11 October 2009

Down in the vegie patch*

After a slow start to clear away a winter's worth of weeds, one half of my vegie patch is finally underway. It should be more advanced by now, but this season there have been a few goings-on (sic) that have kept me occupied indoors a bit more than usual. (Is that an appropriate use of sic? Not sure.)


I started this year with the potted things – well, styrofoamed things! I have a corner that gets a bit soggy after big rains, so I place some some old fruit boxes there, lifting the plants' roots up a bit to prevent 'wet feet'. Seems to work, but I can only grow certain things in that limited root-space. And while it's still dry I need to check these boxes frequently to make sure the plants don't dry out. At the moment there's a fine crop of basil coming on, and some rocket which is trying to run to seed earlier than I'd like. I keep snipping off the flowers and picking more leaves for the tasty greek salads we're having with nearly every meal. But I had better get another batch of rocket underway elsewhere because I don't think I can hold on to this lot much longer.

I have two kinds of tomatoes coming along nicely. The majority of plants were given to me by my daughter's father-in-law. He grew them from seed and I think they're little Tom Thumbs or some such. I also bought a punnet of six different old-fashioned sorts, just to see what these will produce (if they produce)! Each year I have trouble keeping my tomatoes safe from fruit bats – at least I think they're fruit bats. Whatever they are, they eat out the main part of every tomato and just leave an empty bell hanging. And since the best part of growing tomatoes is being able to have vine-ripened fruit, I don't like picking them too soon. So last year I used fruit-tree netting over each bamboo trellis. And while this worked, it did make picking the fruit and weeding around the plant a bit tiresome. I'm also wary of using netting in the garden since that python got tangled in one net. But unless I net, I have to share the crop with drop-in visitors.

If you look closely at the tomato photos, you will see that this year I've had to use string to reinforce the joints of my bamboo 'tomato towers'. Most of these structures are now several years old and ought to have been replaced this year. But I don't think A is going to be able to make any more of these so I'm trying to extend the life of those I've got. Some like the one pictured in a more sheltered area of the garden, have a longer lifespan. But in the vegetable patch, where the bamboo is subjected to lots of watering, the towers disintegrate in a couple of seasons. Those I'm using this year are in their third and probably last year of use. (That photo of Allen was taken in March 2007, when he had just completed the first of our current batch of tomato towers. The marigolds were supposed to be companion plants for the tomatoes, but in fact I planted them mainly for the pleasure they would give me while I weeded the vegies.)


This year I have a few 'blow-ins' too – well, not exactly blow-ins, but plants that either self-seeded from last year's crop or that sprung up from compost. The little jap pumpkin is the first fruit showing on a good number of pumpkin plants that either self-seeded, or are on two-year old plants. I'm unsure how some of these plants came to be, but ever since I planted the first pumpkin seedlings more than a year ago I've had pumpkin plants running over various parts of the garden. Some, like the one shown below, which is growing over an old chair, are in areas of the garden that are quite far away from where I originally planted pumpkins. One of last year's vines crawled up the hill there, but then seems to have taken root. Do pumpkin plants reproduce this way? I'm waiting to see if any of the flowers on that plant actually set fruit. But even if the plant doesn't fruit, I rather like the way it has colonised that old chair which hides one of my compost bins, so I'll probably let it go.


A number of young pawpaws (or papayas) have also climbed up out of a section of garden that hasn't yet been weeded and prepared for replanting. They could only come from seeds in last year's compost because I haven't yet got any fruiting pawpaws in the garden (one planted not long ago by friend L when she visited is still very young, and I'm about to plant a red pawpaw near that pumpkin-on-chair). I'll wait and decide what to do with these new ones when I finally weed that bed later this week. They'll probably have to move, though I may leave one in place to see how it goes.


As you can see in all these photos, this year I'm using bales of straw as my main garden mulch –  except down in the paddock, where I hope to get some sugar cane rolls delivered this week, to use around the weeping lilly pillys and other natives I planted during the winter. I would like to have something more substantial as mulch, but it's just too difficult to cart heavy loads around to all the different garden levels. Straw is fine, and does break down quickly to help feed the soil. But it has to be renewed often. Still, now that I've managed to learn how to reverse my trailer into even tricky spots, it's easy enough to get another six bales of straw down to the vegetable garden without any back-breaking labor.


Speaking of which, a whole trailerload of rich composty soil and a dozen little boulders are waiting right now to be unloaded. I plan to use all of that to build a more interesting strip of garden around the front edge of the inground water tank, where I think I'll plant herbs instead of the rather dreary little plants I've had there for several years. Now that the new balustrade and pergola have been built around the rear half of this tank, I need something more interesting in the foreground. And it would be a lot easier, when I realise I forgot to pick the herbs for my evening cooking, if I didn't have to take a torch and walk down a flight of stairs to the vegetable garden after dark. Allen and I once tumbled hand-in-hand down those stairs last year, trying to do just that. Being able to take just a few steps off the back verandah instead would be much safer.

Oh, and what else got planted this week? Half a dozen eggplant seedlings, four zucchini plants, a punnet of snow peas (a little late, these, but they're doing well) and some silver beet. Heaps of parsley is well advanced, of course, and four strawberry plants I put in a few weeks ago as an experiment have just begun flowering – these, too, are a bit late for this climate and I've never tried to grow strawberries before, so I don't know how they'll do.


When I get the other half of the vegetable garden weeded, I will squeeze in a few flowers, too. The vegetable patch, which is regularly watered, is the only safe place to grow flowers in my garden. So I always fit in some colour down there – and also in a few pots placed nearby enough to take advantage of the watering regimen. Petunias and lobelias are doing well already, in pots under the macadamia tree at one end of the vegetable garden. The tree gives them – and me, when I need to take a break – a bit of protection from the fierce midday sun. Oh, and that hippeastrum is not near the vegetable garden at all, but I couldn't resist including it in this post. I totally forgot my friend K had planted some of these bulbs along the edges of an ugly clay bank at one side of my studio. At the same time I planted a good ground-covering grevillea nearby and that has now totally covered the bank with its saw-toothed leaves and, for much of the year, red toothbrush-type flowers. So I forgot about the hippeastrum plants. But more than two years later, A and I were walking down past this spot for his daily exercise, and lo and behold: one hippeastrum has suddenly thrust up through the ground cover these four magnificent trumpets! Now I'm waiting to see if others will follow. These little surprises are the best part of having a large garden that you can't always stay on top of (or so I rationalise)!

* Postscript: Once you settle on a dictionary, you really must stick with it. If you start making exceptions, there's no telling where you'll end up. Hence, I use 'vegie' with one 'g', because that's what the online Macquarie says, and Macquarie is my choice! Even a 'fuzzy search' of 'veggie' takes you back to 'vegie', without any alternative spelling being offered. I know you'll find a lot more 'veggies' on the web and elsewhere than 'vegies'. But please: no comments about my spelling. I'd like to use 'veggie'. Really I would. It looks more like what the word sounds like. But the habits of an editor's lifetime just die too hard.

1 comment:

Zoe said...

It all looks so lovely, especially the chair/compost corner. I'm so jealous. I really want our garden to get moving along, but it takes so much time! (as I know you appreciate!)

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.