How To Grow Tomatoes

 

What’s not to love about tomatoes, the red, delicious juicy flavours, that go with just about any meal. Although not the easiest plants to grow, tomatoes are still a firm favourite for the family garden, so if you’re a serious tomato eater, or want to always use the expensive variety, why not grow some of your own.

Choose the right plant

Believe it or not there is a large variety of tomato plants available and some can be quite prone to problems and pests, do your research and make sure that you are choosing the right tomato plant for your location and environment, no point going against nature. You can also sow your own seeds which allows you greater variety of tomatoes and it’s very economical. With so many options, it best to trial a few to see what works in your garden space and its microclimate.

Use the right environment

Tomatoes need around 6 hours of direct sunlight ‘time to photosynthesize’ so make sure you are planting it in an area where it will get the correct amount of sunlight for growth. If you are planting the tomato’s in a garden, make sure they have a good amount of space between each plant grow and allow for supports as tomatoes have a naturally trailing habit. Tomato plants can grow to be quite big, so this is important to keep in mind when allocating space. You can also choose a bushy variety which can be grown in a container and does not require staking. Great option for the balcony gardener.

Feed them well

Like any living thing, tomato’s will require feeding frequently to ensure you get the best growth and fruit from your plant. Tomato plants grow best when planted in already fertilised soil – dig in plenty of well-rotted manure before planting. Make sure you feed your tomato bush every month until they are ready to pick with a balanced organic fertiliser. Watering your tomato plants is also important as they need a good weekly watering in which you can add a seaweed solution to help with fruiting. In the first few days of establishment and on hotter summer days you are allowed to water them generously, so please do. Just keep an eye out that you’re not over watering as this can lead to root rot diseases which is detrimental to these plants.

Check for Pests

Tomatoes are prone to diseases and pests so make sure you check your plants regularly for this. Fruit fly and wet humid weather makes growing tomatoes a little difficult.Keeping your garden bed/pot well weeded, with plenty of organic matter will make sure you plant is thriving, if you do see signs of any bugs you can hand pick them off your plants, this will help reduce more bugs from forming and moving in on your plant. Using an organic spray/insect soap can also help you eliminate those critters. Keeping an eye on your plants regularly and doing this on your watering days will also help you keep on top changes to your plant.

Picking them

Let the tomatoes grow on the vine for as long as you can before harvesting them. The perfectly ripe tomato will be bright red, hard and juicy. It’s really important to not put your freshly grown tomatoes in the fridge as it takes away the rich flavour. Tomatoes need warmth, not light, to ripen, so there’s no need to put them on a sunny windowsill either. Your best to pick them as they ripen and use them accordingly and if you have too much to even know what to do with making homemade tomato sauce is always a great option.

So make the most of the current season and get those tomatoes growing.

 

Citrus For All Seasons

Freshly picked, home-grown citrus isn’t a luxury reserved only for the picturesque gardens in the warm and sunny climate of the Mediterranean. Short on garden space? Growing citrus in containers can deliver you lemons even indoors. All it takes is some simple citrus basics, a little human ingenuity and you’re on your way to growing your very own fruits.

Citrus plants grown in containers do best in porous pots that dry out fairly quickly since the roots do not like to remain wet for long. Make sure you remove your citrus from the plastic containers they come in when purchased as the heat from the summer sun and can cause the roots to burn. 

Envious images of potted citrus can steer you toward big pots, but starting small and steady will win this race. Extra soil around trees complicates moisture control, so work your way up in pot size as trees grow. For small trees, a 30-cm diameter container is perfect for starters. Mature trees need pots double that width and at least 50 cm deep. This gives roots growing room and prevents tippy, top-heavy trees. 

Be sure that whatever container you use has plenty of drainage holes so that water drains away freely. It is prudent to raise any container off the ground on “pot feet” to facilitate drainage and ensure good air circulation.

The soil should be sterilized, gritty, and free-draining. Some of the soil mixes especially formulated for containers work well; if they seem to hold too much moisture, add sand or gravel to the mix. Water carefully, as overwatering is a common mistake, you may feel you’re doing the plant a favour, but this smothering of love may lead to the drowning death of the plant.

Most citrus plants like to partially dry out (the top Five centimeters of soil should feel dry) before receiving more water. These plants are quite greedy and require regular feeding to do well. If you are repotting a plant, incorporate some timed-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time. Also, select a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and apply this approximately every other week.

Standard citrus trees grow too big for indoors, but dwarf varieties are grafted onto special roots that limit their size and speed up fruiting. Growing them in containers keeps them smaller, too. If you’re new to growing citrus, start with dwarf types known to flourish and fruit well indoors. Easy-to-grow favourites, such as Meyer lemon, Key limes, Kumquats and Calamondin oranges, fit the bill.

When bringing pots in from outside before a frost, giving them a nice warm, slightly soapy wash will help to remove dust and any hidden pests, like a good wash should. They will also benefit from daily spritzing with plain water throughout the winter months to help raise the humidity level. When moving citrus from one area to another, do it gradually. Temperature fluctuations will stress the plant and can cause bud and/or fruit drop.

Cuttings: New Plants From Old

Cuttings are an ever-so slightly magical part of gardening. What could be more wondrous than cutting off a small piece of a plant as big as a tree, propping it in some compost and watching a whole new plant develop? There is, of course, no magic, just a simple scientific process, but that never stops it feeling special.

Taking cuttings belongs to a group of techniques known as vegetative propagation, along with division and more advanced techniques such as budding, grafting and micro-propagation. A cutting is genetically identical to its parent plant and this allows a desirable trait to be multiplied again and again.

The most famous example of vegetatively propagated plants is surely the Hass Avocado a cultivar grown from seed. Grown now across the globe, and is essentially just one seedling grown by Rudolph Hass in 1962 which is now grown by grafting, so that any new plants are just copies from the ideal mother tree. Owing to its taste, size, shelf-life, high growing yield and in some areas, year-round harvesting, the Hass cultivar is the most commercially popular avocado worldwide.

While this creates a wonderfully uniform product that tastes the same wherever you go and is easy to pack, what happens if a new avocado disease appears that solely targets the Hass Avocado. Which plants will be different enough to develop some resistance?

Compare the technique of taking cutting with that of raising a new plant from seed. Here, the plant’s DNA is allowed to express itself and genetic variety creeps in, so that a plant raised from seed has every chance of being distinctly different to its parent, also known as plant diversity or seedling variation.

So why does the humble gardener take cuttings? To provide an insurance policy against winter cold killing tender, experimental plants, speed up fruiting,  to regenerate old trees and shrubs that are no longer growing successfully and to multiply desirable plants for free.

Grow Your Own Ginger

Nothing like fresh ginger in you’re morning green juice, herbal tea or turmeric latte. Although ginger can be sometimes ridiculously expensive, its also ridiculously easy to grow if your located within the right climate and yes Ginger is brilliant for containers on a warm balcony. A must try edible plant, thats also looks fantastic!

 

Ginger is a root crop. It doesn’t produce seeds, which is fine because all you need to grow ginger are some fresh rhizomes (literally some organic ginger) with living “eyes” on them. The eyes are growth buds from which the green shoots grow.

What are the steps to planting ginger? 

Just take them and plant them right into the soil if you live in a warm area, or into a big pot if you don’t. Then, wait. It sometimes takes a long time for ginger to send up shoots. The timing depends on the warmth of the soil, so if you plant when conditions are warm, you might see ginger in a few months. The best time to plant ginger in the ground is in late spring, as the soil has just started to heat up.

Ginger does best in semi-shade in warm climates and full sun in cold climates.  Plant rhizomes with buds facing upward in loose, preferably high in organic matter moist soil that drains well, it doesn’t need to be planted deep, just 2-4 inches deep in the ground or potting mix with just enough soil to cover the surface of the ginger.

Once your ginger has been planted, make sure you keep the soil damp, and don’t allow the soil to dry out completely. You will also need to monitor for drainage and adjusting your watering so your newly planted rhizome soil doesn’t become water logged which could result in your rhizome rotting.

Once the green shoots appear and this can take up to 4 months, then it’s a matter or monitoring, watering and occasionally feeding your ginger with an organic fertiliser, your ginger will grow up to 1m tall in which case you can begin to harvest the young roots which will have a mid-flavour or wait until it reaches maturity to get a much more stronger taste.

How does one grow ginger in a pot?

Growing ginger in pots is easy and great if space is a problem, It also doesn’t require direct sunlight and it mostly takes care of itself. It likes moist soil with good drainage, so the rhizome doesn’t rot and prefers semi-shade unless you’re in cold climate in which case it does best in full sun. With just a few pots, growing a year’s worth of ginger is possible.

Can you grow ginger indoors?

Most defiantly, since ginger is a tropical plant it likes the more humid spots indoors like steamy bathrooms or kitchens, just make sure that when indoors it’s receiving as much light as possible and if you can occasionally give it a holiday outdoors, so it receives much more direct sunlight. Ginger grown indoors is much milder and this related to the amount of sunlight is receives.

How long does it take to grow ginger before you can eat it?

It takes anywhere from 3-5 months to see shots appearing from you ginger and this is subject to the warmth of the soil, and an additional 4 months for the rhizomes (ginger root) to start developing. In all your ginger will be planted in spring, grow through summer and early autumn, this is when you will start to see your plant die back just in time for late autumn to early winter harvest.

Can you grow ginger in cold weather? What about hot weather?

Ginger originated in Southeast Asia, and like most tropical plants naturally prefers warmer weather, humidity and rich soil high in organic matter. It can definitely grow in cold weather as long as it not subjected to frost which can damage the rhizome, strong winds or poorly drained soil.If this is the case and your live-in areas that reach 5 degrees during spring to autumn, then your best to grow ginger in pots so they can be moved around to make the most of sunlight availability. 

In climates with frost, ginger is normally planted in early spring so that it can be harvested by May when the foliage starts to die back. Luckily for most of us in Australia our winter is considered mild, allowing for rhizomes to be left in the ground where they stay dormant until spring.

If your climate is hot and dry then your best to plant your ginger in the shade, making sure you keep the soil moist, so the ginger doesn’t dry out.  

How do you harvest ginger and how do you know its ready?

Ginger grown in pots should also be divided or harvested when the pot is full, normally 8–10 months after planting. To harvest, remove the leaf stalks and either tip out the whole contents of the pot or dig them out with your hands.  

If planted in a garden bed or in the ground, it’s a matter of watching, as the temperature cools, the foliage dies back naturally, indicating a good time to harvest. This happens right “on schedule,” for winter, as ginger is mature for harvest about eight months after planting.

 

Get The Gardening Glow

 

With almost 67 per cent of Australians living in our capital cities, we’re one of the most highly urbanised countries in the world. Considering the day-to-day stresses or urban living, traffic, overcrowding and simply not enough time – this means up to 16 million of us could benefit from the physical and mental advantages provided by gardening.

Whether it’s a sprawling veggie patch in the backyard, a flowerbed in a small courtyard, a window box or even a community garden space, almost anyone can achieve a gardening glow. 

Gardening is a great workout, It not only works all those major muscle groups, it burns calories as well. Also, gardening improves the mood almost instantly, so it’s fantastic for the soul.

The Fitness Factor

Forget about working hard in the gym or building up a sweat on the treadmill, gardening is just as good as a workout, if not better. Prolonged light exercise such as gardening can burn more calories than a gym session, despite being much easier to do.

Stress Relief

Gardening can increase life satisfaction, reduce and promote recovery from stress, enhance self-esteem and reduce feelings of depression and fatigue. Ask any gardener and almost all will insist that they feel better after getting their hands dirty in the soil. An activity like gardening gives you something to celebrate and care about. When you’ve tended and grown something it gives you a sense of purpose and pride, which in turn make you feel good about yourself.

Mood Enchasing

Having flowers in and around your home not only looks beautiful, they also have amazing health benefits, such as reducing stress and depression. Flowers increase positive energies and soothe and relax the soul. Plants in the home also increase energy levels and vitality. 

Immunity Boost

We often avoid getting our hands dirty but there are health benefits to be gained from exposure to soil. We need to be 100 per cent hygienic but we don’t need to be 100 per cent dirt or germ-free because our immune system needs something to spar with.

Air Quality

Plants have been shown to absorb and degrade all types of urban air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollutants, thereby reducing air pollution levels. We have a vital need for constant connections with plants for cleaner air, so gardening time is vital. Spending just 15 to 20 minutes each day in the garden can also improve sleep quality because breathing fresh air stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, which is responsible for relaxation.

 

Do You Feel Grounded?

 

Connecting you bare skin to the ground is known as Earthing and Grounding, and any connection you have to the ground with your bare skin counts.

Regularly connecting to the earth’s natural, powerful energy is now known to be healing and vital. With busy lifestyles, jobs, families, errands and chores to do, we find ourselves spending very little time outside and even less time focusing on ourselves.

There are many ways to create a groundling link between yourself and the earth, but my favourite being the healing combination of plants and dirt.

If you’re already gardening, good for you! If you’re not then maybe you will be inspired. There are plenty of sensible ways you can improve your health by connecting to a more natural way of life.

Gardening Benefits:

  • You’ll find that in gardening, you’ll feel calmer, more relaxed and put together.

  • Able to release the electrical charge and free radicals we carry around with us all day just by digging around in the dirt.

  • Looking and being with nature reduces stress and promotes calmness.

  • Interaction with nature, familiar sights, sounds, different textures and smells provide a multi-sesnory experience that heals the mind.

  • Grow your own food and herbs and your likely to make better food choices and eat more fresh produce.

  • Gardening may just be one way to achieve your daily exercise and help keep those hand muscles vigorous and agile.

  • Achieve a healthy dose of vitamin D, there’s no place like the garden in the early morning.

  • Houseplants and indoor gardens help clean the air we breath indoors by removing household toxins found in furniture and building materials.

  • You’ll be able to admire and enjoy the fruits of your labour and beautiful gardens so they can be enjoyed with family and friends.

Everyone can benefit from taking a moment to focus on themselves and their connection with the Earth – and you don’t even have to be outside to do it.

 

Beginners Guide to Hedges

 

Hedges offer many solutions to a garden and home. They are great at providing privacy, colour, design, background, visual barriers, borders, luxuriance and screens.

Used correctly and with the right plants they are fantastic at portraying a sense of space and perspective, and increasing the design potential of your garden, after all the outdoor space is an extension of your home.

HEDGE STYLES

There are multiple styles from neatly clipped to more natural un-kept means.

Formal  Suitable as an alternative for a fence or wall. Meticulous clipping to keep a tight/dense hedge which suppresses flowers and fruit.

Semi-formal – Pruned occasionally but allowing seasonal flowering and fruiting.

Informal – Allowed to grow naturally, clipped infrequently t look tidy. Typically used to provide a screen or privacy.

Pleached  neatly clipped trained large shrubs or small trees by structural training and manipulating branches into a tree like hedge.

PRUNING YOUR HEDGES

  • For formal hedges the tip is to clip little (tip prune) and often and make sure you prune constantly when plants are young for a dense hedge. Plants with smaller leaves are great for the classic formal look. The aim should be to make the hedge dense and then allowing the height and width to increase.

  • Formal hedges require the extra effort and you can set up a string line just above the hedge as a guide. In comparison to a semi-formal hedge which is pruned only to keep its desired shape and size but allowing annual flowering, so best pruned after flowering or/and fruiting if they are ornamental.

  • Hedges should also be trimmed wider at the bottom with slightly slopping sides to allow light onto lower leaves to promote low level leaf growth and density.

  • Pleaching is also a great tall screen option (hedge on stilts), by creating tree like hedge without blocking light from coming into your garden and provides a neat, architectural and formal feature to any garden. This option requires patience and precision.

ESTABLISHING YOUR HEDGE

Preparation before planting will repay you long term and make sure investment in your garden rewards you with amazing hedges.

Make sure all weeds are remove and dig the area over by at least 300mm deep, adding in well-rotted organic matter throughout. Let the area rest two weeks prior to planting so yu can come back through and remove any weeds the pop up. Once plants are in the ground make sure you mulch to help keep the soil moist and prevent weeds.

Regular watering will be required until plants are established. Best time to plant is during autumn in warmer climates or late spring in cooler climates unless your susceptible to frost, then wait until mid-spring.

Smaller plants should be planted 30cm – 50cm apart, with larger growing shrubs and smaller tress ideally planted 1m or more apart.

Make sure you also feed your plants regularly to promote leaf growth and prevent deficiency’s and diseases.

PLANTING SELECTION FOR HEDGES

There are many options for hedges with the following being some of my favourites. The most important and critical feature of a hedge is that it should be hardy and long-lived so you’re not needing to replace plants and gaps in between your hedge do not develop. Your climate and the soil type your working with also needs to be considered in the success of your hedge long term.

Photina x traseri – Red Robina

Mostly evergreen with feature new growth coloured pin to red. Produces small cream flowers with a slight perfume. Great for areas that require tall hedges/screens, can be pruned once a year with more formal hedges requiring pruning 2 – 3 times a year. Each prune produces a new flush of red leaves. Tolerates short drought but prefers fertile well drained soil with reliable moisture. Prefers full sun but can tolerate semi shade.

Rhaphiolepis spp – Indian Hawthorn

Dense leafy evergreen shrub, spring flowers of white to pink clusters. Used as a smaller hedge as it grows 2 – 3m tall. Grows in full sun to semi shade. Can tolerate salt and pollution so great near pools or busy roads. Tolerates short drought, slow growing and only needs to be pruned 2 – 3 times a year to maintain a formal hedge or shape.

Abelia x grandiflora – Glossy Abelia

Evergreen shrub and great if you’re looking for a bun shaped hedge. Flowers are white flushed with pink mostly produced in summer to autumn. Best grown in full sun and prefers fertile well drained soils. Once established they can tolerate periods of drought. Great background plant for a shrub border, low maintenance and reliable with neat foliage.

Buxus microphylla – Japanese Box

Evergreen shrub growing 2 – 3m tall. Bright green foliage maturing to lush mid green in colour. Small perfumed flowers in spring, requires full sun to semi shade. Tolerates frost, pollution and wind. Tolerate short drought and great for formal gardens, hedging and suitable for planter boxes. Will require clipping every 2 months to maintain neat formal hedge.

Viburnam odoratissimum – Sweet Vibrnum

Evergreen with thick trunk, and larger leaves compared to the other plants mentioned above. Foliage is dark green and leathery. Flowers appear in late spring to summer if hedge is not pruned. Requires fertile well drained soil with irrigation. Fast growing and establishes as a hedge quickly but will need regular pruning 3 – 4 times a year to keep the size restricted. The foliage is commonly seen in florists.

Murraya Pariculata – Murraya

Evergreen large shrub with glossy green foliage. Strongly perfumed white flowers produced in spring and late summer. Common hedge seen in Sydney both popular for residential and commercial landscapes. Prefers warm, humid and frost-free climate, Hedges will require bi-monthly pruning in warmer months but will tolerate a hard prune.

 

Growing Garlic At Home

 

There is no requirement at being a seasoned gardener or farmer to grow your very own garlic at home. It’s also very achievable and easy to harvest your own good quality garlic with a little patience due to its long growing time and by just following a few steps and keeping track of the seasons.

Soil Preparation

Garlic is luckily easily grown in almost types of soil with a preferred pH of 6-7, but to grow larger sized garlic bulbs it’s recommended that your soil is fertile and high in organic matter which can also be mixed in to the top layer of soil where you will be planting, also make sure you soil has good drainage or you will end up with rotted garlic.

Getting you Cloves

Sourcing your garlic is at the utmost importance as you don’t want failed garlic after nine months of looking after them, hence why you will need to be patient with garlic. Avoid using garlic heads bought from the supermarket unless you can source certified organic bulbs or some from your local organic farmers market. 

Once you have sourced heads your happy with, then start to break up your garlic head into cloves, as the cloves are what your will be planting. If everything goes well, every planted garlic clove will produce a lovely garlic head, fantastic!

Planting Garlic

Planting garlic is typically done in the autumn after the first frost sets in, so now is the perfect time to start preparing and selecting those garlic heads for planting in the next few weeks.

Just before planting and after you have separated your cloves soak the cloves in water for 10-12 hours, this makes sure you give your cloves the best start, try to also plan out planting area with a clove spaced every 10cm-15cm. 

Ensure you plant the cloves standing upright, so the tip facing upwards, this is where the sprout will shoot. Bury each clove about 6cm-10cm deep and give them a good soaking with a fish emulsion, seaweed fertiliser or homemade worm tea. In colder climates mulching is critical to keep the garlic from freezing and it’s also a great idea to keep those weeds at bay.

On Going Care

The cloves should sprout within a month from planting and the wait begins. Keep the newly planted cloves well hydrated in the warmer autumn months, watering every few days; expect for days with rain. Soils that are sandy may have to be watered more regularly to compensate for the faster water loss.

Feed the garlic with liquid seaweed fertiliser every month, and in midwinter, as the bulbs begin to form, apply a fertiliser high in phosphorous to help them swell and grow into lovely large bulbs.

Harvesting

Garlic is typically harvested in summer, but that can certainly change depending on where you are at in the country and warmer spring conditions. Reduce regular water into allow the bulbs to mature in the ground, checking their progress by digging with your fingers along the stem. The key indicator to know when the garlic is ready to harvest is the colour of the leaves, which will turn yellow and tanned when ready.

To harvest, loosen the soil surrounding the garlic without damaging the garlic heads and gently pull on the foliage. You can always select one as a test and determine by looking at it if the head and inspecting for well-developed cloves.

Once harvested hang your garlic in a cool, dry place. This not only helps the garlic keep for many months but you will also have access to new cloves to be planted once again in autumn.