Monday, December 31, 2012

What To Plant In Summer

Summer time is cucumber season
I’m on a mission to bust a myth about summer. Yes, you can start a garden in summer and it will be amazing!

I was recently talking with a few newlyweds at church about living in their new homes and they all expressed a real keenness to start their own gardens now that they have started their married lives.

But they all raised exactly the same objection,
“But you can’t plant anything now during summer.”

No, no, no, no…you have it all the wrong way around. Summer is a great time to plant.
In fact if you look at your seed packets they will almost all certainly say summer is the ideal time for planting.

No excuses, myth busted!

If you want a shady, productive garden to cool you down during our harsh summers it is never too late.  So many plants are fast growers and lap up the sun and shade during the heat.

So to get you planting, here’s my handy guide. (Temperate Climate)

Get your garden ready in Winter

By planting dormant fruit trees and vines (grapes, raspberries, strawberries, kiwi fruit, etc.) you can increase the lushness and shade of your summer garden.

Most trees have their highest yield during the summer, especially the stone fruits such as apricot, peach, plum, nectarine and peacharine.  They are at their leafy greenest during summer.

Planting purple, pink and orange flowering plants will also increase bee activity for pollination of your crops.  Lavender and Salvias are a great choice.

But for a non-bee attracting flower that thrives on neglect, but always looks lush in the summer garden, try Agapanthus.

Agapanthus and Salvia

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guinness Gingerbread Cake

Picture courtesy of as we ate ours too quickly to photograph!

I don't normally do two recipes in a row as this is my gardening blog, but I have been inundated with requests for my Guinness Gingerbread Cake recipe this Christmas.  I've been honoured with having this cake being called "the most delicious cake you will ever taste," so if that is anything to go by please give this one a try!

This is the same recipe that Nigella Lawson uses; so you KNOW this is going to be good.

Guinness Gingerbread Cake


150g butter, plus some for greasing

300g golden syrup
200g dark brown (muscovado) sugar
250ml Guinness (Stout)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
300g plain flour
2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
300ml sour cream
2 eggs
1 x 23cm square baking tin or 1 x foil tray approx. 30 x 20 x 5cm

  1. Preheat oven to 170C and grease your baking tray.
  2. Put the butter, syrup, muscovado sugar, Guinness, ginger, cinnamon and ground cloves into a pan and melt gently over a low heat.
  3. Take off the heat and whisk in the flour and bicarb. You will need to be patient and whisk thoroughly to get rid of any lumps.
  4. Whisk the sour cream and eggs together in a measuring jug and then beat into the gingerbread mixture in the sour cream and eggs, whisking again to get a smooth batter.
  5. Pour this into your lined square tin, or into a barbecue-type foil tray and bake for about 45 minutes; when it’s ready it will be gleamingly risen at the centre, and coming away from the tin at the sides.
  6. Let the gingerbread cool before cutting into slices or squares.

Storage Notes

The gingerbread can be baked up to 1 week ahead. Wrap in baking parchment followed by layer of clingfilm and store in airtight container in a cool place. Keep for total of 2 weeks.

Freezing: The gingerbread can be frozen, wrapped in layer of baking parchment and double layer of foil, for up to 3 months. Defrost on wire rack at room temperature for 3-4 hours and cut into squares.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Roast Chicken with Tasmanian Spice

As Christmas approaches I have had a lot of people ask if I know a great Roast Chicken recipe; nothing too fancy, something simple and very tasty.

I have just the right recipe for you, but as any chef likes to say, "And here's my take on an old classic."

The Tasmanian twist happens to be two beautiful spices that my whole family love that I discovered on my trip to Tasmania many years ago:

  • Tasmanian Pepper Berry
  • McCormick Bush Spices with Mountain Pepper
Technically Mountain Pepper is also Pepper Berry, but when you smell them both you will understand why I use both. They are so aromatic and perfect for roasting chicken.

If you do not have access to these spices, don't worry. Good old salt and pepper works just as wonderful alone in my Roast Chicken recipe.

Roast Chicken with Tasmanian spices

Roast Chicken


2kg Whole Chicken
Olive oil
Pepper Berry (optional)
McCormick Bush Spices with Mountain Pepper (optional)
(Or use your choice of white or cracked black pepper instead)
1 cup Chicken Stock
1 quantity of easy herb stuffing

  1. Preheat oven to 190C.
  2. Wash the chicken and pat down with paper towels.
  3. Prepare stuffing.
  4. Spoon the stuffing into the cavity of the chicken, packing it in not too tightly.
  5. Tie the legs together with kitchen string.
  6. Place the chicken on a rack in a baking tray and brush or massage over the oil on both sides of the chicken.
  7. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and spices.
  8. Pour the stock into the base of the baking tray to keep chicken moist and juicy.
  9. Bake for 2 hours.
♥♥♥ - ♥♥♥ - ♥♥♥


If you are using a packet of instant stuffing, I recommend only half the box mixed with half a cup of water for a family of 4. A whole box can fit inside of 2kg chicken, but extra care is needed when closing up the opening when you tie the legs to keep the stuffing in.

To make your own stuffing:
Cook 1 finely chopped onion and 2 teaspoons of oil for 5 minutes.
Mix with 3 cups of fresh bread crumbs, 1-2 teaspoons of dried herbs, 30g softened butter, salt and cracked black pepper.

♥♥♥ - ♥♥♥ - ♥♥♥

Roasting Time Notes

The larger the chicken, the longer it will take to roast.

As a general guide:
a size 14 (1.4kg) chicken needs 50-55 minutes;
a size 16 (1.6kg) chicken needs 1 hour;
a size 18 (1.8kg) chicken needs 65-70 minutes;
a size 20 (2kg) chicken needs 2 hours.


McCormick Bush Spices and Ground Pepper Berry

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Strawberries JigSaw

Here is today's gardening jigsaw puzzle.
It's my December strawberries in bloom in my container garden.

Remember that you can return to your game anytime as it will automatically save your game on exiting.

Click on the image below to start.

Capsicum Cut Back Update

Must give you an update on the success on my capsicum experiment.

As you may have read in an earlier blog of mine, I decided to take the advice of a friend's neighbour who insisted that cutting back capsicum plants at the end of its season would make it shoot out again and become even more productive.

Well, here's the latest. Not only did my capsicum re-shoot thoroughly bushy and delightfully green, but is fruiting like crazy! The capsicums are thick all the way through the center of the plant. The outside is soon about to develop even more fruit. Simply one of the best re-growths I have ever experienced in container gardening.

And all this happened in just 3 months. So quick!

Thumbs up to this one. Myth no more.

History Inspires Great Self-Sufficiency

Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn & Ruth Goodman on the Wartime Farm (BBC)
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about what inspires me to try for semi self-sufficiency in my suburban backyard. I had all the cliches ready to go; I was ready to name-drop top TV chefs and standard home and garden shows, but then I thought a little more about my style of gardening and how much my childhood farm and grandpa have influenced me.

I am influenced by what I watch, and having thought it a great deal more I remembered a great series from the BBC featuring historian Ruth Goodman, Alex Langlands and Peter Ginn. I must admit, I found my style, and it is really worth checking out!

In fact, I want to you trust me - just buy one and you will see what I mean.

You may better know them as:

Victorian Farm

Edwardian Farm

Tales From The Green Valley

And new to 2012... Wartime Farm

For more information on Wartime Farm check out the BBC website or official Wartime Farm website.

If you like lifestyle documentary style programs, these are just wonderful to watch. I have the complete series on DVD and I still love to watch them many times over. They are available through eBay and many other online retailers. Check around for the best price and your region code.

What a great way to get inspired and keep up our love for the skills of old. Let's not lose them, we may need them again one day. (We will if the power prices keep going up the way they are!)

Check them out these holidays.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seed Saving Packet Downloads

Your garden looks set to burst with seeds of plants you would love to grow again. They are about to go everywhere; some will self-seed others will go to waste or perhaps even in your greens waste bin.

How about gathering those seeds and growing your new plants exactly where you want them to be? Give them as gifts to family and friends.

Now where to put them? I have got the solution. Get your printer and scissors ready!

Here's a few free downloadable seed packet templates that I have found to help you get those seeds organised...

1. A great classic seed packet design in PDF format from Joy Ever After.

2. Easy to read, clean design in PDF file from Continent In A Cottage blog.

3. Something vintage or mod design? Check out Just Something I Made web site for a great variety to choose from. (jpg)

4. There are three (3) lovely packets to choose from at The Allotment Junkies. (jpg) Little gift cards are included.

5. Maggie Wang has an amazing selection of seed packet designs as PDF downloads, ranging from fully detailed to completely blank canvases for you to create your own art work upon. So many to choose from.

6. Erin Vale Design have created a sweet and simple packet design in PDF format.

Please respect these designers by not reproducing these images for sale to profit from their hard work.

Great gift idea for a neighbour, celebrations, birthday or as a barter exchange.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Vintage Onion Packet Jigsaw

Here's today's little bit of fun and distraction: Vintage Onion Seed Packet.
Remember you can exit at any time and your game will automatically save itself for your return.
Click on the image to begin.

Have fun!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Cutting Back Capsicums To Regrow

I trialed a wonderful piece of advice from the neighbour of my friend Ragen that I could cut back my capsicum plants at the end of the season to encourage it to regrow for the next season.

I had never heard that it could be done before, but both Ragen and I decided to give it a go a few months ago to see if it was possible. While Ragen's capsicum died completely, mine thrived! (Yes, she looked at both me and her capsicum plant in disgust!). No extra fertilization, just a good old prune and watering and it sprung back to life. And here are the results:

I hope to update you a little later with how the crop has performed on this bush. I have been assured that the crop will be just as tasty as last seasons.

Have I tried it on any more plants? You bet!
I am also trialing this same technique on one of my chili plants that went very spindly. It too is showing a good lot of new growth. Hoping it will branch as well as my capsicum plant did. This is the same chili plant that self seeded itself behind my compost bin earlier in the year, so I have high hopes for this little thriver.

chili pruned for regrowth
The good news from this trial is the reduction of purchasing new seedlings which will save money.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Top 10 Tips for Growing Sweet Corn

Every year my children ask me to grow sweet corn as they love to eat the cobs straight from the garden, freshly picked, perfect in their raw state. They also ask me to take photos of them EATING their cobs as well because they think it's an amazing treat. And they're right♥

Eating corn immediately at the time of picking is the most ideal time because as the minutes tick over the starches in the corn actually increase and loses their vitamin value. That is one very good reason why the corn cobs we buy at the fruit and veg store really do not have very much taste and have a pasty texture. When it comes to eating corn, freshly picked is always the best by far.

Our crop of sweet corn is growing rapidly this year. They are so easy to grow but they need a little attention to make sure that the corn cobs grow large and juicy. Here are a few of my top tips for amazing corn.

Top 10 Tips . . .

  1. Choose an open sunny position for planting, but is protected from wind. If wind does become a problem, stake them and use a ties to keep them upright.
  2. Corn requires a moderately heavy feeding, so build the soil up with lots of good organic matter and manure before planting. I also toss a handful of blood and bone and rake through.
  3. Corn requires moderate watering. Never let the soil dry out completely but needs to be in well drained soil. The trick to getting those cobs really juicy is all down to your success with the soil moisture level. Many gardeners choose to water using drip-line irrigation to ensure the moisture level is adequate. This is absolutely number one in getting great corn as they are shallow rooted!
  4. Plant your crop in a location that has previously grown high nitrogen plants such as beans, peas, cauliflower, cabbage or broccoli. Where ever you would plant cucumbers, melons or pumpkins is the same type of soil that corn would love.
  5. Give your corn crop an application of seaweed solution every couple of weeks.
  6. Pinch off the side stalks near the base to channel more growing energy into the main stalk. The side stalks may grow back after a time, but removing these side stalks will make a big difference to your crop's yield.
  7. Make use of the tall corn stalk by co-planting bean seeds around the base of each corn stalk once corn is more than 5 inches tall. By the time you have harvested your corn cobs, the beans will be well on their way to using the height of the stalk to climb and produce their crop next.
  8. Pollination is done by wind, so mild conditions are ideal. For this reason, multiple planting is needed to ensure a good cross pollination.
  9. If your crop fails to produce good ears of corn, it may be due to extreme weather conditions: too hot, too cold, too wet can all affect pollination. 
  10. Harvest only when the silks turn brown. To be doubly sure, you may also pierce the top kernels which will exude a milky or clear liquid which will indicate that they are ready for harvesting.

Corn Varieties

There are 3 main types of corn:

Standard (su types): Heirloom varieties, typical old fashion style. They need to be eaten at the time of harvest as they quickly become starchy.

Sugary-enhanced (se types): They have better keeping qualities as their sugar remains more stable after harvesting.

Supersweet (sh2 types): Very common variety that has a much higher sugar level than the others, and will remain sweet for up to 10 days after harvest.

Planting Time

Spring to early Summer is ideal as they require a soil temperature 16-24 C for optimum growth. Typically corn will produce only 3 ears/cobs of corn per plant.

Pinching Out Side Stalks

As I mentioned earlier, pinching off the side stalks near the base will channel more growing energy into the main stalk. The side stalks may grow back after a time, but removing these side stalks will make a big difference to your crop's yield. Don't be scared to pull. They snap off so easily. You will son see a marked difference in the size of the corn stalks if you choose to only pinch off from only a couple and leave the rest.

Sweet Corn Nutritional Facts

  • Sweetcorn is one of the few vegetables that is a good source of of the kind of slowly digested carbohydrate that gives you long-lasting energy.
  • Good source of dietary fiber.
  • Contains Vitamin C, Niacin, Folate and Potassium. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Solving Worm Farm Pest Problems

When you have a worm farm you know how much of a pest vinegar flies, ants and cockroaches can be. They will not harm your worms but they are unwelcome guests. So here's a few remedies.

Removing Vinegar Flies

Vinegar Flies are a good indication that your worm farm is too acidic. To fix, just sprinkle a little dolomite lime, garden lime or wood ash.

Removing Ants

If you have a Styrofoam box worm farm, simply elevate it off the ground on bricks inside a tray of water - you could use deep sided pot plant saucers for this.
If your worm farm has legs, do the same with a tray of water under the legs.
When ants become a persistent pest, put out small piles of cornmeal. Ants will eat it but they will not be able to digest it, so it kills them. Be patient as it will take around a week to work effectively. It will not harm your pets or children.

Removing Cockroaches

Keep the worm farm covered with newspaper or hessian blanket and keep the lid on.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

DIY Plant Fungicide

Here's a simple plant fungicide recipe to try this season. Spray foliage every 3 weeks. Best sprayed before any fungal problems appear as this great recipe will help deter repeat attacks.

1 teaspoon of Bicarbonate Soda
1 drop of Dish Washing Liquid
1 teaspoon of Sunflower Oil
1 Litre of Water

Mix well and spray foliage.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Broad Bean Rust

I never have much luck when it comes to any form of bean growing in my vegetable garden. The fungal diseases such as rust seem to get them every time. So my poor Broad Bean crop has copped the latest rust fungal infection.

What causes fungal rust?

A combination of factors. It can be due to slackness in proper crop rotation, an over heavy feeding of manure (high nitrogen levels) into the soil prior to planting, and planting of plants too close together so that the air flow is restricted.

What should be done to prevent rust?

Ideally, crops that you expect may suffer from rust should be planted where they get good morning sun with good air flow. Water the crop in the morning rather than in the evening. Check your soil's drainage as overly damp soil can encourage fungal issues.

It is better to feed broad beans potash as it hardens the plant and makes them less susceptible to disease. Try combining with a seaweed solution.

Rust can be difficult to treat as it can go into a dormant stage. Often omitting crops that are susceptible for around 2-3 years to help control the problem.


Yates Fungus Fighter or Leaf Curl Copper Spray are often recommended for fungal infections, however, they are only effective if you catch the very first sign of the fungus.

Chemically treating infected plants is not an effective method to contain the disease.

Using any form of a copper sulfate spray is actually not recommended for food crops as the chemical actually is absorbed by the fruit, so the plant that is sprayed should in fact not be consumed from for up to the next 18 months! Apricot tree owners, be warned.

Removing the diseased plants

If you catch the first signs of rust on your plants, simply remove the infected leaf matter immediately, placing them into a plastic bag and placing it into the general rubbish - never the compost or greens recycling.

When removing all the plants, they must be disposed of in a garbage bag and placed likewise into general rubbish also, to contain the outbreak. Remember to dig out the roots, too.

Can we eat the Broad Beans?

Some will eat their broad beans, some won't. It's up to the individual.
If the pods show signs of a fungus, do not consume.
Or if the crop is heavily affected, then it's time to be brave and pull them out entirely without a harvest.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Grown From Seed!

These beautiful plants were grown from seed and are my most successful flower plantings to-date. I just had to show them to you. They have begun their Spring flowers this week. And not only are they growing well, but actually self propagating! What a blessing!

Mediterranean Rock Rose - first flowers in late September
Foxgloves are setting flowers
Sage about to flower in late September
White Guara (sometimes mistakenly called a Butterfly Bush) is amazingly self-propagating itself with no assistance! WOW!

Spring also inspires the pruning bug in me! Conifers are now due to for a prune back as well as a Spring feed.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Spring Garden 2012

Blogging has taken a back seat for the last few weeks all thanks to the business of the season.

I've received a lot of questions about beginning the season so now is a great time to answer all that I can.

Starting Spring brings the clearance of old crops, bringing in the harvests, buying up new plants as well as ordering in the other garden and house renovation necessities. I'm do ALL of them, so expect lots of updates to come.

My garden looks a little emptier this week as I have begun removing the spent crops. The capsicums have had their longest run ever this year. I still have another plant that is fruiting abundantly.

Gone are the Savoy Cabbages, Baby Spinach, Capsicums, and Turnips.
The harvest continues of Leeks, Curly Kale, Capsicums, Dill, Fennel, Spring Onions and Snow Peas.
Going to seed are Curly Kale, Coriander and Flat Leaf Parsley
Still growing are the Potatoes, Spinach, Curly Kale, Pak Choy, Chilis, Rocket and Garlic.
Flowering now are Broad Beans, Peas and Strawberries (and all my neighbours'stone fruit trees)

Many of the garden beds are resting - refreshed with blood and bone, lime and manures.

I have begun the first bed of carrots. This year I am testing a different variety against the Top Weight, they are called Manchester Table. The Top Weight variety has always been my favourite and best performer, but I am inspired to try any new varieties I can get my hands on.

Due to the popularity of carrots in my family I am going to start carrot crops at different times to stagger the harvest length.

The kids have requested Sweet Corn, so I have set aside one small bed just for them. Sweet Corn do need a lot of water and very consistent water. Where ever possible drip lines should be used to grow corn, but I prefer to hand-water as I see to my garden daily. Growing Early Extra Sweet F1.

My tomato plants are going in now. I have already planted my favourite cherry tomato, Pink Pearl. The large standard tomato plant I will be planting soon is a variety called Beef Steak.

Trying New Plants

I have to try a few new challenges every year.
This year I will attempt to grow Lemon Grass, Mesculun greens, Watercress and Echincea.


The first month of Spring means fertilise just about everything. I say that with exception on particular plants such as succulents and Australian natives. They do need care but not of the general fertiliser type.

Feed the fruit trees now.
Use well-rotted chicken or cow manures, pellet types (such as Dynamic Lifter) or control release fertiliser granules. Fork through lightly around the base of the trees to help with the up-take, and follow with a watering.

Do not fertilise plants that are currently in flower such as broad beans and peas at this stage. Giving them a drink of Seasol (seaweed solution) will be sufficient as it will not over stimulate the growth during this period. Adding strong fertiliser during flowering time will force the plant to take the energy away from the creating the flowers to fruit and put it back into growing more leaves.

They need a good feed and weed right now before the weeds get any stronger. Select days that are sunny for up to 3 days in a row with mild conditions.

Alternatively, hand scatter some Blood and Bone over the lawn and water in immediately. Failure to water will cause the grass to burn, so please do not rely on the weather forecast of showers to be adequate.

Spring Transplanting

Need to rescue your strawberries and place them in a larger barrel?
The first month of Spring is the perfect month to do it.
Yes, they may be already in flower, but they can take the transplanting at this stage.
Make sure they are well watered in and all dead leaf matter is removed at the time of planting.


Spring is the month when the sap rises as is the perfect time for taking cuttings. I hope to post more soon about propagation of cuttings to all those who have enquired lately.

Can't wait to get sowing♥

Green Manure Trial

I am trying Green Manure for the first time this year.
Believe it or not, I sowed 'weeds' and grains.
That is exactly what Green Manure is!

But these plants are controlled and beneficial for the soil.
They deliver nitrogen and organic matter back into the soil by rotting down.

It does take a lot more time to add nitrogen to the soil compared to adding well rotted animal manure, but the results can be worth the wait.

Green Manure Variety I am trialing: Mr Fothergill's Green Manure Mix

Tips for growing

  • Do not let the Green Manure go to seed.
  • Snip off the tops of the plants as they reach a reasonable height.
  • Allow those cutting to compost on the garden bed.
  • Later cut the Green Manure plants at the base of the stems.
  • Generally allow a minimum of 8 weeks for growth and 6 weeks for it to decompose.
  • Always read your packet's instructions for best results.
  • There are two seasonal varieties, warm and cold climate green manures.

Benefits of Green Manure

  • When used in crop rotation they can break disease cycles
  • Increasing organic matter, earthworms and beneficial micro-organisms
  • Increasing the soil's available nitrogen and moisture retention
  • Stabilising the soil to prevent erosion
  • Bringing deep minerals to the surface
  • Providing habitat, nectar and pollen for beneficial insects and reducing populations of pests
  • Improving water, root and air penetration in the soil
  • Smothering persistent weeds.

Cool Season green manures include:
BQ Mulch, fava bean, fenugreek, lupins, oats, subclover, woolly pod vetch. As a general guide, in areas with cold winters in southern Australia, begin sowing in early March and again in early spring; most of northern NSW and Queensland should wait until late April - May before sowing; in frost-free areas these seeds can be sown right through winter, until early August.

Warm Season green manures include:
Buckwheat, cowpea, French white millet, Japanese millet, lablab, mung bean, soybean. As a general guide sow in spring after all danger of frost has passed, usually mid-September; sow summer whenever good rainfall is expected; in tropical areas seeds can be sown right through the year whenever moisture is available.

I shall keep you posted on how well it worked for me.
My crop has just started to appear.

Update: 5 October 2012

I have snipped the green manure a couple of times. Excellent performance. Little water required.

5 October 2012
5 October 2012

Rotting down green manure crop in December.

UPDATE (December): I will now allow another month before using to ensure that all the available nutrients can be absorbed efficiently before the new vegetable crop is sown. Ideally, a longer rest time in a larger garden would be best, but turn-over time in a container garden if often considerably shorter due to the lack of room.

Please let me know how your Green Manure experiments have gone. I would love to hear from you.