Gardening Tips for October

Connecting with nature is healing on so many levels. I hope you’ve been spending time in your garden – big or small. The past few weeks I’ve been busy filming for a project and helping clients set up new gardens on balconies, rooftops, front and backyards, Zooming all over the world! I love every minute of this work. Growing food and medicinal plants is one of the most empowering things we can do to take care of our physical and mental health, especially in uncertain times. Food security has never been more important. I’ve also been designing my urban garden to maximise space vertically and growing lots of food in containers, attracting beneficial insects and improving the soil. In this newsletter, I’m sharing practical resources to help you learn more about container gardening and how to manage a common pest insect – the fungus gnat + gardening tips for this month. So let’s dig right in!

Gardening Tips for October | The Micro Gardener


Why do potted plants die?

As container gardeners, our plants are dependent on us for survival. Their roots can’t just reach out and find the moisture and nutrients they need outside their pot ‘home’! The most common reasons for killing potted plants are:

  • Overwatering them. They drown due to waterlogged roots and lack of air spaces in poorly drained mix.
  • Underwatering them. They don’t have sufficient moisture to rehydrate and take up soluble nutrients.
  • Not feeding them by meeting their nutritional needs, so they ‘starve’ due to an empty ‘soil pantry’.
  • Using a poor quality potting mix or garden soil. Potting mixes tend to dry out, become hydrophobic and repel moisture quickly. Garden soil often compacts, doesn’t drain well and may contain plant pathogens.
  • Not repotting them when they outgrow their home. Roots become ‘pot bound’ if not upgraded to a bigger pot.
  • Putting them in the wrong spot – too hot, cold, frosty, windy, shady or sunny for their particular needs.
  • Neglecting them altogether. Bad plant ‘parenting’!

So how do you avoid these problems and save your plants?


7 Tips to Avoid Killing your Container Plants

If you’ve accidentally murdered one of your plants or turned it into a ‘dried arrangement’, don’t feel too guilty! Compost it and reuse your potting mix to start again. These are some simple tips to avoid future potted plant casualties.

7 Tips to Avoid Killing your Container Plants

  1. Start with a good quality potting mix that has excellent structure, holds moisture and nutrients and drains well. Even better, make your own potting mix for more control than a commercial mix or amend a bagged mix. This is my recipe.
  2. Choose your pot wisely. If you live in a hot climate, terracotta pots may not be the best choice as they dry out quickly. Do your homework and compare different materials and options.
  3. Water consistently and appropriately. It can be tricky to know how often to water. Some plants need more moisture than others. Large-leafed plants, fruiting and flowering crops, and thirsty herbs like mint typically have greater water needs than small-leafed herbs, succulents and perennials. Large pots in the shade won’t need watering as often as small containers in a sunny or windy position. Avoid waterlogging by leaving the plant sitting in water.
  4. Treat houseplants differently. Indoor plants have lower light levels so they use water comparatively slowly. They need to dry out a little between waterings (but not bone dry). Learn to ‘read’ your plant’s clues before the whole plant turns brown and crispy! I only water my houseplants every 10 days or so when a particular Spathiphyllum, Mr Droopy lets me know it’s seaweed spa day! They all go into a deep bucket for a refreshing deep drink, drain and hose down.
  5. Keep a garden journal if you’re busy or forgetful. I’ve found this really helpful for keeping a record of which plants need more or less moisture and general observations. A watering routine before/after work or a set time may help.
  6. Repot when needed. If you notice roots extending out the base of the pot, it’s time to transplant into a bigger one.
  7. Maintain plant nutrition. If you’re initially potting up a plant, add the nutrients to your potting mix. Liquid feeds are really useful to apply trace elements. A seasonal application of compost, worm castings, slow-release minerals and mulch will keep your plants healthy and happy.

Dig into more Container Gardening Tips.

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Easy Food Gardening Guide for Beginners

New to growing food? If you’re just starting your first garden or relatively new to growing edibles, it can feel overwhelming. Once you get started, I promise you it’s not only an addictive hobby (in a good way) but also incredibly rewarding for your physical, mental and emotional health. You’ve made an empowering decision to become somewhat self-sufficient. Congratulations! Whilst it’s likely you’ll make a few mistakes along the way, don’t let that stop you from getting started or trying again. If you lose a few plants, consider those moments as learning opportunities to do better next time rather than failures.

This 10 Tip Guide for Beginners will help fast track your new garden with easy steps & advice.

This 10 Tip Food Gardening Guide for Beginners will help fast track your new garden with easy steps & advice.

Easy Food Gardening Guide for Beginners

Everyone was a beginner gardener at some point but it doesn’t last for long! There are some key guidelines to keep in mind when you first start a food garden. I hope these ten tips will shortcut you to successfully growing an abundant productive kitchen garden.

1. Start Small … Really Small!

Starting a food garden is exciting and overwhelming all at once! Think of yourself more like a new plant ‘parent’ starting out and preparing for the arrival of your new plant ‘kids.’ It’s unlikely you would cope with a whole tribe from day one, right? So, plan where your new babies are going to live first and start with just one or two pots and plants. Maybe a couple of your favourite herbs or a few leafy greens to add to daily salads.

Gardening Guide for Beginners Tip: Start small with a few fresh ingredients like herbs or leafy greens for salads

Start small with a few fresh ingredients like herbs or leafy greens for salads

Keep it really simple and get to know the basics first in a small space. You can always grow your plant ‘family’ once you know what to expect and have ironed out any teething issues! Go slow and gain your confidence gradually. It’s better to lose one or two plants than a whole garden. That could be an expensive lesson to learn.

2. Choose the Best Location

It’s exciting thinking about picking your own food. However, just like the home where YOU live, plants have needs for their personal space too! Especially plant ‘babies’ or seeds and ‘toddler’ seedlings. You need to care for them and provide a protected ‘room’ or spot to live in.

Pick the sunniest location in your garden, courtyard or balcony for most plants, ideally out of the wind. Food plants need adequate sunlight or good natural light to grow. If you have a lot of shade, don’t despair. There are plenty of edibles that will do well in partial shade too.

Once you’ve got that figured out, make sure you have easy access to water nearby so you can keep the moisture up to your plants.


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Plants for a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden

If you are concerned about food security, there’s never been a better time to grow a survival food and medicinal garden. There’s no need to worry about buying fresh food if you grow your own groceries in your ‘backyard supermarket’! Your own food garden not only saves money and time but also provides peace of mind and nutritious fresh ingredients.

Plants for a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden

When you live sustainably, you don’t have to rely totally on supermarkets always having full shelves, just for daily basic needs. Living simply and eating a plant-based diet rich in nutrients and healing compounds can help to promote good health and a strong immune system. Connecting with nature via a food garden may help relieve stress, bring joy and a feeling of control by growing at least some of what you eat.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ― Hippocrates

How Plant Defences Can Help Humans Too

Plants naturally have their own in-built defence mechanisms – phytochemicals – that help them resist pest and disease attack. When we eat healthy, nutrient-dense organically grown foods, our immune systems benefit too! I’ve found that a diet rich in fruits, herbs and vegetables provides energy, health and wellbeing.

Phytochemicals are biologically active, naturally occurring chemical compounds found in plants, which provide health benefits for humans as medicinal ingredients and nutrients (HASLER & BLUMBERG, 1999). They protect plants from disease and damage, and also contribute to the plant’s colour, aroma and flavour. In general, the plant chemicals that protect plants from environmental hazards such as pollution, stress, drought, UV exposure and pathogenic attack are called as phytochemicals (GIBSON et al., 1998; MATHAI, 2000). Recently, it has been clearly shown that they also have roles in the protection of human health, when their dietary intake is significant (SAMROT et al., 2009; KOCHE et al., 2010).”

Why are phytochemicals important for you? Because as you can see from the above research studies, they have high value in terms of their protective properties. When you grow your own food, you can be sure your plants are raised in healthy living soil, devoid of chemicals and high in nutrients. These plants, in turn, can then provide you with optimal health via their nutrients.

If you have a lawn, turn it into lunch! I helped one of my clients turn her front yard into a productive edible food garden in just 10 weeks - enough to share with her neighbours. You can too!

If you have a lawn, turn it into lunch! I helped one of my clients turn her front yard into a productive edible food garden in just 10 weeks – enough to share with her neighbours. You can too!

Starting a Survival Food and Medicinal Garden

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3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden

Planning this year’s garden? At the start of a new year, I take time to reflect on the past year and learn valuable lessons from my garden. Why bother? As a life long ‘student’ in Nature’s garden ‘classroom’, I make incredible discoveries and observations every year and always learn new things that make gardening more enjoyable and easier. You can too!

3 Tips for Planning This Year's Garden

3 Tips for Planning this Year’s Garden

1. Learn Lessons by Observing

When you literally ‘stop to smell the roses‘, you not only slow down for a few minutes to relieve stress with beauty and fragrance, but this action can open up a whole new world of discovery. You may notice aphids and ants or spots on the leaves.

Rather than going unnoticed, these observations can help you learn how to remedy or prevent any potential problems. Instead of feeling disappointed when you notice ‘problems’, consider them ‘learning opportunities’!

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Learn Lessons by Observing your Garden

Observing details can help with troubleshooting and insightful discoveries

By studying details like how plants grow under diverse weather conditions or how insects interact at different times, you can start to form patterns and learn so much about your garden.

What to Observe in your Garden

For example, I spend time observing the various microclimates; plant varieties; which cultivars do well and those that don’t. I have discovered which plants tough it out without water for months (little champions!) and which plants are vulnerable to pests or diseases.

The insights are fascinating and valuable data for decision-making. I know which plants are easy, low-maintenance and highly productive and those who don’t deserve a space because they’re too ‘precious’ and a pain in the neck! Grow more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

3 Tips for Planning this Year's Garden: Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights.

Take a closer look at your garden to open up a whole new world of insights

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18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

Gardening in dry climate conditions can be really stressful but there are loads of simple strategies you can apply to make it easier. Many gardeners in Australia and around the world have been struggling to keep gardens alive and thriving. Drought, winds, dust storms, extended heatwaves and fires have been impacting plants, people and our wildlife.

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions | The Micro Gardener

Extreme temperatures and long periods without any significant rain in many places are some of the biggest problems. It’s no wonder many gardeners are giving up trying to grow an edible garden.

Yet a garden – no matter how small – gives us hope as well as healthy food. It feeds our mind, body and soul; provides wonderful stress relief; and is a welcome sanctuary to escape to. Even a single, well-cared-for plant can bring great joy and healing.

For many gardeners though, water – or lack of it – is our biggest issue. Struggling, water-stressed plants become magnets for pest insects as nature’s ‘clean up crew’ move in to feed. It’s natural to expect some casualties in hot and dry weather. Without sufficient water, crops can’t take up nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and fruit. Small container gardens also need more frequent watering.

So, what can we do to help our gardens survive and even thrive?

Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions and Hot Temperatures | The Micro Gardener

18 Top Tips for Gardening in Dry Climate Conditions

For years I’ve endured all sorts of harsh growing conditions in my gardens. By careful observation, applying Permaculture design principles and journalling where my gardens have been exposed to harsh dry or hot weather, I’ve learned how to grow a kitchen garden that not only survives but thrives! This has enabled me to help my clients who suffer similar problems but in different locations to get the most out of their edible gardens.

I hope by sharing some of these strategies, you will be able to enjoy an abundant productive kitchen garden too.

1. Audit your Garden and Make Tough Choices

That’s right! If you can’t save ALL your plants, prioritise and focus on keeping the most valuable ones alive. If conditions are really tough and you have limited water resources, concentrate on your high-value fruit trees, perennials and essential crops.

Turn thirsty, low-value plants into compost to feed your soil. Some plants may just have to survive without your help or be sacrificed to save others.

Collect seeds and take cuttings to pot up as a backup plan! You can always start again with these.

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

Save seeds from your garden to sow again in more favourable weather

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17 Fast Growing Vegetables for Impatient Gardeners

Are you an impatient gardener? Eager to get some fast growing vegetables on your plate? Maybe you have a short growing season? Or want to fill a few spare pots. If you’re keen to find out which vegetables grow quickly, read on!

A list of 17+ fast growing vegetables for quick picks in 60 days or less. Includes leafy greens, legumes, roots vegetables + more for healthy 'fast' food! Plus 5 tips to help speed up your harvests.

Thankfully, there are plenty of fast growing vegetables like leafy greens, legumes, brassicas and root crops you can grow. So let’s dig in.

What do ‘Fast Growing’ Vegetables really mean?

Days to Maturity

While the time frame is open to interpretation, let’s assume you’re looking for foods that will be ready to eat in 60 days or less. You can find the average ‘days to maturity’ on seed packets and in catalogues. This is the time from when you sow seeds to first harvest. Often you will see this as a range e.g. 45-60 days. The vegetables in this list are based on the average harvest date from the time you sow seeds. If you start with seedlings, you can pick even earlier!

Vegetable Varieties

The vegetable variety you choose will play a part in how quickly they grow. So, for example, a small round baby carrot heirloom variety like ‘Paris Market’ that only grows to 4cm in diameter, will be on your table much quicker than one with a long root, like ‘Nantes’. Similarly, climbers will take longer to grow than bush or dwarf varieties. Makes sense right?

Seasonal Timing

It’s also worth remembering that plants tend to grow faster in warmer seasons and mature more slowly in cooler months. So WHEN you plant will also be a factor.

Other Plant Growth Factors

As there is so much variation in climate conditions, soil types, sunlight, moisture and seasons around the world, these suggestions are a guide only. Here in subtropical Queensland, Australia, I can grow year-round with only a relatively mild winter. Your climate may be different. Make sure you give your plants the sunlight hours they do best in if possible as this will speed up or slow down growth accordingly.

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Can You Sow Out of Date Seeds?

Do you have old seeds you haven’t got around to planting? If they are out of date, you may be wondering if you can still sow them. Most gardeners have good intentions when buying seeds, but then life happens! Rather than wasting money you’ve spent on expired seeds, why not test their viability to see if there’s any life left in them? You may be pleasantly surprised.

Can you sow out of date seeds? How to test seed viability and store seeds safely

Out of Date Seeds

Seeds, like other living things, have a shelf-life! Just because seeds are out of date, doesn’t mean they won’t germinate and grow normally. Don’t get rid of them yet! Checking your seeds is much more sustainable than throwing them out and assuming they are useless. I’ll show you an easy way to test them. So you won’t waste time and effort planting the packet if they’re not going to grow.

If the seed packet date has expired, it’s similar to the ‘Best Use By’ date on food packaging. It doesn’t mean the food isn’t edible, but the quality may have deteriorated. Likewise, some of the seeds may still grow if planted, but not necessarily every seed in the packet. The longer you wait to sow, the lower the chance of successful seed germination. (more…)

Pros and Cons of Eating Apple Skin

Numerous research studies support the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples (Malus sp., Rosaceae) contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals vital for good health. It’s not just the flesh of an apple that provides nutrients, but the polyphenols in apple skins have powerful documented health benefits.

Pros and Cons of Eating Apple Skin

According to one study in Finland, people who ate five apples a week had the world’s lowest rate of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

An apple with skin ON contains 50% MORE phytonutrients than a peeled one! 

Apple skins have exceptionally high concentrations of antioxidants. They also contain compounds (triterpenoids) with significant anti-cancer capabilities. Particularly so, when it comes to preventing liver, colon and breast cancer. Research shows apple peels and extracts may also help lower cancer risk for several types of cancer.

With so many health benefits, it’s worth exploring the pros and cons of eating apple skin

With so many health benefits, it’s worth exploring the pros and cons of eating apple skin.

Is Apple Skin Safe to Eat?

It depends on how the apples are grown and how well they are washed. If you grow your own without chemicals, there’s no issue of course. Unfortunately, chemically grown apples absorb the sprays into the flesh, not just on the skin surface.

In the 2019 EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, conventionally grown apples again made it into the top 5 most contaminated fruit and vegetables in their ‘Dirty Dozen’ list. Over 90% of apple samples tested positive for two or more pesticide residues. Apple skins contain higher nutrient value than flesh. However, they have also tested for a greater concentration of toxic chemicals.

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Why are my Lemons Staying Green not Yellow?

Lemons are one of the most popular citrus trees to grow. Given their incredible health benefits, you may want to consider growing your own. Do you currently buy conventionally grown lemons rather than organic? If so, be aware that after harvest, they are routinely dipped in fungicide to prevent fungal diseases occurring during storage and when displayed at retailers.

WHY ARE MY LEMONS STAYING GREEN NOT YELLOW?

Lemons are also waxed to improve appearance and retain the fungicide. Some are even ‘degreened’ to get them to market before they are naturally yellow. When you touch those lemons, the chemicals used may absorb into your skin. Not appetising thoughts are they?

Whilst citrus trees require higher maintenance than some fruits, if you want to harvest lots of delicious juicy ripe lemons, they’re worth the effort.

5 Reasons Why Lemons may not Ripen and Turn Yellow

If your lemons appear a reasonable size but are still green, rather than turning yellow, this could be due to a number of factors.

1. The Fruit may be Immature

You simply may need more patience! Your lemons may not yet be fully ripe. So just wait a bit longer. Depending on your climate and local conditions, lemons can take up to 9 months or longer to ripen!

Mature lemon trees with heavy crops of fruit require more water and nutrients to sustain growth

Mature lemon trees with heavy crops of fruit require more water and nutrients to sustain growth

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2019-05-01T20:25:10+10:00Categories: Fruit Trees, Problem Solving|Tags: , |4 Comments

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

Do you ever see ants running up the stems or along branches and leaves? What about your pot plants? Do you notice them in your potting mix? Or in your lawn making little mounds that blunt your mower blades?

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

Perhaps you’re wondering WHY they are there and WHAT they are doing? Are they causing damage or are they just annoying? If you want to know the answers and how to get rid of them naturally, read on.

Why are Ants in my Plants, Pots and Soil?

The answer is simple. Ants are extremely smart insects and ALWAYS have a good motive for inhabiting your plants, pots or soil. The two most likely reasons are for:

  1. Food
  2. Shelter

Seems reasonable enough, doesn’t it? We all need a roof over our heads and something to eat! Believe me, ants won’t expend energy doing anything unless there’s something in it for them.

If you see little black ants ON your plants, it’s likely because they have found a source of food. Ants are often a clue you have a bigger problem. Don’t shoot the messenger!  They are just the ‘couriers’ delivering you a message. They’ll take you straight to it. By being more observant, you’ll understand what they’re doing and why. Assuming they are harming your plant may be a BIG mistake because you only have part of the picture!

Most likely, if you look closely and follow their trail like a good detective, you’ll find it ends in sap-sucking insects like aphids, scale, mites, whiteflies or mealybugs. These pest insects are what you should be really looking for! Ants are your ‘tour guide’ and can detect the presence of these pests with their antennae. Smart hey?

So, instead of treating them as the enemy to be killed, learn to value their presence. Why? Because they have alerted you to the problem you really need to deal with! Micro gardening is about looking at details; learning to understand who, what, where and why things happen and ‘joining the dots.’

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