Thursday, 22 October 2015

Hay Bale Gardening

There are many expert gardeners who extol the virtues of using hay bales for the garden. There are many benefits of using them - especially in the vegetable patch.

Hay bales are grasses that have been dried, then baled. One minor drawback is there may be some seeds which fall from the bale and germinate, but this is not really so serious that it'd prevent their use! There are many different types of baled material - sugar cane, lucerne, straw, pea straw, mixed grasses, etc. It rather depends on your area and what is reasonably inexpensive to use.

All baled material will break down and be of benefit to the soil - some though, do an even better job by adding a lot of nitrogen eg lucerne or pea straw as opposed to just straw which doesn't really add that much apart from organic matter.

There are different ways to use bailed material, for example:

A really good idea is to grow potatoes in bales. Position the hay bales in an area that receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight a day. Because the potatoes are actually grown in the bale, the bale can be positioned in perhaps an area where the soil is unsuitable for gardening. There will of course, be water that drains from the bale so bear this in mind when positioning the bale. 

Saturate the bale with water until it runs freely from the bottom. Repeat this procedure for 3 days.  On day 4 sprinkle 1 cup of bone meal over the top of the bales and water thoroughly. Repeat this procedure for days 5 and 6. On days 7, 8 and 9, reduce the bone meal to 1/2 cup and water as usual. On day 10, sprinkle the bales with 1/2 to 1 cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer and water thoroughly. This speeds the decomposition process inside the hay bale and creates rich compost for growing the potatoes. 

Make holes in the hay bale by gently pulling the layers of hay open. Check that the inside of the bale is warm, but not hot. During decomposition, the insides heat as they begin to break down, but it should have cooled off by day 10. If the centre does feel hot to the touch, wait another day or two before planting the potatoes.

Cut the potatoes in two or more sections with at least two 'eyes' on each section. Place the cut potatoes inside the bale to a depth of 10 to 15cm,  spaced 15 to 30cm apart along the hay bale. Typically, four potato plants fit in one standard bale. Close the hay over the potatoes.

Water thoroughly until water runs freely from the bottom of the hay bale. The hay bales must be kept moist and may require daily watering. Running a soaker hose over the top or filling milk cartons with water and punching small holes in the bottom for water to drip on the bales works well too.

Apply a water-soluble fertilizer designed for vegetables once a week. Because nutrients leach from the bottom of the hay bale, regular fertilizer is necessary to provide growing plants with their needs.

Check for 'new potatoes' once the potato plants bloom. Gently pull back the layers of hay and harvest young potatoes. Close the layers and allow small potatoes to continue to grow. If you want mature potatoes leave them to grow until the foliage dies back and harvest fully grown potatoes then. 

Another way is to make a no dig garden:

Esther Dean was a proponent in the 1970's to the no dig garden, she wrote a book on this very subject. 

The fundamental element in this type of garden is layering of different materials. 

As shown in the image left there are layers of lucerne hay, manure, mushroom compost, straw, and a layer of topsoil or compost. There are many different configurations to a no dig garden, this is just one.

Bales can be used for shelter:

In the winter bales can be placed on the southern side of vegetables providing shelter and also the bale releases warmth for plants especially plants that produce during the winter months eg eggplants.

By placing bales on the northern side of vegetables, you obtain the reverse effect - that is offering plants some protection from the sun. 

However, the most common use for bales is of course as a mulch. The benefits are many including:
  • Increased biological activity within the soil.
  • Maintaining the soil surface condition, eliminating problems of crusting and assisting with non-wetting soil.
  • Reduced water evaporation arising from protection of soil from the drying effects of wind and sun.
  • Improving organic matter, nutrient content, fertility, structure and water retention of soil.
  • Eliminates splash, this is important in controlling fungal diseases especially.
  • Smothers weeds and limits their chance of germination.
  • Harbours beneficial predators.
  • Reduces erosion by slowing the movement of surface water.
  • Buffers extremes of soil temperature.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Jacaranda Festival Outing

A reminder about our next outing to the Jacaranda Festival in Grafton, Monday 2 November 2015.

To see the beautiful streets around the Grafton CBD is a true delight AND to be able to see them without the hassle of finding the 'good streets' and driving at the same time a real bonus!

The Program Committee have done an excellent job of organising this outing for members of CHGC, in particular Pat Roser, so thank you.

Coffs Coaches are our hosts for the day and will depart at 9am so perhaps it might be best to be at the Botanic Garden earlier than that so we can actually SET OFF at 9am!

The coach will be making a stop at Hearns Lake Road bus shelter in Woolgoolga to collect any members from the northern beaches who don't want the run into town.

A light morning tea will be provided by Coffs Coaches in Grafton before we head off for a look around town at the beautiful Jacaranda lined streets. If you think that there is only the one shade of Jacaranda you are in for a very pleasant surprise - there are soft blue, mauve/blue, almost purple and white Jacarandas found in Grafton and the surrounding area.

During the Festival there are many private gardens open for visits and we will be visiting as many as can be fitted into our day. The CHGC went to the Festival two years ago and were quite simply 'blown away' by a town garden that was so full of colour it hurt our eyes, I'd never seen the like before, just stunning. The large rural blocks had had a real tough time due to hard frosts and less than usual seasonal rain. So it is hoped that this year the weather does it part with some lovely early spring rain to nourish those gardens.

A sandwich luncheon at the South Grafton Bowling Club before we once again head out, either to more gardens or a walk around town looking at the displays some of the businesses have put up in honour of the Festival.

This will be a very enjoyable day of not only seeing beautiful Jacarandas and terrific gardens but a wonderful opportunity for some social interaction among members of the CHGC. Incidentally, the more we have going the cheaper it gets for everyone!

The coach will be departing Grafton at 3:00pm, so we will be covering a fair bit of ground in the day.

Please be respectful of gardens and don't ask for any cuttings. Sometimes the open gardens will have some propagated plants from their gardens for sale. If you intend buying up it might be a good idea to bring a box along with your name on it to put your purchases in so we don't make any mess in the luggage hold of the coach and also keep your purchases together.

CHGC member Maureen S. has this beauty growing at her home

You can visit the official Festival website here.

Monday, 19 October 2015

President's Message - October 2015

Aren’t we lucky to be gardening on the Coffs Coast?

Our geographic position on the NSW coast puts us into the sub-tropical climate classification, which has warm, wet Summers and relatively dry Winters and Springs.  At the same time we experience elements of the temperate climate that exists further south, for example, we get the odd light frost in the depths of Winter, as well as the occasional southerly that brings wet, wild and windy weather for a few days each time.  Of course, we can also experience a dreaded East Coast Low at any time of the year, which can have devastating effects on gardens as a number of our members know only too well.

The great thing is that this climatic overlap allows us to grow lots of different things, and to do so all year round.  To be fair, though, our Summers tend to be a bit problematic with plants often bolting to seed, and we see lots of diseases and pests rearing their ugly heads.  And, of course, the clay soils that predominate throughout our area tend to somewhat limit what we can successfully grow. 

Despite all that, our members have managed to produce a wide variety of wonderful gardens, including fully sub-tropical plantings; decorative gardens that are at their best in Spring; formal landscaped gardens; fully native gardens, and pretty much everything in between.  

Gardening is, after all, about personal tastes, and Coffs Harbour offers us a great deal of flexibility to do just about whatever we want in our gardening endeavours.  That’s one of the great benefits of living in a place that enjoys the “world’s best climate”.  But there is also an important spin-off here, in that it helps generates diversity within our Club, which assists in making it a vibrant and progressive community organisation that offers something for everyone with an interest in gardening.  I encourage all our members to take advantage of the opportunities this presents, be that though attending outings and workshops, or just simply by sharing thoughts with other members about best gardening practices here on the Coffs Coast.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Blue-tongue Lizard

The blue-tongue lizard is our friend in our garden as they do their bit in eating lots of pests. Their diet consists of plant matter and small animals - beetles, caterpillars, crickets, snails and even other small lizards and they are particularly partial to slugs and snails. Anything they can get hold of will do them just perfectly - this can be a bit difficult for them as they are so slow moving, so their prey is often something that moves fairly slowly too! Dog or cat food is another thing that they enjoy and strawberries for dessert! 

Image L. Gardner

Blue-tongued lizards have really unusual body proportions with a big head and a long body with very short legs and small feet. Their evenly tapering tail is fat and shorter than the body. Male lizards have a proportionally larger head than females, but the females are bigger overall. The most noticeable feature of these lizards is the blue tongue inside the bright pink mouth. Like all reptiles they do not produce any body heat. Their body temperature depends on the surrounding temperature and they can be found sun bathing in the mornings or during cooler days. They need a body temperature of 30 - 35C degrees to be active.

Blue-tongue lizards have really strong jaw muscles to crush big beetles and snail shells. They may also bite in defence when they feel threatened. The main defence stategy for this lizard is bluff - it faces the threat and opens its mouth and the blue tongue inside the pink mouth is an unexpected and vivid sight, designed to frighten off the attacker. The lizard also hisses quite loudly and flattens its body to make it look wider and bigger. If you pick the lizard up when it is like this it will bite you and it will hurt. Blue-tongues have a habit of latching onto your finger and not letting go in a hurry which leaves a nasty bruise.
Image L. Gardner

Blue-tongues occur here on the Coffs Coast and like tall grasses, leaf litter, rocks and logs, low shrubs etc under which they will shelter at night. During the day they sun themselves until they are warm enough and then they forage for food during the warmer parts of the day. These critters live alone for most of the year. Its only during the mating season between September and November that the male will pursue females (and fight other males). Mating is a rough affair and many females carry scars from the male's teeth. Female blue-tongues stay within a defined home base. The males wander over an area the size of about 15 house blocks and have several female 'friends'.

Blue-tongues are born alive, about three to five months after mating. From the moment they are born they have to start looking for food themselves - they commence this by eating their placenta and they will be off on their own within a few days - its tough love for a blue-tongue!

The blue-tongue is a long lived reptile if it gets the chance. It does have a lot of hazards to avoid if they do live for many years including lawn mowers, cars, cats and dogs. Cats are the worst however, dogs seem to be more perplexed by the blue tongue's threatening behaviour and generally keep their distance. 

Baby blue-tongues may end up as supper for currawongs, kookaburras or snakes. If the need arises blue-tongues can drop their tails to escape a predator. The stump will heal quickly and a new tail will start to grow but this will take about a year for a new tail to fully regenerate. The lizard must have a stable food source during this time as all the food and water reserves are stored in its tail.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Gardeners' Diary - October 2015

A tree, shrub or creeper/climber can be made into a stunning garden feature as seen above with this lovely arch at 'Windarra' in the Central West of NSW.

Trees can be both ornamental and productive. For example a fruit tree can make a terrific statement, especially citrus trees with their beautiful glossy leaves which look good all year long, with the added bonus of the most delightful aroma when in blossom and then the fruit - what could be better?

A shrub can be pruned into a hedge or topiary, but it can also be excellent for attracting butterflies, bees and birds into your garden. This Westringia hedge fits the bill for being a feature of this garden bed and also it will attract bees when flowering.

Fruit tree care - If you have recently bought a fruit tree in the last six months or so and it is now starting to flower, the kindest thing you can do is to remove the flowers or blossom. This gives the tree a chance to establish a really good root system before it has to pump out a lot of energy producing fruit. This will stand your fruit tree in good stead for years to come..... might be a little difficult to have the patience but you will be rewarded.

Our vegetable patches have been ramping out some wonderful produce over the cooler months of the year and it is time for us to decide if we should grow a 'green manure' to rest the bed or dig some good organic material and compost and start our summer crops. See here for an article on the importance of crop rotation in vegetable gardens.

If you like to grow strawberries, firstly enrich the soil with generous amounts of well-rotted manure or compost. Strawberries spread as they grow, so allow at least 30cm between plants. Tuck plenty of straw around them as this is a great way to keep them both clean and away from soil borne diseases. 

As the trusty mower is going to get a real work out over the coming months perhaps it might be best if there was a complete overhaul undertaken now. Please be mindful for your safety by removing the spark plug or battery before you undertake any maintenance. Blades should be sharpened, air filters replaced, throttle mechanism cleaned and lubricated. If you don't feel confident enough to do these jobs yourself drop the mower off to a professional who will have it humming like a bee in no time!

As ornamental trees finish their flowering this season its time to give them a little trim and give them a little feed. It is important to note that grevilleas, banksias and other members of the Proteaceae family DO NOT need any phosphorus fertilizers. These plants have an amazing adaptation known as 'proteoid' or 'cluster' roots. These roots release an acid that is a negatively charged ion, as is phosphorus which is tightly bound to soil particles. This meeting of the two creates an ion exchange, where the citrate dislodges the phosphorus allowing it to be taken up by the roots. Unlike most other plants this group of plants do not stop taking up phosphorus when they have sufficient for their needs, so if phosphorus is added they can actually overindulge and die!

The image above is of a Protea King White which is 25cm in diameter! Thank you Bruce for sharing this wonderful image with us.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Two Open Gardens at North Dorrigo

'Harmony Haven' (pictured below) and 'Mossgrove' will be open as a fundraiser for local Dorrigo resident Tina Rose Sun 25 October 10am - 4pm. $7 entry per garden

Down through the ages it has been a widely held belief that gardens are places of healing on a physical, psychological and spiritual level. The effort expended in creating a garden makes our bodies strong, the sense of purpose and achievement clears our minds and the space for meditation and contemplation nurtures our spirit.

In 2003 Philippa moved to North Dorrigo. She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative disease. She credits the creation of her 'Harmony Haven', a two acre Fantasy garden as having kept her well; mind body and spirit.

Recently, Tina Rose also a Dorrigo local, has been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. From a deep sense of empathy Phillipa has galvanised the whole Dorrigo community to come together to hold an open garden fundraiser for Tina. Two inspiring gardens in North Dorrigo will be open to the public on Sunday 25 October from 10am to 4pm.

'Harmony Haven' at 696 Tyringham Road features a rose labyrinth, amethyst meditation cave, ponds, streams and an atmosphere of fantasy. Due to the water hazards children under 12 cannot be admitted to this garden.

'Mossgrove' at 589 Old Coast Road is a large mature garden featuring rare conifer and maple specimens. It also has a productive olive grove and a huge bonsai gallery.

There will be multi-draw raffles, plant stalls and gourmet morning and afternoon teas available on the day. Come along and be inspired by these labours of love and support this worthy fundraising event for Tina. 

Entry is $7 per garden.

The organisers would like to thank the Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce, Spar Supermarket, IGA, Plant Dorrigo Nursery, Food Angel Cafe and the Dorrigo Post Office for their generous contributions. 

Plants for Recycled Water Systems

There is a need to explain the difference between greywater and blackwater systems. Greywater is waste water from sources usually from the bathroom and laundry (some systems have also a limited hook up to storm water as well). Blackwater is all the waste water from a household. 

There are very, very stringent rules from Coffs Harbour Council in place about the treatment and use of blackwater and greywater on the Coffs Coast. For example the blackwater units require a quarterly inspection by an approved plumber who inspects all aspects of the system and extensive tests are carried out on the water being pumped out. 

The purpose of this post is to list some plants that do quite well using either of the two systems mentioned above. 

Many of these plants don't mind being in heavy (or clay) soils and having 'wet feet' and seem to thrive in these conditions. 

Bird of Paradise (Stelitzia reginae), also known as crane flowers are a really beautiful exotic plant which grows really well using re-cycled water. The leaves of the plant are bluish-green with a red midrib. This think foliage resembles small banana leaves, but are quite tough. These perhaps grow best in well drained soil but seem to do OK in the heavy soils of the Coffs Coast. They require regular watering so are ideal for this application.

This melaleuca Armillaris is quite common in this region and seems to do well with recycled water. There are many melaleuca that would suit this environment and are freely available from your local nursery.

Dietes is a clump forming, rhizomatous perennial plant from South Africa. It has dark green, strappy foliage and grows in fan-like rosettes. In the spring Dietes produces white, yellow and mauve flowers on tall wiry stems (very iris like in appearance).

Gardenias are attractive, low maintenance evergreen shrubs with large, fragrant, creamy white flowers and glossy green leaves. These shrubs really do well here on the Coffs Coast and they don't require too much maintenance - just a haircut after flowering in summer and feed in winter and early spring every two weeks or so.

Callistemons are hardy, adaptable ornamental native shrub with its masses of attractive flower spikes during spring and then again in autumn are a real favourite for the Coffs gardener. They are such a versatile group of plants with many successful applications - as hedging plants, standards, specimen or feature shrubs, cut flowers, bird attracting plants etc etc. There are many Callistemons that will tolerate water logging and heavy soils. 

Lirope, a grass-like groundcover very similar in use and appearance to the mondo grasses is a member of the lily family. They have tuberous roots and are quite a resilient plant surviving in a wide range of environmental conditions. 

This evergreen shrub has very strong architectural qualities. The sharp-tipped, sword-shaped leaves stand out in a spike sphere and gradually form into a trunk. Once mature, tall flower spikes tower high above the foliage and carry dozens of pendulous, lantern-shaped creamy white flowers in mid to late summer.

Although being quite a heavy feeder (use a high potassium fertilizer during the summer), Hibiscus is another shrub that will thrive. Hibiscus when they are at their blooming stage require large amounts of water. The trick, of course would be not to let it get over-watered in the winter months.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Growing Coriander Successfully

All parts of coriander are edible - the roots, stalks, leaves and finally the seeds. The leaves are used in Chinese, Thai and Mexican dishes to give that spicy hit and the chopped root can be included in dishes that require more cooking and also for marinades. Coriander seeds is usually powdered and used in both sweet and savoury dishes.

There are several varieties of coriander - the one usually available in the garden centre is especially grown for it's dark green foliage and good pungency and, in some cases this is a slow to bolt strain making it longer lasting this coriander will grow to around 60 centimetres. There are also varieties grown just to harvest the seed for cooking as they have less leaf and will bolt very, very quickly to produce their flower heads.

Many of us really struggle with growing coriander, but lets hope by using some of the following tricks we will have more success!

The most common reason that coriander bolts is because of changes in weather... yes. If it turns cold to hot or the reverse the plant decides its time to send up some flower heads from the centre of the plant. This often happens when the plant is transplanted from one pot to another or from a pot to the garden.

There are several ways to grow strong and healthy coriander without it bolting to seed. The first is to choose the plants at the garden centre carefully. Plants that are labelled as slow bolt coriander will be more uniform, slower to produce flower heads therefore producing leaves for much longer. Also, choose pots where the seeds have been direct sown straight into the pot. This is obvious if the pot has seedlings growing over the total surface of the soil and not just directly in the centre. Finally, buy your plants when they are just a few centimetres tall so that the coriander is less established and more likely to cope with transplanting. Don't be tempted to plant the pots found in the supermarket - these will not enjoy the transplanting experience and will bolt very quickly.

Perhaps the best way of achieving a continuous crop of coriander is to direct sow it in a bowl shaped pot which is at least 25 centimetres across. Fill it to about three centimetres from the top with a premium potting mix that contains slow release fertiliser and wetting agents. As the seeds are so small, mix with some sand (3 parts sand 1 part seed) so they'll disperse more evenly. An interesting fact with coriander seeds is that each seed produces two plants! Spread a centimetre of potting mix and water gently with a seaweed solution. (A relative of mine says that seeds do not need seaweed until they germinate as they have all they need within the seed to germinate..... interesting, you make up your own mind). Place the pot in a warm, but sheltered position and in a matter of days the coriander seed will have germinated. When it has reached two centimetres tall, move the pot into part sun to encourage the growth to be strong and the leaves more flavoursome. On the Coffs Coast coriander is best placed in dappled sun all day as they are such delicate little souls they don't enjoy the combination of shade or full sun.

Pests and diseases are not an issue with coriander but regular watering with a seaweed solution and organic liquid fertiliser is paramount to maintain vigour.

Harvest at least weekly to keep leaves coming. Shear from a different section of the container every time, rotating the pot as you go and never letting plants in any area to mature. By the time you get back to the first section harvested, new leaves will have grown.

By seeding a new pot every three weeks or so, you should have a plentiful supply of coriander during the warmer months.

Friday, 2 October 2015

A Reminder about Woolgoolga Garden Club's Garden Expo Tomorrow

Josie & Marion from Woolgoolga Garden Club


Woolgoolga Garden Club are holding a Garden Expo on the long weekend in October.


Saturday 3 October 2015 - 8am to 2pm    FREE ENTRY


At the Primary School, Scarborough Street, Woolgoolga


Plant Stalls, BBQ & Drinks, Morning Tea, Guest Speakers, Novelty Stalls, Carnivorous Plants, Woolgoolga Mens' Shed, Raffles, lots of Books and lots more!

Rose Competition Open to the Public:

$2 per entry


     Best Red Rose
     Best Other Colour
     Best Cluster Rose
     Bunch of 6 Stems

Please have entries in by 10:00am on the day (3 Oct) with: 

  • Your name
  • Phone number
  • Name of Rose


First:         A $20 MITRE 10 Woolgoolga Gift Voucher in each category
Second:    A packet of Rose Food in each category

With one Highly Commended Certificate being awarded across the whole competition.

This Expo is being held in conjunction with the Woolgoolga Orchid Society's Annual Exhibition

The Orchid Competitions are HUGE...... there are exhibitors who travel from Newcastle, Nambucca, Bellingen, Dorrigo, Coffs and to the north, Maclean. Just how these people get their orchids to Woopi in one piece is just amazing. There will be hundreds of Phalaenopsis orchids alone, so a real 'must see'. 

If you require any information about the Orchid Show please call Brian Newman 6654 1432.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Stock - Matthiola incana

Flower of the month - October 2015

Most stock varieties have become well-bred doubles, an upgrade from their single, wild nature. Modern varieties vary greatly in size but they all still have the stiff column surrounded by flowers. Stocks have a wonderful cool palette colours in pink, white, rose, red, purple and lavender.  Stocks are most notably recognised for their most amazing fragrance and are evocative of childhood memories of our Grandmother, Aunt or Mother's gardens, there is just something special about them.

Growing stocks here on the Coffs Coast is perhaps treated a little differently from the cool climate grown stocks. They enjoy a moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter and best grown in full sun and spaced 20-38cm apart. Seeds may be sown from March and should germinate within 10 days or so but the seeds need light to germinate so they are not covered.

Stocks are relatively precise in their appearance and look stunning in formal beds where they can be lined up. If however, a more informal planting is desired they will mix happily with other flowers which will break up their rigidity. Terrific for containers in mixed plantings where they can be placed near to walkways where their fragrance will do their best.

When choosing which variety it might best be remembered that doubles are usually the most vigorous seedlings and are often lighter in colour than the singles.