Spring Green Notes
© Frances Michaels
Attract Insect-Eating Birds To Your Garden
Birds add a lot to our lives with their bright flashes of colour and morning song. It is hard to imagine living
somewhere the smaller, shrub-living birds are not part of the environment, but sadly this is becoming the norm
in many urban areas and large, cleared areas of farmland. Birds need to be considered as essential residents of
any organic garden or farm. The robins, wrens, honeyeaters, pardalotes (pictured), willy wagtails, thornbills,
flycatchers, warblers and tree-creepers are primarily insect eaters and do an enormous amount of pest control,
particularly of aphids
These insect eaters are mainly smaller, shrub-dwelling birds who need protection from their predators, including
cats and hawks. People who allow their cats free range in the garden will often claim they still have birds but
nearly always they only have the larger tree dwelling birds like kookaburras, crows, magpies and currawongs.
Fitting any cats with multiple, small bells, or a mirrored collar, helps to prevent decimation of the wildlife
population, as does restricting their wandering.
To attract birds provide safe nesting sites, free from predators and with privacy. Dense plantings of native shrubs,
in out-of-the-way corners of the garden will provide important nesting sites for smaller birds, and as a bonus, can
be chosen to provide nectar to attract nectar feeding birds such as Honeyeaters.
Including prickly shrubs in the plantings gives added protection from cats. On farms designing a hedgerow of
bird-attractant shrubs between cropping areas will provide a range of benefits. In an urban landscape nesting sites
for birds that require hollow trees are few and far between. It can take 150 years for a tree to develop a hollow
large enough to house owls, parrots, gliders, possums and small insect eating bats. Provision of nesting boxes by
urban residents can meet an urgent need and help to maintain a rich diversity of wildlife.
Small, insectivorous bats
are nocturnal feeders, and play
an important role in the control of night flying insects, including
. Sugar Gliders mainly eat insects,
such as leaf-eating beetles
, they also feed on sap-suckers
that excrete honeydew, such as scale
Water is an essential element in the landscape, whether it is a bird bath or a small pond. Providing a reliable
source of water for birds allows them to nest in the garden. Bird baths should be placed close to a nearby refuge
of densely foliaged shrubs, to allow easy escape from predators.
Information on design for pest balance
Delicious Home-Grown Tomatoes
Growing your own tomatoes and harvesting the sun-warmed fully ripe fruit is one of the rewards of gardening.
Nothing compares with the taste of a home-grown tomato. Choose an heirloom variety such as
with its dark red flesh and great flavour;
or 'Thai Pink Egg'
, a disease resistant, prolific bearer
of tasty, egg-shaped fruit. Tomatoes are self-pollinating, so you can have several varieties growing at once and save
the seed for the next season. Follow the
Successful Seed Raising Guide
provided on our website. When it
is time to transplant, plant the seedlings deeper, first removing the seed leaves and planting up to the 1st set of
true leaves. This deepens the extent of the root area and speeds maturity. Keep the plants growing vigorously and
disease at bay with regular applications of Natrakelp
seaweed fertiliser, Backyard Blooms
Seaweed Plant Starter
If you suspect fruit fly will be a problem, an effective and easy organic solution is to simply cover the fruit with
a PestGuard Bag
. Or you could create a
fruitfly-free zone within your garden by erecting a frame and covering it with a
. Tomatoes don't need insects for pollination
so can be covered with a net or bag as soon as blossoms have formed. Most tomato plants will benefit from staking:
airflow is improved and fruit is kept off the ground. Height can be reduced by tying the tomato bush to a stake
1.5 m high and then allowing additional growth to just flop over or by pruning.
Once you have harvested a bumper crop, preserving either as chutney, sauce or semi-dried will mean you can enjoy
your tomatoes for many months.
Spicy Tomato Chutney
- 2 tablespoons oil (to fry spices)
- 30 - 40 chillies, finely chopped; very mild ones (or 3-6 Birdseye)
- 20 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 250g fresh ginger, finely grated or chopped
- 5kg tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 6 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons turmeric
- 2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
- 4 cups cider or brown vinegar
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 3 - 5 onions, chopped
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 large green apples (optional)
Heat the oil and fry the spices, garlic, ginger and chillies in a large, heavy-based saucepan (not aluminium)
until lightly cooked. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer slowly for hours, until the desired consistency
is reached. The saucepan should not be more than 2/3 full. Apples are optional, they can be added at the same
time as the tomatoes, first peel and finely chop. Stir often. The chutney will start to stick when it is nearly
ready. Heat clean jars, standing upright in a baking tray, in a slow oven, without lids, until very hot. Take
chutney off the stove and bottle and seal jars immediately. Jars with plastic or plastic lined lids are best for
chutney because the vinegar corrodes metal. After sealing, wash down the outside of jars (if sticky) and cool on
a towel or tea towel, on a bench top, out of draughts (cold bench tops e.g. granite can crack jars).
Container growing is ideal for gardeners with limited space but is also an excellent alternative where soil is
poor or hard to work with or where pests or the elements make gardening difficult. Large pots, grow bags and
are all suitable for your container
garden and can house salad greens
and much more. Choose a good-quality potting mix, ensure
adequate drainage and fertilise regularly; a seaweed-based fertiliser such as
Seaweed Plant Starter
is ideal. Plants can be
relocated according to weather conditions and are easily protected from pests with
such as a
. A portable salad or herb garden near
the kitchen door will provide you with the freshest ingredients possible!
Fungal Disease In The Vege Garden
Plants that appear less than healthy and exhibit symptoms such as spots on foliage, fluffy grey fungal growth,
powdery white patches, yellow or orange pustules under leaves or the plant yellowing, stunted or wilting could
be suffering from a fungal disease
are all fungal
diseases that can have devastating effects in your garden. They affect a wide range of vegetables and fruit but
there are strategies you can employ to minimise their occurrence, spread and impact.
Garden Design and Plant Selection
The overall design of your garden plays an important part in creating and maintaining 'garden health'. Make sure
that the soil is well drained and that airflow is good. Selecting the plants most suited to your area, whether
ornamentals, vegetables or fruit trees will reward you with minimal disease problems. If you live in an area with
hot, humid summers then it makes sense to select plants that have developed in these areas; most European
vegetables have an Asian equivalent that is likely to be more disease resistant. So try substituting
for French beans,
New Guinea Bean
(pictured) for silverbeet and so on.
The simplest strategy of all, however, is to always remove a sick looking plant and destroy it. This is putting
the overall health of the garden above that of an individual plant‘s survival.
Keep water off the leaves as much as possible, by watering from below. Fungal spores are often spread by water
droplets. Most fungal spores need to be immersed in water for a number of hours in order to germinate;
for example needs to be constantly
moist for 7 hours to establish. If you have to overhead water, do it early in the day to allow leaves to dry off.
Use long crop rotations of 3 to 5 years. It is important to remember to rotate the plant family, not just the
individual vegetable. Getting the timing right can also reduce disease problems; avoid planting vegetables prone to
just prior to periods of
expected high humidity.
Plant health is as dependent on the soil as our own health is on what we eat. Pay attention to feeding the soil and
its micro-fauna; just as many pests are controlled in an organic garden by predatory insects, so many diseases are
controlled by a diverse and abundant soil life. Increase the organic matter by composting,
and mulching. Mulching acts as a
barrier and helps restrict the spread of fungal spores from the soil onto the plant. Trace elements are critical to
plant health; seaweed is a good way to add these essential nutrients - try
. Avoid high nitrogen fertilisers,
especially in summer when fungal problems are at their height, as soft new growth is very vulnerable to disease.
Golden rule: Stay out of the garden when it is wet.
Fruit Fly - You Can Beat It!
This is definitely the time of year when fruit fly prevention should be on every gardener's mind, especially those
who are hoping to harvest delicious fresh fruit and vegetables. Green Harvest believes only an organic solution
will do, because contaminating your fresh produce with systemic insecticides seems to defeat the whole purpose
of growing your own!
Here are some questions to consider when deciding on a fruit fly control strategy:
- Are you a home gardener with just a few plants or trees to protect?
- Is the fruit up very high, or easy to reach?
- Are you a commercial grower?
- Do you have limited time for managing your plants?
- Is regular weekly spraying an option, or would a 'set and forget' product suit you better?
- Do you also need to protect your fruit from other creatures, such as birds, bats or possums?
Our products to deal with fruit fly can be divided into 3 categories:
An easy 'set and forget' method. By installing
such as covers, bags or sleeves as
soon as the fruit is set, you put in place a simple but effective barrier against the egg-laying female fruit fly.
This will suit gardeners with a home garden to protect with fruit within reach.
Preventing female fruit flies from laying eggs is fundamental to achieve your aim of luscious, ripe, home grown
fruit. Fruit fly products, other than the highly undesirable blanket spraying of a systemic chemical, generally are
effective for either male or female flies, not both. The exception to this is the newly released
, which are effective for
both. The Cera Trap
are both organic fruit
is an organic, complete
fruit fly control system for Queensland and Mediterranean fruit fly. It is a protein based bait, highly attractive
to both male and female fruit flies, containing the biologically produced insecticide spinosad. It is mixed with
water and applied as a spot spray every 7 days. You can apply either to the trunk or foliage of fruit trees; or
onto 2 boards at either end of a growing area 100 m2
. It is particularly useful for large or heavy
bearing fruit trees such as mango and citrus where exclusion products are difficult to use.
More information on organic fruit fly control
Spring Citrus Care
lightly after all danger of frost has passed. Pruning is only
necessary to remove dead-wood and keep the centre of the tree open and branches from crossing. Always remove
shoots or suckers from below the graft as soon as possible, as they steal vigour from the tree and if left too
long, leave large wounds for disease to enter when they are cut. Raising the 'skirt' so that foliage does not
touch the ground will make fertilising and mulching jobs easier. To 'skirt' a tree, remove low shoots so that
the lower edge of the canopy is 60 cm clear of the ground. Citrus trees are very hungry feeders with high
requirements for trace elements
; use either
or regularly spray with a seaweed fertiliser
such as Natrakelp
Seaweed Plant Starter
. A regular application of
will give a potassium boost to optimise
in early spring, a one-year-old tree will need
4 to 8 kg of well-rotted animal manure, a mature tree will need between 20 and 40 kg. Apply fertiliser to moist
ground then mulch well, keeping the mulch and manure well clear of the trunk to avoid collar-rot. Spread fertiliser
as evenly as possible to just past the drip-line of the tree.
Check in August for Citrus Gall Wasp
which causes swellings on the twigs of lemons and grapefruits; prune off and burn immediately.
Citrus Leaf Miner
causes ugly distorted
leaves with silvery trails in the leaf tissue.
is a non-toxic control, spray
when new growth is about 1 cm long, reapply every 2-3 weeks. October and February are crucial times to spray.
Band citrus trees
Trappit horticultural glue
Pre-Coated Sticky Tree Bands
ants and other crawling pests out. Ants
farm and protect
, so keeping ants out of a tree is an effective
way to reduce attacks of these pests, as well as incidence of
growing on the honeydew
Organic Strategies For Nematode Problems
or eelworms affect the growth of a wide
range of plants, including rose, silverbeet, potato, carrot, tomato, lettuce and zucchini. They are tiny creatures
that burrow into the roots of your plants and stimulate the development of galls, or lumps on the roots. The infected
plants are stunted and they wilt rapidly in hot weather. On potatoes they can cause wart-like lesions on the skin.
Nematodes are a particular problem for gardeners with sandy soils and in humid areas. When harvesting infected plants
it is important to remove as much infected root from the soil as possible, as nematode eggs can hatch out of the roots
as they decompose. Do not place the infected roots in a compost heap at it is unlikely to get hot enough to kill the
eggs. Instead if your garden is big enough place the damaged plant material under a native tree or shrub that is
unlikely to be a host plant for the nematode, so that they starve. In a small garden you may need to put the plant
material into the garbage.
There are a range of actions you can take to control the nematodes, some of which may have undesirable consequences.
Digging fresh chicken manure into a hot, dry soil, something normally to be avoided, has been shown to reduce
nematode numbers. Leave the soil undisturbed for at least 3 weeks. Drenching with water, molasses or sugar can also
kill nematodes, but will have a negative impact on the earthworms.
The best organic strategy is biofumigation
- using decomposing plants to produce gases
that kill nematodes. The most effective plants to do this are
. The old gardening adage that
marigolds stop nematodes is unfortunately only partly true - to have a significant effect, the marigolds must be
chopped up and dug through the soil. The same applies to BQ Mulch, a dwarf brassica. Once incorporated into the soil,
the plants release a bio-fumigant gas as they break down.
is also very effective for both nematode and weed control. To do
this successfully lay clear plastic sheets on moist soil during the warmer months. The plastic must be pulled tight
as close to the soil surface as possible with the edges buried. The aim is to keep the heat in. Leave in place for a
minimum of six weeks.
More information on organic nematode control
Salad mixes, mesclun, baby leaf and microgreens are new terms for many gardeners although they have been available
in supermarkets as a packaged salad item for many years. So what are they and are they worth growing in the home
Salad Mixes, 'baby leaf' or 'mesclun' are mixtures of green, leafy vegetables grown in a seedbed and picked by
removing the outside leaves at a 'baby leaf' stage. Salad mixes or 'mesclun' were originally French; the name comes
from the word mescla, which means 'to mix' in the local dialect of Nice. The idea was to make a salad that includes
every taste and texture sensation: bitter, sweet, tangy, crunchy and tender. The original recipe was a combination
of early shoots of rocket, dandelion greens and lettuce. Other ingredients in a mix might include chicories (syn.
radicchio), beetroot greens, asian greens (tatsoi, mizuna), spinach, kale, and mustard greens.
Information on growing salad mix
After a very cold winter, we are looking forward to a productive spring in the garden. In frosty areas like ours,
it will be too cold to put out frost-tender seedlings until mid-September. Keep a garden diary so that you have a
record of the last frost for the year, to help next year's planning, as it can be very disappointing to have
seedlings burnt to a crisp that you have lovingly raised. We like to get an early start with many spring
vegetables, especially tomatoes, by starting them in a warm spot ahead of time. We use
for this and a
heated propagator tray
, but the top of a hot water system
or a sunny spot on a veranda works well. Remember to use a good quality seed-raising mix as it has the necessary
aeration to allow seeds to germinate successfully.
For more information on Successful Seed Raising
A great benefit of raising seeds yourself is you have such an enormous range to choose from compared to bought
For those of you who have to deal with frosted gardens, remember that spraying a seaweed fertiliser such as
will help reduce damage to frost-tender
plants. Even though frost-burnt foliage is unsightly, resist the desire to cut it off until all danger of frost
The best place to store seed is in a sealed container in your fridge. Seed stored in a hot garden shed or garage
that can reach temperatures greater than 40°C in summer will simply die. Seed stored open to the air where it
can take up moisture will lose viability. The book
The Seed Savers' Handbook
explains the botanical basis
and methods of saving seed in the home garden.
Sowing And Planting Guide
- Early spring is a good time to plant perennial food plants such as
galangal and chokos.
Potatoes can be planted into well-mulched beds; only
use certified seed potatoes to avoid introducing damaging viral diseases to your garden.
- Sow seeds or plant seedlings of herbs such as
sage. In temperate areas, sow
thyme; in the subtropics,
Vietnamese balm can be sown now.
- Plant flower seedlings and sow seeds of
marigolds, phlox, salvia,
Queen Anne’s lace, verbena and statice.
In temperate areas, sow seeds of the beneficial insect-attracting
- In subtropical areas, sow vegetable seed or plant seedlings of
eggplant and spring onions; all these
can be planted now. Plant carrots and parsnips from seed only; root vegetables should not be transplanted.
- In temperate to cool zones, early spring is time to put in vegetable seed or seedlings of
radish, spring onions,
beetroot. After all danger
of frost has passed, plant out corn,
tomatoes. Soil temperatures need to be around 20°C to
germinate seeds of warm season vegetables. To check, see if pumpkin seeds are germinating by themselves from
old compost; if so, then the soil is warm enough. Sow larger seeds such as
corn directly in the ground. Remember
that corn is wind-pollinated and needs to be grown in a block, not a row, for pollination to be effective.
Harvest All Year Round
We have all planted a whole punnet of vegetable seedlings only to find that they mature at the same time and then
we have a glut for a few weeks then nothing left to harvest. Succession planting is a strategy to ensure we have
continuous bounty from the garden all year round.
- While garden beds are being prepared for new plantings, look for fast turn-around plants to provide an early
harvest. Start by growing sprouts or
microgreens to quickly produce some
Microgreens are halfway between a
sprout and salad leaf size. They can be grown in
seedling trays and harvested
when there are 4 or more leaves. Try seeds such as
lettuce for a quick harvest. Many types will
regrow and can be cut several times. You might want to download the
Sprouting and Microgreens Leaflet (513KB).
- Next plant long-lived vegetables like
chicory 'Red Dandelion',
broccoli which can all be
harvested over many months. They are planted only once or twice to provide a long harvest over the growing
season. Don't pull out leeks and
spring onions to harvest; cut off above the roots and they will reshoot, saving the time and effort of
continuous planting. Plant asparagus in a dedicated bed and they can
produce for over 20 years.
- Then aim to plant veges that give multiple harvests. The young leaf tips and immature fruit of pumpkins and
choko are edible as are sweet potato leaf tips; paw paws can be eaten green as a steamed vegetable or in
curries and salads.
- Remember to plant lettuce and
leafy greens regularly. Start harvesting the leaves
of salad bowl lettuce,
chicory when very young, instead of
pulling the whole plant. Plant close together and when half grown, start picking to thin out and let the
others grow. Some greens mature in as little as 4 weeks, so plant more every 3 to 4 weeks over the growing
- Plant different varieties of beans or
tomato at the same time to give a longer cropping season.
Dwarf beans will crop heavily and faster than
climbing beans, which will crop slower but
produce over a longer time. Pick daily to encourage flowering. As they start to flower, sow another crop.
Cherry tomatoes will ripen quicker than the larger
tomato types; 2 plantings over the growing season will ensure continuous cropping.
- Grow plants that store well, such as potato,
sweet potato, ginger and
pumpkin. They're slow to mature but only need to be
planted once a year. Potatoes can be planted twice a year
in Qld in autumn and spring.
- Root crops like beetroot
and carrot take about 12 weeks to
mature. To ensure a long harvest period they should be planted out every 4 - 6 weeks.
- Harvest vegetables like zucchini
and squash while still small to encourage continuous
production over the growing season.
- Spring in the tropics and subtropics is the time to think about seasonal succession. Tropical vegetables
planted in spring thrive in the hot and humid conditions over summer. Beans can be replaced with
snake beans or
Surinam Spinaches can be substituted for silverbeet
and leafy greens in a salad or stir fry. Potatoes can be replaced with other starchy tubers such as
angled luffa can be harvested young and used
like zucchini. Try growing ginger,
turmeric, yacon and
rosellas; they require minimal care and
will provide a harvest over the summer and into autumn.
- Grow plants in season that suit your local rainfall and temperature conditions; select the best varieties for
your area. Other varieties may still grow but they may be a lot slower to mature, take up valuable space and
may be more prone to pests and diseases.
July And August
- Now is the time to prune deciduous fruit trees. Ensure that your tools are sterilised by cleaning blades
in a disinfectant such as tea tree oil to control the spread of disease.
- Bananas need management, including regular removal of suckers, to produce
good-sized bunches. Each clump of bananas should be made up of a mature plant, a half-grown plant and one
sucker only. Allowing all the suckers to grow will mean that bunches are either small or non-existent.
Preference in sucker selection should be given to those with spear-shaped rather than round leaves and on the
side of the plant that you wish the clump to move in. Fertilise after the
emergence of the first new suckers and again 8 weeks later. Mulch well. Tidy the plant by removing yellowing,
old leaves and if a bunch has developed, remove the flower bell. The flower bell drips nectar and attracts
possums and bats, it also uses nutrients better saved for the fruit.
Banana bags help fruit ripen and keep the birds away.
- Give leafy crops a regular foliar feed in the morning with
- If your peach or nectarine trees had
peach-leaf curl last year,
they will need to be sprayed with
Lime Sulphur before the buds swell.
Once fruit have formed, thin fruit to one peach per node and bag the fruit with
Fruit Protection Bags or
Mesh Sleeves to protect from
- Make sure fruit fly traps are in
place by late August.
- Establish a water garden by recycling old laundry tubs to grow edibles such as
waterchestnuts and watercress.
- In temperate and sub-tropical zones prepare site for
asparagus crowns which can be planted late winter/early spring.
Asparagus needs good drainage and lots of feeding.
- Test the pH; excessive acidity or alkalinity
will interfere with uptake of nutrients by plants. Remember never to apply lime at the same time as fertilisers
as this leads to a loss of nitrogen, caused by it converting to ammonia and off-gassing. Allow 3 weeks between
liming and fertiliser applications. Never add lime to a compost heap as this also leads to a large loss of
nutrient into the atmosphere.
- A wide range of fertilisers is available, with the word
'organic' being used rather freely. A good choice for the home gardener is
Organic Link plant food. Use up to 200g to the square
metre in the vegetable garden; water in to activate.
- Weed control starts now, keep any bare ground mulched. In orchards, get rid
of all household paper scraps by soaking in water prior to spreading on the ground. Cover with at least 5
sheets of newspaper or flattened cardboard boxes. Cover this with mulch. Young/small weeds are easily killed
with the pine oil-based herbicide
- Fertilise pawpaws (up to 1 kg of pelleted poultry manure per m2).
If your soil is boron deficient, add 5 g to the mix; pawpaws need plenty of boron. Green pawpaws can be eaten
as a vegetable. They make a good substitute for squash in a curry and are delicious made into a salad.
- Plant flowers to attract beneficial insects for biological control, or try
our Good Bug Mix.
- Plant a green manure crop of
cowpea in any unoccupied beds to
improve the soil for mid-summer planting.
- Put least-toxic
Multiguard snail pellets out in
containers close to young seedlings.
- Plant seed or seedlings for Christmas dinner: colourful, open-hearted
lettuces like Brown Romaine,
'Ronde De Nice' squash and
- Train vines regularly. Plant a new
passionfruit, as they only
last a few years before succumbing to Woody Passionfruit Virus.
- Watch for aphids on soft shoots of citrus
and roses, check for beneficial insects such as Hoverflies and Ladybeetle larvae before controlling them. If
some of the aphids look like little brown balloons, they have been parasitised by a micro-wasp. Spray
Natrasoap as a least toxic control
in the absence of predators.
- Prune spring-flowering shrubs when flowering finishes.