February 2021 NH newsletter

Well we’re getting through the wild, wet and windy weather in our neck of the woods, and fortunately it hasn’t been that cold lately. I bought some frost cloth, but as I was saying to Rob this week, I actually haven’t put it on. It’s cold at night but we’ve had some lovely warm days. That won’t be the case for everyone though!


It’s a good idea once heads on your cauliflower start to form to fold the leaves closest to the head over it. This keeps the cauliflower white.

This is the month we start sowing our seeds for spring and summer – the first of the summer leafy greens and then all our tomatoes plus eggplants and capsicums. We also start chitting early season potatoes.


As there’s been very little sowing and planting lately, I’ve been focussing on the backroom part of food gardening…

Our compost was ready 7 weeks after I started it. I don’t need it right now (I’ll use it for spring planting), so when I uncovered it at 7 weeks, I just turned it over again to keep it aerated and covered it with the black plastic again. It felt lovely, just like it’s supposed to – soft and crumbly.


Our worm farm has got a bit stuck (not moving down the chute), so as I had the opportunity to speak with Ben Bell (inventor of the Hungry Bin) recently, I asked him about it. He recommended getting a compost aerator which I’d never heard of before and wow, it certainly works with no damage to the worker worms. Just rotate it in and round, then lift up to create air pockets, which moves the material down – fantastic little tool.

We’ve had a nice trip to a beach and collected kelp – any seaweed is fine, but kelp is the primo. If I’d had some spare beds I would have laid it directly on them, but as I don’t, I’m making liquid seaweed. Into the big bin it went, filling it up with water. I’ll leave it there for around 3-4 weeks before using. It’s a good habit to get into to do a foliar spray of liquid seaweed to your whole garden every month of the year. Seaweed is not a fertiliser as such, rather a tonic for the garden. Rob says I’ll really notice the difference and I look forward to that.


Then on a walk in the city I noticed heaps of leaves that the Council will come and collect eventually, so I thought I’d be in first to start a leaf heap. The best way to compost leaves is on their own in a chicken wire enclosure so they’re contained, because leaves are mainly broken down by the slow action of fungi rather than by bacteria that decompose other compost ingredients quickly. Leaf mould is a great seed-sowing medium or mix it with sieved compost and pumice for potting. The only other thing about a leaf heap is that ideally it should be shaded in summer, and not too sheltered from the rain.

We put weed mat down first and drove the posts through that, just so we pick up all the goodness when it’s done. And it’s quite a fine mesh on the chicken wire.



Since brassicas take a while to grow, it’s a good idea to feed them during the growing season. To that end, our brassica bed gets another generous dose of chicken manure. If you don’t have access to chicken manure, sheep pellets work just as well.


This is the first bed I planted, but the second planting phase hasn’t been so successful. And we’ve had a few messages from people saying the same thing – their brassicas ravaged by slugs – so incredibly disheartening.

I had got a bit slack with the yeast traps which I find are the most effective, so lately I’ve been back at it, making sure the containers are constantly cleaned out and filled up with a fresh brew (1 teaspoon white sugar and 1 teaspoon dried yeast mixed in 1 cup warm water – wait 10 minutes till it froths on the top). I always thought there was an infinite source of slugs, but was delighted to learn a few years back from Rob that you could eliminate them by just keeping at it.


I’m also experimenting by making a cloche out of used milk and juice bottles, cutting the bottom off them (recycle the lid). I have a red cabbage survivor and a cauliflower survivor with ‘cloches’ on them, having the double effect of keeping slugs away and adding a bit of extra warmth. There’s two weeks between this little red cabbage survivor and how it is today (the second pic). Not remarkable but better than no red cabbage seedling.


The other disappointment is no heading broccoli. After consulting the oracle again, I’ve learned that the type of heading broccoli seed I planted is not really a heading broccoli, so those plants have gone the way of the broccoletti (recycled!). Very belatedly, I am now germinating (even though I know I said it’s not growing time right now) the right kind of heading broccoli for our climate, which is called ‘Marathon’, along with the right kind of sprouting broccoli called ‘Tasty Stems’ (see last month’s story about broccoletti.) and finally we may be able to produce some. This is hubby’s favourite vegetable and I didn’t let him buy any during the summer (because it’s a winter vegetable), promising an abundance of broccoli in the winter, and now this!!

I had hoped to have asparagus crowns in by now, but it seems we’ll have to wait till August. Delay probably due to COVID. There are modern cultivars available now, but I’m waiting till the heirloom variety ‘Mary Washington’ is available.

Other than that, I’ve just popped some sweet pea seed in to cover a couple of our screens in the spring. Next time I hope to show you them flowering, along with the viola in the allium beds and the calendula. The only flowers the bees have for food in our garden right now is the flower head on our rhubarb. The flower is not good for the plant, but I’m leaving it there till our flower flowers bloom.


In the meantime, happy August gardening! Shoots on the grape vine…


From Jan, Rob and the Team at OEG!