Category Archive: Fruit trees

Growing Dwarf Citrus in Pots Part Two

By Dennis Ting

If you missed part one, CLICK HERE

Pummelo Tree in 50cm pot.

In the Part 1 of Growing Dwarf Potted Citrus I outlined how to select a tree, a pot, potting mix and plant up your young tree. I have spent the last 12 months observing my own trees and they have had to cope with extreme conditions of heat during the last summer. I am happy to report that I have refined my techniques and suffered no tree or even crop losses by following a few important rules. I include some photos to illustrate the range of citrus I am now harvesting Lemons, Limes, Mandarins, Oranges, Tangelos, Tahitian Limes etc.

Consistent deep watering is most important during the warmer months and I cannot stress this enough as citrus cannot get too much water at this time.

The potting mix must not dry out ever as you will get significant flower and fruit drop.

Citrus have glossy smooth green shiny leaves and when they become pale and feel like leathery leaves the plant is water stressed already. Dig into the potting mix with your fingers and you will feel it is probably quite dry underneath. Use a jet nozzle on hose to punch four holes into top of the pot when watering to ensure potting mix is re-wet through not just surfaced watered. Continue to do this all summer if necessary as citrus love their water.

Mulch well with light coloured pea straw all during summer to reflect the sun from the darker potting mix and add nutrition.

Humidity at night can be increased by spraying the foliage which improves flower retention and fruit set.

Liquid fertilizer every two weeks on the foliage and soil at night or early morning alternating between a Seasol / Powerfeed combination with either Thrive Flower and Fruit or Phostrogen from September to March.

I find an infrequent two monthly water with worm tea compost diluted at a ratio of 1:10 can also be beneficial but it can be alkaline so should be used sparingly.

From April cut back fertilising but some is still needed  to size up and colour up the fruit.

Healthy citrus trees do not get troubled by much as long as you feed well and keep them growing as I have never had problems with scale, aphids or citrus leaf miner. Citrus Gall Wasp is a problem I have but if you hang the yellow gall wasp traps in the trees from July to catch the emerging flies in spring you should minimise the infestations. Another method I have heard of is to slice vertically over the galls as this exposes some of the larvae to air and kills them while the sap can still flow up and down the branch. Lemons and limes are the most badly affected while oranges and mandarins just suffer from the odd gall that does not seem to cause too many problems.

As I said above just keep the tree growing as cutting back is not really an option on dwarf trees as you weaken the tree and it becomes smaller and smaller.

I would now like to introduce my ‘Zen Defensive Method of Pot Placement’ which again was of some benefit during the extremely hot weather last summer. I place my plants in a ‘North – South’ line with pots ranging in size from a few at 400 mm to the majority at 300 mm and a few smaller ones at 200 mm for young trees. Remember from Part 1 the pots are a light terracotta colour and not black so do not absorb the heat from the sun. The pots are almost touching and would get hot summer afternoon sun but the branches are allowed to grow into each other to provide mutual shading and shelter.

'Zen Defensive Method of Pot Placement'

Next to the ‘North – South’ line is a deciduous Walnut tree which also provided some light shading but not too much. They appear to grow well like this than if I pretended they were in an orchard situation and spaced them apart individually. I do have a few larger plants in pots which are spaced well apart and they suffer a bit during the warmer weather but can be successful too.

Tangelo. Limequat and Cumquat in 20cm pots

I have not found much pruning necessary at all except for shaping and cutting back to encourage branching for the stronger growing lemons. Thinning of branches before the flowers emerge in spring appears to conserve energy and result in a better crop of well sized fruit.

So now you have enough information to grow your dwarf potted citrus to produce useful crops of full sized fruit to perfection in your own garden.

Growing Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruit in Melbourne

Growing Tropical and Sub-Tropical Fruit in Melbourne reported by Dennis Ting

In the Garden Centre we sometimes get in some of the more tropical and exotic fruiting plants like mangoes, custard apples, tropical guavas, avocadoes and coffee.

Many customers ask me if it is possible to grow these in suburban Melbourne and have any chance of getting fruit.

I have had feedback that ‘yes’ it is possible but the results will be variable and more care is needed than growing standard fruits like pip fruit, stone fruit or citrus.

As I have an interest in the rarer fruit myself I had the pleasure of visiting Mark in Mount Waverley who has a garden filled with exotic fruit trees and to investigate his methods and compare them to mine.

I think the first observation was that he made full use of the micro climates available in his garden by placing trees in the sheltered spots and ensuring tender plants were not exposed to the hot summer sun as for instance he grouped his avocados together in a corridor.

Avocado 'Reed', espaliered on north facing wall.

Mark also made use of fences and walls especially those facing north to espalier the Reed avocado and Pitaya vine. He created artificial shade by stretching shade cloth across the court yard for tender plants like the coffee.

Avocado with fruit.

Another method was to use pots filled with a good potting mix starting with 300 mm pots and moving up to 500 mm pots then to 100 litre and 200 litre woven bags for plants not to be planted out and a major advantage is it allows the plants to develop a root ball and provides good drainage / adequate watering all year.

This is similar to my method as it allows these tropical plants to acclimatise over some years and develop a strong root system.  

Also in times of inclement weather like excessive cold or heat the pots can be moved to more sheltered locations or more easily protected than if outside in the ground.

Mango, grown in a mound.

I noticed that for plants like avocados and mangoes to be planted in the ground he now planted on a raised mound and mulched heavily to avoid problems of root rot in his heavy clay soils and this seemed to be successful.

Mango 'Bowen' also known as 'Kensington Pride'

One method Mark was experimenting with was to increase the range of varieties he was growing so as an example he was obtaining other varieties of mango (Palmer & Nam Doc Mai) to try apart from the Bowen (Kensington) as there were some that were more cold tolerant and he was trying the Lamb-Hass (A) avocado to improve pollination in addition to the Bacon (B), Wurtz (A) and Reed (A) ones he had.

I was most impressed that Mark was producing his own coffee and we roasted some in a pop corn maker, ground them using a mortar and pestle and then did a Greek style pour over and I had to say it was a great cup of coffee to finish off my visit!!

Coffee plant with flowers and berries.

Growing Dwarf Citrus in Pots Part One

Pummelo

By Dennis Ting,

Growing dwarf citrus in pots is one of the most rewarding fruit growing endeavors, especially for those with limited space as you can provide ideal conditions for them by moving them around during the seasons.
Dwarf trees will produce full sized fruit as it is the tree that is dwarfed and not the fruit, although early on the fruit may be smaller as the tree establishes, but still full of flavour!
I have quite a collection myself and they include both the common types and also some of the more unusual too like pummelos, grape fruit, blood oranges and Japanese kumquats which may not be readily available and I am quite surprised by some of the tastes.


The real beauty of all citrus is their evergreen foliage, fragrant flowers and colourful fruit – yellow to red which you can take advantage of by moving your potted tree around.

The main difference between a standard citrus tree designed to grow in the ground and in pots and is the rootstock the tree is budded on to, with dwarf trees grafted on to Trifoliata – Flying Dragon rootstock.
These rootstock are slower growing than standard citrus rootstock, but more importantly are dormant during winter which allows the fruit to ripen but no un-seasonal leaf growth subject to cold and frost damage.
These dwarf the tree to between 1.5 to 2 metres if grown in the ground but even less if grown in a pot. Keep in mind that it is only the tree that is dwarfed and not the fruit which will be full sized once the tree matures. You can get a crop from the second or third year but please only leave a couple of fruit on as these dwarf trees need all the energy to grow to establish a framework in early years.

The first photo is of my oldest tree is a pummelo – ‘Flicks Yellow’ growing in a 500 mm pot and it is very happy here bearing sweet delicious tasty fruit every season (Photo 1).
Then there is the next photo showing young trees growing of Tahitian Lime, Eureka Lemon, Japanese Seedless Mandarin and Meyer Lemon all growing in 300 mm pots (Photo 2).

30 cm pots

So how do you start?

You will find a range of Dwarf Citrus available at Gardenworld either as the Pipqueak Range in 150 mm pots or larger trees in 200 mm pots as you can see in the two photos (Photo 3 & 4).

Pipsqueak Range

Mixture of available dwarf citrus

There is a good range available covering Eureka, Lisbon and Meyer lemons, Tahitian and Kaffir limes, Emperor, Imperial and Japanese Seedless mandarins (my favourite), Valencia and Washington Navel oranges etc.

Now let us talk about pots – never black please! These are fine for nursery stock but I think they heat up too much in a home garden situation.
All my pot grown fruit trees are in terracotta coloured plastic pots only. I would pot up a 150 mm Pipqueak tree into a 200 mm pot initially and a larger 200 mm tree into a 300 mm pot initially (Photo 5).

Photo 5

A bigger pot initially will not result in faster growth as the roots on the dwarf rootstocks tends to drown if planted in a big pot say 500 mm straight away.
I have found a better strategy is to start with a 300 mm then 400 mm and 500 mm to half wine barrel over a period of about five years or so re-potting in early spring each time.
You need to use a good quality Debco Terracotta and Tub Potting Mix as the trees will be living in this mix for life and cheaper ones tend to break down and become water logged (Photo 6).

Photo 6

After planting, water in with a good soaking of Seasol to get the roots working and mulch with a lucerne hay or similar, especially over the first summer to avoid the sun heating up the dark coloured potting mix (Photo 7).

Potted and ready to grow !

In Growing Dwarf Citrus in Pots Part Two I will outline my ’12 Month Seasonal Care and Maintenance’ including my ‘Zen Defensive Method of Pot Placement’ which has worked extremely well.

PART TWO – CLICK HERE

The big chill in my alternative food garden

An alternative winter food garden.

We have a Rare Fruit Specialist who works in the nursery on Saturdays. His name is Dennis and here are a few snaps of his winter garden following on from the previous winter, spring, summer and autumn blogs.

It is amazing what you can grow successfully in a suburban garden in Melbourne despite the hot and dry weather we have most summers due to normal relatively mild winters. However this winter it was a real doozzie of cold nights and frosts in last two weeks of June here for me something I had never experienced in over 10 years. The lowest recorded outdoor temperature was -2.7 c one morning in my garden which was the lowest I had ever seen. As you know from previous blogs I am a keen grower of the sub-tropical and exotic fruits so expected there to be some damage but there were also some pleasant surprises of survival too!

The effects clearly seen on soft leafed sub-tropicals with totally scorched leaves – tamarillos, babacos, black sapote (leaves and stems really black now) and three year old passion fruit wilted (gone). The tamarillo fruits were okay and all the fruit have ripened, babaco fruits should ripen in November and both are sprouting new leaves again. My ‘Podded’ and covered sub-tropicals – avocados, curry leaf tree and mango (surprisingly) show no or minor ill effects, the acerola cherry defoliated (looks okay) and three year old coffee blackened and gone (flowered last summer and had beans but takes no frost at all).  No terrible effect on citrus, cherimoya (cold climate custard apple), feijoas, jaboticabas, macadamias (flowers okay) and white sapote (despite leaves frozen solid).

Tamarillo with leaves totally burnt by frost.

Three year old Passion fruit vine may be dead.

Three year old Coffee totally blackened may be dead.

Jaboticaba showing reddening of leaves due to cold stress.

It is not all bad as there may be a plus side with great winter chill for all my pip and stone fruit and interspecific hybrid apricot / plum / nectarines?  So what is winter chill in basic and very simplistic terms? It is the number of hours below 7 c measured during the three main winter months of June, July and August required to set off flowering and blooming in many fruit trees. But it is not quite so simple as many factors affect chill units including the specific variety and whether a tree is in the sun or shade, wind etc. Then there are also other models that deduct from the chill units if the temperature rises above a certain level.

So here is a list of winter chill hours for some of the more common fruit trees that could be grown in Melbourne and I would like to highlight some.

 Almond 500-600

Apple 400-1000 (Low chill varieties are less)

Apricot 500-600

Japanese Pear 400-500

Blackberry 200-500

Blueberry (Northern High Bush – Deciduous) 800

Blueberry (Southern Low Bush – Evergreen) 300

Chestnut 400-500

Cherry 700-800

Citrus 0

Currant 800-1000

European Pear 600-800

European plum 800-900

Fig 100-200

Filbert 800

Gooseberry 800-1000

Grape 100+

Japanese Plum 300-500

Kiwi 600-800

Mulberry 400

Peach 600-800

Persimmon 200-400

Plum Cot 400

Pomegranate 100-200

Quince 300-500

Strawberry 200-300

Raspberries 700-800

Walnut 600-700

Apples have a wide range chilling requirement hours depending on the variety 400 to 1000 so choose the variety carefully. 

 Japanese Pears require only 400 – 500 while European Pears are 600 – 800 and therefore flower much earlier.

Japanese Plums require only 300 – 500 while European Plums are 800 – 900 and therefore flower earlier too.

There are a range of low-chill fruits like citrus, figs, mulberries and persimmons that do well in Melbourne.

 Some of the high-chill fruits like currants, European plum, European pear and even raspberries maybe more difficult in the bay side suburbs but would be fine in more inland and hill suburbs so careful selection may be required.

Josephine pear will it ever flower ???

If you are having trouble with getting good blossoming on your fruit trees then the lack of winter chill hours for your specific variety may be an issue and some years may be better than others. I have some five year old dwarf European pears of ’Josephine’ and ‘Beurre Hardy’ that have developed flower spurs but never actually open flowers in spring yet so I will be interested to see if the cold winter has helped. I have a five year old ‘family’ apple tree with five ‘Heritage’ varieties grafted on but one never blooms although it has fat flower buds in winter and they just turn into leaves!!

Apple tree with five varieties showing fat flower buds.

 I guess in conclusion a cold winter is great if you are trying to grow some of the high chill requirement deciduous fruit trees but a problem if you are trying to grow some of the tender evergreen sub-tropical and more exotic plants from warmer climates

An alternative late autumn food garden.

We have a rare fruit expert that works at the nursery on Saturdays. His name is Dennis and here are a few snaps of his autumn garden following on from the summer, spring and winter blogs.

It is amazing what you can grow successfully in a suburban garden in Melbourne despite the hot and dry weather we have had this summer and autumn stressing both plants and people. As I write this after a dry summer and autumn I had over 100 mm dumped over night here on May 31 / June 1!!!!!

Tamarillo or tree tomato

The first stop is the tamarillo which was the feature in the winter blog. The final crop last winter was over 200 fruits from the one tree and this year the crop is going to be the a bit smaller around 150 but the fruit larger due to a heavy spring pruning as the fruit can become smaller the weaker the branches are and the further out the fruit are hanging. They are colouring up nicely from green to red now before hanging in the tree like Christmas decorations. I have a new tamarillo recipe book to use the crop in many ways.

Persimmon Fuyu

The espaliered ‘Fuyu’ persimmon tree has held on to a good crop of fruit and they have just been picked. This is such a great tree for the home garden as the leaves colour up beautifully every year and are more reliable than Japanese maples in this way. Also no codling moth or other nasties to deal with. But be patient as it is not a fast grower.

White Sapote

The white sapote are nearly there although late this year so how do you tell they are getting ripe? You could ask the same thing about avocados too? With white sapotes a shine develops on the fruit which means it is ready to pick and bring inside where it will soften after a week.

Macadamia

The macadamias are progressing as expected and now about pea size. They mature much later down here than in northern NSW / south east QLD but my opinion is the longer time allows for slower oil and sugar accumulation so the nuts taste better when grown here!!!!!

Feijoa

The Feijoas have finally started to fall this year as it is usually early May and do not need to be picked – too easy. Being hard they do not bruise but when taken inside soften up to be eaten with a spoon. Make sure you buy a grafted tree of a ‘named’ variety like ‘Mammoth’, ‘White Goose’ etc which will reward you with large egg shaped fruit in two to three years time unlike seeding trees which take much longer and may not produce good fruit.

I love the dwarf ‘Japanese Seedless’ and ‘Satuma Okitsuwase Seedless’ mandarins I have growing in 300 mm pots. Have been eating them for over a month now and the flavour is so much superior to an ‘Imperial’ mandarin from the shops. More importantly even in a pot dwarf trees produce full sized fruits. Others dwarfs I have in similar sized pots include ‘Eureka Lemon’, ‘Meyer’ lemon’, ‘Tahitian’ lime, kumquat etc. which are all starting to colour up.

Mandarin

It is late May and the stone fruit ‘Mariposa Plum’ and interspecific hybrids have not lost their leaves yet and are totally green. I need to force dormancy by removing the leaves now otherwise in

Plums still with leaves

my opinion spring flowering will be affected.

 

Finally I will be experimenting with my sub-tropical tree ‘pod’ this winter and putting my potted sub-tropical trees in close proximity for mutual shelter. These include: mango (indoors last winter but see how it goes this year outside but may need to bring indoors again), avocados, acerola cherry, coffee, curry leaf tree etc. The idea is on nights expected to drop below 5 c to create a tent which will cover the trees and drain the cold air away. I will let you know how I get on in spring. More importantly if heavy rain is expected in the cold months is to cover the potting mix in the pots with plastic to avoid water-logging.

Communal winter grouping in the 'pod'

Gardenworld currently has good stocks of many sub-tropical and exotic fruit trees so come in and see what is available or speak to Dennis on Saturday’s for further information on which may be suitable for your garden.

An alternative late summer food garden.

By Dennis Ting – our rare fruit expert that works at the nursery on Saturdays. Here are a few snaps of his summer garden following on from the spring and winter blogs.

It is amazing what you can grow successfully in a suburban garden in Melbourne despite the hot and dry weather we have had this summer stressing both plants and people.

Tamarillo

The first stop is the tamarillo which was the feature in the winter blog. The final crop last winter was over 200 fruits from the one tree and this year the crop is going to be the a bit smaller but the fruit larger due to a heavy spring pruning as the fruit can become smaller the weaker the branches are and the further out the fruit are hanging.

Persimmon

The espaliered ‘Fuyu’ persimmon tree has held on to a good crop of fruit and at the end of summer they are about half size now.  They really begin to swell in autumn before changing colour in May.

Chinese Date

The Chinese date or Jujube trees are now starting to ripen the fruits.  They will ripen towards the end of April. They produce red fruit with lime green flesh that are crisp but dry and taste like apples or can be dried when the flesh turns brown and soft when they taste like dried dates.

The macadamias have held on to a good number of nuts this year despite some trees having a light flowering and the dry weather. Four different varieties and bees provided the essential cross pollination which ensured good nut set despite the low number of flowers.  The photo shows the nuts which are now about pea size and still swelling nicely.

White Sapote

The white sapotes have flowered and there appears to be a good fruit set this year. I appear to have solved my pollination problem as can be seen by the crop on the main fruiting variety ‘Vista’ which seems to like another fruiting variety ‘Pike’ to pollinate it rather than a standard pollinator like ‘Ortego’.  The photo is of the laden ‘Vista’ which usually only produced 6 – 12 fruit each year.

Carob Bean

The carob beans which were green in winter have ripened now to a dark brown and the new flowers can be seen developing on the branches too which will pollinate and develop into small beans during autumn.  Therefore you have ripe pods and flowers on the plant at the same time.

Coffee Bush

The coffee bush is flowering for the first time and I think there are some beans in there so I may be making my own coffee this winter! It is so slow growing and you need to get it through the first few years before it becomes a bit more hardy in our climate.  This is my third plant so it is not easy to do but being in a pot you can move it into a sheltered but well lit spot in winter!  Like most sub-tropicals I find it is easier to start them off in a pot for the first three years before even considering putting them in the ground which can be much colder in winter.   It is hard to grow sub-tropicals here that come from wet climates and do not enjoy the dry heat 40 c but then I think they are more adaptable than some moist temperate crops like raspberries, blueberries etc that get fried in the dry heat.

Jaboticaba

The prize possession of all is the Large Leaf jaboticaba or Brazilian Tree Grape which is fruiting now for the third time this season!  The Small Leaf form have only really started to crop this year with lighter crops of smaller fruit  (after 10 years when the Large Leaf started after 3 – 4 years).  Both these beauties produce several crops a year of grape sized black fruit on the trunk and they have white flesh which tastes like a combination of Grape, Lychee and Mangosteen.  My secret to eating them is to pull them off and make a slit at the stem end and suck out both the flesh and seed and swallow whole as the skin is bitter.  By far my favourite tree as it will be happy for life in a pot is so attractive in leaf, bark, unusual flowering and fruiting on stems and yummy fruit.

Cot N Candy

Two of the Flemings Inter-specific stone fruit trees cropped this year.  The ‘Spicezee’ nectarine x plum has cropped for the second time – tastes like a nectarine with a faint plum after taste.  Suffers from leaf curl in a wet spring like other peaches and nectarines though and affects the fruit too but can be controlled.  The ‘Cot N Candy’ fruited for the first time this year and was it fantastic!  Starts off tasting like an apricot then the sugar kick hits you which knocks you out!  The photo is of the ‘Cot N Candy’ showing the foliage similar to an Apricot.  I also have a Plum x Apricot cross but it has not flowered yet and will require cross pollination from another plum variety.  I think this one is similar to a Pluot which you can buy now at the supermarkets and are so yummy compared to standard plums with great sweetness.  All these Inter-specific stone fruit trees will be available in the nursery as bare root stock for planting from the middle of June.

Gardenworld currently has good stocks of many sub-tropical and exotic fruit trees so come in and see what is available or speak to Dennis on Saturday’s for further information on which may be suitable for your garden.

An alternative winter food garden.

It’s amazing what you can find to eat in a suburban winter garden.

We have a rare fruit tree expert that works at the nursery on Saturdays. His name is Dennis, and here are a few snaps of his winter suburban garden in Melbourne.

The first stop was the amazing Tamarillo tree down the side of his house in what seems like a really shady spot. It literally has over 100 ripe tamarillo in vibrant red. What a ripper !

tamarillo

The amazing tamaraillo tree

Walking back I spotted this beautifully espaliered persimmon tree. This type of growing makes great use of limited space.

Espaliered persimmon tree

right next to that was a big bushy macadamia nut tree. It was laden with fruit which Dennis said were a few months away from ripening. Definately something to look forward to. Not all nuts you buy are fresh, but these ones will be.

macadamia

Macadamia nuts ripening

Dennis has quite a small house block, but has learnt how to grow many plants in pots. He manages to fill in all the spaces. What was this next plant ? I had no idea. I think it is a vanilla bean plant, but will check with Dennis. I can however imagine him making a batch of vanilla bean ice cream. Vanilla is the second most valuable spice after saffron. UPDATE: Message from Dennis – They are not Vanilla Beans but Carob beans, seedling Carob trees are male or female but grafted trees of “Clifford” have both so will crop well at an early age.  Beans mature to perfection in Melbourne in summer.

carob bean

Carob Beans

OK, so there was some “normal” edibles like these lettuce growing from seeds and ready to transplant. This mixed non-heading lettuce can be grown all year round in Melbourne, but if you grow icebergs, make sure you choose the winter varieties for growing now.

Lettuce seedlings

Round to the front garden and here is some kaffir lime. These ugly looking fruit make great juice and of course the leaves are used extensively in Thai cooking. Both the leaf and the zest of the rind is used.

kaffir limes

Back to the more unusual, I see a babaco, which is a type of paw paw that you can grow in Melbourne. Next to it is a fairly inconspicuous green fruit which turns out to be a black sapote or chocolate pudding fruit as that is what the middle of the fruit is like. It is actually a type of persimmon native to the Americas.

A babaco is a type of paw paw

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Balck sapote or chocolate pudding fruit

Of course a visit would not be complete if we didn’t have a little snack once back inside. But first there was something new to learn. you can keep your mango tree inside over winter and it will grow quite happily. What a wonderful idea. I have seen a cafe do this with arabica coffee plants, but never anyone do it with a mango.

A happy little mango tree growing inside over winter

We first tried a pepino which looks a bit like an apple cucumber but tastes more like a melon. It is actually more closely related to the tomato and eggplant family (Solanum).  I liked it. It is apparently hard to transport, so you will never taste one as good as this if you ever see it in a fruit shop.

Next was a persimmon. Not sure where Dennis got this from as it seemed totally out of season. It still tasted good though. UPDATE from Dennis: The Persimmon was off the espaliered tree and of the “Fuyu” variety.  Great choice as it is Non-Astringent so can be eaten crisp like an apple or left to go soft like an Astringent variety.

This pepino was delicious

persimmon

The persimmon wasn't too bad either

To sum up, it is always a joy to pop in and see Dennis’ garden if I am ever in the area. He has a wealth of knowledge, including that gained from when he lived in New Zealand, which is probably an even more challenging environment to grow some of these plants in than Melbourne. Dennis will be ordering some more of the sub-tropical plants for the nursery once it warms up a bit. Now is not a good time to be planting some of these as young plants. You need to nurture and condition them to our cooler climate.

Come and have a chat to Dennis on most Saturdays, down at Gardenworld.

This last photo sums up his garden – a very efficient use of space !

Using a small space wisely

Using a small space wisely

Gardenworld has gone completely bananas !

Yes, thats right folks………….it’s almost christmas blah blah blah……….but that doesn’t mean we can’t go completely bananas down here at Gardenworld !

What, you say, down here in the “4 seasons in one day” capital of the world we’re gonna grow bananas in good old Melbourne town. Well yea, we’re gonna try.

Ok, so the only bananas I’ve ever eaten are the Cavendish and Lady Finger varieties from northern Australia -  a long way from Melbourne. I must say though that I did a farmstay once up at a place called Baffle Creek, about an hour north of Bundaberg. Every morning we ate a homegrown Lady Finger banana in yoghurt, and these were probably the tastiest bananas I have ever eaten (I was pretty caught up in the moment though).

I have heard of some wise old nurseryman who has successfully grown bananas and paw paws down here in Melbourne in a rather large glass house. He swears by the sun ripened fruit that we can’t possibly get from Queensland produce which is picked green so as to survive the arduous transport to our southern land.

Not only that, there is a younger wholesale nurseryman who’s team grows banana seedlings right here in Melbourne. He assures me it can be done. Yes a bunch of bananas can be achieved. Not only that, they offer 5 different varieties !

Varieties

Dwarf Cavendish – heavy crops of full sized, sweet bananas with a creamy texture.

Lady Finger – small bananas with a rich sweet flavour creamy texture and keep well.

Valery – heavy crops of high quality bananas – I don’t know much else yet.

Pisang Ceylan – small bananas with a sweet flavour and an agreeably acidic aftertaste. Keep well and also a creamy texture

Goldfinger – heavy crops of small bananas that have a delicious tangy flavour and also keep well. Great for fruit salads as the flesh does not turn brown when cut.

Growing

Choose a sunny spot. Think about a place where you have protection from the harsh cold winter southerlies and away from frosts – so maybe in front of a north facing wall with something substantial growing either side of it. They won’t like the harsh northlies we get in summer either, so don’t bother planting in a windy exposed spot.

Soil needs to be rich, well draining and worked over with plenty of organic matter such as compost and  aged manure – even chicken pellets like Attunga’s Organic Life or Yates Dynamic Lifter. Feed this hungry monster every 6 weeks. Roots will grow nearly a metre out, so don’t just put all the fertiliser at the base of the plant, and don’t overdose more than what the dosage recommends, or you will burn the roots.

One of the reasons I am having a crack at these, is that I have had an old in ground swimming pool converted to a water tank and have about 25000 litres to spare. Expect to use a lot of water and definately apply mulch, as this reduces evaporation and hence water use. Thats not say you overwater, as the plants hate wet feet. Keep moist, but not drowned. In summer, it would be benficial to wet the leaves of a young plant a few times a day. This helps emulate the humid conditions they would be getting in Innisfail. I  live close to the coast down here and feel that the conditions will be much more conducive than say frosty Ballarat ! Be realistic.

Remove dead leaves regularly. Suckers will appear from the base of the main stem. Retain only the strongest, usually the first one. This will be the future one, as after the main plant is harvested, we will machete it down jungle style.

It will take 2 or 3 summers until fruit appears. I am currently on my second summer and nothing is yet evident. The retained sucker that becomes the next phase of the plant will itself have a sucker and so the life of the thing just rolls on. This continues indefinately until the plant has moved so far away from where you started, that it may have to be replanted, so it doesn’t end up halfway down the street – like attack of the killer banana plants !

The fruit is ready to be harvested once the bananas lose their ridges, become more rounded, and when the black withered remains of the flowers at the end of the bananas are dry and crumbly – if you haven’t already cut this bit off.

To make the bunch last, just cut off a hand and put it in a paper bag with a ripe banana. Otherwise harvest the whole lot and impress a whole lot of your friends, or get out the dehydrater, dry them, and impress your friends even more. Or drop them over to my house, or,  just eat too many of them and get a pain in the tummy.

If you’ve got this far and are still ready – don’t you see – I have gone completely bananas ! You can too, as for the next couple of months we will be stocking these plants, down here at Gardenworld. For more expert advice, checkout these guys from Blue Sky. They should know, their Queenslanders ! Also check out this link at Daleys forum including some Melbourne growers.

 

Walnut trees now available.

By James Wall with Dennis Ting.

Walnut trees are not a big seller but we do like them here at Gardenworld. I can recall watching the Tour de France and seeing Gabriel Gate’ wandering through a very old plantation, and of course there was our famous blog story by one of our staff Dennis Ting who has one large tree growing in suburban Melbourne. He successfully used curtain lace to hide the nuts from the cockatoos.

Dennis has now sourced some walnut trees from Walnuts Australia Nursery in Tasmania who have developed orchards in north eastern Tasmania and Riverina totalling 600,000 trees. They have trialed many varieties of walnuts from Europe – France, Italy, Spain and the United States – newly developed Californian varieties resulting from active breeding programs.

walnut tree

What a beautiful root system

We at Gardenworld have selected two Californian walnut Varieties – “Chandler” and “Howard” to offer to customers for the following reasons:

Late leafing out with warmer and drier weather (Oct – Nov) so reduces risk of the major disease “Walnut Blight” infecting the tree on early leafing out cultivars.

Lateral bearing so many lateral buds on a shoot have flower buds and not just the terminal bud on older varieties so increased yield.

More compact size as used in hedge rowing in commercial orchards to 4 metres tall and mechanically pruned so can be regularly pruned without any ill effects.

Self pollinating as the tree ages (3 – 4 years) so only one tree is required to set a full crop while older varieties definately required two or more trees.

Heavy regular crops as a locally grown “Chandler” tree set 10 kg of nuts at 10 years of age.
Difference between Chandler and Howard not much except Howard nuts may be slightly larger.

These trees were harvested bare-root, wrapped in hessian, put on a boat and sent to Port Melbourne. We picked them up from there, potted them in 300mm pots and offer them for $85. When you think of their journey, I think you will agree they are of very good value. We don’t make much on these, but then, we do love our walnuts.

Hydroponics Made Easy – the Autopot System.

New Book Release: Hydroponics Made Easy, by Jim Fah.

By James Wall.

Jim Fah is a legend here at Gardenworld. He is the inventor of a very special system called Autopot. This system has a smart valve that ensures singular plants in their individual containers dictate when they get their supply of water according to their needs.

Jim has spent well over 20 years developing and improving his system. The system is being used commercially around the world, including Malaysia where they grow these bright yellow melons (Kuning Jati) in no growing media at all. Each crop takes 65 days and they are producing 2.5 tonnes of fruit a week.


Another project included a wall of plants along the Flemington Racecourse horse track. At one stage more than 1000 Purple Craze petunias were being watered from one pump. My experiences with planting our spreading petunias around here at Gardenworld has been a maintenance free system that ensures months of spectacular blooms. It is something we are famous for over summer, and because the flowers don’t get wet by this system, they last for many months longer than an overhead watering system.

Jim has also had to contend with copy cats, including a trusted former distributor who has even copied the Autopot name. Sure there are patents and potential legal avenues, but this can come at a great cost. Jim is focussing on developing the technology further, so the copy cats will never be up with the latest design.

It is with pleasure that I have just received a copy of Jim’s latest book. It is called Hydroponics Made Easy. It is actually the 3rd edition of his original book, but the 2nd edition came out over ten years ago, and a lot a developments have been made since then. As well as providing plenty of information about the Autopot System, you will also learn a lot about Hydroponics in general. There is also an interesting chapter on starting plants from seeds and cuttings.

The colourful book is 111 pages and is on sale for just $15 at both the nursery and the Hydroponics shop here at Gardenworld. It is also available online from gardenshop.com.au with a $6.95 freight charge Australia wide.

What I like about this book is that you get an honest appraisal from the author of his own system as well as a wealth of information of tried and true fertiliser requirements of various crops. Following the instructions of this book, both backyard growers and commercial producers should have bumper crops of quality fruit and vegetables.

 

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