community gardening Feed

Lettuce that Won’t Cost the Earth

 

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The reason lettuce is so expensive at the moment is a combination of a few factors. Firstly, lettuce does tend to creep up a little in price in winter and that’s because it is more substitutable to frost and water damage in some areas so not all of the larger producers bother growing it. Demand is generally lower anyway as we swap out summer salads for warming winter soups and the like. What is available does tend to be a little higher in price. More influential factors that have led to prices over the $10 per head mark include the invasion of Ukraine which has pushed diesel and fertilisers into astronomical figures. Farmers rely on fertilisers to grow their crops and diesel to power machinery. Diesel is also used in the transporting of your vegetables. Recent heavy rains and flooding have also meant that crops have been destroyed and some were not replanted in their usual cycles leaving gaps in harvest.

BUY LOCAL
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No one likes paying double digits for a head of lettuce at any time and most of us can’t afford to but there are a couple of solutions. First check out local suppliers and small farms as many already produce lettuce and some will, I’m sure, be adding this crop to their list shortly. You will not only be able to obtain cheaper lettuce but contribute to the local economy. A few places to check include our local REKO Ring which is made up of small-scale producers specialising in organic produce. Items change constantly but it’s a good place to track down lettuce and other local yummy produce: openfoodnetwork.org.au/reko-central-coast/shop

There are also many markets and farmers markets on the Coast and nearby so check them out. Gosford City Farmers market is on every Sunday at the Showground in Gosford 7am to midday: gosfordcityfarmersmarket.com.au and Mangrove Mountain Country Markets at Peats Ridge 9am - 2pm Sundays is also another to visit.

GROW YOUR OWN
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Lettuce (Lactuca sativa) is amazingly easy to grow and as the Central Coast is a temperate climate, this generally means that you can grow most lettuce year-round. In fact, if there is no danger of frost, the cooler weather is usually better for lettuce crops. Personally, I’ve found Cos Lettuce does really well here, but you may wish to also consider ‘Great Lakes’, ‘Green Cos’, ‘Butternut’, ‘Diamond Gem’ or ‘Green Salad Bowl’. All of which grow exceptionally well in this environment. You can plant seedlings but as with all plants, you will find a far greater selection available in seeds so check with local nurseries and online suppliers. Plant seeds 6mm in depth and 20 to 30cm apart. One important note for Coast gardeners: If the soil temperature is greater than 25C you will find difficulty in getting your lettuce seed to germinate so seedlings may be a better solution in the warmer parts of the year. Lettuce needs a moist and rich soil. It detests drying out and can bolt (come into flower) or die rather quickly if water levels fall sharply so good drainage is a must. Ensure damp soil, not water-logged for your lettuce and water the ground, not the leaves in the early morning and never at night or during the day. This will help deter pests and disease. A nitrogen-rich feed every fortnight will improve the leaf growth and general strength and health of the lettuce. Alternate weeks use a seaweed-based solution for good health as well. If you have loose-leaf varieties, harvest individual outer leaves carefully during growth and whole plants on maturity.

LETTUCE IN POTS
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Because of their fast-growing nature, loose-leaf lettuce does well in container gardens. These types of lettuce will be happy in planter boxes, pots, balcony beds or even grow bags and that’s as long as the soil is kept damp and drainage is good. You will still need full sun for best growth and feed fortnightly with a liquid-based solution to avoid leaf burn from fertiliser build up. A seaweed-based solution at ½ strength is also recommended on alternate weeks. Harvest outer leaves as required and let some plants fully mature if desired. Soil will usually need to be replaced between crops as lettuce as heavy feeders. Lettuce varieties with firm hearts, like iceberg, can also be grown in these sorts of containers but just be aware that firm hearted lettuce are more prone to fungal diseases in containers.  A few container-friendly lettuce for you to consider:  'Green Mignonette' is a sweet tasting favourite that does extremely well in containers. 'Cos Verdi' has a compact growing habit and loose leaves with a lovely crisp heart and is also cold-tolerate. 'Baby Cos' is a loose-leaf lettuce that is also cold-tolerant and does extremely well in containers.

LETTUCE CARE
Salad-3505392Probably the most challenging problem you may face once you have your lettuce growing is pests. Those tender green leaves are so tempting to snails, slugs and any hungry garden visitors, especially in winter. The best solution for chemical free, environmentally safe lettuce is to net your garden bed. Aphids can present a problem so regular checking and treatment may be needed. Handpick them off and squash and spray lettuce with lightly soapy water to deter them. For snails and slugs, I have on many occasions suggested on this page a myriad of ways to deal with the snails and slugs in the garden including the eco-friendlier covering of your seedlings with nets or cloches and planting perimeter crops visitors you consider pests can eat instead. For more information on Australian Native Snail and Slugs, there are over 1,000 of them - factsaboutsnails.com/types-of-snails/native-australian-snails

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM963. She is also co-host of @MostlyAboutPlants a weekly botanical history & gardening podcast with Victoria White. Archived articles can be found on Cheralyn’s Blog: www.florasphere.com

Send your gardening questions, events, and news to: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com


How to Save Your Seeds

Although it may seem a simple enough task, to be effective a little planning, preparation and commitment is needed to save seeds from your garden. You can just shake, squeeze, and scrape those plants and collect all the seeds, but to ensure they have the best chance of being viable (being about to sprout), and will grow you a healthy, strong crop next time around, I’ve gathered a few tips and tricks for you to follow.
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Seeds are the embryonic stage of a plant, created after fertilisation and there are many reasons to collect your own. Firstly, money! While a packet of seeds may only be a few dollars, that adds up over a garden. By saving seeds you get plants for nothing and while you will never be able to plant all the seeds collected, you may consider selling them or their seedlings, swapping or giving them away. Your local community gardens will thank you too as many are now setting up Seed Libraries as a central point for swapping seeds to preserve varieties of the more successful crops or endangered plants in an area.

Commercial seed producers focus on what is standard and popular. This is not because they are being picky, it’s just a matter of logistics. No one company, or even bunch of companies, could ever be able to satisfy everyone’s seed desires. By saving your own seeds you are adding to the diversity of plant types available and keeping alive a genetic legacy. One great Aussie institution that was founded on this principle is The Diggers Club. Created in 1978 by Clive and Penny Blazey to stop the disappearance of many plants including heirlooms and to have them available to the public. Members not only benefit from being able to purchase seeds but many assist in the preservation of seeds as well. diggers.com.au

Other reasons to save seeds include the opportunity to preserve the genetic material of the cream of your crop and because you need to let plants fully mature to collect their seeds, you will be helping our bee population but providing more flowers in the environment. My favourite reason is the opportunity to keep my personal garden legacy alive for my friends, family and to take that into the future. Being able to replant and even share the seeds of the plants I have loved, along with their memories is a beautiful thing and yet nothing new. The Ancient Egyptians believed that by telling a plant your hopes, dreams and plans that they would carry on through the eons long after you yourself had departed the earth. So, let’s get started saving those seeds for the future!

Seed Saving Planning
A possible problem with ducking out to the garden right now and collecting seeds is that they may be hybrids. Some may be hybrids that you have planted, and these won’t always produce the same plant from their seed. Also, pollinators, e.g., bees, have hopped from flower to flower in your garden and crossbreeding has occurred. While this can be exciting as it is how new varieties have been found in the past, if you are after a plant that is a true offspring of your original then you will need to ensure it is ‘open-pollinated’. Some plants self-pollinate like lettuce, tomatoes, beans, and peas and are considered open pollinated, but others can be protected by planting with space or barriers between varieties or by pollinating by hand. You also need to plant more than a few of each type to ensure genetic strength and health of your seeds. While planning be prepared for those crops that take more than one season to start producing seeds. All this in mind, there is nothing wrong with collecting the seeds you have now and giving it a go, especially if you only have one type of each plant growing in your garden.

Seed Collection Process
There are two types of seeds: wet fruited or dry fruited and they need to be harvested differently. You need to wait until the fruits of wet fruited seeds fully mature for many plants and this will mean past what is the edible stage. To do this, just leave a few of these fruits (this includes what we know as vegetables too i.e., cucumbers and eggplants) growing until they are just at the end of their life before harvesting. Seeds will need to be obtained by cutting open the fruit and then washed and sometimes soaked to remove all traces of the fruit and then dried. Seeds from dry fruited plants can be collected as soon as you notice that the seeds are hard and if they are contained within a seed pod, removed from it. Then both wet and dry fruited seeds need to be dried out. This can be done by spreading out seeds onto very fine mesh screens, filter papers or waxed papers, indoors in a cool, dry place. While they should not be touching, you will need to move them around every few days. Leave for 2 - 3 weeks. Another more modern method involves using silica gel. Easily available online, place a layer of silica gel into an airtight flat container and then cover with fine mesh. Place seeds upon the mesh, spreading out as much as possible. Place lid onto container and leave in a cool, dry place. This method takes between a week to two weeks depending on seed size. Dry fruited seeds can also be collected and dried in one easy step. Place the stem of a mature flower or flower head into a brown paper bag, head down. I clip these bags onto a line in my garage, but you can also lay the bags down if it is in a cool, dry, and dark place. Give the bags a shake every few days to release seeds. Once seeds have all fallen into the bag, remove stem, keep top open and leave in there for a few more weeks, still shaking occasionally.

Seed Storage
The longevity of seeds depends on many factors and while it is true that there have been viable seeds found hanging out in old jars that are thousands of years old it really is not the normal. The best place to store your seeds is in an airtight opaque container in your fridge or freezer where they will last for many years. Those kept in paper envelopes in cool, dry, and dark places in airtight containers will last until the next season and perhaps into the following year after that. The disappointment at seeds not germinating is caused mostly them being too old.

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM963. She is also co-host of @MostlyAboutPlants a weekly botanical history & gardening podcast with Victoria White. 
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This article first appeared in 'Coast News', 'Coast Chronicle' and 'The Pelican Post' Coast Newspapers 


Flooded and Soggy Garden Rescue

An overly soggy garden that dries out over a few days can be revived without too much fuss, but a flooded garden needs a deeper clean-up and a few more steps to keep you safe and get your garden back to health. If plants are left to stand in water for more than a few days, they can die from lack of oxygen supply to their roots and if they do manage to survive then fungal diseases that develop in these conditions may still be a major challenge.
Red-park-bench-2635551When flood occurs, toxic compounds can wash into your garden such as chemicals, petroleum products and raw sewage along with pathogens and unwanted weeds. Then there is silt. This is a sediment of dust sized partials that move easily in water and when the water recedes, the silt will compact and lead to increased acidity and oxygen starvation in soil. When this silt and mud is left on plants it will also stop the process of photosynthesis. Once the sun returns its gaze upon our gardens, it’s time to get into rescue mode, but not so fast! There is a right way and more importantly, a safe way to save our plants.

First Steps to Recovery
As always, safety first and if your garden was flooded then you need to wear waterproof gloves and boots and a mask is also advisable. This is to reduce the risk of you becoming infected with pathogens. If your garden flooded then you need to wash away any left behind silt and mud from plants, paths, structures, and the surface of the garden as soon as possible. Silt will harden as it dries and be difficult to remove. Get rid of all debris that has fallen or swept into your garden as soon as possible as rotting plant materials will contribute to the spread of disease and fungal activity as well as invite pests in. Let the garden dry out, don’t start planting just yet and do not eat any raw leafy greens, soft fruits, or berries as these will more than likely have absorbed dangerous levels of contaminates. Rule of thumb is to not eat produce for a month, to wash with soapy water and cook before consuming. If you suspect that your garden has been contaminated with raw sewage, then you should remove and destroy annuals and not consume from longer living plants until the following year. 

Soil Rescue
After washing, dig in any remaining silt and turn over soil well to help aerate the garden beds. Your soil will need to be treated with fungicide as well to hold back outbreaks. All that water would have also washed away nutrients and even broken down your soil structure. This needs to be repaired quickly so that your existing plants have a better chance at survival as well. Do a soil test to determine what may be needed to improve your soil and add organic matter, fertilisers, and composts to replace lost nutrients. If you can get hold of a bunch of seaweed, then mulching with this will help increase fertility of soil, break down any remaining silt and encourage the return of worms but any organic mulch will help.

Plant Rescue
You need to be tough and face the fact that some of your plants may not recover but you can help by using fungicides and pest control methods. Use seaweed solutions liberally as these promote strong root growth and are an amazing health tonic for stressed plants. Be ready for competing weeds to start showing up as they move in more easily with silt and remove as soon as you see them. If a plant seems beyond rescue, be strong and remove it as it may infect other healthier plants in your garden.

Lawn Repair
Flooded lawn areas can be saved if the remaining silt is less than about 2cm deep. Try and wash off as much as possible and go over the surface with steel rake to break up the silt surface. Hose on a seaweed solution to encourage root growth. For deep silt, you may need to start again but the trick is to get rid of the silt and to get air into the soil below.

When to Plant Again
General advice it to wait at least 60 days after flooding until you plant again. For those gardens that experienced heavy rainfall without actual flooding, test the readiness by rolling a ball of soil in your hand. If it will easily crumble when pushed with a finger and no water can be seen oozing out, then you are right to plant. If you need to wait, there is nothing stopping you planting your seeds in seed pots and trays while your garden recovers. By the time the seedlings are ready, your garden will have had time to rest, repair and rejuvenate.

FLOOD-PROOF GARDEN
I’m not too sure there is such a thing, but here are a few ways that may help reduce the risk of flood and help water drain more easily from your garden. Create a slope to your garden, even 2 degrees can be enough, so that water runs off more easily and make sure it slopes away from buildings. The installation of drains and even the clever French Drain will help immensely. These are also known as ditch drains, French ditch, sub-surface drains and land drains and they not only help save your garden but will pull water away from the foundation of your home as well. They work by collecting overflowing water and filtering it through gravel or rocks. Selection of plants is always important so considering planting more natives as these will generally be more adaptable to conditions and to recovery as well as helping stop possible soil erosion. To direct water away from your house and to store for later use, install a water tank and consider rain barrels under your down pipes. Collected water in these can be used for the garden later.

YOU AND YOUR GARDEN
Soil to Plate with Youth Connections and SWAMP
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Sustainable Wetlands Agricultural Makers Project (SWAMP) at the Central Coast Wetlands is facilitating an amazing project with Youth Connections of Tuggerah. Created with the support of Central Coast Council and delivered by the enthusiastic volunteers of SWAMP, it is a grass roots pilot program aiming to deliver a nature, gardening, cultural and educational program for the young clients of Youth Connections. In the spirit of ‘soil to plate’ the project will see the creation of a ‘pizza garden’ and then the cooking of pizzas to share with family and friends. In the first week Youth Connections participants travelled to Narara Valley Nursery to begin the preparation and decision making around what will be needed to create the pizza garden. The youth engaged with decisions about which soil, what seeds or seedlings they might like in their garden, as well as the smells and sounds of a bustling nursery with a wide variety of plants. In the following weeks an above ground garden was established at the SWAMP community garden site by the group for the selection of herbs and vegetables that will eventually find their way into on to the pizzas. Other activities included kitchen apron making and a joyful visit to Grace Springs Farm in Kulnura which enabled all to experience agriculture on a larger scale.

Thank you to Syl Marie Photography.

youthconnections.com.au 
swampcentralcoast.com.au

GARDENING GUIDE FOR COAST GARDENERS THIS WEEK
With all this rain, again hold off on planting anything directly in the garden but you can plant out seeds in sheltered spots. You can plant the following now: Culinary herbs, beetroot, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, carrot, cauliflower, chicory, cress, endive, kohlrabi, leek, lettuce, mustard, onions, parsnip, peas, salsify, shallots, spring onions, silverbeet, swede, spinach, turnips, ageratum, alyssum, calendula, candytuft, carnation, columbine, cornflower, delphinium, dianthus, everlasting daisy, forget-me-not, foxglove, godetia, gypsophila, hollyhock, larkspur, nigella, pansy, polyanthus, poppy, primula, snapdragon, statice, stock, sweet pea, wallflower

Next Week: Start Seed Saving

HAVE YOU GOT A GARDEN OR GARDENING TOPIC TO SHARE?
Down in the Garden is looking for Central Coast gardeners who would like to share their garden with us. We are particularly looking for: Evergreens, Tulips, Spring Bulbs, Water Feature Gardens, School/Children Gardeners, Commercial Kitchen Gardens, Medicinal Plant Gardeners, and Community Gardens but all gardens and gardeners are welcome contact: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com

Cheralyn Darcey is a gardening author, community garden coordinator and along with Pete Little, hosts ‘At Home with The Gardening Gang’ 8 - 10am live every Saturday on CoastFM963. She is also co-host of @MostlyAboutPlants a weekly botanical history & gardening podcast with Victoria White. Archived articles can be found on Cheralyn’s Blog:  www.florasphere.com

Send your gardening questions, events, and news to: gardeningcentralcoast@gmail.com


...and I'm are back! To blogging!

Hello! 
I hope this finds you happy and well and that you have spent at least some time with a plant, in the garden and maybe even getting your hands dirty. 

Personal Things...

I honestly haven't had the time to fit blogging in for so long as obligations and a bit of craziness has consumed so much of my time. 
Living in the Greater Sydney region has meant 4 long months of lockdown but luckily I have been an essential worker (journalist) and so have had some measure of freedom to do my work. 
I was able to go to the radio station to produce and present my weekly live program and to interview people over the phone from there. Lucky as well to live in a very large LGA (Local Government Area), The Central Coast, and be able to go to the beach, the park and the forest for recreation. Not so lucky that I had another nasty fall and completely torn my medial meniscus. With no elective surgery due to restrictions it has meant terrible pain and immobility but I'll be getting it fixed soon. 

Publishing Things...
Other than that? I'm busy completing a large gardening book and putting the finishing touches on a new series that will appeal to the arty gardeners out there. It's always plants from me so it won't take too much to guess. The large book will appear early 2023 and the series, (yes it is one for my Flora Flowers friends!) will kick off in March 2022. Exciting times and busy ones at that. 
My Flora friends?  Thanks for hanging in there with me. I am happy with where she is headed and the additional few years of development have really helped me to craft a strong backstory and foundation. It's a very good lesson for other authors and illustrators to not be so quick to rush to market with concepts before they are ripe. There is no way Flora would be as well developed or be able to hold up to the breath of plans I have created. There is lots of room for organic growth but it will always make sense to the reader as the roots are strong. 
If you want to keep up with Flora, she has her own website now: The Flora Journals

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Gardening Things...
The garden is looking as wonderful as it always does this time of year here, Down Under. It's late Spring and the vegetables are sweet, the flowers plentiful and the bees are doing their thing. The thing that has been sad is not being able to go to my community garden with friends and fellow community gardeners because of lockdown. We have managed to keep SWAMP (Sustainable Wetlands Agricultural Makers Project) alive and steady with rotating rosters ensuring only one of us (or family group) was there at a time. Right now our core team is back on deck and we are looking forward to opening to the public again early next year (maybe December!) 
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Radio Things...
If you had of told me a few years ago, or even last year, that I would be a trained radio producer, presenter, panel operator in 2022 and would also be efficient with the 'Zetta' operating system and learning audio editing I would of told you to stop drinking the hard stuff! Here I am though doing all this at COASTFM. This is mostly due to necessity as it is a Community Radio Station and we all pitch in to help out where we can. I've loved the training and with my keen interest in IT, I've found it rather exciting. The thing about this station is that it is situated on the Central Coast of NSW, Australia and this is a place where a to of Sydney people retire to. So we have a stunning amount of talented, (and very well known) entertainment industry legends on hand. No true creative ever really retires and so our station is stacked with mentors almost on tap, as long as you are willing to do the work! If you are not hearing stories of 'The Golden Age of Radio and Advertising' then you are picking up tiny tips and helpful insights all day every day. The best thing though is really connecting with the community and making a real difference by sharing what you are passionate about directly. I'm able to craft a program that speaks straight to local gardeners and plant people that is for them, about them and including them. 
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Newspaper Things...
My Coast News Gardening page is now syndicated to another weekly newspaper and found online. After a one week absence a couple of weeks ago due to a miscommunication, we all know how popular it is! It's delightful to hear how much people like my column which follows that gardening show I write. I also now get to review gardening books so if you have suggestions for gardening/plant related books that I could give my 'leaf rating' to, let me know! Oh and let's not forget the gardening questions!! I answer way more than appear in the article each week with about 20 coming in every seven days. Again, it's lovely to see and feel that I'm helping out.

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I think that's enough things to catch up on to get me back behind the blogging wheelbarrow! 

bunches of love, 
Cheralyn