What was once a lovely tall she-oak tree is currently being chopped and chipped up after the strong winds yesterday. We now have space for a few more fruit trees at the bottom of the garden. And only a month after we’d relocated the straw shed to take advantage of the shelter the tree offered from the prevailing rain direction. Ah well, at least we won’t have to buy the batch of mulch we had planned.

2013 was an odd year, very little really happened in the garden for a bunch of reasons. My garden plans for 2014 are nebulous so far, just a few ideas about converting more of the veg garden areas over to perennial plantings. It’s nice to be back writing here.

Spring Weather

The beautiful apricot blossom is out, and thus the windy spring weather comes and 'thins' the crop. Last year we agreed we needed to thin out the fruit more to protect against brown rot on the apricot trees. Also we promised the apricot trees we would prune them once their sap started moving. The wind took care of the first item, and we pruned the bottom apricot tree on Saturday morning. Above the blossom there were long whippy growths about 5-6 foot tall which we lopped off. And that tree looks comfortable again. The shape of the tree makes it possible to climb up inside it which made pruning easier.


A bonus this weekend was the free green waste disposal at the local council tip. After we emptied the trailer which was jam packed with about 6 months of tree prunings, we refilled it with mulch – $10 for a cubic metre. Bonus upper body workout shifting it to the front garden when we got home. The rain yesterday has washed away some of the stink too. Ewww – smelt like compost with fish waste. Cheap though. That'll be my garden job this coming weekend – spreading out the wee mountains of mulch and pulling out/ burying some of the emergent weeds.


The chickens are averaging 4 eggs a day at the moment. And I'm saving the small ones (about 25 grams each) for an egg curry as part of a dinner with friends on Friday night. Should be decorative.
‘scuse the mud on the eggs – it’s been damp here and the chooks have muddy feet.

First eggs for late winter 2011

Also – go buy a pressure cooker. Seriously. Lamb Tagine in 25 minutes? Deliciously tender and flavoursome.

Catch Up Post

In reverse order:

Current state of play in the garden

  • Eating more carrots. Two full circles would be a generous amount for next winter.
  • Silliest carrot so far

  • Apricot and Peach buds are swelling on the trees
  • Apricots in bud

  • Baby chicks are ready to move into the big shed but I want a fine day so they have lots of space to figure out pecking order etc
  • Jet, Salt, Pepper, Black Witch

  • Clover is growing really well – the first planting from about 3 months ago has proper clover leaves (the three together measure about a centimetre across), and the batch I planted 3-4 weeks ago is up and green.
  • Salad box gave us a week of spinach for lunches. It started noticeable growing when the day length stretched out in the past ten days.
  • We are now getting more than the magic ten hours of day light for plant growth. Shame the drizzle diffuses most of it.

This weekend:

  1. Chatted to the seedlings in the greenhouse. They say they like having the shelter from poxy late winter weather.
  2. Seeds in Soil Blocks
    Transplanted mesclun seedlings

  3. Collected two more eggs on Sunday, another hen has started laying as we got two of different colours. Finally!
  4. First eggs for late winter 2011

  5. Promised all the animals I would clean out their cages next week and added another layer of bedding on top.
  6. Dutchy and Nutmeg

  7. Hid inside out of the rain.

Last Weekend

  1. Tasted exquisite pinot at the Tasmanian Pinot Showcase in Launceston.
  2. Sprayed the back garden & driveway fruit trees with a white oil/ copper spray.
  3. Planted Chilliwack raspberries for autumn fruiting at the top of the side fence.
  4. Chilliwack raspberries on side fence

  5. Pruned and tied up the rest of the raspberries, rolled more carpet underlay through the middle as path material.

Weekend before that [ ie I think this was the weekend ...]:

Milly sunning herself on the worm farm in the greenhouse

  1. Planted 2 Mary Washington and 3 unnamed Asparagus into pots while I wait for the ground to dry out where they are going
  2. Played with Used my new soil blockers and transplanted rocket and lettuce seedlings into 5cm blocks, and planted seed in tiny ones.
  3. Soil blocks
    Mini Soil Blocker

Garlic through the garden

Garlic in C4 Garlic in C3 Garlic in C2 Garlic in C2

Low-Impact Gardening & Eating

It doesn’t feel right not to do any gardening on a weekend, even if the whole house has the plague sorry, flu.
The greenhouse provides a spot out of the wind, and in the late morning at the moment has direct sun as well.
So I rugged up and planted seeds of:

  • rocket
  • kale – squire
  • lettuce mignonette
  • mesclun mix
  • spring onions – bunching
  • onions – hunter river brown, borettana, red sheffield
  • spinach – winter giant, bloomsdale
  • chives

Wood Chip in Amgrow Seed Raising Mix

Admittedly some of the packs were rather ancient but you never know, I sowed generously to compensate. It saves the packs sitting there in the seedbox.
Note to self – do not buy Amgrow Premium Seed Raising Mix again, this bag had great lumping pieces of wood chip in it.

The other garden work I did this weekend was figuring out where the fruit trees (19! eek!) we have ordered are all going. As this involved sitting in bed with a cat it was very pleasant gardening. Across the front fence – 8 alternating dwarf apples and pears. On the side fence with Mary – two plums. Arranged somehow in the middle of the front garden – a fig and three dwarf apples sited to accommodate the magnolia, power line to the house, and two dwarf cherries already in place. The front garden is going to be a delicious forest of fruit come summer time. Over the back fence – two quinces, a kentish cherry, an almond, another apricot and one dwarf apple. We have placed the four closest to the road as the least attractive to eat off the tree – quince, kentish cherry and almond. The neighbourhood kids will have to scramble through those and down the slope to get at the apricots and apples which are against the fence. There’s enough to share anyhow. At this time of year I love watching the honeyeaters and other birds coming to feed on the apples I purposely leave on the tree for them. We don’t get possums or cockatoos being down in the valley so we can ‘share the surplus’ with the more delicate birds. Now the kittens are killers though the leftover fruit needs to be high up, not near the ground.

Harvest – the first lettuce from the hotbox! delicate and sweet.

The rabbits are working their way through last weekend’s prunings. They are quite methodical. If there are leaves on the tips they eat those first. On the second pass, they eat all the little nubs on the branches where the leaves/flowers will sprout from. On the third pass they eat the soft tips of twigs, and last but not least they carefully strip the bark from the woodier bits. And they turn their nose up at Apricot prunings, and do little happy rabbit nose twitching for Pear. Too cute.

Last weekend – pruned anzac peach, plum, granny smith apple, gala apple, williams pear.
Robin kept up work on the reshaping of the clothesline mound, we think we’ve figured out how to hold back the slope from the depredations of chicken scratching – using the off cuts from the chicken shed as small terracing bits. I potted on the remainder of the strawberry plants – now we have about 200 plants in our strawberry nursery, good for filling the gaps in the front garden.

Meatballs I did two weeks ago were magic for dinner one night this past week. They will be repeated. A number #20 jar with 20 meatballs was an ample feed for the three of us with extra passata over the top. Also a success – salsa soup – make a vat of regular vegie soup and toss in half a jar of salsa #3. Yum.

Notes for next winters harvest. At the moment we are mainly buying: potatoes, spinach, leeks, red onions, cabbage, sweet potato. We have enough from the garden of carrots, beetroot. Not quite enough broccoli – i think the seedlings may have suffered and production has not been good.

Pruning an Organic Home Orchard

Franklin Penny (as we’ve decided to call her) organised a fantastic workshop that came at just the right time for us. Over the past 12-13 years we’ve planted and pruned fruit trees with varying degrees of success in our garden. Some trees have been persistent problems, others just settled comfortably into their shape and produce fruit year after year. Chris Steenholdt was ‘Expert in Residence’ and Penny’s young fruit trees were the working examples.

  • Horizontal wood will produce fruit – always good to reinforce this one.
  • Decide what final shape and size you want for the tree and prune accordingly. Chris kept asking Penny – ‘do you want fruit this year?’
  • Remove shoots growing into the middle of the tree. Better ventilation, fewer disease problems, more sunlight on leaves and fruit.
  • Apples, pears and quinces may have fruit buds at the end of shoots – leave these on and the resulting fruit will bend the whippy new growth over.
  • You can tie or weight down young growth to encourage your chosen shape and horizontal (=fruiting) wood. *See note below
  • Mulch, mulch and more mulch. Collar rot is really only an issue with citrus. You can mulch up to the graft union.
  • Spray – Chris sprays his commercial organic orchard with organic approved sprays three times per year. Copper and winter oil sprays are the key for leafy diseases and overwintering bugs. Various dusts (sulphur, lime, pyrethrum) can be used on cherry/pear slug.
  • Careful placement of underplantings, especially in the early years. Not too close to rootzones.
  • Codlin moth can be thwarted through a combination of controls – including planks of wood bound together to create larvae/ cocoon habitat. You do have to remember to remove them and kill the little critters, and then put the traps back.
  • Massively fertile soil will lead to more vegetative growth, and less fruit. Case in point our bottom apricot alongside the old chookshed.
  • stumps from pruning where you get a bit of dead wood before the next shoot should be trimmed off to minimise dieback problems.

We both came away feeling more confident we can rejuvenate some existing trees and take care of planned new plantings this winter.

Reflections on past pruning and training in our garden:

  • Gala Apple we kept short and trained some young growth to be horizontal. It has reliably fruited each year. New growth mainly happens from the middle of the tree and we could perhaps spread some of this out rather than trimming back as we have been doing.
  • Williams Pear has lots and lots of fruiting spurs. It looks crazily congested but we got a mass of fruit from it this year. There is one strong vertical in the middle we could remove which would open the tree a bit.
  • Granny Smith Apple is a bit confusing to look at. It doesn’t have lots of horizontals at waist to eye height, so we might try and encourage that more. Some of the higher growth would be tricky to reach when it fruits.
  • The yellow plum is on notice – Robin admitted he didn’t really like it’s fruit. I admitted we get so little fruit I’m not sure if I like it although I have some faint memories of golden juicy plums. It got a vicious prune last year as it had got away from us a little. The new growth provoked by that looks useful and could do with thinning out.
  • The garage apples both look good overall. The Jonagold is slightly confusing with some good looking growth, which is perhaps just a little too high to be useful.
  • Apricot pruning needs to be done as soon after harvest as possible while the sap is still active. We always have left it too late. We figure it’s best to leave most of the pruning until it flowers and the sap is moving again.
  • Espaliers need to be sturdy and built to last under tension. Not a learning so much from Sunday’s workshop as a note for future reference.
  • We’ve got better over the years in choosing our trees and the dwarf cherries we put in the front yard last year are a great shape, we rotated them so the direction of growth fitted with existing paths and all is looking well for this year. Older and wiser.

Note to self – when you come home and wander around your own fruit trees, don’t try too hard to see how far over the nashi pear can be coaxed. Bits will rip off in your hands.

Fruit Harvesting Doohickey. Not to Scale

Crazy idea #143: Make a fruit harvesting stick – an extendable painters pole with a doohickey at the end for coaxing fruit off. So that you don’t have to keep taking the fruit out of a container at the end of the stick, make a tube of semi-frictiony fabric to slow down the fruit’s journey into a bucket. Last year I made a similar device out of the kitchen broom, a small round plastic container and masking tape. It was very useful for getting at the high white peach by standing on the back stairs and leaning over the railing. Original source of idea – the mango harvesting stick Dad made in Cairns. Saved many a mango from the fruit bats. The idea was refreshed and the tube side of it came from staring at the pears 8 foot up the old pear trees in the public paddock across the road.

Apricot Day

I really should be writing a post about our inspiring visit to CERES and a Backyard Urban Food Forest over the weekend.

Instead – some of the action inspired by yesterday.

I pruned the oldest Moorpark Apricot. This tree was planted in 1998. In the past it has lost a massive branch, and several years ago we planted a replacement for it. It is still going strong and has a great shape overall. Some years we find it difficult to keep up with picking the fruit there is so much; summer before last we didn’t get a single apricot off it thanks to freakish weather at pollination time. This last summer we lost a lot to brown rot because of too much rain, and there not being enough air circulation around the fruit. Next year? Who knows.

So I have opened up the tree a bit for better air circulation, reduced height in some key areas where strong verticals were getting over excited. There was also an embarassing number of mummifed fruit still on some branches out of reach. Those branches were cut off, and rubbish put in the bin. The healthy branches are piled near the rabbit palace for processing by our willing workers. Apparently they do prefer pear trimmings though. Dutchy and Nutmeg carefully extracted the few pear trimmings from the pile and munched through those first.

Milly helping with Apricot pruning

Milly helping with Apricot pruning

Milly helped by clambering through the tree, walking on branches 1cm thick. Just after I took this photo I bent down to pick up the secateurs and she fell to the ground, via the back of my head. The crazy cat just got up and back into the tree like nothing had happened.

Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

Rhubarb! Rhubarb!

To do this pruning, I had to pick some rhubarb so I didn’t trample it. It seems to love growing in that spot under the tree. About 4 kilos harvested. One kilo is macerating overnight with strawberries and sugarĀ  for jam, another batch is cooling after being baked in the oven. Four bags of chopped rhubarb are in the freezer for thinking about later. Upside-down rhubarb cake anyone? Rhubarb on porridge?

For dessert tonight – simple stewed apricots out of a jar. Apricot Day from start to end.