RTBG Thursday 17 October 2019

When I looked from my window, Mt Wellington and the sky were missing; cloud obliterated the city and the landscape features on the western side of the Derwent River, and grey puffiness was overhead. Yikes!  I shook my head in puzzlement. Isn’t this Thursday, the volunteering day at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) when the weather is always gorgeous.  Of course it is, I told myself.  What I am seeing is simply nature’s way of cleaning itself before the sun shines.  Be patient, I counselled myself.  This will change. And change it did. Of course.  Not much later, blue patches appeared above and sun sparkled through. The day turned into another spectacular Thursday.

This was the first of two days of plant sales offered to the public by RTBG; it was the annual tomato plants sale that is well known to locals. K was determined to arrive early to select plants before they best were snapped up and the queues of would-be purchasers grew too long.  But there was no shortage of plants.IMG_1702.JPG

Later, at my house we looked at the bag and boxes of purchases.IMG_7750.JPG


My selection consisted of three plants:  a ‘Sweet Stuff’ capsicum,IMG_7766.JPG

a ‘Gardeners Delight’ tomatoIMG_7767.JPG


and a ‘Hurma Ukraine’ tomato.IMG_7765.JPG


Now you have read the plant descriptions above,  which had been thoughtfully prepared by RTBG Nursery volunteers and staff, you may have the following question.  What is a Determinate, Indeterminate  and Semi-Determinate Tomato?  Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigour and will set little to no new fruit. On the other hand, semi-determinate tomatoes are those plants which are more compact than indeterminate types but are also capable of producing fruit throughout the season. Determinate tomato varieties are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes because they do not continue growing in length throughout the growing season. They are generally smaller plants than indeterminate tomatoes, with most growing to a compact 4-5 ft. tall.  I have to say I don’t remember seeing a tomato plant that crops almost fully in a very short period. Besides, I have become so used to my self-seeding cherry tomatoes which fruit for around 5 months.

Anyway these plants were robust, richly green, in pots with beautiful soil and they held the promise of great crops.

After the rush of the tomato sales it was time to volunteer;  stone work on the gabion wall required care and effort.  Thanks to K, I have photos to show.  And you will see Mother Duck was showing her ducklings the efforts as well.IMG_1722.JPG


You might recall from an earlier post that I showed images of the formwork under construction.  K gave me the following photo showing me having a sticky beak at progress.IMG_1676.JPG

There are other visual records of the travels of the duck family.  IMG_1719.JPG



Garden patches were being dug in preparation for planting, while hoeing and weeding proceeded in other garden beds.IMG_1715 crop.JPG

R was back picking tea leaves in the tea plantation.FullSizeRender.jpg

K had photos of me picking tea leaves. And she produced the most instructive photo of the tips that needed picking.  IMG_1678.JPG



K has experimented with producing green tea at home from the tea leaves that we picked. She has tried three different ways and we will make a brew from each, one Thursday soon.  IMG_1726.JPG



This was the day B brought in his home made Brie and Camembert cheese for all to taste.  I love the generosity of spirit of everyone. I am delighted to work with clever people who are passionate about all things natural, and particularly about the life of vegetation.IMG_1724.JPG

Thanks to K and R for their photos.

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At the end of 2017 I planted a punnet of the flowering plant Cosmos.

They reared themselves in early 2018 and were a pleasure to behold. I didn’t grab them out when they died only ages later. By that time these few plants had gone to seed, not that I had noticed. Later that year I considered buying some more but then noticed new plants popping up all over the place. By early 2019 the top front and back of my garden was awash with a forest of cosmos plants flowering in white and various shades of pink and purple. It was truly a spectacle. They self-seeded anywhere and everywhere.




The plants grew rapidly and intermeshed with themselves and other plants. My self-sown tomatoes loved to hide in there and suddenly weeks later surprise me with crops of cherry tomatoes.  All this display for no effort. That’s the sort of gardening I am best at!

Friends asked for seed but time passed and I never got around to making a harvest. Then late last year up came plants, although this time not as luxurious a forest as previously. They continue to flower now. Self -seeded tomatoes and marigolds mix with them.



Today I hunted around and found a brown paper bag to keep the seeds dry, then collected seeds from those flowers which have died – all within a couple of minutes because it was so easy to see the seeds on the dead dry flower heads.  With minimal effort and knowing I can go back for more over the coming weeks, I was able to collect many seeds, and will happily forward them onto friends who need a few to start themselves off during the coming Spring.


The seed is a hard, black crescent shape


I look forward to testing out my germination skills in a six months’ time.

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Spaghetti from the sea

After a week at home with only three outings – 3 mornings in a row to the supermarket for a very short time, I was wanting to go out but kept feeling like it wasn’t a smart thing to do. Then a friend phoned and asked if I would like to go to the beach on the Forestier Peninsula near Dunalley and bag up more seaweed (which we had done a few weeks ago while returning from the Koonya garlic festival). I wondered if I would be putting myself in harm’s way, then thought I would risk it. And that it would be good for my friend who has been working every day for the past fortnight and more.  We both needed to get away.

Well it was bracing to say the least. I had taken a beanie and winter jacket. The wind was fierce. The sea was a choppy beautiful aqua green. Black Oystercatchers were patrolling the sand.  And we laughed manically like we do when wetsuit cladded we enter the water at Clifton Beach. Sheer madness. It was so invigorating. So wonderful to be out in the fresh air doing something. We struggled against the wind and filled 5 large black garbage bags, a box, and at least a dozen smaller shopping bags. There was so much seaweed along the beach you couldn’t see where we had been.  An experience that lifted our spirit. Life giving. Vital.


The seaweed is a boon.  One Google site tells me ‘Seaweed contains useful amounts of iodine, copper, iron, potassium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc. There’s no need to wash it or dry it before use in the garden. You can use it as a mulch, add it to your compost or brew it into a seaweed tea.’  Another site tells me ‘Seaweed is a broad spectrum fertilizer that is rich in beneficial trace minerals and hormones that stimulate plant growth. Seaweed is high in carbohydrates which are essential building blocks in growing plants, and low in cellulose so it breaks down readily. Seaweed shares no diseases with land plants.’

I brought the slim fettuccine sized seaweed home for use in my garden.  Mindful that it will contain some salt that might kill off some of my plants, I have made a pile in a corner and will let it sit and be rained on for a while to help wash away the salt. This waiting period will also help to start breaking down the fibres. With any luck the salt will kill those roots of my neighbours trees which have grown under the fence and onto my property deep in the soil. Maybe.



The eartheasy site https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/how-to-use-seaweed-to-mulch-your-garden/ details the benefits of seaweed and provides other information.

By the way, does anyone want/need some empty pots? There are many more outside the picture frame above, all of which I am happy to give away.  I can tell you the address, then you can collect them without seeing me – so isolation can be preserved.  Contact me on newtyzack@gmail.com

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No RTBG – but compost is brewing

I recall during one of my first Thursdays at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) in the Food Garden, fellow volunteer A explained to me the processes required for hot composting.

I had heard of hot and cold composting but I had never grasped any of the basic requirements. That day under the tutelage of A, while he moved rotting vegetation in various degrees of decomposition from one bin to another in the Food Garden, I learnt that to encourage a hot compost the physical size of the ‘bin’ must be at least a metre square. This is absolutely essential. Only then is there sufficient distance from the centre to the outside to allow the interior not to be cooled by the air. With this size, the temperature at the core can reach 50 – 75 degrees Celsius.  That heat kills off any pathogens and unwanted bacteria, and aids in the breakdown of the vegetation.

Within the RTBG Food Garden we have a model three bin setup; freshly picked new material is deposited into one, moderately decomposed is moved into the second and the third contains almost composted material which is allowed to breakdown further until it becomes nutritious compost.



I realised that at home I didn’t have the resources nor space to create an equivalent composting system.  Eighteen years ago when I moved into this house, a green plastic lidded compost bin sat idly in the garden. It looks something like this

Compost bin

And it looks exactly like this as it sits near my red plum tree.


Over the years I moved it around ‘out of the way’, occasionally threw grass clippings and other odds and sods of vegetation in but it came to nothing. I hadn’t a clue how to use it to make compost.

Then, towards the end of last year, I spotted a two hour compost making workshop and registered.  The processes were presented simply and I understood, for the first time, how a cold composting system will work – I learnt what you add in has to be added in the right way and in specific proportions. Ah knowledge is such a wonderful thing.

I was inspired and came home to tackle adding ingredients to my compost bin with the sure belief I would be able to produce compost to benefit my plants and feed beneficial microbes.

A good cold compost system layers carbon and nitrogen vegetative materials. The carbon comes from materials such as dry leaves, straw, corn stalks, newspaper, shredded cardboard and small twigs and the nitrogen comes from manure, vegetable waste, lawn clippings, and garden debris. Additionally, a compost pile needs water and air.

At the bottom of my compost bin I layered carbon first using newspaper and straw.  Onto this I added some nitrogen via coffee grounds, grass clippings, some vegetable kitchen scraps and a few weeds. Then I continued my ‘lasagne’ until the bin was approximately three quarters filled. On each layer I showered some water to ensure all was moist but not dripping wet.

At the workshop I had been told to leave the container without turning the ingredients for about two to three weeks. After a couple of weeks I looked in and saw some of the surface was dry and in other places there were peculiar fungi sprouting.  I realised it needed another shower of water. At this stage it became clear to me that the snug lid prevented any air moving in. So I drilled three holes in one side of the container above the contents.  Shut the lid and left it for another week or so.

On the next inspection there were long waving fungi and a yellow coating growing over some of the surface. Time to start turning the contents, I decided.  Recently I had purchased a special turning tool  – which had been shown at the workshop.

Compost tool

This tool was a boon. I spiralled the tool down into the container again and again to mix the contents.  At some levels the layers were bone dry.  So I showered more water over and closed the lid.  Over the next few weeks I twisted and turned the tool to remix the materials, then watered the contents before closing the lid.  After two months the volume had dropped by half so I was encouraged that compost was on the way despite the ingredients seeming very much to be as they were before. But obviously decomposition was occurring.

Then I forgot about it believing that I would never achieve compost; believing that I simply didn’t have the right proportions of carbon, nitrogen, air and water.  As lovely although perplexing as it was to see unusual and coloured fungi sprouting, I was sure I was not creating compost.  I guess I determined to wait until it all settled then I would simply break it up and scatter it over the garden, shrug my shoulders and give up.

So I was extraordinarily surprised when I opened the lid three weeks ago.  No fungi. Just a dark damp wonderful pile of compost.  Not very high; amazingly diminished from the starting height.

Since then I have distributed the rich compost around my lemon and mandarin trees, watered it, and covered with a mulching straw.

On reflection I suspect my proportions of carbon to nitrogen weren’t the best. Ideally I needed to create a C:N ratio around 25 to 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen. Excess Carbon slows decomposition. Excess nitrogen makes a stinky pile. Thankfully mine never smelled bad.

Nevertheless and inspired by that success; the process is clear to me.  Layer the ingredients appropriately, keep them moist, turn the contents once a week for weeks after letting it sit for a couple of weeks or so, then forget about it. All in all – allow about three months.  Maybe I will get better and more in tune with it and create compost in a shorter period – who knows how soon before I achieve the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio. For the moment I have achieved a tiny success and I am super excited for the future.

Last week I lasagned a new bin load ready to make compost. The bin includes straw, paper and cardboard plus coffee grounds, seaweed, grass clippings, some weeds, some household vegetable waste and horse manure.  Each layer was moistened, and the air holes are clear. In a week or so I will have a peek to see how it looks, and perhaps be ready to start stirring with my wonderful compost tool. I have my fingers crossed that more compost will result.

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Dinner ingredients

A couple of friends let me know they were excited; “Dinner ingredients – all grown by us. We are SO fortunate.”  I could foresee the wonders of health in a pot and health on a plate. A wedge was cut from their rich round burnt-orange coloured pumpkin.


Scarlet runner beans, potatoes, zucchini, squash, carrot, ginger and coloured chard were the other ingredients.


Vegetables in a supermarket glisten from sprayed waters to make them more enticing. Vegetables straight from the garden seem more vibrant and pulsing with good health, as the photos above show. They are a simple but superb advertisement for growing your own!

Yesterday I picked most of my scarlet runner beans and dark curly leafed Silverbeet – but never thought to photograph them. Must remember to do so with future pickings because the produce seems more alive in those moments. Better.

Tasmanian readers (because this blogsite is titled Tasmanian Discoveries), if you grow vegetables and would be happy for me to draw attention to them in a blog post, please send me your stories and photos to newtyzack@gmail.com.  Happy gardening!

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RTBG – the produce gets picked

First one fellow volunteer sent me an email exclaiming ‘Adam has sent a Patch tomato update…. amazing!’ Then a phone message was left for me from another ‘Did you get Adams photos? All those tomatoes!!!’. Adam is the Coordinator of the Food Garden at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) that any one of us would weed for ever if he so asked.  If you are reading this blog for the first time you need to know that all our volunteering at the RTBG has been suspended due to constraints required to manage the COVID virus.

After those contacts, I checked my phone and read the text message ‘Hi fellow food gardeners, hope all are well and adjusting to the new world we find ourselves in! A chance to up production in our own gardens (smiley emoji). Anyway, here’s a pic of today’s dispatch to loaves and fishes (now known as Second Bite) – the tomatoes just keep on giving. 48kgs!!’  Adam’s photograph shows the tomatoes and a few handfuls of cucumbers.

tomatoes plus from Adam240320

What a sensational harvest!

My fervent wish is that the COVID virus stops its impact so that we can plant new tomatoes in October this year. If the virus continues to cut contacts and keep us isolated, then these volumes of harvests are unlikely to be seen at the RTBG next March.

Meanwhile anybody with a piece of garden or space for a few pots should plan to plant tomatoes in October (that’s if you live in Tasmania – check planting times for other locations).

I recommend you Google which seeds you could plant now. Find out how to grow them: what soil they need, how much water they need and when, how much light they need, how much sun they need, how deep a pot you will need if the seed is not going directly into the ground, if they can be grown inside – and start small and slow. With one vegetable. How about having something like lettuce growing all through winter – that is probably the easiest to start with.  But please Google what you should do so you are more likely to have success. Then imagine how good it will be to have a juicy crunch available to add to any meal through any week – even if you cannot get to the supermarket or produce markets in the next few weeks. Once you have success with growing one type of plant then try another seed.

Meanwhile, thanks Adam for continuing to show us what the Food Garden at the RTBG is providing those in need in our community.

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Excess produce will have new homes

Previously I have talked about R and A’s use of a market stall at Margate to sell excess fruit and vegetables from growers down the Channel south of Hobart, and then to disperse the monetary takings to a local group in need.


The COVID virus closed the market but not the enterprise to collect and disperse the excess produce.  R and A decided to continue to pick and harvest on different properties at the request of owners and some growers deliver their excess to R and A.  Now, instead of selling the produce, R and A take the fruit and veggies directly to one or two charitable groups who, in turn, give to the homeless and needy.

If you are reading this in other parts of Australia or overseas, perhaps you are a grower or know growers who have excess and can encourage them to pick and give away.  It doesn’t matter how small the offering.  There will be be lots of hungry people in the coming weeks and months and so every mouthful will be appreciated.  It is so very important that we do not waste food and that we share what we can, without expectation of any return.

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Spikes of plants and spikes of humour

Thanks R for sending me Spike Milligan’s poem ‘Smiling is Infectious’ – we smile broadly or subtly every Thursday all day when we are at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) and considering the current pandemic, his poem is apt.

Spike Milligan's poem

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