Gardening is not just a hobby for me, and it’s not just a career. It’s my absolute passion, and every single day I Grow Inspired by the magic that happens in the soil. Read on to hear my tips, insights and upcoming events and please feel free to add your comments – I love to hear what you think!
With full moon upon us tomorrow, it is a great time to be sowing your garden with above green manure crops for winter feasting.
Broad beans are a versatile crop to plant for winter, as they have many uses. They can be planted as a green manure crop to fix nitrogen to the soil and a soil conditioner, or they can be planted for their delicious beans.
I love them young and raw, popped into a salad, or you can let them get larger and either add them to stews or make delicious falafels out of them! Yum!
Remember broad beans can get pretty high, so it is best to plant them at the back of your garden to prevent them shading other smaller crops. If you plant broad beans close together, they will support each other.
Broad beans are an excellent source of fibre and protein and are rich in folate and B vitamins, which the body needs for nerve and blood cell development. All in all, broad beans offer such benefits – even if you don’t like to eat them, your soil will thank you for their nitrogen-fixing properties.
Top tip: When sowing these seeds, you will find they germinate quicker when soaked overnight then you can either direct sow or plant into seed trays for pricking out later.
Now is also a great time for planting silverbeet, rocket, endive, peas, parsley, coriander and celery. If you are not a winter gardener (why not, I may ask? You’re missing out!) it is best to dig over your beds and sow with green manure crops of lupins, broad beans, wheat, oats and for a quick green manure crop, sow mustard.
The above green manure crops must be cut down before they go to flower to keep the nitrogen in the soil. I either pull mine or chop them down before flowering, then they can be dug into the soil. So not only do they fix nitrogen to the soil, but add much needed carbon to our soils, and their nitrogen fixing root aerates the soil and encourages worm activity.
If your soil is still too hard, don’t despair, you can plant green manure crops right up until June.
Did you know that insects sense vibrations? Rather than looking at your plants and thinking ‘mmm, they look tasty’, they instead feel the vibration of your plant to determine whether it is healthy or not.
If your plant is struggling, weak or diseased, it will have a much lower frequency vibration than a plant that has great health and a strong cell structure. When insects feel the lower vibration, they will lay their eggs on that plant and the plant will become a host for their eggs to grow. This is why infestations can occur at hatching time. They are attracted to the lower vibration. Nature always preys on the weak – it is nature’s way.
So how do you ensure your plant has a high-frequency vibration that repels insects? With great soil health – which in turn nourishes your plant and supports production.
It all starts in the soil, HEALTHY SOIL = HEALTHY PLANTS. Also remember what grows in your area at each given time of year, with the given climate you have to work with. Now as the climate changes, we are seeing we must adapt what plants we grow. Some plants may no longer be suitable for your areas due to climate change, so it is better not to fight against nature with this and suffer disappointment – change the mindset and embrace the new things you will be able to grow.
Top tip: If buying a plant from a nursery or garden centre, it is imperative to check the plant carefully and really look into the plant itself and under the leaves for any sign of disease or insect presence. You don’t want to make the mistake of introducing a problem you didn’t already have by choosing the wrong plant, so this is really critical. Plants are typically weakened by travelling from their nursery to the garden centres and so it is easy for them to fall prey to one of these along the way…
It is also good to check to make sure the plant isn’t root-bound in the pot. By this, I mean that the roots are growing out of the bottom of the pot or round and round in the pot which is an indicator that they have been in the pot way too long and they have become stunted in growth, thus making them more susceptible to pest and disease.
I strongly encourage you all to get to know your plants. Over this summer period in NZ, I have received many messages about whitefly infestations in kale and what to do about it.
My advice would be to use nature. This is a host plant in summer for your whitefly and they will stay on this plant, so simply let it become a sacrificial plant. The ladybirds will love you forever – they lay their eggs in here and their nymphs will munch their way through about 1,000 whitefly per day.
Learning to understand nature is very, very important to the organic gardener and remembering that there is a reason for everything.
Over the following months I will be sharing advice on beneficial plants and insects with you and how they can revolutionise your garden. I am very keen to hear from you if you live outside NZ about your beneficial plants and insects, so please drop me a line.
Last week, we spoke of the importance of creating biodiversity in your garden; how to use nature to support your plants. Today I think it’s crucial that we start with the foundation of successful gardening – how to create healthy soil and see your garden flourish.
These days, there are more and more harmful chemicals being used around the world on our soils and on our plants. As we import and export our food, more and more diseases and pests are being brought into our environments.
By spraying chemicals to treat these problems, this not only adds toxicity to our food chain, it depletes our soils of their natural beneficial microbes, killing off the soil so that plant health suffers and it gets harder and harder to grow.
This downward spiral is crazy! Not to mention terrifying.
Did you know that by overhead spraying of chemicals, we are wiping out our many beneficial insects that aid with pollination and take care of the bad insects as nature intended? By depleting the good insects, it makes way for many more harmful insects and in turn will make it very difficult to grow good, healthy food.
As we discussed in last week’s blog, a healthy environment for your plants is a polyculture made up of many different plants, flowers, herbs and green manure crops. The combination of these plantings creates a great host area for many beneficial insects that will keep the population of bad insects down.
Beneficial insects are known as pollinators, predators and parasites. Pollinators fertilise flowers, which will increase your crop production. Predators consume the bad guys as a food source, and parasites use pests as a nursery for their young.
Top tip #1: It is recommended to plant at least 5-10 % of your garden in plants that will attract these insects to create good biodiversity.
Top tip #2: It is also good to remember when planning your garden to give beneficial plants a permanent space as well as interplanting, then you can easily let them go to seed to keep the cycle going.
Top tip #3: Plant a variety of beneficial flowers so their flowering time can stretch through the seasons.
Top tip #4: If you have a large area, you can plant cover crops rather than leaving it in grass, as this will give a much-needed haven to the good guys.
Top tip #5: A hedgerow around the perimeter of your property can help by both giving much needed protection from the diverse weather we are all experiencing around the world and by creating a great home and source of food for the insects.
Biodiversity has been on my mind lately, as I have continued to grow my knowledge in a location where every single part of the ecosystem has been connected to create a perfect, self-sustaining cycle. For those of you that don’t know, I have spent a week recently at the Kyusei Effective Microorganism (EM) Farm in Saraburi, Thailand to further develop my skills and understanding of this incredible natural technology.
Here at the highly productive 70-hectare farm, teaching centre and school, everything is grown from the seed up and all the waste is processed on site using bokashi and EM. All the carbon is collected and inoculated with EM before being put back on the soil. After one year of feeding their clay-based soil with bokashi, they had at least 60% more water holding capacity than the previous year when the land had first been dug and turned. Such inspiring results!
Biodiversity is literally when you plant many things to create a culture that benefits the ‘whole’ in your garden.
The bizarre thing is that, in many places in the world – back gardens and commercial farms alike – you will see only one species sown. This is called a monoculture, which goes against the grain of nature and fails to enhance your plantings, as there is nothing to protect them from pest and disease.
Nature takes care of itself – harnessing nature is the optimum way to grow. This is the very ethos of Grow Inspired.
The aim of the game in successfully growing food is to have variety, and this means not only vegetables, but flowers and companion plants too. Grow food as nature intended. Nowhere in nature do you see just one variety growing, even if it is only accompanied by weeds.
If planting from scratch, it is important to make a plan to include many different plants in your garden, including flowers and herbs. If you follow this principle, you will create amazing biodiversity within just three years.
Therefore, my top tip when growing food or developing bare land is to plant many different things and replicate nature to bring your garden alive with beneficial insects.
Your goal is to create a very healthy garden that attracts beneficial insects which will help keep pests and disease at bay for you. When you have a good mix of plants, you create a haven for the good insects which in turn will eat the bad.
In the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about beneficial insects to help you attract what your garden needs for harmony. Next week however, we will start with the importance of creating healthy soils to grow healthy plants, as this is the very foundation of your garden.
As ever, keep your questions coming and please feel free to submit them for the weekly Knowledge Bed in my newsletter – sign up here to Grow Inspired. If you’re in the planning stages of your garden and would like some help, consider my Winter and Summer Garden Packages, which include a consultation with me, a tailored six-month plan and all the organic products you need to get your garden flourishing. Find out more here.
Over the past 12 years, I have been experimenting with Bokashi in many different ways – from small scale to large scale, residential to commercial.
I have set up large scale Bokashi at big restaurants and have learnt many lessons along the way with this from problems that have occurred. During this process, I discovered an incredibly handy, magic trick that solves one of the major inconveniences of using Bokashi – and I’m going to reveal this to you now…
One of the difficulties of using Bokashi on a large scale or with a large family is taking off the juice. If you leave it, this juice becomes incredibly smelly and can linger in the air for days. You can smell it on yourself for days too, which can become very unpleasant!
Five years ago, I started experimenting with an absorption method for the juice, and I found the magic solution.
I calculated that the maximum volume that can easily be handled is about 100 litres at a time, so experimented with using a large bin on wheels with a flip lid.
In the bottom of this bin, I put old soil, paper or any absorbent materials like sawdust for example. The extracted juice absorbed into this material so that there was no juice to take off. It was enormously successful – so I played around a little more!
I discovered it can even be used in a 20 litre bucket, as long as you have a tight-fitting lid. When tipping the bucket into your soil, the part that has absorbed the juice can be spread out much further, as it is super potent with lots of added microbes per cm3.
In turn, you can revitalise a much bigger portion of your soil. Magic!
Just when you thought Bokashi couldn’t get any better!
This method is perfect for those with large families, or those with really busy lives who cannot / choose not to prioritise gardening, as it is quick and easy.
However, if you are wanting to restore large areas of soil to grow food, larger-scale Bokashi is your best friend.
Top tip: I hear people say they don’t have enough carbon to process their Bokashi with when it is buried, so my advice is to work smarter, not harder. When the leaves fall off the trees in autumn and winter, collect them and store them for spring and summer to use when there is less carbon around. Also, if you have pampas growing in your neck of the woods, cut it with a pair of shears, dry it out and store it for later use, as this is really beneficial! It contains a high level of phosphorus, which our soils seriously lack.
Really, it is just a matter of thinking ahead for the whole year, as opposed to the here and now.
- Improve your soil structure
- Process all your kitchen scraps
- Enable your plant roots to be stronger and longer
- Add beneficial micro-organisms to your soil
- Boost the immunity of your plants against pest and disease
- Enable more water-holding capacity in your soil, so you need less water over summer
- Improve the colour and cell structure of your plants
- Start repairing your soil to a rich well-balanced medium
This concludes my series about Bokashi. I hope you’ll agree by now that Bokashi is magic! As ever, if you have any questions about my blogs, just get in touch and I’ll do my best to help. I’d love to see just one person take up Bokashi as a result of the knowledge I have shared here. Give it a go!
To me, Bokashi is the circular economy of food waste. It is a simple process that allows you to process your food scraps from the kitchen and the table back into the soil to enable you to grow more nutrient rich food.
Why is Bokashi so important?
Today, most people in the world have poor soil, with not enough nutrients to grow good food. This is a sorry state of affairs and it comes down to the development of houses and use of chemicals in the soil, which deplete it. Simply put, if a nutrient isn’t in the soil, it can’t be in your food. So this means that if we don’t fix our soils, our food won’t be able to provide us with the basic nutrition we require.
What can I do with Bokashi after I process it?
Our soils are seriously lacking in carbon (brown material) content. Bokashi is a simple way to improve our soils by using our food scraps, inoculated with EM bran, then layering with brown materials to replenish our soils and grow great vegetables.
The benefits of using the bran inoculated with EM (effective microorganisms) is that it accelerates the breaking down of the food waste when in your soil, which improves soil structure, retaining vital nutrients and water. It also helps to stabilise pH levels, promotes earthworm activity, suppresses plant diseases and helps break up clay-based soils, while feeding the soil millions of beneficial microorganisms.
What kind of impact will using Bokashi have on growing food in my soil?
By using Bokashi, our vegetables will grow quicker, bringing early maturity with a better colour and cell structure. Because it also helps to retain moisture in our soils, this really helps in the heat and drought of the summer when you’re growing your summer crop!
Really it is a no brainer when it has so many good properties and uses.
In the height of the summer, your compost bucket on the bench can attract fruit flies and flies that lay eggs which sometimes hatch into maggots!! Most people freak out at the sight of wriggly maggots, however it is always good to look at the benefits rather than the negatives. If you have a compost bin full of maggots, just tip this into your Bokashi system and sprinkle your bran on top and close the lid. Next time you open your Bokashi bin the maggots will no longer wriggle as there is no air in your bin, so they cannot survive but will help add protein into your soil!!!
Once your fermentation process has finished and your Bokashi is buried in the ground it will no longer be attractive to dogs or rodents, as the food is pickled. By using this process of pickling, it will reduce your volume of food waste by up to 50% as the moisture is extracted and either drained into the bottom of your bin or absorbed if you are using it large scale.
Top tip: Always remember to add carbon (brown material like dried leaves) to your mix when burying it, as Bokashi is a nitrogen. This means that are we adding nitrogen and microbes to our soil with Bokashi, plus carbon too, which our soils are seriously lacking.
Did you know that a lot of countries around the world rake up all their leaves and burn them, which is toxic to our environment. Put them back in the soil, they are VALUABLE.
Bokashi is simple – yet many people are put off by the hassle and the unknown. I regularly host workshops on Bokashi and blog about the step-by-step processes of using your waste for nutrients in your garden. If you need advice or have any questions – just contact me. I’d love to get you started!
One of my missions at Grow Inspired is to help change the way we throw our waste away – and put it back into our own food. If you’re thinking about getting started, drop me a message. Always happy to help!
For the next 3 weeks we will be talking about the wonders of Bokashi and how it is so incredibly beneficial for the soil and plants it nourishes.
What is Bokashi fermentation?
Bokashi is a Japanese word meaning fermented organic matter. It was introduced in 1982 by Dr Teruo Higa of Japan.
Bokashi is a closed anaerobic (no air) composting system used to process your food scraps. It is a bit like making chutney, as the food scraps are pickled using Bokashi bran which is inoculated with EM (effective microorganisms) – more on EM later!
How do I create a Bokashi fermentation?
You sprinkle what is known as Bokashi ‘bran’ on the base of your Bokashi bin, then add your food scraps and sprinkle one handful of bran over your food scraps every time you put them in. The key is to replace the lid, making sure it is closed all the way round and continue the process until the bin is full. You can fit much more food in your bin if you squash it down with a potato masher, as this compresses the food together.
This fermentation process will extract the liquid from the food scraps.
A very important factor to remember is to drain the juice every 3-5 days. Bokashi juice contains nutrients from the food waste and is alive with microorganisms, so it makes a great fertiliser. However it is very strong so must be diluted with water. The dilution rates for the garden are 2 tablespoons to five litres of water to be applied to the soil only and, if spraying onto plants, use 1-2 teaspoons to five litres of water as a foliar spray.
Used neat it can be put down your sink, toilet and drains last thing at night when no water will be flushed through. This will enable the live bacteria to eat the bad, thus cleaning your pipes and drains.
I have also been experimenting with applying it neat to weeds and am having great success with this. The colour and the amount of liquid will depend on the food in your bin. For example, if you have lots of beetroot skins in there, your liquid will appear more purple and so forth.
When your bin is full, it should be left for two weeks to ferment, then it is either trenched into your soil or put into a compost bin. The Bokashi is a nitrogen, so it is advisable to cover it with a good layer of carbon (brown matter) to help in the breaking down process.
If you choose option one to trench it into the soil, then it is advisable to leave the area two weeks before planting. I have found that one bucket of Bokashi will be enough to sustain the growth of your plants planted on it throughout the growing season, with an additional liquid feed for heavy feeding plants.
My four secrets to success with Bokashi?
1. Add Bokashi bran to every layer of food scraps
2. Close the lid firmly after every deposit
3. Strain the juice every 3-5 days
4. Your liquid should smell like a vinegary pickle – if it doesn’t, something is off
With the daylight hours on a rapid decline, it is time to think about clearing out your summer garden, making and turning composts and planning for your winter planting.
‘Winter planting??’ I hear some of you cry! Yes that’s right; a winter garden can be just as rewarding as a summer garden. Juicy heads of broccoli, that perfect cauliflower, leeks for a hearty winter soup, delicious sweet carrots and roasted beetroot. Yum yum!
With this in mind, I would like to tell you that growing a winter garden can be a lot easier than a summer garden, as there is no stress about water and definitely not so much stress about pests, as most of them like to overwinter until the following spring.
Here’s my top tips on how to clear out your summer garden:
The following suggestions are purely based on my gardening experience over 30 years, growing organic fruit and veg.
When clearing your garden, make sure you dispose of infected plants and do not put them in the compost. This will only spread disease – unless you are making super-hot compost. Fungal diseases, like blight on tomatoes and potatoes, will not die in your compost pile, so I urge you to be careful. I completely avoid putting any tomato or potato plants in my compost just in case they take disease with them.
As an aside, I must say I have had a great year for tomatoes, with literally no blight or pests and disease! I have a feeling it could be from a good feeding programme; planting them on Bokashi and being in a windy spot. They have thrived and continue to do so even now, albeit at a slower rate. Incidentally, I had a disastrous year with zucchini and pumpkins; with them having hardly any female flowers. But, on the bright side, the flowers have been delicious to eat! #gratitudeofagardener
When clearing your garden, make a note what has been growing there and if it did well or not, and then plant the next rotation plant in its place. If you have had leafy producing and above-ground plants, it would be great to plant roots next, like beetroot, carrots, garlic etc. Garlic particularly likes to go where tomatoes have been. Remember if planting carrots, they will not need any more compost or fertiliser, as this will cause them to grow in mysterious shapes. Also, if you have planted beans this year, they are a legume and will have fixed nitrogen to the soil for you.
With the moon going down, now is the time to think about planting leeks, as these have a long growing season. If you plant them on Bokashi; mulch well and water in, they should be fine. But remember that these are hungry plants so, if you have no Bokashi or vermicast, add a good rotted compost before planting. With the moon in this phase, it is great for cleaning up the garden and making compost, which could be ready in time for June planting.
Take the time to plan your winter garden and decide which beds you will rest over winter. Also decide which beds you will plant with a green manure crop. If you choose to be a summer gardener only, take notes on where you have planted this summer to enable a good rotation next summer, and remember your garden will benefit from a green manure crop over the winter period.
EnSpray 99 oil is a certified Bio-Gro organic spraying oil used to control numerous pests and diseases.
The magic of this oil is two-fold – it works both as a slippery lubricant that prevents pests and disease from taking hold of your plant AND it acts to smother any pests you already have. It’s nifty stuff, let me tell you! And the very best part – it’s totally organic!
I use it for scale on my lemons and other perennial plants; I also use it in the control of:
- Mealy bug
- Powdery mildew
- and on my pip and stone fruit.
Top tip: When combining with other ingredients/elixirs, you must remember to add the oil last.
How do I organically control scale with EnSpray 99?
In the case of scale, a good spray on the top and bottom of the leaves is required, as well as along the stem. After spraying, leave for a few days and then the scale will be dead and will easily wipe off. Repeat every month or bi weekly.
How do I organically control whitefly with EnSpray 99?
With a whitefly infestation, it is best sprayed under the leaves as this is where all the larvae and nymphs are, and again, this will smother them. If you have mixed it with the other tonics I mention above, you will also feed and strengthen the plant at the same time – crucial after an attack. It is best to apply in the morning or evening and on a calm, still day.
When applying for flying insects, I find it is best to spray the air above the plant first, as this will reach all the insects that fly upwards when you approach.
How do I organically protect fruit trees with EnSpray 99?
I find it is always good to apply EnSpray 99 oil to my fruit trees over winter and spring on a monthly basis as, while our trees appear dormant, there can be a lot going on in the bug and disease world. Slight splits in trunks and broken branches can be a great place for insects and diseases to overwinter and spring to life when the weather turns warmer.
To me, EnSpray 99 really is a wonder oil to have in your organic armoury for the fight against pest and disease. Do get in touch with your own success stories – I love to hear from you! If you need to top up your EnSpray 99 oil supplies, it is available here on my website.
Happy spraying and gardening
Continuing on last week’s theme of fluffy bugs, I’m taking on the woolly aphids this week – here’s how to protect your garden and summer crops from pesky pests the organic way.
What are woolly aphids and what are they doing to my garden?
Did you know that there are more than 4,000 types of aphids worldwide? The woolly aphid is just one of these, but they seem to be everywhere right now – so let’s get cracking!
Woolly aphids are white and fluffy and often look like blobs on your trees, but when you take a closer look and get your hands in there, you will find lots of tiny white threads which, if you pull apart, reveals the aphids sheltering underneath. Woolly aphids generally appear on older trees and also on trees that have suffered stress, too much shade, not enough food or lack of water.
How do I know if I’ve got a woolly aphid problem?
Woolly aphids are particularly fond of apple and pear trees, often laying their eggs in the cracks of bark or damaged wood. They can form bubbles in your young wood and if you cut this bubble you will see thousands of eggs inside, which can then split to form cankers on your trees.
After the summer months, these damaging pests can move down to the roots of your trees where they can create untold damage out of sight from your vigilance.
What damage do woolly aphids do in my garden?
Aphids are known for their power to suck the life out of your plants. Not only will they weaken and destroy plants, they can also spread disease as they go. They secrete honeydew which in turn attracts ants and wasps, who feed on the sugary substance. Sooty mould will more than likely grow on the honeydew.
Over the past few years, I have had a few clients battling with these insects and, sadly, no matter what we have done, the tree has not recovered, as the infestation is so big and most of it unseen.
What can I do to control woolly aphids in my garden?
You can try to remove these pests with your fingers or a stick, squashing them as you go, which creates a real sticky red mess, but usually they will reappear in a week or two.
There are a few things you can try like EnSpray 99 and Pyretherum, but I find these only keep the population at bay.
Tip #1: The best preventative is to plant your tree well in the first place – mulch around the outside, plant with beneficial plants underneath it, and keep your soil and plant in optimum health.
Tip #2: Planting nasturtiums in your garden, somewhere away from your fruit trees, can act as a sacrificial crop, with woolly aphids infesting these plants instead and keeping them away from your trees. When the nasturtiums die back from infestation, carefully remove the plant and burn or dispose of wisely.
Tip #3: Members of the allium family, like onions, garlic and chives, can help repel many aphids and planting alyssum and borage around your garden will help attract beneficial insects that will eat up thousands of aphids a day.
Tip #4: In the summer months, plant a barrier of marigolds around or nearby your trees as the smell will repel woolly aphids.
Tip #5: The best advice I can give here is to keep your plants at optimum health, inspect them thoroughly when buying them and plant beneficial and sacrificial plants in your garden.
Good luck and happy gardening!
Header photo credit: Gardeners World