About Backyard Habitat

One of the programs, the Backyard Habitat Certification, honours and celebrates those who have created a diverse backyard habitat with different types of landscaping, water sources, gardens and trees that provide food or habitat for bees, butterflies, bats, birds, and frogs and humans. Dave and Lillian had the honor of being awarded this certification for their Grand Forks home. “When we purchased that double corner lot, it had been a rental for a long time. When we looked into the history of the property we learned that many years ago it belonged to a back yard mechanic and before that it had been the site of a repair yard for the railway that used to exist there at the turn of the century. Because of this, the earth was compact, rocky, heavy clay and what little greenery that survived there was mostly weeds.” Dave explains.
After putting in so much time and passion into that property it was difficult to leave it when it was reaching maturity and the peak of its beauty. However it was important for them to follow their dream and move to Creston. ” Did you know”, Dave asks, “that landscaping can add 15% or more to the value of your home? We only had a few people look at the place because of the ambiance our gardens brought to the home, and the certification was also a selling feature.”

“Using what we learned from the last place – we started from scratch, but with a better plan this time. Because this property did not have toxins in the soil, we were able to use the earth and sod removed from landscaping projects to layer into our 3-bin compost system. Our focus was to build good soil before we did anything else.” Lillian explains. “We’ve been here 7 years now and the place has become our own little park. It has been a great reward to receive 4 different certifications for our efforts.”

Landscaping surrounds their home, including 11 shrubs, 11 trees, hundreds of perennial bulbs, a few vines, dozens of berries, perennial flowers and herbs. 9 raised beds compliment their growing space along with 4 water features. Because loose seed is messy, the Brummets opted for putting 2 suet blocks in the largest evergreen tree for the birds and squirrels to enjoy.

“The group at CDSCL here in Creston make great bird and bat homes out of wood, we plan on getting a few this year and perhaps a butterfly house too.” Dave tells us.
The home has become a stunning park – quiet, peaceful with a feeling of privacy, which entices the couple and their 2 dogs to spend more time outside. They are often dog sitting for others and the fur-children love playing and sniffing around all the greenery and then seeking out shade for a rest or meeting up on the flower-pot covered deck for a deserved break.

Having created habitat at both properties the Brummets have come to see gardening as more than a healthy hobby because it makes a real difference in the world. “We noticed increasing numbers and diversity of birds, butterflies and insects. Frogs and dragonflies abruptly appear, bringing delight into our day, and we always have something in the freezer and pantry from the garden harvests. We saw energy costs lower simply due to increased shade and less dust. It is important to note that the plants we’ve put in so far will help mitigate global warming – currently absorbing more than 1875 kg of pollution and releasing enough oxygen for 25 people every single year. Just wait until they are mature! The property is noticeably cooler – during the peak summer months, pedestrians often pause to enjoy the shade and watch the butterflies”, Lillian shares with a smile.
Dave explains further, “We know that creating bio-diverse yards not only increases property value and so reduces energy costs and dust – but it also reduces noise and gives us a little more privacy. Becoming certified with any organization is a great way to help out, they use the funds raised in these programs to help run a wide variety of services. At the time of registering the property, it is a great opportunity to add a tax-deductible donation. The signs are durable, and they can be installed easily on a fence panel under cover if you desire. They enable visitors, and anyone passing by, to notice the sign, think about what it means, and that might just inspire them to do something similar to their green spaces. The signs make for excellent conversation starters for anyone visiting the property. They help our image, re: our business. And finally – they also make the property seem special, unique, which is important when it comes to selling.”

About Cultivate Cranberries

Cultivating cranberries in the garden is remarkably straight forward, in the open sunny locations either in the ground or in containers, but crops are most successful when a special planting pit is created. In a well drained part of the garden, excavate a pit 30cm deep and 1m square. Line the sides and base with a polythene sheet, perforated to allow excess water to drain out. Line the base with granite stone chippings (avoid replacing these with alkaline gravel as this will increase the pH). Place a permeable weed membrane over the gravel before backfilling the space with ericaceous compost. A bed of 1m square will be sufficient size, at least initially, to accommodate three young container grown plants.

As a stoloniferous it is important to provide good surface rooting conditions around the base of the plant, this is best achieved by mulching the entire bed with 2cm of washed, lime-free, sharp sand. This fine layer will also assist moisture retention in the compost below. Water well throughout the season to get plants established, especially in spring and early summer as growth, flowers and fruiting is initiated. This is best done with rain water unless you are sure tap water is sufficiently acidic. Fruiting will begin in the first year, but achieve good levels by the third at which time it is worth trimming the plants to avoid congestion. After fruit picking in autumn, shear the tops down by up to one third, trim to maintain plants within the allotted bed and if necessary, prune out the older, woody stems just above ground level to maintain a carpet of fresh stems and foliage.

Maintaining acidity of the soil is the key to success, so annually apply a top dressing of ericaceous compost and then reapply the sand mulch. It is also worth deploying a sprinkling of Flowers of Sulphur, a sulphur soil

conditioner so-called as the crystals appear like inflorescences under a microscope. Apply in spring mixed with the top dressing compost for best results.

Ways to Involve Kids in Yard Work

Plant a Garden

Planting a garden is an activity that will get your whole family involved. This outdoor chore gives you the opportunity to teach your children the benefits of yard work as you work together to create a tasty harvest.

Before planting the garden let the children help you decide what produce to plant. This can help increase their excitement. While planting or taking care of your garden, keep a small area free from vegetation and let your little ones play in the dirt with shovels. Young children can also help water the garden throughout the year. When the produce is ripe the kids will be able to see and taste all the benefits of maintaining a garden. So don’t forget to get the family involved when it is time to harvest!

Water Helpers

Kids of all ages love to play with water, which makes watering plants a perfect outdoor chore for children. Let them fill buckets of water and water your garden, potted plants, trees, and other greenery around the yard. You can also let them help you wash and rinse your car. Watering is a chore that will most likely keep their attention for a while so you can conquer the tougher outdoor chores without much interruption.

Teach Them to Mow

Have you considered giving up the mowing responsibilities to your children? Older children can learn to properly and safely mow the lawn. This will save you time, hassle, and energy in the long run. The age at which you let your child mow will depend on how confident you feel in their abilities to mow safely. Younger children can help clear hoses, yard toys, and other items from the lawn before mowing begins.

Don’t have older children to help you mow? You can begin teaching them while they are young. Talk to your younger children about how the lawn mower works, how to add gas, and how to start the mower. You can provide a toy mower for younger children to keep them busy while you mow the grass. Chances are they will mimic what you do and begin to have an understanding for how the process works.

Sweeping & Wiping

Children can sweep grass clippings off walkways and the driveway so it doesn’t get tracked indoors. They can also sweep off the patio deck to remove dirt, grass, leaves, and other debris. Another way to get children involved with yard chores is to let them spray down patio furniture and play equipment with a hose or spray bottle and wipe them clean and dry.

Essential Gardening Tasks for Summer

July

  • As June rolls into July, much of the gardening work will roll over too – including the deadheading of bedding plants and repeat-flowering perennials. By continuing to deadhead plants in July, you’ll help to ensure continuous flowering to provide your garden with a wall of colour.
  • Prune summer blooming shrubs, once they’ve stopped flowering, making sure to remove any dead or diseased branches. Carrying out such a task will help to ensure the shrubs maintain a healthy growth as the year progresses. [source: The Garden Helper]
  • It isn’t just jobs which have rolled over which will need to be carried out in the garden during July, you should also be using the month to plant autumn flowering bulbs to ensure come the new season your garden is greeted with new colour.
  • Provide woodwork in your garden with a fresh coat of paint. Not only can this help protect the woodwork from the elements, but it will also add a new lease of life and additional colour to your garden – with minimal work being required. [source: RHS]

August

  • Check your mulch hasn’t decomposed, if it has add more and continue to check throughout the month to ensure you keep on top of it. [source: About.com]
  • Collect seeds from your favourite plants, ready to start growing them during autumn and winter so you can enjoy them again next summer.
  • If you’ve been growing fruit in your garden (or at an allotment) August is the time to prune restricted fruits, cut out old fruited canes on raspberries and lift / pop-up rooted strawberry runners. [source: RHS]
  • With August traditionally being one of the hottest months of the year, when cutting the lawn you’ll need to take extra care. It’s recommended to check your mower’s blade for any imperfections – and sharpen / replace your lawnmower blade if necessary. You should also raise the height of the blade so you’re only taking a little off the grass with each cut, this will help protect your lawn from drought damage.
  • Continue to tackle weeds throughout your flowerbeds, patios and pathways. By tackling these little and often you’ll be able to help your garden remain in top condition. However, it’s recommended to avoid using chemical weed killers as these can have an adverse effect on your plants, shrubs and lawn. [source: Wyevale Garden Centres]
  • During the month you’ll need to make sure you’re regularly watering and feeding your plants, especially those in hanging baskets and pots. If you’re taking your annual summer holiday during August don’t neglect your garden -ask a friend / neighbour to water it whilst you’re away.

Keeping on top of your garden throughout the summer and carrying out the tasks mentioned above little and often, will help to ensure your garden continues to bloom and provides you with an oasis to relax and unwind in.

 

Cardinal Rules of Culinary Gardens

  1. Location, location, location: Close to the kitchen, not to close for aesthetics. You want your culinary garden to be close enough to cut quickly. But remember, you’ll be cutting your herbs often, so the plants might not be the prettiest. If it will bother you to have cut-back plants as your first view out the door, rethink placement.
  2. Shoot for the sun: By and large, herbs hanker for the sun. Choosing a sunny locale gives you the best chance for overall success with your culinary garden. Added to that, they just taste better, with more nutrients and richer colors that add up to better flavor.
  3. Flowers begone!: When herbs flower, their leaves tend to grow bitter. After that it’s unlikely to go back to producing leaves. The best strategy? Every four to six weeks in season, plant new plants.
  4. Prune your evergreens: Sage, thyme, rosemary… these are the evergreen herbs, and as such they’ll need care and attention. If you aren’t cutting them regularly, you’ll notice branches that appear dead or dormant. Prune them at least once a year (spring or fall).
  5. Beware the mint!: If you insist on mint, whatever you do, don’t put it in the garden. Contain it in the pot of your choice, and keep it there. Invasive beyond a fault, mint will spread vigorously, choking out anything in its path. Space plants at least 12 to 18 inches apart.
  6. Wondering what to include in your culinary garden? A few of our favorites (three or four plants of each should do it, except bigger woody plants like rosemary-one can produce for years):
  • Oregano – a staple in pastas, pizzas and stews
  • Nasturtium – flowers and leaves alike add a peppery kick to salads and other dishes
  • Basil – sweet or lettuce leaf, vital for pestos and versatile enough to do double duty
  • Argula – the mother of mixed greens, bringing flavor and spice to salads
  • Sweet marjoram – a tasty take on Greek oregano and an excellent accent in soups, eggs and butters

Garden As Spring Begins

Poinsettiasmay still be showing some colour, so leave those until October if you prefer. Also cut back shrubs like acalypha, plumbago and hibiscus, before new growth starts with the onset of hot weather. Fertilise and mulch after pruning to set them up for the summer. Be sure to use a low-phosphorus formulation for sensitive natives such as grevilleas and banksias. If you have spring-flowering annuals in, keep up the water and give them a quick boost with a soluble fertiliser to keep them going as long as possible. Remove spent flowers to encourage the formation of new ones.

In the vegetable garden September is a peak planting month in South East Queensland, if you want to capitalise on the relatively mild conditions of Spring and early Summer to produce a wide variety of vegetable crops. Things will be more difficult when the punishing Summer weather really arrives. Solanaceous crops, such as tomatoes, eggplant, capsicums, tamarillo. Cucurbits, like, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, rockmelons. The choko is an unusual member of this family, but can be planted at this time, too. Also, try carrots, lettuce, radishes, beetroot, silverbeet, beans, and cucurbits. If you still have space, you can also begin sowings of heat lovers like rosella, okra, snakebeans and sweetcorn.

With the weather warming up, cabbages will be very susceptible to caterpillar attack. If you still want to plant them, be prepared to take precautions. Pests and diseases in general will be proliferating. Keeping on the front foot both with respect to prevention and control measures, as well as attending to the health and vigour of the plants themselves so that they can resist and outgrow attacks, will help protect the investment of time and energy you’ve already made in establishing crops.

It’s tempting to get carried away when confronted with the variety of seeds and seedlings available in the garden centres, much less the many unusual varieties in the catalogues of specialist suppliers. Most vegetables need a constant supply of moisture to do well so do bear in mind your ability to keep the water up to plantings over the coming months.

Pest control is also a major problem during the warm months. Try to minimise population build-ups by being vigilant now newly hatched pests or isolated attacks may be difficult to spot, but if you control infestations early you can help reduce more serious damage later on. For example, protect young tomatoes and other susceptible fruit from fruit fly with appropriate bags or nets and set up fruit fly traps.

Tips for Spring Foraging

Before heading out on your foraging journey there are a few tips and tricks to keep you and the plant world safe:

  • Identify the plant correctly. Always be 100% sure of the plant’s identification before you harvest and consume. Many plants have poisonous look-alikes so it is imperative you can ID with certainty. Pay attention to the old adage “when in doubt, throw it out”. There are a number of great plant ID books on the market that cover most geographical areas. You may also find foraging classes in your area which can be a fun way to learn about local plants.
  • Practice sustainable harvesting for any plants you harvest. Never take more than you need and be sure to leave enough for the plants to survive and prosper. Keep in mind that unless you are eradicating an invasive species, foraging should never negatively impact the survival of the plant population. Take time to learn what plants are invasive in your area and also what plants are endangered and should never be harvested.
  • Forage in areas you know are clean and have not been treated with chemicals. Be wary of foraging along roadsides and under power lines.
  • Harvest underground storage organs; bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, etc. with additional consideration as harvesting can kill the plant. Early spring and late fall are the best times to harvest underground storage organs as the plant’s energy is conserved below ground. In late spring and summer, the plant will redirect energy to above ground growth and production of flowers and seed. A few examples of bountiful roots to forage in spring are chicory, dandelion, and burdock.
  • Seek out leafy greens as they are the stars of spring foraging. This fresh food is available long before our gardens start producing. In most areas, there are quite a few leafy greens to choose from. Dandelion, chickweed, lamb’s quarter, garlic mustard, and violet are all commonly foraged greens. Do some research to find which greens are best eaten raw and which taste best steamed or sautéed.

Get out your rubber boots and garden tools and head outside for a foraging adventure. Foraging is free and can provide a fresh and delicious addition to your next meal. Take full advantage of spring foraging as summer is just around the corner!

Organic Vegetable Garden Mulching

Mulching has the following benefits; suppresses weed growth, slows moisture evaporation, moderate soil temperature, and as a mulch breaks down it will improve the soil’s texture.

For trees and shrubs the type of mulch is less important than for Vegetable Gardeners. Using the wrong mulch around your vegetable plants can cause the plants to grow poorly and be susceptible to diseases.

You want to pick a mulch that has a low Carbon-to-Nitrogen (C:N) ratio. The main reason to use a mulch with a low C:N ratio is to ensure all your available nitrogen does not get tied up trying to decompose the high C materials.

In nature the first place a high C:N molecule looks for N is within the product itself. In the example of a wood chip there is not enough N available for proper microbial growth so the microbes search for sufficient N in the surrounding soil. Imagine the effect of available Nitrogen for your vegetable plants if the entire soil surface is covered with several inches of wood mulch?

Even worse, imagine if your entire soil structure was very high in carbon products such as wood chips? This would virtually tie up all the nitrogen in your soil trying to digest all the wood chips leaving very little for your plants.

The #1 rule we give our customers is to NEVER USE WOOD CHIPS, BARK, PINE NEEDLES, or SAWDUST. On the other hand the best types of compost are those with a low C:N ratio such as straw, dried grass clippings that have not been treated or fertilized with chemicals, or home-made compost.

If your choice of mulch is going to be rotted manure compost make sure you only use manures from animals where you know what they are eating. If an animal has a diet of hay that happens to be high in salts, a common occurrence, than your compost will also be high in salts. A high salt medium will prevent or slow plant growth.

The best manure to compost is from cow, pig, sheep, rabbit, lama, alpaca, and goat. The worst manure to use is from horses as it is very high in weed seeds. Chicken and duck manure is good to use, but unless you have a professional soil testing kit to test the Nitrogen content I would shy away from any fowl manures.

Caring for Cacti

Cacti are sun lovers and therefore if you plan to have them indoors, provide the brightest spot you can find as they will need at least 4 to 6 hours good light daily. If they are kept in a darker place they will still survive, but might stretch in search for light. Outside, they will like a sunny spot, but will also need some shade in the afternoon during the hottest days of summer. Even sun lovers like cacti can get burned by hot summer afternoon sun.

Plant your cacti in a well draining potting mix. Many nurseries sell bagged potting mix specially made for cacti and succulents. You can also make your own by adding sand and fine gravel to premium potting mix or follow the below recipe:

1 part organic compost
1 part horticultural sand
1 part coir
1 part vermiculite/perlite
1 part pine bark

In the growing season cacti will need good watering every couple of days, but the trick is to let the soil dry out between each watering. Your potting mix should be light, airy and well draining so the water can pass through, capture some moisture to get the roots wet but the water needs to drain away. If the roots of your cacti plants will sit in water they, and the whole plant will rot. The potting mix is the key. In winter cacti only need little water. Once every couple of weeks will be more than enough.

In the growing season your plants will benefit from fertilising. Good seaweed fertiliser diluted in water should do the trick. Add the fertiliser every second- third watering. You can also use slow release fertiliser- aim for low nitrogen and high phosphorus. In winter, there is no need to apply fertiliser.

Cacti can be used in pot arrangements, terrariums and also in the garden. They have fantastic landscaping potential and you can create an unusual raised garden bed with cactuses and other succulents. Gravel and rocks are often used to mimic desert environment.

Many cacti have sharp thorns and can cause serious injury, especially if a broken thorn is left in the skin. When handling cacti, wear thick gloves or use tweezers. Don’t be fooled by the ones with softer or hair like thorns as they can penetrate the skin as well, can cause irritation and are extremely hard to see. To get them out, apply sticky tape on the wound and pull.