What’s happening in the Gardens

by Ellise and Mascha
Living Well Magazine Autumn 2015

We’ve had a season of abundance this summer in the Yarra Valley Living Centre vegetable gardens. With the new poly tunnel up and running and the whole top field of our vegetable garden dug over and composted for the first time this year, Ellise and I did worry that we were biting off more than we could chew. There were so many beautiful heirloom tomatoes, lots of space for pumpkins and a new micro climate in the poly tunnel to allow us to grow sweet potato, tumeric and ginger… we just went ahead and planted it all!

With nearly an acre of crops planted we have been reaping the rewards of all our hard work. In early February we were harvesting various varieties of tomatoes, continental and Lebanese cucumbers, capsicums, eggplant, basil, chives, parsley, potatoes, garlic, red, brown, white onions, spring onions, celery, celeriac, silver beet, rocket, lettuce, corn, yellow button squash, spaghetti squash, green beans, yellow butter beans, zucchini, leeks, as well as blackberries, strawberries, plums, lemons and soon lots of pumpkins, apples, kiwi fruit, yacon, sweet potato, tumeric  and ginger.

Looking ahead to autumn we are now also planning for our next season of crops. In late February we started sowing seed in punnet in our poly tunnel for cauliflower, broccoli, kale, lots of different Asian greens, early cabbages, leeks, more lettuce, rocket and spring onions, as well as coriander, spinach, beetroot and turnips.

As our summer crops have finished up now, we have been pulling out the old crops, weeding and forking the beds and digging in as much compost and horse manure as we can find. Taking  a bit of time improving our heavy clay soil will pay off with lots of new vegetables to harvest in winter!

During the summer season, Ellise and I have both had a favourite vegetable that we’ve given an extra bit of attention to. Ellise’s has been the celery. We grew a variety called ‘Dorata D’Asti’ which she’s lovingly tended with lots of regular feeds of worm wee and comfrey tea and has resulted in an abundant, beautiful row of healthy celery plants. My favourite would have to be our poly tunnel cucumbers, a variety called ‘Bandit’ which we grew for the first time this season. It is a Dutch glasshouse type of cucumber that needs a support to climb on and yields lots of seedless continental style cucumbers.

Below are some tips for if you would like to have a go at growing these vegetables yourself.

Celery
The variety of celery we grew (Dorata D’Asti) is self-blanching and one of the easier types to grow. It prefers a cool climate, low humidity with regular moisture but not wet soils. Seed can be sown very shallowly into punnets in early spring and planted out when the seedlings have 4-6 leaves. Plant into well prepared soil that is free draining and has had plenty of organic matter such as manure and compost dug in and a pH of around 6.7 (add some lime if your soil is very acidic). Space plants about 25cm apart and water in well. Keep the plants watered regularly during the growing season and mulch with straw or sugar cane mulch. Liquid feed the plants every fortnight with weak compost tea, worm wee or liquid seaweed. Lightly side dress the plants with some organic fertiliser pellets when the celery is half grown. Celery can take 4-6 months to mature and you can start harvesting individual stems as they are ready or wait and harvest the whole plant.

Cucumber
Growing cucumber ‘Bandit’ in our Melbourne climate requires either a glass house or poly tunnel for best results. However don’t let that stop you giving them a go as you may have great results in a warm spot outside too. Seeds can be sown directly into well prepared soil that has had plenty of organic matter dug in and some organic fertiliser pellets added, in late spring or early summer. Seeds can also be sown into punnets (as we did) in early spring and transplanted out later when the soil is around 22 to 25 deg. C. Take care to avoid disturbing the roots when planting out. We grew our cucumbers up baling twine tied to the roof frame of the poly tunnel. I tied a series of loops in the twine before hanging it up which I later cut through and tied around the stem near developing fruits to support their weight. You could also use stakes or trellis. Space plants one metre apart and pinch out the lateral shoots that develop next to the flower in the leaf axis. Once the plant reaches the top of your support (preferably at least 1.8m) you can let the rest of the laterals develop and hang down to give more fruit. Plants need to be watered sparingly initially to encourage deep roots and once the first fruits start to develop need regular watering. You can treat your plants with an occasional liquid feed of compost tea, worm wee or liquid seaweed. Cucumbers can be harvested when around 30-35cm in length.

Ellise & Mascha        

Meet our extraordinary gardening team, Ellise and Mascha. These two talented women are responsible for the beautiful ornamental landscaped spaces and the abundant organic produce that comes out of our gardens. As a duo, they bring a wealth of knowledge to the Yarra Valley Living Centre, a mutual passion for sustainable gardening and a deep respect for the supportive benefits that nature provides in our quest for health  and healing.

Mascha has been caring for our Yarra Valley Living Centre gardens since 2009 but her love for gardening really started when she started growing her own veggies at the keen age of 10. She has a Bachelor in Zoology & Marine Biology and a Diploma Horticulture, with an emphasis on sustainable designs and food growing. Her knowledge spans across a wide range of settings including zoo keeping in wildlife parks, organic farming, re-vegetation and indigenous plant propagating.

Ellise joined forces with Mascha in 2013. Having been encouraged towards horticulture by her Mother in her early 20s, she now has Diploma in Horticulture, with emphasis on arboriculture and landscape design and a wealth of experience in the organic & biodynamic food industry, having worked in retail and wholesale settings, including farms and at markets.

Both Ellise and Mascha are currently studying Therapeutic Horticulture and Permaculture Design and run no-dig garden demonstrations for the participants of our 10-day Live & Living Cancer Retreat Programs.