Best plants for Brisbane’s weather

strawberry-watercolour

I attended a seminar on vegetable gardens presented by Tim Auld. He encouraged the group to brainstrorm the best plants for each of the seasons in Brisbane.

He explained that the traditional seasonal climates (spring, summer, autumn and winter) are mostly applicable to southern states of Australia. Queensland has a more temperate climate (sub-tropic) and further north have a tropical wet season (Dec – March).

Here’s the list of plants the group came up with:

Plants for the wet season (December to March):

  • ceylon spinach, choko, kang kong, melons, squash,  snake beans, sweet potato, taro and yams

Plants for a Cool temperate summer (April to August):

  • broccoli, carrot, garlic, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, silverbeet, spinach, and tomatoes

Plants for a Mediterranean summer (September to November):

  •  basil, beans, beetroot, capsicum, chilli, corn, melons, silverbeet, and squash

What is a herb spiral?

Herb Spiral Northey St

I have been lucky to come across two herb spirals in the last month. Herbs that need good drainage are planted at the top of the raised garden bed. Plants which need good sunlight are planted on the side that receives the most sunlight and shade loving plants are planted on the other side.

herb-spiral-northey

Northey Street City Farm herb spiral

The first herb spiral was at Northey Street City Farm. It is approximately 1 metre high by 3 metres wide with three different levels for herbs. The top level is well drained and drier, while the bottom level is moister and cool. Different plants are planted on different levels depending on their needs.

Raised spiral gardens offer a range of micro-climates to meet the habitat needs of different plants. Raised spiral gardens are also very space efficient, and conserve water. A herb spiral can add detail to an otherwise flat or boring landscape.

Herb Spiral Qld Plant Expo

Queensland Plant Expo herb spiral

The herb spiral at the Queensland Plant Expo was smaller and probably a better size for most suburban backyards. It had only two levels and the spiral was made with stones to define the different areas. You can see they have used straw mulching to keep the weeds away.

Herbs for a herb spiral

Herbs that prefer moist conditions (plant these near the bottom of the spiral facing the morning sun):

  • Bergamot
  • Borage
  • Coriander
  • Cress
  • French tarragon
  • Ginger
  • Lebanese Cress (in a pot)
  • Lemon balm
  • Mint (in a pot)
  • Mushroom plant
  • Parsley
  • Rocket
  • Vietnamese mint (in a pot)
  • Watercress

Herbs that prefer or handle drier conditions (plant facing the summer sun and on top of the spiral):

  • Garlic chives
  • Lavender
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Rosemary
  • Society garlic
  • Thyme
  • Yarrow

Northey Street City Farm tour

Northey Farm Tours sign

Northey Street City Farm is a permaculture garden in the centre of Brisbane. It is located on 2 hectares of flood-prone area, which is leased from the Brisbane City Council.

buliding

In Zone One is the cafe, kitchen gardens and building. The building has been positioned on poles so that it is at the highest point of a 1 in 100 years flood so that it will not be flooded. The kitchen gardens are for demonstration purposes and are in the shape of keyholes to maximise the output.

There are at least three large meeting places which can be used by visiting groups, but in particular school groups.

Bob gave us an eye-opening demonstration of earth art.

Across the road, there is a regeneration area, which is maintained by the local Bush Care group. There are also groves of native fruit trees in outer zones.

compost

There is a dedicated green waste recycling centre, which includes a large worm farm and compost tunnels. They use the worm liquid to fertilise their plants, rather than as castings. Northey St uses a three bay compost system to rotate the waste matter.

chicken

There are three chicken tractors and these are moved every fortnight.

Also across the road are the productive gardens for the markets and lunches. The new vegetable beds are made up of cardboard, compost and straw. Northey St use the no-dig technique and the beds are raised to make the most of mini-floods. They plant open-pollinated seeds and collect them again for saving.

allotments

Nearby are the allotments which are available for hire. Some people are using nets to keep the bush turkeys away.

orchard

There is also a citrus orchard and this area includes sub-tropical fruit trees. As an investment in the future, there is a grove of hardwood trees which will be harvested in 20 years time.

Northey Street Farm sign

There is a nursery on site called Edible Landscapes Organic Nursery. The organic markets are held in the car park on every Sunday.

Thank you to Northey Street City Farm for the free tour. Tours are held every Tuesday at 9:30pm and highly recommended. 

Plants for honey bees

northey-honey

It is important to encourage bees to our gardens, so that they can help pollinate our fruit and vegetables. The best plants to grow are nectar-producing natives and flowering plants such as basil, borage, catmint, coriander, cornflowers, fennel, garlic chives, heather, hyssop, lavender (heirloom varieties), lemon balm, marigolds, mint, rosemary, scabious and sea holly, thyme.

Jerry Coleby-Williams recommends growing begonias, blue ginger, pigeon peas and salvias to encourage the native Blue Banded bees. He also says:

There’s a lot more I’d recommend, but one crop that is often overlooked is corn – for its pollen.

I’ve planted Eucalyptus tereticornis and Melaleuca leucadendron in my street for honeybees.

I use ‘Honey Flora of Qld’, by S.T. Blake & C. Roff, published by DPI Qld, ISBN 0-7242-2371-1″>0-7242-2371-1 as a standard reference book.

If you aim for a variety of different plants which flower at different times of the year, you’ll have more success with encouraging bees.

Northey Street City Farm honey

The Diggers Club top five heirloom tomatoes

A good tomato is one the fruits early and continues to yield over a long period. Our trials at Diggers prove heirloom tomatoes fruit earlier, have a higher yield and their flavour is preferred to commercial hybrids.

Here are a few of our favourite heirlooms:

tigerella

Tigerella: The best yielding tomato we have ever grown! It produces around 20 kilos of fruit per plant. The flavour is excellent, it fruits early and the ‘tiger stripes’ are very eye catching. One packet of seed could produce around 500kg of fruit!

green-zebra

Green Zebra: A tomato with a built in colour marker that produces yellows stripes indicating ripeness. This modern heirloom has been bred by Tom Wagner and created huge interest when we first introduced it in 1991. It’s an early tomato, and the green colour confuses the pests. One of the most beautiful, and now a classic, heirlooms.

jaune-flamme

Jaune Flamme: This jewel-coloured heirloom from France produces trusses of orange fruit very early in the season. For tomato guru, Amy Goldman, ‘Flamme can do no wrong. Unsurpassed for flavour and appearance.’

black-cherry

Black Cherry: Dark, sweet and juicy fruit makes them look just like cherries. The round and exceptionally sweet fruit is of the highest standard. It shows good disease resistance and is a strong a vigorous plant.

amish-paste

Amish Paste: Heirloom tomato expert David Cavagnaro rates Amish Paste 100 out of 100; the perfect score. Originating in the gardens of Amish communities, this has a rich sweet flavour for salads but is meaty enough for sauces.

Guest post by The Diggers Club

Moving to a new garden – The vegetable plot

Guest post by Dee Young

After 24 years of struggling to grow a variety of plants in an area of impoverished sandy soil, thinly covering bedrock of sandstone, I looked forward to enjoying a better relationship with my new garden. This is situated on an ancient flood plain that has a rich, thick layer of dark, alluvial soil over a heavier clay base.

But, should you think this an easy task, I must disappoint you as, even though the soil is potentially rich, it has been neglected for years and allowed to fall into disrepair structurally and nutritionally and in places the clay sub-soil is evident.

Unlike the sandy soil, however, this can be remedied with good, deep digging to break up and aerate the soil, whilst removing unwanted plants and their root systems.
I began with the abandoned vegetable plot behind the shed.

dee-abandoned-plot

After digging and weeding and before re-planting, I forked in plenty of well decayed cow manure, which helps break up any clay deposits and makes the soil friable.

The presence of many, large, healthy earthworms as I dug indicated an ideal growing pH of 6 – 7.5, therefore, after planting I was sparing with the gypsum (calcium and sulphur). A light application on the surface of the soil adds minerals for the plants and penetrates the clay particles to loosen the soil structure in compacted soils.

Finally, I added a good handful of pelletised complete fertilizer all over the planted area, which will break down over time to release nutrients into the soil.

dee-newly-planted

The lettuce, capsicum, tomato and yellow button squash plants have now been in the ground for 3 weeks and I am delighted with their progress. I picked lettuce leaves for a salad today.

dee-growing-well

So far, so good, I have rediscovered the joy of gardening, which is, essentially, seeing one’s plants thrive.

Written by Dee Young

How to use a worm tower

worm-tower

Since abandoning our worm farm a few years ago (the weather was too hot in Brisbane), we decided to try a worm tower. This one is by Birdies Garden Products. The beauty of this method is the temperature is lower as the soil acts as an insulator.

When you first set up the tower, you may like to add a handful of composting worms and some pre-soaked coconut coir as bedding material.

You use it just like a compost bin but you leave out the big bits. We have a container on our bench top where we place some of our fruit and vegetable scraps and this then gets emptied into the worm farm which has a removable lid. Don’t forget worms do not like onions or citrus so keep these things out and put them in your normal compost bin. You can also add leaves, grass clippings, material from your garden, paper, small pieces of cardboard, and hair.

We’ve had no problems with our worm farm, but if it is starting to smell add a handful of lime to neutralise the food scraps.

The tower itself sits in one of our raised vegetable beds and is slightly higher than the soil and edge of the bed. It’s just less than my hand wide with lots of holes at the bottom to allow the composting worms to move freely between the garden bed and the compost. Worm poo (what is left after the worms have digested the material) is a rich source of nutrients and an excellent fertiliser for your vegetable plants.

After the compost has decomposed enough you can top it up or move it to a new location in the vegetable bed to spread the nutrients around. We would recommend moving the worm tower every six months to a new spot. The benefit of placing it in the bed is that the plants are receiving nutrients right at the root zone.

Worm towers are an easy way to keep a worm farm in a hot or cold location.

Thank you to Birdies Garden Products for providing us with the worm tower.

Do owls keep the possums away?

tawny-owl

We are fortunate enough not to have any possums. When our neighbours had their mango tree, the possums used to eat the mangoes and then the seeds would fall on our garage roof in the middle of the night. Sometimes we hear possums on our roof, but mostly they are just passing through.

My theory for not having any resident possums in our garden is based on a very large eucalyptus tree in the nature strip near us. I think that a bird of prey lives in the tree and these large birds are keeping the possums out of our garden.

Matt has seen an owl in our backyard near the bird bath. We have also seen a couple of tawny frog-mouths on a number of different occasions.

Scott Alexander King describes owls as “nocturnal birds of prey, made up of two distinct groups: the Typical Owls, of which there are about 122 species, and the Barn owls of which there are about 12 individuals species. While there are some anatomical differences between the two families, all Owls have nocturnal vision, silent flight and a carnivorous diet….. She is one of the few creatures that actually waits for the sun to come up before retiring for a well-earned rest. She literally welcomes the sun as it illuminates and warms the horizon each morning.”

At a recent gardening presentation, one of the attendants mentioned that if possums are eating the fruit and vegetables in your backyard garden then you could try putting up a plastic owl to keep them away. She added that if the silhouette didn’t work, then you could try placing a solar powered light behind the owl, which will shine on the owl during the night and it will keep your garden safe.

Hoot. Hoot. Hoot.

Animal Dreaming – by Scott Alexander King

Hardy vegetables for self-sufficiency and survival

squash-flowers

Isabell Shipard recommends growing hardy vegetables for self-sufficiency and survival. Here are the ones that store well:

  • African cucumber – will store for over 12 months
  • Choko
  • Gourds
  • Pie melon
  • Potato
  • Pumpkin – Australian Ironbark, Baby Blue, Jack Be Little, Jack O’Lantern, Jarrahdale, Marina di Chioggia, Musque de Provence, Queensland Blue, Red Kuri
  • Squash – Blue Hubbard, Golden Hubbard, Green Hubbard

When pumpkin vines die down, pick mature fruit with plenty of stem. Make sure they’re well coloured and the stem has cracked. Cure the fruit for 10 days in the sun outdoors, or on a verandah in poor weather, to harden the skin so that they keep.

Store under cover on straw or shredded paper – in a cool, mouse-proof place.

How can I be prepared with Self-Sufficiency and Survival Foods? – by Isabell Shipard