Seeding and Sowing

purple broccoli seedlings after about a week We’re sowing and seeding in all sorts of ways. Come along to gardening this Thursday 11th (see upcoming events – on the sidebar – for times) and on Sunday from 2pm as we sow seeds for Summer and also the Festival of Gardens fundraising. We have seeds, but bring any you have to contribute. Grow for your own plot or for all of us. The Newstead preschool will be starting some as well on Thursday from 11.30am and would welcome guidance from gardeners.

Meanwhile we’ve been busy post Jinette’s session developing thoughts and ideas and readying for the fundraising dinner – keep October 25th free – and the Festival of Gardens starting Melbourne Cup weekend, as well as the Childrens Literature Festival, soonest, on September 30th. Megan, Mary, Sarah, Gen, Julie and others are leading the way with these events, all important for our coffers, as well as fun things to be involved in.

Today the Newstead CWA held their Spring Fling at the garden with members from surrounding groups. Gayle,Carolyn and I gave them a bit of a tour and talk about the history of the garden, compared pesky critter control and enjoyed the sunshine and stonefruit blossoms. It’s wonderful having others visit the garden and share this special space. Thanks Janet and Daryl for all the organising.

CWA at the garden, september 10 2014 - spring fling

Plans and Produce Afoot

spring in the garden 2014We had a fruitful session with Jinette and came away with some areas for further discussion and action, as well as some more creative representations of the garden! Interesting what reverting to the visual, rather than spoken, can reveal. Thanks Jinette for guiding us on the garden path. We will have a follow-up session on Saturday September 6, time to be confirmed.

Spring is here and the garden awaits you! The planting notes for September are now posted, including a warning about using – or at least avoiding – urea based organic fertilisers. We’ll be putting in a communal spud crop (the tubers are spread out and developing shoots and eyes in the igloo, ahead of planting) where the rhubarb was. Having missed the window to put in a green manure in autumn, spuds are the next best thing to renew ground –  all that lovely compost and rotted sheep manure and mulch that is applied to the crop in stages as it grows will benefit the soil as much as the growing spuds. An incentive to feed the soil!

Julia, Gen and I also took time out to protect our growing garlic crop – some bored birds, perhaps cockatoos, have been having a munch on the plants. Can be pretty destructive at this time of the season, so we’ve netted them to be sure of a harvest. We also took the opportunity to give the plants a good water and a feed of biodynamic seaweed emulsion.

Also in September, our Produce Exchange on the 6th, the CWA visit on 10th, Children’s Literature Festival workshop on 30th. The Festival of Gardens (November) brochure was launched last week at Buda, and we’re in it.

See you in the garden.



Spring, and thoughts turn to mulch

Garlic May 2014I noticed yesterday that the stonefruit trees have budded and are about to unfurl. Despite little winter rain, the perennials (rhubarb replants, globe artichokes, strawb runners) are beginning to move again  and the annuals (garlic, broadies, greens) are adding bulk and height. Frances’s natives are on the move; a grevillea near the igloo is flowering.

Central Victoria – or Newstead at least – has a short, but very sweet, spring. Blink and you may miss its flush. Temperatures are still cool and the frosts still potent, but spring is just about upon us. Time to get the last of the ‘winter jobs’ done and think about the prolific time to come. Including the weeds!

It’s also time to think about mulching. Mulching bare soil is a good practice to:

  • prevent weeds from germinating and establishing,
  • conserve moisture,
  • protect the soil surface from crusting and drying,
  • encourage worms and microbes to hang about in the top part of the soil longer,
  • insulate and protect plant roots.

One disadvantage of mulching, particularly with straws is the slugs and snails and slaters that harbour under it. We have found they hide under the straw mulch, come out at night to feast and go back in hiding for the day, sated and happy. But as temperatures rise, the pesky slugs and snails will lose their upper hand over the plants (keep up protection with the copper tape though).

fog and frostMulch isn’t just mulch. Each type has different properties. The loose, fibrous, straw mulches can accentuate frosts because they create greater temperature differences at the soil surface. This isn’t a problem for cold loving crops like parsnip, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kohlrabi, garlic and onions, but more tender plants can suffer. This time of year darker mulches will absorb warmth and benefit soil and crop metabolism (eg. rock dust, darker materials). In summer the lighter colors will reflect light and heat, but still insulate.

Beware of mulches that are very high in Carbon and ‘fresh’ (eg.spelt hulls, wood chips, or sawdust). They can ‘tie up’ any available nitrogen, preventing plants from getting it and causing starvation, or at least Nitrogen deficiency. Mulches that have some some nitrogen component are best (eg lucerne, pea straw) as they will add to the soil as they rot, besides the soil cover benefit. They are usually more expensive though. I avoid sugar cane mulch because of the ‘mulch miles’ and packaging, plus it is fairly lightweight and too quickly assimilated into the soil or blown about by the wind.

Look for certified organic and biodynamic. Conventional mulches will have usually been grown with synthetic fertilisers and usually lucerne will have been sprayed for pests such as red legged earth mite and weeds (and look for second or third cut lucerne – less weeds, usually).

digging in green manure of spelt, lentils and mustardAnd there’s always living mulch. Lucerne grown around fruit trees can be cut and placed around other garden areas or on the trees themselves. A ‘good bug mix’ of clovers, lucerne, flowers and herbs is also a highly effective living mulch. You can also grow your own version, say a mix of wheat, rye peas and mustard, Cut it off at ground level around flowering or just before, mulch with the cut portion and dig in the residue, to get double the benefit. Herbs such as comfrey or nettle make a great mulch. A budget version is just to cut and shred any crop residues or non-invasive weeds and put them on the soil surface.

Happy mulching.

And see you on Sunday at 10am for our get together with Jinette to talk about the garden.  Plus, the CWA are coming to visit the garden on September 10 – more news on that shortly.


Gardening in the Library

simon rickard flyerlandcare in the library - flyer 2014

Remember our successful fruit tree workshop with Simon Rickard? Simon will be in Castlemaine on Tuesday 9th September at 6pm to talk about his favorite heirloom veges and promote his new book. It’s sure to be an engaging session and Simon speaks from experience, having set up Annie Smithers’ kitchen garden in Malmsbury, which supplies her Trentham bistrot.

Download the flyer as a PDF here: simon rickard flyer

Castlemaine Library will also hold a session on Saturday September 6th from 10am to 2pm, as part of  Landcare Week and ‘Landcare in the Library’. Botany experts will be on hand to help you identify whether that mystery plant is a weed or a native. Bring along a smaple – leaves, fruit, or flowers, or even a photo. There’ll also be resources as free guides to take away.

Download the flyer as a PDF here: landcare in the library – flyer 2014

For more info oon either or both event, contact the Castlemaine Library on 5472 1458 or



August – light and warmth ahead

Newstead garden raised beds installed august 2012, garden in winterThe eighth month already? Upon us quickly, even with the winter darkness and chill. I feel spring in the air, even though temperatures haven’t budged much. Still time to get those winter chores done, and time also for the early warm season ones. So, a busy time in the garden!

See the very august August Notes for what to do next in the late winter/early spring garden.

Brian Keats is warning of severe weather during 6-12th August and he has been pretty spot on so far this year with his predictions. On the 11th August, the moon will be full and closest to the earth, so we can expect severe tidal flows, and severe weather in general, including snow falls in the alpine areas. Brian suspects New Zealand will bear the brunt, but here in central Vic we should get some big frosts Newstead garden raised beds installed august 2012, garden in winterduring that time (he’s also warning of bad ‘Mars rising’ weather for NZ around the 26th).

Speaking of Brian Keats, he’s presenting at a workshop in September- download the details here: Brian Keats flyer. This workshop is sure to be booked out quickly! Also events for heritage apple grafting. Closer to home, Growing Abundance have something happening all through July and August in relation to fruit trees.

And closest to home, our Produce Exchange happens on Saturday 2nd, 10am-ish outside the Red Store. Please come along on the 27th for our session with Jinette, to set sail for the next four, five or more years ahead in the community garden. See you in the garden in August.

Full Moon Means Frost

Credit and copyright: Alan Walters

Credit and copyright: Alan Walters

Did you see the moonrise tonight? Spectacular. And after a chilly winter’s day, despite the welcome sunshine, it all augers well for a very, very cold night and a big frost. Say goodbye to all those still flowering, or producing, late summer and autumn crops! Oh well, it is mid July.

But the garlic will welcome it, as will the other alliums and hardy greens, like kale, silverbeet, broccoli, as well as caulis and celery. Root  crops like parsnip, carrot, celeriac, kohlrabi, swede, turnip, etc. also do well with a frost or more; they will all taste sweeter. I wish I had got my act together in late summer to plant celeriac, and many more greens! Next year …

A few of us made the most of the sun and popped out for a potter in the garden today – still very cold out, but it’s very easy (almost enjoyable) weeding, and the soil seems CWA sponge-light to dig in. The biodynamic preps and our hard working worms could be the reason.

Even if it is too cold now, calling all gardeners out in August,  for our August 27th Sunday gardening session. More news to follow, but we’ll be doing some dreaming, planning and talking about how the community garden is now and could be in the future, thanks to Jinette de Gooijer (Innovative Practice) who has offered to help us. It’s four years on in the garden and with many new plotholders and time passing, it’s ripe to revisit our original aims and how the garden is working. Plus, we need to work out what to write on our tank!

Stay warm and enjoy the weeding – and the full moon.

Calling tree planters and friends …

A call to friends of Powlett Hill, from Andrew & Jenny Fawcett, Ben & Jo Fawcett:

As part of the 2 million tree project the state government offered community and private groups the opportunity to apply for grants for vegetation projects. We have been fortunate to receive funding for 1000 trees and shrubs.

At Powlett Hill we have a long term plan to develop a wildlife corridor throughout the farm, already vegetated areas will eventually be connected along waterways and shelter plantations, the corridor will extend from the Campbelltown bush at the northern edge of the farm throughout the whole farm.

We would be very appreciative of friends of the farm to come on either Sunday 27th July (National tree planting day ) or Tuesday 29th July from 11.00 am and plant 10 trees each, we will have piping hot soup and fresh bread to warm the soul.

Please bring yourself a mug so we can save another tree.

If you are able to assist with this project please respond by email or phone so we can be sure to have plenty of soup .

We’ll be organising carpooling from Newstead for community gardeners. Let us know if you can come – 0439 003 469 or and which day – alternatively, contact the Fawcett’s direct, see below. We’ve been well supported by Powlett Hill since our garden began, especially through compost makings, now we can repay their generosity.

Location – 110 Kellys Road, Glengower VIC 3370 (look up google maps), Email:, Phone: 0353 456287.


Midwinter, by the Calendar

We’re planting a couple of apricots this month. In Newstead, frost-prone as it is. Not only because of the changing conditions, but because we have a couple of microclimates (protected by pepper tree, north facing, sheltered) that, hopefully, will see the trees through flowering and fruit set should we get 21 june2014 03those usually big, early Spring Newstead frosts.

I’m thinking about playing around with the generally acceptable planting times and plant types for this area, since things seem anything but seasonal to me over these past several years (I have roses and lavender flowering in my garden at present). Having said all that, the July Notes are now posted – all conventional, conservative, business as usual – so feel free to follow as writ, or have your own play. Keen to hear if you are altering planting dates and types/varieties as well. Our Newstead Tomato (late maturing according to historical annecdote) did no good this year, though some seeds have been saved, but I also wonder if there’s a newer, improved version in the offing. And for other fruits and veges as well? Perhaps we’ll soon be able to grow lemons out in the open, like they do in Maldon?!

Back to winter, and the ABV(Australia Biodynamics – Victoria) have just sent their  Winter Newsletter  – Ernst and Rosie and fellow members have been very busy all over the State, laying horns, making composts and making biodynamics real … and there’s some other BD garden events as well. Brian Keats is warning of weather extremes this month, see the July Notes for more info. Don’t forget the Produce Exchange on 5th July.

Enjoy the depth of quiet stillness (apart from the munching of snails and slugs)  in your garden this month. Let’s hope for cold, wet, miserable conditions, for the garden’s sake.

It’s the weather for making biochar

Biochar WorkshopA cold Sunday morning, quite still, drizzle holding off. Perfect conditions for making a batch of biochar, where temperatures in the burner reach between 400 and 600 (or more) degrees Celcius. Depending on what sort of device you use, you can even boil a cuppa whilst you char!

Anthony gave participants a run down on the origin (Terra Preta, around 400BC) and values of biochar, it’s uses in agriculture and other areas, and importantly how to use or activate it once you’ve made it. We produced around 3 or 4 kilograms of biochar from about 20kg of starting material. But you can scale up to farm level, and also make use of the other byproducts of the process – ‘biogas’ (for energy, heat) and ‘bioliquid’ (also called wood vinegar).

Biochar WorkshopThe process involves burning material which is high in carbon, fibre and cellulose under conditions of low oxygen and high temperature (and no smoke).  After you’ve produced the biochar, you then need to ‘condition’ or ‘activate’ it  before applying it to the soil. Anthony has built his own TLUD (Top Load Up Draft) furnace from 44 gallon drums, but you can also buy smaller TLUDs specifically made for use in developing countries (where continued exposure to smoke from cooking fires is a major health issue).

Watch the slideshow or the picture gallery for more info on the method. Anthony has used the ‘bible of biochar’ – The Biochar Revolution – to guide his learning and also presented an interesting paper outlining fifty-five uses of biochar … and counting?