds (eg, the spinach, silver beet and spring onions in the top row) you also end up buying packets of seeds in a "seemed like a good idea at the time" kind of way. I fully intend to grow leeks, lettuce and radish some time soon, I hope. No reason why not, really ...

Here's one of those lessons in patience that seeds have taught me. Usually I am dead lazy about growing chives. Every winter my pots of chives turn into dense, unhappy clumps that turn yellow and look crook. Always a glutton for punishment, I have tried de-potting the clump, diving up the plants and replanting them in fresh mix, and the results have never been all that great. So most years I just buy a fresh punnet of little chives, plant them in a pot and they zoom away! This time, I decided to do it with seeds, and what do you know? (See below) ... 

It takes 14-21 days for the seed to sprout, and this pot took all 21 days to sprout (that was all of July). Now, 6 weeks later, we're in business snipping chives to go into Pammy's scrambled eggs on Sunday morning. But the lesson I have to share with slow-sprouting seeds is to know this in advance, plan well ahead, and try to see the year in three-month-long blocks of time. Impatient "days and weeks" thinking is just too hurried. If you grow chives from seed, think "third quarter of the year" as chive time.

Much more fun, quicker and prettier to look at, the wonderful world of lettuce is a great place for beginners to get started with seeds. There's a zillion varieties to choose from, especially when you start shopping online, and usually lettuce will sprout for you quite quickly.

I've been growing spring onions/scallions/shallots (call them what you will) from seed for several years now. My problem is that I hate wastage, and buying just one punnet of seedlings gives me about three times more seedlings than I have space for them, so I raise small batches from seed each time I start a crop. I cook with them all the time, adding them to salads and stir-fries, as well as using them as a mildly oniony substitute when I don't have any onions at hand. And that classic Chinese ginger and shallot dipping sauce for poached chicken is just heaven on a plate. I miss Yum Cha!

This is what arrived in the mail today, from my favourite online seed supplier, Eden Seeds. Like all the good quality specialists they have a wide range to choose from, and their customer service and delivery speed is reliably very good. This time I succumbed to the lure of two very pretty loose leaf lettuce, and a packet of the hard-to-find, tricky-to-grow and finely flavoured herb, chervil. I've been banging on for years about how good chervil is and so far I think I have convinced no-one. But Pammy loves chervil too, and that's all I need to know to enjoy its flavour. Its lightly aniseedy delicacy is superb with mild-tasting vegies such as zucchini and squash. Transforms them from bland to beautiful.

As well as being a sucker for lettuce varieties in seed catalogues, I am also very susceptible to limited edition tins of biscuits or other products on supermarket shelves. My shed has a goodly number of "collectable" supermarket tins filled with glues, nuts & bolts, and seed packets. All the cricket heroes on this Weet-Bix tin have long retired but this tin has aged nicely, with almost all the colours fading to a bluey-grey, as if there has been a printing mistake at the factory. Inside that tin is a cornucopia of seed packets that is constantly being added to ... more Aladdin's tin than Aladdin's cave.

Last but not least in the slide show is confirmation that not everything in that Weet-Bix tin is an edible. I know that cosmos is a bit weedy, so I have planted a row of cosmos seeds at the back of my Big Red geranium patch. So the plan is this summer the cosmos will add cheery yellow and orange flowers towering over the scrambling concourse of red geraniums, and then after the cosmos season has ended, the Battle Royal will ensue as weedy cosmos grapples with ever-spreading geraniums.

So, even though growing everything this year from seed is like gardening in slow motion, time ticks over steadily. It's spooky, like it has something to do with the position of the sun in the sky or something.

If you are impatient, don't even think about growing chives, chervil or parsley from seed. They're seeds of patience, for the long-term planners.

If you are impatient, get out there and start sprinkling around the basil seeds, the spinach, the lettuce, the rocket. There'll be something happening before one week has passed. 

I'm somewhere in between when it comes to patience. I do have some patience, but not a lot. So I do love it when seeds come up fast.

But I have learned that there's a deep satisfaction when real patience, the long-waiting, not-much-happening-yet kind of patience is rewarded. It's as if time has become an old friend with whom I am strolling through the year, hand-in-hand. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

A resounding shambles – sorry about the video links ...


Hi everyone


Just a short (for me) and apologetic posting to everyone who subscribes to my blog via email. Apparently lots of you have been getting the text, but instead of the videos there's just a huge black box with nothing in it.

That wasn't the plan!

So, to repeat the video postings of the previous two days for anyone interested in spending five minutes on YouTube looking at my guided tours of Garden Amateur land, here are the links, just as old-fashioned links to click on.

Handy hint: turn the volume of the sound up!

Here's a link to the first one (west side of the garden)

And here's a link to the second one (east side)

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

First day of spring: a video on the other half of our garden


After showing you briefly around the western half of our small Sydney garden in the video I posted yesterday – the last day of winter – today I have another little video showing you the highlights of the eastern half of Garden Amateur land on this, the first day of spring.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

And now for something completely different: a short video

 Late this afternoon I decided to do a short experimental video, wandering around part of our garden.

And so here is "And now for something completely different" a short walk around one part of our tiny garden on August 31, the last day of winter.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Smashing success: repotting my curry leaf tree

I didn't think I'd be doing a detailed "how to" involving a hammer and a sharp knife when I woke up this morning, but here we are anyway (and it was a smashing success I might add). 

I have more than one curry leaf tree growing in my garden, and quite some time ago I had promised to give my one-metre tall potted curry leaf tree to my good friends Jolanda and Paul.

They used to have a productive curry leaf tree in their garden, but while they were away travelling for several months in 2019 (lucky them!) the tree didn't survive, so they needed a replacement. The problem is that my potted tree really needed repotting before I handed it over to them, so "now is as good a time as any" became a very good reason to repot the tree this Monday morning.

Here's how it all went ...  

I do like terracotta pots for many reasons, but this shape is all wrong. Leaving the existing tree in there too long meant that it had filled the bulbous centre and just won't come out by pulling it out. It's stuck in there!
The existing pot is 28cm wide and 28cm high

So I found a perfect replacement that is 33cm wide and 33.5cm high, bigger the than old pot all round and offering room to grow, but only one size up, not too big. And it has the right shape, so in future years if the tree needs repotting, it can be pulled out easily.

Just one gentle tap with my hammer produced the perfect result. Away fell one full half of the original pot, and the rootball lifted out easily. I know, seems like a radical thing to do, but I don't have much inclination to hang onto badly-shaped pots. 

If you think taking a hammer to a pot is a radical manoeuvre, then wait till you see me perform surgery on the rootball with a sharp knife. The rootball was fairly tight at the base, and so I made several vertical slits in the most tightly packed sections then lightly teased out the roots.

Now the roots will happily start moving their way into the fresh potting mix that will surround them in their slightly bigger new home.

The new pot is bigger than the old one, so how much potting mix to add to the bottom, before adding the rootball? I just did a test fitting of the rootball into the new pot, 10cm short.

So I added about 10cm of new mix in the bottom, before sitting the rootball on top.

That worked out fairly well, so I carefully added new mix to fill the gap in the sides. Shaking the pot gently helped to settle the new mix into the gaps.

Ideally, never add much potting mix on top of the existing surface, as there are lots of "feeder roots" right at the soil surface. However, I spread a super-thin layer on top to even out some bumps.

After all the trauma of surgery by Dr Gardenamateur, my curry tree will be a bit stressed, so I made up a seaweed solution and gave the plant a good watering with that. This product is called "eco-seaweed" and I have been using it for years. It's a competitor to Seasol in the market, isn't as well known but does just as good a job. It comes as fine desiccated flakes that you add to the watering can (I add one teaspoon to a 9-litre can of water). 

Finally, to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds, I added a layer of mulch to the pot, making sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk itself.

As a tropical plant, our curry trees don't like Sydney winters at all, and they often lose some or all of their leaves by the end of July. As an annual thing I always prune back the tree a bit, then by early spring the whole thing is sprouting new leaves and greening up rapidly.

So the curry leaf tree is ready to be handed over to Jolanda and Paul. They can leave it in its new pot for a couple of years before planting it out, if they like, or they can put it in the ground straight away. Whatever suits their plans ...

Meanwhile, my "bonsai" curry leaf tree actually provides me with all the curry leaves I need in cooking. It's still covered in leaves, they're a bit down on tropical green-ness at the end of winter, but generally the plant itself seems healthy. 

Last of all, here's a photo from about 10 years ago, of our original backyard curry leaf tree. We originally had it growing in a pot, but then one day its roots got too big and strong and it cracked the pot. So we put it in a bigger pot and a few years later it cracked that one, too.

So maybe Jolanda and Paul's plan to get their new tree into the ground is the best idea. If you grow these things in pots in Sydney, they love our warm wet summers so much that eventually they'll start causing some kind of headache for you ... but along the way they're an elegant addition to any Sydney garden, as well as a delicious addition to so many South Asian and Southeast Asian dishes.


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Five garden jobs you can do this spring

How's that gardening motivation level going? Out of 10? Locked down by covid and nothing to do, lovely garden out there and you're still a motivational "1" out of 10?

If you can get yourself all the way up to a "3" or better, doing that first gardening job might just propel you to the dizzy heights of 5s or 6s. So here's a short "to-do" list just in case the spring weather starts getting to the gardener in you.

Plant some spuds

Spring is the ideal time to get some spuds planted. The good thing is that specialist spud suppliers have been taking orders online for many years, so that's how to get started.

You can of course grow spuds in the ground, but a big pot works fine, so does a large "grow bag" that has holes included to help water drain away.

To get started on your 2021 Spud Mania, try these links to well known suppliers:

Garden Express:

Sow some seeds

Spring is the ideal time to sow seeds of so many delicious crops, such as all salad greens, tomatoes, shallots, basil, silver beet, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini — there are countless others — and the good news if you are locked down is that major supermarkets often stock the seeds you are looking for. I bought my Yates seeds for these babies pictured below at my local Woolies supermarket. 

On the left are some shallot seedlings enjoying the morning sun, while on the right are seedlings of "mesclun" salad greens, which is a mixture of different greens. After sowing the seeds the fastest ones – the rocket (or arugula) – came up in just four days. The slowies took two weeks. The shallot seedlings came up in 7 days, so on each and every morning I was out there misting the seedling trays with water, there was something new coming up.

After about three weeks the seedlings are ready for more sunshine, so in my garden a lovely half-way house is under the dappled shade of my potted Thai lime tree. The seedlings get a bit of direct sun on them during the day but big brother lime tree shades them most of the time. In two weeks from now, they'll all be much bigger and potted up in their troughs in full sun, ready to roar away as spring warms up.

Sowing seeds is a bit hit and miss sometimes, but I find I get 10 hits to every miss, so give it a go, the odds of succeeding are really good.

Salad greens like mesclun, rocket, lettuce etc are very reliable and worth a try.

Basil is a good bet once the weather becomes truly warm.

If you're nervous about tomatoes give cherry tomatoes a try.

And if you want to fire up your lifestyle, chillies are so much fun to grow from seed. So many types and, given you probably only need one or two plants of each variety to knock your socks off, you're bound to have lots of success.

Go potty

Spring is a good time to do a bit of repotting. Here's one simple job I did this week, part of my succulent and cactus patch renovation.

God knows how many years ago, these three were tiny, cute midgets in baby pots that could sit on a windowsill. So I put all three in the one pot, put it out in the garden and forgot about them – and my, haven't they grown. Time for an upgrade in accommodation. 

Half an hour later each plant has its own home, and if I manage to neglect them for the next decade they'll probably need an upgrade in size by then. Without repotting, each plant would have crowded the other and all three would have suffered and probably died in the end.
This way, all three will just keep on growing.

So if you have a single plant that has grown too big for its pot, or you have too many plants in the one container, do everyone a favour and remove all the plants from the pots, upgrade their accommodation, and they'll be with you for many years to come.

Renovate your compost bin

Smelly compost? Open the lid and a cloud of little flies swarms out? Chances are your compost is too wet. What it needs is more dry matter to balance things out. And for me, the easiest source of dry matter is my big bag of sugar cane mulch. 

So I've been adding a few generous handfuls of mulch to my tumbler compost bin, giving the lot a twirl so it all mixes up nicely, then adding some more mulch a few days later. 

If, like me, your kitchen fruit and vegie scraps bin is the main source of new materials for your compost bin, your compost bin is in danger of being too wet. When that happens composting slows down and things can get smelly. Add some dry matter (raked up autumn leaves if you have any), but if you have a bag of mulch, it's the easiest and quickest way to get your compost bin back in business. 

Feed everything!

Spring is fertilising time, so get out there and do it. Doesn't matter what you use, usually, but there are so many specialist types of fertiliser to choose from it's easy to become overwhelmed with choice. 

The only plants you need to be extra-careful with are natives, and they definitely need specialist native-friendly food that won't harm them but will feed them. The good news is there are many native friendly plant foods around now.

The best rule to follow, apart from reading the instructions on the packs, is that it is much much better to under-fertilise than overdo it. More is not better with fertiliser. So treat the maker's recommended dosages as the "maximum" dose at all times, and there's nothing wrong with lighter, half-dosage feeds, either.

To keep things simple I mostly just use a liquid food (mixed up in a watering can) for all my edibles. Leading brands such as Dynamic Lifter, PowerFeed, Charlie Carp all do the same kind of job, and there are several others in the same category. In the growing season (ie, now) I liquid feed crops once a fortnight.

For most of my potted plants I use slow-release fertilisers, brands such as Osmocote and PowerFeed leading the field. These are almost "set-and-forget" in that you apply the little pellets, then you don't need to re-apply for months after that. Read the instructions and you'll see that some last 3 months, others 6 months. That's about it.

And for general garden use and feeding citrus trees I use organic-based pellets such as Dynamic Lifter. The good thing about chicken poo style fertilisers and other organic-based products is that they also feed everything that lives in the soil, not just the plants.

Compost is a fabulous fertiliser for feeding the whole of the soil, so is blood and bone. Seaweed is a superb soil health tonic too. 

All the pure organic, or organic-based fertilisers are the best long-term option for improving the overall health of your garden soil. The benefits don't happen overnight, but over the years they are the outstanding option.

So get out in the spring sunshine, plant some crops, visit your growing babies each day to care for them, then start harvesting the organic home-grown goodness that you've raised yourself. It's a satisfying feeling in a trying time. Give it a try.