The Garden, oh the Garden – Part 3b: Eating Organically

Over the last few months, my vegetables have been like my children. They are my babies. Sometimes they bring me joy and sometimes frustrate me. I go out every day and check on them. How are they doing? do they have enough water? do they need more fertiliser? more garlic chili spray? I haven’t named them yet, but have been close! I doubt I am unique in this regard.

A few weeks ago some friends came over for ‘high tea’ at my place and where once these girlfriends and I may have talked about boys, men, sex, politics and philosophy, this time we talked about our children and our vegetable gardens. What we planted, what worked and what didn’t. How things have changed!

As the last post showed, I went bananas with my planting and have been going organic, hence no pesticides.

So what have been my successes?

  • Tomatoes – they are going really well – a little too well to be precise. I had planted the seeds and waited until they were seedlings before putting in the planter boxes. The problem is that the ballpoint pen I used rubbed off – so in the end I didn’t know exactly what I put in the planter box. All tomato seedlings looked the same to me, so I put them all in and now they are taking over the planter box, but they are doing really well. Lots and lots of cherry, Roma and normal tomatoes growing.
  • Squash – My little yellow squash are also growing fairly well.
  • Corn;
  • Zucchini – My zucchini is going gangbusters – so much in fact that it is crowding out everything else. I didn’t know that Zucchini plants would grow so large.
  • Turnips – initially did okay, but now, not so much. Maybe it is too hot right now for them. I’ll try again soon.
  • Spinach

The so so list:

  • Pumpkin, Okra, Cucumber, Lettuce, rocket – they are being eaten too rapidly by caterpillars…Chilies, and Capsicum.

Failures:

The following crops have been an absolute failure!

  • Eggplant, Beetroot, carrots, shallots, onion, snow peas! I thought it would be really easy to grow snow peas, but they all shrivelled up and died 😦
  • Beans – I thoughts my beans would go great, but not so.
  • My herbs – total failure. No matter how many times I planted basil, they never took hold. Neither with the oregano, nor my parsley.

I have learnt a few lessons though which I will share:

  • Don’t plant everything under the sun. I tried to think in my head of all the vegetables that I eat and tried to plant those. It is too much and thus many of the seedlings never took hold.
  • Plant less quantities of seedlings. Because I lost track of what I did and did not have due to my bad disappearing pen incident, I planted too many seedlings. Now that I know how big some plants get, next year, I will only plant 2 zucchini plants and 2 tomato plants.
  • Cover my herbs with chicken wire. I am sure the culprits of my failure are the possums that frequent my house!

While I am disappointed with some of my crops, I am pretty excited to be eating from my garden and teaching my kids about where food comes from. Do you have any successes to share?

They say Zucchinis are great for lazy gardeners. I'm not lazy, but there is a sense of satisfaction with growing these beauties!
They say Zucchinis are great for lazy gardeners. I’m not lazy, but there is a sense of satisfaction with growing these beauties!

 

Ready for dinner!
Ready for dinner!
Delicious stuffed zucchini flowers
Delicious stuffed zucchini flowers
A lovely zucchini ratatouille like dish I made with cuscus
A lovely zucchini ratatouille like dish I made with cuscus

 

After...thriving plants
After…thriving plants
Corn
Corn
Butternut pumpkin
Butternut pumpkin
Some unwanted visitors on my lemon tree - Stink Bugs
Some unwanted visitors on my lemon tree – Stink Bugs
Another citrus I am yet to see fruit. It is not doing well either way.
Another citrus I am yet to see fruit. It is not doing well either way.

 

 

Fresh herbs

Avocado tree. Not doing wonderfully,  but this picture shows some new growth
Avocado tree. Not doing wonderfully, but this picture shows some new growth

 

 

 

The Garden, Oh the Garden – Part 3a: Growing Organically?

You can tell when my husband has gone grocery shopping – home brand things everywhere. When I shop, I try and include some organic vegetables and fruits and other produce in the mix. I’m not sure why my husband ignores the good example I try to set. I suppose I shouldn’t complain. That I should be happy that doing the grocery shopping is one of the only chores he does.

I always thought that when back in Sydney, I would try and buy more organic things and I have tried to do that to a degree. I generally find it okay when something is even double the price of non-organic, but when potatoes and onions cost more than twice as much as standard ones, I do baulk and go for the non-organic variety.

I suppose first I should really state why I am bothering at all. For me personally, I believe that there would be health benefits to eating organic. Whether they have been scientifically proven or not, I don’t care about. I can see how eating organic is going to be worse.  Also, I went to a compsting workshop organised by my local Council where the presenter (Peter Rutherford) made a convincing argument about the acidification of our bodies, which can lead to many ailments including cancer and the fact that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were contributing towards this.

Then there are the many environmental benefits in reducing or eliminating pesticide and synthetic fertilizer application on a wide scale: to the air we breathe, to the water that we drink, to the soil that sustains us and the diversity of life (biodiversity). Having said that, I like many have budget constraints. I know many people that are very ‘pro’ organic will always argue that in the past people were used to spending more of our pay packet (as a proportion) on food compared to now. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that I have a lot of bills and if there are cheap ‘home brand’ alternatives, then it can be hard to resist saving money on food.

So what should I do? Maybe concentrate on foods that have been found to have a higher percentage of pesticide residues, so as to focus my ‘buy organic’ efforts.  What are these foods?

  1. Apples are the worst culprits – thankfully the Coles organic apples are not too expensive, so I buy those;
  2. Celery – quite a lot more expensive, so I haven’t bought organic yet;
  3. Strawberries – hard to find in local supermarkets or fruit shops;
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Capsicum
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale

A lot of the fruit and vegetables on the ‘bad’ list are hard for me to find, unless I go searching for an organic shop and there aren’t any in my local area.

So this summer, as I have been a working bee in my garden, I decided to establish my own organic vegetable haven!  Firstly I observed over winter, where in my garden gets sun and one of the main areas was by the fence between my neighbor and I in my backyard. So I moved some plants I had recently planted and bought some planter beds from Bunnings (a local hardware store). They were not super cheap and are not so great in quality, but being hard pressed for time as I am, I bought them anyway. I bought six (two were from Aldi, which were much better in quality)  1.2m x 1.2 m wooden boxes.

I then bought some soil from Bexley Sand and Soil Company. It is supposed to have been accredited to Australian Standard 4419, but when I got the soil it was full of contaminants like plastic, glass and other organic waste. Obviously this soil is made from waste management companies and while theoretically I support this, the sight of plastic and other goodies did not fill my heart with joy. I had however bought too much soil, so had to use it all anyway and decided that I would add organic fertilizer like ‘Blood and Bone’, worm castings and worm juice from my worm farm to improve its productivity.

I also did my research about companion planting (where you plant vegetables and fruit that like to be near each other – like tomatoes and basil – to ward off insects and other nasties), so I had all my garden beds planned out!  For more information on plants that like to be near each other – go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companion_plants

So with my garden beds filled, the fun part began. Rather than buy small vegetable plants from nurseries, I decided to grow my own from seed and not any seed – organic seeds. I went online to Eden Seeds http://www.edenseeds.com.au/content/default.asp and went shopping!

Shopping online is so easy and I have to admit I kind of went nuts – I bought so many seeds and in hindsight – too many. I bought different varieties of some vegetables, rather than one.  I just couldn’t wait to get them in the ground.

Here is my list: marigolds, Nasturtium, okra, radish, Greek Oregano, Egyptian beetroot, little finger carrots, Carrots all seasons, cayenne peppers, Californian wanderer capsicum, white Lisbon shallots, Lebanese Zucchini, black zucchini, Waltham butternut pumpkin, sweet corn, button squash, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, Swede turnips, silverbeet, Lebanese cucumber, snowpea Oregon, beans, eggplant, coriander, cilantro, dill, leek, English spinach, Onion Gladalan, Red onion, iceberg lettuce, rocket, Cos lettuce, asparagus, lettuce lollo rosso, parsley, basil….phew! I know! That was a few hundred dollars worth of seeds alone.

What is my planter box ‘map’? in each box I have planted some marigold and nasturtium and the following:

Box 1: tomatoes, basil, capsicum, chillies, squash and snow peas;

Box 2: corn, beans, cucumbers and Lebanese zucchini;

Box 3: Black zucchini, pumpkin, eggplant and okra;

Box 4: sweded turnips, radish, beetroot, carrots, shallots

Box 5: silverbeet, English spinach, onions

Box 6: the different lettuces, rocket

In other pots I then planted seeds for my herbs. I also bought some strawberry plants and blueberries.

Now my house probably sounds like a garden of eden brimming with fruit…well I am having some successes and failures, which I’ll talk more about in my next post…until next time – happy gardening – hopefully organically!

My bany tomatoes

I decided to plant things into a tray first and then plant them in the ground/. Here are my corn and other vegetables enjoying the sun!
I decided to plant things into a tray first and then plant them in the ground/. Here are my corn and other vegetables enjoying the sun!

Jayden & Mahya 038

My garden beds, ready to go
My garden beds, ready to go