Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Kitchen garden expands

Late summer, 2020

Happy to report, another 23 mm came through the rainwater gauge, in the past 24 hours. Great news for food production. But my journey in this department, has taken a few twists and turns. Like starting my Kitchen Garden in the middle of 2018. It enabled food production in containers, by economising water. With the added advantage of being close to the kitchen. Almost 2 years later, I'm totally in love with this area. So always looking for ways to expand it, and make more resilient!

One recent addition was something I attempted in the raised tubs, earlier this season. But my Mouse Melon cucumber seeds (otherwise known as Cucamelon) didn't germinate. Or maybe they did, and the heat and/or pests, took them out before I noticed. Spying a punnet of seedlings at Bunnings recently, I had a few ideas where to put them.

Expanding up, and out

An old clay-pot has been re-serviced, off the verandah - adjacent to the kitchen garden. Being in a North facing position, it receives full-sun during winter. My hopes are to extend the cucamelons production, as the weather cools everything off.

I have four bamboo stakes, tied together, for the vines to climb up. So far, they're coping with the tail end of summer. There's been a lot of overcast days, however. What I've learned from container gardening, is choosing the right kind of plant to produce food, in such a limited space. Here are the reasons I wanted cucamelon in my kitchen garden:

  • A vigorous vine, less prone to mildew issues
  • Economical on water and nutrients
  • High productivity
  • Kid friendly size and accessibility

I've learned the hard way, some varieties of plants, just aren't going to be as successful in a limited space, on limited resources.

Chilli (left), Capsicum (right)

The two tallest plants, are examples of what works and what doesn't! I've grown the cayenne chilli (smallest plant on the left) the longest. It's been a consistent producer, no matter what the elements threw at it. In fact, it's one of those successful plants, I had to beat the birds to! They were just always producing. Even the leaf eating pests, seemed to give them a wide birth. 

Now the Capsicum, I deliberately selected a variety that would grow in the humid subtropics. Capsicum "Perennial". Unfortunately, I learned something about this plant that didn't suit the limited space in container gardening.  

Ready to pick!

The fruits are very small. I'd have to grow a LOT of those huge plants, in my containers, to get any yield worth the effort of growing. This is the kind of plant that suits our climate, perfectly. I've had no disease or pest problems with this variety. It's just not suitable for small containers, where yield has to be maximised on space!

The cayenne chilli, on the other hand...

Still ripening

For a plant about half the size of the capsicum, it produces a phenomenal yield. It can't be eaten fresh off the plant, like a capsicum can. It's too spicy for me. But I do use it in dinners, and making Sweet Chilli Jam. Which is an absolutely favourite condiment of ours. Mixed with mayo and cream, it also makes a spicy, Thousand Island dressing too! Great on chips or wedges.

I'm intending to remove the capsicum, and make room for other plants, more suitable. I have one in mind, which I've already learned does well in limited container space. It's tomatoes! Not hard to guess, cherry tomatoes are the winners here. But not ALL cherry tomatoes are suitable either.

October, 2019

Since I had purchased Roma cherry tomatoes from the store, I wanted to give this variety a try in my Kitchen garden. Because I liked the flavour, and thought they'd be prolific. I know the standard, Roma tomatoes are. Looking at this picture should tell you, why the miniature variety is NOT suitable for containers. Notice how tall they are, compared to the leaf growth.

This is precisely how they performed in the container too. Long, leggy and wanted to keep going up! Very little leaf production, as they were thwarted by the climate. I didn't get any edible fruit, because I decided to pull them out. Two enormous climbers in two separate containers, maybe five fruit were developing, between the pair. Completely, not the right cherry tomato for my Kitchen garden.

June, 2019

On the other hand, I've successfully grown Pink Thai cherry tomatoes, in my containers before. They're more of a bush type, than a climber. Perfectly suited to our climate also. Fortunately, I saved the seeds from this particular plant, and sewn them recently. Hopefully, I'll have this variety of cherry tomato giving ample fruit, in the coming months.

Their flavour is nice, even if they're not as acid as the miniature roma variety. I still like them, and I know they grow without too much difficulty. So when you find a plant that does well in containers, don't forget to save some seeds!

Underneath the archway

Onto the other section of my Kitchen garden, where we installed an archway. My hope was to get it covered in climbers over summer, but that just didn't happen this year. The shade cloth was temporarily installed for summer. Partly to help the containers, but also for the chicken tractor we run on this ground. It helped shade our lone rooster, for some of those hot summer days.

But I did manage to get one plant to climb up it!

Reach for the sky

This purple king bean, has been with me, since keeping a vegetable garden here. It grows well and handles the climate, but I don't think I'm giving enough balanced nutrition for ample production. Especially with all this wet weather lately, leaching the seaweed complete fertiliser, from the soil. Or maybe the bees just don't get a chance to visit the flowers, in the wet weather? Because I'm only getting a few beans per pod, at the moment.

Hopefully it will pick up soon, and I can save some more seeds. Because I know this variety does well. My goal is to find plants which can withstand the climate. As I don't want diseased plants, in my containers. That's the worst thing you can grow, in a limited gardening space.

Less developed side of archway

Speaking about climate, I actually planted this stand of pigeon peas, when we first installed the archway. With the intentions of blocking sun from the west. I have intentions (one day) of placing a raised bed, under the archway. I actually have a net around them, in order to protect from kangaroos and brush turkeys. In the dry (until recently) the kangaroos were so desperate for food, they pushed the net in, to graze the tops. But it did ultimately protect them, so they recovered swiftly with the rain.

The organic planter

Now here's something interesting we did, a couple of months ago. We were hunting around the yard, for old logs. With the intention of mulching underneath fruit trees. This was actually part of a felled tree, for our house build. So it's well over, a decade old! As you can imagine, a lot can happen to a log, during that time. Especially if you live in termite country, as we do.

This is what it looked like, when first unearthed...

Damaged or desirable, depends on your point of view

Termite prepared hugelkultur, raised bed. Perfectly hollowed out. Only took a decade. It certainly surprised us, when we rolled it over. But knew straight away, what to do with it. Although small, it would serve as a raised planter, underneath the archway. It only has some vinca flowers, at the moment, along with some recently germinated dill seeds. We're hoping it does well.

Although, it's not without it's challenges, either...

Almost Fort Knox

This is what it looks like, most of the time. The netting protects it from opportunistic brush turkeys. I've had them on the verandah recently, digging through some re-potted ornamental plants. They like the fresh soil, as long as it's near to ground level. But I also have to protect them from Cane toads, who like my regular watering routine. Or at least they did, before the rain arrived.

I'll remove the netting, once the planter has a chance to fill out. They'll be left alone then. It's only the fresh, exposed soil, they're after.

Taken in the New Year ~ gazebo is now removed
but the netting remained

As for the light-weight, temporary shade I installed overhead, it mostly worked. Stopping the soil from being cooked, in summer. But there was an issue with air flow. On the rare occasion we did get rain, then the sun came out again, I had to ensure the netting allowed sufficient air flow, around the plants. Which meant hoiking it up. Sometimes it got blown down again, by the wind. So I had to be vigilant, or I started getting yellow leaves.

I still haven't decided on a permanent shade solution. But this has worked for now. I've removed the netting recently, with all this wet weather and overcast days, to increase air flow, further.

I hope you enjoyed the update, and of course there will be more in the future. Still so much to do. Small areas, are always more efficient and doable, than larger ones. But there is a learning curve to it, as well. What are you learning about your garden, recently?


  1. So glad the rain is falling, we are so lucky where we live, enough rain, no risk of flooding. My garden is tiny so I use huge pots, but I grow fruit in them, every plant grows up not our, our clay soil is unsuitable for any decent yeald. I grew cucamelons for 2 seasons, but never got to like their taste, they are a very slow growing plant in the beginning.

    1. I sympathise with your clay challenges. We have a lot of red clay here too. Best solution with fruit trees (for us) was to find plants that could withstand it. Or good rootstock, that could. But we have the space to utilise. I understand smaller gardens come with extra challenges. Air circulation, for a start. So it was a good solution, to get your fruit trees up and out of the clay.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with cucamelons. I've read the smaller ones taste sweeter, and can be eaten fresh. But the larger ones are more sour, and should be pickled. My son and I are big pickle fans, so hoping this cucamelon doesn't disappoint. :)

  2. Very much enjoyed reading update of your kitchen garden, Chris. I've just planted out a few more pots of cherry tomatoes. They were most successful plants I grew in pots over Summer. My lettuce got fried however!

    Another plant I've experimented with, and which has really taken off with all this rain, has been Ceylon Spinach (Malabar Spinach). It's a vigorous plant, highly productive and nutritious. I've been snipping new leaves and tender tendrils off to have in morning omelettes. I know it can be grown in pots too. I've got it growing in a raised tank garden garden along with tumeric and cardamon ginger. It's my tropical tank!


    1. The tropical tank, sounds great! With the right variety of cherry tomato too, they are the star performers in containers. So very productive. My rocket held out longer than the lettuce, so it's fortunate we like rocket. Which reminds me to consider planting more, as Autumn is much more forgiving to fast growing greens.

      I actually tried planting my Ceylon Spinach seeds. Several germinated, but the pot I planted it in, is a little lower than the rest. So I think the lack of air circulation, and all this rain, rotted them. I planted them before taking the netting down too, so that didn't help either. But I was very much looking forward to seeing how Ceylon Spinach performed in containers. Because I know it's a suitable plant for our warmer climate.

      Glad to hear you're enjoying yours though. I might try to find some more seeds. :)

  3. Excellent post! I'm going to try more containers this summer, in hopes of keeping things watered better (assuming we have another hot, dry summer--who knows?). So your experience and advice is most welcome! I did just order seeds for varieties said to do well in containers. I'm glad I did.

    1. I look forward to reading about your container planting journey, as it evolves. Starting with the right plants, and it sounds like you did well with your seed purchase recently. Getting that first round productive, will make you excited for more. Herbs have been fantastic in that regard, for me. I love having fresh herbs, right next to the kitchen, for when I make pizzas and spaghetti bolognaise. Our favourite dinners, and I can get the kids to eat fresh greens, lol.

  4. Hi Chris, Cane toads ! Yuk.....A frog expert from Brisbane told me they need at least 15 inches depth of water to breed, so keep any water shallow and anything that has to be deep needs to be 20 inches or higher as they can't jump that high.
    They may be in your property but they won't be able to breed !
    We have had lovely rain up on the hill so I am planting Broadbean seeds this year,hope they do well.

    1. Yeah, Cane toads are the worst! Funnily enough though, the crows like to predate on them. I didn't think anything could eat Cane toads, and live. But the crows have figured out how to flip them on their backs, by the legs, and eat from the belly. Avoiding those lethal poison glands on their backs. I hate it when they do it, because the toads make a racket and I can't help but feel sorry for them. But a crows gotta eat too!

      I hope your broad beans do well, and glad to hear you're garden is getting a good drink. Toowoomba is looking mighty beautiful at the moment. All the gardens are popping!

  5. As you know I'm into container gardening big time, which started with the wicking tubs. The soil in the non-bush areas had been introduced by a previous owner and it's heavy compacted clay, unlike the deep sand in the bush, so no-dig container gardening is much easier. Together with the wicking boxes, I've added a lot of 50mm diameter black plastic tubs (they're cheap compared to fancy pots) in various spots and they've done well for all sorts of things, especially cucumbers and pumpkins, which I allow to just spread over the edge of the tub and wherever they like. Whenever I get another load of chook poo compost I put in another tub somewhere. I've also used 60 litre black plastic rubbish bins next to each group of tubs as additional water storage. I've turned the lids upside down and drilled a hole in the middle. They catch rainwater over the winter (and can be kept filled from the hose) and provide water for the tubs when I can't be bothered to drag the hose to them. I use a dipper made from a cut down 3 litre milk container.

    It just occurred that you might be interested in this new blog I'm reading. He's in Cooran...I don't know where that is in relation to you. It's called Zero Input Agriculture. https://zeroinputagriculture.wordpress.com/

    I'm trying a few things along the lines he is....self-sown seeds and seedling-grown fruit trees (from my own plants) in a variety of spots and not feeding or watering. I know apples will work here as they occur in many places just on the side of the road, growing without any inputs.

    1. I've always liked the idea of your rubbish bin, rainwater collection system. I remember you've mentioned it before, but have promptly forgotten until now. I'm going to introduce a separate water system for this area too. Just have to finalise the design. It makes sense to collect where you can. Thanks for sharing your container food production experience.

      Thanks for the blog recommendation too. I'll take a look! He sounds like a Natural Farmer, or in the theme of Masanobu Fukuoka's, one straw revolution. Two disciplines I can respect, because if you have to fight the elements, it's going to make growing food more challenging. I mean, it's challenging with the elements, regardless, lol. Anything you can do to work with nature, has more resilience. :)


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