If you are looking for some clever things you can do in your garden this month, check out these 10 ideas from the latest issue of Good Organic Gardening
1. Water world: pond plants
If you have a pond in your garden be sure to include a few different varieties of plants and fish. The more variety you have, the more complex and resilient the ecosystem will be, which means less maintenance for you. When it comes to plants, include both oxygenating varieties to clean the water and control algae, as well as floating plants, which provide shade and cooling to aquatic life. A diverse ecosystem will also ensure your fish have a much more interesting and natural experience.
2. Think outside the pot
Rather than spend money on fancy new planters, challenge yourself to make your own out of used household objects. Some great options include tea cups, glasses, lunchboxes, gumboots, tins, buckets, colanders, milk jugs, muffin tins, drawers, vases, tins and jars. If possible, use a drill to create drainage holes at the bottom of the container. If this is not possible, place a little gravel at the bottom of the object to ensure the plant doesn’t become waterlogged.
3. Sweet success
Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, try growing your own stevia plant, which has leaves up to 300 times sweeter than sugar (and it’s calorie free). Stevia plants can be found at specialist nurseries and thrive pretty much all over Australia, especially in warmer zones. To harvest, simply pick the leaves from the plant and dry them in the sun. Once crisp, grind them in a food processor or coffee grinder to make a powder, which can be used to sweeten tea and coffee or homemade recipes such as jam, cordial and desserts. While homegrown stevia is not quite as sweet as the store-bought variety, you’ll find the flavour much improved.
4. The good oils
If you have a garden filled with sweet-smelling botanicals, it’s worth making your own fragrant oils. Forget complex distilling and extracting equipment — you can make your batch of perfumed oil by combining bruised and torn botanicals with a light-scented carrier oil, such as olive oil, sweet almond oil or sunflower oil in a saucepan. Place the pan on the lowest heat setting (it should never boil) and leave to infuse for 4–8 hours until you are satisfied with the potency. Wonderful for home fragrances and natural remedies, some useful and beautiful oils include lavender, rosemary, tea-tree, geranium (see next issue for scented geranium feature), peppermint, eucalyptus and jasmine.
5. Get a wriggle on
A worm farm is a great way to recycle household waste and create a rich soil amendment for your garden. If you don’t already have a commercial worm farm, you can create your own from two stackable foam boxes. Styrofoam makes an excellent choice for worm farms as it’s light and portable, non-toxic and an excellent insulator. Use the bottom box to collect the worm juice and the top as a feeder box. Using a pen, make ventilation holes through the side of the top box and drainage holes through the floor. All that’s left to do now is to fill the top box with bedding, such as compost, mulch or soil, along with newspaper, organic kitchen scraps and your worms.
6. Tea time
Making a cup of tea from just-picked herbs is both wonderfully satisfying and cost-effective. Some of the most popular plants for tea-making include peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, rose, bergamot, fennel, chamomile, rosemary and lavender. For fresh tea, simply tear up the leaves and steep in hot water. For year-round use, wash your herbs and dry them out on trays in the sun. Have a go experimenting with different varieties — you may even discover your own special blend.
7. Ready to rock
More than just a decorative feature, rockeries have many benefits in the backyard. They make a great habitat for native wildlife such as lizards, frogs and butterflies, plus they can also be used to create microclimates and shade. Rocky areas trap heat during the day and radiate it out at night, which warms nearby plants that can’t handle the cold. A stack of rocks can also be used to diffuse an overflow of water or create a barrier against whipping winds.
8. Room for mushrooms
If you live in a small space, have a go at growing mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are one of the easiest varieties to fruit indoors and are perfect for the novice cultivator looking for high yields. To grow your own, take a lidded bucket and drill 12mm holes evenly around the sides 10–15cm apart. Fill the bucket with used coffee grounds and oyster mushroom spawn. Ask around, as many local cafes are happy to donate spent coffee grounds. Close the lid and transfer the bucket to a humid location, such as the bathroom. If anyone in your family seems unenthused by this idea, just wait until they see the flushes of mushrooms springing out from all sides of the bucket. They’ll come round in the end.
9. Good morning
If you have to choose between planting in a part of the garden that receives morning sun or one that gets afternoon sun, always choose morning sun. Morning sun gives your garden cool morning light that wakes plants up and gets them growing, while afternoon sun gives off a baking heat that can fry and stress your plants.
10. Plight of the bumblebee
In recent years disease, habitat loss and pesticide use have contributed to bee populations worldwide taking a nosedive. This is particularly alarming news, considering bees pollinate most of our food crops. One of the best ways you can help is to set up a beehive in your backyard or balcony. Otherwise, make your garden more bee-friendly by planting a smorgasbord of their favourite foods, such as bottlebrush, grevillea, lavender, thyme, foxglove and sunflower.
Written by Erina Starkey
Originally in Good Organic Gardening, Volume 7 Issue 6