Growing Gorgeous Garlic

Growing Gorgeous Garlic

Garlic is one of the most useful, yet one of the most expensive by weight to buy. It’s pretty easy to grow and worth the effort to grow a number of garlic plants to have a harvest that will last you up to 3 months.

Garlic can be planted as a companion plant around roses, carrots, onions, radishes and spinach as an insect repellent, as well as to crush and use to spray plants as an all round insecticide and has a number of uses in home health remedies, particularly for relief of colds and coughs, parasites and digestive upsets. Best of all, garlic adds a wonderful depth of flavour to loads of dishes.

Seed garlic heads are sold by many organic suppliers. They include soft and hard neck garlic as well as garlic chives. These organically grown heads are preferred over just using garlic bought in the supermarket, as you will have a higher quality yield.

Soft neck garlic varietals will be able to be stored for up to 10 months, while hard necks are fine to about 3 months. Garlic chives have the best flavour when cut fresh to use straight away, or can be cut for use as dried herbs.

Plan to plant garlic in autumn and, if you get really hard frosts, it is best to plant 6-8 weeks before the first frost is expected.

However, as summer wanes, prepare your soil with compost and animal manures then, at least a fortnight before planting, break up the soil so its crumbly and keep moist.

When you are ready to plant, break up the garlic heads into individual cloves, without peeling the skin away. Use a stick or small digger to make 10 cm deep holes for each clove 15-20 cm apart, with about 30 cm between rows. Alternatively you can plant each clove in between other plants, allowing space to grow. Place the hard flatter side down, so it’s standing in the hole with the tapered end upwards. Backfill with the soil and firmly, but gently, tamp down. Cover the bed with sugar cane straw or similar mulch.

If you are using a pot , try to use a self-watering design with more than 30 cm soil depth. This will give the garlic enough room to grow its roots and the new bulbs, as well as help you maintain moisture in the pot.

Garlic loves moist and cool conditions, so, if it’s dry, water regularly or ensure that irrigation drippers are topping up moisture (10 mins x 2-3 times a day) when there is no or little rainfall. 

It’s a good idea to write GARLIC on some wood icecream sticks and place them at the perimeter, so you don’t forget what you planted in that bed or self watering pot.

The growing period is long for garlic, so once spring is over and the weather is heating up again, wait until the leaves have yellowed and die off before lifting the garlic heads gently out of the ground or pot. You can dry these out somewhere warm and then clean off any soil, cut the leaves off and store these in a cool dry place on a rack if possible. Soft necked garlic leaves can be plaited and hung. These look amazing hung in your kitchen, ready for use. Keep an eye out for mold, but generally they will keep for up to 10 months. Hard neck garlic heads are fine to about 3 months. 

Garlic is a valuable source of Vitamin B1 or Thiamine and Vitamin C and can be eaten raw or cooked. One of my favourite dishes is to add crushed garlic, slightly cooked in a frypan, to boiled and drained then mashed or crushed new potatoes, adding some olive oil , salt and pepper to taste and maybe some lemon to finish  – yum! 

So, it’s pretty easy to grow – give it a go this autumn!  


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Bok Choy and Tatsoi Heaven

Bok Choy and Tatsoi Heaven

Bok Choy and Tatsoi are two green veges that are really easy to grow and are very versatile for many dishes. Great as a side dish, boiled or steamed and can be added to stir fries, soups or stews. The new sweet green leaves can go into salads and I have added leaves to quiches and made rice or potato patties with chopped Bok Choy and spring onions that go down a treat!

The best time to sow Bok Choy and tatsoi is at the end of winter, but you can continually sow until early autumn. The seeds are fine which makes them tricky to sow. To make it easier,  mix them with a bit of sand and soil and sprinkle them on a prepared seed tray or pot, as described for lettuces. This way you’ll have a better chance of evenly spreading the seeds out and not clumping them. It will hopefully save you some separation work later on.

Water them in with a spray bottle and keep them moist but not wet.  Once the seedlings reach about 3-4 cms and have 3-5 leaves, you can transplant them carefully to your vege patch. I intersperse them with the eggplants, capsicum and lettuces, about 20 cm apart, as they enjoy the compost rich soil and moisture. After they are more established, you can add Seasol to the watering can, so the Bok Choy and Tatsoi leaves will grow faster and more robustly.

The leaves can be picked after 30 days and used as you need them when they are fresh and crunchy. You can also wait a bit longer and harvest the whole plant, once it forms a heart at around 45 days. You can you keep sowing more seeds every 2-4 weeks, so you have new seedlings to plant out. I tend to pick the leaves continuously, planting the new seedlings around the mature plants, so we extend the harvest time and always have some fresh leaves on hand all through spring to autumn.

I save my coffee grounds and make ‘walls’ around each plant to deter the snails as they too love these juicy leaves. Small swimming pools (bowls) of undrunk beer also work well, as the snails dive in and drown ….Good bi-product from our parties!

Add them to your patch

Groovy Green Beans

Groovy Green Beans


Throw them into any stir fry, sauté them with onions, garlic and tomatoes, team them up with snow peas and herbs and you have a delicious main or side with green beans. I sometimes gently fry them as a low cal and tasty alternative to chips. They are delicious cold in a salad teamed with pine nuts, olive oil and peas…very versatile.

You may see them referred to as green beans, snap beans or just snaps and French beans. There are many heirloom varieties available now from the prolific Climbing Bean Lazy Housewife to tidy Bush Beans like Jade and Rocdor ; some are green others are purple or yellow. All are high in dietary fibre, Vit A and C and, of course, delicious.

Planting and growing them is fairly easy. After the last frost of the season, if you get frosts in your area, you can sow the large seeds directly into the garden where you want them to grow.

Bean Seedling

First ensure that the soil is friable and crumbly and doesn’t have rocks or chunks of clay and that you have added compost to help with moisture retention.

If the plant is a climbing variety like Lazy Housewife, then place your trellis or climbing structure first where it will be stable and sturdy. For bush beans allow enough space between the plants for them to bush out or spread a bit. Next, push the seeds gently into the earth about 2 cm deep and about 15- 20 cm apart from each other, and the rows about 60cm from each other, then cover with 2-4cm thickness of sugar cane mulch or straw and water in well.

You will need to plant 10-15 bean seeds for each person in the household. Beans can be picked every day or two once beans are about a pencil thick and will snap after picking.

Within 7-10 days the seedlings will push through. I put coffee grounds around the new plants like a fence against snails. I have also seen cut off clear plastic drink bottles placed over them like mini greenhouses to protect the seedlings. Careful though if it is very hot as this may ‘cook’ them!

Beans flowering

Climbing Beans take 50-60 days to harvest. Bush beans take a bit less at 50-55 days to mature.  This is a very yummy and satisfying crop to sow and harvest. Children love to help pick the beans and ‘string’ them if necessary. You can always freeze your extra beans as well.

Add them to your patch

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Kale Curly Paradise

Kale Curly Paradise

I love kale! What is there not to love? They are an all round leafy plant – there when you need a perfect snack with a glass of wine or as a delicious additive to a stew, or salad.

There are 5 main groups of kale named for the type of leaves – green or red curly (pictured below), plain leaved, Cavolo Nero or black kale, leaf and spear (a hybrid of curly leaved and plain leaved Kale) and the ubiquitously named Hungry Gap kale. Presumably this vege was the only thing growing through a hard winter. There is also the Red Russian which is sweeter.

Kale is a beautiful addition to your garden all year round. The dark green or purple curly leaves add interest and contrast to other plants and flowers. You can plant kale out in between other herbs like oregano and thyme and flowers like calendula or native daisies.

They are easy to grow. Follow the steps on growing kale from seed and plant out to a garden bed or pots once they reach about 5 cms high. Depending on the varietal, it will take between 45 and 60 days to mature and you can start harvesting the lower outer leaves. Kale is a biennial and although very hardy it is sweetest when grown through winter. If you are planting out to grow it through summer, place it where it will get some shade. Kale does not like to be planted near tomatoes, beans or strawberries.

Keep your kale well composted every 4-6 weeks and mulched as it prefers the soil damp but not wet. The leaves will then be sweeter and more prolific.

Curly Green Kale

I mainly grow black kale as I love making kale chips. Just carefully strip the leafy bits from the crunchy stem and wash them. (Stems can go to your wormfarm) Pat dry and sprinkle some olive oil over them. Rub into the leaves all over, but not dripping. Pre-heat an oven to 160C, place the oily leaves on some aluminium foil on a baking tray. Bake for 10 mins, flip and move them around a bit and then bake for another 10 mins. You will have perfect kale chips to offer your friends or scoff them all by yourself!

Green or red curly kale are great for chips as well, but are usually used for adding to soups or stews. When the leaves are young they can be added to salads too. Red Russian is delicious sauted with tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic.

Let us know how you go and maybe share your favourite recipes with us as well!

Add them to your patch

Juicy delicious tomatoes

Juicy delicious tomatoes

Red nirvana as I like to say. However, with all the wonderful heritage varietals available now, tomatoes can be green, black, striped, yellow or even purple!

What tomato can I plant?

The seeds could be from a packet you have bought or saved from last years crop. I love the names of all the varieties and I always have a hard time deciding which ones to go for in a particular year. For lovely big fresh eating and salad tomatoes, I choose Grosse Lisse, Rouge de Marmande or Break o Day; for small sweet tomato bites I plant Tommy Toe or Red Cherry and for delightful taste and appearance, I plant Green Zebra and Burnley Bounty.

Planting tips

You can plant these in a punnet or shallow seed tray with a good seed mix of soil with no rocks or large twigs, a little sand and compost, so it’s free draining but nutritious for your baby plants. If you reuse commercial seed trays, clay or plastic pots, first soak them in a diluted white vinegar solution for a few minutes and scrub with a brush to ensure that any old soil or contaminants are removed.

Soil should be at around 20C to plant into, so you may want to raise your seed in a greenhouse or kitchen bench first about 6-8 weeks before the weather warms….then plant them out when it gets a bit warmer. If not, seed trays can be outside.

Sprinkle the seeds sparingly over the seed mix, as they have a high strike rate, and cover with another sprinkle of soil. Use a spray bottle to keep the seed mix damp, but not wet. Once they are about 3 cms high and have more than three leaves each, discard the ones that look sickly or weaker.

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Tomato Seedlings

Carefully tap the tomato seedlings out of the punnet and gently pull the plants and new roots apart to separate each plant and transplant to a preprepared garden bed or into a self watering pot outside and position in full sun. I have found that in our very hot summers, the tomato plants enjoy partial shade as well if possible. They should be planted about 20-30 cms apart to allow the roots enough room to grow and the foliage to not be squashed once they reach fruiting stage. Water them in well; you can add a sprinkle of Epsom Salts to the water to aid in strengthening the root structure and some seaweed solution like Seasol to stimulate new growth.

If you have bush tomatoes, they won’t need staking, but all others grow better if they can ‘climb’. You will need to get some soft tape or string or plastic hold rings that don’t cut into the stalks to help the plant remain upright as it grows.

After the flowers have been pollinated, it is advisable to net the tomatoes as they form, as birds love the fruit just like you do!

If the plant gets stressed by lack of water or high winds, it may drop its fruit or the tomatoes may not develop fully.

Stuff to think about

Tomatoes are susceptible to fungus diseases. Everyone who grows tomatoes will have different advice, but I have found that I get good yields by not cutting or trimming the end growing points, but just keeping the plant free of broken or dying leaves and cutting off the lower branches of the plant to prevent mildew or a fungus taking hold. Try not to break the dead leaves and branches off as they sometimes tear the main stem of the plant. Make sure there is good air flow through the plant and not have branches bunched together or crossing over.

Tomatoes are thirsty, so water them regularly in the garden. A self watering pot can be topped up as needed and only water around the roots. Try not to get the foliage wet, as this will increase the risk of fungus developing. Also, keep the plants well mulched with some sugar cane mulch or home made compost.


Depending on the varietal, after about 50-90 days from germination you will be able to harvest your yummy fruit. Twist the fruit away from the main stem gently without tearing the branch. Wash and eat!

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Tomato Flowers

The first and most prolific are the cherry tomatoes followed by the bush and climbing fresh eating or cooking tomatoes. Next come the large summer slicing tomatoes that are ambrosia to eat. Your cherry tomatoes will continue to produce right through a 3-4 month period. I have harvested in April to May some years.

We would love to see some photos of your handiwork…or your harvests in Grow and Tell!

Versatile Broccolini

Versatile Broccolini

This delicious version of broccoli is easy to grow and the plants just give and give.

From seed, prepare the seed trays like for lettuce, and mix the approximate number of seeds you want to grow with some sand and potting mix. If you want a continual supply through summer, sow about 20 seeds each 2 to 4 weeks.  Cover the seed mix with a sprinkling of earth and compost mix and water in. You will need to keep the trays or pots damp, but not wet.

After about 14-20 days the seeds will germinate and start to grow leaves. Wait another couple of weeks until there are three leaves and the plantlets look a bit stronger before planting out. 

The alternative is to buy seedlings in punnets from a nursery. Careful though, as many use chemicals to grow them faster.

You can replant them into pots or a garden bed. Don’t be afraid to also think about popping them in between flowers or other bushes as long as the soil is the right pH and they are in a sunny spot. As snails love to eat fresh lettuce too, save your coffee grounds and circle the broccolini plants with coffee grounds – snails hate trying to slide over the rough grounds!

Broccolini needs quite a lot of nutrients which they take up better when the soil pH is 6.0 to 7.0. Kits to test pH are now at most nurseries and big box stores for around $10. Well worth the investment and they are very easy to use and you can probably run more than 20 tests for each kit; you can show your kids how to do a small scientific experiment and watch their eyes when the mixture turns a different colour! They can help you match the colour to the approximate pH level.

Broccolini grows flowerettes that can be cut off and used in stir fries or steamed, but if they are let go too long, yellow flowers appear. They are delicious and pretty sprinkled onto salads, as are the small outer leaves. Most of the plant can also be chopped into soups or even smoothies!

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Cabbage moth is one of the main predators of brassicas, as they lay their eggs on the tender leaves and the grubs decimate the leaves if left unchecked. You can fool the moths and place whole egg shells close by and the moth with think that another moth has laid claim to that area and hopefully move on. You could also spray Eco Pest Oil on the leaves to deter them! 

Year round leafy greens

Year round leafy greens

If you would like a year round supply of a leafy vegetable goodness, lettuce is the one. 
You can buy all sorts of heirloom lettuce seeds now and usually there are now than 100 seeds per packet. They also have a high strike rate. The only issue is that they are very tiny seeds, so open the packet in your kitchen and carefully tap out only about 20 seeds at a time into a small bowl. You could also use only a few seeds from different varieties of lettuce and even Asian greens to plant together.
Add a handful of sand and of soil, mixing them as you go. This will make it easier for you to evenly sow them in a seed tray or pot. 
If you reuse commercial seed trays, clay or plastic pots, first soak them in a diluted white vinegar solution for a few minutes and scrub with a brush to ensure that any old soil or contaminants are removed. Next, prepare a soil, sand and manure mix in a bucket adding some water to have a damp mix and then fill your seeds trays to nearly the top. Don’t compress the soil ; it’s great to have it loosely packed  to allow the new roots to grow. 
Scatter a bit of your mixture in rows and cover with a 5mm sprinkle of soil mix. 
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Water in with a rain watering can or a spray bottle. Ensure that any excess water is draining freely from the seed trays and that the trays are not sitting in water. You will need to water these trays every 1-2 days, but don’t allow them to dry out. You can add a teaspoon of Epsom Salts to the watering can or sprayer to aid in stronger root development.
The seeds should take between 7-10 days to shoot and about 30-45 days to planting out into a bigger pot or your garden bed. Once the plants are settled in, you will see that you can start to pick the side leaves from the picking lettuces and that the whole lettuce varietals are forming their hearts. 
You can repeat this process every fortnight or month, so you have plenty of lettuce leaves to pick all year round and make yummy salads!
As snails love to eat fresh lettuce too, save your coffee grounds and circle the lettuce plants with coffee grounds – snails hate trying to slide over the rough grounds!