How to Make Borax Ant Bait for Indoor and Outdoor Use


Ants can be a major pest in the garden because they ‘farm’ aphids and scale – they safeguard them in their nests over winter, then bring them out in spring and carry them onto the new plant growth, then collect the honeydew that aphids and scale excrete as they feed off the plant’s sap.

To make matters worse, ants defend these pests from their natural predators, but ants are easily excluded from fruit trees by using horticultural glue bands around the trunks. Once ants are prevented from climbing trees, the unprotected aphids and scale are quickly eliminated by predators.

The activities of ants aren’t restricted to the garden though, they do have a habit of annoyingly invading kitchens in search of food, and bringing pest insects onto indoor plants too.

When ant populations become excessively large and invasive, they can be sensibly reduced with the use of ant baits which have a low environmental impact.


How to Make Borax Ant Bait

The best way to reduce ant numbers is to use a bait which is toxic to them but doesn’t kill them instantly, so they can take it back to their nest and feed the rest of the ants there, slowly destroying the whole colony.

What is Borax?

Borax is a natural occurring mineral salt, sodium tetraborate decahydrate, and is commonly used as a laundry detergent booster and a multi-purpose cleaner. Like other laundry products, it’s poisonous when swallowed, so be sure to keep out of reach of children and pets.

When insects ingest borax, it acts as a stomach poison. The exact mode of action is not yet understood, but when borate salts dissolve inside an insect body they form boric acid. After ingestion, insects reduce their feeding, dry out and are eventually killed.


Borax Ant Bait Recipe

The following materials are required to make borax-based ant bait insecticide:

  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of borax
  • 350ml (12 oz) of water
  • glass screw top jar with lid (for mix the ingredients in)
  • small jar with a lid (to use as the trap containing the bait)
  • cotton wool balls


To make this ant bait and trap:

  1. Mix 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 level teaspoons of borax and  350ml (12 ounces) of water in a glass screw top jar.
  2. Shake thoroughly until all the crystals are dissolved, this is the finished bait solution.
  3. Place the cotton wool balls into the smaller jar and fill to half the height of the cotton wool with the bait solution.
  4. Make a few small holes in the centre of the lid of the small jar using an using an awl punch, drill or other suitable tool.
  5. Firmly screw the lid back onto the small jar, , this is the finished baited trap.
  6. Put trap near the entrance of the nest, or wherever ants have made a path into the house.

The cotton wool balls need to extend above the surface of the liquid so the ants can walk across the top of them to reach the bait solution.



Adjusting the Ant Bait Trap Mixture

The key is that the ants will get into the jar to eat the sugar and return to the nest and pass it on to the rest of the colony.

If many dead ants are found beside the jar, then the mixture is too strong, so dilute the solution by adding more sugar and water, or make a new batch with less borax and try again.

Some recipes specify using 2 tablespoons of borax rather than 2 teaspoons, which is three times as much (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons). Even using the amount in this recipe, I found some dead ants around the jar on the second day, so I suspect it’s strong enough. If the mix contains far too much borax, the ants will reject it and refuse to eat the bait.

With a proper mixture the colony may be destroyed in a few weeks, though it does take the destruction of the queen to completely eradicate a colony.


How to Use the Ant Bait Trap in the Garden

When baiting ants outdoors, the trap needs to be protected from rain, otherwise it will flood and overflow, diluting the mixture and ruining it.

A simple rain cover that fits over the ant bait trap can be made from an empty soft drink bottle.

To make this ant bait trap rain cover:

  1. Get a soft drink bottle that is wide than the jar used for the trap.
  2. Cut off the top section of a soft drink bottle, allowing enough height so that the lid of the jar will not rest against the inside of the bottle.
  3. Cut out small doors along the bottom edge of the top section of soft drink bottle to allow the ants to enter through to reach the trap, make them large enough for unobstructed easy entry on uneven ground.
  4. Leave the cap on the top section of soft drink bottle to prevent any rain getting in.

Once the rain cover is placed over the ant bait trap jar, it should stay in place on its own, but if strong winds are blowing the cover off, a rock or other heavy object can be placed on either side to secure it better.

In very hot weather, the water may evaporate from the bait solution in the trap. To get around this problem, mark the water level on the side of the jar, and when it evaporates, top up with some plain water. Be aware that as the ants consume the liquid, its level will reduce, so don’t top up the water level if ants are coming, top up with more bait solution instead!



Ants Can Be Pests, But They’re Also Ecologically Beneficial

Though it may be sometimes necessary to control ant populations in the garden, or remove ants from the home, the goal is never to completely eradicate them from the garden, because they’re beneficial insects.

Here is a range of ecologically beneficial functions carried out by ants:

  • Ants are predators and eat many pest insects, which helps keep pest populations down.
  • Ants move roughly the same amount of soil as earthworms do, loosening the soil, and improving air and water movement through it.
  • Ants keep the ecosystem clean by moving dead insects, plant and animal matter into their nests, fertilising the soil in the process.
  • Ants carry seeds from one location to another, which help plants spread into new areas where they may survive and thrive much better.

It’s important to keep in mind that natural ecosystems are in a state of balance, and when dealing with garden pests, we should only do just enough to address the problem, and no more than that. A heavy handed approach, such as spraying with toxic synthetic pesticides, always throws nature out of balance, needlessly killing off the more vulnerable beneficial predator insects and causing population explosions of pest insects.



  • Iowa State University, Extension and Outreach, Horticulture and Home Pest News – Ants Are Ecologically Beneficial, In Defense of Ants, 2020
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Gardening Questions #001 – Grow Nasturtiums from Cuttings?

nasturtium flower

Can nasturtiums be grown from cuttings?

Nasturtiums are usually grown from seeds but can also be propagated from cuttings during the warm growing seasons, the best period being spring or late summer when weather is milder.

How to make a nasturtium cutting:

  1. Cut a piece around 10cm (4”) long, making the cut below a leaf. The reason we do this is because cuttings of all plants usually root at the leaf nodes, which are buds at the bases of the leaf stems.
  2. Strip off the leaves from the lower 2/3 of the cutting. If there are still to many leaves, cut each of the leaves in half to reduce water loss. The end or base of the cutting can be dipped in rooting hormone if desired, but this step is optional.
  3. Fill a plant pot with a potting mix, propagating medium, or coconut coir.
  4. Insert one-third to one-half of the length of the cutting into the propagating medium, and place the pot in a location that’s protected from wind and harsh sun.

In a few weeks, the cutting will grow new leaves, indicating the cutting has taken root.

For more information on propagating plants which don’t lose their leaves, see my article – Propagating Softwood Cuttings


These questions are submitted by readers. If you have any questions of your own, please add them to the comments below or email them to if you would like them answered. Make sure to include pictures in your emails if they help explain a garden problem!

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Why Are My Cabbages Not Forming Heads?


When cabbages are first planted they initially produce lots of large broad leaves, but in the latter part of their growing season the inner leaves at the centre of the plant begin curling inwards and cupping around a short-thick stem, growing tightly together to form the head of cabbage we are all familiar with. The cabbage head is the only part that’s eaten, and it’s what we see sold at produce markets and greengrocers with the outer leaves removed.


Cabbage Varieties

Cabbages are cool season crops from the Brassicaceae (mustard) family that are harvested in 8-15 weeks after planting from seed. The time to maturity varies depending on the variety.

There are three major groups of cabbage varieties,  the green and red cabbages (Brassica oleracea var. capitata) and the Savoy cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. sabauda).

  • Green cabbages have smooth textured leaves which are pale green to dark green in colour.
  • Red cabbage have smooth textured leaves which are either crimson or purple in colour with white veins.
  • Savoy cabbage have more ruffled leaves which are yellowish-green in colour.

If growing conditions are right, then cabbages will form heads, so being patient and allowing the plants to go through their natural growth cycle in their own time may be all that’s required. The cabbage pictured in this article was planted in the cooler seasons and is starting to form a head in mid-spring.

But what if the 15 weeks have passed and the cabbages still aren’t forming heads?


Cabbage Growing Requirements

Cabbage need full sun, and a well-drained but moisture-retentive, fertile soil with a pH of 6 to 7. These plant are heavy feeders and need a steady supply of nutrients and water during their growing period. It’s best to fertilise the soil before planting by mixing in manure to boost soil fertility. Additional fertiliser can be used throughout the growing season, but the plant should not be given any fertiliser when the head starts to form.


The Top 7 Reasons Why Cabbages Wont Form Heads

Different varieties of cabbage vary in the days required to reach maturity, some take longer than others. It’s also important to be aware that some cabbage varieties produce a looser heads, which aren’t as dense. That said, the main cause of cabbages not forming heads, or only forming loose, puffy heads, is improper growing conditions, which stress the plant or stunt its growth.

Here are main reasons why cabbages won’t form heads:


1. High Temperatures

Cabbages require cool temperatures to form a head, so it’s important to plant cabbages at the right time of the year (consult a gardening calendar) so the head will have time to form when daytime temperatures are still below  27°C (80°F).

If it gets too hot, plants may stop growing leaves and instead send up a flower stalk and go to seed, which is known as ‘bolting’.


2. Inconsistent Watering

For cabbages to grow, they require adequate moisture. If they’re not watered consistently, or don’t receive regular rainfall, they will develop a poor texture, become excessively bitter, and may not form a head. Good quality heads of cabbage should be firm, crisp, juicy, and sweet, they may sometimes be peppery, but not definitely bitter.

Depending on rainfall, cabbages may need watering around 2 – 3 times a week, but be careful not to overwater them as this may cause the heads to split! Water the plants early in the morning, as this allows the leaves to dry out in the sun during the day, and helps prevent common fungal diseases.


3. Excessive Cold

Extended periods of cold weather may cause the cabbages to stop growing and become dormant. If this happens, the plants will often ‘bolt’ (flower and go to seed) when the weather warms up and growth resumes once again.

Cold temperatures won’t kill off cabbage plants, but frost can damage their leaves. If young seedlings are frost damaged, their growth can be stunted, so it’s advisable to cover with cloth or hessian to protect them on frosty nights.


4. Nitrogen Deficiency

All plants require nitrogen as a nutrient to produce leafy green growth. Brassicas are heavy feeders, so they require high soil fertility to provide sufficient nitrogen for their growth demands.

Adding slow-release fertilisers such as manures, blood and bone or a complete balanced fertiliser to the soil at the start of autumn will boost the soil fertility to ensure healthy growth. Additional fertiliser may be applied every 6-8 weeks, but should be stopped immediately when the head starts forming.

Don’t use liquid fertilisers, they wash out very quickly, and are only meant to be used to provide a supplemental or additional feed every few weeks after the slow-release fertilisers are used.


5. Over-fertilising

Applying too much fertiliser can lead to an excess of nitrogen, which will force the plant to produce prolific leaf growth, possibly at the expense of head formation. Avoid fertilising cabbages while the head is forming, as this may cause excessive leaf growth and splitting of the head.


6. Pest Damage

If the central growing point of a young cabbage plant is damaged by pests, the existing leaves in the middle of the plant will thicken and harden, and no additional leaf growth will be produced in that portion of the plant, preventing the formation of a head. For this reason, it’s important to protect young plants from pests (such as cabbage white butterflies and snails) and frosty weather, and to also be careful when handling them so as not to damage them.


7. Overcrowding

Cabbages should not be planted too close together as this may prevent them forming heads, Give them plenty of room to grow!

Depending on the variety of cabbage, the space between plants and the space between rows may vary, as larger cabbages will require much more space than the dwarf varieties. The spacing is usually specified on seedling punnet labels and seed packaging, and typically cabbages are spaced 30 – 45cm (12 – 18”) apart, with rows spaced 60cm (24”) apart.


As we can see from the factors listed above, improper growing conditions which stress cabbage plants or stunt their growth during their growing period can cause the plants to not form heads. This would be considered a crop failure when growing cabbages, as the head is the edible part of the plant.

Cabbages will produce a reliable crop if we plant them at the correct time of year, ensure that their growing requirements are met, protect them from pests and frost damage when they’re first planted, and allow them enough time to mature. Nature will do the rest!



  1. Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System – Cabbage
  2. University of Arizona, Yuma County Cooperative Extension – Green Cabbage by Kurt Nolte
  3. University of Minnesota Extension, Growing cabbage in home gardens
  4. Penn State University, PlantVillage – Cabbage (red, white, Savoy), Diseases and Pests
  5. University of Florida, Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) – Gardening Solutions, Cabbage
  6. University of Maryland Extension, Home and Garden Information Center – Cabbage
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The Easiest Way to Dry and Process Turmeric Root to Make Turmeric Powder



Turmeric (Curcuma longa syn. C. domestica) is a subtropical/tropical plant which is a member of the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family, and is native to Southwest India. It’s grown traditionally as a spice, medicine and as a source of bright yellow dye. Ground turmeric root is an important culinary spice, and curry powder contains up to 25% turmeric.

The root (rhizome) of the turmeric plant has been used in Chinese and Indian medicine for thousands of years. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), dried turmeric rhizome is known as Jiāng Huáng, 姜黄, while in Ayurvedic (traditional Indian) medicine, it’s referred to as Haridra.


The Health Benefits of Turmeric

In the western world we’re seeing a growing interest in turmeric due to its incredible health properties. It possesses powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-tumour, and antioxidant properties, due to its curcumin content.

In case you weren’t aware, the yellow food colouring agent E 100 is actually curcumin derived from turmeric.

The medicinal properties of curcumin are recognised and well-documented, and science is able to explain how it works. For those interested, here’s an explanation, quoted from the US government’s National Cancer Institute:

“Curcumin is a phytopolylphenol pigment isolated from the plant Curcuma longa, commonly known as turmeric, with a variety of pharmacologic properties. Curcumin blocks the formation of reactive-oxygen species, possesses anti-inflammatory properties as a result of inhibition of cyclooxygenases (COX) and other enzymes involved in inflammation; and disrupts cell signal transduction by various mechanisms including inhibition of protein kinase C. These effects may play a role in the agent’s observed antineoplastic properties, which include inhibition of tumor cell proliferation and suppression of chemically induced carcinogenesis and tumor growth in animal models of cancer.”


When is Turmeric Harvested?

Turmeric roots are harvested in winter after the plants have died down and all the leaves and stem have dried up, which occurs approximately 7 to 10 months after planting. When the plant dies back to the ground, it transfers all the nutrients into the rhizome (root) which becomes dormant over winter.


How to Dry and Powder Turmeric Root Without Fancy Equipment

Turmeric powder has been used for thousands of years, and the ancient people made it for most of that time with the most simplest equipment, and the great news is that we can too! There’s no need to buy expensive appliances such electric dehydrators and food processors for the task. It can all be done very cheaply and easily, much like the traditional way.

As some people may already have the electric appliances, we’ll explain how to use those too in the following instructions.


Step 1 – Clean the turmeric root

Wash the turmeric rhizomes thoroughly to clean off any soil adhering to them, and remove any long roots or leaf scales.

There is no need to peel the rhizomes to clean them, but just like any other root crops that are used fresh, they can be peeled if desired.


In large-scale commercial turmeric processing operations India, turmeric rhizomes are cured before drying. Curing involves boiling the rhizomes in water for 45 min to one hour, until froth appears at the surface, the typical turmeric aroma is released, and the rhizomes become soft.

This is done to gelatinise the starch so the rhizomes dry more uniformly, reducing drying time. It is also done to produce an attractive product that will appeal to buyers – to remove the raw earthy odour, to cause the colouring to diffuse evenly throughout the rhizome to produce a more uniformly coloured product, and a to remove wrinkling to make  the rhizomes more suitable for polishing, a process where the outer surface is smoothed and polished by manual or mechanical rubbing.

When making turmeric powder at home, there is no need to boil the rhizomes, and it’s important to be aware that over-cooking deteriorates the colour of turmeric.


Step 2 –  Slice the turmeric root into very thin pieces

For turmeric rhizomes to dry out, they need to be sliced thin, and to do this, a sharp knife and a cutting board are required.

Turmeric can stain things yellow, so if using a wooden cutting board, it’s best to use an old one as the stains may not come out.



When slicing the turmeric rhizomes with a knife, cut the slices as thin as possible, and no thicker than 3mm (1/8”).



A potato peeler can be used to create extremely thin slices which will dry very easily, but it’s a slower process.



Step 3 – Lay out sliced turmeric root to air dry

Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on a tray and lay the turmeric slices on it, trying to keep them evenly spaced and not laying on each other as much as possible.

The best spot for drying is a well-ventilated location away from direct sunlight.

When the turmeric slices become brittle and can be snapped in half, they’re dried and ready to be ground into powder.

The turmeric slices shown below were placed in a tray on a kitchen bench away from a window, and left to dry for 5-6 days in the middle of winter. The indoor temperature was 21 °C (70 °F) with a relative humidity of approximately 60%, which is maintained by the ducted gas heating.

Using an electric dehydrator – the optimum drying temperature for turmeric and ginger rhizomes is 60 ºC (140 °F) when using a dehydrator. The time required will vary between dehydrators, but the model I own (Ezidri) takes around 10 hours when the slices are less than 5mm thick.

Oven drying is not a good idea as the lowest temperature is much too hot, causing the kitchen will fill with the smell of turmeric, meaning that a lot of the volatile compounds in the spice have been lost into the air. The key active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has a melting point of 183 °C (361.4°F), and in studies where curcumin is used as the food colouring agent, it is recommended that processing temperature should not exceed 190 °C (374°F), as this is the temperature where the decomposition of curcumin begins.



In Indian commercial operations, turmeric is dried using cross-flow hot air at a maximum temperature of 60 ºC, or it is sun dried in the middle of summer, which may take 10 to 15 days. With large-scale sun drying, sliced rhizomes are laid out on cement floors or bamboo mats and spread into layers 5-7 cm (2-3”) thick to minimize direct sunlight which causes surface discoloration of the turmeric. At night, the rhizomes are heaped together to protect them from moisture. Using such thick layers, it is understandable why they need to boil the rhizomes in the curing process for more uniform drying.


Step 4 – Grind dried turmeric root into turmeric powder

The dried turmeric slices can be ground into turmeric powder very quickly and easily using a cheap coffee grinder, like the one shown below.



When grinding turmeric, it’s important that the crushing speed doesn’t heat up the spice too much. Heating will lead to the loss of volatile compounds, and the combination of heat and oxygen during the grinding process may cause degradation of the curcumin content.

Coffee grinders don’t heat up the turmeric powder, and create a very fine, uniform powder in a few seconds. A food processor, which are much more expensive than a coffee grinder, can also be used for the task, but may not break up the turmeric evenly, leaving larger fragments, which may lead some people to run the machine longer. When using the super high-speed food processors which can spin fast enough generate enough heat to cook meals, there is the risk of overheating the spice.If a food processor is leaving larger pieces behind after grinding, sift the powder through a fine sieve and reprocess the larger pieces only, so the fine turmeric powder doesn’t get heated unnecessarily.

The low-tech traditional method for grinding spices, which may take a bit longer, is manual grinding using a mortar and pestle. These implements have been used since ancient times to prepare ingredients by crushing and grinding them into fine powders or pastes in the kitchen, laboratory, and pharmacy. You can purchase a quality a mortar and pestle cheaply from good kitchen supply stores, and they will last forever.



Here is the turmeric powder that was ground with a coffee grinder, which took less than a minute. It has the characteristic turmeric colour, looks great, and made from home-grown turmeric!



Step 5 – Store turmeric powder

Turmeric powder should be stored in an glass jar with tight-fitting lid which is kept in a dark cupboard or kitchen pantry, because it needs to be protected from light and humidity which cause it to degrade. Properly stored turmeric powder has a shelf life of around 2–3 years.


In conclusion, it’s not very difficult to dry turmeric rhizomes and make your own turmeric powder. It can be all be done using traditional, low-tech, sustainable methods without any electrical appliances if you so choose.


You might also like these other articles on turmeric plants:



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health,  National Cancer Institute – NCIthesuaus, Curcumin (Code C401)
  2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), TURMERIC: Post-Production Management Organisation: AGST Prepared by Anne Plotto. Edited by François Mazaud, Alexandra Röttger, Katja SteffelLast reviewed:22/04/2004
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2020). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 969516, Curcumin. Retrieved September 13, 2020 from
  4. Chen, Zhipeng & Xia, Yao & Liao, Sen & Huang, Yingheng & Li, Yu & He, Yu & Tong, Zhangfa & Li, Bin. (2014). Thermal degradation kinetics study of curcumin with nonlinear methods. Food Chemistry. 155. 81–86. 10.1016/j.foodchem.2014.01.034.
  5. PRE & POST HARVEST PROCESSING OF TURMERIC, Senthamizh Selvan, R&D Food Technologist
    Published on Jun 17, 2016 from
  6. Farming India – Turmeric Cultivation in India, December 6, 2017


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How to Improve Drainage in Plant Pots, The Proper Way to Do It!


When growing plants in pots, it’s sometimes necessary to increase drainage because some plants are sensitive to excessive moisture around their root zone, and stagnant water at the bottom of the pot can lead to root rot.

The old garden myth of putting a layer of rocks in the bottom of a pot to increase drainage has been thoroughly debunked by many university agriculture extension agencies, and if you want to see the technical explanation, please read my article – Should You Put Gravel or Rocks at the Bottom of Plant Pots for Drainage?

There are proven ways to increase drainage in pots which are taught in horticulture schools and used by plant production nurseries. In this article I’ll explain the science behind how we increase drainage in pots, and practical advice on which materials we can use for the purpose.


Why Plant Pots Don’t Drain Completely

Water naturally flows to its lowest point due to the force of gravity, and if we pour water into an empty pot, it all leaks out through the drainage holes in the bottom, as expected.

If we fill the pot with an absorbent material, such as a potting medium (potting mix, growing medium, soilless potting medium, whatever you choose to call it), and pour water into the pot, a lot of water will drain out, but some will be retained. A good quality potting medium will drain well but still have enough water retention to supply the plant’s water needs.

The reason that potting media (the plural form of potting medium) retain water is because they are absorbent, and can wick water upwards against the force of gravity, preventing it all from draining out. The more absorbent a material is, the greater its ability to wick water, the higher the water will rise upwards, and the more water will be retained.

What makes a material absorbent? In materials which contain very fine pores or very fine air spaces between their particles, water can wick upwards by capillary action.

Capillary action works by a combination of two forces:

  1. Cohesion, where water sticks to itself and pulls more water along.
  2. Adhesion, where water sticks to other surfaces.


When the upwards force of capillary action is greater than the downward force of gravity, it prevents gravity pushing all the water out, and some water is left behind at the bottom of the pot in the potting medium.

This residual water that doesn’t drain out is known as the perched water table, because it will just sit there and keep the potting medium waterlogged if plant roots don’t access the water and use it up.

The way the forces of gravity and capillary action oppose each other is shown in the diagram below.


The height of the perched water table in containers is determined by equilibrium point between the downward acting force of gravity and the upward acting force of capillary action.


The Science of Increasing Drainage in Potting Media

To improve drainage and reduce water retention, we need to reduce the wicking ability of the potting medium.

Wicking ability is the same thing as capillary action, and it’s driven by the the cohesion of water to itself, and the adhesion of water to other materials as discussed earlier.

Since we can’t reduce water’s ability to stick to itself (cohesion), the only other option we have to reduce wicking is to reduce the water’s ability to stick to its surroundings, the particles of the potting medium (adhesion)!

If we understand which properties of a growing medium maximise wicking and water retention, then we can use the opposite to reduce it!

What is required for maximum wicking in a potting medium?

  • Maximum surface area for the water to adhere to. Smaller particles in a growing medium create a larger available surface area. As an example, imagine a cake, which has a given external surface area. If we cut the cake into slices, we still have the original external surface area, but now also have the additional exposed surface areas of the inside of the cake on the sides of each of the slices.
  • Very narrow air spaces small enough for water to be able to bridge. Smaller particles in a growing medium pack down closer together, creating narrower spaces between themselves. As an example, a jar filled with very large marbles will have very large gaps (air spaces) between them as they don’t sit too close together on account of their size. If the same jar was filled with small marbles, they will fit together much more tightly, leaving only extremely narrow spaces between each other.

How does the size of particles and the spaces between them translate to potting media?

Water can only bridge small gaps between potting medium particles due to its own weight. Increasing the size of the particles in the growing medium also increases the size of the air spaces between them, giving water less to hold on to, which reduces its ability to wick upwards.

This is the simple secret to drainage – by increasing the aeration (air spaces) throughout a material, the small gaps and large surface areas that water can cling to are reduced, so the water drains out more easily.

The only way to increase drainage in a potting medium is to change its composition, which change its physical properties, turning it into a faster-draining potting medium.


The diagram below shows how the size of particles in a potting medium affect drainage.

  1. The first pot is filled with a potting medium in a pot, and has a perched water table which sits quite high.
  2. For comparison,the second pot is filled only with a soil amendment material, such as perlite, which has very large particles, retains very little water, and therefore has an extremely low perched water table.
  3. If we amend the potting medium by mixing the larger particles of the amendment material all the way through it, as shown in the third pot, we create our own custom-made potting medium mixture which has greater aeration due to the larger air spaces between particles, which causes it to drain faster than the original potting medium, and have a lower perched water table as a result.



Let me re-emphasize that point. By amending the potting medium, we are in fact creating a totally different, faster-draining type of growing medium.

So, forget about putting a layer of rocks or gravel in the bottom of pots, beneath the potting medium, that does nothing except reduce the pot volume and push the perched water table upwards where you don’t want it, as that can encourage root rot.

If a potting medium is not modified, it will behave in exactly the same way as it always has, and it will drain as it did previously, that should be logical. Placing something underneath the potting medium does not change its physical properties, which is the factor that determines drainage.


To quote the University of Illinois Extension article on the subject “Skip the gravel inside the bottom of individual or pot liners

It is a myth that a layer of gravel (inside the bottom of an individual pot) beneath the soil improves container drainage. Instead of extra water draining immediately into the gravel, the water “perches” or gathers in the soil just above the gravel. The water gathers until no air space is left. Once all the available soil air space fills up, then excess water drains into the gravel below. So gravel in the bottom does little to keep soil above it from being saturated by overwatering.”


Three Soil Amendment Materials for Improving Drainage in Pots

In this section we’ll discuss the various amendment materials which can be used to increase drainage in potting media, as well as their advantages and disadvantages. By knowing how they perform, it’s much easier to make an informed decision as to which is best to use for a particular purpose.


1. Perlite


Perlite is a white, lightweight, highly porous material which is produced by rapidly heating volcanic silicate rock to high temperatures above 870°C (1,600°F) which causes the water in the perlite to be converted to gas that causes the heat-softened mineral to expand like popcorn, by 4–20 times its original volume.

Expanded perlite is very light, with a bulk density of about 30 – 150 kg/m³ (2 – 9 lb/ft³) depending on the grade. It comes in different grades ranging in size from 3 – 6mm (1/8 – 1/4”) in diameter.

It’s used extensively in potting media, greenhouse growing media, nursery propagation applications and as a hydroponic growing medium. Fine grades of perlite are available which can more easily fill very small containers for use in seedling plug production.



  • Improves aeration and drainage.
  • Non‐toxic, sterile, odourless.
  • Chemically inert, pH neutral with a pH of 7.0 – 7.5, no pH buffering capacity, contains no mineral nutrients, almost no CEC (cation exchange coefficient) so it cannot hold nutrients.
  • Will not compact over time.
  • Low water-holding capacity, water is only retained on surface and in empty spaces between particles. Has “closed cell” pore structure, so pores don’t absorb or hold water.
  • Lightweight, reduces the weight of the potting medium while increasing drainage, unlike coarse sand which improves drainage but increases weight and creates less aeration.
  • Can be steam-heated to sterilize.
  • Moderate cost.



  • Has a tendency to float to the top of the potting medium during watering.
  • Very dusty when dry, dust is harmful if inhaled. Avoid health risk by wearing a dust mask when handling the product.
  • Must be moistened before mixing into other ingredients to keep dust down.
  • May contain levels of fluoride that may be toxic to fluoride-sensitive plants. Avoid fluoride toxicity problems by keeping the pH above 6, and by not using fluoride-containing commercial phosphate fertilizers (such as superphosphate, diammonium phosphate, ammonium nitrophosphate), which you shouldn’t be using in the first place because they’re synthetic, not organic-certified and really bad for your soil!
  • Can release toxic levels of aluminium into solution when the pH is low, avoid this problem by keeping the pH above 6.


2. Vermiculite


Vermiculite is a lightweight, highly porous material, consisting of glossy flakes that vary in colour from dark gray to sandy brown, which are produced by heating chips of the layered mineral mica to high temperatures of around 800 – 1100 °C (1,472 – 2,012°F), which causes the laminated, plate-like structure to expand, much like an accordion, creating a highly porous lattice structure with good aeration and water-retention properties.

Expanded vermiculite is very light, with a bulk density of 64 – 160 kg/m³ (4 – 10 lb/ft³), depending on the grade, and it usually comes in four different grades, where #1 is the coarsest and #4 the finest in terms of particle size.

It’s used to increase moisture and nutrient retention in potting media. The finer grades are used for seed germination and topdress seedling flats, while the coarser grades are used in potting media.

Only horticultural-grade vermiculite should be used for gardening purposes, the type sold at garden centres, and not the grade sold for construction or industrial purposes.



  • Improves aeration and drainage.
  • Non‐toxic, sterile, odourless.
  • Excellent pH buffering capacity.
  • Fairly high CEC (cation exchange coefficient (2 – 2.5meq/100cc), so it can hold soil nutrients and slowly release them.
  • Contains some potassium, magnesium and calcium that slowly becomes available to plants.
  • Highly absorbent, with a very high water holding capacity, can hold water, nutrients, and air, unlike perlite.



  • Easily compressible, should not be compacted or pressed, especially when wet, as this will destroy its structure and reduces its ability to hold water and air.
  • Less durable than coarse sand and perlite.
  • The finer grades which are used to fill seedling plug trays have particles which are too small to hold much air or water for developing roots.
  • The pH can vary from slightly to very alkaline, depending where it is mined. Most vermiculite from the US has a pH between 6.3 -7.8, which is neutral to slightly alkaline, whereas vermiculite from Africa can be quite alkaline, around pH 9.


Vermiculite and Asbestos Contamination

There were health concerns around vermiculite in the 1990’s over contamination with fibrous tremolite asbestos. Here’s the history. The vermiculite mine near Libby, Montana was the largest and oldest vermiculite mine in the US, and was started in the 1920s. It was producing more than half the worldwide supply of vermiculite from 1925 to 1990, which was found to be contaminated with asbestos and asbestos-like fibres. Mining operations were stopped at this site in 1990 in response to asbestos contamination.

Due to this incident and the attention it drew, which resulted in a massive lawsuit against the mining company, most mines these days closely monitor their operations to avoid problems with asbestos contamination in commercially available expanded vermiculite. As a safety precaution, it is advisable to keep vermiculite moist while using it in order to minimize dust, and to wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling any dust from the material.


The Differences Between Vermiculite and Perlite

Vermiculite and perlite are used interchangeably for certain applications, as they both provide increased pore space due to the size of their particles, improving drainage while minimizing the weight of the soil.

They do differ however in certain properties, which will determine whether one is used in preference to the other.


  • Vermiculite is composed of an expanded, plate-like structure with air spaces between layers which allow it to absorb water.
  • Perlite has a “closed cell” structure without open pores, and cannot absorb water.

Cation-exchange coefficient (CEC)

  • Vermiculite can bind and slowly release positively-charged nutrients such as potassium  magnesium and calcium.
  • Perlite cannot not bind nutrients.

Soil chemistry

  • Vermiculite has a slightly alkaline to very alkaline pH, and has a pH buffering capacity, which stabilises the pH.
  • Perlite is  neutral in pH, and has no buffering capacity.


  • Vermiculite particles are soft and compressible, and will compact easily with repeated digging, losing their beneficial properties.
  • Perlite particles are hard and brittle, and cannot be compressed, will tolerate repeated digging, with some particles being broken into smaller pieces.


3. Coarse Sand


Sand is one of the basic components of soil, and is composed mainly of small particles of of silica (silicon dioxide) in the form of quartz. Grains of sand are solid particles which do not absorb water.

Unlike other amendment materials, sand is extremely heavy, with a bulk density of 1,520-1,680 kg/m³ (95-105 lb/ft³). It comes in a range of grades ranging from 0.05mm to 2.0mm in diameter.

Coarse sand, which has a large particle size, is used as an amendment for potting media, and commonly used in greenhouse and nursery propagation mixes. It’s added to improve drainage and increase the weight of the potting mixes, acting as a ballast to help prevent potted plants being blown over by winds in outdoor plant nurseries, and is most often found in very fast draining potting mixes used for cacti and succulent plants. Another common use of coarse sand is to top dress lawns, it’s used both on existing lawns, and when laying instant lawns, especially buffalo varieties.

Only washed or horticultural-grade sand of medium to coarse grade (0.25 – 2 mm) should be used in potting mixes. Deep-mined, white mountain sands are used for this purpose because they’re mostly silicon dioxide with very little silt, clay or other contaminants.

Avoid using calcareous sands (created from coral, shell fragments and skeletal remains of marine organisms) as these are high in calcium carbonate which is the same thing as limestone, or garden lime, and has a very high (alkaline) pH value. Also, don’t use sands sourced from the ocean as they are saline, they contain sea salt which is harmful to plants.


Which Grades of Sand Can be Used in Potting Media?

It is important to note that sand only improves drainage and aeration by providing increased pore space due to the size of its particles, so it only works when its particles are larger than those of the medium it is amending.

Soil is composed of sand, silt and clay, and the reason why sandy soils drain so well is because the largest particles in the soil are sand particles. Silt particles are smaller than sand, and clay particles are the smallest.

That said, sand should not be mixed with clay soils. The Puyallup Research and Extension Center at Washington State University warns that adding some sand to clay soil will not improve it, as the fine clay particles will simply fill the spaces between the sand particles. This will result in a heavier, denser soil with less total pore space than either the sandy or the clay soil alone. We are told that soil must consist of nearly 50% sand by volume for it to behave like a sandy soil.

As we can see from the table below, the very finest sand particles are 0.05 mm in diameter, the same size as silt particles. Compared to silt and clay particles in soil, even the smallest sand particles are fairly large.


Soil particles in order of increasing size

Clay …………….…….. <0.002 mm
Silt ………………..…… 0.002 – 0.05 mm
Sand ……………….…. 0.05 – 2.0 mm
Very fine sand ….…. 0.05 – 0.10 mm
Fine sand ……………. 0.10 – 0.25mm
Medium sand ….….. 0.25 – 0.5 mm
Coarse sand ……..…. 0.5 – 1.0  mm
Very coarse sand .… 1.0 – 2.0 mm

For more information on soil types, please see the article Soil Texture and Types of Soils


Typically, only medium to coarse grades of sand (0.25 – 2 mm) are used to amend potting media as the particles are large enough to provide optimum improvements to the media texture.

Cactus and succulent growing mixes tend to be the fastest-draining growing media available for pots and containers. These mixes can contain between 10-30% coarse sand, crushed quartz or other crushed rock, and and are very heavy for that reason.



  • Improves aeration and drainage.
  • Non‐toxic, sterile, odourless.
  • Chemically inert, pH neutral.
  • Will not compact over time.
  • Less dusty than perlite and vermiculite.
  • Very low water-holding capacity, water is only in empty spaces between particles.
  • Cheapest inorganic amendment material.



  • Heaviest amendment material.
  • Improves drainage like perlite does, but creates less aeration than while increasing weight of potting medium.



Other Amendment Materials Which Can Be Used to Improve Drainage in Pots

All the inorganic (non-carbon based, not derived from living matter) soil amendments discussed so far all increase the pore size between media particles, creating larger air spaces which decrease water holding capacity and improve drainage and aeration.

There are many other inorganic materials that can be used for the same purpose, such as:

Pumice – extremely porous igneous volcanic rock naturally expanded by gases in the molten rock. A rock-foam of volcanic glass with so much air in its structure that it floats on water.

Scoria – very porous igneous volcanic rock naturally expanded by gases in the molten rock. A porous basaltic lava with very small vesicles (pores) less than 1mm, smaller than those in pumice, and with thicker walls, making it more dense so it sinks in water. The most common variety of scoria (lava rock) used in landscaping is red in colour, even though it can be black or dark brown. The red scoria actually starts out black, but the iron content in the rock is oxidised (chemically rusted) during volcanic eruption which turns it red. The name scoria comes from the Greek word for rust, which is  σκωρία, skōria.

Pea-gravel – small, smooth, rounded pebbles up to the size of a large pea, shaped naturally by exposure to running water, or through a tumbling process for polishing. Aquarium gravel is usually smaller in size, and both are often used for top-dressing the soil in water-plant pots in ponds and water gardens to avoid clouding the water.

Clay balls – used extensively as a hydroponic growing medium, these are not actually balls of clay, but rather small pumice balls coated with a later or clay. Quite expensive to use as an amendment material.


The only concern with mixing rocks into a potting medium is the obstruction they create when digging, much like digging with a shovel into soil full of rocks. If the potting mix is not going to be frequently dug into then this shouldn’t be that much of an issue.

Some of these materials may also contain fine rock dust, which may need to be washed out to avoid filling the air spaces in the potting mix. This is easily done by putting the rocks into a pot with drainage holes, and using a jet of water under pressure to hose them down. If the drainage holes in the pot are too large, put a piece of shade cloth or flyscreen material inside the pot first to stop the rock washing out.


How to Test Drainage in Potting Mixes

Once a potting medium has been amended to improve drainage, it’s probably worthwhile testing it to see if the changes have really made any difference.

Here is simple test to determine how well a potting mix drains:

  1. Fill a pot with 1 litre (approx 1 US quart) of dry non-amended potting mix.
  2. Fill a second pot with 1 litre (approx 1 US quart) of dry amended potting mix.
  3. Pour 500ml (approx 2 US cups) of water into each pot of potting mix.
  4. Measure the amount of water that drains out after a few minutes and compare the two.

If any mix is draining adequately, then around half the water, or 250ml (approx 1 US cup) of water should drain out after a few minutes.

If the addition of the amendment to the potting medium has improved drainage and reduced water retention, then more water should drain out of the pot containing the amended medium.


How Different Pot Materials Can Affect Drainage

How can we improve drainage without changing the potting medium?

By changing the pot! The material from which a pot is constructed can make a huge difference to drainage.

Unglazed terracotta pots are porous and will wick water away from the potting medium, and are therefore are ideal for plants which prefer better drainage.

Plastic pots only lose water from their drainage holes at the bottom, and tend to retain more moisture, making them a great choice for plants which prefer more moisture.



  1. University of Illinois Extension, Urban Programs Resource Network – Successful Container Gardens, Choosing a Container for Planting – Drainage Is Critical to Plant Health
  2. Pennsylvania State University, College of Agricultural Sciences, PennState Extension – Homemade Potting Media, 2007
  3. The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension – Ornamental Production, Growing Media
  4. The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension – Ornamental Production, Media, Repotting & Containers
  5. University of Connecticut, UConn Home & Garden Education Center – Potting Media, 2016
  6. Arizona Cooperative Extension – Potting Media for Containers
  7. University of Connecticut, The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System, Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory – Packaged Potting Media by Dawn Pettinelli
  8. University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture,  Cooperative Extension Service – FSA6097, Greenhouse and Nursery  Series, Growing Media for Container Production in a Greenhouse or Nursery Part I –Components and Mixes by James A. Robbins
  9. University of Tennessee, Institute of Agriculture, Agricultural Extension Service – PB1618, Growing Media for Greenhouse Production
  10. L.P. Ramteke, A.C. Sahayam, A. Ghosh, U. Rambabu, M.R.P. Reddy, K.M. Popat, B. Rebary, D. Kubavat, K.V. Marathe, P.K. Ghosh,
    Study of fluoride content in some commercial phosphate fertilizers, Journal of Fluorine Chemistry, Volume 210, 2018, Pages 149-155,
    ISSN 0022-1139,
  11. Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University – The Myth of Soil Amendments Part II: “If you have a clay soil, add sand to improve its texture” by Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D., Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor
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What Age Wood Do Fruit Trees Flower and Fruit On?


Fruit trees flower and fruit each year, but some of them do so only on new branches, or specific parts of older branches.

Why does this matter? If we prune off the wrong branches, we might lose our whole fruit crop for a year!

By knowing what age of wood fruit trees producing their fruit on, we can achieve our intended pruning goals of reducing tree size and renewing fruiting wood without accidentally sacrificing the years harvest.

Knowing which branches can be cut allows us to prune fruiting branches shorter as a way of thinning the fruit, to avoid biennial cropping – where a large crop of tiny fruit is produced one year, and very little to no fruit the next. Through yearly pruning, the tree will instead produce a moderate sized crop of large, high quality fruit, each and every year.

Some fruit trees fruit near their tips of their branches, so it’s important to know which ones do this, because pruning their branches will prevent fruiting. For more information on these types of trees, please see the article –  Fruit Trees with Special Pruning Requirements – Figs, Persimmons and Pomegranates


Fruit Tree Fruiting Wood Age and Pollination Requirements

The alphabetical list below details:

  • The age of wood that trees fruit on.
  • Any considerations need to be taken into account when pruning.
  • Whether the trees are self-fertile, and can produce fruit on its own, or if they need a different variety of the same type of tree as a pollinator to bear fruit.

In the descriptions, there are references to fruiting spurs, these are short shoots which produce the majority of flowers and fruit in many fruit trees. Also, some fruit trees are described as being partially self-fertile, these are trees that will produce a crop on their own without a compatible pollinator, but will produce a larger crop when pollinators are present.


Deciduous Fruit Tree Fruiting Wood Age

Red Jonathon apples

Almonds (Prunus dulcis) – fruit on 1-year old wood and from spurs on 2-3-year old wood. Some varieties are self-fertile, while others require a pollinator. Almond trees are not true nut trees but are in fact fleshless peaches, which is why they’re in this list.

Apples (Malus spp.) – most apples fruit on spurs on 2-4-year-old wood, some fruit on tips of short side branches. Most varieties require a suitable pollinator, but some varieties, such as Golden Delicious, Red Fuji, and Red Jonathon are all partially self-fertile. Apples are wind pollinated.

Apricots (Prunus armenica) – fruit on 1-3-year old wood. Don’t prune in winter as apricots as they are susceptible to gummosis, prune on a dry, preferably windy day anytime from after harvest to the start of leaf fall. Self-fertile.

Cherries, Sweet (Prunus avium) – fruit on 1-year old wood and older on branches and on long-lived spurs. Some varieties are self-fertile, while others require a pollinator. Popular red cherry is the Stella variety, and dark cherry is the Lapin variety, both are self-fertile.

Cherries, Sour (Prunus cerasum) – fruit on 2-year old wood. Self-fertile. The popular dark-red sour cherry is the Morello variety.

Figs (Ficus carica) – fruit at the base of current season’s new growth, but some varieties crop twice a year and also produce an early breba crop on the tips of 1-year old wood. Self-fertile.

Jujubes (Ziziphus jujuba) – fruit on current season’s new growth. Self-fertile.

Medlars (Mespilus germanica) – fruit on the tips of 1-year old wood, and from spurs on 2-year-old wood and older. Self-fertile.

Mulberries (Morus spp.) – fruit on current season’s new growth and from spurs on older wood. Prune after harvest in summer, the regrowth will produce a second crop. All varieties are self-fertile.

Nectarines (Prunus persica nectarina) – fruit mainly on 1-year old wood. Self-fertile, only varieties with ‘Hale’ in their parentage will require another variety for pollination. Nectarines are really just smooth peaches without the ‘peach fuzz’.

Peaches (Prunus persica) – fruit mainly on 1-year old wood. Self-fertile, only varieties with ‘Hale’ in their parentage will require another variety for pollination.

Pears (Pyrus spp.) – fruit on long-lived spurs on 2-year old wood and older. Most varieties require a suitable pollinator, but some varieties, such as Williams (Bartlett) are partially self-fertile.

Persimmon (Diospyros kaki) – fruit on current season’s new growth emerging from the last few buds of one-year-old wood. Self-fertile.

Plums, European (Prunus domestica) – fruit on long-lived spurs on 2-year old wood and older. Most varieties require a suitable pollinator, but some varieties, such as Green Gage, and Damsons are self-fertile.

Plums, Japanese (Prunus salicina) – fruit on 1-year old wood, and on short-lived spurs on older wood. Most varieties require a suitable pollinator, but some varieties, such as Santa Rosa are self-fertile, while varieties such as Mariposa are partially self-fertile..

Pomegranates (Punica granatum) – fruit from spurs growing mainly on the ends of the branches, which can be produced on current season’s new growth, but mainly on 2-3-year old wood. Can be hedged. Self-fertile, but productivity is increased when other pomegranate varieties are grown nearby.

Quinces (Cydonia oblonga) – fruit on current season’s new growth. Self-fertile.


Evergreen Fruit Tree Fruiting Wood Age

Valencia oranges

Avocados (Persea americana) – fruit on the ends of current season’s new growth. Partially self-fertile in cooler temperate climates, In warmer subtropical and tropical climates, both a type A and type B variety are required for pollination.

Citrus (Citrus spp.) – fruit on current season’s new growth. Self-fertile.

Cherry Guava (Psidium littorale) – fruit on current season’s new growth. Can be hedged. Self-fertile.

Feijoa (Acca sellowiana) – fruit only on 1-year old wood. Can be hedged. Self-fertile, but more productive when other feijoa varieties are grown nearby.

Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) – fruit mainly on the ends of current season’s new growth. Self-fertile.

Olives (Olea europa) – fruit only on 1-year old wood. Can be hedged.  Most varieties are self-fertile, but some varieties require a pollinator. Wind pollinated.

Sapote, White (Casimiroa edulis) – fruit on the ends of current season’s new growth emerging from one-year-old wood. Some varieties are self-fertile, such as the Kampong variety, some are partially self-fertile, while others require a pollinator.



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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – October

October is the mid-spring period, flowers bloom in abundance, the warmer weather with rain bringing ideal conditions for lush plant growth. The cold weather hasn’t quite finished yet, cold nights and even frosts can still be expected, along with strong winds, so it’s important to protect tender plants and seedlings.

Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant evergreen shrubs and trees (this includes citrus trees).
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs – they can now regrow their roots during the mild weather.
  • Set up windbreaks (e.g. plastic tree guards) to protect newly planted evergreen trees and shrubs.
  • Plant potted fruit trees and vines (having roots, can be planted anytime, best in spring & autumn).
  • Relocate any self-seeded annuals to better locations in the garden.
  • Tidy up overgrown plants and tie growing vines back to supports or wires.
  • Continue propagating plants by taking cuttings or layering (both ground layering and air layering).
  • Feed brambleberries (raspberries, blackberries & hybrids) and currants.
  • Last chance to remove dead winter growth, and to dig up and divide perennial plants
  • Clean out ponds and water gardens, divide waterlilies, plant new aquatic plants.


Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in October Harvest (weeks)
Amaranth ds 7-8
Angelica ds 18 months
Asparagus d 2-3 years
Asparagus Pea d 8-11
Beetroot ds 7-10
Borage ds 8-10
Burdock d 17-18
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Carrot d 12-18
Celeriac s 14-28
Celery s 17-18
Chicory d 16-24
Chinese cabbage ds 8-10
Chives ds 7-11
Climbing beans d 9-11
Coriander d 30-45
Cucumber d 8-10
Daikon d 8-10
Dill d 8-12
Dwarf beans d 7-10
Endive ds 10-11
Fennel d 14-15
French tarragon d 30-40 days
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Horseradish d 16-24
Jerusalem Artichokes d 15-20
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Lemon balm s 8-10
Lettuce ds 8-12
Marrow d 12-17
Mustard greens d 5-8
NZ Spinach s 8-10
Okra ds 11-14
Oregano s 6-8
Parsley ds 9-19
Parsnip d 17-20
Potato d 15-20
Pumpkin ds 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rhubarb d 12 months
Rocket d 21-35 days
Rockmelon ds 10-16
Rosella s 21-25
Rosemary d 12 months
Sage d 18 months
Salsify d 14-21
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Spring onions d 8-12
Summer savory d 6-10
Sunflower ds 10-11
Sweet corn ds 11-14
Sweet marjoram s 8-10
Turnip d 6-9
Yacon d 25
Yam/Oka d 15-20

d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – October

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The Fastest Way to Transplant Volunteer Seedlings with Minimum Root Disturbance



It’s always a great idea to let vegetables such as lettuce to go to seed, because a single plant can produce hundreds of seeds, resulting in lettuce seedlings popping up all around the garden. Plants that grow on their own, that weren’t intentionally planted, are known as volunteers, and volunteer vegetable seedlings are basically free plants.

If we leave areas of bare soil in the garden unplanted, nature will attempt to fill those spaces with whatever is blowing in the wind to protect the soil and prevent erosion. Odds are that whatever starts growing there may not be our first choice of plants, they may be what some people call ‘weeds’.

But what if the seeds blowing in the wind were premium lettuce varieties?


Avoiding Seedling Transplant Shock

If we’re lucky to find volunteer vegetable seedlings growing in our garden, our first thoughts are usually to move them to a better location.

Seedlings need to be reasonably well-developed before they can be transplanted, otherwise they might not survive the transplant shock or any roaming pests that might wander past and eat them to the ground.

When gardeners sow seeds, they usually wait until the seedlings produce their first true leaves before transplanting them. It’s usually better to wait a bit longer until seedlings grow a few more true leaves, they’re much more resilient by then, and establish themselves more easily after transplanting.




When transplanting seedlings, don’t cut their roots, ‘tickle’ them to loosen then up, tear them apart, wash them or remove the growing medium from from, as root damage is the biggest cause of transplant shock. If they’re seedlings in a punnet or pot, very gently pull them apart to separate them for planting.

Ideally, we should aim to cause as little root disturbance as possible when transplanting any plants, whether they’re tiny seedlings or large fruit trees. There are ways to deal with spiralling roots that can strangle the rootballs in mature plants, see the instructions in the article – Should You Tease Out Plant Roots When Transplanting?

We can minimise root disturbance when digging up seedlings from the garden by using a larger implement to lift out as much of the surrounding soil around the roots as possible. This works well if there are no other plants close by that might get damaged.

Inevitably, volunteer seedlings tend to pop up between other plants. How do we relocate them, lifting out as much of the soil around their roots without damaging the root systems of nearby plants?


How to Transplant Seedlings Using a Bulb Planter

The tool that allows surgical precision in seedling transplanting is the humble bulb planter. It’s a metal cylinder with a handle, which is pushed into the soil and pulled back up to remove a plug of soil to make a perfect hole in the ground, with a lever which releases the soil inside it.

Bulb planter are used by growers of ornamental flowering bulbs, such as daffodils, tulips and liliums for example. These tools are very fast and efficient for the arduous task of planting dozens of bulb in the ground at a very specific depth.

They’re quite useful for productive gardens too, I use bulb planters when planting potatoes, and they make the job effortless, but where they really shine is in their ability to make perfectly uniform holes in the soil, and fill them with perfectly fitting plugs of soil also. It was this capability of the the tool that led me to experiment with using bulb planters to transplant seedlings, and I found that they work brilliantly, and what’s even more amazing is that they do such a clean job that it’s very difficult to tell a seedling was transplanted as there’s no visible soil disturbance!.

In the following sequence of photos, I will demonstrate how to use a bulb planter to transplant a lettuce seedling.


Step 1 – Make the hole for the seedling to be planted into

Find a good spot in the garden to transplant the seedling to, an empty space that will be its new home.

In case you’re wondering, the reason the soil looks like this is in the photo is because a layer of compost was recently added!



Get the bulb planter!



Push the bulb planter all the way into the soil, twisting it left and right while pushing down.



Lift the bulb planter back out, twisting left to right while pulling it up if that makes it easier withdraw it with its plug of soil.



A perfectly cut hole in the soil ready to receive a new seedling!



Step 2 – Empty the plug of soil in the bulb planter into a bucket

Squeeze the bulb planter lever to release the soil into a bucket. We need to use this soil to fill the hole that will be left when the seedling is removed from the ground, so don’t toss it out.



Step 3 – Remove seedling from the soil

Carefully guide the leaves of the seedling into the bulb planter, ensuring that all leaves are sitting inside, and the plant is centred within the tool so that all the roots end up inside the plug of soil that will be removed from the ground.



Slowly and carefully push the bulb planter all the way into the soil, twisting it left and right while pushing down to cut more easily through the soil.



Lift the seedling out of the ground by gently twisting left and right while pulling upwards to ease it out.

What we now have is just like a potted advanced seedling, with all the soil around its roots still in place.



Step 4 – Transplant the seedling into its new location

Take the seedling in the bulb planter to the location where the first hole was made, the spot chosen to be the seedling’s new home where it will be transplanted to.



Carefully guide the bulb planter carrying the seedling into the hole, gently twisting the bulb planter left to right while pushing down to align it nice and straight.



With the seedling fully seated in the hole, squeeze the bulb planter lever to release the soil with the seedling in it, while gently lifting and twisting side by side. Do this slowly to avoid pulling the seedling back out again.



A perfectly transplanted seedling with no visible soil disturbance!



Step 5 – Water the seedling

Watering seedlings after transplanting helps settle the soil, remove any air pockets, and gives plants a well-deserved drink.

In the horticulture industry, we like to add some seaweed extract to the water in a watering can, as it contains root growth stimulants which help the plant establish itself faster.



Step 6 – Refill the first hole

Remember the soil that we emptied into the bucket in the second step? We need to empty this into the first hole we made, because we don’t want to leave holes in the garden!



Lightly tap the filled hole level with the bulb planter so it all looks tidy once again, and that’s it!



Bulb planters come in different sizes, they vary more by length, but the longer ones are a little bit wider. I purchased two different sizes as they’re relatively inexpensive, and the decent quality ones last forever, mine are over ten year old. Don’t get the really cheap ones as the always break at the top rivet which allows the tool to hinge to release the soil, that’s the weakest point.

I’ve used a smaller sized bulb planter here, and it easily cuts deep enough into the soil to lift out all the roots of volunteer lettuce seedlings and any other annual vegetables that might pop up in the garden. As long as the roots of the seedling can be contained within the volume of the bulb planter without being cut off, then it’s the right sized garden tool for the task. Admittedly, I’ve used it for planting ornamental flowering bulbs too.

It’s handy having the larger, longer sized bulb planter for transplanting more advanced seedlings, and young dandelions which have really long tap roots. The larger capacity even works for planting quite large potatoes. The larger bulb planter can easily do the task of the smaller one simply by not pushing it as deep into the soil.

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Book Review – How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life? by Isabell Shipard

How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life?: Over 500 Herbs, Spices and Edible Plants: an Australian Practical Guide to Growing Culinary and Medicinal Herbs

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How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life?: Over 500 Herbs, Spices and Edible Plants: an Australian Practical Guide to Growing Culinary and Medicinal Herbs by Isabell Shipard is one of the best practical books on growing and using herbs that I’ve read. I know that’s a big statement, but this is what I’ve used as my reliable go-to reference book for herbal remedies for many years!

The information is in this book is authoritative and well-researched, and the author Isabell Shipard really knows her stuff. You can tell the information  she shares is drawn from her extensive experience of growing and using herbs throughout her life.

Even though the author is Australian, as the title suggests, the book is quite universal as it covers a wide range of herbs, both traditional western ones and eastern ones also, that are grown all around the world. If you’re in  the US or UK, this book will cover all the herbs you’ll ever encounter and then some.

This large format book is A4 page sized, making it easy to read, and with close to 400 pages of information it’s very comprehensive, with detailed information on more than 500 herbs. The addition of glossy colour photo sections throughout the book are a wonderful addition, they really help with plant identification and also make the book even more educational.


The publisher’s described the book as follows:

“The information presented in this herb book for growing spices, rare edibles, herbs and other plants with culinary and medicinal uses; and the research on how herbs can be used for alternative medicine, herbal remedies, herbal nutrition, alternative pain relief, is relevant and applicable to many countries, climates and cultures throughout the world. Through reading this herb book you will learn about herbs that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, chlorophyll and natural antibiotics, and how, many herbs have valuable alkalising benefits.

You will gain an understanding of how herbs relate to health, how herbs contain pain-relieving properties, support the innate healing process, and strengthens the immune system. And you will grow in an appreciation of how, many medicinal herbs can be used as preventative medicine.”


The layout of each section is really well-structured, making it easy to find the information that you need.

Under the title of each herb is the following information:

  • Common names of the herb
  • Botanical name
  • Botanical  plant family


The Description provides all the information that a gardener requires to grow the herb and more:

  • Detailed plant identification information
  • Propagation information
  • Growing requirements
  • Additional useful information such as where the plant is native to, its history, and other plants that are often mistaken for the plant discussed.

Also included is a summary of the properties of the herb:

  • Constituents, such as active ingredients, nutritional components
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals
  • Actions, such as antibiotic, diuretic, expectorant, etc.


The Medicinal Uses information is very detailed, thoroughly-researched and extensive. Every single possible medicinal use is covered for each herb, as well as any other herbs that it’s usually combined with to treat specific conditions. I really like the addition of the ethnobotanical knowledge, the explanations of how the plants are used traditionally in the countries where they grow natively.

If there are any special processes required to prepare a herb for use, these are described very clearly, and the step-by-step instructions are always very easy to follow.

  • Doses are always specified, as well as duration, how often a herb needs to be used. If there are any precautions which need to be observed, these are clearly stated.


The Culinary Uses are included  in this book, and this is a clever consideration, as many herbs are also culinary, and many foods are medicines.


Other Uses of each herb beyond the medicinal and culinary, describing every other possible practical use of the herb imaginable, everything from insect repellents to fabric dyes.


Like all good books on the subject of herbal medicine, the index lists herb common names, botanical names, and medical conditions. This allows you to use the book in two ways.

  1. If you’ve got a herb growing in the garden, you can become better acquainted with it by looking up its name and discovering all the ways in which it can be used, which is quite exciting!
  2. For a specific ailment, you can look it up to find which herbs can be used to treat it, which is very handy. There are several herbs listed for each condition, so if one herb is unavailable, or cannot grow in your location, a substitute can easily be found.


Seriously, this is a brilliant book, and one of those books I’m so glad I bought. I only wish this book was available in eBook format so I could always have the information handy at on my smartphone whenever I might need it!



Book Details

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher : David Stewart; Seventh Edition (January 1, 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10 : 0646422480

ISBN-13 : 978-0646422480


‘How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life?: Over 500 Herbs, Spices and Edible Plants: an Australian Practical Guide to Growing Culinary and Medicinal Herbs’ is an excellent reference book for everyone interested in growing and using medicinal herbs. It really lives up to its name, as it’s a super-useful practical guide on how to use herbs (plants useful to humans) in every aspect of your everyday life, and make the most of the herbs already growing in your garden. A wonderful book that is highly educational, informative and transformative, the information between those green covers can truly enrich your life and enhance your connection to nature. This book is highly recommended!

Deep Green rating for “How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life?: Over 500 Herbs, Spices and Edible Plants: an Australian Practical Guide to Growing Culinary and Medicinal Herbs” by Isabell Shipard is 5 stars!


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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – September

It’s September, the beginning of spring, the time of new life and renewal! The weather is starting to warm up, but there are still cold days, rainy weather and winds to contend with.

Early spring is the best time to mulch garden beds, as the soil is still moist and is slowly warming up.

This month is the last chance to plant bare rooted deciduous trees and shrubs, as they need time to establish before the summer heat arrives. Container grown ones with well developed roots can be planted right through spring.


Things to Do This Month:

  • Plant evergreen shrubs and trees (this includes citrus trees).
  • Relocate evergreen shrubs – they can now regrow their roots during the mild weather.
  • Last chance to plant bare-root deciduous trees, shrubs and vines (otherwise wait till autumn).
  • Feed all fruit trees if you didn’t do so last month.
  • Clean up old growth in perennial herbaceous plants to make room for new growth.
  • Propagate plants by taking cuttings or layering (both ground layering and air layering).
  • Divide perennials, such as chives.
  • Tie canes of brambleberries to wires before the vigorous growth commences in early spring.
  • Plant passionfruit.
  • For seedlings raised indoors in August, harden off by slowly increasing sun and exposure to outside temperatures for 7 to 10 days before planting out.
  • In ponds, begin feeding fish small amounts of food often, so food is not left over to pollute water.


Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in September Harvest (weeks)
Amaranth** ds 7-8
Asparagus d 2-3 years
Asparagus Pea d 8-11
Basil s 10-12
Beetroot ds 7-10
Broccoli ds 10-16
Burdock d 17-18
Cabbage ds 8-15
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Capsicum s 10-12
Carrot d 12-18
Celeriac s 14-28
Celery s 17-18
Chicory d 16-24
Chilli s 9-11
Chives ds 7-11
Climbing beans** d 9-11
Coriander d 30-45
Corn Salad d 5-8
Cucumber d 8-10
Daikon d 8-10
Dill d 8-12
Dwarf beans** d 7-10
Eggplant s 12-15
Endive ds 10-11
Fennel d 14-15
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Horseradish d 16-24
Jerusalem Artichokes d 15-20
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Leeks ds 15-18
Lettuce ds 8-12
Luffa s 11-12
Marrow* d 12-17
Mint s 8-12
Mustard greens d 5-8
NZ Spinach s 8-10
Oregano s 6-8
Parsley ds 9-19
Parsnip d 17-20
Peas d 9-11
Potato d 15-20
Pumpkin* ds 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rhubarb d 12 months
Rocket d 21-35 days
Rockmelon* ds 10-16
Sage d 18 months
Salsify d 14-21
Shallots d 12-15
Silverbeet ds 7-12
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spring onions d 8-12
Squash* d 7-8
Sunflower ds 10-11
Sweet corn** ds 11-14
Tomatillo s 10-14
Tomato ds 8-17
Turnip d 6-9
Winter Savory s 6-10
Zucchini* ds 6-9

d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – September

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Companion Planting with Land Cress for Natural Caterpillar Control


Land Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) and American Upland Cress (Barbarea verna) are biennial, edible leafy-green vegetables from the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family. The young leaves, which are spicy in flavour, are often used as a substitute for watercress in dishes, and can be cooked, or used fresh in salads and sandwiches. They’re nutritious leaf vegetables that contain high amounts vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium, and are worthwhile additions to any productive garden.

These plants are also excellent companion plants for natural pest control, and can be used as dead end trap crops for controlling the following pests:

  • Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella), a specialist pest which only attacks plants from the brassica family, the most destructive insect pest of cruciferous vegetables worldwide.
  • Cabbage Moth (Mamestra brassicae), a generalist pest which not only attacks plants from the brassica family as the name suggests, but a wide range of other plants also.

How do these plants control pests? They put out substances from their leaves known as glucosinolates which stimulate diamondback moths and cabbage moths to lay their eggs on them, but they also contain natural soap-like substances known as saponins which kill the baby caterpillars when they hatch and eat the leaves!


What is A Dead End Trap Crop?

In companion planting, a trap crop is a plant which is more attractive to pests than other plants, and is planted nearby other crops to act as a pest decoy or sacrificial plant.

Trap crops draw pests onto themselves and away from other plants, they can withstand being attacked by pests without being killed off. They either recover from the damage, or continue on regardless of any damage to produce seeds, which then give rise to more plants in the following year.

A dead-end trap crop attracts pests much like other trap crops, but once the pests are attracted, they are killed by the plant, so the pests don’t go any further, and therefore reach a ‘dead-end’!


Land Cress or American Upland Cress, Which is a Better for Pest Control?

Both land cress (Barbarea vulgaris) and American upland cress (Barbarea verna) are used as dead-end trap crops for protecting other brassica crops, but many gardeners are curious as to whether one works better than the other, or if they’re equally effective.

According to a research carried out in Europe in 2014 to asses the the potential of various Barbarea species as dead-end trap crops for diamondback moth, it was found that the levels of glucosinolates which attract diamondback moths to lay their eggs on the plants were fairly similar, and the pests always preferred to lay their eggs on the Barbarea plants rather than on nearby cabbage plants. Both plants work equally well as an attractant.

Researchers also found that American upland cress (Barbarea verna) contained less saponins than other Barbarea plants tested, but the lesser amounts contained did not allow survival of the caterpillars. Both plants are able to eliminate caterpillars.

The conclusion of the study was that both plants tested had potential to be used as dead-end trap crops for diamondback moths. [1]


Land Cress and Upland Cress, Plant Description

American Upland Cress (Barbarea verna) showing characteristic deeply-lobed leaves and rosette leaf arrangement.


If we want to use plants for natural pest control, we need to make sure we’re using the right ones to ensure they’ll be effective. When plants have many common names, there is always the possibility for confusion, which is why horticulturalists tend to refer to plants by their scientific names!

Barbarea vulgaris is known by the following common names – land cress, bittercress, herb barbara, rocketcress, yellow rocketcress, winter rocket, yellow rocket, and wound rocket. This species is native to Eurasia and North Africa, and normally grows as a wild plant. A biennial plant growing to a height of 40-60cm (16-20”).

Barbarea verna is known by the following common names –  American upland cress, American cress, upland cress, bank cress, black wood cress, Belle Isle cress, Bermuda cress, early yellowrocket, early wintercress, scurvy cress and creasy greens. This species is native to southwestern Europe, and is normally cultivated as a leafy vegetable, and has been since the 17th century in Europe. A biennial plant growing to around 30cm (12”) high x 30cm (12”) wide.

In terms of form, these plants produce a rosette of dark green, deeply-lobed, pinnately-divided  leaves.

Flowers are produced in the second year, during spring or summer. Upright stems form, bearing clusters of small, yellow, four-petalled flowers, which eventually form slender seed pods.

Being biennial (living only for two-years), the plants die off after going to seed, but they self-seed easily and small seedlings emerge to replace the plants, and these volunteer seedlings (self-seeded plants) can be transplanted to other locations around the garden as desired.

Seedlings begin growing as a flat rosette form, much like a dandelion, but eventually take on a more upright habit, especially in their second year when they begin to flower.


How to Grow Land Cress and Upland Cress

Many gardeners consider Barbarea vulgaris or Barbarea verna to be much like watercress plants, but much easier to grow, and with lower water requirements. They really are a low-maintenance leaf vegetable.

These plants are usually grown from seed or purchased as seedlings. Growing requirements are as follows:

Soils: will grow in most soil types, prefer moist well-drained soils

Sun: full sun to part shade

Water: moderate water requirements, keep plants watered during warmer weather, don’t let them get too dry or become heat stressed otherwise they will ‘bolt’ (go to seed) early.

Seed Sowing:  sow seeds directly into the ground 0.5cm (1/4”) deep in spring or autumn, keep soil moist and seeds will germinate in 2-3 weeks. Space seeds approximately 2cm apart (15 seeds per foot), and space rows 30cm (12”) apart. Thin out seedlings so that they are 10-15cm (4-6″) apart.

Harvesting: plants will reach maturity in 7-8 weeks, pick leaves are required, or cut full rosettes from the base.

Plant Care: frost hardy, overwinter well, can be covered with a cloche in extreme frosts. Keep seedlings well-watered in spring during hot weather.


In food gardens, grow land cress or upland cress amongst other vegetables to protect them. Plant along one edge of the garden, or locate individual plants throughout the garden.


Intercropping with Land Cress in Agriculture

In agricultural settings Barbarea vulgaris or Barbarea verna can be used as an intercropping plant to protect crops.

Intercropping is practice of growing two or more crops on the same field at the same time, and these plants can be grown in rows between the main crop plants to act as a dead-end trap crop.

Since these plants are biennial, they will will grow over a two year period, and if planting seedlings or seed-sowing is staggered throughout spring and autumn, this will ensure that the rows will contain plants at various stages of their life cycle, eliminating the possibility of all plants going to seed and dying off at once.

A row only needs to be set up once, and plants will self-seed in that location (without becoming invasive) from that point onward to populate the rows more densely if adequate irrigation is provided. This is a low-cost and low maintenance pest control option that takes little space for intercropping, as each plant only grows to around 30cm (12”) wide..


Which Plants Does Land Cress Protect?

All plants that are attacked by the diamondback moth and cabbage moth can be protected by using Barbarea vulgaris or Barbarea verna as companion plants. To know which plants these are, we will need to list the plants these pests attack.


What Plants do Diamondback Moths Attack?

Diamondback moth larvae (caterpillars) are specialist feeders of plants in the Brassicaceae (cabbage, mustard or crucifer) family, and attack virtually all cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Chinese cabbage, brussels sprouts.mustard, radish, turnip, and watercress. [2]


What Plants do Cabbage Moths Attack?

Cabbage moth larvae (caterpillars) are generalist leaf eaters that feed on a wide range of plants across 70 species and 22 families, though plants from the Brassicaceae family are among the most preferred. Minor host plants include various vegetables, herbs, berries, ornamental flowers, fruit trees and ornamental trees.


Does Flowering Land Cress Attract Beneficial Insects?

The diamondback moth Plutella xylostella L. (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae) is controlled naturally by two parasitic wasps, Diadegma insulare Cresson (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) and Diadromus collaris Gravenhorst (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae).

Since these plants flower in their second year, a study was carried out to determine whether flowering Barbarea vulgaris plants could also be used to attract beneficial insects. Researchers found that in plots with flowering B. vulgaris, diamondback moth pupae suffered 1.7 and 4.0 times more parasitism by D. insulare and D. collaris, respectively, than in plots without flowering B. vulgaris.

This indicates that as an additional benefit, the dead-end trap crop plant will also attract parasitic wasps which will attack this pest!

There’s a catch though. The researchers found that when flowering, Barbarea vulgaris reduced its attractiveness to the pest to lay its eggs on it, making it lose its effectiveness as a trap crop. But it did reduce the populations of another pest, the Ornate Shieldbug Eurydema ornata L. (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) in adjacent cauliflower while it was flowering.

The conclusion of the study was that since Barbarea vulgaris is biennial, it could be used as a trap crop for diamondback moth in the first year, and to lower the populations of ornate shield bugs and increase the parasitism of diamondback moth by the wasps when it flowers the second year. [3]

In my opinion, the simple solution to achieve both outcomes each and every year is to plant Barbarea vulgaris (or Barbarea verna) in both the first and second year to create a mix of flowering and non-flowering plants in the same planting area. After they self seed, there will be an ongoing succession of plants of various ages growing together at all times.


Is There a Difference Between the Effectiveness of Young and Old Leaves of Land Cress for Pest Control?

Brassica plants use glucosinolate compounds as part of their plant defence systems, but the diamondback moth, which specialises feeding on the Brassicaceae family of plants, uses this as a means of host plant recognition, it’s how it finds its target plants!

The reason Barbarea vulgaris and Barbarea verna can act as dead-end trap crops for the diamondback moth is because they’re also from the Brassicaceae family, and also contain glucosinolates, but at much higher levels than other brassica plants, which is why they’re more attractive to pests. The Barbarea genus is the only one in the Brassicaceae family which is known to simultaneously contain glucosinolates and saponins. The saponins they contain are there to act as feeding deterrents for diamondback moth, and they work as insecticides preventing the survival of the caterpillars on the plant.

In one study it was found that diamondback moths preferred to lay their eggs on younger leaves compared to older ones, and after analysis it was discovered that the younger leaves contained higher concentrations of both glucosinolates and saponins. [4]

The lower saponin content in older leaves might increase the chances of survival diamondback moth caterpillars on the plant, but the older, larger leaves also have relatively low concentrations of glucosinolates, which make them less attractive for the pest to lay its eggs on, so the pests usually don’t attack those.

This research suggests that the best way to use these cress plants is to harvest the larger young leaves for use as an edible vegetable and leave the smaller ones for pest control.


Does Land Cress and Upland Cress Control Cabbage White Butterflies?


The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is a common garden pest, and its caterpillars attack brassicas and several other plants.

Female adults cabbage white butterflies are able to detect glucosinolates in leaves of Brassicaceae family plants with specialized receptor cells, and are stimulated to lay their eggs on those plants. These compounds are part of the plant’s defences, but the caterpillars are able to detoxify glucosinolates which enables the to feed on the leaves. (5) Searching through current research, I haven’t been able to find any evidence that the saponins in the Barbarea plants adversely affect the cabbage white caterpillars in any way.

This would suggest that Barbarea vulgaris and Barbarea verna would attract the cabbage white butterfly and successfully act as a trap crop for the caterpillars, localising the pest problem to a single area. That would make it much easier for beneficial predator and parasitoid insects to find the caterpillars, or for gardeners to remove them by hand-picking, but these plants won’t work as a dead-end trap crop to eliminate the caterpillars.



  1. Badenes-Pérez, F. R., Reichelt, M., Gershenzon, J., & Heckel, D. G. (2014). Using plant chemistry and insect preference to study the potential of Barbarea (Brassicaceae) as a dead-end trap crop for diamondback moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae). Phytochemistry, 98, 137-144. doi:10.1016/j.phytochem.2013.11.009.
  2. C. R. Philips, Z. Fu, T. P. Kuhar, A. M. Shelton, R. J. Cordero, Natural History, Ecology, and Management of Diamondback Moth (Lepidoptera: Plutellidae), With Emphasis on the United States, Journal of Integrated Pest Management, Volume 5, Issue 3, 1 September 2014, Pages D1–D11,
  3. Badenes-Pérez, F.R., Márquez, B.P. & Petitpierre, E. Can flowering Barbarea spp. (Brassicaceae) be used simultaneously as a trap crop and in conservation biological control?. J Pest Sci 90, 623–633 (2017).
  4. Badenes-Perez FR, Gershenzon J, Heckel DG. Insect attraction versus plant defense: young leaves high in glucosinolates stimulate oviposition by a specialist herbivore despite poor larval survival due to high saponin content. PLoS One. 2014;9(4):e95766. Published 2014 Apr 21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095766
  5. van Leur, H., Vet, L.E.M., van der Putten, W.H. et al. Barbarea vulgaris Glucosinolate Phenotypes Differentially Affect Performance and Preference of Two Different Species of Lepidopteran Herbivores. J Chem Ecol 34, 121–131 (2008).
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What Are the Small Flies in Compost Bins and Are They a Problem?



Many gardeners are familiar with the experience of  lifting the lid off a compost bin and seeing a cloud of small flies rise into the air in front of them.

These little flies are vinegar flies or drosophila, and the reason why they’re found in the compost bin or worm farm is because they feed on and breed in rotting fruit and vegetable matter, and their larvae (maggots) feed on micro-organisms. They’re short-lived, with a lifespan of around 50 days.

They can be identified by their bright brick-red eyes and yellow-brown bodies with distinct black rings running across the top of the abdomen, much like on a bee. These features are not easy to see without a magnifying glass as an adult vinegar fly only measures around 3mm (1/8”) in length.

There are around 1,500 different Drosophila species, and one species, Drosophila melanogaster, is extensively used in genetic research. It’s chosen for this purpose because many generations can be produced in a very short period of time. It has a very short life cycle of 8.5 days (and a bit longer in higher temperatures) to develop from an egg into an adult, is easy to breed, and lots of offspring can be produced  because the female lays about 100 eggs per day.


Are Drosophila a Fruit Fly?

Even though drosophila are often called small fruit flies, they are not related to the pests known as fruit flies, and they do not cause any harm in the garden.

Drosophila, the genus of flies commonly known as vinegar flies, belong to the family Drosophilidae, and tend to gather around overripe or rotting fruit.

On the other hand, true fruit flies, such as Queensland fruit fly (Bactrocera tryoni) and Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) belong to the family Tephritidae, which mainly feed on unripe or ripe fruit, making them highly destructive agricultural pests.


There’s an exception from the Drosophila genus that’s worth mentioning. It has been reported in the US that the spotted wing drosophila or cherry vinegar fly (Drosophila suzukii), an invasive vinegar fly species from Asia, has made its way into that country. The larvae of Drosophila suzukii can also feed on fresh fruit and can sometimes be a pest. They can attacks more than 100 different fruit crops, including cherries, blackberries, blueberries and grapes.

How do you distinguish Drosophila suzukii from other Drosophila species?

Drosophila suzukii male identifying characteristics:

  1. Light yellow or brown fly with red eyes.
  2. Dark spot on leading edge of the wing near the tip, centred on the first major wing vein
  3. Markings consist of bands at the ends of abdominal segments, bands are unbroken.
  4. Front feet with two combs each.  Combs with 3-6 teeth. Teeth of combs parallel to the length of the foot.

Drosophila suzukii female identifying characteristics:

  1. Light yellow or brown fly with red to red-brown eyes.
  2. Large, hardened, saw-like ovipositor with dark teeth.
  3. Markings consist of bands at the ends of abdominal segments, bands are unbroken.
  4. No dark areas around wing veins.
  5. No combs on front feet.
  6. Smaller than 1/8” or 4mm.


How to Control Vinegar Flies in Compost Bins

Vinegar flies are totally harmless, but can become annoying when their populations grow to very large numbers.

To minimise their numbers, here are some actions that you can take:

  • Keep a lid on compost buckets that are used to hold fruit and vegetable scraps destined for the compost bin or worm farm.
  • Don’t place rotting fruit on the surface of a compost pile, bury it in the compost so the females can’t lay their eggs in it and breed up in big numbers.

On the bright side, the nuisance factor of these little flies can serve as a reminder to clean up any fallen fruit, which will attract them when it becomes overripe or starts rotting.

Good garden hygiene isn’t the only reason to collect fallen fruit, because if unripe or ripe fruit falls and is left there, it can become a breeding site for the real fruit flies, which are insidious pests, so keep your garden clean!



  • Zurqui All-Diptera Biodiversity Inventory – How to Identify Flies – Cyclorrhapha
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Invasive Species Information Center – Spotted Wing Drosophila
  • Linford NJ, Bilgir C, Ro J, Pletcher SD. Measurement of lifespan in Drosophila melanogaster. J Vis Exp. 2013;(71):50068. Published 2013 Jan 7. doi:10.3791/50068
  • Oregon Department of Agriculture – Identifying Drosophila suzukii, October 7, 2013 by Josh Vlach
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How to Plant, Grow and Harvest Potatoes

Potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) are a herbaceous, perennial, root-crop plant from the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family that grow to around 60cm (24”) high, and are native to Central and South America. They originated in the Andean highlands almost 10,000 years ago, but have naturalised widely and spread to all continents, growing in climates ranging from temperate to tropical.

When potato plants grow, they produces enlarged underground stems known as the tubers, which store the plant’s food reserves in the form of starch granules, which enable them to survive the cold when the plant dies down above the ground in winter. These starchy tubers are the edible part of the plant, and the portion of the plant used for vegetative plant propagation.

The humble potato is an extremely important cool-season vegetable crop in temperate climates, it ranks as the world’s fourth largest food crop after corn, wheat and rice, and is therefore one of the most important staples in the human diet.


Can You Grow Potato From Seed?

Using certified disease-free seed potatoes sold specifically for planting is the key to a successful potato crop.

Potatoes do actually produce small red fruit which look like tiny cherry tomatoes, and each of these fruit contain viable seed.

The problem is that potatoes are not true-to-seed, meaning that plants grown from seeds will turn out to be different varieties from their parent plant, they show wide genetic variations, and can have poor vigour and lower yields. The propagation of potatoes from seed is also a very time-consuming and labour-intensive process.

For these reasons, potatoes are usually grown from seed potatoes, these are tubers specifically grown to be disease-free, and will produce healthy plants which are clones of the parent plants.


How to Chit Potatoes and is it Really Necessary?

In many gardening books you’ll read about the practice of chitting potatoes before planting them, which simply means encouraging the potatoes to sprout, that’s all!

To chit potatoes, just place them in an open egg carton or tray, with the ‘rose end’ which has the most buds pointing upwards. Put these potatoes in a well-lit but not sunny location which is frost free, such a a room inside the house, and leave them there for around 6 weeks, after which many strong shoots around 1-2.5cm (1/2 – 1”) will emerge.

Sprouting usually happens accidentally when seed potatoes are kept too long in a warm location, so if sprouts emerge, it’s still okay to plant the potatoes. In fact, it’s better to plant them sooner rather than later if they’ve sprouted, because the tubers will begin to lose moisture more quickly, which will show because they’ll begin to wrinkle and soften. I prefer to plant potatoes with the shoots below the soil level if they’re short, as this protects them from the cold till they harden off.

This practice is meant to give potatoes an early start, and may be useful in extremely cold climates, but is usually unnecessary in most locations, so there’s not need to fuss over this practice.


A sprouted potato. The ‘rose’ end of the potato is the end that has the most ‘eyes’ or buds that will sprout to for shoots.


Do Potatoes Need to Be Cut Before Planting?

Another common practice with potato growing is to cut the seed potatoes into pieces which have at least one or two ‘eyes’ or buds before planting. This is a propagation method use to produce more plants, as each section will sprout for the eyes and develops into a new plant.

Seed potatoes larger than 110 grams (3.9 oz) can be cut into pieces as long as each piece has at least two eyes on each part. The energy stored in the potato tuber will drive the growth of the plant, so it’s counter-productive to cut small seed potatoes, as they won’t grow as strongly.

If potatoes are cut, they need to be planted immediately, preferably into a warm, moist soil, so they don’t dry out from the exposed cut area.

When seed potatoes are planted in cold, wet ground, they shouldn’t be cut, but planted whole.


When Is the Best Time to Plant Potatoes?

Potatoes can be planted from late winter through to late summer, which corresponds to:

  • August to February in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
  • February to August in the northern hemisphere (US, UK, etc)

Plant seed potatoes directly where they will be grown, and they will be ready to harvest in 15-20 weeks, or 4-5 months.

In Melbourne, Australia, they’re planted in August, the last month of winter, and they’re usually ready to harvest in March, the first month of autumn.


Crop Rotation of Potatoes

Potatoes are members of the Solanaceae family, which includes Eggplants, Capsicums, Chillies and Tomatoes. Being from the same family, these crops are prone to many common pests and diseases, and use up soil nutrients in a similar way.

The practice of crop rotation is used to prevent localised nutrient depletion, and to avoid the build-up of pests and diseases in a garden bed. How do we implement crop rotation when growing potatoes?

  • Never plant potatoes in a garden bed that has grown potatoes or any other members of the same family for 3 years in a row.
  • Don’t plant root crops in a garden bed previously used to grow root crops (i.e. potatoes after carrots or beetroot).

Ideally, it’s preferable to grow potatoes in a spot where members of the same family were not grown in the last year.


Site Selection and Soil Preparation Potato Growing

Potatoes can be grown in garden beds, or in containers such as large pots 40-50cm (16-20”) wide or even larger 100L (20 gallon) grow bags. Large containers are needed to grow potatoes because they’re root crops which require a good depth and volume of growing medium.

Fill containers with potting mix/potting medium only, don’t use soil, it’s too dense and gets waterlogged in containers! In terms of initial fertilising, a good, premium quality potting mix will usually contain enough fertiliser to last approximately for the first three months, so there’s no need to add any extra fertiliser at the start.

When planting potatoes in the garden, select a  sunny garden location where members of the same Solanaceae family haven’t been grown for the past year.

Loosen the soil to a depth of around 25cm (10”), mixing in compost to improve soil structure and manure or some form of balanced fertiliser to restore fertility. Add twice as much compost as manure, and mix in to make the soil more friable (loose) so the roots can push more easily through the soil.


How to Plant Potatoes, a Step-by-Step Guide

In these instructions the photos show container planting, but I’ll also explain planting in the ground, as it’s not that different.

For container planting, you’ll just need a hand trowel, but for garden bed planting, you’ll probably need a garden spade.



Step 1. Prepare the Planting Holes or Furrows

Potatoes need to be planted below the soil, but not too deep.

  • In containers, just use the hand trowel to make a hole 10 cm (4”) deep.
  • For garden beds, make long furrows or trenches 10 cm (4”) deep, spaced 75 cm (30”) apart.



Step 2. Place Tubers Into Planting Holes or Furrows

When planting potatoes, make sure that the rose end of the potato with the most eyes (buds) is facing upwards.

  • In containers, place the potato into the planting hole, so that the shoots are just below the level of the potting mix.
  • For garden beds, place seed potatoes 25cm (10”) apart along the trench. If you like, you can also sprinkle some balanced fertiliser high in phosphorus between the evenly spaced potatoes at this point.



A few gardening tips. Small potatoes such as these Kipfler potatoes can be spaced fairly closely in containers, as pictured below.

Also, when planting potatoes in the ground, if you’re not into digging, or practise no-dig gardening, and your soil is rich and friable, or was prepared previously in late winter, you can use a large bulb planter to make the holes for the potato tubers, as they’re not too dissimilar to flower bulbs.



Step 3. Cover Seed Potatoes With Soil

Gently cover the potatoes with soil till they are completely below the soil, and don’t compact down the soil above them, leave it loose so the shoots can easily push through the soil.



Step 4. Water In

Water the planted seed potatoes to settle them into the soil and provide them with the moisture they need.

Use a watering can with a rose fitting or a hose fitting that provides a gentle shower setting to water in the potatoes, avoid too much pressure as you don’t want to wash away the top soil level and uncover them.


After a few weeks, the potato plants will emerge from the soil and begin to grow! This photo was taken three weeks after planting.

Once the plants shoot up, they will start growing rather quickly and put on lots of new growth in weeks. This photo was take one week later.


Feeding Potatoes, Choosing the Right Fertiliser

Once the potatoes are planted, it’s just a matter of waiting for them to shoot up from the ground once the weather warms up.

To care for the plants and support their growth, add a solid (powder, pellet or prill) slow-release fertiliser at the start of spring when the plants start growing, and to maximise productivity, add fertiliser every 6-8 weeks during the growing season. Liquid fertilisers should only be used as a top-up supplementary feed, they wash out easily and aren’t long-acting.

The nutrient phosphorus is used by plants for root formation, stem growth, and fruiting, so it’s particularly important to all root crops, including potatoes. It’s best to use a balanced fertiliser which will normally contain ample phosphorus, but will also provide all necessary nutrients in the right amounts.

Fertilisers such as chicken manure or blood & bone are particularly phosphorus-rich, and are great for use around root crops.


Companion Plants for Potatoes

Many plant do much better in the garden when grown alongside other plants, these plants are referred to as good companions in the practice of companion planting.

Conversely, some plants are detrimental to each other’s health when grown close together, and can also spread diseases to each other, so are best kept apart from each other, these are known as bad companions.

Good Companions: Broad Beans, Cabbage, Eggplant, Foxgloves, Green Beans, Horseradish, Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Peas, Sweetcorn

Bad Companions:  Apples, Cherries, Cucumbers (with any but not early crops), Pumpkins, Sunflowers, Tomatoes, Raspberries, Rosemary


When Are Potatoes Harvested?

Potatoes are usually ready to harvest in 15-20 weeks, or 4-5 months after they’re planted. Depending on the timing, potatoes can be harvested early while the plant is still growing in midsummer, which is the month of January in the southern hemisphere or July in the northern hemisphere.

To harvest potatoes early, dig along the side of the plant and work through the soil sideways until potatoes are found, then harvest a only few potatoes without disturbing the rest of the plant. This is easier when potatoes are mounded or grown in mesh frames.

Normally, when the weather cools down and the potato plants die down, the potatoes are then ready to harvest, as all the nutrients have been diverted from the plants into the tubers.



  • The Encyclopedia of Food and Health, 2016 – Potato Plant and Tubers by P. Padmanabhan and G. Paliyath
  • The Encyclopedia of Food and Health, 2016 – Potatoes and Related Crops: Role in the Diet by S. Turner
  • Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, Agriculture and Food division – Mid West potatoes: soil and fertiliser management, December 2014
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How to Grow the Medicinal Aloe Arborescens



Aloe arborescens, also know as the tree aloe, torch aloe, candelabra aloe or krantz aloe, is a hardy succulent perennial plant from the Aloe family Asphodelaceae, which is native to the south-eastern coast of Africa (Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe).

This drought-tolerant succulent prefers to grow in sandy or rocky well-drained soil. It is usually found growing along exposed ridges, cliffs and rocky outcrops in mountainous areas, but is well adapted to grow anywhere from mountain tops all the way down to sea level, and even in habitats such as dense bush and coastal forests. Being salt-tolerant, this Aloe can tolerate coastal conditions.


Is Aloe arborescens Better Medicinally than Other Aloes?

The medicinal value of Aloe arborescens is recognised across many cultures, as it’s a very popular traditional medicinal plant in South Africa, Asia, Russia, Italy and Japan, but there has been renewed interest after it was found that Aloe arborescens contains higher concentrations of active medicinal constituents than other Aloe species, including Aloe vera.

Some sources claim both the gel and latex of Aloe arborescens contains three times more of the active compounds than Aloe vera does, which is quite significant.

Most people are familiar with the use of Aloe vera gel for the relief of skin conditions such as burns, bites, itches and scratches, but the medicinal compounds in Aloe plants offer a lot more value than that.

The active constituents in Aloe leaves have been reported to show antibacterial, antimicrobial, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic, anti-rheumatoid, anticancer, and anti-diabetic activities. They have found use in treating constipation, detoxification, and supporting immune system deficiencies. Clinical trials have validated the use of Aloe gel as a wound and burn-healing topical agent, and as an anti-hyperglycemic for use in managing diabetes.

If Aloe arborescens contains greater concentrations of active compounds, then why is Aloe vera barbadensis Miller preferred commercially?

The simple reason is that the narrower leaves of Aloe arborescens contain less gel, which leads to lower production yields, and since they also contain more of the bitter compound aloin in their latex, this can make the gel taste more bitter, which is undesirable.


Which Aloe Varieties are Edible?

According to the article “Aloe vera: a valuable ingredient for the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries–a review” published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in 2004, to date only six to seven species of the Aloe family have been consumed by human beings as functional foods or pharmaceuticals, and these include:

  1. Aloe vera Linne
  2. Aloe barbadensis Miller
  3. Aloe arborescens Miller (Tree Aloe, Torch Aloe, Candelabra Aloe, Krantz Aloe)
  4. Aloe saponaria Haw (babosa pintadinha)
  5. Aloe perryi Baker (Socratine Aloe)

Its inclusion in this list indicates that Aloe arborescens can be used internally, but keep in mind that it yields less gel and higher concentration of the bitter aloin compound in the latex, which may be a consideration when the gel is sought rather than the medicinal compounds in the latex.


Identifying Aloe arborescens


Aloe arborescens is a large, sprawling, bushy succulent shrub that grows to a height of 2-3m (6-9‘) and a similar width. It is described as a multi-headed shrub because it has a thick central woody trunk with many branches, much like a candelabra in shape, hence its common name.

The long, thin, succulent, sword-shaped leaves are grey-green in colour, or green with a slight blue tint, and are lined with pale teeth along the leaf margins. These striking leaves are arranged in attractive rosettes (circular arrangements of leaves at a single height) at the ends of the branches, and they curl backwards down towards the base of the plant. The individual rosettes grow to around 45cm (18”) wide.

During the cold winter months, the rosettes bloom, producing tall, colourful, torch-like flower spikes which are usually unbranched, with two or more flower spikes arising from a single rosette.

The flowers are large clusters of vibrant red-orange tubular flowers arranged in a conical arrangement around the flower stalk, and in botany this type of inflorescence known as a raceme.

As is the case with all Aloe plants, the flowers produce nectar and they attract bees, as well as birds such as hummingbirds and sunbirds if they are native to your country.


How to Grow Aloe arborescens

It doesn’t take much effort to grow Aloe arborescens. It’s a fast growing plant which will cope with very dry locations and tolerate neglect once it is established. It thrives in warm temperate to subtropical climates, and can withstand moderate frost down to -4°C (25°F).

Soil – Will grow in a wide range of soils, prefers well-draining soils with a loamy soil texture, enriched with compost, with a soil pH 7.0 to 8.5.

Light – Prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade.

Watering – Infrequent, don’t water in winter.

Feeding – Feed in spring using a slow-release fertiliser that is low in nitrogen, or use a specific cactus and succulent fertiliser. Don’t overfeed as these plants grow in harsh environments with low nutrient levels.


Growing Aloe arborescens in Pots and Containers

This Aloe can be grown perfectly in pots and containers, and this will keep the  plant down to a manageable size, whether you choose to grow it outside or indoors. Use a larger pot as the plant is fairly fast growing and will need the space, but don’t overpot it too early as the potting mix will stay wet for too long if the pot is too large for the plant, and that will lead to root rot.

When planting an Aloe in a pot, it’s preferable to use a well-draining commercial cactus and succulent potting mix, but if that’s not available, you can mix your own by combining equal parts of coarse sand, perlite, and potting mix, or even 2/3 potting mix with 1/3 perlite will do the job.

Place the pot in a sunny location, and water sparingly. Allowing the potting mix to dry out between deep waterings in the warmer seasons. Don’t water at all in winter, and if the pot is located outdoors, try to keep the plant a bit drier by placing it in a location where it won’t get waterlogged by cool season rains. Under the eaves of the house (the overhanging roof) is a good place to keep succulents and cacti a bit drier in winter.

Don’t ever sit the pot in a saucer of water. If a saucer is used underneath the pot, elevate it using pot feet, some stones or a paver so the Aloe roots don’t get waterlogged!


How To Propagate Aloe arborescens

Aloe arborescens is easily propagated from sideshoots, stem cuttings and seeds.

  • The sideshoots or pups are new young plants growing from the base, these can be carefully removed with as much roots as possible and transplanted in spring.
  • Stem or branch cuttings can be taken in spring. First remove the lower leaves from the cutting, then allow the cutting to dry for a day or two until the wound has sealed. Next, plant the cutting in a small pot filled with sand or a well-draining cactus and succulent potting mix. Water very sparingly, and don’t overwater as the cutting will rot if the potting mix is too wet.
  • Sow seeds in spring, they should take three to four weeks to germinate. Protect the seedlings from early spring frosts. Be aware when using seeds that Aloe arborescens hybridises readily with other aloes, don’t use seed for propagation from plants flowering when other aloes are flowering at the same time.


Suggested Uses of Aloe arborescens

Here is a list of possible uses for this very versatile plant:

  • This plant can be used to create a dense fire-retardant hedge in fire-prone areas, as the leaves don’t burn, and any wind-blown embers will be caught by the dense leaves and extinguished.
  • A dense, spiky, fast-growing and tall Aloe can also be used as an impenetrable barrier plant, which is also deer-proof.
  • Being able to grow of the edges of cliffs in exposed locations, this plant can be used to hold soil together on slopes and edges to prevent soil erosion.
  • A stunning, low maintenance, winter-flowering plant which can serve as a nectar source for bees and birds is a great addition to a garden.
  • The interesting plant form lends itself to be used as a decorative indoor floor plant for a bright, sunny location.
  • As a medicinal plant, the antibacterial and anti-inflammatory gel from the leaves of Aloe arborescens can be used on the skin to relieve burns, assist with the healing of wounds, and ease irritation.  The leaves can be split or crushed fresh to extract the gel.


You might also like these other articles on Aloe vera plants:



  • Hankey.A & Notten.A (2004) Aloe arborescens Mill. – South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). PlantZAfrica
  • Eshun K, He Q. Aloe vera: a valuable ingredient for the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries–a review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2004;44(2):91-96. doi:10.1080/10408690490424694
  • Bera, Tushar. (2018). Phytochemical Constituents of Aloe Vera And Their Multifunctional Properties: A Comprehensive Review. International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research. 9. 1416-1423.. 10.13040/IJPSR.0975-8232.9(4).1416-23.
  • Ro HS, Jang HJ, Kim GR, Park SJ, Lee HY. Enhancement of the Anti-Skin Wrinkling Effects of Aloe arborescens Miller Extracts Associated with Lactic Acid Fermentation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2020;2020:2743594. Published 2020 Jun 2. doi:10.1155/2020/2743594
  • Salehi B, Albayrak S, Antolak H, et al. Aloe Genus Plants: From Farm to Food Applications and Phytopharmacotherapy. Int J Mol Sci. 2018;19(9):2843. Published 2018 Sep 19. doi:10.3390/ijms19092843
  • Boudreau M.D., Beland F.A. An evaluation of the biological and toxicological properties of Aloe Barbadensis (miller), Aloe vera. J. Environ. Sci. Health C. 2006;24:103–154. doi: 10.1080/10590500600614303.
  • Rahmani A.H., Aldebasi Y.H., Srikar S., Khan A.A., Aly S.M. Aloe vera: Potential candidate in health management via modulation of biological activities. Pharmacogn. Rev. 2015;9:120–126. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.162118.
  • Radha M.H., Laxmipriya N.P. Evaluation of biological properties and clinical effectiveness of Aloe vera: A systematic review. J. Tradit. Complement. Med. 2015;5:21–26. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcme.2014.10.006.
  • Nejatzadeh-Barandozi F. Antibacterial activities and antioxidant capacity of Aloe vera. Org. Med. Chem. Lett. 2013;3:5. doi: 10.1186/2191-2858-3-5.
  • Jain S., Rathod N., Nagi R., Sur J., Laheji A., Gupta N., Agrawal P., Prasad S. Antibacterial effect of Aloe vera gel against oral pathogens: An in-vitro study. J. Clin. Diagn. Res. 2016;10:ZC41–ZC44. doi: 10.7860/JCDR/2016/21450.8890.
  • Athiban P.P., Borthakur B.J., Ganesan S., Swathika B. Evaluation of antimicrobial efficacy of Aloe vera and its effectiveness in decontaminating gutta percha cones. J. Conservat. Dent. 2012;15:246–248. doi: 10.4103/0972-0707.97949.
  • Boudreau M.D., Mellick P.W., Olson G.R., Felton R.P., Thorn B.T., Beland F.A. Clear evidence of carcinogenic activity by a whole-leaf extract of aloe barbadensis miller (Aloe vera) in F344/n rats. Toxicol. Sci. 2013;131:26–39. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfs275.
  • Grundmann O. Aloe vera gel research review: An overview of its clinical uses and proposed mechanisms of action. Nat. Med. J. 2012;4:9.
  • Thamlikitkul V., Bunyapraphatsara N., Riewpaiboon W., Theerapong S., Chantrakul C., Thanaveerasuwan T., Nimitnon S., Wongkonkatape S., Riewpaiboon A., Tenambergen E.D. Clinical trial of Aloe vera linn. For treatment of minor burns. Siriraj Med. J. 2017;43:4.
Posted in Gardening Information, Health & Wellbeing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Are Woody Galls on Citrus Tree Trunks Harmful?


Citrus vein enation (CVEV), also known as woody gall, is a viral disease which affects various lemon and lime trees and citrus rootstocks. This disease is caused by the CVE virus, a luteovirus which is transmitted by aphids, including the black citrus aphid (Toxoptera citricidus), cotton aphid (Aphis gossypii), and green peach aphid (Myzus persicae).

The disease is endemic throughout cooler climates and spreads more easily in such locations because damage from many species of aphids is greatest when temperatures are relatively cool, around 18-25 °C (65–80 °F) . It’s rarely found in warmer regions with higher temperatures.

Note, these woody galls on citrus tree trunk are not related to the more common citrus galls found on young branches which are caused by the citrus gall wasp pest.

Inside a woody gall, no wasp larvae or other pests can be seen inside because this disorder is caused by the woody gall virus.


Symptoms of Woody Gall

This disease causes enations (small bumps, overgrowth or thickening) in the underside leaf veins of sour orange (Citrus × aurantium), and woody galls (rough swellings) on the trunks or rootstocks of acid lime syn. Egyptian lime (Citrus aurantifolia Christm. Swingle), rough lemon (Citrus jambhiri Lush), Rangpur lime ((Citrus X limonia Osbeck), and Volkamer lemon (Citrus volkameriana).

Most citrus varieties do not show any symptoms when infected by the CVE virus, but the disease is readily transmitted by aphids from affected citrus trees whether symptoms are visible or not.

The woody galls usually form on the trunk, but can also form on branches, and they typically form near thorns, or around where the tree has been wounded in some way.

Vein enations on the leaves are not easy to spot, and are relatively rare in orchards, but when they do occur they are are found mostly on the vigorous new growth of young lemon trees or young sour orange seedlings in plant production nurseries where they’re being grown.


Impact of Woody Gall on Citrus Trees

The galls formed by the CVE virus do not affect older, established trees, nor do they cause any decline in their productivity, so the disease has no economic impact for orchards.

It’s very common for woody galls to form at the bud union on rough lemon rootstocks in some instances, but usually the damage appears to be minor. Young trees budded to rough lemon seedling rootstock have showed decline only when severe galling occurs.


How to Control Woody Gall

The citrus vein enation virus (CVEV) is a graft-transmissible diseases of citrus, the virus spreads from infected plant propagation material when young citrus trees are grafted.

This disease can best be controlled by:

  • avoiding susceptible rootstock varieties
  • using budwood from disease-free sources
  • protect budwood source trees from aphids

Essentially, the main control is prevention when trees are very young, and this is more of a concern for production nurseries that graft trees, as they desire to produce healthy, disease-free trees for sale.

If mature trees become affected, which can happen after aphid attack, there is no need for concern, the damage is only cosmetic. The trees may not look the best, but no action is necessary because the trees will still fruit and the quality of the fruit is unaffected.


Other articles on citrus problems and how to fix them:



  • UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences – Citrus growing in Afghanistan, Kitren Glozer and Louise Ferguson
  • University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program – Citrus:
    Diseases and Disorders of Limbs, Trunks, and Roots
  • University of Florida – Some Disease Problems of Citrus Rootstock, E. C. Calavan 
  • International Organization of Citrus Virologists, Food And Agriculture Organization of The United Nations, Rome, 1991 – Graft-transmissible diseases of citrus, Handbook for detection and diagnosis of graft-transmissible diseases of citrus
  • Control of Plant Virus Diseases, Richard F. Lee, in Advances in Virus Research, 2015
Posted in Gardening Information, Pests, Diseases & Problems | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Growing Good Food, A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming by Acadia Tucker

Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming

(You can click the image or link above to view product details or purchase this book from Amazon and support Deep Green Permaculture!)

For readers outside of the US interested in purchasing this book, the publisher Stone Pier Press has been kind enough to share a link that offers free delivery worldwide: Book Depository.

Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming by Acadia Tucker is a very timely book in these times of climate change, and an ideal book for emergency growing food in a crisis.

There’s no need to wait till things get bad though, this is an excellent book for gardeners and non-gardeners alike who wish get started in growing their own organic food.

The publisher describes this book as follows:

“This is a handbook for growing a Climate Victory Garden when the enemy is global warming. Acadia Tucker, a carbon farmer and gardener, invites us to think of gardening as civic action. By building carbon-rich soil, even in a backyard-sized patch, we can capture greenhouse gases and mitigate climate change, all while growing nutritious food.

To help us get started, and quickly, Tucker drafts plans for gardeners who have a little ground or a lot of it. She offers advice on how to prep soil, plant food, and raise fruits, herbs, and vegetables using regenerative methods. She describes the climate changes taking place in our own backyards and the many steps we can take to boost a garden’s resilience. 

Growing Good Food includes calls to action and insights from leaders in the regenerative movement, including David Montgomery, Anne Biklé, Gabe Brown, Wendell Berry and Mary Berry, and Tim LaSalle. By the end of it, you’ll know how to grow some really good food, and build a healthier world, too.

Learn how to grow: blackberries, currants, fruit trees, herbs, rhubarb, strawberries, walking onions, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, garlic, kale, lettuce, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, squash. Growing Good Food: A citizen’s guide to backyard carbon farming is part of our Growing Good Food Series. It joins  Growing Perennial Foods: A Field Guide to Raising Resilient Herbs, Fruits, and Vegetables , also written by Acadia Tucker.“


Does this sound ambitious? It may, but after reading this book I’m convinced it achieves its intended goal with finesse and really delivers!

I found this book very easy to read, and feel it would be very accessible to a wide audience. It starts at the very beginning, explaining how successful gardening begins with healthy soils, and then introduces the idea of regenerative gardening, providing gardeners with practical instructions on how to improve the soils they have to work with so they can garden more sustainably.

Next, the author discusses gardening in the context of climate change, not from a theoretical or conceptual perspective, but from a very useful, practical one. This is an important subject missing from many gardening books. Each region of the US is discussed in turn, and in each instance the author describes the biggest threats to growing food that are being encountered, the changes in climate that are being observed, and what the consequences are for gardeners.

The author’s writing style strikes the right balance between education, practical instruction and sharing of valuable personal experience. This makes the book more interesting and captivating, as you engage with her story and share her food growing journey while learning about how to grow food. Each chapter builds on the one before it it a smooth progression, and this book explains technical concepts to a sufficient level of depth to be really educational, while doing so in plain language, which is brilliant!

What is most impressive is how comprehensive this book is for a medium length publication that can be read very quickly. Where do I start? The practical advice on improving soil even goes as far as making compost, so if you didn’t know how to do that, you’ll find out how to here. Everything you need to get a garden started has been thoughtfully included.

The step-by-step instructions are presented in the order required to build a garden from scratch, and thus the chapters progress in a logical sequence. The proceeding chapters explain how to map your site, choose resilient perennial plants for your garden, when to plant, how to start plants from seeds and cuttings, even how to start seedlings indoors.

To assist with plant familiarity, comprehensive plant lists are included, which cover both perennial and annual plants. Each plant description includes practical information that every new gardener needs to know, such as the growing conditions required, the best time of the year and the best way to plant, growing tips, growing challenges to be aware of, and harvesting advice.

That’s not all though, once you’ve got your garden going, the author explains in detail how to maintain the garden through each season of the year, spring, summer, autumn, and winter.

The instructions on garden care also include organic pest control solutions for the most common pests, everything from aphids to animals. The reference tables describes what the pests look like, where you find them, and what to do about them. Common plant diseases and their controls are also discussed briefly but adequately.

Since there is a strong focus on soil building and soil care, the garden maintenance chapters also cover the selection and use of soil amendments, fertilisers and manures. For the sake of completeness, a short section on soil pH is also included.

In several chapters there are question and answer sections which cover the type of questions that new gardeners most often ask, which is a very useful inclusion, and another way in which the author shares her knowledge and experience.

There are a moderate amount of illustrations in this book, and while it’s not a graphical instructional book, the explanations are so clear that I feel there isn’t a really need to fill the book with pictures, That said, one handy inclusion for new gardeners at the end of the book is a pictorial guide of ‘useful garden tools for backyard carbon farmers’ with short descriptions of how they’re used.

The book concludes with a ‘Notes’ section, which is essentially an easy to read list of references to all the vital facts and figures presented throughout the book, citing their sources. This is valuable if readers wish to learn more about any topic covered in the book.

To illustrate how comprehensive this 168 page book is, I’ve listed the contents below.





Northeast 15
Southeast 17
Midwest 19
Southern Great Plains 21
Northern Great Plains 23
Northwest 25
Southwest 27


How soil and plants draw down CO2 33
Cultivate good soil 35
Take measure of your soil 37
Clear your plot 38
Build your plant bed 39

How do I know whether I have healthy soil? 43
I have contaminated soil Can I still grow food in it? 43
How do I make compost to use in my garden? 45
What can I use for mulch? 50
What potting soil is best-suited to container gardening? 50

Map your site 57
Choose resilient plants 58
Time your planting 62
Start your plants 64

How can I find plants that grow well where I live? 69
I have a tiny garden How do I maximize my space? 70
Can I practice backyard carbon farming if I only have pots to plant in? 70


Starter Perennials

Blackberry 77
Currant 80
Fruit trees 83
Herbs 87
Rhubarb 89
Strawberry 91
Walking Onion 93

Tender Perennials

Pepper 95
Tomato 97
Helping tender perennials survive winter 100

Favorite Garden Annuals

Beans 101
Cabbage 103
Carrot 105
Cucumber 107
Garlic 110
Kale 112
Lettuce 114
Peas 116
Potato 118
Radish 121
Spinach 123
Squash 125


Spring: Feed the soil 130
Summer: Tend your garden 131
Fall: Prepare for winter 138

Do I need to use fertilizer in addition to compost? 141
My plants seem prone to disease How do I save them? 145
My soil is too acidic or too basic How do I balance it? 146
Tools for Backyard Carbon Farmers 148



Signs you have good soil 44
Compost materials 46
Choose your mulch 51
Perennial plant characteristics 60
Annual plant characteristics 62
Organic pest solutions 134
Seasonal checklist 140
Common diseases and organic controls 144

Tim LaSalle 9
David R Montgomery and Anne Biklé 29
Mary Berry 53
Gabe Brown 73
Michael Weaver 127


Book Details:

Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: Stone Pier Press (October 31, 2019)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0998862339
ISBN-13: 978-0998862330


Food growing is a valuable skill that has been lost by the vast majority of people living in big cities, and for many it’s hard to take that big first step to just get started. This book provides the right guidance for anyone wishing to begin their journey into organic food gardening, which is more than agriculture, it is a way of reconnecting with nature, the cycles of the seasons, and the rhythm of life. Gardening is truly a healthy and enjoyable activity, as well as a solution to the challenges our world is facing.

This book reminds us that we can change our world for the better by learning how to grow food. To share a quote from it, “By 1943, the nearly 20 million Victory Gardens across the country were growing 40 percent of the nation’s food.” This is truly inspiring! If victory gardens saved their countries during World War II, then a climate victory garden revolution may be exactly what is needed right now to empower communities to become more resilient in times of crisis, and address the issue of long-term food security.

‘Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming’ is an excellent book with a purpose, it’s the gardening book for everyone, and If there was ever was a need to build food gardens in an emergency, then this would be the DIY manual that would be guaranteed to get people started on the right track. This book is definitely recommended!

Deep Green rating for “Growing Good Food: A Citizen’s Guide to Backyard Carbon Farming” by Acadia Tucker is 5 stars!



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Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – August

It’s August, the weather is still cold and windy, but the end of winter is draws near, the days begin to grow noticeably longer and the change of season is not too far away.

This month is the last chance to complete the pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs, and for planting raspberries and brambleberries (such as blackberries and their hybrids).

It’s now time to sow the first summer vegetable seeds. Where there’s a danger of frost, sow seeds in trays and place them in a protected area such as a veranda, greenhouse, or indoors near a sunny window.

Towards the end of August, feed fruit trees with organic fertiliser, manure and compost. Also dig these into the soil when preparing new garden beds. The soil life will begin working on the organic plant food and will begin to slowly release its nutrients into the soil after a week or two, ready for the beginning of new spring growth in September. If fruit trees need a feed of potash, late autumn is also the time to do that too.


Things to Do This Month:

  • Continue planting deciduous trees, shrubs, vines and cane fruits (and roses!). Wait till spring for planting citrus.
  • Continue pruning deciduous fruit trees (not apricots, best to prune these in late autumn).
  • Continue pruning deciduous shrubs (and roses too if you didn’t prune them in July).
  • Prune dead seed-heads, stems and branches on herbaceous perennial plants.
  • Relocate any deciduous plants (trees, shrubs, vines) or herbaceous perennial plants growing in the wrong place in winter. (Evergreens can only be moved in autumn and early spring, where they have time to regrow roots – remember, they retain leaves in winter which transpire and lose water!).
  • Apply organic fertiliser to fruit trees, so that the slowly released nutrients will become available when the new growth commences in spring.
  • Spray peaches and nectarines to protect against leaf curl fungus. Use lime sulphur or a copper fungicide at the bud swell stage (just before the buds begin to open) but before pink bud stage or colour shows. It is too late to spray once flowering occurs.
  • Feed pot grown shrubs and plants and refresh their potting mix by scraping off the top 2.5cm and replace it with fresh potting mix which has been mixed with slow release fertiliser. Top dressing with compost is also beneficial.


Vegetables and Herbs to Sow:

Sow in August Harvest (weeks)
Asparagus* d 2-3 years
Beetroot ds 7-10
Cabbage ds 8-15
Cape Gooseberry ds 14-16
Capsicum s 10-12
Chilli s 9-11
Eggplant s 12-15
Globe Artichokes s 42-57
Kohlrabi d 7-10
Leeks ds 15-18
Lettuce ds 8-12
Mint s 8-12
Mustard Greens d 5-8
Onion ds 25-34
Parsnip d 17-20
Peas d 9-11
Potato d 15-20
Radish d 5-7
Rocket d 21-35 days
Shallot bulbs d 12-15
Snow Peas d 12-14
Spring Onions d 8-12
Strawberries (seed) s 12 months
Sunflower ds 10-11
Thyme s 42-52
Tomato* ds 8-17
Watermelon* ds 9-14

d = sow directly into ground
s = sow in seed tray
ds = sow directly into ground or seed tray
*= frost tender
**= sow after frost

Download printable PDF version of Gardening Calendar (Australian Temperate Climate) – August

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How to Grow, Prune and Propagate Raspberries


Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) belong to the genus Rubus, along with other cane berries such as blackberries, boysenberries, lawtonberries, loganberries, marionberries, silvanberries and tayberries.

What’s quite interesting is that the whole Rubus genus is part of the Rosaceae (Rose) family, to which almonds, apples, apricots, cherries, hawthorns, loquats, peaches, pears, plums, quinces, raspberries and strawberries also belong!

One identifying characteristic of raspberries is that when they’re picked, the receptacle, which looks like a small long white plug, remains on plant, leaving a deep hole at the top of the berry. Other cane berries such as blackberries and their hybrids don’t have a long receptacle and detach cleanly at the top leaving only a small indentation where they were attached.

Raspberries differ from other brambleberries when picked, they have a hole at the top and leave a white plug (pictured above) called a receptacle behind on the plant


The growth habit of raspberries differs from the other cane berries too. Raspberries have vertical upright canes around 1-2m long, and their suckering shoots tend to run and pop up quite a distance away from the original plant, whereas other cane berries stay in a clump where they’re planted, and have much longer trailing canes that tend to grow more horizontally and root into the ground where they make contact with the soil.

Even though raspberries are perennial plants, only their underground root stems and crowns are perennial. The canes which grow from underground buds are biennial (living for two years). The first year canes (referred to as primocanes) only produce leaves, two-year old canes (which are called floricanes) produce flowers and fruit, and then die back. These two year old canes are pruned back to the ground after all the berries are harvested to keep the plantings tidy.


Raspberry Varieties

The red raspberry (Rubus idaeus var. idaeus) is the most common raspberry variety, but there are other varieties and hybrids available with berries that are yellow, orange, purple or black in colour.

Even among the red raspberries, there are many varieties which differ in their cropping seasons as well as the size and flavour of their berries.

In terms of cropping seasons, there are three types of raspberries:

  1. Summer-bearing types – early cropping varieties, which produce their crop in summer
  2. Autumn-bearing types – late cropping varieties, which produce their crop in autumn
  3. ‘Everbearing’ types  – long cropping varieties, which produce over many months, producing a large main crop in summer, and a smaller second crop in autumn.


Heritage everbearer raspberries ripening, this variety crops from summer through to autumn, for a period of 8-12 weeks


Raspberry Growing Requirements


Soil – Raspberries prefer soils which are moist but well-draining, slightly acidic to neutral soil (with a soil pH of 5.6 to 6.2) and rich in organic matter.

They’re best planted in late winter to early spring as this gives the plants plenty of time to establish themselves before they encounter hot summer weather.

Before planting raspberries, dig in plenty of manure to increase soil fertility, and add compost to increase organic matter and improve soil structure.

These plants cannot tolerate heavy, wet clay soils which will cause root rot. To improve drainage, dig compost into the soil. Gypsum can also be added as a clay breaker for sodic (sodium-containing) clays.

There’s no need to fuss about the soil pH if it’s close to neutral (pH 7), but in parts of the world where the soil may be very acidic it may help to add some garden lime or dolomite lime to reduce excess acidity.

Light – Even though raspberries are described as being able to grow in full sun to part shade, they don’t cope well with direct hot afternoon (west) sun, or exposed, hot windy locations. Such extreme conditions cause the leaves burn and the fruit to overripen very quickly. The ideal growing location for raspberries is an area which receives morning and midday full sun, and dappled  sun or part shade in the afternoon. Don’t plant raspberries in shady locations as they won’t bear much fruit.

Watering – The root systems of raspberries are quite shallow, growing only in the top 60cm (2’) of soil, so they need to be watered regularly in spring and summer. Mulching around the plants (using a straw-like mulch such as pea straw, lucerne, hay, etc) helps retain soil moisture and keeps roots cool in hot weather, and also suppresses weeds all year round.

Feeding – Since raspberries are heavy feeders, they need to be fed once at the start of spring and once again at the start of autumn with a balanced fertiliser. A good general purpose, slow release fertiliser, the type that comes as a powder or pellets, works well.  Liquid fertilisers are only used for a quick supplemental feeding once a slow release fertiliser has already been used! If feeding with blood and bone or composted manure, which mainly provide nitrogen and phosphorus, use seaweed extract or potash (potassium sulphate) as well to add potassium which is required for flowering and fruiting.

Companion planting – Good companion plants for raspberries are tansy which is a general pest repellent, and garlic which repels aphids and protects raspberry roots from Japanese beetles. Avoid planting raspberries near blackberries because they’re very similar, but easily out-competed by the more vigorous blackberries. Don’t plant raspberries near strawberries or any members of the Solanaceae family such as potatoes, tomatoes, capsicum and eggplants, or in soil where they have been growing in the last three years, as these plants can transfer Verticillium root rot disease to which raspberries are susceptible.

Growing in containers – Raspberries will grow in a large container, pots and planters, but they will not be as productive as they are in the ground unless there is sufficient soil volume. The minimum pot size would be one that is 50cm (20”) wide, which has a volume of approximately 70 litres (18 US gallons), filled with a premium potting mix.


Training Raspberries Over Supports

Raspberries have upright growing canes, which need some kind of support to hold them up as they grow.

Here are three support systems which are commonly used for raspberries:

Single Fence System

This system uses two posts which are 1.2 – 1.5m (4’-5’) above the ground, driven 60cm (2’) into ground.

The posts are placed 2 – 3m apart, with 2mm  galvanized wire (12 AWG  or American Wire Gauge) strung between the posts at 50cm, 40cm, and 30cm  (20”’, 16”, 12”) for a 1.2m (4’) high post.

Canes are tied to the wires with plastic-coated gardening wire twist ties, twine, plastic or fabric tree tie material.

Some sources suggest using posts 2m (6’) above the ground, but raspberries don’t need to grow that high, and rarely do so. Overly long canes can simply be tied down to the top wire, or cut, and keeping the support system lower makes it much easier to cover with fine 2mm insect-exclusion netting to keep birds out. Using a very fine mesh protective netting prevent tangling with the raspberry canes, and they can’t grow through it either.



Single Post System

This system uses posts to support plants without any support wires between posts.

Each individual plant with it’s clump of canes is tied to a single post, with 12 canes per post.

The posts are 1.5 – 2m above ground, and driven 60cm into ground.



Double Fence System

This system uses two posts 1.5 – 2m (5’ – 6’) above ground, driven 60cm into ground.

Each post has two horizontal cross bars which are 60cm (2’) long fixed at heights of 1m (3’) and 1.5m (5’) above the ground.

2mm  galvanized wire (12 AWG  or American Wire Gauge) is strung from the ends of cross bars, and short wires are attached as cross ties perpendicular to the main wires every 60cm (2’) along wires.

The double-fence system uses a lot of materials, is complicated to build, and doesn’t really provide any additional benefits, so it’s essentially pointless. A single fence system is more than sufficient for supporting raspberry canes.



If planting multiple rows of raspberries, the orientation of the fence systems to the sun are important.

It’s best to plant the rows running north-south so plants receive even sunlight, and don’t shade each other out.

Remember to protect the raspberry plantings from hot afternoon west sun.




What Age Canes Do Different Raspberry Varieties Fruit On?

It’s important to understand how the different varieties of raspberries fruit, because raspberries are pruned after they finish fruiting, and if the wrong canes are pruned away, the season’s crop will be lost!

All raspberry plants are perennial, their crowns and roots are perennial (living many years), but individual canes are only short-lived. The life of the canes and when they fruit differs with the different raspberry varieties.


How Summer Bearing Raspberries Fruit

The canes of summer bearing raspberries live for two years.

In the first year:

In spring, summer bearing raspberry plants produce new canes (known as primocanes) from buds on the crown and from underground lateral stems.

The primocanes of summer bearing raspberries produce only leafy green growth in the first year, then they overwinter (survive through the winter to grow for a second year).

In the second year:

  • the year-old primocanes turn into fruiting canes (known as floricanes) and produce fruit during the summer, and die back shortly after fruiting.
  • around springtime, new primocanes emerge, which will bear fruit in following year.


How Autumn Bearing Raspberries Fruit

The canes of autumn bearing raspberries live for one year.

In spring, autumn bearing raspberry plants produce new canes (known as primocanes) from buds on the crown and from underground lateral stems.

The primocanes of autumn bearing raspberries grow and produce fruit in the same year, in the first year.


How Everbearing Raspberries Fruit

Everbearing raspberries share the fruiting habits as both the  summer bearing and autumn bearing varieties, and their canes survive for two years.

These overbearing raspberry varieties produce fruit on the tips of first-year canes in autumn, and then produce a larger summer crop on the lower portion of these same canes in their second year.


How to Prune Raspberries

There are two different pruning techniques used for raspberries, one for summer bearing varieties and another for autumn bearing varieties. This is because they fruit on different aged canes.

  • Summer bearing raspberries fruit on floricanes, fruiting canes formed in the second year.
  • Autumn bearing raspberries fruit on primocanes, new canes produced in the same year.
  • Everbearing raspberries fruit on the tips of first-year primocanes and on the lower portion of second-year floricanes.

How do we distinguish first-year canes from second-year canes?

First-year canes have green stems, while second-year canes have a thin, brown bark covering them.


Pruning Summer Bearing Raspberries

When raspberries are first planted, they’re usually year-old primocanes.

With summer bearing raspberries, in the next year, these primocanes will become floricanes, which are the darker fruiting canes with a thin brown bark, and new thinner green primocanes will emerge from the base of the raspberry plant.

After the older floricanes have finished fruiting in summer, cut them back to the ground, and tie the new primocanes to the support for next years fruiting.




Pruning Autumn Bearing Raspberries

When raspberries are first planted, they’re usually year-old primocanes.

Raspberries are typically planted in late winter to early spring, and with autumn bearing raspberries the primocanes will fruit in the same year, when the autumn season arrives.

Pruning autumn bearing raspberries is very simple, just wait until late winter and cut all canes to the ground. New canes will emerge in spring to replace them, and these are tied to the support structure as they grow.




Pruning Everbearing Raspberries

Everbearing raspberries are pruned in exactly the same way as summer bearing varieties, using the same two-year cycle. The only difference being that pruning is carried out in winter, after the second autumn crop has finished.


How to Manage Raspberry Suckering

Raspberries  are vigorous growers, and they will sucker! They produce runner or stolons, which are horizontal running underground stems that will move out to other parts of the garden, which root and shoot to produce more raspberry plants.




They can be contained by using root barriers, but that approach can get quite expensive and involve a fair bit of digging. The other alternative is to simply dig up any suckers and replant them back along the support structure with the rest of the raspberry plants.

By digging up any suckering plants and replanting them, it’s possible to increase plant numbers significantly to create a very large and productive raspberry patch.


Propagating Raspberries

All bramble berries, including raspberries, can be grown from cuttings, and they can also be propagated by dividing up the parent plant when new canes form, as many canes will have their own separate roots.

To propagate raspberries from cuttings in late winter, cut a piece of raspberry cane around 20cm long, and cut the lower end at an angle to identify which is the bottom end and to make it easier to push it into the ground. the end can be dipped into rooting hormone if desired. Push the cutting into the ground so that the lower 2/3 is below the soil, with the top 1/3 above the soil. Wait till spring and the cutting will root and produce new shoots.

Should you use floricanes or primocanes for raspberry propagation?

The USDA, referencing “The Complete Book of Plant Propagation” by Jim Arbury, suggest using hardwood cuttings to propagate raspberries, and that the cuttings should be propagated in a site out of full sun and sheltered from drying winds. This would suggest using floricanes, as they’re a year old and have hardened off.

The best method for propagating raspberries is by division, which is usually carried out in early spring when the new canes form and suckers pop up some distance from the parent plant. Dig out these new suckering plants and cut them free from the stolon or runner, the underground horizontal stem that connects them to the parent plant. These suckers will have their own roots and can be transplanted to form a new plants.

Division can also be carried out in autumn, as the plants are still growing and produce new roots.


Sharing My Experience Growing Raspberries…

I’ve been growing the Heritage everbearing variety of raspberries for many years now, they produce well from late spring to late autumn, which is from mid-November to the end of May in the southern hemisphere her in Australia.

I have two plantings of raspberries, which are 2.4m (8’) long, and are located at the edges of garden beds. They use a single fence system which is made of two metal posts or star pickets with wire strung between them. The structure stands around 1.5m above the ground. Since the trellis borders an existing bed with other plants growing in it, the raspberries take up very little space, probably a 30cm wide edge of the bed, and therefore make efficient use of vertical space.

In the two plantings I have a total of around 30 raspberry plants, which were all propagated by division from one single raspberry plant grown in a pot for a year. I planted 15 plants along each support structure, and once they established, each planting produced 3kg (6.6 lbs) of berries in the second year, together they produced a huge harvest of 6kg (13.2 lbs) of berries! The raspberry patch doesn’t only produce food though, it also produces valuable new plants.

A lot of new raspberry plants pop up around the main beds because they spread by runners. From a permaculture perspective, free plants produced by nature are a valuable resource which can be sold or given away to others to help create better food security in the community. In one year I think I must have dug up and given away at least 60 raspberry plants. As the permaculture ethical principles advise, share the surplus!



  1. University of Minnesota Extension, Growing raspberries in the home garden
  2. University of Illinois Extension, Hortanswers – Small Fruit, Raspberry, Rubus ideaus and R. occidentalis
  3. University of Illinois Extension, About Raspberries – Raspberry Facts
  4. NC State University, North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox, Rubus idaeus var. idaeus
  5. University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Bulletin #2066, Growing Raspberries and Blackberries
  6. The Complete Book of Plant Propagation by Jim Arbury, Taunton Press, 1997
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Guide – American Red Raspberry, Rubus idaeus
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Three Simple Soil Tests to Determine What Type of Soil You Have


Healthy plants only grow in healthy soils, and if you know what type of soil you’re working with, you’re better able to improve it to get the best results from your garden.

In this article, we’ll discuss what soil is composed of, and show you three easy tests that you can perform at home without any special equipment to determine what type of soil you have.


Soil Composition – What’s in Soil

When we read about soils, we see many terms used to describe them. A good friable soil is a loose soil that plant and tree roots can easily push their way through in search for water and nutrients. A fertile soil is a rich soil which contains lots of nutrients to support plant growth. But what makes a healthy soil?

Most people thinks of soils as being composed of nothing more than mineral particles, and that is only partially correct.

The composition of healthy soils is as follows:

  • Mineral particles – 45%
  • Organic matter – 5%
  • Water – 25%
  • Air – 25%

Soil is composed of much more than minerals!


What surprises many gardeners is that healthy soil is 50% air and water! This is because plant roots need both water and oxygen, and with air spaces between soil particles, water can drain through more easily and pull air into the soil as it moves down.

If we look at the solid components of soil, 45% is comprised of various mineral particles, which we’ll examine in further detail, and the remaining 5% is organic matter.

What makes up this 5% or organic matter in soils?

  • Humus – 80%
  • Roots of living trees and plants – 10%
  • Living soil organisms – 10%

The organic matter portion of soil is part decomposed organic matter that was once living, and part living organisms


Humus is decomposed organic matter, it’s plant material that has rotted down to create the rich, black substance in soil which helps hold water and nutrients.

It’s no surprise that soil contains the roots of living plants and trees, but they’re not the only living part of the soil.

Healthy soil is alive, and it’s one of the most complex living ecosystems, which is referred to as the soil-food web. The soil-food web is an extensive community of living organisms that live all or part of their lives in the soil, which exist in complex relationship to one another. The function of the soil-food web is to break down organic matter to build soil and make the nutrients available to plants.

It’s estimated that there are around 50 billion soil organisms in 1 tablespoon of healthy soil, and to put that into perspective, the whole human population numbers around 7 billion.


Soil Texture and Types of Soils

The mineral component of soils is a mixture of sand, silt and clay in various proportions.

  • Sand particles are the largest, measuring 0.05 – 2mm in diameter, are visible to the  naked  eye, feels gritty to the touch and hold very little water. Sandy soils drain quickly, don’t hold water well, but allow good aeration.
  • Silt particles are medium sized, measuring  0.002 – 0.05mm  in  diameter, and silt  particles  feel  very fine like flour or talcum powder when dry, and feel smooth when wet. Silt only holds a moderate amount of water. Silty soils have properties in between those of sand and clay.
  • Clay particles the smallest particle in the soil, measuring less  than  0.002mm  in  diameter,  and  can  only  be  seen  a  microscope.  The  largest clay particle is 25 times smaller than the largest silt particle and 1,000 times  smaller  than  the  largest  sand  particle.  Clay  feels  hard  and  brittle  when  dry, and sticky  when  wet.  Clay holds much more water than sand or silt, so clay soils don’t drain or aerate as well. In most types of soils, the clay content increases with the soil depth.

The air spaces between soil particles determine how well the soils drain water


From the table below we can also see that sand particles come in various sizes also, defining the various grades of sand available. Only very fine sand particles are close to silt particles in size.


Soil particles in order of increasing size

Clay ……………….. <0.002 mm
Silt ………………… 0.002 – 0.05 mm
Sand ………………. 0.05 – 2.0 mm
Very fine sand ……. 0.05 – 0.10 mm
Fine sand …………. 0.10 – 0.25mm
Medium sand …….. 0.25 – 0.5 mm
Coarse sand ………. 0.5 – 1.0  mm
Very coarse sand … 1.0 – 2.0 mm


The term soil texture refers the relative proportions of sand, silt, or clay in a soil.

  • Soils with the finest texture are called clay soils
  • Soils with the coarsest texture are called sandy soils

One common description soil of soil texture or soil type is that of a loam, or loamy soil.


What is Loam?

A loam is a soil which combines sand, silt and clay particles in relatively equal amounts.

The benefit of loamy soils is that they can retain moisture while draining well, allow sufficient air to reach the roots, and retain nutrients, making them ideal for most garden plants.

Soils with a loam texture can contain different proportions of sand, silt and clay to create various soil types, such as sandy loams, silty loams, loamy sand, and clay loams for example. They’re names after which proportion is highest in the mixture.

If the percentages of sand, silt, and clay in a soil are determined through testing, we can use the soil textural triangle shown below to determine the which textural class our soil belongs to.


The soil textural triangle describes the relative proportions of sand, silt and clay in various types of soils.


Test 1 – Assessing Soil Using the Soil Sedimentation Test

One way to work out the percentages of sand, silt and clay in a soil sample is by using the soil sedimentation test.

It’s a simple test, all you need is a tall empty jar, a marker and some water.

  1. Fill jar 1/3 full with dry soil, break up any clumps or clods.
  2. Fill the jar with water to about 2.5 cm (1”) below rim.
  3. Place lid on the jar, shake vigorously to mix the soil and water well.
  4. Place the jar on level surface, use marker to mark level of soil sediment on side of the jar at the following times:•After 1-2 minutes this is the SAND layer.
    •After 1 hour this is the SILT layer.
    •After 24 hours (or until the water is relatively clear, may take several days) this is your CLAY layer.Anything left floating is just organic material.

Note, if the water from your water supply is ‘hard water’, use distilled water or rainwater for this test instead. Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium, which will affect the soil in the water.



Soil sedimentation test, showing the layering of the various components of the soil, with clay at the top, silt in the middle and sand particles at the bottom of the jar.


Test 2 – Assessing Soil Using the Ribboning Technique

Soil texture can also be estimated by hand using the ribboning technique.

This is a handy test to use when out in the field without any equipment.



Estimating soil texture by hand using ribboning technique takes practice to produce consistent results.

  1. Take a small handful of soil about the size of a golf ball.
  2. Slowly add water a drop at a time while mixing to form a ball of soil that has the consistency of putty. If you can’t make a ball, the soil is very sandy.
  3. Gently squeeze the ball to determine if it will stay together as a ball or fall apart.
  4. Feel the ball with fingers, is it gritty (sand), silky (silt) or plastic/sticky (clay)?
  5. Gently press the soil ball over the forefinger with the thumb to extrude it in length and make hanging ribbon. If you can make a short ribbon, soil texture is loamy, a mixture of sand and clay. The longer the ribbon, the more clay is in the soil.
  6. After completing the ribbon test, take a pinch of soil from the soil ball and place it in the palm of your hand. Add enough water to break up soil until you have a muddy puddle. Note if there turbidity (cloudiness) in the water. Rub the wet soil in your palm to determine if it feels gritty, smooth, or equally gritty and smooth.

Repeat this test several times to ensure consistent results, and then compare findings and average ribbon length with following list.


  • SAND – Cannot form ribbon as soil particles will not or very slightly hold together, soil cannot be moulded, single grains stick to fingers, when enough water is added in palm of hand to break up soil the water will turn slightly cloudy or not at all.
  • LOAMY SAND – Will form ribbon to 5 mm, soil particles will slightly hold together, when enough water is added in palm of hand to break up soil the water will definitely turn slightly cloudy.
  • CLAYEY SAND – Will form ribbon 5 – 15 mm, soil particles will slightly hold together, soil is sticky when wet, many sand grains stick to fingers, soil discolours fingers with clay stain.
  • SANDY LOAM – Will form ribbon of 15 – 20 mm, soil particles will just hold together enough to form a soil ball, very sandy to touch, sand grains are visible.
  • LIGHT SANDY CLAY LOAM – Will form a ribbon of 20 – 25 mm, soil ball holds together moderately well but is sandy to touch, sand grains are easily visible.
  • LOAM – Will form ribbon around 25 mm, soil ball holds together and is spongy, soil feels smooth with no obvious sandiness, may be somewhat greasy as organic matter is usually present.
  • SANDY CLAY LOAM – Will form ribbon 25 – 40 mm, soil ball holds together strongly, soil is sandy to touch, sand grains are visible.
  • CLAY LOAM – Will form ribbon 40 – 50 mm, soil ball holds together strongly and is plastic (consistency like putty) and smooth to manipulate.
  • SANDY CLAY and LIGHT CLAY – Will form ribbon 50 – 75 mm, soil ball is plastic (consistency like putty) with slight resistance to shearing. In sandy clay you can see, feel and hear sand grains, whereas light clay is smooth to touch.
  • LIGHT MEDIUM CLAY – Will form ribbon 75 – 85 mm, soil ball is plastic (consistency like putty) and smooth to touch with moderate resistance to ribboning when pressed between thumb and forefinger.
  • MEDIUM CLAY – Will form ribbon 85 – 100 mm, soil ball is plastic and handles like plasticine, can be moulded into rods, with moderate resistance to ribboning when pressed between thumb and forefinger.
  • HEAVY CLAY – Will easily form ribbon over 100 mm, soil ball is plastic and smooth, handles like stiff plasticine, can be moulded into rods without fracture; has firm resistance to ribboning when pressed between thumb and forefinger.


Test 3 – Assessing Soil Using the Clay Dispersal Test

If you have a clay soil, and want to break up the clay, should you add gypsum? Use this test to find out.

Gypsum can be used to break up sodic clay soils (which contain sodium), but it doesn’t work on calcium clays.

The way to test the degree of how sodic soils are is with a simple clay dispersal test.


The clay dispersal test is carried out as follows:

  1. Collect dry soil aggregates (crumbs of soil) for testing. You can take samples from the various depths of the soil profile if you wish.
  2. Carefully place the soil sample into a clear dish of water so as not to mix or agitate the soil. Note that aggregates often slake (crumble) after they are placed in water, but not always, and this is not dispersion.
  3. Allow the soil aggregate to sit, and observe the result over time. The water around the edges of the soil aggregate will become cloudy and milky looking if the soil contains a dispersive (sodic) clay. The more sodic a clay is, the more dispersive it will be.


Highly dispersive soil will disperse after about 10-30 minutes, while moderately dispersive soil may take 2 hours to do so.

Note, if the water from your water supply is ‘hard water’, use distilled water or rainwater for this test instead. Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, mainly calcium and magnesium, which will affect the soil in the water.


Clay dispersal tests provide a visual indicator of how sodic clay soils are by the degree of dispersion in water


Here is a summary of how different clay soils perform in the clay dispersion test:

  • Non-sodic soil – exchangeable sodium <6%, no dispersion visible after 24 hours, soil aggregates slake (crumble) but do not dispersed (turn milky).
  • Slightly sodic soil – exchangeable sodium 6–10%, dispersion (milky halo) visible after 24 hours, soil aggregates disperse slightly.
  • Moderately sodic soil – exchangeable sodium 6–10%, dispersion (milky halo) visible after several hours, soil aggregates disperse partially.
  • Highly sodic soil  – exchangeable sodium >15%, dispersion (milky halo) visible in less than 30 minutes, soil aggregates disperse completely.


How to Improving Soil Quality with Soil Amendment Materials

Once we know exactly what type of soil we are working with, we can add the appropriate soil amendment materials to improve it.

  • Sandy soils – improve water retention by adding organic matter (compost), zeolite or bentonite clay.
  • Clay soils – improve water drainage by adding organic matter (compost), as well as gypsum (clay-breaker) to sodic clays only.
  • All soils – improve nutrient retention by adding organic matter (compost), zeolite or biochar. Clay soils and soils high in organic matter retain nutrients better than sandy soils.
  • All soils –  improve soil fertility by adding natural fertilisers such as manures, blood & bone, fish emulsion.



  1. NSW Department of Primary Industries – Determining soil texture using the ribboning technique, Primefact 1363    F irst edition, December 2014
  2. Ritchey, Edwin L.; McGrath, Joshua M.; and Gehring, David, “Determining Soil Texture by Feel” (2015).Agriculture and NaturalResources Publications. 139.
  3. Agriculture Victoria, Victorian Resources Online – Practical Note: Soil Texture
  4. Government of Western Australia, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development – Identifying dispersive (sodic) soils, 2020.

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Emergency Survival Prepper Vegetable Gardening – Part 5, How to Plant Seedlings


How to Plant Seedling in Six Easy Steps

Once we’ve selected the appropriate seedlings that are in season, it’s seedling planting time!

In this article we’ll cover the fundamentals of seedling planting, the procedure is very simple and much easier than sowing seeds.

If you’re a beginner to food gardening, I recommend starting off with using seedlings. You’re guaranteed a much easier success and a more satisfying first gardening experience! Once you’re happy with your gardening using seedlings, then it’s a good time to start producing your own seedlings from seed. It’s much cheaper growing from seed and you can produce a whole lot more plants this way. That said, start with seedlings, it’s more fun and you get to harvest your crop 4-6 weeks earlier, because that is the time required to grow a seedling.


Planting seedlings into the garden or larger containers is a simple procedure that only takes a few minutes, and is outlined in the six quick steps below.


1. Prepare the Soil

Add organic matter (compost) to improve soil structure, making the soil more friable, which means making it more loose so that the plant roots can push through the soil more easily, and increasing soil aeration so water and air can pass through the soil more easily to reach the roots.

Add manure to the soil to increase soil fertility. Plants need food to grow, and by feeding the soil, you feed the plants.

Use twice as much compost as manure and mix it well through the soil, aiming for a mix of no more than 25% compost/manure mix to 75% soil. Too much will cause the soil to sink when the compost breaks down. For more information on this step, see Step 2 – Preparing the Soil for Growing Food.


2. Remove Seedlings from Punnets, Plug-trays or Pots

The best time to plant seedlings is either in the morning or late evening when the weather is milder. When seedlings are removed from their pots, their delicate roots can dry out from harsh sun or hot winds, so it’s best to work in a shady spot when unpotting them for planting.


If your seedling are in a punnet, remove the pot by placing fingers on top of the potting medium, being careful not to crush the seedlings, and invert the punnet, so the seedling, with their roots facing upward are resting in your hand.

Next, pull apart each seedling, while trying to minimise root damage and retaining as much of the roots as possible for each seedling you separate.

Note, if you only need a few seedlings, remove the ones you require and place the  rest of the seedlings with intact rootball back into the punnet.

Seedling punnet with two seedlings removed


If you have a pot containing one single large seedling, very gently squeeze the pot then rotate it and repeat till all sides are done to release the pot from the rootball (for both round or square pots),

Next, invert the pot, while supporting the stem close to the rootball, and gently ‘massage’ the pot while very gently pulling on the stem.

Advanced seedling in a pot, with only one plant to a pot there is no need to separate its roots from those of other plants.


For seedlings in tubes or trays (which resemble a series of rectangular tubes in rows), angle the tube or seedling tray so you can see the large drainage holes at the bottom.

Next, gently push the seedling rootballs out with a thin stick or seed dibber, and slide out the seedling into the palm of the hand. Anything with a blunt end that can fit in the drainage holes will do.

Note, don’t use a very thin stick or anything pointed as it will penetrate the rootball and damage the plant roots.

Forestry tube seedlings can be pushed out with a wide stick or seed dibber that can fit through the drainage holes.


NOTE: When removing seedlings from their containers, do not tease out the roots or intefere with them too much to minimise transplant shock as the roots are very delicate.


2. Position Seedlings in Garden Bed

Lay the seedlings where they will be planted to get the spacing right.

Don’t lay out too many seedlings all at once because if left too long exposed to sun and wind, the seedling will wilt and their roots will be damaged. Only take out as much as you need to plant a single row at the most. The faster the seedlings go from container to their planting location, the less potential for them to be stressed. The planting process doesn’t need to be rushed, it’s actually done at quite a relaxed pace, but the seedlings shouldn’t be left sitting unplanted for more than a few minutes after they’re removed from their containers.

Note, seedling spacing is usually listed on seedling punnet labels and seed packets.

Seedlings laid out in their planting positions, ready to be planted.


4. Make Hole for Planting

Use a garden hand trowel ( a small, hand-held garden spade), or narrow planting trowel to pull away the soil to create a hole for the seedling.

First, push the hand trowel straight down into the soil as deep as you can go.

Push hand trowel vertically down into the soil to the full length of the blade.


Next, pull the hand trowel to one side, towards the side that holds the soil, to open up a nice deep planting hole.

Pulling the trowel to one side once it is inserted into the soil allows a neat planting hole to be opened up.


5. Put Seedling in Planting Hole

While holding the hole open with the hand trowel, gently lower the seedling into the planting hole, ensuring that any long hanging roots reach as far into the bottom of the hole as possible.

Use the hand trowel to hold the planting hole in the soil open, this males it easier to lower the seedling in, especially in very sandy or loose soils.


Lower the seedling into the planting hole so that it sits at exactly the same level that it was in the container. Don’t plant deeper or shallower.

Once the seedling is in place, push the soil into the hole to fill it using the garden trowel, and then very gently firm down the soil around the seedling with your fingers to seat the seedling into the soil. Don’t press too hard, as you don’t want to compress the soil. The soil needs to be fairly loose so that the roots can push though the soil more easily as they grow.

Gently firming down the soil around the seedling helps seat it down so it doesn’t get pulled out accidentally.


6. Water in Newly Planted Seedlings

Water the seedlings to settle the soil around their roots and remove any large air spaces.

Use a watering can with a watering rose on the end, or a watering hose attachment that waters much like a gentle shower, as the seedlings are quite delicate. Too much water pressure might wash them out or bury them in wet soil, so go easy on them when watering.

I like to add some seaweed extract into the water as it contains root growth stimulants, plant hormones know as cytokinins, which help the plants establish much better.



Once the seedling is watered in, it’s roots can grow deeper into the soil in their search for water and nutrients, to fuel the plants growth!

Water seedlings frequently to keep the soil moist until they establish and are better able to look after themselves. Water daily on hot days and in summer, water less often in milder weather.



In the next article – Part 6, How to Protect Seedlings from Pests, we’ll look at how to protect our seedlings from insect and animal pests, to ensure they grow into strong healthy plants that we can eventually harvest.

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