Winter Green Notes
© Frances Michaels
Winter is a very different time in the garden depending on your
. In cooler areas it is time for a
clean-up of the orchard, particularly tree pruning and spraying to control diseases on the new spring growth.
Protecting trees and plants from the impact of frost should be a priority early in the season. In the
subtropics and tropics it is the best time of year to be out in the garden; the hot, humid weather is a distant
memory, pest numbers are down and the vege garden is powering.
Growing Food for Poultry
Keeping chooks supplies you with organic free-range eggs and chicken manure but other advantages are less obvious.
Poultry convert the inedible into the edible
, turning kitchen scraps into eggs,
reducing the need to compost. Chooks are also very industrious when it comes to catching insects, particularly fruit
fly and codling moth. Growing food for chooks reduces feed bills and provides your birds with a healthy, varied diet.
The chickens will be happier provided with shade and entertainment and egg quality will be higher.
Chooks need plenty of greens for their health and as anyone who has watched chickens free-ranging will attest, they
love their veges! Growing greens for your flock is a great way to make sure they get what they want, especially when
other foraging options are few. Depending on the space available, there are a few ways to create forage areas. A
chook system with multiple runs will allow you to cycle crops of greens for the chickens, in rotation, by excluding
the birds from areas while green forage crops are growing. If you have a smaller space, a chook tractor or portable
coop can work well. Set aside one or two garden beds for your poultry food plants and move the chook pen onto the bed
once the plants have grown.
What to plant
: broadcast a seed mix such as
, a hardy mix of
all-important greens which includes
. Most seeds in the mix are also
Establishing perennial plants for your poultry is worthwhile.
is an excellent chicken forage for warmer areas, providing high protein seeds, edible leafy greens and shelter.
It is a perennial, nitrogen-fixing, drought tolerant shrub to 2 - 3 m. Other perennial forages include:
(available autumn and spring),
Combine these poultry forages with your orchard by simply placing extra plants for chicken forage in amongst the
fruit trees; the orchard will need to be well established before the chooks are allowed to free range to prevent
damage to young trees. Scattering logs, concrete pavers or rocks across the top of the root zones will help
prevent established plants being damaged by constant scratching.
If you have never tried growing kale, now is your chance. This is a truly hardy vegetable with an extended harvest
Kale is a very frost hardy cool season crop. In cooler areas wait for early spring to sow. In subtropical areas sow
March - July; in tropical areas sow late March - July. Harvest the young, tender, centre leaves. Kale is a 'cut and
come again' vegetable; use as steamed green or as an exciting ingredient in salad mixes.
favourites include drying it as a nutritious 'sprinkle' or as vegetable
'crisps'; substituting it for spinach in yummy spanakopita (spinach pie) or cooked as a traditional Italian winter
Building Healthy Soils
What all areas have in common is that winter is a good time to consider the health of the soil. In cooler areas
green manure crops are used to prepare the soil for spring planting, often providing a mulch crop as well. In the
subtropics and tropics the gardens have been through the deluge, nutrients have washed away and the soil, if it
wasn't well mulched, will have been compacted by the heavy rainfall. Compacted soils lack space and 'space' is where
all the action is in a healthy soil. It is where the plant roots, earthworms, beneficial soil organisms and water
are found. Creating more 'space' is fundamental practice to improve the health of the soil and that of plants.
Simple steps to build soil health:
More information on organic soil improvement.
- Add Biochar, as its porous structure holds moisture
and nutrients and creates habitat for microbiological life. It increases the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of
- Add gypsum (calcium sulphate) at a rate of 500 g/m2 to soils with a high clay content to improve
structure; soils without good structure will suffer higher plant losses from lack of aeration in the soil.
- Use a garden fork to aerate the soil by pushing it in with a levering action, not lifting or turning it
- Check the pH and add lime if needed. Calcium is highly mobile and easily lost during heavy rain.
Information on soil pH.
- Sow a cool season green manure crop to
increase organic matter levels and feed the soil life. An increase in organic matter will improve structure and
reduce loss of nutrients by leaching in the future. It also sustainably replaces the lost nitrogen. Growing a
green manure crop is as easy as spreading seed onto freshly dug and raked ground. The traditional method of
digging-in is not necessary and creates unnecessary work without an increase in fertility. By slashing and
leaving the green manure crop on the surface you create mulch for the following crop and the roots slowly
decompose over time, similar to a slow-release fertiliser.
- Growing your own mulch reduces costs and the risk of weeds being imported into the garden. Consider planting
a few beds with lucerne that can be cut for
several years as a mulch supply. Lush, fast growing plants such as
Queensland Arrowroot Canna edulis and
comfrey provide abundant supplies of mulch in the subtropics. Comfrey has
the added advantage of being extremely deep rooted so that it cycles nutrients lost from the topsoil back to
the surface in its leaves. This deep nutrient mining is essential for the health of soils in heavy rainfall
In cooler areas plant seed or seedlings of
from seed only, root vegetables
should not be transplanted. In warmer frost-free areas
can also be planted.
Browse the organic seed shop
This information mainly applies to northern NSW and Queensland.
- Create your own personal 'carbon sink' by sowing a
green manure; sowing now will build up the
soil for spring planting. In temperate areas sow February-June; in subtropical areas March - June.
- This is a good time to sow clover,
barrel medic as a
'living mulch' or groundcover in your orchard. In temperate areas sow March-May
or August - October; in subtropical areas sow May - July.
- Continue to maintain fruit fly traps
in frost-free areas if you have guava or loquat trees; destroy any spoiled fruit.
- Check the lower trunks of your apple trees for woolly apple aphid; destroy any colonies by painting with
methylated spirits. Remove any corrugated cardboard bands that have been in place to trap
codling moth caterpillars and burn. Check
ladders and fruit boxes and destroy any cocooned caterpillars. Try to keep
poultry under the trees for a few weeks to clean up the area. Check stored apples regularly.
- In warmer areas plant new citrus trees in May / June; always remove any fruit
before planting, or better still select trees without fruit for more vigour. Do not fertilise young trees until
3-4 months after planting.
- Continue to plant dormant fruit trees until August.
- Cut back the autumn abundance of growth and build a compost heap. Now is a good
time to cut back 'mulch' plants such as comfrey or
arrowroot and spread the mulch around fruit trees.
- Test the pH of your soil as excessive acidity or alkalinity will interfere with nutrient uptake by plants.
pH test kits are easy to use and all gardeners
should have one. Remember not 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. Always 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 from the heap into
the atmosphere. Agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) is cheaper to buy than dolomite (a mixture of calcium
carbonate and magnesium carbonate). Many of the acid soils in SE Qld are already too high in magnesium, adding
more is a waste of money and can cause the ratio of calcium to magnesium to be out
of balance. A ratio of 7:1 in favour of calcium is considered ideal. Only add dolomite instead of lime if your
soil actually requires magnesium. Information on soil pH.
- Winter is the time when the old saying 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure' certainly applies.
Give your garden a good cleanup; collect fallen fruit, rake leaves and collect weeds for compost, clean out old
piles of wood or wire (don't forget to wear your gumboots and garden gloves). Reducing over-wintering sites for
pests and diseases in this way will have benefits later.
- Deciduous fruit trees should be pruned.
- Cut the old stems of asparagus down; top-dress with well-rotted manure or
compost and mulch.
- Cut back and transplant deciduous trees and shrubs.
- Spray stone fruit for
peach leaf curl
(lumpy pinkish blisters),
shot hole (gumming of fruit buds),
brown rot and
freckle at early bud swell with
Lime Sulphur. Collect mummified fruit.
- Check under cabbage and broccoli leaves for
the small yellow eggs of
white cabbage butterfly. Rubbing the eggs
off with your fingers works but is only for the Zen-minded. Spray with
Success to protect young seedlings
or cover young vulnerable seedlings with a
- In late winter check citrus trees for any sign of
bronze orange bug, spray with
Pyrethrum. These bugs can squirt an extremely caustic
solution so wear protective gear, especially for the eyes.
- Gall wasps attack
citrus trees and cause swellings in the stems. Prune out any affected wood and
burn, if possible.
- 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 potassium soap spray as
a least toxic control in the absence of predators.
- After rose pruning, spray with
Lime Sulphur to control
two-spotted mite and
- Plant a green manure for soil diseases such
as nematode and
fungal root rot in beds
that have had problems over the summer. A good choice is
BQ Mulch seed mix.
- Control scale by spraying with
horticultural glue to the tree trunk of
- After all danger of frost has passed, prune passionfruit vines of unwanted
growth, mulch and water well. Prune the passion fruit by cutting all laterals (shoots coming from the main stem)
back to two buds.
- Control scale by spraying with
Eco-Oil, band trees with
horticultural glue or sticky barriers to stop
- Top up the mulch around fruit trees.
Fruit Tree Pruning and Maintenance
Traditionally deciduous fruit trees (pear, apple etc) were pruned during winter. Early summer pruning has become
common and has improved benefits for training young trees as it allows for smaller cuts with less stress to the
tree. This is only commonsense, if you allow an undesirable branch to grow all summer, cutting it off in winter
will mean a much greater wound for the tree to heal. Summer pruning can often be done just by 'rubbing off' an
unwanted bud with your fingers. Always avoid pruning on rainy days, as dry weather aids in healing the cuts.
Winter is still a good time to do fruit tree maintenance, such as removing deadwood or crossing branches. Begin
by preparing your tools,
sharpening secateurs and loppers
linseed oil to any wooden handles. The correct tools make the job easier, the basics you need are:
for small, precise cuts,
for removing suckers, especially thorny ones and a
good quality pruning saw
for the bigger branches.
The only really safe ladder for outside work is a 3-legged orchard ladder, with foot pegs that push into the
ground. Safer still is keeping fruit trees pruned low, as the fruit will be within easy reach for foliar feeding
and harvesting and there is less risk of a fall. Remember your aim in pruning in a home garden is different to
that of a commercial grower. It is essential you keep the tree small and manageable, so it can be covered easily
to protect the fruit from birds, bats and possums; and in many areas, from fruit fly.
How To Begin
- Step back from the tree and try to see the main branch structure that you need to develop. It is a good idea
if you are new to pruning to make a habit of regularly stepping back as you work, to see the tree as a whole.
Your aim is primarily thinning the branch structure rather than just shortening every branch.
- Begin by removing all dead or damaged wood, as well as suckers from below the graft. Clear away soil around
the suckers and cut as low as possible to prevent a re-appearance.
- Next remove branches growing towards the centre of the tree. These are generally not fruitful and tend to
harbour pests and disease. Over-crowding also prevents entry to the centre of the tree by insect eating birds.
Always remove branches that are rubbing together. Step back and take another look.
- Aim to prune out narrow-angled branch crotches, as these harbour pests such as borers and can break under
the weight of fruit; a 60° angle where any branch joins the main trunk is best.
- Shorten back last season's growth; my general rule is 'if I can't reach it, I cut it off'. Tall fruit trees
usually just end up feeding the birds. Most fruit trees can be kept under 3 m in height.
- Finish up by removing loose bark with a wire brush; this will help destroy over-wintering two-spotted mite
and codling moth grubs. Check for borer damage, particularly in citrus shoots. The first sign you notice may
be a shoot wilting. Bend the shoot gently, it will bend at the point that the borer is hiding. Cut the shoot
at this point and find the borer and destroy it. A narrow piece of wire is useful for pushing down borer holes
to kill borer. Check the crotches of stone fruits for Fruit Tree Moth Borer larvae hiding in sawdust.
Winter Citrus Care
Take the following steps to keep your trees in top condition:
More information on Organic Citrus Care
- Citrus trees are very hungry feeders with high requirements for trace elements; a regular spray with a
seaweed fertiliser such as Natrakelp or the application of
Shuttle Seven will supply this. Fertilise citrus trees in April
/ May and remember to water well after fertilising. Spread the fertiliser as evenly as possible to just past the
drip-line of the tree. Compost or animal manures can be used starting with about 4 kg for a 1-year-old tree to 20 kg
for a mature 8-year-old tree. Blood and bone contains mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, boost it into a more 'complete'
fertiliser by adding a ¼ cup of sulphate of potash to every kilo of blood and bone.
- Remember to regularly water from flower formation through to fruit set to retain a
- Prune in June or July before the spring bud burst in frost-free areas. In frost-affected areas delay pruning until
after the last frost. Remove dead or damaged branches, branches growing inwards and very low branches to improve air
circulation. After pruning, the lower edge of the canopy should be 60 cm clear of the ground. Always remove shoots
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.
- Gall wasps attack citrus trees and cause
swellings in the stems; prune and burn galls before September.
- If citrus fruit had fruit fly damage the previous year then regular use of the organically certified
fruit fly traps is needed.
Recipes for an Abundant Harvest of Lemons or Limes
Citrus are easily the most commonly grown fruit tree in Australian backyards, probably because they simply can't
be beaten for usefulness and ornamental appearance. Every garden should have at least one citrus tree, for the
fragrance of the blossoms alone. There is a cultivar of citrus for every climate zone; in warmer areas Tahitian
limes are a better choice than lemons if there is only room for one tree. A lime tree would always be my first
choice of a fruit tree to plant.
Lime trees are smaller than other citrus trees, crop over a longer period, are seedless and less thorny than
lemons and the fruit can be used in a similar way. Of the lemons 'Eureka' is a good choice for the home garden,
it is thornless, has few seeds, is ever-bearing and less prone to fruit fly damage than a 'Meyer' or 'Lemonade'.
Once your tree is full size you will have an abundance of fruit to deal with or give away. We preserve our harvest
in a variety of ways, probably our favourite being lime/lemon cordial for refreshing summer drinks and lime/lemon
butter for toast and pancakes. All the following recipes use lemons or limes interchangeably.
Lemon / Lime Cordial
- Have more clean, dry jars and bottles on hand than you think you will need.
- Always use heavy-based, stainless steel saucepans for your preserving.
- Organic white sugar dissolves much faster than raw sugar, with only a tiny difference in nutritional value,
so we generally use white sugar, particularly for preserves like lemon/lime butter.
- Sugar, vinegar or salt are the main traditional preservatives; reducing the quantity within a recipe of any
of them may greatly affect the keeping qualities of the finished product.
- Never fill a pot more than 2/3 full (half full for jam or marmalade) as during the cooking process the fruit
mixture will froth up and can easily boil over, making a big clean-up job.
- Always bottle jam immediately into a hot, oven-heated jar (do not heat the lids!) and screw the lid down
- Label with the name and the date and store in a cool place.
- 2.5 kg sugar
- 2 litres of water
- 3 litres of lemon/lime juice
- 25g citric acid (optional)
- thinly sliced rind (optional)
Wash at least 8 glass cordial or juice bottles. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat until completely
dissolved and the mixture gently simmers. Add the citric acid and stir until it dissolves and add the lemon/lime
juice and rind (if using) and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes and remove from the heat. Bottle immediately
into bottles that have been rinsed with boiling water to sterilise and turned upside down to drain; they do not
need to be dry inside, just hot. Seal filled bottles immediately.
Tangy Lime Marmalade
This is a tart version of marmalade, if you prefer your marmalade quite sweet, increase the sugar to 2kg.
- 1 kg limes
- 1 ½ litres water
- 1 ½ kg sugar
Wash and slice the unpeeled limes thinly, discard any seeds. Soak the limes in a large bowl with the water
overnight. Transfer the mixture to a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer gently, covered for about 1
hour or until the rind is soft. Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar, stir over the heat until the sugar
is dissolved. Do not allow it to boil before the sugar is dissolved or large sugar crystals will form. Once the
sugar is dissolved, bring it to the boil, uncovered, for about 20 minutes. The jam will froth high in the pot,
so make sure the saucepan is not too full to begin with. When the jam stops frothing and settles to a hard boil,
start testing for setting. To do this, chill a saucer in the freezer at the beginning of the cooking time. Place
a spoonful of the hot jam on the cold saucer, put it back into the freezer for a minute, take it out and push
your finger across the top of the jam. If it crinkles then it is set. Immediately remove the jam from the heat
and bottle and seal. Marmalade sets as it cools so just crinkling well is the best guide to setting point. If
you continue to cook it, the pectin responsible for the 'jelly' effect will start to break down and the jam will
become syrupy in texture.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons / Limes
- 20 lemons / limes
- 1 cup of coarse sea salt
- extra lemon / lime juice
This is very easy to make and can be used to add a delicious flavour to many savoury dishes. Wash and dry each
fruit, cut each fruit into quarters, nearly all the way to the base but keep the fruit intact. Pack each fruit
with 1 heaped tablespoon of sea salt. Pack by pushing fruit down hard, until the juice runs, into a large
sterilised jar with a plastic lid. Then cover the fruit with extra juice and sprinkle some extra salt. Make sure
you choose a jar that your hand fits into easily. Seal the jar and leave for at least 6 weeks. The lemons/limes
are ready for use when the skin is tender. Moroccan lemon/limes will keep at least 6 months but should be
refrigerated after opening. To use, remove a fruit from the brine, discard any seeds or pith, finely chop the
One or two pieces of preserved chopped fruit stirred into yogurt makes a great sauce for fish or lamb. Added to
a beef, lamb or chicken casserole it gives a great flavour. Do not add extra salt to a dish without checking for
taste, as the brined fruit adds saltiness.
Great range of food preserving books
Eating Out of Your Garden - Urban Permaculture
Permaculture is a design system for creating sustainable human environments. It differs from landscape design in
that the main aim is functional rather than ornamental. It aims to create gardens that are ecologically sound and
economically viable, which do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term.
Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of
landscapes to produce a life-supporting system, a 'human ecology' for city and country. One of its most basic aims
is growing food.
Guidelines for Eating Out of Your Garden
- The health benefits attached to growing some of your own food include the food being fresher with a higher
vitamin content, and free from chemical residues.
- The environment benefits as you are reducing the energy cost of food transportation.
- You get more for your effort, as edibles use the same watering, fertilising and weeding as many
- Many edible plants are very decorative e.g. Ceylon Hill Cherry.
- Best of all are the taste benefits and the opportunity to try unusual varieties. There are 10,000 edible
plants in the world; the diet of most Australians consists of only 20 basic ones.
Growing food in a permaculture garden uses inputs, wherever possible, from biological sources. This means we use
less fertiliser and instead make compost, grow nitrogen-fixing plants and use deep-rooted nutrient cyclers, such
, to reclaim minerals from deep levels in the soil. Animals such as
chooks and guinea pigs are used for weed and insect control. Native birds and frogs are encouraged by providing
habitat. Plants such as
Good Bug Mix
are grown to feed beneficial insects and
improve biological control.
More information on design for pest balance
The potential for using biological inputs is enormous and is the key to creating a permaculture garden.
Vegetables that are ornamental can be planted in flower beds or shrub borders, saving space in the vege garden.
Perennials are particularly useful e.g.
, Brazilian Spinach,
Hibiscus Spinach syn. Aibika,
New Zealand Spinach
Scarlet Runner Bean
Tahitian Spinach syn. Taro
Vines can be used to create privacy or for shade:
- Grapes need excellent air circulation to reduce mildew problems, good varieties are Pink Iona, Carolina
Black Rose and Marroo Seedless.
- Kiwifruit needs a cooler, wind sheltered, east facing site, 'Dexter' is a good choice, you will need a
male and female plant.
- Passionfruit comes in a range of varieties, a personal favourite is Panama Gold.
- Pitaya (Dragonfruit) is a climbing cactus that has gorgeous flowers and delicious, edible fruit.
- Choko, probably the most under-valued vegetable in Australia; it can be used to quickly give shade over
a pergola, eaten small e.g. egg size, the taste is far better than zucchini.
- Luffa, Serpent Gourd, New Guinea Bean, are annual vines that are easy to grow.
The trees listed below are suitable for SE Queensland and northern NSW but many will do well in other areas.
Here is an article on
Fruit Trees for Small Gardens
Fruit trees and shrubs can be planted in any part of the garden, select plants to be attractive, hardy and
- Barbados Cherry Malpighia glabra
- Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis, can be planted in a pot
- Blueberry Vaccinium spp., particularly tetraploid types such as 'Gulf Coast'
- Citrus Citrus spp., every garden should have a lemon tree, 'Eureka' is a good variety, less prone to
fruit fly damage than 'Meyer' or 'Lemonade'.
Information On Organic Citrus Care.
- Coffee Coffea arabica, very fragrant flowers but a lot of work to achieve a cup of coffee.
- Grumichama Eugenia brasiliensis very attractive tree with fruit similar to a cherry.
- Jaboticaba Myrciaria cauliflora excellent tree for SE Queensland, similar to a large black grape,
no fruit fly or bird problems usually.
- Japanese Raisin Tree
- Malabar Chestnut Pachira aquatica small nut tree to 7m
- Tea Camellia sinensis
- Strawberry Guava Psidium cattleianum, useful shrub to use as a screen
- Mulberry Morus spp. 'Shatoot' is a particularly good mulberry for small gardens as the fruit are
cream coloured and won't stain clothes
A good nursery for buying your fruit trees is Daley's, near Kyogle NSW
Waterplants are easy to grow, ornamental and provide gourmet food e.g.
Climate Change - a Backyard Perspective
It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the problem but at least organic gardeners and farmers have
always been part of the solution. Organic strategies such as composting, worm farms, green manuring and mulching
are designed to keep carbon in the soil where it belongs, rather than in the atmosphere. The Rodale Institute in
the USA says, 'If only 10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so
much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road.'
58% of humus is carbon so as we build a healthy, fertile, biologically active soil we are also storing carbon.
When green waste, lawn clippings, food scraps etc are thrown out with the rubbish and taken to landfill, it
doesn't usually decompose to form compost but instead becomes a rotting mess that gives off methane, a greenhouse
Healthy organic soils offer many benefits to the gardener including increased root development and improved soil
aeration, moisture and nutrient retention. They stay warmer in winter due to the heat given off by the abundant
living organisms found in organic matter. These soils also have a 'disease suppressive' effect. Plant diseases
that may be common in stressed, low humus, conventionally farmed soils are often absent in organic soils. The
amazing array of living organisms that reside in a healthy organic soil are responsible for the 'disease
Soil microbial life includes fungi, bacteria, actinomycetes, predatory nematodes, mites, algae and amoeba. These
mainly reside in the top 10 cm of soil. It is not unusual for a healthy soil, high in organic matter, to contain
up to 2 tonnes live weight of bacteria per hectare. Even a gram of soil (1/5 of a tsp) can contain 1000 million
bacteria, 1 million actinomycetes and 100,000 fungi with hyphae up to 5m long.
This abundant life is responsible for processing any raw organic material into humus and releasing nutrients from
rock minerals. Fungi and micro-algae help the soil particles to clump together which improves the soil structure
and increases the 'space in the soil. Space is where the action is, without the all-important space there is
nowhere for plant roots, soil life, air or water to occupy. Good soil can feel 'spongy' to walk on and contain up
to 50% space. Soil without space is compacted and lifeless. Without the 'glue' produced by the micro-organisms the
soil loses structure and becomes 'dust' able to be lifted by the wind into a dust storm.