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How to Deal with Garden Overwhelm

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by your garden? Too much to do? Weeds out of control? Pests or diseases bringing devastation and disappointment? The growth has gotten away from you? An abundance of crops that need harvesting? Not sure where to start? Or perhaps you have a vision for what you want to create but it seems insurmountable. We all feel like giving up with garden overwhelm at times. But don’t despair!

How to Deal with Garden Overwhelm - Helpful Tips

Experiencing Garden Overwhelm

Sometimes a health issue takes hold or we may be away from home. It doesn’t take long for a garden to get out of control. Often we get behind over spring and summer. Hot, humid and wet days make it too uncomfortable or impractical to be outdoors. It’s incredibly draining to garden in heat and humidity. Often, we don’t feel like going outside. So our normal maintenance routine can quickly fall behind. Prolonged rain conditions can turn our tidy gardens into jungle nightmares.

Consequently, by the time we venture out to get some work done, weeds are rampant. Plants need pruning and grass is almost impossible to mow. In these weather conditions, every pest and disease known to mankind has the perfect conditions to thrive! Enter garden overwhelm.

Overgrown garden beds needing weeding pruning and maintenance

Overgrown garden beds needing weeding pruning and maintenance

Overgrown Gardens Bring Challenges

Last year, we spent months trying to keep our plants alive in drought. Daily watering was exhausting. Then drought turned to heatwaves, torrential rain and storms. Like many gardeners, we’ve had a LOT of rain recently. It’s been a blessing. The water tanks have filled again to overflowing. The water table rose and the soil moisture reservoir has been restored. As a result, I haven’t had to spend as much time or energy watering, especially in the heatwaves this summer. What a relief.

However, the heat and moisture has caused plant growth to accelerate literally overnight. Coupled with the new moon phase with high sap flow, the growth is phenomenal and very overwhelming. Waiting days to get outside when it’s been raining means that a well-tended accessible garden has suddenly become an untamed jungle.

Hedges suddenly need severe haircuts. Sweet potato vines and pumpkins have overtaken large areas they weren’t intended to grow. I cut the vines back for compost, bury them to build soil and give away armfuls of cuttings. I harsh prune them every other day. Despite these efforts, they just grow back again. Arnold Schwarzenegger famously said “I’ll be back!” and my pumpkins seem to be sending me the same message. It’s a battle trying to tame a beast that regrows overnight. At least we’ll have a decent harvest that will store well for months.

I'll Be Back! Overgrown pumpkins can cause garden overwhelm

5 Steps to Deal with Garden Overwhelm

So how do we cope when the garden feels depressingly wild, unmanageable and daunting? These are a few strategies to make progress and regain control.

Step 1: Take the pressure off

Firstly, make your peace with an imperfect garden. Depending on your time, energy and weather conditions, the garden’s condition will ebb and flow. Be OK with that! If some plants die back, compost them. After all, they will still be in your garden – just in another form. Feeding other plants by building healthy soil.

Turn garden overwhelm into an asset by collecting garden green waste in portable bags for composting

I collect garden green waste in portable bags for composting while there is an abundance of lush  growth

Step 2: Make a list of the tasks that NEED to get done and prioritise them

What jobs can’t wait? What is less urgent? Focus on completing one job at a time rather than trying to multi-task. Next,  you can make a plan to start on the most important jobs first. I’ve put together a free PDF Download to help you tackle garden tasks in small bites.

Tips to Tackle Garden Tasks in Small Bites Free PDF Download

Step 3: Break the inertia and get momentum again

Decide on a start date and time. Make an appointment with yourself if necessary! Choose the most critically urgent job and take action. One step at a time, even in a five or ten minute block. Go at a pace you can manage while regaining control and kicking your goals. Once you see progress, you will feel a sense of control and accomplishment.

For example, I transplanted a couple of passionfruit into a raised garden bed a fortnight ago. They didn’t like the heatwave. Neither did I. I managed to water them thoroughly several times to help prevent transplant shock so they could settle in. Now they’ve taken off and have climbed the first four wires in the trellis and are looking for where to go next. I didn’t think they’d have such prolific growth so fast. So, adding more wire strands and tensioning them are high priority this week along with tying the vines up. I’m shuffling the to do list.

How to Deal with Garden Overwhelm: 5 MINUTE GARDENING CHECK LIST Free PDF Download

Download my 5 Minute Gardening Check List for easy daily tasks. It’s another free PDF tool to help you deal with garden overwhelm. Enjoy!

Step 4: Get organised to maximise efficiency

If you have limited time and energy or breaks in the weather, you need to be ready for the job at hand. Spend a few minutes sorting your seeds. Have tools in one spot. A portable tub, garden apron or tool belt make it easy. I wear my harvesting apron with my gloves, secateurs, plant ties, crop protection bags, scissors, string, plant labels etc in the pockets. I pop it on and am ready for a variety of tasks.

Be organised with garden tools ready to use

Be organised with garden tools ready to use

Step 5: Celebrate every achievement

A big handful of weeds. Seeds sown. A plant potted. Turn frustration into a feeling of fulfillment as you successfully complete a task. Progress trumps perfection. Done is better than perfect!

Helpful Tips for Coping When Garden Tasks are a Burden

  • Tip 1. Change your Mindset on Weeds. An abundance of weeds isn’t all bad! Weeds do the pioneering work of drawing up minerals deep within the subsoil to remediate nutrient deficiencies. Yes, they have a beneficial role. They accumulate nutrients in their biomass and many weeds are edible. By utilising their ‘work’ you can add the leaves, stems and roots to water to make a liquid fertiliser. Strain and water back in where you removed them from the soil. This returns nutrients to the surface soil. The weeds won’t need to reappear as balance has been returned. There’s a silver lining in everything!


Sustainable Gardening Tips for December

In the December newsletter you’ll find important safety and contamination factors to consider when using manures; inspiring ideas from my dad’s small garden; small but mighty microgreens plus+ seasonal gardening tips. Dig in!

Sustainable Gardening Tips December

Sustainable Gardening Tips for December

Recently, I took a break from my own garden in subtropical Queensland, Australia to visit my 94 year old dad in Sydney. Age is just an attitude right? He lives in a retirement village with my step-mum. They both love gardening and do the majority of planting, pruning and maintaining the flowers, herbs, vegies, hedges, perennials and annuals. It gives him a sense of purpose creating a beautiful space in these small gardens. They give all the residents joy. It’s hard to slow dad down. He walks every day and always has a pair of secateurs and gloves in his back pocket or a bucket filled with weeds in hand!

There’s a joke in our family that us gardeners suffer from ‘Secateuritis‘. The symptoms are the inability to surrender our secateurs or stop pruning plants! If you keep a sharp pair of secateurs handy to take cuttings and transplant, you too may be one of ‘us’! This incredibly therapeutic activity is quite addictive and rewarding. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face too. Propagating new plants by ‘community pruning’ is a fun and very satisfying skill to learn. We always have new free plants to nurture or gift.

It’s amazing what an incredible impact colourful flowers and foliage have on the spirit. You can view all my photos here and I hope this inspires you to grow more blooms and use vertical spaces. You’ll also see dad’s creative solution for keeping the rabbits and possums from eating the parsley.

Anne with dad on the patio with cuttings, seeds and colourful pot plants

Anne with dad on the patio with cuttings, seeds and colourful pot plants

Small but Mighty Microgreens

I got excited about microgreens 10 years ago after reading the research on their nutritional properties. Have you eaten baby vegetables and herbs as microgreens yet? If not, I hope you will be inspired to start. They provide high nutrient value and health benefits for minimal time, space and cost. These fast growing mini gardens are perfect for time and space poor people all year round regardless of your climate. Especially if you want nutritious fresh ingredients without the hassle of gardening! Learn more about their benefits in my free tutorial and introduction video. I’ve also got some fascinating research to share about raising seeds as microgreens to excite you! Read on.

Does it matter what growing medium you raise your seeds in?

Based on study1 results, YES! If you want the most nutritious food, your seed raising medium should include vermicompost (or worm castings). I raise my seeds using easy-to-make homemade seed raising mix. I always include this ingredient. The correct proportions though are critical. Too little and you won’t get optimum results. Too much and it can have negative effects. Check out my Potting Mix Guide to make five seed raising mixes for nutrient-rich healthy plants. Let’s see what the study results reveal.

Vermicompost vs Hydroponic Microgreens – Which is Better?

This illuminating study1 compared the nutritional value of lettuce and cabbage microgreens grown hydroponically (with NPK fertiliser solution) versus in a growing medium that included composted food waste and vermicompost.  The study also compared results to the nutrients in store-bought cabbage and lettuce as mature vegetables. 10 nutrients were examined (phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and sodium). “Vermicompost-grown cabbage microgreens had significantly larger quantities of ALL nutrients than hydroponic cabbage microgreens” except for phosphorus. Vermicompost “lettuce microgreens had significantly larger quantities of ALL nutrients than hydroponic lettuce microgreens except for phosphorus, magnesium and copper”. Overall, the results indicate that “vermicompost-grown microgreens are significantly more nutrient-rich than hydroponically grown microgreens.”

That makes sense! In Nature, plants don’t grow in water. Nor are they fed synthetic NPK solutions as in hydroponic systems! Plants naturally have a beneficial relationship with soil microorganisms and worms. They help ‘feed’ plants by converting minerals into soluble nutrients in the soil or seed raising medium. Vermicompost and compost add microbes to the growing medium. Plants grow as nature intended in conjunction with these beneficial soil workers! Multiple studies3 support these findings. Hydroponic systems can’t offer this same benefit.

Nutrient and Health Protective Value of Microgreens

Microgreens, irrespective of growing method, had greater average nutrient contents than industrially produced mature vegetables that are commonly available in supermarkets.”1 So, growing microgreens at home provides us with “access to larger quantities of nutrients per gram of plant biomass1 compared to the same mature vegetables purchased at stores. No harmful sprays or toxic chemicals either!

Bowl of freshly snipped rocket and mustard microgreens ready to eat

Harvesting fresh rocket and mustard microgreens for maximum flavour and nutrition

Another study2 found that eating 3-day-old broccoli microgreens provides large quantities of “enzymes that protect against carcinogens” (cancer causing agents). “Crucifers (e.g. broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts) may play a special role in affording such protection.” The study notes “small quantities of crucifer sprouts may protect against the risk of cancer as effectively as 10 –100 times larger quantities of mature vegetables of the same variety.” So, by eating at least some vegetables from the cabbage plant family (Brassicaceae or Crucifers) as microgreens, we can enjoy significant nutritional value. Plus potential protective health benefits, even in small quantities!

There are many benefits to growing vegetables and herbs as microgreens. We also save garden space, growing time to harvest, water, time and inputs. We can recycle our household food waste to produce compost as a growing medium. This helps reduce landfill while improving the nutritional value of the food we grow and eat. A sustainable way to garden and produce nutrient-rich food, especially in urban areas.

Learn to Grow Microgreens and Start a Worm Farm

Check out these resources to get started.

Should You Use Manure in Your Garden? Is it Safe?

If manure hasn’t been on your radar, my latest article may give you some serious food for thought. Most gardeners pick up a bag of fertiliser, compost or manure from the garden centre. You probably assume it’s safe and won’t harm your plants or food you grow. You might even buy a trailer load or bags from the side of the road direct from local suppliers. But, have you ever considered WHAT the animal eats? What VET MEDICATIONS, HERBICIDES and other CONTAMINANTS might be in the manure? The reality is quite sobering.

Have you ever had unusual symptoms on your plants and not known what caused them? This article might be a good place to start. Herbicide injury is just one potential culprit that may be caused by our garden inputs. From personal experience with contaminated soil, I believe we need to do our due diligence. Start digging deeper by tracing the journey of the inputs you use in your garden.

I share a list of questions to ask suppliers. Rather than just thinking about the end product (manure, compost or fertiliser), it’s worth investigating ALL the potential inputs in an animal’s life. If we want to grow safe food without contaminants, this is vital information. You’ll discover which manure to use; benefits vs contaminants and risks and the best ways to use manures safely in an organic garden. I hope you find the research and findings helpful in making more informed decisions. Tell me more.

Should You Use Manure in Your Garden? What are the pros/cons and how to use manure safely

“More than simply putting organic matter (such as manure, leaves or ordinary compost) into our garden soils, we must provide the inorganic minerals that are key to the growth, maintenance, repair and reproductive or seed-making capacity of food crops, as well as the health and performance of ornamental and landscaping plants.” – Gary L. Kline

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

December has been hot and despite some rain, most gardens could benefit from more to refill the soil reservoir to take us through summer. Heatwaves, storms and unpredictable weather are likely. Cyclone season is here. Be prepared. This time of year can be really challenging. Download your December Gardening Tips PDF for planting ideas, tasks to do in the garden plus issues to watch out for. Check out these articles to help your garden survive the months ahead. (more…)

Should You Use Manure in Your Garden?

Do you use manure in your garden? Perhaps you’re not sure if it’s safe? This common garden input has many advantages but also risks to consider. It’s worth doing a little ‘digging’ into the manure you might use! Not just the end product. But ALL the inputs into the animal during its life. An animal’s manure reflects what they eat, their medical care and overall health.

If you’re aiming to grow an organic food garden, it’s important to weigh up which manure to use. Plus consider the benefits vs potential contaminants and how to apply manure safely. Ultimately, the choices we make about our inputs may affect the food we grow and eat.

Should You Use Manure in Your Garden? What are the pros/cons and how to use manure safely

What are the Most Commonly Used Manures?

The waste product from cows, chickens, horses, sheep and alpacas are the most popular poops for gardeners! These vary in nutrient value and age. Fresh (hot) manures include horse and chicken. However, aged (cold) manure types include cow and sheep.

  • Chicken and Horse Manure. These are both high in nitrogen (N). They are best used to improve soil where you want to encourage strong leaf growth. Chicken manure can contain reasonably high levels of phosphorus (P). Read the label if buying a bagged product. Some plants like some Australian natives are P sensitive and prefer low phosphorus soil amendments.
  • Cow Manure. Lower in nutrients but composted cow manure is gentle around plants. It’s unlikely to burn or stunt growth of tender roots or seedlings.
  • Sheep Manure. Contains potassium (K) which can be beneficial for flowering plants.

Manures may be fresh, partially decomposed or well aged. Depending on your source, they can also contain bedding material like hay or sawdust.

Managing Manure Book

What are the Benefits of Animal Manures?

There are many advantages to applying composted manures as a soil amendment. Manures:

  • Improve soil structure and texture with organic matter.
  • Add soil microorganisms and attract earthworms.
  • Improve water-holding capacity.
  • Increase soil carbon.
  • Add major nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium to enhance soil fertility.
  • Are a renewable resource that’s easily available at low cost.
  • Recycle waste to feed the soil.
  • Are a natural soil amendment rather than a synthetic fertiliser.
Cattle grazing on unsprayed pastures in a regenerative agriculture organic system

Cattle grazing on chemical-free pastures in a regenerative agriculture organic system

There are lots of pros to using manures but it’s also worth considering the cons. Then we’ll look at how to safely use manure in your garden.

Contaminants and Risks with Manures

There are definitely some disadvantages and considerations to be aware of before you use manures.

Genetically Modified Organisms

Factory-farmed chicken or feedlot cattle eating genetically modified grains produce manure containing GMO (herbicide) residues. A clinical report on the use of GMO-containing food products in children states: “An unfortunate consequence of the increasingly heavy use of herbicides late in the growing season on herbicide-tolerant corn and soybeans is that measurable quantities of glyphosate and other herbicides, termed “residues,” remain present in GMO grains at harvest. The World Health Organization’s International Agency on Research for Cancer has determined that glyphosate, a herbicide widely used in producing GMO food crops, is a probable human carcinogen.” A cancer-causing agent in animal and human food!

Although the organic industry has strict guidelines on allowable inputs, there is still a loophole. At least in Australia, in NASAA certified organic manure or fertiliser products. Conventional chicken manure from birds who have been fed GMO grains, are still allowed in these products! In their guidelines, they use the “one step back assessment” for deciding what is acceptable. Consequently, manure is an ‘allowable input’ in certified organic garden products. Why? Because it comes from a non-GMO chicken (one step back) from what the chicken ate (GMO grains). So, the assessment process allows manufacturers to then work the system to produce ‘organically certified’ products. Even though, two steps back in the food chain, these chickens consumed GMO grains. Indeed, gardeners need full transparency about the entire food chain so we can make informed decisions.

Chickens in home gardens provide manure, feathers and bedding as compost inputs to improve soil

Chickens in home gardens provide manure, feathers and bedding as compost inputs to improve soil

Veterinary Medications

This is another big concern. Horses, sheep, chickens and cattle have regular vet medications (including growth promoters, steroids, hormones, worming treatments and antibiotics)1 that end up in their manure. Plants can take up these meds via their roots. Vet drugs have been found in edible plants consumed by humans.2 These bioactive chemicals are harmful to humans, animals, sensitive soil microorganisms and worms.

A concerning peer reviewed study5 notes “Earthworms appear to be sensitive to parasiticides, whereas plants appear to be sensitive to many of the antimicrobial groups and the macrocyclic lactones. Not surprisingly, the antimicrobial compounds are most toxic to soil microbes.” Antimicrobial substances harm and kill soil life by limiting the growth of beneficial bacteria and fungi. This has the flow on effect of reducing the ability of plants to take up nutrients. This study also confirms “antibacterials are toxic to soil microbes and could reduce a soil system’s capability to degrade other contaminants, such as pesticides.”

Additionally, soil amendments like ‘Blood and Bone’ or bone meal may also contain potential drug contaminants like antibiotics.

Choose safe soil inputs to protect beneficial microorganisms and earthworms

It’s wise to choose safe soil inputs to protect beneficial microorganisms and earthworms

Furthermore, in another study3, veterinary drugs were found in soil layers at depths of 20-40 cm and 40-60 cm to a greater extent than closer to the surface 0-20 cm depth. The results indicated that “veterinary drugs accumulate easily and persist in the deeper soil.”

Yet another concern is vet medications leaching and ending up in waterways via surface water runoff or soil erosion creating environmental risks.

Toxic Herbicides

Many animals feed on pastures or hay crops contaminated with persistent broadleaf herbicides. Roundup (Glyphosate) has been found to be incredibly toxic. It is sprayed on the crops animals eat or embedded in some GM Roundup Ready crop seeds. The residues can last in the soil for many years. They leach into soil with rain, dew and irrigation.

A University of Florida publication ‘Herbicide Residues in Manure, Compost or Hay‘ explains: “manure contamination can occur if the animal has been fed forage treated with aminopyralid or other closely related herbicides, such as clopyralid or picloram. Because aminopyralid is absorbed into plant leaves and sequestered for the leaves’ lifetime, the herbicide residue will be present. This is the case even if the grass is cut, dried, and baled as hay. When this forage is fed to livestock, the leaf tissues are broken down and the herbicide is released within the digestive tract of the animal, then excreted in manure.” Farmers regularly spray weeds in pasture crops that are then baled for hay or mulch. A major concern.

Also, manure contaminated with chemical residues, can result in herbicide injury to plants. Not to mention impacting animal health. Residual herbicide poisons can continue being active even after the animal’s manure has been composted! Herbicides negatively impact microorganisms in the soil  especially worms.

Plant leaves injured by toxic broadleaf herbicide Dicamba

Cupped plant leaves injured by toxic broadleaf herbicide Dicamba

Have you ever noticed twisted, deformed or distorted leaves appear suddenly on your plants? Wondered what the cause was? The damage could possibly have been unintentional herbicide residue contamination. Sudden plant death can also be a clue. Have you noticed strange symptoms on your edible plants that don’t appear to be pest or disease related? If so, perhaps err on the side of caution. Avoid eating the fruit, vegetable or edible portion of the plant.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals in manure come from a variety of sources. These include grass fodder chemically sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Animals may also drink contaminated water that bioaccumulates.

Weed Seeds

Manures from animals like horses and sheep eating grass may contain weed seeds. If you are buying bags from roadside farms, unwanted weeds may germinate in your garden!


Fresh manures often contain bacteria like E. coli that can contaminate food crops when in direct contact. Be sure to wash edibles before eating even if they’re homegrown!

Other Concerns

Fresh chicken manure is very strong. High in ammonia, it can burn young seedlings and roots if applied directly. Nevertheless, it’s a great soil conditioner when used correctly.

Avoid using pet or pig manure in your edible garden or compost. These manures commonly contain parasites that can infect people.

Organic “Safety” Standards

Commercial bagged certified organic products have to follow strict safety guidelines. They can be a convenient way to add small quantities to your soil. Safety recommendations include wearing gloves and a mask. Allowable inputs do vary considerably. According to the Australian Organic standards, organic livestock production prohibits the use of synthetic chemicals, pesticides, fertilisers, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the land or within production, including in animal feed. “Organic livestock must be fed 100% certified organic feed, with an exception for trace minerals and vitamins sometimes required to meet the animal’s nutritional requirements.”

However, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA, many certified organic products allow manure inputs from livestock raised in confined industrial-scale feedlots and animals fed GM feed.

Another issue for organic product  manufacturers is there is not enough manure available from animals raised as ‘certified organic’ to provide sufficient inputs. So, factory farmed animal products including manures can end up in our gardens. Our regulatory authorities definitely have room for improvement. Especially if ‘certified organic’ products are going to truly be safe, free from genetically engineered ingredients or harmful contaminants.

Food for thought!

Best Ways to Apply Manures

When Using Manures Do Your Due Diligence

Firstly, apply the 90-120-day rule.* Aim to work fresh animal manure into the soil ahead of time when preparing for planting. Avoid applying directly to food crops.

  1. Apply manure at least 120 days before harvesting the edible part of the plant that has contact with the soil. e.g. squash family and leafy greens.
  2. Or 90 days prior to harvesting all other food crops with the exception of fruit trees and sweet corn where the crops don’t touch the soil. [* Source: USDA]



Sustainable Gardening Tips for November

The November newsletter is packed with my best tips on container gardening and how to grow food in a dry climate. Plus a drought tolerant plant list, how much and often to water your plants, what to plant now and a bonus laminated garden guide gift with purchase offer. Dig in!

Sustainable Gardening Tips November from The Micro Gardener

This month’s plant profile is the spice of life, Chilli Peppers. What a powerhouse! I dig deep into how to grow, store and use chillies for health.

Sustainable Gardening Tips for November

In my local climate in SE Queensland, Australia, weather conditions have been harsh for gardeners. This is the toughest season I think I’ve ever experienced. It’s been so dry that even the natives, trees, and hardy perennials are showing signs of drought-stress. Months on end without our normal seasonal rains. These are the rains that replenish the water table and deeply rooted trees. With heatwave after heatwave and no rain respite, it’s extremely challenging trying to grow food.

When you are on town water, that’s not a problem. However, for many gardeners like myself on tank water, every drop is precious. I’m invested in my garden. Each plant is like a member of my family! I’ve nurtured hundreds since ‘birth’ and to watch some of them struggle is emotionally hard.

Most of the vegetables and fruits we grow need consistent moisture. Some plants like our leafy greens and fruiting crops are super thirsty. It’s no surprise that when it’s dry, hot and windy, that plants suffer. There’s no moisture reservoir from recent rains to draw on in the soil. Thankfully, the effort I’ve put into building humus in the soil and thick layers of mulch has helped most plants survive. I find it interesting to watch which plants cruise through hard times like this versus those ‘princesses’ that have a hissy fit as soon as the weather is not to their liking!

List of 75+ Drought Tolerant Foods for Dry Climates

I’d love to help you if you’re trying to grow edibles in dry times. In my latest article, I share an extensive list of vegetables, herbs, fruit, nuts and herbs that are resilient and hardy. I explain how much and how often to water different types of plants. Also, how to select drought resistant species and how plants adapt with some of their incredible survival strategies. I hope you find the practical tips and list helpful. Here’s a peek at just a few on the list! You’ll find the rest here.

Sustainable Gardening Tips November: 20 Drought Tolerant Vegetables for Dry Climates

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” ― Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

How to Grow Food in a Dry Climate

  • Strategies for Gardening with Climate Change – Learn how to adapt to changing climate conditions – rain, dry spells and cloudy skies that reduce photosynthesis. I share solutions to help you ‘design out’ problems . Plus crop protection strategies to help you achieve a harvest even in challenging weather conditions.
  • Garden Strategies to Cope with Drought – Part 1 and Part 2 – Practical tips to help you rethink your water management strategies. Design and utilise microclimates; choose plants wisely; and downscale your garden to pots.

Container Gardening Tips

There are so many benefits to growing your food in pots, planters or even raised beds . These are really large containers!

In dry times, one of the key benefits to crops in pots is that plants don’t compete for water with trees and shrubs. Positioning them under trees and taller species can provide welcome shade relief during the heat. Trees also offer canopy protection during storms and a microclimate that mitigates wind damage.

Download these helpful printable PDF tips on container gardening:

Dig into these articles to learn more:

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

November has been much drier than average. Heatwaves, storms and unpredictable weather are typical for this time of year! I try to be prepared for just about anything as the growing gets tough. Download your November Gardening Tips PDF for planting ideas, tasks to do in the garden plus issues to watch out for. These articles may also help your garden survive a tough few months ahead.

If you can, try to time planting in harmony with the moon phases. Working with Nature’s timing can improve seed germination, help cuttings take root when propagating plants, and encourage healthy plant growth and establishment. The new moon phase each month is the best time to optimise the quick uptake of liquid nutrients. This helps plants access nutrition and get off to a good start. Working with moon phases and a Moon Calendar has distinct benefits. It helps me stay organised! I plan forward for the best times to take specific actions in my garden and reap the rewards. The natural cycles of energy and water that ebb and flow each month are there for us to tap into. Learn more here.

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. It includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in Other Locations


List of 75+ Drought Tolerant Foods for Dry Climates

If you’re experiencing dry climate conditions, drought or have limited water resources, food gardening may be challenging. Don’t despair! Careful selection of drought tolerant food crops, water-wise gardening practices and improving your soil can all help.

List of 75+ Drought Tolerant Edibles for Dry Climates

Droughts involve both high temperatures and extended periods without rain. The longer gaps between rainfall cause soils to dry out to greater depths. Heat waves occur when there are multiple consecutive days at very high temperatures. Heat waves can cause injury to plant tissues and in extreme cases, plant death.  A deep, fertile mulched healthy soil with vegetation holds a vast amount of water. Unlike shallow bare soil with minimal organic matter. So, a key goal is to improve soil moisture-holding capacity and available nutrition. This will help our plants to grow through rainfall shortages and heat waves. Before we look at drought tolerant food crops, there are other factors to consider for dry gardens.

How Much Water Do Vegetables Need?

On average, most vegetables require around 2.5-3cm (1″) or so weekly. However, this varies considerably depending on the climate, soil characteristics, wind, temperature, stage of plant development and plant variety. Some crops are very reliant on consistent moisture. e.g. Lettuce, corn, cauliflower and coriander. Whereas others can tolerate prolonged periods without watering, like Mediterranean herbs.

Hand watering tomato plant - How much water do vegetables need?

During dry times, I aim to water as infrequently as the plants I’m growing will tolerate. However, I also consider if I want the plant to produce an abundant harvest or just maintain minimal growth. i.e. stay alive! I hold off watering during or after rain, and reduce the frequency of watering during cooler weather. If it’s hot or windy, plants transpire more moisture so have higher water needs.

How much water vegetables need also depends on the irrigation method. For example, drip irrigation, a soaker hose, ollas and wicking bed systems provide a gradual release of water at or below soil level. If you water by hand with a hose or watering can, you may need to water more frequently. If this is the case, you might want to consider some water-wise strategies especially if you have limited water resources.

How Often Do Plants Need Watering?

As a general guide, this is how I water my plants. My gardens are all mulched and plants are in suitable containers that aren’t porous.

Vegetables/Pot Plants: In hot, dry weather I water daily except where I use ollas, water spikes, self-watering pots, drippers and my homemade potting mix. These are all buffers that hold moisture longer. I water less frequently in cooler or cloudy calm weather. Usually every second or third day.

Seedlings and newly establishing plants: I usually water daily during hot dry weather for the first fortnight or so. Then 2-3 times a week after that or if they are under shade cloth. In cooler weather, I can usually get away with watering every second or third day for the initial two weeks. Developing healthy roots and shoots is vital at this stage of growth so I don’t skimp on their water needs.

Fruit trees: During establishment in the first couple of years, heat waves or prolonged hot dry weather, I aim for twice a week. Or weekly during a normal summer with reasonably regular rainfall.

Ornamentals with some drought tolerance: Typically get watered weekly in summer and as needed in winter.

Mature drought tolerant ornamentals: This varies with the plant from every 3-4 weeks to never! When I do water, I try to give the plants a deep drink with liquid seaweed rather than just water.

Plants for Dry Gardens

Drought Tolerant Plant Adaptations and Survival Strategies

A lot of drought hardy plants have inbuilt defense systems that allow them to adapt when there is low soil moisture. These are a few of the strategies of drought tolerant plants.

  • Deeper root systems to tap moisture away from the surface.
  • A symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi help the vast majority of plants to cope with water stress and increase drought resistance.
  • Swollen storage roots (tubers, rhizomes and lignotubers) to retain moisture and nutrients.
  • Silver foliage helps reflect sunlight, cool leaves and reduce evaporation.
  • Releasing a chemical cocktail of sorts to counter heat and water stress, allowing them to survive for short periods of time.
  • Some plants put the ‘pause button’ on their growth. Other species close up their leaves or grow smaller leaves, adapting to the conditions.
  • Fruiting crops often abort those fruits they can’t support.
  • Some plants show stress by dropping their leaves. I look for these clues so I know which crops might be needing support.
  • Fine, thin, waxy, succulent, leathery or hairy leaves.
  • Originating from a desert biome. Many plant species adapt to Mediterranean, arid or hot dry climates.
  • Bush tucker or native food plants.

I grow quite a few resilient crops that handle drought with far less water. They’re hardy and cope well, continuing to grow despite the climate hardships.

Aloe Vera holds moisture within its succulent leaves as a drought tolerant strategy

Aloe Vera holds moisture within its succulent leaves as a drought tolerant strategy

Drought Tolerant Plants Grown from Seed and Seedlings

Seed grown plants often adapt better to dry conditions once established than seedlings from nurseries. Commercially grown seedlings are usually cultivated  in very controlled conditions including temperature and consistent moisture. They may be more likely to suffer transplant shock or be less adaptable to harsh conditions when they leave their comfortable environment!

Self-sown seeds or ‘volunteer’ plants that pop up in our gardens are often the hardiest in my experience. Plants that germinate in harsh conditions are resilient and hardy. I want more of those species in my garden!

Mature fruit trees with an established root system in a larger pot are likely to be more drought hardy than very young immature trees. This may vary depending on the cultivar.

How to Select Crops for Dry Climates Carefully

Some crops are extremely inefficient water users. Corn and melons for instance, are water guzzlers! Perhaps buy those varieties you don’t have space for or water resources to support. Consider growing some of the most water-efficient foods instead.

When selecting seed varieties, look for “drought hardy” or “drought tolerant” in the description. Local seed banks and seed saving groups will also usually have a good source of seeds adapted to growing in your microclimate conditions. I save seeds from crops that have grown well in my soil during dry times as this is a characteristic I want to preserve in future plants. Learn seed saving and propagation skills so you can choose the best plants from your own garden at no cost.

List of 75+ Drought Tolerant Foods

Drought Hardy Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruit & Nuts

There are a wide variety of heat and drought hardy or tolerant food plants for diverse climates. Once established, many plants can endure short dry periods.  This list is not exhaustive but rather primarily from observation in my own subtropical climate. You  may have different soil types or microclimates and adaptability may vary. However, this is a good starting point if you’re trying to grow drought resistant, heat tolerant food gardens that can survive climate challenges.

Sustainable Gardening Tips for July

Welcome to the July newsletter. So much to dig into this month. Beneficial ways to use weeds + The Weed Forager’s Handbook; 8 tips for plastic-free gardening, potassium nutrient profile, cauliflower tips, what to plant this month + QLD Garden Expo details.

Sustainable Gardening Tips for July

Sustainable Gardening Tips for July

“A weed is a plant whose virtue is forgotten.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wonderful Weeds!

Firstly, I’m sharing ways we can garden sustainably by learning more about using edible and medicinal weeds.

Most agree that a ‘weed’ is any plant out of place, but WHY are they really there? What’s the real purpose of weeds? Weeds are pioneers! They are the first plants to inhabit nutrient-deficient, bare or disturbed soils. Their role is to repair, improve and remediate the soil. Weeds are also educators and a symptom something is out of balance! They provide us with clues as to why they are there and help us learn more about our soil. e.g. They may be telling us the soil is poorly drained or compacted, lacking specific minerals, has a pH imbalance or excess fertiliser.

For example, true Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) helps to bring calcium (Ca) back up to the soil surface in its biomass. Dandelion has a deep taproot (1m or 3-4 ft deep) that opens up the subsoil to improve drainage. It typically indicates heavy, compacted, acidic soil, but also grows in fertile well-drained areas. We can harvest the stem, leaves, roots and flowers for food and medicine; chop them as mulch; use as a compost activator to add Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Selenium, Zinc, Boron and Silica to the soil; or make a liquid fertiliser to feed other plants. Dandelion is extremely nutritious (more than many vegetables)! This herb is rich in “vitamins A, B, C & E and is widely used medicinally, including as a liver tonic, to alkalise and purify the blood, cleanse and regenerate cells, and absorb toxins from the bowel.” [How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life]. I add these nutritious leaves to salads almost daily.

True Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) herb and weed

True Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) herb and weed

“Our common weeds, possessing vigorous root systems, go down into the lower soils for a goodly portion of their mineral foods because the minerals which plants require are usually abundant down there. Being strong feeders, the weed roots take up great quantities of the minerals and then bring them up to be stored in the stems and leaves. So, when the weeds were burned on the garden, those minerals were deposited there in the ashes, ready to be taken up easily by the growing vegetables. In this manner – and in many other ways – weeds are Nature’s true guardians of the soil.” – ‘Weeds Guardians of the Soil’, Joseph A Cocannoue

July is a good time to start your weed control. Working with moon phases you can slow weed growth and maximise your efforts. The Last Quarter moon phase is ideal for weeding because seed germination tends to be lower at this time. So you are less likely to stimulate additional weed seed germination while weeding. The perpetual Moon Calendar is a handy tool with the best dates each month. Many weeds that germinate in cultivated soil are hosts to common vegetable pests and diseases. Remember to recycle the nutrients in your weeds to feed your garden via compost or as liquid fertilisers.

NEW! The Weed Forager’s Handbook

A colourful, illustrated field guide to the top 20 edible and medicinal weeds in Australia. For foragers and gardeners keen to learn about eating, identifying and using nutritious weeds. This compact book is ideal for popping in your pocket and taking outdoors on a walk to help identify plants. Discusses the role of weeds, getting rid of them and how to make ‘weed tea’ as a liquid fertiliser for your garden. Descriptions of common Australian weeds, advice on how to differentiate edible plants from similar-looking plants that aren’t edible, notes of caution, recipes and resources. Dig in!

Plastic Free July

Plastic Free July is a global movement helping people be part of the solution to plastic pollution. How can we have cleaner soils? By limiting our use of plastics like PVC in the garden we can reduce plastic waste and keep plastic chemicals from leaching into our precious soil. Whilst some plastic products like irrigation pipes may be necessary, there are plenty of creative ways to minimise plastic in the garden.

  1. Avoid weed mat. It kills soil life by limiting access to water, air and light. Consider a natural fibre option like breathable hessian or old cotton sheets. In some situations, cardboard or sheet mulching may work well.
  2. Raise your own seeds instead of buying seedlings in plastic punnets.
  3. Make biodegradable pots from natural materials like banana leaves or toilet rolls. Jiffy pots and coir-based seed raisers are other options.
  4. Avoid plastic stakes. Use sustainable options like bamboo, wood or upcycle pruned branches from your garden.
  5. Make your own plant labels. e.g. hand-painted rocks and wooden popsicle sticks.
  6. Choose bulk supplies like mulch or soil from a landscape yard rather than buying small quantities in plastic bags. At the very least repurpose the bags so they are not single-use.
  7. Buy bare-rooted trees and plants in winter when dormant. They come in sawdust or coconut coir rather than plastic.
  8. Grow plants from cuttings to avoid buying more mature plants in plastic pots.

Wooden popsicle stick plant labels with chinographic wax pencil plant names

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

Cool days and nights in July mean most pesky insects are overwintering – yay! It’s the ideal time to prune citrus, plant winter crops and bare-rooted fruits. Download your July Gardening Tips PDF for planting suggestions, tasks to do in the garden this month plus issues to watch out for. 

I always aim to time my planting in harmony with the moon phases to optimise seed germination, help cuttings take root, and encourage healthy plant growth and establishment. There are also times each month to optimise the quick uptake of liquid nutrients. This helps plants access nutrition and get off to a good start. Working with Nature’s timing and a Moon Calendar has distinct benefits. It helps me stay organised. I plan forward for the best times to take specific actions in my garden and reap the rewards. The natural cycles of energy and water that ebb and flow each month are there for us to tap into. Learn more here.

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. It includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in Other Locations

Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)


Potassium (K) is a vital water-soluble nutrient that leaches quickly from poorly structured soil. Potassium plays important roles in regulating plant growth; chlorophyll production and photosynthesis; opening and closing stomata (leaf pores that exchange oxygen and water); root, fruit and seed development; strengthening cell walls; improving the colour and flavour of flowers and fruits; and disease resistance.

Potassium-deficient plant symptoms appear on the older leaves first because this mobile nutrient is sent to the young newer leaves as a priority. Potassium deficiency can also make plants prone to frost damage and disease. Mineral balance is essential for healthy plant growth. Too much potassium can create an imbalance in soil pH, calcium and magnesium!

Rock minerals stock the soil pantry with all elements plants require. You can also add other organic materials to boost potassium levels. Bury banana peels around your plants or make a liquid fertiliser. Comfrey is rich in potassium. Chop leaves and stems as mulch or add to the hole when planting. Make comfrey or lucerne tea, add liquid seaweed or fish emulsion, seaweed meal or compost. Use wood ash or potash carefully as it can impact the soil pH level. Sulphate of potash or potassium sulphate is a safe water-soluble form that provides a quick source of potassium after applying it to the soil. Add organic matter to your soil, especially if it’s sandy or lacking clay.

Tomato leaf with potassium deficiency symptoms

Cauliflower Tips

  1. To form their ‘curd’ or edible flower head, cauliflowers need cool temperatures. They are best grown in autumn to winter in warm climates so they mature before warmer temperatures in spring. Choose cultivars that suit your climate including early and late varieties. Small head cauliflowers with short days to maturity are a good choice. Long days to maturity varieties extend the harvest.
  2. Keep moisture up to seedlings so they grow quickly and develop a large canopy of leaves as solar panels. The cooler weather triggers the flower bud to form. Cauliflower is a heavy feeder and benefits from liquid nutrients including seaweed, potassium, fish emulsion and vermicast tea (diluted worm leachate). Apply slow-release nutrients, compost and mulch during the growing season.
  3. To help a maturing cauliflower curd stay white, gather the outer leaves together around the head. Use a clothes peg at the leaf tips or tie strong twine in a bow. This also prevents grubs from attacking the head + frost, sun and rain damage. After harvesting, don’t remove the outer leaves. Keep them wrapped around the head while in the refrigerator to extend freshness. Nature’s wrapping is best!

Cauliflower head forming inside leaves - wrap to protect from grubs, frost, sun and rain damage


Sustainable Gardening Tips for June

Welcome to the June newsletter. So much to dig into this month. Tips for small gardens with inspiring photos, comfrey plant profile, an update on my garden, garden therapy and what to plant this month.

Sustainable gardening tips June: Small spaces and container gardens

Sustainable Gardening Tips for June

Firstly, these are a few easy ways to garden sustainably in small spaces. I’ve spent 13+ years helping people grow food in compact urban gardens. The smaller the space, the more important the decisions we make regarding design, plant varieties and functionality.

  • Give priority to your sunniest locations for fruiting crops and fruit trees. Fill in the gaps with plants that can tolerate shady conditions.
  • Group plants with similar water needs together. This saves time, a precious resource and avoids over- or under-watering problems.
  • If you have limited room, consider removing plants that don’t serve you. Replace them with edible species that do!
  • Grow at least one pot of edible flowers in your favourite colour. Beautiful blooms make you feel happy, attract pollinators to improve your harvests and provide you with nutrients.
  • Use space wisely. Position tall and climbing plants at the back of a garden bed to protect and shade low-growing species.
  • Use vertical structures to access sunlight higher up. Boundary fences, railings and hanging baskets are a few opportunities.
  • Consider portable planters to give you more flexibility for accessing sun or shade seasonally. Container gardens on brackets and mobile trolleys are ideal solutions.

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

In June, we experience cooler days and nights as winter sets in. We typically enjoy lower humidity and fewer pest insects as they overwinter. Yay! When there’s rain we have almost perfect growing conditions with only a few regular pests to worry about like cabbage butterflies. It’s the ideal time to plant winter crops and bare-rooted fruit varieties. Download your June Gardening Tips PDF for planting suggestions, tasks to do in the garden this month and issues to watch out for

I always aim to time my planting in harmony with the moon phases to optimise seed germination, help cuttings take root, and encourage healthy plant growth and establishment. There are also times each month to optimise the quick uptake of liquid nutrients. This helps plants access nutrition and get off to a good start. Working with Nature’s timing and a Moon Calendar has distinct benefits. It helps me stay organised. I plan forward for the best times to take specific actions in my garden and reap the rewards. The natural cycles of energy and water that ebb and flow each month are there for us to tap into. Learn more here.

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. It includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in Other Locations

Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)


Comfrey (Symphytum Officinale) is a flowering medicinal perennial herb with a deep tap root and attractive foliage and blooms. ‘Comfrey‘ comes from Latin and means “to grow together”. Makes sense it is also known as ‘Knitbone’, ‘All Heal’ and ‘Woundwort’. Comfrey grows year-round in most climates and is one of the most valuable plants you can grow.

Sustainable gardening tips June: Comfrey is a perennial medicinal herb with healing leaves and flowers

Comfrey is a perennial medicinal herb with healing leaves and flowers

Common comfrey has so many uses I can’t imagine my garden without it. The most popular way to grow it is from small root cuttings (even the tiniest piece) and crown division. It also grows from seed. Make sure you plant it in a permanent position though or a pot as it will be very difficult to dig out after it matures and can self-sow. Comfrey is one of the 72 herbs covered in the Herb and Medicinal Plants Growing Guide.

Comfrey Uses:

This is just a VERY brief glimpse into comfrey as it is highly valued as a medicinal healing herb. It is also incredibly useful to support the healthy growth of other plants.
  • Use leaves as medicine – a poultice, applied topically has been used since 400 BC to heal many ailments including burns, broken bones, bruising, tissue damage and arthritis. See How Can I Use Herbs in My Daily Life for 8 pages of information on this and 500+ herbs. It’s my go-to herb bible!
  • Comfrey roots gather potassium and other minerals from deep in the subsoil. So this plant is ideal to fertilise flowering and fruiting crops like tomatoes and potassium-hungry potatoes.
  • In situ fertiliser. Chop and drop leaves and stems around plants as a nutrient-rich mulch.
  • Comfrey tea. Add to water and allow to steep for several weeks. Dilute and use around plants as a liquid fertiliser. Watch them grow!
  • Compost activator and dynamic accumulator. Chop leaves and add to compost systems and worm farms to release nutrients.
  • Poultry forage rich in protein, calcium and phosphorous.
  • Cooked leafy green like spinach, or enjoy in salads, juice, soups, casseroles and stuffing.

Comfrey Likes:

  • Seeds typically germinate in about 25-30 days at a soil temperature of 20-22°C. Best sown in the new moon phase.
  • At least 3 hours of sun or shade and soil pH 6.0 to 7.0. Enjoys protection from hot summer sun.
  • Aged manure releases nitrogen for quick leaf growth.
  • Thrives in moist, fertile, well-drained soil but tolerates poor soils and can help break up clay.
  • Regular moisture until established but will tolerate dry conditions when mature.

Comfrey Dislikes: 

  • Can die back in cold weather. Prune and use leaves at the end of autumn or in winter if this occurs.
  • Thin soils over rock.

What’s Been Happening in My Garden?

May was very dry so I did a LOT of watering and mulching. It was a busy month of sowing more peas, tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots, celery, broccolini and cabbage. A few pumpkin vines are still hanging in there with fruit maturing. To my delight, I discovered several butternut pumpkins hidden under vines I never planted! Who knows how they get there? I just love surprises in the garden. It’s been a tough few months for pumpkins and arrowroot. They certainly need a lot of water to thrive. So I’ve been watching their needs in this soil and working on strategies for going forward. Staple plants deserve support. I’ve harvested well over 100kg of pumpkins this season and had plenty to share. They store well so I have enough to last until spring planting time.

Lettuce, sorrel, rocket and spinach are keeping us busy in the kitchen making salads and cooked meals to use up the leafy greens. I’m out daily picking raw ingredients and edible flowers like nasturtiums, cosmos and herb blooms to add colour, nutrients and flavour to salads. Pawpaw fruits are growing well. Our mandarin and lime trees are loaded with fruit. Two of the mandarins didn’t get watered except sparsely by nature. Consequently, the fruit is smaller this year and I’m in awe of the abundance. Clay soils have their benefits! I’m incredibly grateful the citrus have valiantly produced a full crop, despite the hard times. It’s a testament to the miracle of mulch to lock in moisture and help trees during times of stress. Mulch is a vital strategy for every garden.

My kitchen garden June 2023: Leafy greens and herbs; nasturtium flowers and herbs harvest; lettuce and garlic; potatoes in grow bag.

My kitchen garden June 2023: Leafy greens and herbs; nasturtium flowers and herbs harvest; lettuce and garlic; potatoes in a grow bag.


How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

The Magic of Mulch

Mulch has so many benefits and is a vital input for every healthy garden. Mulch plays many roles besides framing your plants and making your garden attractive. Mulches inhibit weed growth, minimise erosion and retain precious moisture just to name a few. But how do you mulch your garden for free?

How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

It depends on the mulch you want. There are two types of mulch – organic or inorganic. Let’s take a quick look at them both with their pros and cons.

Organic Mulch

This mulch type is either a dead plant material you apply over the soil surface or a living species you grow to cover and protect it. Organic mulches are biodegradable and decompose over time – some fast; others over a period of years. This depends on the material and your climate. Here in the subtropics, organic mulches break down quite quickly with high moisture and humidity.

These types of organic mulches add value to your soil health and quality. They are a way of layering organic matter on top of the soil to build humus and encourage worms. Organic mulches like leaves, hay, shrub prunings and lawn clippings improve drainage and aeration. They also add nutrients and hold water; create habitat for soil microorganisms; improve fertility and soil structure. However, buying these types of mulches, especially in bulk can be costly. You also need to reapply them over time. This is one of the key reasons to learn how to mulch your garden for free!

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulches are non-living or made from synthetic materials like weed mat. They typically don’t decompose, are low-maintenance and long-lasting but are usually more expensive to purchase. However, they don’t need replacing over time as organic mulches do. Decorative inorganic mulches include pebbles, rocks and gravel. It’s worth considering the environmental impact and one-off cost of these inputs. Pebbles and rocks can help prevent erosion and can be suited to windy gardens. They don’t however, feed the soil in any way.

There is a place for both types of mulches in many gardens. You can go to your landscape yard, nursery or hardware to buy bags of mulch in small quantities or get it delivered in bulk.

However, if you want to save money, why not consider all the potential materials you could use as mulch from your garden or neighbourhood? Here are a few sustainable ways to source your mulch at no cost. Dig in!

Organic free mulch materials - Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles

These are a few of my favourite organic mulch materials – Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles

How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” ― Arthur Ashe

We all have access to different resources. You may have to think creatively about what materials you can source from your own garden, family and friends, neighbours or within your local community. Don’t give up! Even starting with one of these free mulch ideas can help save you money. Aim to be as sustainable as you can.

1. Reuse ‘Waste’ Plant Materials

Grasscycling Lawn Clippings.

There are several ways to use nitrogen-rich, fresh green lawn clippings or when they are carbon-rich, brown, dry and aged.

  1. Firstly, if you have a catcher on your lawnmower, dry the grass clippings out in the sun to prevent them from clumping. Sprinkle lightly around pots or garden beds as mulch.
  2. Avoid applying a thick layer of grass clippings all in one spot as they can form a mat. This can prevent moisture from getting through to the soil.
  3. Instead of using a catcher, allow the clippings to self-mulch on the lawn as you mow. This prevents weeds, adds moisture and feeds the soil and thatch with nutrients. Healthier weed-free lawn too.
  4. Lastly, add clippings to your compost when fresh as a nitrogen (green) ingredient. Or dry out and use as a carbon (brown) input in the composting process. Compost can also be used as a feeding mulch under a more durable layer like bark chip.
How to mulch your garden for free: Pile of pruned branches and leaves for mulch from our garden

A pile of pruned branches and leaves I used as mulch for our garden

Prunings from hedges and garden maintenance.


Sustainable Gardening Tips for May

Welcome to the May newsletter. I’m looking forward to showing you a few ways I’ve been building healthy soil and retaining moisture in my garden. It’s been dry, hot and windy for months. So protecting our soil health is a big priority. Dead, dry dirt grows unhealthy stressed plants. Keeping it covered with mulch is vital.

Gardening tips May: Organic mulch is a vital way to protect and build healthy soil

Sustainable Gardening Tips for May

I’m sharing ways to save money and garden more sustainably with mulch without buying it. Sure, you can go to your landscape yard, nursery or hardware to buy bags or get mulch delivered in bulk. However, if you want to save money, why not consider all the potential materials you could use as mulch from your garden or neighbourhood?

Dig into my latest article How to Mulch Your Garden for Free. There’s a barrowload of creative ideas on organic vs inorganic mulches plus 5 mulching tips. Here’s a sneak peek! I hope you get some valuable insights and inspiration.

Organic free mulch materials - Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles

Organic mulch materials – Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

May is our last month of autumn. We experience cooler days and nights, lower humidity (yay!) and fewer pest insects. Hopefully, perfect growing conditions if we get rain. It’s the ideal time to plant winter crops. Download your May Gardening Tips PDF for planting suggestions, tasks to do in the garden this month and issues to watch out for

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. Includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in other Locations

Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)


Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a flowering edible and medicinal perennial herb that grows year-round in most climates. In subtropical QLD we sow in autumn.

Gardening tips May: Plant Profile - Edible and medicinal herb pink yarrow in flower

Edible and medicinal herb pink Yarrow in flower

According to a review of Yarrow’s medicinal properties, the most medicinally active part of the plant are the flowers although the leaves are also used. Yarrow has been found to intensify the medicinal action of other herbs taken with it and helps eliminate toxins from the body. Studies confirm it has analgesic properties, is an anti-inflammatory agent, is used to control bleeding, blood clots, lower blood pressure and purify blood. Yarrow is used for colds, chicken pox, circulation, cystitis, diabetes treatment and many other ailments. It’s a wonderful addition to your home pharmacy garden as a first aid plant. Yarrow is one of the 72 herbs covered in the Herb and Medicinal Plants Growing Guide.

  • Seeds require light for germination and a temperature of 18–24°C (64–75°F).
  • At least 3-4 hours of sun or partial shade in hot climates.
  • Will do best in compost-rich, well-drained soil but is tolerant of poor soils within a pH range of 5.5–7.0.
  • Regular moisture until established but will tolerate dry conditions when mature.
  • Poorly drained soil and poor air circulation as these conditions can contribute to powdery mildew.
  • Too much shade affects flowering.

What’s Been Happening in My Garden?

April has been a busy month as I always look forward to the start of autumn! Cooler temperatures make gardening more comfortable without high humidity. This is the best time of year for planting so many crops so I don’t waste time. I aim for a diverse variety of foods that we most love to eat. Lots of salad ingredients, leafy greens, tummy-filling root vegetables like potatoes, zucchini, pumpkins, peas and beans, broccoli, kale, cabbages, garlic, leeks, onions and of course tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum. A rainbow of fresh ingredients to pick daily including cool-season herbs like coriander and dill. I change the menu to incorporate these new flavours. Soups, curries, stir-fries, salads and roasted or marinated vegetables are a few of our favourites.


Sustainable Gardening Tips for April

Welcome to the April newsletter. A sustainable garden aims to provide sustenance and nourishment for minimal time, money and energy.

How can you maintain and support a sustainable garden to meet your needs for a long time? By:

    • Choosing efficient inputs, minimising waste and making as little impact on the earth as possible.
    • Being a good steward of your resources.
    • Using practices that won’t deplete or permanently damage the resources and environment.
    • Working in harmony with nature to create a healthy ecosystem that is self-sustaining.
    • Applying Permaculture principles.

Sustainable Gardening Tips for April | The Micro Gardener

Sustainable Gardening Tips for April

This month I’m sharing tips to garden more sustainably by avoiding food waste.

According to Foodwise.com.au, an estimated 20-40% of fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops. This is mostly because they don’t match the consumers’ and supermarkets’ high cosmetic standards for size, colour and shape. Sadly, by expecting all fresh food to look perfect, we contribute to this unsustainable problem.

When food is thrown out, the water, fuel and resources that it took to get it from the paddock to the plate are also wasted. What a huge cost!

So why is so much food wasted? Many people don’t check the fridge or menu plan so end up buying and cooking too much food. Some people don’t know how to use leftovers or throw food out before the use-by or best-before date. Planning and sticking to a shopping list can help this problem.

"Imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and not bothering to pick it up. That's essentially what we're doing in our homes today." Dana Gunders quote on food waste

Permaculture Principles

Permaculture has some practical design guidelines for creating a sustainable garden, particularly when it comes to avoiding waste in its many forms.

‘Produce no waste’ Permaculture Principle:

When it comes to food waste, my goal is to have none. All the food we grow or buy is reused in one form or another to produce a yield. It adds value to our meals or garden in some way. Let’s look at a few ways you can ‘close the loop’ on food waste at home.

  • Grow as many crops as you can so there’s no packaging or wasted fruit and vegetables in your fridge. Pick fresh ingredients as you need them.
  • Eat all edible parts of the crops you grow. e.g. Beetroot, radish, squash, pumpkin, carrot and brassica leaves can be used fresh in salads or added to soups, stir-fries and cooked meals. Spinach and chard stems are just as tasty and nutritious as the leaves. Edible flowers from your herbs and vegetables add nutrition and flavour to your plate. Roasted pumpkin seeds make a delicious high-protein snack.
  • Regrow food from peels, seeds and roots to save money on buying new plants.

In this video, I share a few simple tips on ways to use 100% of your food in the kitchen to save seeds, propagate new plants, cook creatively and compost to close the loop on food ‘waste’. If you need seeds and plants to grow an edible garden, you may be surprised just how easy it is to grow food for free from what you already have in your fridge!

  • Learn to cook creatively with leftover ingredients.
  • The nutrients and moisture in kitchen food scraps such as peelings, cores, stems, roots and eggshells for example, can be recycled back into the garden. Food waste can be:
    • Composted by earthworms and decomposers in the soil food web to create ‘humus’, the finished product. Humus is a natural fertiliser rich in nutrients and helps stabilise your soil, reducing the need for purchasing inputs. No plastic bags! Compost also creates heat during the decomposition process, which can be used to keep neighbouring plant roots warm.
    • Added to a worm farm to produce worm castings (vermicast) as a solid fertiliser and liquid concentrate to feed plants.
    • Fed to animals like chickens. They convert the nutrients in the food scraps into manure, another valuable money-saving input for your garden. Chickens also produce eggs as a food source.
    • Processed into another form to fertilise your garden. e.g. eggshells can be ground into a fine calcium-rich powder. You can add this product to compost systems, worm farms or potting mix; sprinkle it into the soil; and make it into a liquid fertiliser. Banana peels also make a wonderful free fertiliser.

7 Benefits of Adding Food ‘Waste’ to your Garden

Recycling the nutrients in your food scraps:

  1. Improves your soil fertility and structure.
  2. Adds moisture to your soil.
  3. Feeds the microorganism community and enhances biodiversity.
  4. Encourages free self-sown ‘volunteer’ seedlings to germinate from compost, saving time and money.
  5. Provides you with free fertilisers.
  6. Increases your yields.
  7. Avoids landfill with the associated transport and energy required.

Hungry for value from your vegetable garden?

One of the easiest ways to double your harvest from lettuce is to REGROW a second head from the base. Loose-leaf lettuce varieties like this baby Cos (as well as Asian greens, celery and spring onions), will quickly grow new roots and leaves if given the right conditions. In this video, you’ll see how quick and simple it is to encourage new root and leaf growth so you can replant your lettuce and pick a second time! Make every vegetable count and provide you with the maximum harvest possible to save money. When your lettuce finally goes to seed, save them and you’ll never have to buy lettuce ever again! An easy low-cost way to grow good health.

‘Catch and Store Energy’ Permaculture Principle:

Composting captures the energy and nutrients in kitchen and garden waste and converts them into healthy soil. One method is to chop and drop green ‘waste’ as mulch. Layering the nutrients feeds plants and protects the soil from moisture loss and erosion.

Another way to store the energy embodied in our food crops is to preserve it when it’s in season. Sometimes we have a surplus. A lemon tree may have many fruits at once. Preserving them as marmalade or preserved lemons helps reduce potential food waste.

If you have an abundance of fresh herbs, you can dry them for when they are not in season to use in herbal teas, as seasonings and medicine.

I often make a ‘clean out the fridge’ soup with leftovers that are perfectly fine to eat. Download my Free Recipe. You’re welcome to adapt it to whatever ingredients you have on hand.


These sustainable practices help minimise food waste and build a healthier garden that feeds you for longer.

Resources to Help you Grow Food

These are a few articles to dig into:

9 Foods You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps | The Micro Gardener

Affiliate Links: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Your support of this site is appreciated!

What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

April is a time of transitioning from summer to autumn. We expect cooler days and nights, lower humidity (yay!) and fewer pest insects. Hopefully, perfect growing conditions if we get rain. Download your April Gardening Tips PDF

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. Includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in other Locations

Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)

PLANT PROFILE: Spring Onions

(Allium fistulosum) – this vegetable is one of the easiest, most compact and nutritious vegetables to grow. I have them tucked in tight spaces all over my garden. I treat them like chives when young but they can get as thick and tall as leeks as they mature. The flavour is mild and ideal for salads, stir fries, egg dishes and as an onion substitute. Sow regularly for a continuous harvest. Their pretty white pom pom flowers you can see here gift you free seeds.

Spring onions (Allium fistulosum) are a member of the onion family

Spring onions (Allium fistulosum) are a member of the onion family

Spring Onions Like:
  • Well-drained, humus-rich soil. Add compost and mulch.
  • Soil pH 6-7. Add lime if your soil is too acidic or sulphur if too alkaline.
  • Regular watering + a sunny position.
  • Liquid fertiliser 2-3 times while growing. To keep the leaves green, I feed mine diluted seaweed or a weak ‘tea’ made by soaking worm castings, comfrey or compost in water.
Spring Onions Dislike: 
  • Being planted near peas and beans.
  • Drying out and getting stressed.
  • Weed competition.
  • Feeling hungry!



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