What’s happening in the Gardens?

Autumn 2016, Living Well Magazine

by Wendy Neagle

After a hotter than average start to our growing season in spring, we have experienced typical Melbourne-style weather; many seasons in one week, sometimes in one day!

This mixed up weather has caused confusion for some of our vegetables, for example the Celeriac which was expected to grow a bulb in the first season, then go to seed in the second year has skipped the bulb growing stage and gone straight to the seeding stage, so no Celeriac this year.  Some vegies, like our tomatoes, are much slower to ripen – they have grown large healthy plants however the fruit is ready much later than anticipated.  Then we have the capsicums, eggplants and spaghetti squash, which surprisingly – given they are such heat loving plants – are thriving, fruiting and ripening beautifully. All mysteries to be enjoyed and embraced in the adventure of organic vegie growing!

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments”   Janet Kilburn Phillips

Our garlic harvest has been a fantastic success this season, after growing all winter. They transformed from single cloves planted in Autumn 2015, into large healthy bulbs in late Spring of the same year.  Now we have grown enough to pay for our initial planting investment, we have cloves ready for the next planting season, a large supply of garlic for the kitchen for months to come, and also a limited amount for sale to some lucky program participants!

We also had large harvests of zucchini, cucumbers, button squash, onions, silver beet, lettuces, broccoli, spring onions, basil, beans, rocket, beetroot, parsnip, celery, blood plums, capsicum and eggplant. Nearly ready are corn, spaghetti squash, pumpkin, the bulk of our tomato harvest, and leeks.

Insects are an integral part of a healthy organic garden and their presence is to be welcomed and encouraged as part of the balance in the ecosystem. Too often people can see insects as pests to be dealt with and removed, however each has its place and a role to play within the organic garden.

Pollination is vital in a vegetable garden and many insects are important contributors in this area including the many native bees as well as the commonly known honey bee. Also in this list are native wasps (and the dreaded European wasp), butterflies, the hoverfly, lacewings, ladybirds and any other insects that rely on the nectar or pollen from flowers for their food source.

Often the adult insects use the nectar and/or pollen as their food source but the young or larvae of these insects are carnivorous and eat many of the insects we class as pests in our gardens, for example ladybird larvae (and adults) eat aphids and plant mites, hoverfly larvae eat aphids, lacewing larvae eat aphids, mites and other insect eggs.

Another group of insects called beneficial insects are in the parasitic group, generally our native wasps.  Some are so small we can’t see them without magnification. They lay their eggs on various pests, including caterpillars, aphids, mites and various other insects. When the eggs hatch, they eat the contents of the creature or egg then eat their way out to hatch, mature and lay more eggs to start the cycle again.

Allowing some insect pests to remain in our gardens instead of spraying them with insecticides is crucial, as without a build-up of pests the beneficial insects have no food or host to lay eggs on and cannot multiply.

The easiest way to attract beneficial insects is to have a diverse garden that encourages all insect life with something in flower at all times including what we would traditionally call weeds.  These insects are mostly attracted to yellow and white flowers, their favourite flowers are the flowers in the umbrella shape family (Umbelliferae family) which include parsley, carrot, parsnip, yarrow and fennel. With diversity in our gardens the insect balance will usually happen naturally.

In our ‘home garden’ area there are various flowers scattered through the patches; calendula, zinnia, cosmos, violas, sweet pea, marigolds, poppies and more which provide beauty and colour as well as a habitat for insects. Marigolds are growing throughout the silver beet row, glowing like little suns resting among the big green leaves, and we have flower gardens with a large variety of plants and flowers at the end of our poly tunnel. These help to introduce insects and bird life to the poly tunnel, which can otherwise become quite sterile due to the enclosed style of growing.  The doors are left open all through the summer to reduce the heat and allow for the insects and birds to use the space.

As many of these insects are very small, and their larvae are even smaller, they often go unnoticed. There is so much life in our gardens right under our noses and to spend time just being still and watching can show us a whole world we may not have paid attention to before.

“The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul.” Alfred Austin

Wendy Neagle

Wendy has a diploma in horticulture and has been working in many different roles within the horticulture field for 20 years. Roles include 5 years in a blueberry orchard, pest and disease management in apple orchards, and running her own organic garden maintenance business – which she continues alongside her work at the Yarra Valley Living Centre. Wendy is passionate about soil health, composting and growing organic food.