Category Archives: Grow

The Autumn Garden

Sydney is starting to cool down. Have you felt it yet? I know in the middle of the day it can still feel a little warm and dry (too dry?) but those mornings are getting chilly and the days of planting beans, basil and tomatoes are now behind us.

But that’s ok, because there’s plenty to enjoy about the Autumn edible garden.

Broad beans are a favourite of mine in the Autumn garden. Plant them in a block, be ready to stake them for support (usually in a group not individually) and watch for sap sucking insects towards the end of the season.

I also love to grow Jerusalem Artichoke. This member of the sunflower family is the plant that keeps giving. Some people say only plant it if you want it forever because it will keep coming up for but me that’s the perfect plant. As long as you like to eat it.

It’s also a great time for peas and if you are a garlic grower or thinking about becoming a garlic grower – now’s your chance. I’ve never had much luck getting bulbs of garlic to grow in my own home garden but I still think it’s worth growing for the greens and in bigger gardens it’s definitely worth trying for the bulbs.

As ever, we are always on hand to help you get your home, school or office garden growing. Just give us a call or send in an email. There are always plenty of options no matter how big, small, sunny or shady your space may be!

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What to plant in Sydney in March

Well it doesn’t feel like the weather is cooling just yet but it’s time to start thinking about those cool weather crops. Think broad beans, broccoli and cauliflower. That’s what I think. But I won’t be putting these into the soil just yet. Right now I think it’s time to pull out those summer crops that are finished, beef up the soil with a new layer of compost. Cover that with a nice layer of mulch and get those seeds into the greenhouse (or seed raising area) so they are ready to go in after Easter. Surely it will cool down by then?
If you are keen to get planting then probably best to stick to the all year-ers like carrots, greens and herbs until we start to regularly drop below 30.

What’s your favourite cool weather crop and when do you think you’ll start planting?

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10 Benefits of a Raised Vegetable Garden


Growing your edibles straight in the ground or around your existing ornamental plants is quick and easy but not without its problems.  Growing your edibles in a raised bed may cost you a little more to set up but there are benefits.  Here’s my list:

1.  Raised beds give you a contained space to grow in.  You know where you need to head to water, weed and feed (your plants and yourself).

2.  Raised beds make it easy to create barriers against pests.  They are simple to net if you have creatures who want to come and share your produce.

3.  If you have any concerns about contaminants in your soil, if your soil is horribly sandy or otherwise unsuited to growing food, raised beds allow you to bring in nutrient dense soil.

4.  Raised beds can go on concrete or other hard surfaces.

5.  Raised beds can be made with a wicking element which basically turns them into big self watering pots and means you only have to water them once a week.

6.  Raised beds can be made at a height to suit their owner and a shape to suit any space.

7.  Raised beds are excellent if you have large trees that suck all the water and nutrient out of your soil.

8.  If you have little ones that aren’t great at sticking to the path, raised beds are the answer.  No soil compaction (unless your little one is a climber too!)

9.  Because you can control the soil quality of a raised bed they are often better at producing edibles.

10.  Raised beds can be made to allow wheelchair access.

At Grow.Eat.Enjoy. we make raised beds out of recycled hard wood or eco pine.  These beds can be made to order for any width, length or height with a watering system that suits your needs.  We can also arrange good quality metal beds.  If you think you might be interested in installing a raised bed and live in the Sydney area we are always happy to chat.  If you want to know more but are outside of Sydney, leave a question in the comments.

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October special – raised beds built from recycled hardwood


Feel like growing your own this spring?

Having just built another of these recycled hardwood raised beds I’m in the mood for building more.

So this month I’m offering anyone in the Sydney metro area one of these beds for $650. This price includes lining and filling the beds plus planting with a selection of leafy greens and herbs.

The beds are four palings high (about 40cms) and can be made to measure providing they are not longer than 3.6m. They are free draining and open to the ground but can be made into wicking beds (like big self watering pots) for an extra $100. They can also be made higher but this will fall outside of our current special and will require individual pricing.

Feel free to give me a call with any questions or if you’d like to book a bed in. Cheers, Sarah (0418 464 323)

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Run ins with Sydney’s Urban Wildlife

As the Randwick Public School chicks spend their first night outside I’ll spend another night worrying about foxes. I’ve only seen the shadow of one once as it returned to terrorise our quails after reducing the flock size from 8 to four but I know they are there in numbers enough to warrant fox proofing. Our quails are now fully fox proofed which unfortunately means they have less roaming space. The Randwick Public School chicken house is not proofed to my liking as I prefer a full wire base on the run rather than just sides hence the coming sleepless night. Hopefully they will be fine.

At Gardeners Road Public school as we continue to install their new edible garden we hear stories of the rabbits that inhabit the grounds. We’ve yet to see any damage to the garden but it’s going to be a tough problem to solve if the rabbits decide to get involved.

At Tranby House in Glebe the garden we installed was promptly eaten by a possum. Possums aren’t so bad as all they do is eat, they don’t dig and remove the plants. To combat the possum issue I put up a loose netting around the garden, this is something the possum doesn’t like to climb and the plants are recovering well. I didn’t think I needed to net the citrus trees as well but it turns out the possum has a taste for these leaves too. More loose netting required. Another thing possums don’t like is walking on a thin wire so if you have a fence without over hanging trees and a possum problem you can consider running a taut wire on top of the fence to stop the possum invading your patch.

At the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation training last week I had a discussion with a couple of teachers who were battling cockatoos and crows. These birds were happily ripping out whole tomato plants as soon as they were planted. We discussed a couple of options they thought could work including simple netting using bamboo and polypipe as well as providing an alternate food and water source away from the vegetable gardens.

I love watching flying foxes out in search of food at dusk but I don’t have any trees they enjoy. Different story for people with a laden fruit tree that gets stripped by flying foxes. It can be dangerous to net trees as they can easily get tangled in the nets, so if you are thinking about doing this then please choose your nets carefully (smaller holes = safer nets).

At Stanmore Public School we have a rat problem. We’ve tried four different baits and traps without any success at this stage. Though they don’t disturb the vegetable growing it would be nice not to have them.

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Vegesafe – what I learnt and what you need to know about lead in your soil

The good people of Vegesafe have recently released a report on their findings re regards to heavy metals in Sydney soils and how that may affect veg growing. They will also be at the Australian Garden Show in Centennial Park so if you’re planning to go, you can bring in a sample of your soil for free testing.

We had Mark Taylor from Vegesafe come to Stanmore Public School to conduct tests on the soil in a number of different parts of the garden. Our soil in this garden was all pretty good (still elevated but not dangerously so). It was a really interesting process and Mark and his colleagues were full of helpful information. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Lead in soil will usually be the result of a building having been there and old lead paint flaking off and getting into the soil; or
  • Left over from the days of leaded petrol if you’re on a busy street;
  • Plants don’t tend to take up lead from the soil so eating plants grown in lead contaminated soil isn’t the problem (though probably still not recommended);
  • The problem comes if you don’t wash your veg properly or if you are playing in the dirt or tracking it through the house or in some other way coming into contact with it and possibly ingesting it. This, particularly for young children, is the problem.
  • Mulching and generally making sure there are high levels of organic matter in the soil reduces the levels of lead contamination in your soil.

Mulching! Is there nothing it can’t do?! But seriously I think this illustrates again the importance of good soil. Vital to our health, our food’s health and our children’s health, it’s worth the time to get it right.

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Here comes spring

Are you ready to say goodbye to winter? As much as I like growing broccoli and peas I’m always pretty excited when it comes time to get out the spring seeds. Now is a great time to start thinking about what you’ll be growing this spring. If you have a protected spot (windowsills work great) you can start planting your seeds inside.

I like to use old strawberry or cherry tomato containers for seed raising. I sit these next to the sink which means I remember to water them. When the seeds break through the soil and produce their first leaves you’ll need to find them a sunny spot but until that point any spot will do.

So what can you plant? In no particular order consider:

Chilli, watermelon, eggplant, capsicum, tomato, zucchini, cucumber, rockmelon, asian greens, bitter melon, fennel and of course my current favourite, potato. Look for an online seed seller or swap with a keen gardener. And don’t forget, more than anything else, soil is the key. Make sure when your seeds are ready to plant out you’re putting them into soil that’s going to feed them.

If that seems a little daunting or doesn’t quite make sense but you’re really keen to get growing this spring, give us a call, we are always happy to help!

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The Oil of White

I love my citrus trees but around this time of year they always look a little worse for wear. Scale, leaf minor and mineral deficiencies take a hold and if I don’t find the time to attend to them they get pretty sad looking. I know from working and walking around different neighbourhoods that I’m not alone so if you’re citrus aren’t looking as happy as they could here’s the ever useful White Oil remedy:

  • White oil. You can buy it but it’s easy and kind of fun to make. White oil will take care of any sap sucking insects including aphids, scale and leaf minor and now is the perfect time to use it. Because it’s an oil based spray you don’t want to use it when temperatures get high (no worries there in Sydney at the moment) but you will have to reapply if it rains (again, no worries in Sydney at the moment). To make white oil:

2 cups vegetable oil (some organic gardeners only use sunflower oil because there is no chance it could be genetically modified)

½ cup washing up liquid

Put both in a jar and shake it up. (This is the fun bit where you learn why it’s called white oil)

Store in cool, dry place and dilute two dessert spoons per litre of warm water. I dilute mine in a spray bottle and try to use it first thing in the morning Try to spray both sides of the leaves.

If white oil isn’t your thing or your citrus need a little more love, here are some other ideas:

  • The toothbrush. Never underestimate the power of an old toothbrush and giving your plants a good going over if the problem and tree are small.
  •  Feed them.

o   For mineral deficiencies you’ll need to feed them iron in the form of iron shelates. You’ll know your tree needs iron if the new leaves are yellow.

o   If the older leaves are yellow with green veins then you have a magnesium deficiency. The usual remedy for this is Epsom salts (buy it from the supermarket). I did read somewhere that this may increase the salt content in the soil but I’ve never been able to verify it so for now I still use Epsom salts.

o   If they just need a general feed try compost or cow manure around the base of the tree (but not right up against the trunk) or a liquid seaweed solution, rock dust or urine. Yes, fresh, diluted urine is a great fertiliser for citrus.

Don’t be scared to give your citrus a trim (particularly if you have citrus gall wasp – see photo at the top). Citrus can be pruned for shape and health though this is usually done after fruiting. Ok, I think that’s all for now. I’ve got to go spray my trees again.

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All hail the choko

As the choko season draws to a close I’d like to take a moment to thank the choko for its generosity.

I find people fall into three categories over the choko. Love them, hate them, never heard of them. I’m in the first and if you’re curious here’s some tips.

Choko must be grown from choko. You can’t extract the seed. So buy a choko or get one from someone already growing, leave it in the back of your cupboard for a few weeks and then pull it out when it’s sprouting and stick it in the ground (choko’s prefer ground over pot but if you have a really large pot and no ground I’d still encourage you to give it a go). Choko’s aren’t keen on really hot spots but do need some sun. They also need to climb and if you let them will keep going and take over trees, sheds, houses… So you need to think carefully about where you plant your choko and how you are going to control it. Any unpicked fruit, no matter how small or deformed looking, will sprout and grow another choko vine.

Once you’ve got your chokos (and if you’ve planted it right you’ll have a lot of chokos) pick and eat them as soon as you can. I find they store better out of the fridge in a cool dark spot but left too long they will sprout so you need to have some choko eating strategies.

Chokos are slimy. If you peel them with bare hands you’ll get a slime over your hands that dries like glue so I’ve taken to wearing gloves. Another way to prepare them is to cut them in half and bake them, then scoop out the flesh (no slime when they are cooked.)

Best choko uses I’ve found are: choko pickle or chutney, choko chocolate cake (grate a couple of chokos into any cake recipe for added moisture and fibre) and choko added to curry or dhal. The choko is able to take its place in desserts or savoury dishes because it has no actually flavour of its own but will absorb the flavour of whatever it’s cooked with. Choko can even be used to fluff out an apple pie but I don’t think this is where it shines.

The choko is a low kilo joule vegetable and a source of fibre and vitamin C. I’ve included the choko chocolate cake recipe below in case you’re feeling adventurous.

1 ½ cups sugar

2 ½ cups plain flour

½ cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

125g butter

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cocoa

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups grated choko

 

Cream butter and half the sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients including balance of sugar. Add choko and mix gently. Bake at 160C in 23cm spring-form tin for 50-60 minutes. Cool in the tin for five minutes. To glaze melt 60g butter plus 125g dark chocolate in a double boiler. Add 1 tablespoon milk and 1 tablespoon golden syrup when the chocolate mixture is smooth. Spoon onto cooled cake.

Recipe is from www.annettemcfarlane.com (when I made it I made them cupcake size and skipped the glaze, kids didn’t notice)

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Getting your kids working in the garden and eating in the kitchen

I spend half of my working week helping children to grow food in school gardens and the most of my non (paid) working life trying to think of healthy meals my children will eat. Most of my work with school children is via the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. This is a fantastic program with flexible models to suit all schools. Teachers are given training and curriculum support and kids are exposed to the joys of gardening and cooking while trying new foods they’ve had a hand in growing. I joined the program for environmental reasons not convinced it would really change eating habits. After a few years of being involved I have become convinced that getting your kids involved in the growing and cooking of food is a great way to ensure they remain interested and engaged with their nutritional health not to mention that ever increasing importance of knowing where your food comes from.

But what about at home? And what if you have fussy eaters in the house who aren’t old enough for school or not at a school with a kitchen garden program? I, like lots of others, have one (or two) of those children who aren’t particularly interested in eating vegetables or trying new things. I did the growing thing. We grew peas. He planted the peas, watched them grow, then watched me eat them. Legumes aren’t his thing I discovered.

But we persisted and found other things to grow that he will eat (he still grows legumes just doesn’t eat them). But the growing alone wasn’t enough to change his eating habits. What really made a difference was group eating. And by that I don’t mean eating with the family. I mean sitting down with a big group of children and watching everyone else enjoying food. This, I find, to be the best place to introduce new foods to my children. Around a camp fire with a few other families or at friend’s houses seem to be the places my difficult eater finds trying new things easier.

So for your fussy eater at home, what can you do?

  • Grow – start small, a few herbs and a strawberry plant
  • Cook – get your kids involved in planning, shopping and preparing
  • Share – make eating a social event

On a side note, taking the pictures for this blog post and checking on our seedlings at the same time my 4 year old saw me taste a new radish leaf and asked for a try. He then asked for another while proclaiming how much he liked it! (He’s not my fussy eater but still, it was a radish leaf?!)

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