I’ve been surprised to get messages from gardeners in far northern Queensland saying “we can’t grow many crops in summer,” and “summer isn’t a good time for leafy crops,” and “the best season for growing food here is winter.” Why so? The tropics are incredibly productive all year round and their abundant produce is in such demand. There’s at least fifty different leaf crops, so let’s have a look at what you could be growing.
This blog looks at ways to convert expanded polystyrene foam boxes, a single use plastic used for packing vegetables, into a useful gardening asset. Most Australians call expanded polystyrene foam styrofoam, but this is a trademark name, owned by Dow Chemicals, who claim to have ‘discovered’ this product which was first made in Sweden. If you endorse the reuse of waste, visit your local fruit shop and get some polystyrene vegetable packing boxes. Retailers are happy to sell them for a couple of dollars and you’ll find them suitable for a range of gardening jobs whether your climate is hot, cold, wet or dry.
If Vireya rhododendrons have started blooming, it’s winter in the subtropics. Vireyas are a subgenus of rhododendron, they are tropical shrubs originating from SE Asia to Australia. Many hybrids have been produced, some are very fragrant, and most are ideal for container growing on a balcony, on (or under) a tree, or in a shadehouse. In my experience, treating Vireyas as you would an epiphytic orchid really helps. Vireyas make good cut flowers and buttonholes (remember them?). If you start a collection, you can have them blooming over many months.
“You can’t grow a meadow garden in Australia”, stated an article in Horticulture Week (Rural Press, 1992). Really? I started working with Sydney Botanic Gardens in the same year, and their attempt at growing a meadow garden had been swamped by ryegrass and other annual weeds. There’s nothing like a challenge. By all means experiment with plants, but if you don’t understand how differently individual species can behave in a foreign climate and soils, be sure to do your research first, or get informed advice.
Now the mid-winter solstice is behind us, days are cool but lengthening, ideal for sowing watercress, dwarf beans and snow peas. The best news is there’s a long list of delicious food plants that can be sown now for your spring menu. Here’s sixty to get you started. Just think of all those recipes you can use them in!
How correct care can extend the safe, useful life of a tree: the role of bark boring beetle; the impact of poor pruning on tree health; the value of pruning to a branch collar; the risks of injecting trees with chemicals and painting wounds; the need to investigate for structural weakness; and assessing the potential expense of collateral damage to property if the tree collapses.
Basil: In a sustainable garden you can’t really ask for much more from a herb: here are four basils capable of growing through a subtropical winter in either pots on a balcony or in the ground. Four basils which provide all year round beauty, distinctive flavours and aromas, high productivity, and all of them attractive to pollinators and other beneficial insects that help to control pests.
Suddenly, a public health crisis has prompted more people than ever before to spend more time growing food than ever. We live in a nation of garden cities, our food gardens are an open invitation to dine – what could possibly go wrong? Keeping pests and diseases firmly in their place involves safer solutions, a little gentle manipulation and gardening together as a family.
Anyone can buy compost in bulk. But these products are often highly variable and sometimes even unsuitable. The traditional alternative is to sow green manures and to make your own compost. If you need bulk compost, consider the sandwich mulching technique. You’ll need a soil pH Test kit and, ideally, get your soil laboratory tested to check for nutrient deficiencies and contaminants.
Following England’s Great Storm of 1987, I was managing an urban forest in London where I was involved in the successful salvaging of many Robinia pseudoacacia trees by applying the technique of crown thinning described. Make sure to engage a competent arborist, this is not a task you can trust a tree lopper with. I suggest contacting Arboriculture Australia to have your tree inspected by someone qualified and take it from there.
If you like discovering new and exciting plants, East Timor and the rich flora of Malesiana is just a short flight from Darwin. You can join me on my tour of East Timor, 15-25th June 2020.
Malesia is a biogeographical region consisting of East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, New Guinea and the Philippines. Its tropical flora is even more diverse than Australia’s. Earlier this year, I found this beautiful but obscure Malesian plant while escorting a gardening tour of Vietnam. How can it be identified?
“Dear Jerry, my cocoa plants are infected with black pod disease. They are cropping OK, but can I do anything to improve their health?”, asks Peter in Townsville, Australia.
Hi Peter, Phytophthora is primarily a root rot disease and it can spread throughout a plant using the vascular system. Some plants are more susceptible than others and there may be multiple host plant species in your garden.
Certain types of Phytophthora can devastate entire landscapes (like Jarrah dieback, P. cinnamomi) and ruin orchards. This disease is recognised by conservationists as a key threatening process, it cannot be eradicated so you manage it.