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In the Garden
Get down and dirty in the garden

Homemade Herbal Liquid Feed

Liquid feed is the weekly tonic your hard working food garden needs, like a Berocca for your plants! It’s super easy to make and homemade is just as good if not better than bought because it’s fresh + plastic bottle free. Make a fresh batch each month for regular supply.


Get Setup

You need 2 buckets - one bucket with holes in the bottom that will neatly sit inside another bucket that has no holes, like a steamer in a pot, so liquid can drip through from the top bucket to the bottom one.

Choose a spot in the semi shade — a bit of gentle morning or afternoon sun is good and somewhere very little rain penetrates. I tuck my liquid feed buckets under a dense evergreen Michelia Figo tree.

You also need a weight to sit on top of the buckets – stones or bricks are perfect for this.

Fill the Bucket


Fill your top bucket with herbs. I use comfrey for the bulk of my mixture. It’s rich in potassium, just what fruiting plants need. You can use a mixture of whatever nutrient dense herbs you have – dandelion, stinging nettle, chamomile, lemon balm, yarrow, echinacea, borage, tansy — as long as the plants are lush, green and spray free.

Pack the bucket to the brim and place it inside the bottom bucket.


Put stones or bricks on the herbs.


Cover it to keep the bugs out but let some air in. This hessian hat works really well.

And that's it!

Brew + Use   

Leave it alone to brew for about 6 weeks. You’ll be stoked to know this is completely pong-free.


It’s ready when 99% of the raw ingredients have turned to black sludge and there’s a lovely puddle of black goodness in the bottom. From this 30 litre tub of herbs I get about 2 to 3 litres of concentrate.

Recycle the rotten herbs as mulch under some deserving, fruit-producing plants or add them to your compost heap.

Get the best out of your concentrate by using it all up in one go, as soon as it’s ready. If you need to wait a bit, store it in the shade.

Dilute 1:10 or 1:20 — somewhere in that range, in a back pack sprayer or a watering can. Spray/ pour all over the soil and foliage weekly and watch your garden flourish!

The Spring Veggie Patch, A Handy Tool + Spuds in Buckets


What to Sow and Plant in Early Spring

Take your vegetable garden next level and check your soil temperature before planting or sowing anything this spring. Nature is finely tuned to temperature, and the closer we can match our plants to the right soil temp. the better our crops. At this mo the soil in my veggie patch is 11 degrees C. Here’s what I can plant and sow.

Plant out celery, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, silverbeet, parsley, salads, onions, leeks, potatoes.

Direct sow carrots, kohlrabi, turnip, parsnip, rocket, chicory, endive, spinach, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, bok choy, kale, snopeas, peas, broadbeans, fennel, dill, coriander, shallots, spring onions.

Tray sow celeriac, salads, silverbeet, parsley, chervil.

Companion flowers: Direct, or tray sow, or plant as many as you can cram in! Calendula, cornflower, poppy, nasturtium, borage, sweet pea, viola, larkspur or hollyhock.


Early Spring Greenhouse

Tray sow greenhouse crops like tomato, chilli, pepper, aubergine, zucchini, cucumber, melon. Use a heatpad/hot water cupboard or cozy fireside spot to keep your seed raising tray at 20 degrees C.

If you don’t have a greenhouse and live somewhere cool, don’t rush into summer crops—patience grasshopper! Heat lovers need to be planted when it’s hot. I plant outside tomatoes once the soil is 18 degrees C and the nights are 13 degrees C. Growing crops in the right soil/ air temperature means less stress + less pests + more crops = happy gardener!


Direct sow dwarf beans, salads, beetroot, courgette. The bonus of a greenhouse are these  early crops. I won’t be sowing outside beans until the soil is 15 degrees C.

Begin kumara shoots.

New Potatoes for Christmas


Having spent a good portion of my life coaxing vegetables from soil, I’m weather wary. Between now and the arrival of summer there will be days for shorts, days for raincoats, and days for beanies. I’m cautious with the planting out of tender crops like potatoes.

So my first lot of spuds go into buckets, a great use for cracked or broken buckets. Sacks are another good option.

Choose fast growers like Rocket, Swift, Liseta or even Cliff Kidney.

Make holes in the bottom for drainage and line with about 10cm of compost. Homemade compost is best because it’s not rich and fine like bought stuff. If you are using bought stuff, bring air with pumice, rotten sawdust or good soil.

Lay your seed potato in (one per 10litre bucket), on top of a few bits of seaweed if you’re lucky enough to be seaside. Top the bucket up with compost, straw, or old hay—or a mix of the above—to bury the spud, and you’re off!

Move the bucket among shrubs when the weather warms up. Keep the soil cool but leave the tops in the light.

Spuds in buckets aren’t as productive as in the ground, but it means those of us on cold/wet ground can have Christmas potatoes. I’ll do another lot of spuds in a few weeks time – in buckets if the soils still cold, or in the ground if things have warmed up. Little and often plantings, make for little and often harvests—achievable, and so very useful.

What to Plant in the Winter Garden

A journalist once asked me “Whats the best time of year to start a garden?, and I said “Anytime!” There is not one food growing season, there are four!”

Let’s take a look at what to plant in your veggie patch in winter. I encourage you to take this leap into year round gardening to bring homegrown vegetables - the best of all food! - to your table everyday. Such a thrill! And for the triumph you feel, when though its cold and wet you went out and got on with it!


Leave Wet, Heavy Soil Alone

If you are on wet, heavy and therefore cold soil your winter garden will be best in pots. Over time the addition of organic matter, gypsum and mulch will transform the glug into the free draining humus heaven you need for year round planting. For now though, the best thing you can do is mulch soggy soils and leave them alone until they dry out again.

Learn Your Place

Understanding your unique growing environment is essential. There is a lot of advice out there and not all of it is going to apply to your patch. The only way you learn your garden’s limits are by mucking in and doing it! This here is what I can plant in winter. Tweak it to suit your place and your palate.

Winter Vegetables to Plant or Sow


  • Plant broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage for late spring harvest.
  • Plant bok choy or kale for late winter harvest.


  • Plant garlic, shallots, spring onions and onions for summer harvest.
  • Plant globe artichokes for spring harvest.
  • Plant asparagus crowns for future springs (about 3 years before you can harvest, but oh so worth it)


  • Direct sow legume greencrops, as heavy feeders like broccoli come to an end. (Now you’re really thinking like a food gardener – preparing your ground for future crops.)
  • Direct or tray sow rocket, mesclun, miners lettuce, corn salad, spinach, raddichio, sno-peas, peas and broadbeans for spring/ summer harvest.
  • Direct sow parsnip, radish, kohlrabi, swede or turnips.
  • Direct sow a mustard greencrop, after greenhouse tomatoes and peppers to cleanse the soil.

Plant Salad Greens Under Cover


Keep fresh leafy salad reens coming on through winter in the greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse, fake up a bit of warmth - be creative! Make a cloche with a sheet of plastic, rig up an old window or car windscreen or plant into pots tucked close to the house on the sunny side. Do whatever you can to warm the air and soil.  

Good Things Take Time


It’s important you understand the truth of how long from seedling to harvest. Good things take time. In the matter of a broccoli you’re looking at 3 months, a lettuce 6 weeks, garlic 6 months. Add some frosty cold weather and everything slows, almost grinding to a halt. So when I say planting the winter garden – it’s just that – planting. The food you’re harvesting now was thoughtfully planted in autumn.

How to Plant and Prune New Fruit Trees


Deciduous fruit tree planting time is here! Before you get planting, be sure of the best spot and appropriate spacings.


  • Dig a 20 litre hole
  • Open clay soil by puncturing the bottom of the hole with your garden fork.
  • Hold sandy soil by lining the bottom of your hole with wet newspaper
  • Mix the excavated soil 50/50 with compost.


Soak potted trees in a bucket of water until bubbles no longer appear. Remove the stake and tape – these are pot support only. Slit the bag open and lightly tease out the roots. Trim overlong ones back to match the others.  

Plant bare-rooted trees right away. Create a hump of soil in the hole for the roots to rest on and sit the tree on the hump. Trim any roots that are too long roots for the hole.

  • Position the tree in the hole, so it’s standing straight. Ensure the graft is above the soil line.
  • Backfill with the soil mix. Use your fingers to push the soil in firmly around the roots.
  • Give the tree a tug to be sure it’s well planted.


Drive a robust stake into the ground about 20cm away from the trunk on the windward side. Affix the tree to the stake with soft stocking tie – firmly, not rigidly. Allow a bit of freedom to move to stimulate root development. More roots = the ability to source a wide range of nutrient and support giving it the best shot at being drought proof, wind proof and heavy crop proof. Remove the stake when the tree’s holding its own after 2/3 years.

Trees on dwarf rootstocks need permanent stakes, which is why I prefer a bigger rootstock – independence is a character I do so admire.

Feed + Water


  • Spread a little compost on top, add a full spectrum mineral fertiliser plus a handful of gypsum.
  • Water gently until the soil is barely moist.
  • Liquid feed with seaweed.
  • Lay cardboard and spread mixed woody mulch on top.

Remove the label!

A plant label is a strangle hold moment if left wrapped about the trunk. Whip it off and attach it to the stake or tie until you sketch it onto your plan.



Cut your tree at hip height or about 1m, above a bud. I know you’ll find this hard, but this easy, simple cut is what is going to have your tree be reachable, compact and full of fruit in a small space. So go on – be brave. If your tree is close to this height already – just leave it be.

Remove any branches. The new ones that grow over summer will all be of the same age and have good balance.

You find this scary because you think this is the end, but my friends – it’s just the beginning! The first scaffold of branches and the leader will spring from this point for a nice low centre of gravity. Trust me here.

For more help on how to train and prune your fruit trees – check out my pruning book.

Brighten Your Home with a Holiday Cactus

The schlumbergea is a small family of cacti found on trees in the Brazilian rainforests. They grow in pockets of leaf debris where there is a split in the tree branches. These flowering epiphytes have thin flat green segments that can spread 12 feet. This plant is easy to grow indoors and will live for many years.

Blooming Holiday Cactus
Photo By Desiree Bell

Three years ago, my mother gave me a cactus start that she propagated from her plant, which is 20 years old. Her cactus was a cutting from her mothers' plant that was many years old. The schlumbergea can easily be propagated by twisting off two or three connected segments. Allow the moist end to dry for a few hours then plant in a small pot filled with sandy type soil.

Researching I discovered that the cactus past down to me is a Thanksgiving Cactus. The Thanksgiving Cactus, schlumbergera truncate, has pointy edged leaves and tends to bloom in November. The Christmas Cactus, schlumbergra x buckley, has more rounded edges on the leaf stem and blooms in December. 

Budding Holiday Cactus
Photo By Desiree Bell

Place in medium light as to much sun causes the stems to take on a reddish color, and low light levels will prevent flowering. Fertilize throughout the spring and summer months. Darkness in the autumn season for at least 12 hours is necessary to induce bud formation. The cactus's flowers are not symmetrical in shape; they have different right and left halves and come in a variety of colors.  

Give a holiday cactus as a gift this season and enclose this downloadable word search about the plant.  

A Quick and Easy Autumn Compost


There’s heaps of stuff begging to be composted in Autumn — finished crops and spent flowers abound! Because homemade compost is the best, take 15 minutes and turn all your garden waste into gardeners gold with one of my quick and easy, no turn compost piles.

Little and Often

My composts piles are small — 1m x 1m, and quickly put together. If you make 1 or 2 a month you'll have a regular supply of your own compost. Perfectly matched to little and often planting in the veggie patch.  

Free Range Compost Piles


A pile of organic matter draws worms and a multitude of beneficial soil life, so it makes sense to position compost piles carefully and reap the benefits. Around the edge of the veggie patch is smart because the boom in soil life benefits the veggie garden. Directly on top of a veggie bed saves double handling — simply spread it out when it’s ready. Here’s how I use my compost piles.   

  • Make compost directly on the bed before a heavy feeder. Spread it out when it’s ready.
  • Make an Autumn compost as the best beginning for a spring bed.
  • A compost pile is a great start for a fruit tree. Lay wet newspaper/ cardboard on the grass and make a pile on top. Let it rot down before planting.
  • Make a compost pile in Autumn direct on the potato bed or in Spring on the pumpkin bed
  • Revive a tired garden bed with a compost pile.

My Quick and Easy Compost


Gather all your ingredients via a garden tidy up. Wander the garden with the wheelbarrow collecting friendly weeds, spent crops and prunings from rambunctious plants that have over stepped their space. Chop or break everything into 20cm bits, putting them in the wheelbarrow as you go. Include plenty of prunings from mineral rich herbs like yarrow and parsley, and soft stalky plants like borage or dandelion to bring air to the mix. You’ll need a very full (as in barely able to see over it) wheelbarrow load. 

Tip the barrow out and spread into a single layer beside where the pile will be.

Sprinkle over activator (herbs, seaweed, manure) to get the microbes excited, and spray lightly with the hose.

Toss all together.


Layer it up into a square pile, a minimum of 1mx1m.

Pour a bucket of liquid feed over.

Cover completely with sacks, carpet, old blankets — whatever you have to hand.

That’s it! Done! No turning required and lovely compost in about 4 months time.   


The Microbes Are Key

The real work of composting is done by microbes. The better a job we do of enticing them into our compost pile, the better our compost is. Here’s what they need

  • air (soft, stalky stuff + a bit of dry stuff)
  • a variety of herbs and plant waste
  • a scattering of activator (herbs, seaweed, rotten manure)
  • to be barely moist (neither wet nor dry)

There’s no need to stress about the ratio of dry, brown matter to fresh greens. Turns out garden waste has exactly the right carbon: nitrogen ration of 25:1 that microbes need.  

How to Sow a Greencrop


Keeping the veggie patch fertile is an exercise in give and take - we give fertility, we get to take veggies. Give more than we take and our soil will keep churning out our dinner. The thing is, buying in fertility is costly and comes with too many plastic bags and bottles. My solution to keep the bills low and soil health high, is to recycle all your garden waste and regularly sow greencrops.

Closed Loop Gardening 


The more we return what we grow, the less we need to buy in. Close the loop by making compost or mulch with our garden waste or chop and drop older leaves and the bits we don’t use like tops from root crops, back onto the soil as mulch. These all go some way to compensating our soil for the carbs that we take for our table.

A greencrop is the only crop that goes all the way—100% of it is returned and recharges our hard working soils. A bag of seed + 10 minutes effort and winter fertility is secured—my kind of gardening!

An autumn sown greencrop nourishes and protects soil through the wet, cold season, provides overwintering for beneficial insects and chokes out weeds for the ultimate head start on spring plantings. 

To rest the garden over winter, pick a long term grain and legume combo like peas and oats or rye and vetch, or pave the way for winter brassica plantings in the best way possible with a quick turn-around lupin.

Get Ready to Sow


First up we must ready our ground. The main thing is there are no weeds about – ironing is not required. I hate to sound pious, but as long you’ve kept up with your little and often weeding, this only takes a few minutes. Sow your greencrop immediately after harvest so soil isn’t left bare and vulnerable.



Scatter sow the seed over top of the soil. Be generous—we want our greencrop to be a wild thicket.

Good soil contact makes a difference. Give it a reassuring pat with your hands or tamp it down with the flat end of your rake to connect it well with its new home. If your soil is dry then water it until it’s perfectly moist. 


A lovely layer of mulch is all you need now. Sprinkle it on top of the seed in a thickness that disappears the seed from sight, same as you’d do were you covering it with soil. Bear in mind if its freshly harvested like my home made mulch, it’ll shrink pretty smartly.


This beautiful mulch is buckwheat, yarrow, meadowsweet, parsley and dandelion, and took me all of five minutes to collect from my herbal border. Free, 100% organic and bursting with nutrients – the Queen of all mulches.

Birds don’t eat lupin seed so there’s no need to net if lupins are what you are sowing. If you’re sowing wheat or oats you’d be wise to.

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