Midgen Berry

Midgen Berry, also called Midyim Berry or sand-berry, is a bush tucker food native to eastern Australia. There are two plants which produce the dainty, white flowers which lead to small, speckled, greyish-purple fruit in late summer or autumn. Austromyrtus dulcis, sometimes referred to as ‘silky myrtle’, and Austromyrtus tenufolia, the narrow-leafed midgenberry, are both shortish, spreading shrubs. The shrubs are good-looking plants so can be grown in a native garden, an ornamental garden or a food forest. Like many natives, they respond well to hard pruning. I would imagine that they could be used as an informal hedge or trimmed to any shape the gardener desires.

The fruit, produced from spring to autumn, is quite soft and doesn’t travel well. We have found that if picked and left for a day or two, the fruit quickly shrivels, therefore is best picked and eaten immediately. It has been our experience that each berry contains only one or two seeds but other sites state up to eight seeds. Ripe fruit comes off the plant at the slightest touch so I hold a container directly under the fruit and just touch it – if it falls off, it’s ripe and the container makes harvesting an easy task. I recommend that you use a smallest container, getting a larger one between the branches of an established plant can be a bit tricky! You can see the ripe fruit fairly easily, it is light in colour, almost white. This probably makes it more visible to birds too so you may find you have to net your plant for a couple of months! We will almost certainly be trying this next season!

I have noticed that, with this unusually wet summer (2021-2022), that there is a second flush of flowers so it will be interesting to see if we get another flush of fruit too! Better get that bird netting ready, just in case!

Where to Grow Midgen Berry

Our plant is growing on the eastern side of the house in native soil to our area in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. The soil is covered all year with a mulch of slowly-rotting wood chips. Basically we have been treating it like all the other natives we grow and it has not been very productive. Being in a bush setting, there are lots of birds so it is possible that the reason for the lack of productivity is the result of thieving birds! A well-maintained plant should, in theory, produce lots of fruit.

Anna Gregory, based in Sydney and author of the excellent sustainability-based site, Small Green Things, states that the shrubs should be planted in part-shade to full-sun, in well-drained soil. Ms Gregory suggests that the plants respond well when compost has been added to the growing medium. She was, at the time of writing the article in 2016, experimenting with growing one in a pot.

Angus Stewart, former presenter on Gardening Australia, on his website, Gardening With Angus, recommends a sheltered position, protected from frost. He recommends sun for at least half a day – perhaps that is why our plant produces sporadically: it only gets a couple of hours of sun in summer and little to none in winter.

How to Grow Midgen Berry

The plants can be bought at garden centres or nurseries. However, if you know someone who has one, you could try growing new plants from seeds or cuttings. We are currently attempting to grow new plants from seeds from this year’s crop. After fifteen days, we have had one seed germinate. The seeds are known to take three to four weeks to germinate but they are not the kind of seed that takes over your garden – after nearly eight years of living here we have never seen a baby Austromyrtus under our plant!

Fun Final Fact

Midgen Berry plants are related to Lilly Pilly. The fruit of both species can be used to make jams.

DAHLIAS

Dahlias are part of the daisy family. Sometimes they are referred to as the “queen as daisies”. There are societies devoted to the growing, cultivation and hybridisation of the flowers, including the “Dahlia Society of Australia”.

Dahlias are named after Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist. The original dahlias were from Mexico, and came in two basic forms: a single row of petals around an open centre, or “doubles” – two or more rows of petals around an open centre. Seeds of dahlias were introduced into Europe, through Madrid, in the eighteenth century and quickly became popular with plant breeders who began producing hybrids almost from the moment of their introduction!

Dahlias easily cross pollinate, creating new hybrids. Seed doesn’t necessarily produce true to type so there are often surprises in the garden which makes them really popular with breeders as they feel compelled to try for new and better blooms.

There are dahlias in just about every colour imaginable, except blue, which the breeders are still attempting. These can be one colour or bi-colours. Flowers styles have been increased from the original open-centred varieties to include cactus, ball and pompom types, as well as waterlily, paeony, chrysanthemum and anemone varieties. There are dahlias that can be grown in different climates and soil types; varieties that bloom early and those that bloom late. They can be tall or miniature. No wonder they are beloved by so many people.

Dahlias grow from tubers (swollen roots). They are herbaceous and perennial; dying down in winter and reappearing in spring or summer (depending on variety). In mid-summer, we have flowers in bloom, plants that are finished for the season and plants that have yet to come into bud and will flower well into autumn.

HOW TO GROW DAHLIAS FROM SEED OR TUBERS

We have found growing dahlias from seed an easy process. Follow the directions on the seed packet. If you collect your own seeds, sow the seed in late winter or early spring at a depth equal to about twice the width of the seed (shallower is better than too deep). Keep the seed-raising mix moist but not wet or the seed may rot. You will need to protect the seed from slugs and snails – we have lost many tiny seedlings due to their voracious appetites.

Move your baby seedlings from the seedling tray to their own pots when they are big enough to handle, generally about four weeks after germination. Choose a location for your plant where the soil is free draining and the plant gets full sun, although young plants like a little shade in the heat of a summer afternoon.

Transplant the young seedling to its location in the garden when it is about 10cm tall. Pinch out the growing tip to help the plant become more bushy. During hot, dry weather, give your plants water as needed. Do not overwater but remember, plants grown from seeds have not yet developed a tuber, so they will need more frequent water than plants grown from tubers.

You can buy named varieties or plants simply labelled “dahlia” or even “bedding dahlias” in pots in the garden centre, generally when they’re in flower so you can see exactly what you are getting. Tubers can be bought in late winter at some garden centres on from online mail-order catalogues. Plant these according to the directions that come with the tubers. If transplanting a potted plant, put it in the ground as you would any other potted plant, the soil level of the pot being the same as the level of the soil in the ground.

At Hillside, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, in western Sydney, we leave our tubers in the ground all year, only lifting them to divide them or to move them to another part of the garden. If you live in a wet climate, have drainage problems in winter or your land literally freezes, you will need to lift the tubers and store them in a cool, dry place.

FUN FINAL FACT

The tallest variety of dahlia is Dahlia Imperialis, the tree dahlia, which can grow as tall as 5 metres!
The smallest dahlia grows to about 30cm.

PARSLEY

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?” Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon encouraged us to think about parsley, sage, rosemary and time while on the journey. Apparently they have symbolic meaning in the song: parsley for comfort, sage for strength, rosemary for love and thyme for courage. (source: Culinary Lore).

The article goes on to say that other sources attribute ‘festivity’ to parsley and that seems appropriate on New Year’s Eve! I can find no source for this information but let’s just run with it anyway!

As a teenager, I only saw parsley used by other families or in restaurants, never at my home. Often used as a garnish, it was pushed aside and returned to the kitchen with the otherwise empty plate. I was a young adult before I ever tasted tabouli – and was hooked. Such freshness and flavour!

Parsley originates from southern Europe, around the Mediterranean. It is an ‘ancient’ herb, believed to have been used by the Ancient Greeks to decorate both triumphant athletes and tombs. It is said to have been made popular by Charlemagne, who, allegedly, grew it in his garden. The same has also been said of Catherine de Medici, who is believed to have introduced it to France from her native Italy.

Parsley is high in vitamin C and Vitamin A. It contains many nutrients, the most well known of which is iron. (source: Healthline)

Green parsley comes in two forms, flat leaf and curly, both of which were known to the people of Rome, more than 2,000 years ago. Flat leaf parsley has a stronger flavour than curly leafed parsley which makes it more desirable as a flavouring ingredient. Curly leaf parsley, with its decorative form, is usually the choice for adding as a garnish.

They are the same species, Petroselinum crispum, although flat leaf parsley is sometimes referred to as Petroselenum crispum neapolitanum. The are related to carrots, parsnips and celery. Both varieties of parsley are biennials. This means that they grow through the first season, remain evergreen In most climates and flower in the second year. Flat leaf parsley, is said to be easier to cultivate than curly parsley.

HOW TO GROW PARSLEY

Both varieties of parsley are biennials. This means that they grow through the first season, remain evergreen In most climates and flower in the second year.

root of a parsley plant, about eighteen months old

It is best to sow parsley seed directly where you want it to grow. Like their cousins, the carrots, they have tap roots and they do not like to have their roots disturbed. If you buy parsley plants or seedlings from the nursery be very careful not to disturb the roots when you plant them or then they go into transplant shock. Sometimes, plants don’t recover. We have never had a problem transplanting parsley so it is tougher than this paragraph might suggest. The photo shows the root of finished parsley, that ism about eighteen months old. I broke off a thinner root while pulling it out, is was at least another 25cm longer.

The seeds of either variety can take a long time to germinate, sometimes up to a month. The see this fairly small so it needs to be sewn very close to the surface. Remember to follow the instructions on your seed packet.

Parsley like a rich, moist soil but they do not like to be water-logged. We have found that they cope much better with drought – style conditions than with very wet conditions.

The flowers, which appear in the second spring, are very small and fairly insignificant. They held on little tumbles umbrella – like structures, and from a distance, can look just green. Bees and other pollinators like parsley flowers because their structure makes it easy to access nectar. enter

A mature flat-leaf parsley plant, in its second year, can be as tall as 60 to 70 cm and spread out to cover one square metre. In our experience, curly leaf parsley is generally much smaller. Both varieties of parsley self seed really so you should have parsley coming up every here after the second year.

FUN FINAL FACT

There is a third variety of parsley which most people don’t know about. Petroselinum tuberosum is a root vegetable. The leaves can be used as a substitute for flat leaf parsley.

Cherry

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas …” forget the ‘toys in every store’, there are cherries for sale! Cherries come into season in late November, early December, sometimes, like this year, even later. It’s a short season; generally it’s all over by the end of January.

Cherries grow on trees, and are related to peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and almonds. They have small pink blossoms in early spring, and a strong wind can blow all those flowers away. That is disappointing if you love blossom season but it’s even more disappointing to the farmers and home gardeners who grow cherries – no flowers means no fruit!

Cherries are a low calorie fruit, high in antioxidants and melatonin, which helps us sleep. They can be eaten fresh, canned, frozen or cooked in desserts and, surprisingly, savoury dishes.

If we see cherries for sale, we may be forgiven for thinking there are only a couple of varieties, red and ‘black’. My favourite cherry is the so-called ‘white’ cherry which is, of course, not white but a yellow and light red fruit. It’s easy to be taken in by the colour and think that’s all there is but there are more than 40 varieties of cherries grown commercially in Australia; and over 1.200 varieties worldwide!

HOW TO GROW CHERRIES

Like many fruit trees, cherry (Prunus Avium) needs “chill hours” in order to set fruit. For cherries, that means 800-1200 hours between O°C and 4.5°C while the plant is dormant. In fact, cherries will not come out of dormancy unless they have had the required hours of chill. Although I have never seen it, I guess that means that a cherry tree would go to sleep and never wake up if it wasn’t cold enough!

Here, at Hillside, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains in western Sydney, it is not cold enough over a long enough period of time to grow cherries. However, other suburbs of western Sydney, where it gets down to -5°C on many days of winter, producing cherry fruit is possible.

If, like us, you don’t have that kind of chill, you will have to stick to buying cherries. For those of you who live in colder conditions, here are some other things you might want to know:

HOW TO GROW CHERRIES

Cherry’s requirements:

  • rich, well-drained soil – they do not like wet feet or ‘water-logging’
  • soil pH of about 6.5
  • plenty of organic matter in the soil, added at planting, in spring and after harvest
  • plenty of water in summer
  • some varieties need another cherry nearly for fertilisation

Cherry trees live, on average, around twenty years. It takes a cherry tree about four to seven years to fruit after it has been transplanted into the garden. Some dwarf varieties can take less than that.

You can read information from the experts at Organic Gardener Magazine or Sustainable Gardening Australia if you are interested in more detail.

cherry blossom against a blue sky
Photo by capri23auto from Pexels

FUN FINAL FACT

Cherry trees are part of the rose family!

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

Tomato (part 2 of 2)

If you missed the first of this two-part series, you can find the first part here. What we will talk about here are the ways to grow tomatoes; and the pests and diseases that may attack them. This will not be comprehensive – if you have questions, please research further or send us an email with specific questions. If it is regarding a disease on the leaves or fruit, please send a photo to help us identify it.

HOW TO GROW TOMATOES

Tomatoes come from central and and the northern parts of the south American continent, so they are tropical plants. If you are starting from seed, the soil temperature needs to be at least 15°C. However, seed will germinate faster at soil temperatures between 25°Cand 30°C. If air temperatures are cool overnight, soil temperature will also drop. If the soil gets too cold, the seed may die. Seedlings will become stunted and may not continue growing. We have had seedlings that have germinated, grown to 4cm tall and sat like that for weeks before dying.

If you want to start sowing early, keep the seedling trays inside, on a heat mat, or in a glasshouse or cold frame. Unless these are heated, they will only be a couple of degrees warmer than the air temperature outside.

Once the seedling has germinated, you need to keep it warm enough to keep it growing. As mentioned above, if they stop growing, they may never start again and can last quite a long period of time before giving up and dying. Feed your seedlings every fortnight with a liquid feed. You could even try a seaweed tonic in the weeks in between.

When seedlings are 15-20cm tall, they are big enough to go in the ground. Some people wait until they are 25-30cm tall. By then, the soil of your garden is usually warm enough for them to overcome transplant shock quickly and get growing again. Don’t forget to water them in with a seaweed solution (as per manufacturer’s instructions) when transplanting, This spring and summer have been very wet and, as a consequence, the soil temperature in our gardens is still quite cool. If your seedlings don’t start growing, try sowing some new seeds, directly where you want your plants to grow. It’s late in the season but you might be lucky!

As I said in the previous post, tomatoes come in two types: bush (determinate) and vine (indeterminate). You can plant bush tomatoes in a large pot (at least 40cm across) or in the ground. Bush tomatoes do need staking so provide one at the same time as you are transplanting to avoid sticking the stakes through the root ball later. Vine tomatoes should go in the ground, at a minimum distance of 30cm apart. However, growing them this close together will result in less yields than plants separated by the correct distance of 1.0-1.2 metres.

Tomatoes can be grown in tomato cages to keep them off the ground and to stop them sprawling everywhere. These can be bought at hardware stores and garden centres, and generally consist of uprights and side bars that acts as the “cage”. they can be improvised with stakes and string, or a cage made of chicken wire. You can do this for individual plants or grow tomatoes in a row and make a large cage to go around them all.

You can train tomatoes against a fence or trellis in an espalier-style. This is good in a small courtyard and it keeps the plants more two-dimensional and so saves space. To keep this ‘flat’ you will need to control the growth of laterals or side-shoots. This is explained in the next paragraph.

tomato trellis , bird protection net rolled up for access

We grow our tomatoes on a specially designed trellis system. It consists of three posts and a bar across the top, 2.4 metres above the soil. A string is anchored to the ground near the seedling and the plant is trained around the string (which is attached to the cross beam above). The plants are grown 30cm apart on one leader. This means we control our tomatoes to one main stem by taking out the laterals – the growth between the leaf and the stem. We pick these out with our fingers but, if we miss them and they get too large, we cut them out with snips or secateurs.

Tomatoes are very heavy feeders. Make sure that your have added plenty of organic matter to your bed before planting tomatoes so that they get that slow release of nutrients. In addition, in the early stages, a general feed, which is high in nitrogen that promotes green, leafy growth, is fine. However, to produce flowers and fruit, the plants will need a feed which is higher in phosphorus.

There are many tomato feeds on the market. We grow without chemicals, or ‘beyond organic‘, so we don’t add anything to our garden, except a liquid fish-based ‘fertiliser’. If you choose to do so but don’t want to go down the industrial, chemical path, make sure you are buying an ‘organic’ product. Always follow the manufacturers’ directions when using the product.

PESTS ON TOMATO PLANTS

For us, the biggest ‘pests’ on tomatoes have been birds. They not only eat the ripe fruit, they also eat the leaves. Because we want birds in our yard, we have resorted to netting our vegetable garden. Previously, we put bird netting around tomato cages. What was more effective, was bags around clusters of ripening fruit.

These bags also helped with fruit fly, which are more likely to attack large fruit than cherry tomatoes. If fruit fly is a big problem for you, we suggest you try only cherry tomatoes. If you can find a way to put the bag on so that it doesn’t touch the fruit, it is an effective way to deal with fruit fly. The part of the body they use to inject their eggs into the fruit is quite small and they need to be able to pierce the fruit. If they can’t reach it, they’ll look elsewhere for somewhere to lay their eggs.

We rarely have aphids on our tomatoes. When we do, we flick them off with our fingers and squish a few to attract the ladybirds to the plant. Ladybird larvae love aphids! You can blast the aphids with a hose or spray them with a homemade solution.

We have lots of white flies on our tomatoes but they don’t seem to do much damage so we do nothing to prevent them. A sticky yellow trap will catch them if you have them in large numbers. We try not to use these traps because they also catch beneficial insects!

There are many other types of pests that attack tomatoes but we have not experienced any of them so cannot give you first hand advice.

DIESEASES ON LEAVES AND/OR FRUIT

If the tomato plant is healthy but there is a large, rough or leathery, brown or greyish patch on the bottom of your tomato fruit, it is very likely to be blossom end rot. This will not kill your plant and the top part of the fruit is usually still edible. Please refer to my previous post about this condition in tomatoes.

Before I discuss diseases on leaves, please check your plants. Is the new growth growing normally , with relatively dark green leaves that lie properly, not curled up? Is it only the older leaves at the bottom that are turning a yellowish colour and looking ‘really bad’?

If the new growth is fine and it’s just the old leaves, they are dying of old age. The plant no longer needs them for photosynthesis so it’s dropping off the unnecessary foliage. You can help by removing all the leaves below the lowest hanging fruit cluster.

If the young leaves are looking pale but there is no evidence of any disease, it could be a nutrient deficiency. Tomatoes are very hungry plants so feed it with a good quality liquid fertiliser and also foliar spray (that is, spay the leaves with the liquid fertiliser). Sprinkle around some slow release feed as well – like aged manure, compost (even if it’s not quite finished), Blood ‘n’ Bone, or pelletised chicken manure. Don’t dig it in, let the rain break it down and feed it slowly to your plants.

Tomatoes are, unfortunately, prone to a wide range of diseases. In the wet weather we have been experiencing in western Sydney during Spring and early Summer 2021, that disease is likely to be Septoria Leaf Spot. I posted about this recently, please go the link here.

Tomatoes are susceptible to fungal diseases, bacterial diseases and diseases brought in by insects. It would be impossible for me to do justice to this topic here so may I encourage you to take photos and send them to us for identification. No matter the disease, the management is nearly always the same – and, no, it’s not pull out the plant!

Diseased leaves eventually turn yellow and fall of the plant. It is important, whatever the disease, that you remove the diseased leaves as soon as you see them to stop the spread to the healthy leaves of that plant and other plants. Also,make sure that you pick up the dead, fallen leaves. Fungal spores and insects can live on these, sometimes long after they have fallen. Do not put these diseased leaves in your compost or in the Council’s green waste bin. Instead, you need to solarise the diseased leaves and infected fruit to kill the spores or insects that may still be alive. I have written a separate post detailing instructions for this process.

The home-made sprays detailed on the post about Septoria Leaf Spot may help. If they don’t, they certainly won’t do any harm – unless you use too much full cream milk which, if left on the leaves, may attract a fungal problem you didn’t have!!

Until next Friday….

Happy growing!
Lynne  🍅

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this blog post is written for general knowledge and/or entertainment purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. While all care is taken to be accurate, Hillside Homegrown & Handmade accepts no responsibility for actions taken by the reader because of information shared in this article.

Tomato

Did you know that, for Australian home gardeners, tomatoes are the most popular choice of vegetable to grow? Perhaps it’s because older gardeners remember the taste of tomatoes in their childhood. There’s something very satisfying seeing those clusters of fruit ripening on a vine you’ve grown yourself.

Tomatoes are really a fruit but most us use them as a savoury food, which we generally call a vegetable. But why does it not have much taste, certainly not the taste we older gardeners remember? The simple truth is that tomatoes that we buy in the supermarket or from the fruit and veg shop are usually hybrid tomatoes, specifically bred for longevity and storage. I remember years ago, Don Burke hitting a tomato against a wall with a tennis bat – and it didn’t break! That doesn’t seem right, does it? (I didn’t make it up, you can probably find a link to the video on the internet somewhere).

We, the consumers. are partly responsible – we wanted a tomato that would be in the shop in perfect condition, just the right size, shape and colour, whenever we shop, regardless of season! Tomatoes were bred to match those expectations. Taste was the least important characteristic so it was let go. It’s likely that consumers didn’t realise that they were sacrificing flavour and nutrition in favour of appearance and a long shelf life! It was a long process but now the majority of tomatoes sold in Australia are just the right size, shape and colour that consumers want. We, as a group, reject the ‘less than perfect”: too small, too big, too soft, not red enough.

But, don’t despair: there are dozens of open-pollinated (also know as heritage or heirloom) varieties available in Australia. you just have to know where to look! Organic seed companies, such as Johnson’s**, are sold in the big warehouse hardware stores and in garden centres. There are organic mail order seed companies online. Each sell many of the same tomatoes, especially the popular varieties, but each also sells varieties that no-one else carries. (in marketing, that’s called a Unique Selling Proposition or, sometimes, Point).

one day’s harvest, January 2021, Matt’s Wild Sweetie (self sown, several plants)

Heritage, heirloom or open-pollinated tomatoes come in all colours, shapes and sizes. You can grow tomatoes that mature to purple, red, orange, pink, yellow or green. The darker the tomato, the more nutritional value it has for you. They can be one colour, ombre or striped. They can be large, medium or small. There are round, ovular, heart- or pear-shaped varieties. They can be sweet or tart, used whole and fresh in a salad, sliced for a sandwich, be cooked, dried or turned into a sauce.

With so much choice, how do you decide which variety of tomatoes to grow? Start with your purpose for growing the tomato in the first place. Do you want to make sauce? Do you want small tomatoes to put in salads? Do you want large tomatoes you can slice and put in a sandwich? Do you want to dry them to use through winter? This will determine the variety you should choose.

Tomato ‘Crnkovic’ (aka ‘Yugoslavian’)

Tomatoes come in two main varieties, determinate and indeterminate. I remember the terms this way, you can determine approximately how big the former will grow, the latter cannot be determined! However, in practice, the terms ‘bush’ and ‘vine’ tomatoes are used. Bush (determinate) tomatoes tend to grow 1.0-1.5 metres, produce most of their fruit at once, then die. Because they are relatively small, they can be grown in a large pot.

Vine tomatoes can cover a very large area. It is better to grow them on a trellis or on a fence. A few years ago, we had a self=seeded cherry tomato that started growing on the south side of a mature lemon tree, in the shade, in March. I was sure it would die when the cold hit in winter. That vine, which we left on the ground, ended up being 4 metres in one direction from the growing point, and 5 metres in the other direction.

From that experience we have learnt to grow our tomatoes on a single leader onto a trellis which Mark designed himself. Growing vine tomatoes with just one main stem, means that we can grow a larger variety of tomatoes in a smaller space because our tomatoes are only about 30 cm apart. This does, however, result in smaller yields and has the potential for cross-pollination.

Tomatoes, Solanum lycopersicum, comes from Central and parts of South America. It likes warm weather but is susceptible to a variety of fungal and bacterial diseases in high humidity. The most common of these in our current wet climate is Septoria Leaf Spot. I have written a short post about this disease. If the leaves of your tomato plants are showing a speckled look, you may have this problem and might want to check out the post.

early signs of Septoria Leaf Spot

There is so much to say about tomatoes, there will be a second post next week with more detail in growing them and the possible diseases and pests that might attack them

Until then…

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

** We do not receive a commission for the sale of Johnson seeds.
By the way, not all Johnson Seeds are heirloom or heritage varieties so, if you want the open-pollinated seeds, check the packet carefully. If it says F1 (hybrid) on the packet, you will not be able to grow the seed again next year and get the same plant!

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this blog post is written for general knowledge and/or entertainment purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. While all care is taken to be accurate, Hillside Homegrown & Handmade accepts no responsibility for actions taken by the reader because of information shared in this article. 

DIY: Tool Storage Ideas

On the first Friday of every month, instead of talking about plants, we look at a simple DIY project that you can do around your home or garden.

Last Saturday, Mark gave a workshop entitled ‘Essential Tools for Home Maintenance’. In that workshop he talked about the importance of having the “right tool for the right job” in order for the user to be safe. Another aspect of safety is to store each tool properly so that the user can find the right tool for the job and has easy access to that tool.

As a follow up to that workshop, the photo gallery below shows some of the ways Mark stores his tools. Some of these are specifically designed, like the containers to separate the files of by shape (flat, round, half round, triangular and square) in a dedicated draw, some are storage containers from the hardware store, some tools are stored in their own containers in drawers and the wall is Mark’s own DIY creation. Note the handles in the drawers all face the same way for easy access and the original blade covers on the chisels replaced after use.

If you have any questions on any particular storage method, or perhaps a more general question, you can easily get in touch with us by using the contact form.

DISCLAIMER: The ideas given in this blog post are for entertainment and/or information purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this kind of DIY project.

D.I.Y. CONSULTANCY / ADVISORY SERVICE
If you have a small DIY project that you are considering but have no idea how to go about it, contact Mark, 0414 304 963, send an email to info@hillsidehomegrown.com.au or simply use our contact form to discuss your project.
Rates for Mark’s assistance will vary depending on how complicated the project is.
The initial discussion (up to thirty minutes) and quote (by phone, email, FaceTime or Zoom) is free.
If you live in the Emu Heights (NSW) area, Mark can attend your site in person.
Please note: Mark will not do the work for you but he will help you to ‘do it yourself’: plan, purchase materials and bring the project to completion.

Disclaimer: Mark has over forty years of handyman experience doing projects inside and outside the house, but he is not a qualified tradesman so is not able to give you advice on building codes or regulations nor is he covered by any tradies’ licence.

“You must have a licence before you do any residential building work in NSW, including minor maintenance and cleaning, valued at more than $5,000 (incl GST) in labour and materials.” NSW Department of Fair Trading

Violas

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you read that heading? If you’re a musician, perhaps you thought of the violin-like stringed instrument that is seen in a string quartet. If you’re a gardener or a lover of flowers, perhaps you thought of the relative of modern pansies. Unlike their much larger cousins, which have large ‘faces’, viola flowers are small, barely 2cm across.

Violas and pansies are part of quite a large family, collectively known as violas, which is made up of more than 500 species, incorporating annuals, biennials and perennials. Many of them have five-petalled flowers which are reminiscent of faces; each variety having its own unique appearance.

Viola tricolor, the species we usually call ‘viola’ are fast-growing, self-seeding and their appearance is a sign that spring is on the way. The tiny plants appear in the garden (or in garden centres) in mid- to late winter and quickly spread out to cover an area of about 20cm across. They come in a variety of colours but the ones we may know as ‘Johnny Jump Up’ are usually purple, yellow or white. This season we have added a new variety, Viola ‘Arkwright Ruby’.

Viola flowers are edible and make a colourful addition to a garden salad; I find their taste to be quite ‘green’ or ‘grass like’. They can be ‘frosted’ with egg white and caster sugar then used as a decoration on cakes or other deserts.

Although the common name ‘heartsease’ may suggest their use for heart problems, this is not the case. The name refers to their cheerful face causing the spirits to be lifted or ‘easing the heart’. Traditionally, violas were used medicinally for skin diseases and respiratory problems. The flowers have been used as a source of natural dyes: green, blue and yellow.

HOW TO GROW VIOLAS

Seed of violas is sown in late winter and spring (after frosts) in seed trays. The seed is tiny; I find it easier to sow it on the surface of moist seed raising mix and cover it lightly with more seed raising mix. Press down to get good contact between the soil and the seed. Water lightly and keep moist. Seedlings should emerge in 7-14 days.

Transfer seedlings from the seed tray to individual pots when they have their first true leaves – when the seedlings are big enough to handle. Because slugs think all young, tender greens are fair game on our patch, we rarely plant them in the garden until they are 5cm tall. Once in the garden, they grow quickly – 20cm tall and at least that wide. Plant them fairly densely, a mass display looks better than individual plants. They will need a rich, moist, slightly acidic soil to bloom their best. If they suffer water stress, they tend to grow straggly and don’t flower as much.

Allow some of the flowers to go to seed, you’ll probably never have to raise seedlings again. We bought one packet of 150 seeds in 2016 and sowed about half of it. Now we have hundreds, probably thousands, of flowers around our property every spring; and we don’t have to do anything except provide water. This year, we haven’t even had to do that because of the ‘La Nina’ weather system present over eastern Australia.

FUN FINAL FACT

Many of those brightly coloured, huge pansies that are popular in the garden centre, and sold for containers and gardens in the cooler months of late winter and spring, have their origins in the humble Viola tricolor.


Next Friday is our monthly DIY post, this time featuring storage ideas for those essential tools needed by any handyperson. In the meantime, why not read our daily (except Sunday) hints and tips (Q&A) posts?

Happy growing!
Lynne 🍅

DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this blog post is written for general knowledge and/or entertainment purposes only. Please do further research if you are unfamiliar with this plant. While all care is taken to be accurate, Hillside Homegrown & Handmade accepts no responsibility for actions taken by the reader because of information shared in this article.