Monday, September 6, 2010



The Produce Garden, North West Victoria

There’s something about sowing seeds as opposed to planting seedlings that really excites me. Buying a packet of seeds and going home with them holds a certain anticipation and thrill that I think only other gardeners could understand. It might just be a small packet in my pocket but the grandiose visions of bountiful crops soon fill my head and I find that I can’t wait to rip the packet open and get sowing. The first question that may arise is whether to plant them directly into the ground or into seed trays. Both are viable and different people will subscribe to their own way but I’ve always had great results from the trays which I keep inside (usually on the sunny kitchen bench) until the seeds have become seedlings and their strong enough to go off into the garden.


You don’t have to buy seedling trays to sow your seeds, in fact the only thing I ever buy are the seeds. One method which I use is to keep the inner cardboard rolls from paper towels. I cut these into 50-60mm sections and put them upright in an old Tupperware container, half fill them with well broken down compost or fine garden soil, put in my seed, fill to the top with soil, pat down gently and water. The watering part is easy, just fill in the Tupperware dish up to about 15mm with water the cardboard will soak it up and keep the soil and seed moist but not wet, as it is absorbed just re water, you’ll soon see your plants emerge from the top and probably a few roots poking out from the bottom.

Due to the always reliable late frost I keep mine indoors until late spring then I transplant them, cardboard and all, into my garden. Make sure the place you put them indoors is airy, has plenty of sunshine is out of the way of accidentally being knocked onto the floor. At the moment, literally as I’m writing this, I can see zucchini, basil, snow pea and tomato seedlings, happily growing on my bench in the morning sun. Sowing directly into the ground is fine also but as I said, we get a few late spring frosts up here and that can kill off all your hard work in one night. Once the seedlings are a good size and the major frost threats are over I transplant them to the permanent beds.


I usually sow one larger seed i.e. zucchini or 3-5 smaller seeds i.e. capsicum per container and I find that on average 90% of my seeds germinate. Once they break the surface the plant will send out feeder leaves, these are the initial leaves the plant has to get the sun it needs to get the plant growing. Now 9 times out of 10 these will look nothing like the true leaves, radish and carrots are perfect examples, but don’t pick them out under the notion that they’re weeds. Let them grow, they’ll soon die back once the truer form leaves have risen. Then once the seedling is feeling strong to the touch and about 3-5cm tall you can transplant them. If you’ve used the cardboard roll option you can put the whole thing in the ground, the cardboard will just break down. If you’re using trays then you’ll have to be gentle with them, ease them out gently trying to avoid breaking or bruising them and plant them in your prepared bed. Give them a water and don’t worry if they look a bit lackluster for a day or two. They’re just going through a bit of transplant shock, there are liquid feeds to battle this but I don’t bother with seedlings, they’ll soon bounce back.


So the seedlings are in the ground, the battle has just begun. Birds and possums will just love to dig up and eat your new plants, what a smorgasboard. Bird netting is a great option and I often prop mine up with the aid of a few fallen sticks until the plant is a good 15cm tall, by then the main offenders shouldn’t bother them too much and the plant will have a strong and healthy root system to support it. So now you’re probably all keen to feed them and let the growth begin but I say…stop! I observe a simple rule that has kept me in good stead with my vegetable garden, “if it flowers then don’t feed it until it does”. Let me use tomatoes as an example, they are by nature heavy feeders but I don’t give anything but water until they start to produce flower buds. The theory is that the plant wants to produce fruit, it wants to ensure its survival by creating the seeds inside. If it’s only getting water the plant will think to itself “hhmmm, I’m only getting water, I better produce some flowers/fruit so I can survive”. So it does, once it does you can then feed away with liquid foods or organic pellets (which you can leave in a bucket of water overnight to get a liquid food). By then the plant is getting the nutrients it craves and its pattern of thought changes a bit, now it’s thinking “got my food, this might not last so I better produce as much fruit as I can while the goings good”. The result is more flowers and more fruit. The same rule applies for other flowering vegetables like capsicum and eggplants. Non fruiting vegetables like radish, carrots and lettuce on the other hand can be fed from the onset.


I recently lost a whole row of artichokes and rhubarb to marauding cockatoos that shredded them to the ground, I was devastated, but took it in my stride. A friend remarked to me that I shouldn’t worry about it so much (he is a townie after all), true enough but the months of graft and care I’d put into those plants had been destroyed in minutes. It made me think of the journey if I can call it that, which we all put into our vegetable gardens, especially if the crop has been grown from seeds. That one small pack can contain from 15 to 1000 little gems that we take into our care and in return they feed us, our family and friends. So as much as I like seedlings and think they’re great for new gardeners, there’s nothing in my mind that compares to the entire process that sowing seeds bring. The emergence of new life, the growth and the final crop for our tables. For a few dollars we get so much more in return. If you have any questions feel free to contact me at or check out my videos at


Thursday, July 1, 2010

my new asparagus beds

most who know me, know i love a challenge, mainly because i don't have the money to do it the simple way, lol. The latest journey here at produce garden farm is my asparagus beds, or bed really, only about 100 square metres or so with hopefully about the same in asparagus crowns, mary washingtons, 2 yrs old. trouble is the grass and weeds that are still in the newly allocated ground! if i had the cashola i'd simply hire a small bobcat, whip off the grass layer then hire a rotary hoe to turn the area over for crowns. being overdrawn at the bank in pursuit of self sufficiency is unfortunately an issue at the moment so it was always going to be a job done by hand. so far its taken me nearly three days to get halfway through, because the crowns must be planted during winter i'm on a schedule. the miserably wet and drizzly days aren't helping, along with losing a job that was a good source of income, not as much work, boredom, depression etc etc! anyway, so far so good, i'll post a video on youtube soon to demonstrate the progress, i want to stagger it in stages to show what i'm doing and demonstrate that it's easily done to others. after planting, asparagus crops for up to 20 years, is hardy and delicous, all that and it gives you fluoro pee, who could ask for more?
I will write more as it comes to hand but if you really, really want to know as i go, follow me on twitter under "producegarden" or "like" my facebook page for more regular updates!
my body is aching again just thinking about it all, lol!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

my beginnings

It’s 7.48am and there’s traffic banked up for as far as the eye can see, I’m in a shiny, blue hatchback on my way to work, inane breakfast radio is blaring at me, bike riders weave through the cars and it occurs to me, “what am I doing this for, I’m not happy with this anymore”. Time to start doing what I want to do, time to let go of this baton I’ve been running with for years, finally…time to get out of the race.

It was a typical 8 to five, Monday to Friday. Get in, work, go out for a drink, go home, sleep, get up and do it all over affair. I didn’t realise at the time that for the past 6 months I’d been going out into the country every weekend, places like Castlemaine, Daylesford, Hepburn, Trentham and even Kinglake and St Andrews. It was a desire to break away, a wanting of space and peace that got me out there all the time. I wanted to grow fruit, grow vegetables, raise livestock and get back to the earth. My love of clubs, pubs, new suits and ego was waning at an alarming rate and my search for farmers markets and regional produce was waxing. Unavoidably Monday morning came around again and the search for a country property to buy and make my own had begun. There’s no need for me to go into the rigmarole involved with trying to find and buy a house, I’m sure 99% of us know the frustration, disappointment and endless parades of homes that look great on screen but are crap upon viewing first hand. I was lucky, I found a place in spa country (north west Victoria) that grabbed me straight away. Next weekend I’d organised for a friend to come to Daylesford with me for the day and on the way we’d casually drop in to check the little place out.

Next weekend came and we were on our way, I’d grown a bit cold about the house viewing idea and was going to forget it until my friend reminded me ‘wasn’t there a house you wanted to look at?’. Not wanting to look like a tool I agreed that we were going to look at it on the way up. We drove, I looked, I loved and 90 days later it was mine. The dream had begun…sort of.

It isn’t difficult for me to say that I had no idea what I was up for, I didn’t. If you’re not up for more than a few hard yards and even more hard graft then don’t move and stay where you are. It all happened, termites, rabbits, dodgy builders, mice, flies and living, sleeping, eating and cooking in one room for a few months. Three years later I wouldn’t change a thing, what an enormous learning curve. I’ve got fantastic vegetable gardens, heaps of fruit trees, sheep (currently with lambs) and a house I wouldn’t sell for quids. Writing a book on the perils of home buying and renovation would be easy enough but that’s not what I’m trying to do. The produce garden for me is a small piece of your self, creating, sharing and learning from others which is something I think a lot of us have forgotten about. You don’t have to have acres in the country to grow fruit or vegetables, in fact a certain policeman I know lives in a regular suburban block and has a fantastic and very productive vegetable garden. If you put in the time and believe you can, then you can. Homegrown produce is an absolute joy for me. Planting seeds, watching them grow, feeding them, watering them and then ultimately reaping the rewards and transferring them into a wonderful dish that can be shared with family and friends. The bug has certainly bitten me and as far as cooking goes, it’s been there since I was a child.