Pitter Potter

Posted on: November 3, 2008

Ah, four day weekends! I have taken Monday off, and with Tuesday being Melbourne Cup Day here, it’s just like a mini vacation and I’m loving it.

On Saturday I had a full day – doing 2 free workshops at Braybrook Community Garden. I had no idea there was such a fantastic community garden just up the road from us, it’s so much bigger than the Maidstone one that’s even closer to us too. They have several of these U shaped raised beds, I guess they are kind of like keyhole beds where you can walk in the middle. Plus a wood fire oven and BBQ.

I’m such a nerd, I love a free workshop. First up was Learn Container Gardening – all about growing edibles on your balcony or small courtyard. I’ve been dabbling in this for a while but there’s always something new you can learn. So I’m going to share some of the random new bits of information I learnt that I didn’t know before. Hopefully some of it might be new to you too. Emphasis on the RANDOM here:

  • LIMES – If you’re looking to grow a lime tree in a pot, Tahitian Lime could be just the thing. Sounds very prolific in fruit. Scott our teacher said he gets about 60-80 limes per year. Imagine how many gin and tonics that would be over the summer! The Kaffir Limes are really best for their leaves but I don’t think I would use them enough to justify growing. The fruit are very perfumed, perhaps to perfumed for some people’s taste. On another note, when you buy a lime tree don’t go buying the one with fruits on it already. The nurseries force them to fruit so people buy them and you need to cut them off as soon as you get home. I am guessing they get them to fruit in the same way Peter Cundall talks about treating his tomatoes mean to make them prolific – he basically makes them think they are dying by giving them only the tiniest bit of water, and a little pinch of potash, and def no fertiliser until they start producing flowers (think they are doing to die and therefore much make some fruit so they can reproduce!) and then you won’t have a plant that puts all its energy into growing leaves. Once if starts flowering though, you can start fertilising them and watering as usual,
  • POT DRIPPAGE – We know not to let your pots sit in water – your plants won’t like it. But do collect the drippage in trays or getting it to run to a certain point because all that liquid contains nutrients!
  • POTTING MIX – remember it’s the RED ticks you’re looking for. The ones with the BLACK ticks will need extra nutrients added. (I always get them mixed up!)
  • SEAWEED EMULSION – is the same as Seasol. I knew it is great for transplanting seedlings and plants and helps prevent root transplant shock but I didn’t realise it’s not a fertiliser – it’s a soil conditioner. There is something in the property of seaweed as well that assists with water retention too, which leads me to my next point
  • WATER CRYSTALS – aren’t great for your soil. BUT a much cheaper and more natural alternative is Agar jelly. You know – the stuff you can get at Asian supermarkets. It holds water, is natural, cheap and apparently a seaweed extract.
  • DYNAMIC LIFTER – I’ve long heard the name but didn’t really know what’s in it – it’s seaweed, fish and pelletised chook poo – all organic. You can use this to make a liquid feed. Actually it sounds like you can use anything that’s organic to make a liquid feed. If you don’t know how:
  • COMPOST TEA/ LIQUID FEED – get a hessian bag (though can someone tell me, where does one get a hessian bag these days? I never see them. It’s not like people go around buying great big hessian bags of potatoes anymore), or Scott suggested an orange bag (though I kind of think maybe the holes will be too big) or shade cloth to make a giant tea bag – you can put compost, worm castings, even fresh green weeds in it. Tie it up and soak it in a great big bucket of water. It’s gonna stink for a couple of weeks but it will go away eventually. And then in a few weeks time you can use it as a liquid feed – just dilute it down to the colour of weak tea and your plants will love it! Sounds like a great way of dealing with weeds because it will break down those weed seeds and after you’ve made your tea you can just put the mush into the compost.
  • BUCKETS – if you’re looking for a big bucket with a lid you can get FOOD GRADE buckets with close fitting lids at Bunnings or apparently bakeries have them too so might be asking there! They might not have the lids though.
  • HARVEST FROM A BOX – my biggest eye opener for the day was how many plants you can fit into a styrofoam box. Incredible! We put a thin layer of newspaper on the bottom to stop the dry soil from falling out straight away. Then a mixture of compost and potting mix. And planted straight in. According to Jackie French, you can fit all of this into one box! Scott showed us how. My mind was blown:
    – 6 x lettuce, 1 cucumber (in a corner to sprawl out over), 3 x silverbeet OR
    – 2 silverbeet, 1 x tomato, 1 x zucchini (in a corner to sprawl over edge) OR
    – 6 x parsley, 1 x capsicum, 1 x cut and come again lettuce, 1 x cucumber (trailing out of box)
    The box pictured at the top of this post has a tomato in one back corner, a cucumber in the other with basil in inbetween, a row of lettuce in the front, and a row of bush beans and a row of beetroot in the middle. Basically, Scott said ignore what the plant tags tell you should be the distance between them and just go ahead and cram them in. The key is to keep the box well watered and fed – and this means a liquid feed at least once a week and it will practically be like growing them hydroponically!
    Isn’t that just amazing! Even if you have a tiny balcony, as long as you have sunlight you could grow so much!
  • SUNLIGHT – yes, we know edibles need sunlight but much little can you get away with? Ideally you want 6 or more but 4 hours you can maybe scrape by with. If the sun is too strong in summer, and you need to provide some shade with a shade cloth – go for 50% shade cloth if you can find it so your plants will get enough UV. Otherwise, I reckon a second hand lace curtain would do the same trick!
  • BLUEBERRIES – like acidic soil so you can use Azalia potting mix. Or just add SULPHUR POWDER that you get from the gardening section. Blueberries are good in a big permanent pot. They also need to cross pollinate so if you grow them try to get a few different varieties, for a better crop. Same goes for anything that needs to cross pollinate.
  • PINEBARK – cheap pinebark is quite acidic too but if you will need to add nutrients, but good for blueberries and strawberries too.
  • PH LEVEL KITS – the powder kits are better than the thermometre type ones
  • SEEDLINGS – a good way to pull them apart, minimising root damage is to gently swish them around in some water as they come apart easier that way. I think if you swished them around in water with some seaweed emulsion would be even better!
  • TOMATOES – plant those seedlings DEEP. At the bottom they have all these little hairs and they become roots so put them below the soil line. Also, tomatoes use WARMTH to ripen, not direct sun.
  • CUCUMBERS – there are bush varieties as well as climbing ones. Pick them young and you will not only get more fruit but your cucumbers will have less seeds in them.
  • LETTUCE – can also be used in stir fries as well as salads – a lot of Asian countries prepare them this way
  • BASIL – don’t put in the ground til November otherwise it’s not warm enough for them yet. There’s such a thing as LEMON BASIL. Boy would I love to find that. Pick out the centres when picking them, leaving two side leaves and this will make it get bushier and bushier as you pick it instead of more sparse. Pick out the flower heads constantly.
  • ALYSSUM – is a great, beautiful smelling flower you can put in your beds to help attract pollinators. I knew about marigolds and nastursiums but not Alyssum!
  • SEMPOSAI seeds – if you can find them, are a very fast growing hybrid Asian green. It’s a cut and come again variety you can use in stir fries.
  • EUREKA LEMON – sounds like the lemon to get if you want at least around 10 lemons at any time all year round. Some varieties of lemon are very prolific but only once or twice a year.
  • PARSLEY – is great for hayfever! I had no idea. As apparently is garlic and horse radish.
  • CUCUMBER – always grow in a corner so it can sprawl out of the pot or garden bed
  • CHILLIES – the more your feed and water them the milder in flavour they are. So if you want them hot, treat them mean! Jalapenos can last 10 years.
  • LOVAGE – is a great alternative to celery. They have a bulb flower like dahlias and are a perennial. Their leaves have a celery like flavour – with a warm spice to them. It dries well and is great in soups. I’m going to try and get some from CERES. There is also Chinese Celery.
  • SILVERBEET – recommended ‘Perpetual Seed’ – easily propogated from seed. Soak overnight in water before planting. Treat it like 2 different plants when it comes to cooking – the leaves and the stem. The French cook the stem by steaming it and serving with a white sauce over it. You can use silverbeet leaves as a substitute to make like a cheat’s Spanicopita.
  • RADISH – sprinkle seed in your boxes/ beds early as its VERY fast growing – especially ‘French Breakfast’. As well as eating the root which is the radish, the greens are great in a stir fry when young. But if you leave a couple in the ground and let them go to seed they have these little pods – there were heaps in the garden on Saturday and you can eat them – they have a peppery taste like radish and are great to nibble on with a beer!
  • BEETROOT – also soak in warm water or seaweed solution over night to soften the outer seed shell before planting out. The leaves are edible too and are the same plant as Silverbeet. A great way to eat beetroot is to slow roast them in the oven, wrapped in foil. When they are tender open the foil packets over the sink and the skin can be slid off like when you cook tomatoes whole and this way it keeps all the nutrients inside.
  • CARROTS – in pots go for baby carrots or the round ones. Grow direct from seed – the ones in punnets will bolt
  • EARWHIGS – if you need to get rid of them in your garden put a pot with some scrunched or shredded paper in it and leave overnight. In the morning shake out the paper in water.
  • NETTING – if you need to stop the birds coming try using black netting to protect your patch – you can barely see it from far away too
  • CATS – if you needs to stop your cats getting in your patch stick some skewers in it – that’ll keep them out. Seems a bit mean though – yowch
  • RECYCLED TYRES – here’s an innovative reuse of a tyre I saw at the gardens. It’s been turned inside out and cut into a shaped pot.


3 Responses to "Pitter Potter"

Hey there! What a great list of tips – I’ve been gardening for years and I still learned some bits and pieces.

Hessian bags – try buying rice in bulk from an Asian grocer. Some come in calico bags, others in hessian. Even has handles for your tea bag!

Oh, that was so useful! We have lemon basil – don’t actually use it much. But I must go pick the flowers off it now I know!

Even though we have a garden, planting in a container is tempting because it’s easier to keep it fed and watered, and can be moved to the best parts of the garden for light. Also our soil is sand, so things aren’t too keen on growing in it.

Sounds like you had a ball, and learnt so many new things. Thanks for all the great tips, I will have to use some of them.

Now I know why I can’t grow Basil in early spring. I will have to sow some now.


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