Sunday, September 14, 2014

After winter tilling Garden beds


Tilling and Soil Health

Tilling and working soil increases porosity for root growth and moisture penetration and drainage. It also allows the gardener to work in important soil amendments such as compost, leaf litter or other organic aids. Turning the soil allows oxygen to penetrate the earth for root uptake and to aid aerobic bacteria in their composting work.

The process also helps to smooth garden bed and allows a chance to remove rocks, invasive roots and other debris, making way for tender seedlings. However, tilling wet soil can also compact the medium, making large chunks that dry into virtual cinder blocks. A compacted soilblocks moisture absorption and prevents root penetration. The optimum water content for tillage varies by soil, but ideally it should be at least mostly dry for the best results.

Tilling wet soil squeezes together soil particles and inhibits seed germination and young root growth. At a minimum you will have to till again when the soil dries out. In the worst case scenario, you will have to add organic matter, gritty materials or even
plant a winter cover crop to help break up the pressurized particles.Wet soil tilling with farm or garden equipment further compresses the soil where tires and feet weigh it down. These tracks harden as they dry and form effective barriers to moisture dispersal. Tilling and soil health go hand in hand when they are accomplished on dry soils. This beneficial mechanical process brings in air, water and nutrients to needy roots.

Optimum Water Content for Tillage

For a hard core gardener, waiting until the season starts is similar to the struggle a small child has waiting until Christmas morning. The desire to get going is normal, but you should resist overworking soggy spring soils.

Well amended beds with plenty of organic matter resist compaction when wet much better than clay or loam. The soil should be dry to the touch in the top 6 to 8 inches, with no held moisture in the lower zones of the bed.

The effect of tillage on wet soil is simply not worth the impulse to till soggy garden beds. Better to spend some time perusing those seed catalogs and planning the landscape while you wait for a cessation in rain and some sunny rays to dry out the beds.

Good bugs and bad bugs. Why we have so many bad bugs in Sydney

An important strategy for organic gardeners is to enhance and maximise the natural biological controls already present in a garden ecosystem. Does your garden provide a nectar source for beneficial, pest-controlling insects? Planting particular flowers and herbs known as insectary plants has been proven to improve the natural balance and reduce pest outbreaks.

The Zeal group provide a Good Bug Mix containing colourful re-seeding annual and perennial flowers including red clover, alyssum, cosmos, marigolds, Queen Anne's Lace, buckwheat, lucerne, dill, caraway, coriander and phacelia (when available), gypsophila. It blooms much of the year, providing nectar, pollen and habitat for wild and introduced beneficial insects, such as predatory mites and tiny micro wasps, ladybirds, lacewings, hoverflies, tachnid flies and predatory beetles. These beneficial insects or 'good bugs' are generally small with correspondingly small mouthparts, so they are only able to feed on particular flowers with suitable attributes. By providing a plentiful food supply the 'good bugs' live longer and reproduce more. As well as a good ground cover to keep your weeds down in garden beds.

Sydney has become " tones of Green centric", which is only good forbad bugs. So for the love of God Sydney wake up to color and get good bug friendly in your gardens.


Growing flowers will not only add colour and beauty to your garden, but will have other, more subtle benefits. Flowers are always beautiful but keep in mind that so far, there are few, if any, organic cut flowers being offered and you may unknowingly be introducing chemical contamination to your home. So, always consider growing your own!

Flowers also provide a food source for honey bees. You can find information on growing bee forage here.

Calendula 'Maayan Orange' Organically certified


Calendula officinalis

syn. English Marigold

Calendula 'Maayan Orange'; is a hardy annual flower, to 60 cm high, with bright, glowing blooms of a dark orange hue. It flowers for a long period during winter and spring, particularly if regularly deadheaded. Calendula will tolerate any soil in full sun, although it prefers a moderate to rich loam. It has a long history of use for its medicinal properties and as a yellow dye. The flower petals can be used as a substitute for saffron and may be added to salads. The flowers are also used in skin and cosmetic preparations. Sow late summer and autumn, it takes about 8-10 weeks from sowing to flowering. Suitable for temperate and subtropical areas.


Cornflower 'Blue'



Centaurea cyanus


A hardy, annual flower to 1m high with pretty blue flowers on grey-green foliage. A useful flower for attracting bees and butterflies and as a long-lasting cut flower. A native of Europe, it prefers a well-drained soil in a sunny position, with protection from wind. Suitable for temperate and subtropical areas. Sow seed from March to September.


Cosmos bipinnatus var. cosmicos


'Sea Shells' is a beautiful cosmos, the rolled, tubular petals are unusual and are thought to look like sea shells. It blooms in shades of pink, red and white; a good background plant that grows over a metre tall. Feathery foliage fills plants in from top to bottom creating a bushy look. A native of Mexico, it prefers a sunny position with protection from wind. Also useful in the orchard as a bee forage and nectar source for beneficial insects. Suitable for temperate and subtropical areas.


Larkspur 'Galilee Blue' Organically certified


Consolida ajacis

Larkspurs are tall annuals (1 - 1.5 m) with finely cut feathery foliage and double blue flowers Tall flower spikes are produced in early summer that are excellent for cut flowers or the back of garden beds. Sow seed in autumn, it requires a cool temperature (13°C) to germinate well.


Nigella damascena


'Miss Jekyll Indigo Blue' is a frost-hardy, annual cottage garden plant with rich, indigo blue, starry flowers nestled in fine foliage. It can be used as cut flower and lasts 7 to 10 days in a vase; the seed pods can also be dried. It is upright and fast growing, 40 to 60 cm high with a spread of 20 cm. It is attractive to bees and beneficial insects. The seeds were once stored with clothing and believed to repel insects. It prefers to grow in full sun in a rich, well-drained soil. If seed pods are left to develop, then self-sowing is common the next year. Sow late summer to early autumn in temperate and subtropical areas.


Marigold 'Fiesta' HTagetes patula


'Fiesta' is a French marigold with dark tawny red and lemon bi-coloured flowers that bloom for a long period and will brighten any garden. Use as an edging along garden beds or in pots. Marigold petals are edible and can be used to decorate salads.

Marigolds have long been believed to be a helpful addition to the organic garden. It is now known they have a role in suppressing soil diseases such as Verticillium Wilt and nematodes. This can be achieved by interplanting susceptible crops such as tomatoes with marigolds. It is also useful in nematode control if the plants are chopped up at the end of summer and dug through the soil. Here is information on nematodes. Sow spring and summer, autumn in frost-free areas only. Suitable for temperate, subtropical and tropical areas.



Marigold 'Sparky' H x


Tagetes patula

'Sparky' is a French marigold mix of tawny red and gold bi-coloured flowers that bloom for a long period and will brighten any garden. Use as an edging along garden beds or in pots. Marigold petals are edible and can be used to decorate salads.

Marigolds have long been believed to be a helpful addition to the organic garden. It is now known they have a role in suppressing soil diseases such as Verticillium Wilt and nematodes. This can be achieved by interplanting susceptible crops such as tomatoes with marigolds. It is also useful in nematode control if the plants are chopped up at the end of summer and dug through the soil. Here is information on nematodes. Sow spring and summer, autumn in frost-free areas only. Suitable for temperate, subtropical and tropical areas.


Nasturtium 'Jewel Mixed' Organically certified


Tropaeolum majus

'Jewel Mix' has sweetly scented flowers in yellow, orange, salmon and deep red that bloom for a long period. Leaves are lily-pad shaped and bright green. A wide range of uses include: ornamental in hanging baskets; as a hardy groundcover under fruit trees; as a salad leaf with a tangy, watercress-like flavour; as an edible flower or garnish; as an edible seed used as a ‘caper’ substitute. Sow spring and summer, autumn in frost-free areas only. Suitable for temperate, subtropical and tropical areas.


Nasturtium 'Empress of India'


Tropaeolum majus

A Victorian heirloom flower with vibrant, long spurred, crimson-scarlet flowers that stand out against the dark blue-green foliage. Plants are compact and suitable for containers and hanging baskets. A wide range of other uses includes: as a hardy groundcover under fruit trees; as a salad leaf with a tangy, watercress-like flavour; as an edible flower or garnish; as an edible seed used as a ‘caper’ substitute. Sow spring and summer, autumn in frost-free areas only. Suitable for temperate, subtropical and tropical areas.



Phacelia tanacetifolia


syn. Californian Bluebell

Phacelia is hardy and easy-to-grow with pretty, fragrant, lavender-blue flowers with delicate, fern-like foliage. It has a wide range of uses in the organic garden; as an insectary plant it will improve biological control by attracting hoverflies that control aphids; it smothers weeds and the extensive root system will improve the soil structure; the flowers are excellent bee forage. It is also a good cut flower and has a long vase-life with strong stems. Sow spring in temperate areas; autumn and early winter in subtropical areas. It is unlikely to germinate well in tropical areas.

Queen Anne's Lace Organically certified

Ammi visnaga

Annual cottage garden plant to 1.5m, lacy white flower head; attracts assassin bugs, lacewings, predatory wasps; self-sows; great for orchards and garden edges. Sow spring, autumn (frost tolerant). Suitable for temperate and subtropical areas.


Growing Sunflowers

Helianthus annuus

Sunflowers add joy to a summer garden, attract colourful king parrots and the flower petals are edible and brighten up a salad. The tall plants provide support for climbing beans and are useful as a summer windbreak. Sunflowers are a must for a child's garden, the sheer size of the plants and the way the flowers follow the sun are intriguing for kids. It is a warm season, frost tender annual, usually 2 - 3 m tall. The seeds germinate best at 20 - 25°C; sow spring and summer most areas. The seeds take 10 - 14 days to germinate but are vulnerable to being eaten by birds and rodents. Protect the seed with an upturned pot until the seed has germinated. Sow seed 6 - 10 mm deep in full sun, direct into a garden bed is best. Soil required is fertile, well-drained; with a preferred pH 5.5 - 7.5. Plants do better with consistent moisture. Space rows 60 cm apart with 50 - 60 cm between plants. Protect seedlings from snails, slugs and grasshoppers.

Sunflower 'Evening Sun'

'Evening Sun' has beautiful, large flowers in autumn shades of orange, russet-bronze, mahogany-red and gold with dark centres. The multiple heads provide an extended bloom period. A great variety for cutting; the plants grow 1.8 - 2.4m tall.


Sunflower 'Cosmic Flame'

'Cosmic Flame' is a single head, fast maturing sunflower that makes a great addition to the summer flower garden. The flower head is very striking with rich, deep golden yellow petals with a dark, contrasting centre. The plants grow 1.2m tall. This is an F1 hybrid so is not suitable for seed saving.


Sunflower 'Sunbird' Organically certified

'Sunbird' produces a large, grey-striped sunflower seed which is excellent as human food or poultry forage. Sunbird is both drought tolerant and disease resistant. The plants grow 2 - 2.5m tall.


Sweet Alice

Lobularia maritima

syn. Alyssum

Sweet smelling clusters of tiny flowers, ideal as a groundcover, trials in the USA prove this to be an extremely useful insectary plant; no organic garden should be without it! It is frost and drought tolerant. Sow spring, autumn in warmer areas. Suitable for temperate and subtropical areas.


Sweet Alice Benthamii

Lobularia maritima ssp benthamii

‘Subspecies benthamii’ is a hardier, more vigorous form of alyssum used mainly for its ability to attract beneficial insects to cropping systems. It is sown in the inter-row spaces of vineyards and orchards and as a row between crops in vegetable market gardens. It is easy to grow, drought tolerant, and it will self-sow readily and flower over a long period. Use 1g of seed per 2m2 (2500 seeds/g).

Growing Sweetpeas

Lathyrus odoratus

Sweetpeas are a beautiful annual fragrant flower for the cooler times of the year. It is suitable for temperate and subtropical areas. There are both dwarf and climbing types. Usually the climbing types are less prone to mildew and flower over a longer period. Generally if it is the right time to plant peas then same goes for sweetpeas. Sow seed in early temperate and subtropical areas. The best germination soil temperature is between 4.5 - 21°C. Germination will take 6 - 14 days. Seed should be soaked in water 12 - 24 hours before sowing. Sow direct into garden bed to 2 - 2.5 cm deep. Space seeds 8 cm apart along the row. Lightly mulch seed rows to prevent crusting. Choose a position in full sun, sheltered from wind. Soil should be rich, fertile, well drained, with a pH of 6.5 - 7. Lime if necessary several weeks before sowing. Improve the soil before planting by adding compost. Once in flower remove spent flowers and young pods to prolong flowering. Pick early in the morning as a delightful cut flower.

Sweetpea 'Old Spice' Organically certified

An intensely fragrant heirloom variety, dating back to 1699 from England via Sicily. The flowers are smaller than modern strains but make up for it with a wonderful smell and excellent heat resistance. They bloom with a predominantly purple and crimson bicolour but may include other shades of white, pink, crimson, blue, lavender and cream. It is a climbing variety to 1.5m so a trellis is


Sweetpea 'Mammoth Choice' Organically certified

'Mammoth Choice' is an early-flowering, highly productive, climbing sweetpea. Large, fragrant blooms in shades of lavender, blue, rose pink, salmon pink, white and burgundy are borne on strong stems. A beautiful addition to any flower garden and wonderful as a cut flower. It withstands heat and drought unusually well. It is a climbing variety 1.5 to 1.8m so a trellis is required.


Viola 'Sorbet'

Viola cornuta

Viola 'Sorbet' is an annual, low growing flower to 20 - 22 cm high; it is an early, profuse bloomer with 3.5 cm flowers in shades of blackberry, blueberry, vanilla, lemon and lavender. Violas are a delightful cool season flower for edging or containers. It is suitable for temperate and subtropical areas. Sow late autumn to early spring. Our top pick as an edible flower; decorative, tasty and nutritious. Flowers are high in vitamin C, leaves in vitamin A. Use the flowers and young leaves in salads. Pick flowers as soon as they are fully open to use in the kitchen. The best germination soil temperature is between 17 - 20°C. Germination will take 4 - 7 days. Sow seed 3 mm deep in seedling trays for later transplanting. Transplant 15 - 20 cm apart. It is frost resistant but drought tender. Dead-head regularly to prolong flowering. Days to flowering: 60 - 70. This is an F1 hybrid so is not suitable for seed saving.


Zinnia 'Red Beauty' Organically certified

Zinnia elegans

Zinnias are hardy, summer flowering annuals from America. ‘Red Beauty’ has very large, 11 cm across, brilliant, dark red, dahlia-like blooms on strong stems 50 - 60 cm long. It is an excellent cut flower. Flowers are long lasting both in the garden and vase. Disease resistant plants.


Monday, February 10, 2014

Effective Composting

The Zeal Group

What is composting?  
Composting is nature’s own recycling program. In time, organisms will break down the ingredients listed below into rich, dark crumbly compost - nature’s own nutrient-rich fertiliser.
How does composting work and how long does it take?
Natural composting, or decomposition, occurs all the time in nature. Home composting generally takes two months or more. The more you turn and mix the contents - adding air in the process - the more rapid the composting action will be.
The right conditions include
the right ratio of nitrogen to carbon - equal amounts of ‘greens’ (kitchen scraps) for nitrogen and ‘browns’ (fallen leaves and woody material) for carbon
the right amount of water (feels like a damp sponge)
good drainage (to remove excess moisture)
enough oxygen (turned often)
What can you compost at home?
Vegetable and fruit scraps
Fallen leaves
Grass clippings
Finely chipped branches
Used vegetable cooking oil
Tea leaves, tea bags
Coffee grounds
Vacuum cleaner dust
Egg shells
Sheets of newspaper
Paper bags
Shredded paper
What can’t you compost?
Metal, plastic, glass
Meat and dairy products (attract rodents)
Large branches
Plant bulbs (need specialised treatment)
Droppings of meat-eating animals (e.g. dogs)
Grubs in your compost?
Sometimes in compost bins there are many segmented brown grubs. These are the larvae of the beneficial Soldier Fly. They are not pests, nor will they cause health problems.
Mulches can prevent up to 73% evaporation loss and they are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make the most of water in the garden.
The best mulch is a well-rotted compost which will also improve the soil structure and stimulate the biological life of the soil. Place the mulch away from the trunk to prevent collar rot.
Do not apply mulch more than 75-100 mm in thickness or water may not easily penetrate into the soil.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013



Tibouchinas in bloom are hard to Now, thanks to the expertise, patience and
miss, with their vivid purple flowersmaking a truly spectacular floraldisplay. However, these largeshrubs or small trees aren’t grown
just for their flowers. They are renowned forbeing a tough, easy-care plant with ornamentalleaves and few pest or disease problems.
Tibouchinas hail from the subtropicalsouth-east of Brazil. Some older gardenerswill know them by their old botanical name,Lasiandra, or even as glory bush. The mostcommon species is Tibouchina granulosa, asmall evergreen tree that grows to 10m andis often planted as a street tree. Like mosttibouchinas, it flowers from late summer toearly winter, although in warmer areas thiscan extend to spring. There are also lesscommon species, such as T. mutabilis, whichflower in spring and early summer.
Although some lesser-known tibouchinasare pink and white, most of the varietiestraditionally available to gardeners have hadpurple flowers. This is because they were themost common varieties and, as it is so difficultto propagate tibouchinas by seed, they wereonly propagated by cuttings. Hence, the colourhas remained essentially the same.
Old favourites
There have been a few cultivars developedin the past, which have become firm gardenfavourites. T. lepidota ‘Alstonville’ is one ofthe most loved, growing to about 4m tall andbearing striking iridescent purple flowers.Smaller-growing cultivars, such as ‘Jules’and ‘Jazzie’, grow to no more than 1m tall.
perseverance of innovative Australian plantbreeder Terry Keogh, there are new varietiesavailable in different colours and heights, andwith cold tolerance and extended flowering.This is great news for gardeners everywhere.
Fabulous new varieties
Terry Keogh has worked in the horticulturalindustry for decades. Starting out in a Brisbaneretail nursery, he became frustrated by peopleasking if tibouchinas came in colours otherthan purple. So, when he started his ownwholesale nursery, he embarked on a missionto breed tibouchinas in new colours and sizes,and with more compact growth habits.
The first problem was mastering the releaseof the pollen from the flowers. In its naturalhabitat, the tibouchina is pollinated byhummingbirds, the fast beating of their wingsresonating at just the right frequency torelease the pollen. Terry had to work out a wayto replicate this, and how he did it is a secrethe guards closely. He persisted for nearly twodecades, sometimes thinking he had exhaustedall possibilities before discovering a newavenue to pursue. Eventually, after endlesscrossings of many seed-raised varieties,Terry’s dedication paid off, resulting in one ofAustralia’s greatest plant breeding programs.
Released this spring, the new range oftibouchinas is called Fantasy Flowers (see
box, page 24
box, page 24). The five cultivars all flowerprofusely, peaking in November and continuingthrough the warmer months. They featurelarge blooms in different colours and sizes.



Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bird's Nest Ferns -- Growing Asplenium Nidus Ferns

Bird's nest ferns are actually one of two asplenium species found in cultivation. The other, often called the spleenwort or mother fern (A. bulbiferum) is much harder to grow and looks nothing like its cousin. These ferns are naturally epiphytic, and in their rainforest homes, can be found growing high in the crooks of trees. They grow in a series of erect, spoon-shaped and apple-colored fronds that rise from a central rosette. Healthy plants can have fronds up to three feet, but this is rare in most indoor situations. These are beautiful plants, but will require a bit of babying to reach their fullest potential.

Light: Filtered light to light shade. Don't expose to direct sun, other than very early morning sun.

Water: These are true jungle plants—keep their compost moist and provide the highest humidity possible.

Temperature: They will begin to suffer below about 55ºF for prolonged periods. Best kept between 70ºF and 80ºF, with high humidity. A warming pad will often help dormant plants.

Soil: Loose, rich organic compost.

Fertilizer: During growing season, fertilizer weekly or biweekly with weak liquid fertilizer. Don't put fertilizer pellets in the central cup.


These are not easy to propagate and cannot be divided, as with some other fern species. They are usually raised from spore or tissue culture, meaning propagation is usually beyond the reach of most home growers.


Bird's nest ferns prefer to be slightly underpotted. As naturally epiphytic plants, they are used to growing in a minimum of organic material, and mature plants will elongate above the soil level as the fern grows and sheds lower leaves. The problem, of course, is that large ferns will easily tip over their smaller pots. When repotting every other year, use the next pot size up and refresh the compost.


The basic bird's nest fern is Asplenium nidus. Another Asplenium species (A. bulbiferum) is sometimes available, but this is a much more difficult fern to grow indoors. Some varietals of A. nidus have been developed, usually with crinkled or frilly leaf margins.

Grower's Tips:

Bird's nest ferns are beautiful, and many conservatories and greenhouses boast impressively large specimens. They are a natural with orchids, bromeliads and other rainforest plants. The key to a healthy bird's nest fern is providing enough warmth and moisture. Given these two conditions, the ferns can withstand higher light levels. A shower ledge by a window is a good place for a healthy bird's nest fern.


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Dogwood bush

Growing a red twig dogwood is a great way to add spectacular color to the winter garden. The stems, which are green in spring and summer, turn bright red when the foliage drops off in autumn. The shrub produces creamy-white flowers in spring and berries that ripen from green to white by the end of summer. Both fruits and flowers look good against the dark background of the foliage, but pale in comparison to the brilliant winter display.

Growing a Red Twig Dogwood

Don’t confuse red twig dogwood trees with other dogwood trees. While both the tree and the shrub belong to the Cornus genus, red twig dogwoods never grow to become trees. There are two species of Cornus called red twig dogwoods: Tatarian dogwood (C. alba) and Redosier dogwood (C. sericea). The two species are very similar.


Red twig dogwood is one of those plants where more is better. They look fantastic when planted in groups or as an informal hedge. When planting red twig dogwoods, give them plenty of room. They grow up to 8 feet tall with an 8 foot spread. Overcrowding encourages diseases and causes less attractive, thin stems.

Red Twig Dogwood Care

Red twig dogwood care is minimal except for pruning. Annual pruning is essential to keep the brilliant colors of the twigs. The primary goal of pruning red twig dogwoods is to remove the old stems that no longer show good winter color.

Remove about a third of the stems at ground level every year. Cut out old, weak stems as well as well as those that are damaged, discolored, or growing poorly. This method of pruning keeps the color bright and the shrub vigorous. After thinning you can shorten the stems to control the height if you’d like. Cut back the entire shrub to 9 inches above the ground if it becomes overgrown or out of control. This is a good way to quickly renew the plant, but it leaves a bare spot in the landscape until it regrows.

Water weekly in the absence of rain for the first couple of months after planting red twig dogwoods, and cut back on the water once the shrub is established. Mature shrubs only need watering during dry spells.

Feed the plant once a year with a layer of compost or a sprinkling of slow-released fertilizer over the root zone.