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John Ashworth
White Hair. Balding. Still thinks he's a 25 year old.
White Hair. Balding. Still thinks he's a 25 year old.

John's posts

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Latest Update 20th February 2017.
Growing Organic Fruit.

Growing Dwarf Apples.
Growing Apricots.
Growing Peaches.
Growing Olives.
Growing fruit in a small suburban garden can be very challenging, but I have found the following 3 devices enabled me to maintain a small orchard in very limited space:-
Dwarfism: By planting normal sized fruit on dwarf stock, you can reduce the plants overall mature size without reducing the size of the ample fruit obtained.
Rigorous summer pruning to encourage fruit development at the expense of growth.
Training a tree when young to take an espaliers or similar form to fool the tree into thinking it's mature when its actually still quite small and ready to fruit along its horizontal branches.
My fruiting plants are all drip line irrigated in slightly raised beds (200mm).  1 or 2 hours each week keeps the subsoil moist and my perennial plants establish deep roots so they can survive long periods without rain.
I supplement my irrigation using water from my rainwater tanks, but only when establishing new plants and on a few flowering annuals grown to add a little colour and diversity.
Soil fertility is maintained by adding a generous top dressing of home made compost in spring, and by drenching the root zone of my fruit trees every 3 months with aerated compost tea (Orchard Tea formula).  I protect the compost from drying out with a thick layer of organic sugar cane straw mulch.
My "Growing Organic Fruit" blog contains about 10 pages showing how I prepare soil, propagate, plant, train, harvest and prune each fruiting plant, and how I control its pests.
For more information on growing fruiting plants in a small garden, take a look at the examples above in the links to my blog on Growing Organic Fruit.

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Latest Update 19th February 2017.

Growing Organic Herbs
Growing Sweet Basil.
Growing Blue Borage.
Growing Sage.
Growing Coriander.

I grow flowering herbs because of their ability to attract beneficial insects to my garden.  Bees are particularly important and many of the 15 or so herbs I grow are excellent bee magnets.
I need bees to pollinate my fruiting trees and vegetables, and when they are absent there are severely reduced fruit harvests or in some cases no harvest at all. (as I found to my cost when my apples failed to set fruit last year even though they produced loads of blossom).
Bees are not the only pollinators of course, and I try to grow a wide ranging variety of flowering plants to keep them all coming.
Herbs and other flowering plants attract predatory insects and insect eating birds, who keep insect pests under control as well as helping to pollinate flowering plants. 
Just like my blog on Growing Organic Vegetables, this blog contains a comprehensive database, which shows how I grow herbs in my small suburban garden.
I grow them in drip line irrigated beds mainly, alongside fruit trees, where their ability to attract pollinators is put to best use.  However some herbs (like Sweet Basil for example) are best grown in Ecobeds as companion plants.  Tomatos and basil always seem to grow well together and keep insect damage under control.
Companion plantings like this promote vigour and good health in both partners, but not all plants are good companions, and its worth checking this out before you commit to planting them.
You can find a list of good companions in most pages of my herb database.
For me growing herbs is more to do with replicating nature in my garden and keeping the creatures there in balance, rather than growing them for culinary purposes (although we do a bit of that too).  It all seems to be working quite nicely.

Use the link above for more information about the Herbs Database.

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Latest Update 18th February 2017.

Growing Organic Vegetables.
Growing Climbing Peas.
Growing Mini Cabbage.
Growing Potatoes.
Growing Butternut Pumpkins.

I have carefully researched and tested the best ways to grow vegetables in my part of the world, and you can see the way I currently do things in my blog on growing organic vegetables.
Each vegetable I grow has a page assigned to it showing how it is grown in my garden.  Its of limited value to people living in other parts of the world with different climates, but some of the entries are of universal value.
Each page contains a botanical name, varieties grown, the family grouping for crop rotation, preferred growing conditions, nutritional value, soil preparation, propagation, planting, harvesting and pest control.
The blog is not designed to read like a novel, and there is a lot of repetition within the pages especially where vegetables are from the same family.
I use it as a reference document, and often check out the pages describing plants grown infrequently, or plant details recently updated. 
Over time I review plant information, and make changes to reflect things like shifts in propagation requirements due to changed weather conditions, testing new plant varieties, or evaluating new techniques for dealing with pests... etc.
Every vegetable I grow has a record in the database.  I grow nearly 30 different types of vegetable plant each year and the range is growing.
It really is worthwhile having data on hand drawn from personal experience and events from your own garden's ecosystem.

Use the links above for more details about the Vegetables Database. ** Note the link to Pumpkins takes you to an overflow blog "More Organic Vegetables".

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Latest Update 17th February 2017.
Planning and Maintenance.

An important part of my gardening style is to carefully plan what I'm growing and in which beds.  The plan is adjusted as I go to reflect any improvements I may make during the year.
I use it to coordinate planting and harvesting so the beds are kept occupied all year round.
Each year I start a new plan based on the old one in its improved form.  My 4 year crop rotation means all the plants will be grown in a new bed so this is built into the new plan.
The plan specifies when plantings take place and is aligned with the lunar cycle to obtain benefits which gardeners from antiquity have sworn by.
Modern biodynamic farmers use this practice too, but I just use it because its as good as any other scheduling system.  Rates of germination and early plant growth are very good, but there are many other contributing factors, and I don't claim any magical connections.
My planning and maintenance schedule is a calendar and a diary, and contains useful links to my vegetable database, so useful information can be looked up when the next crop is ready to be grown. 
I also use it to remind me when to order seeds, and when to spray aerated compost tea, and when to look out for seasonal pests.  The main thing is it enables me to continuously improve my vegetable garden's performance, and perhaps improve my own performance as a gardener.

Use the link above for more details about the Planning and Maintenance Schedule.

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The corn is as high as an elephants eye, and the other plants are in hot pursuit. These photos were taken in the evening today when the light didn't dominate.

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Latest Update 16th February 2017.


Small Propagator. 
How to Build a Small EcoPropagator.
I have used a cold frame to bring on seedlings during winter for many years, and about 3 years ago I modified it to give all year round protection against extremes of weather.
About 2 years ago I decided to use wicking bed principles to keep my seedlings moist at all times in the cold frame.
I made a very small Ecobed out of a plastic box, just small enough to fit into the cold frame, but able to propagate up to 40 seedlings in their pots at the same time.
I used sieved compost instead of soil, and buried my seedling pots into this moist and biologically active wicking medium.
It worked better than I could ever imagine and I was able to sow seed or strike cuttings all year round.  Germination was quicker and more reliable than before, so I didn't use as much seed, and the seedlings grew faster.  
I also started to sow larger seeds like peas, beans and pumpkins singly in jiffy (fibre) pots and when ready they were planted out in the garden still in their jiffy pots.
This allows seeds to be sown earlier then before since their first month or so of growth will be in the propagator, freeing up time and space in the Ecobed they are to be grown in.
Timing is very important if we are to keep the Ecobed's soil active with no fallow periods between crops. 

large Propagator.
How to Build a Large EcoPropagator.
About 6 months ago as a further refinement, I designed a unit with more than twice the capacity of the small EcoPropagator replacing the plastic bin with a plastic liner using the walls of the cold frame to support the water tank and wicking media.
This larger EcoPropagator represents excellent use of space in a small garden like mine, but cannot easily be relocated.
I refill my propagators with water about once a week in hot summer weather, and much less often in the cooler months.  I keep the compost topped up as it continues to decompose, and I replace it completely each year in spring. 

Check out the above links for more details.  These links take you to the relevant pages in my supporting blogs.

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Latest Update 12th February 2017.
Making Aerated Compost Tea.

How to Make Aerated Compost Tea.

I make two 15 litre batches of aerated compost tea every month and spray the brew on the foliage of my garden plants.  I do this to boost the community of beneficial microbes on the leaves which helps increase uptake of nitrogen from the atmosphere and provides a protective barrier against airborne plant pathogens.
The brewing process is about growing beneficial microbes extracted from a small quantity of freshly made compost.  Microbe numbers are quadrupled in the 24 hour aeration process.
15 litres of clean captured rainwater are mixed with 150 grams of freshly sieved homemade compost and small amounts of fish and seaweed extract in a 20 litre food quality pail.  The air pump is turned on and the bubbler placed in the bottom of the pail weighed down using small stones inside the bubbler.
An aquarium heater is used in cold weather to ensure the water temperature doesn't get lower that 24C as microbe reproduction slows below this temperature.  After 24 hours, the pump is turned off and the brew is strained to remove solids.  The finished brew is sprayed onto the garden without delay so the beneficial microbes don't run out of oxygen.

Building a Compost Tea Brewer.

How to Build a Compost Tea Brewer.

My brewer is made from easily obtained components usually available from your local hardware store or plumbing supplier.  The pump and the aquarium heater, however may only be available at specialist pet stores or from an on line store.
The 20 litre food quality pail comes with a tightly sealing lid, but I drill 2 holes in it so that the hose connecting the pump and the bubbler can pass through one of them and the other one is just a vent to allow the air pumped into the pail to easily escape.
Small holes are drilled in the horizontal tubes in the bubbler and the flexible hose is glued into the vertical tube with silicone.  The bubbler's rigid components are a tight fit (no glue) so they can be pulled apart for cleaning.  Small stones are used in the bubbler as ballast to stop it rising to the surface when the pump is turned on.

Check out the above links for more details.  These links take you to the relevant pages in my supporting blogs.

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Latest Update 12th February 2017.

Making Hot Compost. 
How to Make Hot Compost.
I use the Berkley method of making compost.  It has 3 main features which separated it from cold composting processes.
A batch of compost can be made in about 18 days.
It generates heat during this 18 days, sufficiently high to destroy unwanted weed seeds.
This heat also kills or disables plant pathogens which may have got into the compost heap on infected plants.
The Berkley process requires a compost heap of about a cubic metre of carbon rich mixed with nitrogen rich organic waste.  This volume takes longer to accumulate than is acceptable in a small garden like mine, so I have adapted the technique to suit a smaller batch of about 400 litres. 
The higher volume is needed in a free standing heap so the outer layers can insulate the inside of the heap to enable thermophilic microbes to break down the compost at high temperatures in the order of 65C.

Building a Hot Compost Bin. 
How to Build a Hot Compost Bin.
To mimic the heating effect of the larger heap we can insulate a much smaller volume of material using a home made insulated bin.  To get the required level of insulation, I used 120mm thick polystyrene foam inside the roof and sides of my bin.
The bin's construction allows the walls to be easily split in two after the roof is removed.  It can then be relocated without disturbing the contents, reassembled and the compost tossed into the relocated bin aerating it on the way.
The heat loving bugs in the heap are aerobic, and the oxygen in the heap must be replenishing every 2 days.  I use a stainless steel thermometer with a 500mm probe to keep a check on the heaps temperature.
Check out the above links for more details.  These links take you to the relevant pages in my supporting blogs.

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Latest Update 10th February 2017.

Feeding the Soil. 

I realised when designing my Garden Ecobed that fertility would be an important issue.  After considerable research on the internet and in organic gardening journals, I learned how plants are fed naturally.
I came across Dr Elaine Ingham a leading American soil microbiologist.  Her research and practical work restoring impoverished farmland by reintroducing beneficial microorganisms to the soil is amazing, and she is starting to make a real difference.
She is founder and CEO of The Soil Food Web Inc. and uses the business to train farmers to restore impoverished soil, or simply to find a better cheaper way to grow crops.  Her series of presentations on YouTube called 'Life in the soil' is a revelation to farmers and gardeners alike, and I have taken much of her teaching and adapted it to suit my own circumstances.
The soil food web of soil organisms, in various ways, deliver essential minerals  to the plant's roots.  In return for nutritious minerals extracted by bacteria from the soil's sand, clay and silt particles, plants exude rich nutritious sugars, proteins and complex carbohydrates from their roots to feed the microbes colonising their root zone.  A substantial share of food photosynthesised for their own use is fed to the beneficial fungi and bacteria in this way.
In natural systems plants are in control of the processes which make minerals available to their roots.  Different types of bacteria get different types of energy food from plants and extract different minerals from the soil.  The plants exploit this by changing their exudate recipe to drive the supply of the specific extracted minerals they need at different times in their growth cycle.
It is a wonderfully efficient system and cannot be matched by modern agriculture.  According to Dr Ingham all soils on the planet contain abundant supplies of all the minerals needed for good plant health and vigour.  Plants just need adequate water and sunlight, a healthy soil food web and plenty of organic material to keep the soil's microbe population active
By ignoring the role of organic materials and microbes in the soil, and by frequently disturbing it so that its structure breaks down, modern industrial farming practices gradually destroy the soil food web and with it the plant's ability to feed itself from the soil.  So farmers have to keep applying water soluble fertiliser, deficient in micronutrients, which readily drain away to the subsoil and beyond.
I don't try to feed my plants directly, I let the beneficial microorganisms in the soil do that for me.  I maintain a healthy soil food web in the Ecobed's soil by laying 60mm of active compost on the soil's cleared surface after every harvest.  To keep the compost moist and active, I cover it with a 50mm layer of sugar cane straw mulch, and I plant new seedlings through this mulch as soon as practical.
I leave harvested plant's roots in the soil and raise new plants as close to them as possible so that moisture, nutrients and the microbiology held there are immediately available to the new plant's roots.
I do not add any amendments to the soil other than the compost mentioned above, and yet continue to grow large, healthy, and nutritious vegetables and fruit year after year.  I never worry about pH, a thing of the past for me, the microbes control all that.  Organic gardening made simple.

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Latest Update 11th February 2017.

Melbourne is no stranger to drought.  It hits us periodically, but the last one which broke in 2010, lasted 13 years, and we were scraping the proverbial barrel of our usually ample reserves of water (metropolitan reservoirs) towards the end of that period.
I had taken measures such as installing rainwater tanks to capture run off from my roof, and installed drip line irrigation throughout my garden.  They helped the garden survive, but it was a close run thing.  Water restrictions had been gradually tightened as the drought progressed and eventually personal use was restricted to 155 litres per day.
Low water use techniques.
Drip line irrigation conserves water by supplying the plant's root zone directly.  To control evaporation a generous layer of straw mulch is placed over the soil and the drip lines.
Biologically active soil retains water and plant nutrients especially in the root zones of plants, and to maintain this activity, I keep my soil well fed with good quality homemade compost.
Drip irrigation's only shortcoming is that surplus water drains into the subsoil where shallow rooted annuals, especially short lived vegetables, cannot reach.  I still use drip line irrigation for my perennial plants, including my lawn, and it works really well for them because they have time to develop long roots and can tap into the subsoil's water and minerals resources. 
Vegetables need a better system than drip irrigation when grown in a climate like Melbourne's.  Colin Austin's Wicking Beds have been very successful preserving scarce water resources in Australia and other hot dry regions of the world, and I have used Colin's concept to develop my own version called the Garden Ecobed.
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