Front Garden Rejuvenation

In digging the holes for the fruit trees soon to take over the front garden we had to clear a few things out of the way. Strawberries are easily replaced with the stockpile of plants in the back yard. The bulbs are fairly hardy so any we dug up got tucked out of the way or into a bag for Mum. The hellebores were more carefully lifted out of the way and replanted. The dahlias I don't really like so they went into a cardboard box on the front footpath with a sign.


And people have been taking them too! I realised on Sunday that putting them into some plastic bags would make it easier for people to take them away, and we came home from work today to find another bag gone. Success!

So, onto the major work of the weekend. 20 fruit trees planted out. We think that brings us to 43 fruit trees. We've run out of fingers and toes to count them on between two of us.

Holes waiting for their trees

Aligned across the front fence the pattern is green apple/ green pear/ red apple/ red pear/ green apple/ green pear/ red apple/ red pear. If I'd been going overboard I would have also arranged them in order of fruiting :-)
These plants still have their labels on but I must record the varieties next weekend and draw a plan out of the front garden.

Planting out

Milly the kitten managed to wake long enough from her afternoon nap to come and have a look around at the work. In the right of the photo you can see the other holes for two russet and two more red apples in the middle of the garden bed. Behind the daffodils in the middle of the frame is the black genoa fig.

Newly planted apple

Most of the apple and pear trees are a single vertical which don't photograph well. Once the trellis wires are in place we will prune to develop the desired shapes. The front garden looks a bit like a bomb has hit it – a big load of mulch and some strategic replanting of strawberries will help everything look in place.

Back Nature Strip planting

Out on the back nature strip. From l – r De Vrajna Quince, Kentish Cherry, Fullers Quince and out of shot more to the right an almond. We figured that these would be the least attractive fruit to passers-by. These holes were dug back at the start of April when Tim ad his digger came to dig holes and trenches for the chookshed. Two holes were filled with compost and two with litter from the chicken shed. Both types had rotted down well, and were packed with worms, although the compost more so. If I were in a spot to plant more trees this is definitely something I would do again. It will be interesting to see how the trees do out there. There is one tree that got potted on – the moorpark apricot, as it will go against the back fence where the great pile of underlay is currently residing. It might be a few months before that tree's hole sees daylight again. It  will complete the nice row of apricots against the back fence.

Bacon Smoking

And the perfect thing to do while outside for the afternoon. Dad took over responsibility for the smoker. Based on the flavour he now has a new job. It was such a pleasure to share the afternoon with Mum and Dad – and led to a delicious feast together. Always good to feed the volunteers!

Holes are dug!

We've dug 14 holes in the front garden, 1 more over the back fence. This involved pulling out  an ornamental currant that we've tried to kill several times, an abelia and a yellow flowering thing from the front garden. The foliage went back in April when there was a green rubbish collection.

Abelia in flower

Getting the abelia and currant out nearly killed us – at one stage Robin was on the footpath poking a seven foot crowbar through the fence to get the right leverage to get the currant rootball. We got wiser with the abelia – a bit of vicious work with the axe and pruning saw. Late in the afternoon Robin called me over to see if I thought it might come out – he'd just sawed through yet another 12cm diameter root and couldn't get much movement. Standing downhill I was able to push it over with my foot – being at just the right angle.

Tomorrow we collect our trees and fill in the holes

Today I planted a black genoa fig in the front garden, and protected it with a tree guard just in case.

What CatoGardenFarm means to me

It means being able to have some of the best fruit and veg I ever expect to eat.

It means a certain security – when I was working on a contract basis and knew there would be a break in my pay over summer we planned and planted a generous vegie garden and ate so well it was luxury.

It means a connection to the earth that comes from sitting and observing, of learning the patterns as they emerge and change from season to season.

It means a place of life, a greeting from the animals as I open the back door and an invitation to spend a while with them.

It means a place I can make decisions and plans, and then work with what the weather brings.

It is a place for the whole family – each in their own way.

It means joy in seeing a seed germinate and grow into a thing of beauty.

It means a pleasure from hard physical work and a happy tiredness at the end of a long day’s labour.

It means experimentation and play and wondering ‘what would happen if…?’ and then finding out!

It means generosity and sharing as there are only so many lemons one household needs.

It means learning and patience and pleasure and excitement.

It means the world.

New Water Features

Something to please the toddlers – depending on where you are in the garden you can play in the stream, the puddles or the mud slide.

Gee, it's rained a lot! It is now officially dangerous to feed the rabbits. I have resorted to putting some carpet underlay over what was left of the lawn near their cage so I didn't end up looking like a mud wrestling contestant. On the carpet underlay I still get puddles forming if I stand still too long. The stepping stones we put on the compacted soil near the chicken shed door are sliding downhill – I had to move one back up hill so that the door could open.

Yes I'm a little tired of the mud – largely because I would have liked to spend the weekend outside digging holes.


Ah well, ;

We had a rip snorter of a gardening year after the last time the backyard got such a drenching so there is some silver lining to look forward to.

Positives to be seen or eaten:

Carrots by the dozen, I planted lots, and the most successful have been those in C3 where I used Steve Solomon's sludge recipe for the seed sowing. I don't think he called it 'sludge' in the book, but basically you cook up a sludge using cornflour and water and when it is cool mix in your carrot seeds. I used an old squeezy maple syrup bottle to draw lines on the garden bed.  And the seeds came up! Having killed so many packets of carrot seed in the past I have to pinch myself with the success I have had this year. I know I've said it before. Yeah, things like a little care and attention, none more so than carrot seed. 

carrots, beetroot, spuds

Last night I picked the massive purple cauliflower head that grew in defiance of the failure of it's compatriots in the same bed. Never thought Robin would like the flavour of raw cauliflower stem but that is the magic of fresh picked vegies picked after generous rain.

Also a success is the salad box on the deck. This insulated box is providing salads – lovely tender lettuce, and a smattering of punchy wild rocket. Yum.

Gardening at this time of year is so much more about harvest except for the infrastructure projects or tree planting. And tying things down so they don't blow away.

Fruit Trees ready for collection!

Exciting news in email this morning – the fruit trees we ordered are ready for collection. Good thing we figured out where they are all going last weekend. The job list for Saturday and Sunday has just changed – digging 19 holes and sharing out the compost. Hooray!


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.

Whirlwind Melbourne Trip

We’d been tossing the idea around of a trip to Melbourne and on our list was a visit to CERES. A few months beforehand we’d discovered Angelo’s Deep Green Permaculture site via the permaculture research insititute. We’d heard about CERES before and figured that was worth a visit. Angelo announced an Open Garden and we booked air tickets. Seeing Nan was also on the list.


The tram trip from the CBD was easy – stay on the #96 tram to the end of the line and then a short walk following the large brown signs. A grey morning in Melbourne did not stop a busy market and looooong wait for coffee at the little coffee and pastry stall. It gave ample time for absorbing the atmosphere. The produce was all clearly labelled as to provenance and degrees of localness/ organic-ness.

We toured ourselves around the site using the map provided.

  • Stormwater capture options were everywhere.
  • Places to sit in the garden were scattered everywhere. We need more at home.
  • The flowering plants blended into productive garden space adding colour and insect/ bird attracting habitat as well as companion planting in all likelihood.
  • We are lucky with how much space we have. The community garden plots here are tiny.
  • The highlight of the CERES visit for us was seeing the eco-house which was an older house retrofitted with a bunch of energy smart and energy saving devices. The to-do list we came away with was:
  • Seal the gaps around windows
  • Get a curtain rod to hang the curtain we bought to go on the front door.
  • Look into hydronic radiators combined with gas as the hot water source.
  • Double glazing – short term Clear Comfort, long term Eco Glaze or similar. This was the first time we’d seen the magnetic double glazing approach done with timber rather than plastic which would mean it wouldn’t look awful. No child of the 70’s I know likes brown plastic.
  • Heat Return Vent was an interesting concept. Basically when the roof cavity is warmer than the house the air is returned to the house.
  • A draught excluder of some sort for the fireplace when not in use.


It wasn’t quite the visit and outcomes we were expecting yet very useful!


An inspired leap off a tram took us to Birdie Num Nums on Nicholson St for lunch.

Recipe drawing for Robin’s lunch:


Angelo’s Backyard Food Forest

Despite the combined effort of thousands of car-driving football fans heading to the MCG causing traffic jams we got to this Open Garden in Preston. Unfortunately we missed the start of Angelo’s talk.

He has 30 fruit tree which are mainly dwarf size and closely planted to further restrict growth. The structure of the garden is formed around the trees, with each of the raised beds having at least one perennial fruit producing tree, and the bed around the tiny square of lawn having many, many more.

Now that the system is established (Potted history of the site LINK ) Angelo spends about 2 hours a week working in it. The garden is tiny – just 63 sqm of garden space.

Angelo uses star pickets as the basis for trellis and espalier plantings. One feature of this garden is a lot of vertical growth – both on frames and in using trees and fences. Where the fruit trees were not espaliered there was much more vertical than horizontal growth.

Pots (many 50cm wide) lined the fences, and the sides of the house. Some of the potted plants were espaliered and trained to the fence. Each time I see a thriving lime tree I think “I must plant one of those” and haven’t yet. I wonder if the 2 or 3 I killed through poor care make me wary? I have got a lot better these days at actually watering things in pots. Strangely enough it makes a difference.

Hydroponics are set up around the house to make use of the house walls as additional growing space. No space was wasted. Water features attract different insects and bird life and contribute to the microclimate.

Annuals growing in the garden beds are mainly self seeding but the heavy mulch sometimes over powers self starters. So Angelo does plant some purposefully.

One visitor asked about crop rotation and whether pests and diseases were  an issue with the self seeding approach. Angelo explained he sees the self seeding as a flexible rotation and random growth confuses pests. It also confuses him sometimes when he wants to pick something in particular.

Discussion in the group about brassicas brought some interesting information – apparently they don’t like superb soil, and it may be to do with the dominant soil life. Where soils are highly favourable to fungi (such as soils in which trees do well), brassicas don’t do so well. If the soils are dominated by bacteria, or are poorer, brassicas will do much better. Apparently brassicas haven’t developed beneficial relationships (ala legumes and microbes for nitrogen) so they don’t get the boost other vegies and plants do. This might explain why some of my plantings this year that were mulched with mushroom compost are looking pathetic, while the “let’s see if they survive with some compost” ones on the side of the driveway are roaring away.

In a number of the garden beds were large piles of sheep manure direct on the beds. Not an approach I’ve used before but one that must be working in this garden. A no-animal system requires different inputs. We bring in hay and animal feed; Angelo brings in sheep manure. Composting/ mulching is done directly on the beds, and if needed, one of the six compost bins or three worm farms can be called into action. He regards the weeds such as dandelion and fumitory growing in the paths as nutrient accumulators and signs of compaction; volunteers in garden beds are removed when he wants something else to grow there.

Walking around this space reinforced for me the need to get some flowering stuff happening across all seasons in our garden, plants to attract bees, birds and insects, and flower admiring humans. Nasturtiums apparently attract the right sort of wasps to combat codlin moth, so I will transplant some of our volunteers rather than feeding the plants to the rabbits as I normally do. Perhaps the rabbits will still get the flowers. Got to keep the workers happy and healthy.

It was also interesting to hear about how the Diploma of Permaculture runs as a project basis. Hmmm.

Just a little bit of progress!

* photos to come once I figure out the visual editor stuff and make it work again.

18/19 June

  • established new pink eye potato bed – C9 using Poly carpet underlay from the second floor (we found a sewing machine bobbin in one roll identifying the source) and horse manure bagged by the Connect students as a fund raiser. So a Poly Potato Patch.underlay
  • planted broadbeans in C5 in back half.
  • Planted Up to Date potatos in O1/O2/O3 under the fruit trees in the orchard in wire circles. They should be relatively protected from frost there for an early crop.
  • Started the 'under the clothesline' redevelopment.
  • Gathered two huge trailer loads of hessian carpet underlay from work on Thursday night. Hooray for scavenging. Although it did rather look like we were rolling bodies wrapped in blankets down the back nature strip in the dark. No-one called the police though.
  • Moved C8 (previous strawberry bed) slightly uphill and re-edged. This now fits better in the space between the chook shed and nashi pear tree. Strawberries from there were removed and most are still awaiting re-planting. With this cool weather I'm hoping they'll cheerfully sit jumbled in on top of each other in the large tubs until next weekend. I trimmed and potted up about 50 already. Once they've settled we'll plant out into the front garden.
  • Carpet underlay rolled down the access path through the raspberries

11/12/13 June – Queens Birthday Long Weekend

  • Established blueberry patch where old chook shed and grapevine were.
  • Moved 3 Blueberries from C8, planted out 2 from pots loitering near the deck, and 3 new ones. Top 5 are Brigitta, 2 are Blue Rose and 1 Blue Crop. Tucked in along the edge, some oregano and a chamomile. All berries got tree guards to save them from frost. It would appear that blueberries curl up their toes at being in the main frost pathway of our garden. I'd rather not count up how many we've killed. Let's just focus on the better location shall we?
  • Planted from top to bottom Peach – Redhaven, Nectarine – Fantasia, Peach – Elberta, on side of driveway.
  • Garlic along inside edge of C3 Snowpeas in S2 Now on the right side fence we have, from top to bottom S1 Sweet peas (self seeded from last year), S2 Snow Peas Melting Mammoth, S3 and S4 Green Peas – Greenfeast
  • Planted Apricots 2 Moorpark and 1 Tilton (furthest from gate) over the back fence.
  • Bought a Black Genoa Fig to go in the front garden. Despite leaving it in the pot I have not killed it yet! (proving my track record wrong)
  • Planted out about 20 strawberries in the front garden in gaps.
  • I think it was this weekend I tucked about four more brassica seedlings into C6 and C0. We lost a few plants to aphid overload and their apparent hatred of mushroom compost. These were some of the 'random red brassicas' I got as a freebie in early autumn and had potted on in the greenhouse to fill gaps.

Preserving 18/19 June

  • 18 jars savoury applesauce from all our own apples. Still more on the trees to eat and preserve
  • 7 jars fig jam (10 mins at 15psi in the pressure cooker to get the runty little end of season ones soft enough to make jam)
  • 7 jars caramelised onion (once cooked down equivalent of half a kilo of onions each!!!!)
  • 4 jars meat balls in tomato – a number#20 jar holds enough meatballs for the three of us, just needs more tomato and other veg to turn it into a meal.

Ferber Musings

Well, the library wants their copy of Christine Ferber’s Mes Confitures book back. Sad Day.

This book is, unsurprisingly for the French speakers out there, a whole bunch of jam recipes. Which is good, but we don’t eat that much jam. So I have used the book more as flavour combining inspiration. I did make the Quince, Cardamon and Orange Marmalade (p152). Which is to die for. Luckily I have more bottles of quince juice tucked away  so I can make more later in the year.

I used the Pear with Caramel and Spices (p187) as an inspiration for some bottled pears which turned out delightfully.  My tweaks were: replace making caramel/ toffee with a scoop of dark brown sugar when making a spiced syrup with cardamom, star anise and cinnamon. This works equally well with stewed apples and makes for a quick dessert warmed through. This has got me thinking about more of our preserved fruit next year being ready made combos – eg crumble fillings with apples and berries.

Future combos to try:

Orange, Rhubarb and Apple in a 1:3:3 ratio

Apricots with slivered almonds

Apricot, Nectarine and Ginger 5:5:1

Citrus with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves

Apples with raspberries 2:1

Blackberry and Raspberry 1:1

Oranges with gingerbread spice, cinnamon, star anise

Yellow Peach with Orange 1:1

Fig and Pear 2.5:1

Mes Confitures cover


Technique tips for jam making to preserve the sparkling colours and whole fruit

Fruit, lemon juice and sugar are combined and brought to a simmer then immediately put into a bowl, covered and left overnight to macerate in the fridge. Sometimes fruit, lemon juice and sugar are combined and simply left overnight to macerate.  Softer fruit may only be left an hour or so, and is not strained in the next step.

The following day, the mixture is strained and juices are boiled until they reach setting point, fruit is added back in and it is boiled another 5 minutes before bottling.

Pectin is added in the form of Green Apple Jelly. Lemon juice aids setting. Where fruit juices are used (as in the marmalade reference above), strained juice is left to settle overnight so the clearer juice on top can be used. These technique based attention to details result in a stunning looking preserve.

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.