Garden Monthly. Winter 2015

Winter is a great time to check the vegetable garden’s infrastructure before being overwhelmed by the tasks of Spring. Five years ago when we moved into this property, we installed a tall fence around the perimeter of the garden. The base of the fence was then boarded, allowing mowing and brushcutting up to the edge, but the fencing wire was not buried. We should have known that the rabbits would keep finding weak points and enter by digging under the boards. Task number one is to rectify this problem. Time to call a working bee.

Borage Blue - Spring is around teh corner.
Borage Blue Flowers make a colourful addition to a salad.

Last summer we installed hoops over half the garden beds, enabling us to attach shade cloth over the summer crops during the hot summer months. The hoops are made from ‘found’ reo ( metal reinforcing rods) which are cut into 1½ metre lengths then inserted into flexible poly piping. More hoops are required this season, to cover the remaining beds with stretchy cheap bird netting as a deterrent to the winter vandals, namely the cockatoos. These large birds love a winter raid. The guard cocky sits in the tallest tree, alerting his friends of our imminent arrival, though all our loud shooing and yelling has little effect. Down they swoop in large gangs, bombing any plant that they consider too tall, ugly or in the way. Last week the slow-growing broccoli plants became winter’s first victims. Some were sliced in half, others were pulled out of the ground. Just for fun! The 300 garlic plants are getting some height and look like the next target.

Keeping accurate rainfall records is an ingrained habit: we have records from this area dating back to the 8os. Winter rain tallies are important for many reasons. Melbourne can often be cold and dry in June and July, so watering becomes essential. This July we have received 104 mm, with a cumulative total of 491 mm for the year, comparing favourably with the figures from the July aggregate totals from recent years. (July’14- 340 mm, July ’13-300, July’12- 457, July ’11-537, July’10- 483). Let’s hope that the rain keeps up in Spring.

Winter herbs- dill and coriander.
Winter herbs- dill and coriander. Dill and walnut pesto is a new winter favourite.

Our vegetable garden relies on dam water. The house is supplied by rainwater collected in tanks and is reserved for home use, topping up the swimming pool and emergencies, such as bushfire. We extended the dam, making it deeper and wider, soon after we arrived in our new abode. It filled quickly during a Spring downpour: we watched in awe as it went from empty to full in one afternoon, like a giant cappuccino in the making. During the dry months, water is pumped from the dam up to a 5000 litre holding tank on the ridge. The water is then gravity fed down to the garden, via underground pipes, as the vegetable garden is sited well below the tanks. Sometimes the lines get blocked or are slowed down and need the filters changed. This is another winter task.

Our beautiful Dexter cows, Delilah (the bitch) Sad Aunty Derry, Skinny Duffy and the boys, Dougie and Oh Danny Boy (the rogue), give us a bountiful supply of manure as do the chooks. The manure is layered into large bins, along with dry leaves (carbon), and green matter (kitchen waste and green clippings): the resulting ‘lasagne’ puffs away for three months until ready for use with each new season. We have around five bins in various stages of maturation. Well made compost is the answer to successful organic growing, along with adequate water, mulching, and siting the garden away from shade or large rooted trees. East and north sun are key factors, along with protection from the South West, the main source of our destructive winds.

Dear Auntie Derry.
Dear Auntie Derry knows more than you think. She recognises Andrew from the road. ‘Here he comes, let’s chase his car up the driveway”.

Winter lettuces come in all colours and flavours. They are picked every few days, washed then spun and bagged. Unlike the supermarket packets of uniform ‘baby’ leaves, gassed and given a mandatory wash in bleach, home-grown lettuces are delightfully irregular, and often come with stems attached. The current mix includes Cos, butterhead, red oakleaf, red butterhead, rocket and baby radicchio.

Winter salad bowl
Winter salad bowl
Radicchio grows everywhere, even along the brick paths.
Self sown radicchio grows everywhere, even along the brick paths.
Perrenial Cacolo Nero ( kale) = good winter standby.
Perennial Cavolo Nero ( kale), good winter standby.

Looking for more garden inspiration? Check out this month’s vegetable garden posts on Lizzie’s Garden Share Collective from Monday, August 3.

31 thoughts on “Garden Monthly. Winter 2015”

  1. I have a small vegetable garden at my mother’s house that I tend and this year’s very wet autumn (in Sydney) has taken its toll. The mandarins were dropping off before ripening, slugs were rampant and my radicchio has stalled. I grow a special kind of racicchio called ‘zuccerhina di Trieste’. Do you know it? It’s not available at markets as it’s too delicate but we have been eating it forever. Here’s my blog post about it: http://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/the-secret-radicchio-society/

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    1. Yes, I know that radicchio. Last autumn, I left the radicchio go to seed after the beautiful blue flowers had done their job attracting bees to the garden. And now I have them everywhere. I am quite pleased about that as I love radicchio.
      The mandarins will return- they are hardy.

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      1. Delighted there’s another person in Aust. that knows that particular radicchio (pardon my mis-spelling above). In Trieste (where it’s originally grown) they sell it from street stalls in the city centre. Lovely! Hoping the mandarins will come back next year. I still managed to make some marmalade, but half the quantity I usually make. cheers

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  2. Lovely photos and very pleased to see and read about your garden. I need radicchio for a recipe but none to be found here, except in those bags of mixed salad. I imagine I could only grow it in early spring and late autumn in Alice. Lettuces tend not to like the heat. I’m only dreaming, we have no space anyway!! At least I can grow herbs! Thanks Francesca.

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    1. Ours also prefer the winter. In summer I let it bolt as the striking flowers attract bees, helping to pollinate the tomatoes. This is why I now have so many- they flowered in summer through to autumn, creating this bounty.
      Herbs, don’t we love them! Life would be so boring without their magic.

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  3. A delightful post — thank you! I am surprised that we have had that much rain in Melbourne. My impression is of a fairly dry July. You obviously live a little way out, so that may make a difference too. Beautiful photo of Auntie Derry!

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    1. Thanks Anne. The winter total was bumped up by a wet weekend a few weeks ago when the tally for one day was around 45mm. We live in St Andrews, not known for being wet, but does have a slightly higher annual rainfall than Melbourne.

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  4. Cockies can be such pests and not just for raiding the veg garden. They attacked the timber boards of our neighbours house on the coast a few years ago, made enormous inroads. Not sure how they solved it in the end. You never see borage sold anywhere, i believe it’s good in compost

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    1. I haven’t used borage in compost deliberately, although some plants get thrown in when it takes over. They say that yarrow is good in compost helping to activate it, but I haven’t any growing since moving here. Comfrey is also supposed to be useful. I grow borage flowers mainly for the blue colour which attracts bees.
      Nasty cockies- I have heard of them attacking wooden boards in that way.

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    1. Not so organised at present Debi. We have been away off and on since April and soon will head off to Thailand for three weeks. These listed jobs are a reminder to me and to Mr T to get out of the house and get the jobs done before nicking off again.

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  5. From your description I can just imagine the scenario with the cockatoos. I know they create havoc, but for a second there I couldn’t help but think how plain our merlots and sparrows look compared to your striking winged pests!

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  6. All I wanted while we lived on the farm was a dam to collect water so we could use it on the garden. Water is so important and looking at your garden it is very green. You have just reminded me to get some radicchio in too.

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    1. The garden is green now Lizzie but it turns awfully fry in summer, when we need the dam and pump up every third day.
      I notice you have moved from the farm. Your backyard looks just as productive as before and I am sure you have water ‘on tap’ there. I get envious of people who have town water.

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