Category Archives: pests

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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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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Little Things

A lot of us don’t have space and a lot of us don’t have time and some of us don’t have space or time and this is where growing little things comes in handy.  Here’s ten of my current favourites.

  1. Herbs

Don’t buy those plastic wrapped packets you get at the supermarket and often only use half of.  Grow your own herbs (or find a nearby house that’s growing them for you – there really only needs to be one rosemary bush per block).  If your kitchen is too shady for window sill herbs, grow double pots.  Keep one in the kitchen, the other somewhere sunny and swap them around when the one in the kitchen starts to look peaky.

  1. Lebanese eggplant

So much easier and better tasting than the larger fruit, and generally prolific.  The rule here is that the longer you have to wait for a fruit or vegetable to develop the more chance there is of something going wrong (think here pest attack).

  1. Cherry tom

Usually resistant to fruit fly and they come in all sorts of colours and shapes now.

  1. Dwarf fruit

Happy in a pot, I find citrus the most productive and useful.

  1. Quails

When your space is too small for chickens these are a great alternative.  We love our quails for their prowess at catching pests, their protein packed eggs and their general good looks.

  1. Leaf lettuce

Hearting lettuce is susceptible to attack from slugs and snails before you get to the good part of eating it.  Leaf lettuces are so much quicker, you can be picking leaves in a matter of weeks and can continue to pick as the weeks go on.

  1. Midyim berry

These native plants are delicate, shade lovers.  Their speckled berries have a unique flavour, very fragrant.  A small plant can produce a lot of berries if it’s in the right place.

  1. Garlic shoots

Why wait for garlic bulbs when you can eat the leafy green shoots – fantastic flavour and a continual crop.

  1. Broccollini

Same story as the eggplant.  Trying to grow vegetables as big as the ones you buy in the supermarket can lead to disappointment.  Brocollini is fast, tasty and a little bit fancy.

  1. Kale

I love cabbage but growing it has the same issues as growing hearting lettuce.  Kale is a fantastic alternative, very attractive in the garden and one of those foods everyone says we should be eating more of.  You can grow it like you grow leaf lettuces, picking off leaves as you need them while continuing to let it grow.

So, small space?  No time?  No longer a good enough excuse!

What little things do you like to grow?

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Growing Corporate

Late last year we were contacted by Razor & JOY to come and have a look at their courtyard space with a view to installing an edible garden. I’d been very keen install an office garden so was excited by the prospect. It was also a beautiful looking site (once the pot plants here removed).

We built the beds (2 four metre long and 1 two metres long) out of recycled hard wood timber palings, sanded and oiled. Lined them with geotextile fabric and filled them with a rich organic mixture of compost, manure, straw and lucerne.

Staff assisted in the final stage and the beds were planted with salad greens, tea herbs, herbs, tomatoes and beans, chilli’s and capsicum. There’s a strawberry box, micro green box and seed raising box.

Pots of dwarf citrus, midyim berry, blueberry and bay were added.

The garden is lovingly cared for and picked by the staff. Unfortunately the pests have been pretty happy with the garden addition as well but hopefully with a little tweaking the pests will have less to eat and the staff will have more. Reports are that this has been a really worthwhile addition to office life and has definitely been a very satisfying project for me to work on.

Posted in courtyard, dwarf fruit trees, Enjoy, Grow, Perennial, pests, Razor & JOY, recycled wood, Vegetable | Comments Off on Growing Corporate