Growing Organic Tomatoes

I wasn’t going to put in a veggie garden this season as I have VERY limited water – no mains, so whatever rain I can catch and store. Not to mention the fact that I’m full on renovating! But I just can’t help myself. I love growing my own veggies and particularly my own tomatoes. There’s just nothing like picking your own tomatoes off the vine and eating them straight away… they’re sooooo delicious!

So I put in a tiny veggie garden – about 4 metres square and against the shed I have 4 cherry tomato plants that are absolutely thriving – even with only occassional watering. I planted them in mid October (spring here in South Australia). I got to harvest my first ripe tomatoes for Christmas and they’ve continued to offer sweet, mouth-sized little snacks ever since. The bushes are much taller than me (and I’m 5′ 7″ … umm… I think that’s 170cm or there abouts).

Julie tomatoes

Sorry, I’m in my painting gear!! There are four plants at the back and a smaller yellow pear tomato bush on the left of the photo.

Learn how to Grow Juicy, Tasty Tomatoes so that you can enjoy having you own deliciuos tomatoes too.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Becoming Self Sufficient

Well it’s been ages since I’ve put up a new post. It’s not because it’s winter here in South Australia. I’ve moved into my farm house. That sounds all right really, doesn’t it? The thing is, I don’t have mains power or water, so I’m devoting as much of my time possible to getting this old homestead up to date. By that I mean running water (yes, in the house) and power.

The really exciting thing is that this week I got my new wind turbine up in the air and it’s now giving me FREE power. I’m putting together my system myself, which is a little tricky to say the least. There’s just so much conflicting information out there. ETSA (our power utility) wanted about $125,000 to bring power to my house – so I thought there had to be another way.

Admittedly, I’m still adding to my sytem, but I now have about 600 watts of solar and 500 watts of wind. This is enough to run a small fridge for a few hours, several times a day, my laptop, recharging of phone, MP3 player etc, some lights and odd things I need while renovating – such as my drill, grinder etc. I even used my hair dryer a few minutes yesterday… there was a gusty breeze blowing  🙂

I’ll be adding more info about my journey towards self sufficiency, but if you’d like to take a look at my wind turbine, here it is:
Julie’s Wind Turbine

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Another Tip For Growing Basil

I was just thinking about the earlier post I made on Thinning Out Your Seedlings and I have another tip for growing basil for you. You could just let your basil plants grow into whatever form they take, or you could pinch out the growing tip when they’re about 15-20cm tall (6 to 8 inches).

Take a look at this photo:

basil pinched

See how I’ve pinched out the tip of the plant? The tip (about 4 good sized leaves went into my scrambled eggs – yum) has been removed a little above two new side shoots. This helps keep your plant nice and bushy, rather than letting it become sparce and leggy.

Another tip I want to share is that if you see your basil plants starting to flower (cute little white flowers) and you want to encourage your basil to last long into autumn – even winter in some climates – pinch out any flower spikes. Your plant will want to grow a bit more to send out more flowers, so it will last longer.

Of course, if you want to save your own seed for next spring, then allow some of the flowers to stay and let them go on to product seed. Harvest the seeds when they are dry, usually late autumn.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Organic Growing Tips For Juicy Tomatoes

While we’re getting ready for the big chill here in South Australia it occurs to me that if you live in the Northern Hemisphere your days are getting longer and warmer… the spring bulbs are delighting you with glorious colors and fragrances.

So my question to you is “Have you started your veggie patch yet? And are you planning on growing tomatoes?”. Well of course you are. Some people have a bit of trouble growing those delicious, plump, juicy tomatoes, so I’ve got a few tips for you.

Tomato Cultivation

Tomatoes need a long, warm to hot growing season. If you live in a cooler climate you will need to start your seedlings under glass so that the fruit will have time to develop before frosts return.

Plant in well drained, fertile soil, high in organic matter. The position you choose will need to receive at least six hours of direct sunlight.  Rotate your tomato crops in the garden to help control nematodes organically, as they are found in nearly all areas.

If you are planting varieties that need staking, position your stakes before planting out your seedlings about 60cm (24inches) apart. You can plant your seedlings as deep as the first true leaves – this helps strengthen the young plant and allows more root development.

*My personal tip – To stake your plants without damaging its tender stems, wrap cotton ties or strips of pantyhose around the tomato stake first, then loop it around the stem and tie it loosely with a knot or bow to the stake.*

Choose strong varieties that grow well in your area, as tomatoes are prone to several pests and diseases. Grow disease-resistant hybrids and reliable heirlooms. Did you know that most heirloom varieties will usually perform better the second season from seeds you have saved yourself?

Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Mulch around your tomato plants once the soil has warmed to keep weeds at a minimum and to keep soil temperature and water levels more even.

Feed with organic fertilizer every fortnight or so until the fruit sets, then again after each flush of fruit. Use a balanced organic fertilizer or alternate with a liquid fish emulsion in water – the steady release of nutrients makes for the consistent, vigorous growth that is needed to keep your plants healthy and productive.

Fruiting

Harvest tomatoes when they’re just starting to ripen, to prevent birds from pecking at them and to avoid invading insects that follow them from destroying your fruit.

Any plants that still have green tomatoes on the bush as winter approaches can be pulled up by the roots and stored in the shed. They will keep ripening over the next few months as their stems keep feeding them for some time.

Now if this isn’t quite enough information for you and you want some expert advise I can highly recommend How To Grow Juicy, Tasty Tomatoes . I own a copy of this book and although not all the recommendations are ‘organic’ options it is still well worth having. The information is detailed and covers all aspects of tomato growing, including a long list (with photographs) of varieties.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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How To Thin Out Your Seedlings

I like to be generous when I’m planting my seeds. After all, I’ve usually saved them from the previous year so all they’ve cost me is a bit of time to harvest and store.

Then what I sometimes find is that ALL the seed I’ve planted germinates. I give myself a little pat on the back, but then comes the part where I have to thin them out. Having them all bunched up like the photo below shows will actually prevent any of them from doing really well.

basil before thinning

(there’s also a small weed at the bottom of this photo)

So what I do is remove the majority of the tiny seedlings. It’s best to do this after you’ve watered (15 minutes) and before the seedlings get too big.

I’ve left 3 little seedlings, nicely spaced. You really only need to leave the strongest, healthiest looking seedling, but I like to have a few spare just in case!

basil after thinning

And just a week or so later they look gorgeous and healthy.

basil seedlings

It’s worth noting that some plants really shouldn’t be bought as seedlings and transplanted. Take for example carrots. Carrots suffer terribly if you transplant them. The roots tend to get all distorted and weird!

The thing to do with carrots is to sow the seed fairly thickly and just thin them out if you need to. If you want to you can thin them as they get big enough to pull a few too close together and eat them as “baby” carrots, then let the rest mature to full size.

Even if you have to buy seeds, it works out way cheaper than buying seedlings. And I think you end up with healthier and stronger plants too. Then you can save your own seeds from your strongest plant/s. Remember to label them with the plant name and the date you harvested.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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How To Mulch An Organic Garden

I can’t tell you just how important it is to mulch your garden. It doesn’t have to be something that breaks down in a year or two, but the benefits of this kind of mulch are even greater than say organic pebbles / stones.

This is probably my best organic gardening secret – the thing that makes my vegetable garden so successful!!! Pea straw…  yes, pea straw. I cover the soil with it everywhere in my garden. It’s readily available here in South Australia. Some of the benefits that fill my mind with delight include:

  • prevents soil erosion – especially useful in windy locations
  • increases moisture retention – great for hot, dry conditions
  • adds organic matter to the soil as it breaks down completely over a year
  • adds nitrogen to the soil and feeds the soil
  • almost eliminates weeds

Wow! What a great list of benefits. And so, you might ask…  “What’s the best way to apply this mulch?” I like to use an old baby bath. As I write this, that last sentence seems really wierd. What does a baby bath have to do with pea straw mulch? I’ll show you…

Mulch bath

I like to make my mulch really soggy before laying it out around my plants. Mulches can absorb a lot of water and you don’t want a dry mulch sucking moisture away from your plants. So I make sure it’s really wet by placing a section of the bale in the bottom of the baby bath and covering it with water. I let it sit for a few minutes and then put it out where I want it.

Just on a re-using note… this was my daughters baby bath (she’s 19 now). Over the years it has had a few different uses, but has been of most use as a gardening aid. The two main uses are for wetting the mulch and I also use it to make up batches of potting mix – it’s the perfect size. I’m always thinking of how to re-use things. If you’ve got any good “re-use” tips for us, please leave a comment.

If  organic gardening is a new concept to you, take a look at my e-manual.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Creating A New Organic Gardening Plot

Just to shock you a little I’m going to show you a small part of my derelict farm that I’ve moved into. But it’s not only for shock value. 🙂

I’ve just taken a tiny bit of dirt right next to my kitchen door that had a rain water tank sitting on it, with a bougainvillea growing next to (and through) it. We had plans to use the tank, but when we moved it we discovered that the bottom was entirely rusted out. So with a bit of hard thinking, I reakon it’ll make two great duck or geese ponds once it’s cut in half and the bottom of each half lined with a cement base.

So here’s a photo of how the area was when I first bought the farm. It’s to the left of the photo. You can also see the entrance to my kitchen door – that’s how close it is.

New plot before

Now this next photo is once the tank and the bougainvillea have been removed. That plant survived 30 or more years without any care whatsoever. What an amazing plant. But I would never plant such a prickly and rampant plant so close to a path or entrance – silly people!

New plot tank removed

Yes, it’s messy, but it didn’t take me long to clean it up once I got started. Oh, and it was hot too!

Below is how it looked after the clean up. I dug up the “soil” (code name for really hard, compacted dirt) because where the tank had been sitting nothing would have grown. It was almost like concrete. But I’m a firm believer in dirt becoming soil over time. Just keep adding organic material.

I also raked over the area quite a bit to try to get some kind of medium tilth as I planned to sow seeds directly in the soil. I removed all stones and broke down any large clods of dirt.

New plot prepared

Now came the really fun part. I cheated a bit and bought a punnet of mixed lettuce and planted them. But everything else that went in was from my own seeds that I had saved from last (or previous) year/s. I put in radish, red salad onions, coriander, basil, lebanese zuchinni…  think that’s it.

Once the planting/sowing was done I covered the rest of the area with pea-straw mulch. Mulching has so many benefits for the garden. And the main benefit I needed immediately was for the area to stay moist for as long as possible.

I don’t have mains water here, so I’m watering EVERYTHING with a watering can from rainwater that I’ve collected. I tell you, it keeps you on your toes. Now I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you want to grow your own food and don’t have mains…  well, what’s a girl to do? Use a watering can!

New plot planted up

The mulch is about 7 or 8mm thick (3 inches) I suppose. The other thing I urge you to do when sowing your seeds is to label them with the variety and the date they were sowed. If you don’t remember when you put them in, you might just be tempted to have a dig around to see if anything’s happening. BAD MOVE! Just label them and wait. If they don’t come up, just put more in, simple!

So that’s my new plot, right next to my kitchen. I love it being so close. Of course there are more things to consider when you’re creating a new plot. If you’re a beginner to organic gardening you might be interested in my e-manual “Organic Food Gardening Beginners Manual“, to help you get started.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Red Pepper And Garlic Spray

I want to say a quick thanks to Tony Lawrence for emailing me with a tip to keep the rabbits off my organic veggie garden. He suggests trying a red pepper and garlic spray. I presume he means using both ingredients together and to spray over the plants that the rabbits find most tasty.

I don’t have much growing at the moment. The lack of available water on my property has been a HUGE problem. But I have managed to keep a few things alive. The rosemary and savoury are growing vigorously. The parsley is past its best, but still usable. A couple of sage plants have pulled through and the peppermint pelargonia is pretty much indestructable. Garlic chives are doing better than the plain chives.

But I’m putting in another small area of garden with lettuce, raddish, parsley, coriander, rocket, basil and a lebanese zucchini. I know it’s late for zucchini, but I think it will still produce something – they usually grow until May or so for me here, so I’m giving it a try.

I’ll have photos next post.

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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New Years Gardening Resolution

So another year has passed us by. WOW it goes quickly these days. I want to wish you a *HAPPY NEW YEAR*.

It’s the middle of our summer here in South Australia, so we’re in the middle of our gardening season – but if you are in the Northern Hemisphere you’re in mid-winter, the perfect time for new years resolutions for your garden. Winter is the perfect time for reflection and planning your next growing season. I love spending long hours curled up by the fire thinking about what I want to grow the coming season. And how I can expand my garden to include plants I’ve never tried to grow before.

Do you have any new years resolutions for your garden? Are there things you haven’t grown before that you’d like to try? Do they have any special requirements to help them thrive? Planning really is the secret to a successful food garden and winter is just the perfect time for planning. I have a section on planning in my e-manual “Organic Food Gardening Beginner’s Manual” if you want a little help.

So don’t put it off any longer – especially if you’re thinking about going organic and growing your own food. I guarantee you’ll love it. You’ll love the connection you feel with the earth. You’ll love the sense of accomplishment. You’ll love that you are providing your family with living, healthy food. You’ll love the TASTE!

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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Merry Christmas All Over The World

So hasn’t another year wizzed by so quickly? I just don’t know where the time goes – maybe I’m just getting older???

I want to take a few moments to wish you a very merry Christmas and thank you for taking an interest in my blog…  and even more to the point, for taking an interest in organic gardening. The more people that choose to grow their own organic fruit and vegetables, the healthier both this planet and each of us organic gardeners will be.

So I wish for you and your loved ones all your hearts desires. May your heart and your garden be filled with love, beauty and growth in 2010. And now I’m heading off to be with my family and loved ones.

Christmas tree

* Merry Christmas to you *

Happy Organic Gardening, Healthy Living…

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