30 Apr 2014

garden share collective: may



Dead peas

Autumn is traditionally the season for tidying up the garden after the glories of spring and summer. With the recent extended Easter-to-Anzac Day break, there was plenty of uninterrupted time, and mostly cool fine weather, for doing just that.

I spent a few days at my parents’ place, helping dad prune his apple and pear trees; chopping down desiccated corn plants; helping mum deadhead the agapanthus; and generally weeding and helping where I could. We added to the vast stockpile at the bottom of their property that is the remains of the trees cut down in the aftermath of last year’s January bushfires. That will be one magnificent blaze when the local firies come to burn it for us, and a significant milestone for my parents and me. I intend to be present to witness this event.

I then returned home to tackle my large garden to-do list:

 
This covered both the back yard (which is predominantly the vegies and fruit trees) and the front garden (ornamentals). High on the list was removing trees that had literally outgrown their welcome: the apple tree whose fruit was always spoiled by coddling moth, then consumed by birds and wasps; a bay tree that was all of a sudden a giant, blocking light and sending its insidious roots into the surrounding vegie plots; a rosemary that also had a carpet-like root system that made it impossible for anything nearby to flourish; a self-sown yellow peach that was simply in the wrong spot (plus I have its ‘mother’ tree).



Dad and the bay tree. Dad is about six foot tall, so the bay is perhaps eight foot

I heard landscape gardener Paul Bangay once declare that ‘a garden is not a hospital’ — meaning there is no place for nurturing sickly plants along; remove them and replace them! By extension of this philosophy, I believe that a garden is not a charity, and if a tree or plant is superfluous to my needs or even causing harm to the rest of the garden — well, again, get rid of it.


Dad attacking the roots of the bay tree

It’s a liberating concept once you get used to it, and it does take some getting used to, if you’re someone like me who looks kindly on self-sown plants in particular, thinking that if they’ve decided to grow in that crack in the path, who am I to stop them? And it’s also difficult to cut down or pull out a perfectly strong, healthy, ‘good’ plant; but one has to be realistic and rationale (no, plants don’t have feelings…do they?), especially in a small suburban backyard. There is no space for an eight foot high bay tree that dominates the soil and the sunlight.

 
The bay tree felled! Dad still working to free the roots
 
Of course, now there are great holes in the landscape that my eye needs to adjust to. The back yard in particular looks larger. I have plans, but I’m in no hurry, especially after this work program — which, let me absolutely clear, was done largely by my heroic father and his trusty mini-chainsaw, mattock, crowbar and huge garden fork; and for which I have the utmost gratitude and appreciation.

I’ll need to bring in new soil and other ‘stuff’ to coax the ground back to life. And no doubt I still have some roots to remove. Then, where the apple tree was, will be a damson plum. Our research shows that apart from birds, a damson’s rich, jewel-like flesh is usually free from grubs and disease. And where the bay was, a Lisbon lemon. I have a lemon tree already, but I’ve never liked its flavour, so (again, with research) I think a Lisbon is the way to go.

The vegie patch itself is also on its way out, after, I must admit, a fairly ordinary summer. I was not entirely pleased with the productivity of some of my plantings. I’ve been pulling out the dry, grey-moulded pea and bean vines, and mum collected a small handful of dried borlotti bean pods, ready for next year’s sowing. I’m impatient to remove the rest because they are looking pretty ugly.


Pulled peas. Will be buried as a green manure

But I have a few more weeks perhaps of climbing beans, and there are still a couple of zucchini on. There are a few green tomatoes left, heavy and bulbous, but with the autumnal sun fast losing its heat, I’m not sure if they will ripen.


Last tomatoes. I've already pruned back their plants, so they look very skeletal and forlorn

The dwindling crops signal that the gloom of winter is not far away. You can of course garden over winter in Tassie, but apart from silverbeet and kale, I choose not to. Gardening is restricted to the weekend, as it’s just too dark after work to see the garden! Opportunities and time for work are very limited when you work full-time, or that is my experience anyway. Maybe I’m wimping out (because along with the dark comes the cold)), but the months off do give me time to plan and dream about what I’ll sow and plant and grow and harvest next season.

Currently growing and harvesting
  • Beans, tomatoes, peas, zucchini: but not for much longer
  • Capsicum. Singular. Hmmm. Still as small and hard as a golf ball and as green as billy-o. Not a great success, but at least I can say I tried.
  • Lettuce. A bit like the capsicum; has really failed to flourish, and the plants are not much bigger than when I put them in. This baffles me.
  • Garlic (below). I planted perhaps early April, in two grow bags, and already it is shooting ahead. Very exciting.

Things to do
  • Tidy, pull out plants when they are finished, and their stakes and supports. This is the first step to putting the garden ‘to bed’ for the winter.
  • I’ve asked my friend J (male, with muscles) to dig up another part of my lawn. This will further expand the size of the beds (more tomatoes! Corn!).
  • Once the tomatoes are removed, and the soil fed up a bit, I intend to plant my winter crop of silverbeet and kale. I suspect this is late, but I had no other option but to wait for the tomato bed to be freed up.
  • Work on those craters left behind by the apple, bay, rosemary and peach trees.
Don't forget to see others in the Garden Share Collective. Click on the logo in the column at right to see more green thumbs.

24 comments:

  1. Gosh winter hits hard in your neck of the woods. Is it possible to add compostable goodies into the hole and end up with good soil at the end of winter? I always try to "make" my own soil rather than import heaven knows what. What do you do with your unused beds during winter? I have that problem in our summer - hot and humid, and find covering the beds with cardboard is a good idea. I am loving fruit trees as well, and saw the lisbon one, but in the end bought a dwarf lemon since it is going into a pot. The meyer lemon is a very popular one here, but I think that it is tropical. Wow, you will have lots of time by the fireplace to plan next spings garden!

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    1. Hi AA! i think i would still be able to garden if i didn't work (hurry up retirement! oh, 20+ years away...), but because it's dark when i come home from work - well, that makes week-day gardening impossible!
      i tend to pull all the summer crops out and yes, compost into the beds (and these holes) what i can. i'll dig everything over but on dad's advice, i don't mulch - i let the whatever sun and rain there is over the winter time get in directly. around august i start feeding the soil up properly for the spring activity.
      i guess i'll still have my garlic and kale and silverbeet to keep me going - and watching this slow capsicum!
      but yes, this garden and gardener will soon hibernate for winter.

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  2. Wow, what a transformation. Impressive effort! Sounds like you have a lot of plans on the cards. Good luck with the new veggie beds.
    I also find gardening challenging with the winter darkness post work. But I get by on weekends. Most of my winter weekend gardening consists of checking how the brassicas, onions and garlic is growing and any tidy-ups needed. More of a challenge is harvesting in the dark. Still haven't found a good solution.

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    1. ah, i'm glad you know what i mean about the dark, bec - i was worried people would think i was a wuss! a head-lamp thingy, perhaps, for your harvesting? that is hard. i don't even want to step out for parsley.
      you're mention of brassicas reminded me that i grew purple sprouting broccoli last year. must look into that; if it's not too late. thanks for the prompt.

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  3. Very inspiring as we are contemplating a veggie box in our tiny seaside suburban courtyard. We didn't have much success this year with the 2 miniature fruit trees and had to cancel the backpackers but I'm hoping for a few modest veggies that might add to the lamb roast. Within a couple of years anyhow!

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  4. hi louise! i'm touched that even the end of myvegie garden for this year is inspiring! i'm no great gardener, but each success spurs me on to try more; each failure actually motivates me to find the things that will work. and enjoying your own produce at dinner is always very satisfying.

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  5. "A garden is not a hospital or a charity"... very well said. I will remember that for sure. I gasped when I saw the size of your bay tree. Wow. Looked like quite a mission to get that out. I keep a couple of bay trees in pots, and that seems to keep them under control. They give me just enough leaves for cooking throughout the year. Can't wait to see how big your lemon grows. We seem to specialise in Meyer lemons in NZ, and I go for them every time. They're super juicy, have gorgeous tender orange/yellow skins, and they make divine preserved lemons when you pack them in salt. That's my plug for a Meyer lemon to replace that bay tree!

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    1. hi sue! let my bay tree be a warning to everyone: keep yours in a pot!! it was work to get it down, but dad has this amazing system for removing trees that seems to work everytime. i'm very lucky!
      and thanks for the meyer push. great to hear people's prefernces!

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  6. Hi e! It's always a little sad to see a tree come out, but if it is to make way for better things, then so be it. Good luck with the giant holes. I too love my silvebeet as a winter staple, and this is my first winter where I'll actually be 'gardening' in the vegie garden. It sounds quite nice to put the bed to sleep! I usually just plan to do things, then don't do anything, then feel guilty about it.
    Great post :)

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    1. hi jacqui. i started filling the holes over the weekend, by putting in my past-it peas and beans.
      i realised it is a nice feeling of closing down over winter. it feels like i'm following a seasonal cycle. that very much went thru my mind over the weekend as i pulled up the tomato stakes and put them away.

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  7. Ah, interesting thoughts on removing sick trees/plants. Hear hear! I too struggle with removing healthy ones .. But sometimes it just have to happen with start to flourish with the extra light for sure! :) thanks for sharing.

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    1. you're welcome frogpond. as i said, it's a concept that takes some getting used to - esp if the tree in question is not sick but dominating the garden space quite healthily! but once you do, it is so very liberating. so thank you paul bangay for setting us all free!

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  8. Oh, I so need you to visit my garden and be firm about the sick and excess plants that really should be removed. I'm very weak when it comes to getting rid of those self-seeders that are growing in the wrong place.

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    1. i was too, GD! but before you know it, as you say, you've got things you don't want where you don't want them. and i guess that would be 'the wild' - the premise of 'gardening' is exerting control over nature, isn't it?
      you can do it!! if i can, anyone can :-)

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  9. We had a massive weeping Willow that had grown too big for its boots. It was also a little dangerous as branches would break off in high winds. We had it removed and haven't looked back. Freed up a huge amount of light and has given the Horse Chestnut a better chance too. I have to say I still hate puling out self seeded veges....I see I have a few tomato plants that have self seeded and calendular is everywhere!

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  10. hello sarah - and welcome to dig in, i believe :-) i seem to have struck a chord with fellow softie gardeners - do we or don't we? i'm lookign forward to more light too after removign the bay tree. oh, and calendular is so virulent - once you have that, you always have it!

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  11. "The garden is not a charity" - I love that theory :-)

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    1. it's a good one, isn't it kyrstie! there are now GCS-ers across the globe, digging out unwanted or sickly plants, chanting "the garden is not a charity! the garden is not a charity!" :-)

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  12. Oh, I have been a very incompetent and lazy gardener this season. Too busy having my mid-life crisis. Do you know what I love about gardening? There is always next year..

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    1. hello jo! lovely to hear from you! i've missed you.
      that is so true. there is always another season to look forward to - or to put things off til. either way, nature is usually very forgiving. and sometimes one needs some time out to sit back and watch things grow and let them take their own course. so you're not being lazy - you're being in tune with the seasons and respecting mother nature's ability to do it without us xx

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  13. Good philosophies in regards to gardening... I must remember them when I have my own garden, that it is not a hospital or charity!

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    1. you will be off to a great start then, leaf!

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  14. Wow, your Dad looks like a hard worker, you're SO lucky to have him! I hear you on the Bay tree - I have 2, both in pots. Around the corner from me, a large house is fronted by two HUGE bay trees; I imagine the householder didn't realise what he was getting into. The clue is in the name: Bay TREE!! I had a lot of unripened tomatoes end of last summer and put them in a pasta bowl near that bananas in my kitchen; given time, they all ripened - it may be worth giving this a go with yours. I'm also converted against self-seeders - last year I had less time for the garden and ended up with banks of sunflowers, orach, fennel, nasturtiums, etc. Looked very pretty but not what I wanted! This year am ruthlessly removing! (Sprouted sunflowers are really nice in salads, btw. Crunchy and slightly peppery.)

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  15. hi caro! welcome to Dig In. yes my dad is extraordinary - i am constantly amazed by his energy and strength. he puts me to shame.
    dad told me later that Bay trees can reach 30 feet tall - which is great if you have the space; i can imagine a beautiful avenue flanking a long drive - but monstrous if you're in the suburbs and don't! i certainly didn't realise this one was working hard to reach its full potential :-)
    thanks for the banana + tomato tip - of course! - and pleased to meet a fellow ruthless remover. i am off to google 'orach' now as i have never heard of it.

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Word-verification is on, as the robot-spammers are loving my tuna past bake too much at the moment! I hope you understand - and I hope you'll still leave a comment at Dig In. I love hearing your thoughts, knowing someone is reading, and will always reply. Unless you're a robot-spammer.