Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Garden Towers for the Horizontally Challenged

Don't have much room to plant a garden?  Oh yes you do.  If you cant spread out, then go up.   Wish i could apply this to myself.  I've stopped growing up and now sideways is the only way i grow!  I'm growing abundantly! 

Anyway, I'm not sure if its cheating to do a whole post of links but the last thing i want to do is take credit for someone else's work.   It took a while to find all these and Ive stored the information away for future project time.  I hope it gives you some ideas. 

Pretty cool.   Watering is done via the tube in the centre.   This isn't my idea, nor did i build it.  I was researching this whole vertical garden idea and found it very hard to get some DIY designs.  I found this in google images and then followed it to a Facebook page - I think the writer is Eugene?  Here is the link.

Plant Towers  - there are 26 photos giving step by step instructions on how to make the above.  Fabulous idea that came originally from Portugal. That is a piece of 3" perforated pipe that extends halfway down into the tower.

Plant Tower Basics
The Plant Tower is a vertical garden built from four main ingredients. Please know that there is no strict formula or specific materials that you must use to build your tower. I would really encourage everyone to experiment and use what they have available. That being said we build our towers along these lines...

The Exoskeleton/ Frame -
e Fencing - 4' tall and 7' in circumference with a 2" by 4" grid spacing. Nylon Deer/ Bird netting is laid and tied on to fencing, fencing is then wrapped into a cylinder with netting on inside.

Straw Shell- A thin layer of straw between frame and soil.
To contain soil, reduce evaporation, and shelter soil from the elements.

The Soil- We use a medley of good garden soil, mixed with compost, and bark chips that will retain moisture and break down slowly.

The Watering Tube- Roughly 2' of 3" Perforated Drain Pipe aka Perf Pipe. Comes pre-perforated with lots of little slits. The tube extends from the top halfway down into the centre of the tower. This allows water to penetrate deep into the core of the tower without having to flood the top.

Holes are cut in the side of tower and plant starts are transplanted into the side of the tower.

I also saw few ideas on a link provided by Quarter Acre Lifestyle today.  Thanks for the links.   I was fascinated in this beauty and that's what kicked off this moment of mad researching.

Very fancy
The following has me fascinated as I like pumpkins but dont have space to let the vines wander everywhere.  Could i train them up and if so which varieties to do recommend?  Are they butternut? 

Who wouldnt want a crop like this?
 Here's another made from PVC Pipe - with Instructions from FireCGun

Visit Fern on Life of the Balcony to learn how to turn a pallet into a vertical garden.

The absolute pièce de résistance of small space gardening would have to be the wicking bed. 
For this one, i am pleased to refer you to local people in Ballarat  - Urban Food Gardening or Craig Castree in Werribee -   Edible Gardens.   Craig built a great wicking bed at Shoestring Gardening during a community workshop.  I wish i had a photo but it was one i missed.  It looks like this.
There is of course the car tyre stacks and the commercially available grow bags for potatoes.  There are also some pretty fancy plastic towers and ceramic strawberry pots but I'm trying to provide examples of those that can be built for a song with re-purposed materials and very little building skills. 
Hope I've given you ideas or linked you with other sites that can give you inspiration.

Thanks for Living In The Land of Oz.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Humour Me - Its my First

My first home grown cob of corn.    Woo Hoo!   I'm allowed to be excited as i never thought i would ever be doing this and it seemed to me, at the beginning of my veggie garden journey, that growing corn was kind of a bench mark to be reached.  My friend Ella, gave me some seeds quite late in the summer, so i wasn't expecting too much.  Next year i have big plans for my corn crop.  They are going to be working triple time as both corn producers, climbing poles for beans and shade makers for an under crop of lettuce. 

And so, that left me with one little problem.  How do you cook fresh corn straight from the garden?  I know, its sad, but Ive only cooked precut frozen little cobs from the freezer department of the supermarket.   Over to Google. 

Seems the most important rule is DON'T OVERCOOK.

Bring unsalted water to boil.   Drop the corn in and cover with lid.  Boil for 4-5 minutes and remove.  I dabbed a little butter, salt & ground black pepper, covered in foil and rested while i finished the rest of the meal.

Rob said he would have preferred just another couple of minutes to make them softer but when i tried mine that were literally jumping off the cob with the slightest pressure.  

He does seem to be enjoying it though and there was very little left when he had finished.   Mind you, all he could talk about was bourbon.  He hasn't been drinking now for a while and i guess he misses it. 

I do love corn when it is bought from the vendors at markets.  They are full of flavour and are juicy and soft.   I imagine they first boil them and then put them on the grill to get a little grill flavour.  If you have the one true tried and tested method, please let me know. 

Thanks for visiting Living In The Land Of Oz.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Fruit Tree Management - For Beginners

If you are talking fruit tree management they don't come more inexperienced than me (or is that "I"), its been too long since school.  Saturday this weekend saw me having a very educational yet social experience with the ladies from Shoestring Gardening and Craig from Edible Gardens.

I took along 4 friends to their first course this week and all came away simply glowing with accolades for the quality of the presentation and the warmth of the group. I think we need a name - we've been meeting monthly since August last year and we've become so familiar we can rib each other and we laugh freely at each others expense.  Oh lets not forget the healthy organic lunch - the lentil soup was to die for and i had a piece of Herman's brother. (Thanks Karen).   This program is sponsored by the Wyndham City Council under the banner of Growing Communities and i think that we (as a group) are most definitely a community.  One which i personally am very thankful for.  I lived here for 18 years and never felt so connected.  Lets pray that the powers that be see sense and have a lightbulb moment and return the funding for the program. (Another Post - get your signatures ready) . 

OK, back to fruit trees.  I think i have found Craig's passion.  Lord this man know his fruit trees and is a huge expounder of going back to heritage varieties.  There are literally thousands of varieties throughout the world and yet as consumers we are limited to what we are offered from the supermarket chains.   Their choice is not based on flavor but on varieties chosen for price, volume of supply (which they control), transportability, how easy it bruises, storage life, and presentation on the shelf.  Consequently they are mostly hybrids that can not be grown from seed. Thus we are reduced to about five varieties of apple which we think taste good but how would we know if we have never had anything else?

Random fact - did you know that limes are not green when they are ripe but yellow?  Imagine!  Apparently we are all so stupid that we cant tell the difference between a lime and a lemon on the shelf so lime are picked early and sold green.  As they have a thin skin this also makes them easier to transport.  If limes are left to ripen till slightly yellow they produce more juice.  Usually a shiny glossy skin means they are ripe.

Craig, being a qualified horticulturist and landscaper, is a volunteer Production Manager at the Werribee Heritage Orchard.  He is responsible for all works and propagation of fruit trees at the Orchard.  Not only can you buy heritage deciduous varieties far cheaper than at the nursery but they record where you are planting them and keep records to ensure that should theirs die then they can come and get wood to graft and propagate a new tree.

This is an unpaid advertisement, but passion and effort like Craig's needs to be acknowledged.  The very next day i found him at Bunnings cooking sausages at a fundraiser for the orchard.  Grafting and Tree Sales Day is on Sunday 21st July 2013  10am - 2pm.  At the graft day they will be teaching and mentoring on how to do grafting and you can buy your sign on wood (500-600 varieties available) for $5 each and root stock for $17.  Hint - take a picnic and have an afternoon snooze under the canopy of massive evergreen on the mansion main lawn (that's my plan - so if you here a faint rumble, its me snoring).  There are other groups that visit or volunteer at the WHO that can supply other fruits (not deciduous) so its worth coming and meeting everyone. 

I do get off track sometimes, so lets start.  I have 2 hrs of recordings but most of the information was provided in a lengthy handout provided by Craig.  Thanks to his big booming voice, its easy to hear.  I have 2 hrs of recording of David Holmgren on Permie Day and despite the fact that i stuck to his side like glue (embarrassing really) his voice is so faint i haven't yet posted because its going to be a big effort. 

Topics are covered only lightly because this could easily have been a whole weekend course:

Tree Selection
Soil & Mulching
Espaliered Fruit Trees
Pest and Diseases

Practical examples were given in various type of grafting and tools used and then later we went outside to espalier an apple tree. 

I will try to give an overview, so if thats not your thing or you are not prepared to read War & Peace then go back and have a look at my Sundays posts of Breakfast at Tiffany's Ella's and drool over what i was served yesterday or take a look at my veggie patch in autumn.

Fruit Trees in OUR Back Yards

In the past, every backyard used to have at least a lemon tree, maybe an apple or a peach.  Today, because of the size of our backyards, most people think they don't have room.   This is not true. Grafting techniques that allow you to have several varieties of fruit on one tree and espaliering trees on fences which creates a 2 dimensional tree rather than one that takes up room,  allows most people to have several varieties of fruit in their small backyard.   Even those in the new estates that are limited to small al fresco slab out the back can have living fences that provide fruit and look attractive rather than greying pine fences (which i hate). Imagine an apple tree in flower along your fence.   Imagine having several varieties of fruit on the one tree.  Imagine the possibilities ...........  (insert daydream music here)

I think that one of the best reasons for having someone local present these type of courses is that he knows our climatic conditions.   He knows about our wind (bit personal) and frost and soil composition.  Some of us have clay so dense (and full of minerals) that you could make a pot out of it, others have sand or great big stones to deal with.  Craig has what we have, so if he can grow an orchard, a veggie garden and have chooks that produce all he needs (and more for swapping) in his average sized backyard then so can we.  Gosh, i think I'm going to have to ask for a commission or start a fan club for beginner gardeners. 


This requires you to study your own space.  Which area of your yard received North, South, East & West sun.   Your fruit trees are going to need 6-8 hours of sun through the warmer months.  Of course different varieties, like a Morello Cherry can take a cooler area than say a stone fruit.   Is there a wall that receives sun (brick) that will hold heat after the sun goes down and provide warmth. 

We are lucky that in our suburb with the right aspect we can grow not only citrus and deciduous trees but also tropical and sub-tropical fruits like avocado, kiwi fruit, champagne fruit (new one for me) even banana.  It all comes down to the aspect of where it is planted. 

How much space do you have available for a full size tree?   If its going to be a tree that grows 4m by 4m, is this space available or will it create shade in other areas like your veggie patch where you don't want it? 

Usually if you do have a lemon tree you go through a glut where you have more than more than you can handle.  Preserving lemons, freezing the juice or making lemon curd (if you are local then this is my favourite, hint hint) are all good ways of dealing with this but did you know that you can graft on a Mandarin, a lime, tangelo or navel orange plant stock onto the lemon tree so there is no glut of one fruit.  This is called a fruit salad tree.  Amazing Huh!  Now who cant fit one of those on their block somewhere?

All this takes a bit of thought before you start and if you are really keen then its not such a bad idea to hire someone qualified to do a design of your place.  Gee i wonder who lives locally that would know how to do that ????? LOL.  Google is a wonderful tool but it doesn't replace years of study or experience. 

Tree Selection

Most of the common ones that we grow in backyards are deciduous trees that are grown to sale height in the mountains and then packaged as a bare rooted plant to be sold in nurseries. 

Look at the bottom of the plant from the roots up to 15cm above the ground level and you will see a turn/bump on the truck which is the point of graft.  This is where the grafted fruit stock of the fruit tree has been added to host wood stock. 

This is where you need to look for a good seal.  No fungus or weeping at this point.  If it does, move onto another tree.   Make sure the grafted top is not larger than the root stock for obvious reasons. 

On a citrus look for little raised bumps that indicate the presence of citrus gall wasp (see below).  It can be cut out but you are better to start out with one that doesn't have it. 

What are you going to do with it.  Does the bare rooted tree that you are looking at have the shape that you want.  EG. If you are going to espalier it, does it have the lateral branches that can be trained along the wire.   It doesn't need to be perfect as you can create some (later) but it does need the basic shape.    If you want the traditional wine glass shape then can you see this from the shape of the bare rooted plant. 

Look for a nice size root ball where roots are cleanly cut at an angle not ripped so that it heals properly. These injuries attract disease and fungi and you are starting off with a bad tree.  

If its not a healthy tree then move onto another as there are lots to choose from and everyone wants something different.   Better still buy from WHO and they will know what to look for.   


Many fruit trees need a cross pollinator.  If you live in an area where there are not many fruit trees (the burbs) then you are going to have to supply your own by either buying two trees or by using the miracle of grafting to graft the pollinator onto the same tree.  Eg.  Granny Smith apple tree pollinates nearly all of the apple varieties.  Look at the label to know which tree is the right pollinator for your variety.  This is why many people don't get alot of fruit from their trees.

Bees are important in the fruit world.  Craig is on a mission to put hives throughout the Wyndham area so that we can get pollination happening.  They travel only 2km from their hive so if you are not in that area you may miss out or have only a few fruit. If you are willing to host a hive on your property, Craig can arrange this for a share of the honey.  Its a fascinating hobby to get into.  Another way if you have both trees is to nail a rabbit's tail (minus the rabbit) onto a stick and rub the stamen of the pollinator to gather the "pollen" and then dust it onto the flowers of the other tree.  (Pretend you are a bee)  I saw this done on an old BBC DVD i recently acquired called Victorian Walled Garden where the old head gardener was demonstrating methods from the bygone eras. 

There are also trees that self pollinate so look at the label. 

Soil & Mulching

Know your soil always.   In our area we have a lot of clay so if you dig a hole and back fill it with soft fluffy compost and potting mix then the clay base will form a pot and the water will collect and rot the roots.  Citrus do not like wet feel.  Always use your own soil and add conditioners and compost to it.   By raising the level of soil just slightly you will ensure good drainage.   Note.  The graft must remain 150mm above the soil.  Do not bury it or it will die. 


The hole should be larger than the root ball and of course you should as stated use the same soil to backfill. 

Inspect the roots of the bare rooted plant and cleanup any that are badly cut with sharp secateurs.    Also prune back the branches to about a third so that all the plants energy goes into the area with the graft and rootstock ensuring it is stable in the ground.    

Remember raise the pot up in the hole and then fill in creating a mound for drainage

Three stakes secured to the plant with tyre tubing ties will keep it straight and stable.  This will also protect the young tree from injury by lawnmowers, pets or accidental bumps.

Keep grass or weeds away from trunk as this will make it susceptible to rotting.  This also includes the mulch.  Leave the trunk clear. 

Do not plant things under citrus within the root line.   They are shallow rooted and surface feed.  However, clever Craig grows potatoes under his but not in the soil, ON the soil in a raised potato ring made of chicken wire.  Yet another example of thinking outside the box and utilising all space.  The nutrients and compost in the potato ring feed the shallow rooted citrus below.  

Mulch around them to keep the soil warm and to retain moisture but not too thick.  Growing pumpkins under a fruit tree (not citrus) not only utilises the space but the leave shade the ground keeping it cool in summer.  

Feeding of fruit trees must be done twice during the year - At beginning of spring, when growth is at its peak, use organic fertilisers like dynamic lifter around the root line.  When a tree's leaves goes brown it is sucking all the nutrients down to the roots for use during the dormant stage in winter. This is another time to give it a good feed when all the fruit is gone. Use a fork and open up the soil to allow the roots to receive the nutrients.  Use Liquid Powerfeed.   Dolomite adds calcium which prevents fruit drop as it strengthens the flowers. 

Water.  Most people can do everything right and still find they don't get alot of fruit.  The reason is not enough water.  If you cant keep on top of it use an irrigation system.   Always do the finger test.  Even after rain it doesn't get down to the roots.     Note that you dont need to water deciduous trees in winter.   They are usually European trees and they are dormant and require no additional care. 

Water in your new plant with a soil conditioner. Worm castings, worm pee, comfrey tea are great soil conditioners but not fertilisers.   Conditioners like Seasol have a wetting agent to stop hydrophobic soil, and strengthens the plants immune system. 

Pruning - Shaping

Pruning is done to maximise fruit production and a healthy tree.  You should be always looking at your tree for damaged branches and suckers that appear below the graft.  Cut these off asap. 

Pruning is done twice a year in late winter and also after fruiting in summer.  Fruit trees can be pruned into many different shapes depending on what you want. 

Fruit like Peaches and Nectarines are pruned to produce one year timbers as this is the wood that produced fruit.   Apples and pears on the other hand need to be pruned to encourage fruit spurs.

By opening up a tree by removing the branches protruding into the centre you maximise light and air flow to the centre of the tree.  This is known as open vase shape and ideal for a open area where the tree will be a feature. 

Espaliering a tree allow it to become a 2 dimensional tree on a frame that takes up less space in the back yard.  There are many shapes that can be created depending on how much time you have to devote to training and pruning.

We finished our course by going outside to put this type of pruning into practise.    We started out with a fairly well branched young apple tree.

The choice of where to prune was not always obvious to us but Craig knows his stuff.  Near the second wire there are buds in ideal locations that will have a small cut made in the cambium, disturbing the trees pipework, and as such it will send nutrients to that area to make these buds grow into lateral branches that can be trained onto the wire.  Pretty clever huh!   Oh, what to use to tie the branches - this is important.  Craig suggested going to a bike shop and getting old bike tyres (free) and cutting into strips.  They last and above all restrain without damaging the branches.  Never ever use a twisty tie as it has wire in it that will wound the branch.  


To understand grafting you have to understand the importance of the cambium.  This is the small thin green layer between the bark and the sapwood that is the pipework where nutrients and water flow from the roots to the leaves.   Any interruption in this and the tree will divert its energy to this spot to heal itself causing growth in a specific area. 

Craig demonstrated several different types of grafts.  His main tools were a budding knife and a grafting knife as he does this process often in his work.  An experienced person could carefully use a pocket knife. 

I'm going to give you a link with details of grafting but ill show some of the magic that Craig performed.  

Do you know how hard it is to get a good photo with hands like this.  They are huge and if there's a fight, I'm on Craig's side.

This was an example of budding where a t shaped cut is made in the bark of the host tree and the bud of another is carefully placed inside and then taped until the union is made.  The tape is removed a few weeks later. 

An example of whip grafting and side grafting.  Once the tape is removed after two weeks, cover the graft wound with a compound to protect it  (kind of a purply wax).  

Always consider the vigour of the plants being grafted together.   If you have one that is slow growing and the other fast, then one will take over the other and it will be off balance.

Birds -  Just when we think we have mother nature under control by pruning beautiful shaped trees and ensuring prolific fruit production, she send in the birds to eat it all.   This is where pruning also comes into play.  If you cant throw a net over it then your tree is too big.  Its easy to net up a fence to protect the precious fruit and with a little help and a few poles you can raise a net over your open tree as well. 

Pests and Diseases

There are some common pests and diseases but also some obscure ones.  It is suggested that if you don't know what it is that you take along an affected leaf or branch to your nurseryman for identification and an appropriate cure.  Be sure to tell them if you are growing organically so that he doesn't give you the wrong fix. 

Craig has a bee hive so he doesn't use anything other than companion planting and natural remedies like garlic spray. 

Curly Leaf  (Nectarines and Peaches) - this is soil born disease for which there is no cure only treatment.  Dispose of leaves, don't compost them.  At leaf fall spray with Bordeaux spray which prevents the fungus from entering the plant and again in midwinter and at bud swell in spring.  Do not spray if buds are opening (too late).  Use an alternate copper spray the next year.  In June mix hydrated lime to the consistency of white paint and paint the first 2 feet of the trunk which should be free of all branches.  This will prevent the fungal spores in the soil splashing up onto the trunk during rain.

Codling Moth (apple worm or maggot) - plant garlic under apple trees.  The newly hatched nymph of the moth doesn't like the smell and will go elsewhere rather than up the trunk of the tree.   Haven't we all bitten into an apple only to find a worm inside.  Yuk

Pear & Cherry slug - a tiny black slug like insect emerges from the soil under the tree can be controlled by dusting leaves when they are visible with ash from a fire.

Citrus Gall Wasps - inject eggs into the stem and feeds on the plant.  They create bumps on the stem that have breathing holes and these need to be cut out.

Phew, i think i made it through.   Its abit disjointed but i think ive given you enough links to go to the experts.  Do consider the grafting day if you are in our area.  It will be a great catch up day with lots to learn, cheap plants and in beautiful surrounds. 

Thanks for visiting Living In The Land of Oz.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Autumn Veggie Patch

Not a lot happening in the veggie patch at the moment.  Ive been busy at work and going to workshops on weekends so I've only managed to throw a few things in the ground.   The next few weeks should see some activity out there. 

Lettuces are doing well

Don't Laugh, i grow this because it looks pretty - i don't know what to do with Chard.

Leeks are looking like leeks now

Pea Babies ready for planting - yes i did grow from seed - miracle.

Basil Lettuce and perpetual spinach - it just keeps going.



This is it, one lemon, my first one - it will be better when it is out of the pot. 

Cumquat's on their way - hopefully

See, not too much there.  Parsnips, broccoli, Brussels sprouts seedlings are also ready and the garlic went in today because it had already sprouted an inch on my window sill. 

More great info on fruit trees (which i need to take note of from the look of that lemon tree) taken from yesterday's course, once i decipher and condense 2 hrs of recording. 

Thanks for visiting Living In The Land of Oz