Marcelle Nankervis is a Horticulturist who has worked in the Horticultural Media for over 16 years.
She is passionate about Permaculture, Sustainability and Gardening for the Future.

Marcelle regularly writes for Your Garden magazine and Better Homes and Gardens.
Her first book was Plants for Australian Dry Gardens (Murdoch Books).
Marcelle's second is Smart Gardening (Exisle Publishing).

Welcome to my Blog!

As a horticultural writer I often come across people, stories, tips, tricks and real gems of information that never really make their way out of my notebook. I am hoping to share a few of these insights here as well as my own gardening experiences, which includes getting my children excited about plants.

I believe that a strong connection with the garden and our landscape when we are young is vital. I am hoping that educating my children in "Green Living" and "Smart Gardening" will provide them with the fundamental building blocks necessary for them to live long and healthy lives, while also doing their bit in helping to create a sustainable and green future for all.

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Start growing some Spring Vegies

We have finally had our first taste of warm spring weather. While the night air still carries a chill, the soil is beginning to warm and the garden is filled with the promise of warmer days and all of spring's abundance. Now is the best time to get out in the vegie garden. There is no excuses for not growing a little produce of your own - even a pot of fresh herbs! Whether you’re an experienced vegie grower or this is to be your first season, here are a few tips and tricks to keep you reaping the rewards for months to come.

1. Plant Asparagus
Asparagus is a long term crop requiring fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Crowns can be purchased in late winter and early spring and should be planted in a position where you will not want to move them for several years. Start with a raised bed and plant the crowns about 50cm apart and at a depth where the crowns are covered with only 2-4cm of soil. The crowns will throw up fern-like foliage which dies back in autumn and can then be removed. The cycle repeats for several years, until the second or third winter sees asparagus spears emerging from the soil. The spears can be harvested when they reach 10-15cm, usually from late winter onwards.

2. Keep track of harvest dates
There are no hard and fast rules about when to harvest vegetables as each vegetable has its own criteria. If you’re the grocery shopper, you’ve probably got a keen eye for the premium produce already so you should be able to pick when crops are at their best crops at home too. It's easy to tell when crops that grow above the ground, such as beans, are ripe for picking because you can see them at a glance. Others, such as carrots, may require a little bit of digging to make sure they are ready to be harvested. As a general rule when sowing seed, read the directions on the packet – these will give you a rough harvest date. Mark it on the calendar and you’re already half-way there.

3. Tasty tomatoes
Tomato Pink Pearl is new to the Oasis range
with part proceeds going to the
National Breast Cancer Research Foundation
A trip to the nursery will quickly tell you when it is time to plant tomatoes – the racks are brimming with various grafted varieties, some new and some old favourites. Grafted plants have the benefits of being much larger when you take them home, as well as improved disease resistance. However, you may prefer to grow your own tomatoes from seed because there is a much broader range available. Sow seed in pots or trays from September and transplant into larger pots as they mature. For the best tasting tomatoes, grow a variety you’ve eaten before. It's always a good idea to grow different tomatoes for different purposes. For example, if you like pasta sauce, plant ‘Roma’ tomatoes. If you like fresh salads, ‘Apollo’ may be a better choice. Of course, if you’re not sure, grow a few different tomatoes. They take up very little space and give you a great harvest every time. 
Cherry tomatoes are the perfect introduction to vegetable growing for kids. They grow well in pots or in the ground. Cherry tomatoes generally require staking because they produce an abundance of fruit, so be sure to position the stakes before you plant, to avoid damaging the root system. You can use a single stake that will do the job adequately, or dress the pot up with a tee-pee of bamboo stakes. Cherry tomatoes are considered sweeter than larger varieties, and kids love them because they are bite sized. Make sure you keep your tomatoes well watered during hot weather otherwise the fruit may split when developing.  Harvest the bunches with secateurs or scissors to keep the stalks intact and the plants tidy.

4. Space savers
You don’t need a big yard to have your own fresh produce. Pots, planter boxes and bag gardens make excellent vegie gardens. Build one to fit your yard or buy something suitable from a nursery or pot shop. The benefits of container vegetable gardens include easier harvesting, as you don’t have to bend down quite as far, and that they are completely relocatable if conditions appear to be not quite right for your vegetables. Many plants grow well in pots, especially herbs, tomatoes, chillies and lettuce.

5. Harvesting lettuce
Lettuce is an essential summer crop with fresh salads a must during the warmer months. There are several varieties of lettuce available. Those that produce a head, such as iceberg, have a set harvest date and must be planted or sown at various intervals so that you do not have all your lettuce ready at once. Continual harvest types are preferable, especially if space is limited. You can simply pick a handful of leaves as required and they will continue to produce leaves. Eventually they may go to seed, but the more often you use them, the longer they last. Try different colours and shapes for a great mixed salad and apply liquid fertiliser every couple of weeks.

6. Colour in the vegie garden
The vegie garden can be as colourful as any other area of the garden. There are many different coloured vegetables available including kale, red-leafed lettuce and even rainbow coloured silver beet. Not only is it a great idea to try something different in the vegie garden, the colours help to create a spectacular effect in the garden. Plant among other ornamentals or in a dedicated vegetable patch. Either way, make you garden productive, colourful and striking.

7. Reliable root crops
Beetroot and carrot are among the most popular root crops in Australia. Ideally established in early spring, the plants grow well throughout the spring months and will see you harvesting crops in around 12 weeks. Carrots need plenty of space if you would like them to grow straight, so regular thinning is required - but that's OK because you can eat these carrots too. Beetroot develops more quickly than carrots and thrives if given regular applications of liquid fertiliser during development. Don't underestimate beetroot. It is an excellent source of Vitamins, can be added to freshly squeezed juices or can be roasted with your other root crops for Sunday lunch.

8.  Getting squashed
Baby squash, also known as Summer squash, is best picked when small because the larger it grows, the more bland the flavour becomes. Harvest before they reach 10cm in diameter and pick frequently to encourage further crops. Sow a few plants each month to ensure a succession of fruit and to extend your harvest season. This will also help to keep the size of your crop manageable as you will be picking from different plants each month. The fruit is not the only edible part of this plant, there are several recipes for baked squash blossoms too.

9. Vegies in small gardens
Australian vegetable gardens were traditionally designated to the rear of the yard because they were considered practical and not beautiful. But English vegie gardens have always been an asset, another element that adds to the overall look of the yard, and most are quite beautiful. In a small garden it's better to follow this example and create a vegie garden that is striking. By planting in a pattern, much like a formal garden, the vegie garden can become a feature, which is vital when space is at a premium. Edged with lettuce and then planted with chives and other leafy vegetables, it's easy to make your vegetable garden, the jewel of your backyard.

10. Beautiful beans
Purple King available from Eden Seeds

Beans are prolific and reliable crops that are perfect for screening unsightly areas or fencing. But if you don’t need to hide any elements in your yard, you could make a statement by growing your beans on a tee-pee. The beans will grow up and cover the structure, giving the vegie garden height and a lovely focal point. You can make the tee-pee or wigwam from sticks, twigs or bamboo stakes, or you could always buy a ready-made obelisk for a more formal statement. Look at Butter Beans, Dwarf French Beans, Snake Beans or Purple King.

Whatever your favourite crops, choose a few and get planting. Fresh produce is invaluable in the kitchen and a worthwhile inclusion in any garden.