Signs of life

25 October 2016
This time of year is about gardening for us, even with our smaller garden. We start our gardening year in March and all through the cold months we grow winter crops.  But when spring arrives we add more manure and compost to the soil and start on our tomatoes, chillies, herbs, capsicums, lettuce, cucumbers and green leaves. These crops are the exciting ones because they all have a big flavour punch and they look good in the garden. If we get it right, instead of paying high prices for watery tomatoes, cucumbers and chillies, we have our own organic heirloom varieties that with one taste yell: "This is why we grow our own food."

Hanno added a shade tunnel over the green leafy vegetables a couple of weeks ago.  It's a simple structure made with four short star pegs, flexible black plastic pipe, shade cloth, a timber brace and hooks to attach the shade cloth to the pipe.  The tunnel takes about 30 minutes to erect and depending on how long your star pegs are, you can bend over or stand straight to weed or harvest in the tunnel.  We've found it particularly handy during the early hot days when the plants haven't yet developed their tolerance to the hotter sun which burns tender salad leaves, tomatoes and capsicums. It's also a good defence against summer storms and wind.  It won't prevent vegetables going to seed in the hot weather but with mulching and prudent watering, it will get you through a harsh summer better than you would without it.

You can unhook the shade cloth if you need the height to weed or harvest. The timber brace just stops the centre of the shade cloth from sagging. 

Photos above and below are of the same plants. The top photo was taken 2 October, the bottom one 24 October. 

We're growing a French tomato, Rouge de Marmande, and an Oxheart. Both are heirloom varieties and both have few seeds. The French girl is great in salads and sandwiches and the Oxheart is for relish, cooking and sandwiches. I sowed tomato seeds a few weeks ago and planted out the seedlings this week. I like to pot the seedlings on from the small cells they start in and allow them to grow so by the time I plant them, they've almost outgrown their pot and have started to flower. We always grow an organic garden and use the minimal amount of additions. Instead of using commercial fertiliser, I make comfrey tea which is full of the nutrients most vegetables and fruit need. When we planted the tomatoes, I picked some comfrey, chopped it up and we placed a large hand-full of chopped leaves in each planting hole. As the days go by, those leaves will decompose and release their nutrients to the plants. I also gave each plant a drink of seeweed concentrate and liquid comfrey after they were planted.

A bunch of comfrey was cut into small pieces and bruised so it would decompose faster, and then added to the tomato growing holes.

It's important to run a frugal garden just as it is to run a frugal home. When you plan out your garden, take into account all the water you'll use, the fertilisers you'll add as well as the cost of mulch and anything else you'll buy for your garden.  When you do up your garden budget, you may find it's just not cost effective. So, what do you do if that happens? Decide whether the joy of gardening out-weighs the cost of the harvest and proceed accordingly.  We have tanks here that hold 15,000 litres of rainwater and we never use tap water on the garden. We make our own compost and most of our fertilisers. We buy organic sugar cane mulch, sulphate of potash, seaweed concentrate and Dipel (a biological stomach poison for caterpillars that is organic and non-toxic). We buy some seedlings and seeds when we need them but if we can save seeds, we do that instead. Our shade structure was made using recycled materials we already had here. It's quite easy to save money in the garden so look around and work out what you can give a second life to, learn how to save and sow seeds and how to propagate. Those small things will save you money.

It's been a productive time in the garden but I still take my time out there watching, sniffing, touching and enjoying what's around me. It gives me a good feeling to produce some of the food we eat, knowing it is as healthy and fresh as it can be. A garden will give you much more than vegetables, herbs and fruit if you let it. It gives a sense of peace and of connecting with the natural world, a place to think and a quiet haven from a noisy world. And when you create your garden make sure you have a few seats there to encourage lingering.


  1. We've been putting our garden to bed these last few days. Part of the fun of the blogging world to me is following someone on the other side of the world and seeing the things that are different and the things that are the same.
    Even when we lived in California we lived in an area that was cold in winter so the idea of gardening outdoors all year round is different! I must admit I am grateful for the break in the work that goes into a garden! Winters here are sometimes harsh and the idea of bundling up and getting at my yarn stash for a few months is heaven!! Don't comment often but love to read your blog.

  2. And there is NOTHING that compares with the feeling of looking at a meal and seeing that some or all of it is from your own garden, it warms the cockles of my heart :)

  3. Oh I dont think I come out ahead with my gardening! One thing I do though is online surveys, and I cash those out into Bunnings coupons. That means I shop for free! In actual fact I am just thinking about the fact that I never buy herbs, ginger, tumeric. I harvest a little something here and there most days. Those are expensive items so I might just be even! if I could put a price on the pleasure my garden gives me I would be way ahead.

  4. I love all your veg garden pics ! Can you remind me where you are please ? Debbie x

  5. Earlier this year my daughter planted some different vegetables and then promptly forgot that they need to be taken care of to grow for our use. I was too busy setting up all my animals needs to pay much attention to them. I have been looking into growing fodder for my chickens, rabbits and goats. Today I went out to feed my goats and while I was out there I looked over at my daughters neglected garden and there was Swiss Chard popping up begging me to grab some. I did go and cut (a lot) off, and gave the leaves to the chickens and rabbits. You would have thought it was Christmas morning for them! Today I am going to go and pick up all the stuff I need to grow the fodder. I have been studying up on it through the internet. Next Spring (U.S.) I will be doing my own garden since I now have someone living here who wants to help me! YAY!

  6. Dear Rhonda- I am planting up large here at the moment. Heirloom tomatoes including Oxheart like you :-) I saw recently that 4 Professionals were asked their favorite tomatoes and except for 1 the rest all said a hybrid! I love the heirlooms- I grow a variety and get ones that are Roma and also ones that are fluted and then others are huge ( 1 slice per sandwich) and then the perfect round ones also. Your post was encouraging and the tunnel cover Hanno made for over the garden is a brilliant idea.

  7. It is always fun to watch Spring at your house while we put away and winterize all the gardening here in the SE USA. Everything is looking good!

  8. I love this post Rhonda, and like you said the garden gives so much more than physical nourishment. Gardening is in my blood so come what may I'll plant my heirloom seeds every year. The pests, the weeds, the oppressive Texas heat, the recurring droughts - it's all worth it. Because in the end, the veggies that come from my garden far outweigh in taste and nutrition of the 'fresh' vegetables that can be purchased. And there's also a pride in providing with your own two hands the nourishment required by your family. Oh, and then there's the emotional nourishment that is also fed when you're in your garden harvesting for your family's supper just minutes before the meal is served. Yeah, emotional nourishment is important too!

    ~Taylor-Made Homestead~

  9. My seeds seem to sprout but then they stop and just stay small forever. No idea what im doing wrong.

  10. very interesting what is comfrey?

  11. I love to swap seeds and plants with my neighbours and friends, for a frugal garden.

  12. Lovely! It is uplifting to know that it is springtime somewhere in the world, while we here in Canada, sit by our wood burning fire and watch the snow falling outside!

  13. Because we only have a very small veg garden, I go to the local nursery and buy a few punnets of seedlings. The thing I have tried this year, is to make newspaper pots using a big coffee tin as mold, then fill it with compost and soil, planting the seedling into the pot. I let it stand until it has grown quite big and starts flowering, then make holes into the garden soil and put the whole 'pot' and plant into the hole. It seems to work well as my capsicums and tomatoes are bushy tailed and standing proudly! Love your blog!

  14. Rhonda I love a trip around your garden. The shade cloth will make all the difference, as you say. In Brisbane it's getting pretty hot now and I'm mulching the soil around my veggies like mad. Trying to keep any moisture in the soil below. I'm still harvesting the last of the silver beet (chard) pulling some grand carrots out of the ground. I planted them in the cooler months. I am proud of my carrots, not sure why they give me the biggest thrill but when I pull one out - and it's straight and no 'legs' give myself a pat on the back. I always mix sand in the soil when I'm planting the seeds and I think that helps. Grew some celery over the winter, didn't think I could do that in our climate, didn't heart up like supermarket celery, but full of flavour. Make sure I always have the herbs I need growing in the garden and that's a big money saver as we all know what a bunch costs in the shops. My allotment space is 16 square metres (2 tiny plots of 8 sq metres) and it amazes me how much I can grow in that space thanks to horse manure. I pay $70 annually for each plot, and not a lot else because as a member of Beelarong community farm we share seeds, and often get lucky with donated seedlings. But the benefit of the exercise gardening, and the organic food on my plate, and the lovely fresh air. It's priceless.

  15. For some time now I have been chatting with one of my clients (whilst cutting his hair) about how I'd like to get a much larger property and start growing my food, living simply and leaving less of a footprint on my life journey. When one day my client told me all about his and his wife's gardens and he asked me if I'd read your books or blog. I hadn't heard of you before and was excited when he dropped back into work later that day with your books for me to buy as he is your husband!! I now have a new spring in my step. I have something to get up early for everyday. Our gardens are beautiful and healthy, full of veg and herbs. We have also planted lots of fruit trees. Hanno said it isnt about how large my property is but how I use what I have. Well I know longer want to move to larger, I just keep adding to what I have. And I haven't just stopped at my yard, your books have helped in the home too. I now have a sewing machine and have also been recycling and making new things in both the yard and home. We live and eat much healthier and happier.
    I'm happy to see the way to make the shade cloth cover. Our plan for this weekend is to make a cover, you have just made it that much easier. I think my tomatoe's will love me a bit more for looking after their leave as its been pretty hot lately.
    My older kids are now reading you books too. Keep writing because I'm loving it all. Thanks heaps for sharing.
    Deb - loving life

    1. HA! that Hanno. He's a keeper. He's also been telling me about you and how you're coming along in leaps and bounds. Good on you! I hope your garden is a great success. BTW, I've been growing my hair out but I need a cut to level out my layers. I'll call you for an appointment in the next few days.


No commercial information or spam will be published. These comments are always moderated and will not appear on my blog until I've read and approved them.