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Raspberries are a great addition to any edible garden. They are easy to grow and can be highly productive. Raspberries are best trained up a trellis so they can make great use of vertical spaces. For those of you worried about prickles… you can even get thorn-less varieties! Best of all, homegrown raspberries are usually packed full of flavour!

Growing raspberries is easy in Melbourne’s temperate climate.

Where to plant Raspberries

Raspberries evolved in the understory of European forests. This heritage enables them to grow in semi-shade, and can make great additions to Edible Forest Gardens. However, I’ve found that often when plants are grown in these conditions they produce less fruit which generally isn’t very sweet.

It’s a good idea to train your raspberries along a trellis.

You need to be careful to contain raspberry plants, as just like mint, they can quickly take over a whole garden bed. You may want to consider growing them in a pot, a raised garden bed or wicking bed, to stop them escaping. We’ve seen root barriers used semi-successfully to stop their spread. Some of you may like the idea of them spreading – after all you can never have enough raspberries… right?! If they spread into lawn, they are easy enough to control by mowing the tops off.

Rats, blackbirds, possums and all sorts of other thieves love raspberries. So you’ll need to consider how you might protect your crops. Netting is a great way to keep the pests at bay, but also makes harvesting difficult (you’ll need to harvest every few days as the season peaks). If you’ve got the space and budget then consider adding a larger cage or enclosure to protect your crops.

Some varieties of raspberry canes can get quite long, so consider implementing a trellis to train them along. This can be as simple as a few wires or more elaborate mesh systems.

Preparation and Planting

Like most of the berry crops, Raspberries prefer an acidic soil. Work through plenty of organic matter, compost and animal manure.

You can even get “black” raspberries from specialist nurseries.

Raspberries are best planted as dormant canes in winter. You can get canes from friends or family who are already growing them, from local nurseries or online. At other times of the year you can purchase plants growing in pots to plant out. For standard suburban backyards, one cane of two or three varieties should be enough to get you started. In two to three years this will quickly grow into quite a large volume of canes. Larger plantings may need larger quantities of each variety to help establish your berry patch.

Consider under-planting the raspberries with a living mulch. We have found strawberries and raspberries grow well together. The strawberries act as a living mulch to suppress weed growth and to help retain moisture in the soil. Alternatively you can mulch your raspberries with a thick layer of pine bark mulch or similar wood chip.

Raspberries are pretty easy to manage in Melbourne’s temperate climate. They are relatively heavy feeders, so applications of compost, animal manures or fertilizers are recommended in spring and summer.

Primocane vs Floricane Varieties

Nothing beats freshly picked, home-grown raspberries

Raspberries can be classified as either floricane (summer fruiting) or primocane (autumn fruiting). The great thing about primocane raspberries is that pruning them is simple. Once the canes have stopped producing (in winter) you just cut the whole lot back to ground level. This easy maintenance is offset by the fact that summer raspberries tend to be sweeter and have more flavour (because of the summer heat).

Floricane (summer fruiting) varieties are slightly more complicated to prune. To do so, in winter remove the canes that have already fruited (two year old wood). All of the newer canes (that have grown this year) need to be retained, as these will produce fruit in summer, when the plant wakes up from its dormancy. It’s usually easy to tell the difference between the first and second year canes.

How to Prune Raspberries

Pruning should be done in winter (see Primocane vs Floricane Varieties for more information on how they are pruned). Raspberries don’t actually need to be pruned to produce fruit. In fact, spent canes (ones that have already fruited) will often throw out short lateral growth the following spring, and often these will produce some fruit. However, pruning in winter will reduce the congestion around the plants, making netting and harvesting easier. It will also enable better airflow, which can help reduce pests and fungal issues.

Do you grow raspberries at home? Please share your experiences with our growing community on Facebook.

The post How to Grow Raspberries appeared first on Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services Hawthorn.

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Sweet potatoes are a subtropical crop that grows very well in Melbourne. We’ve grown them over the past two summers and have had some good results. Here’s what we’ve learnt about growing sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are an easy crop to grow in Melbourne

Propagation of Sweet Potatoes

The easiest way to grow sweet potatoes is by taking cuttings from an existing vine. This can be done at any time of the year. In Melbourne, it is usually done in May when the previous crop is lifted. The cuttings can be placed in a jar of water to take root. We’ve also had success with immediately potting cuttings up in potting mix.

Sweet potato set up in a glass to grow slips

In Melbourne, you’ll need to protect young plants from cool weather. Cuttings will need to be protected in a greenhouse, or by growing on a windowsill during the winter.

If you don’t have access to an existing plant from which to take cuttings, you’ll need to grow some sweet potato “slips”. To do this suspend a sweet potato the tuber over a glass of water (toothpicks may assist with this). Half of the tuber should be submerged and half out of the water.

Place the glass in a warm position, such as on a window sill. After a few weeks the tuber will sprout many new shoots. Once the shoots have formed roots at their base, you remove them by twisting, trying to retain as many of the roots as possible. Place the shoots into a shallow dish of water until they establish a stronger root system and then pot up, or transplant out.

Some nurseries also sell sweet potato plants in spring and summer.

Location and Planting of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a subtropical plant. They need full sun to enable good yields in Melbourne gardens. Limiting their access to sunlight may limit the size of the tubers developed by the plant. Dig plenty of compost and organic matter into the soil. Plant the young plants about a metre apart. We’ve had best results by planting young plants into the garden in mid-late November.  Be prepared for them to take over a space of several square metres of garden per plant.

We haven’t tried, but you can train sweet potatoes up a trellis. However, it apparently reduces the size of the tuber that develops. We have grown sweet potatoes in a “Three Sisters” companion planting garden. The sweet potatoes were a less rampant option to grow in place of pumpkin (squash in the original three-sisters). We found that once harvested, the sweetcorn plants died back and enabled the light to penetrate down to the sweet potatoes. This ensured good yields from the sweet potato vines.

Sweet potatoes need regular watering and warm weather to thrive and yield well.

Cant wait to harvest your tubers?

Tender, young sweet potato leaves are a great addition to salads or eaten steamed.

We enjoy growing sweet potatoes in our household. However, the yield isn’t that great considering the space the vines take up. Fortunately, you can also eat the leaves, either steamed or in salads. Sweet potato leaves are known as camote tops (or kamote tops) in Spanish-speaking countries.

The leaves are most tender in late summer. Late summer is a time that can be challenging to grow other leafy greens, such as lettuce and spinach. The heat and long days often make young lettuces bolt. So sweet potato leaves can add variety to your summer salads.

Harvesting your Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potato tubers grow at the base of the stem

The tender vines will not cope with Melbourne’s cool weather over winter. In our climate you will need to harvest the tubers in May (or earlier if it is a particular cool autumn).

It’s a good idea to take cuttings for planting next summer prior to lifting the tubers. The cuttings will need to be keep in a greenhouse or indoors to protect from cooler weather.

The tubers are located at the base of the main stem. They are very delicate, so carefully excavate around the tuber and lift them. Allow them to dry off outside in the sun on a warm, sunny afternoon. Once dry, place them in an open cardboard box placed in a warm spot for a few weeks to cure. This helps to convert the starches to sugars and makes them a bit tastier to eat. It also allows the skin to harden off, so that the tubers will store better. Make sure rodents can’t get to the tubers whilst curing and when in storage.

Have you grown sweet potatoes before? Have you got any hints and tips on growing them?

There are a few different sweet potato varieties available to Melbourne growers. We’ve trialed both an orange and purple variety.

The post How to Grow Sweet Potatoes in Melbourne appeared first on Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services Hawthorn.

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Codling moth can cause significant damage to your apple and pear crops

What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Half a worm! And that worm is likely to be the larvae of the codling moth (Cydia pomonella). Codling Moth larvae are currently prevalent in apple, pear, nashi and quince fruit. Our large granny smith apple tree is so badly infested this year, that I’m not going to bother netting the fruit. The potential crop of uninfested fruit is so small, it is just not worth it.
Females lay eggs on fruit or leaves in summer and the black-headed yellow larvae attack the fruit immediately upon hatching. Each larva burrows into fruit, and eats it for around three weeks. The grub then emerges from the fruit to overwinter, and pupate elsewhere in spring, and emerge as an adult moth in summer.

Codling moth leave telltale “frass” (codling moth poo) at the entrance to their hole.

You can tell if codling moth have infested the fruit by looking for the telltale “frass” (codling moth poo) at the entrance to the hole. Any infested fruit should be removed from the tree and destroyed. Don’t bury the fruit or put it in the compost. Instead try cooking it in a sealed, black, plastic bag in the hot sun. You could also feed the fruit to animals or poultry. Having poultry free range under the trees to scratch and eat overwintering larvae, and clean up fallen fruit is also a great idea.

There are quite a few organic strategies that you can use to reduce future codling moth infestations. Reducing hiding places (such as flaky bark) for cocoons is important. Providing traps such as rolling cardboard around the trunk, or pheromone traps can also help to reduce numbers. You’ll need to periodically remove the rolled up cardboard and burn it.

Earwigs eat codling moth eggs (although not enough to rely on for control). The Trichogramma wasp is an important predator in our gardens, as it targets codling moth (as well as many other pest insects). They also feed on nectar. So having plenty of flowering plants in your garden will help to sustain significant populations of predatory wasps, and help keep your codling moth problem under control.

Codling moth have a black head. Their eggs hatch in summer and the grub quickly burrows into fruit.

The post What’s eating my apple? Codling Moth! appeared first on Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services Hawthorn.

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District Docklands (formerly known as the Harbour Town precinct) is creating a new community garden. Leaf, Root & Fruit is proud to be working with the District Docklands team and Development Victoria to design and implement a productive, aesthetic and exciting space for children and their families enjoyment.

We are in the process of transforming the site which was formerly an industrial wasteland, covered in weeds and rubble. The garden is located on the corner of Waterfront Way and Little Docklands Drive.

District Docklands Community Garden “Before Shots”

 

Our goal statement for the project is:

“A beautiful and engaging place for the community to share and which creates a sense of belonging. It attracts visitors to the centre and is financially and environmentally sustainable”.

The design phase went through several stages and involved working with multiple stakeholders. The full site analysis and design document totaled over 40 pages. You can download a three page summary PDF version of the design by clicking on the image below.

Click on the design image to download a three page PDF summary of the final design.

The final design incorporates three shipping containers. These are used as windbreak and storage spaces. The shipping container in the middle, is a side opening container and can be used as a stage. Regular events and workshops will be run in the space by District Docklands, Leaf, Root & Fruit and Blender Studios.

The existing large concreted area, is to be furnished with seating made from up-cycled pallets. Apple crates will be planted out with edible plants and flowers.

Raised wicking beds have been installed along the north boundary to act as a barrier to stop children running out onto the road. These will be planted with an edible forest garden, full of fruit trees, shrubs and an under-story of herbs and strawberries. Children will be able to wander along and pick some tasty, fresh and healthy fruit and veggies for their lunch!

The southwest corner of the space required the import of a large quantity of clean soil. It is planned to be planted out as an ornamental forest garden. There will be lots of sensory plants included in this area to encourage children to smell and touch. Flowering plants will attract lots of beneficiary insects and brighten up the garden. The southern boundary will be planted with fast growing pioneer species of shrubs and trees. These shrubs, trees and vines grown over the existing cyclone fence will act as a windbreak to make the site more pleasant to sit and relax in.

Implementation of the project started in September 2017 and we have 7 weeks to deliver the project. The grand opening of the space will occur on Saturday 18th November 2017.

Image Gallery of District Docklands Project Implementation
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Recently, I posted some observations and theories that I have been developing on citrus gall wasps. To test out the theories, we’re setting up a trial to see which treatment regime might produce the healthiest and most productive trees.

Setting up the Gall Wasp experiment

We used 10 x Meyer Lemon trees in the experiment. They seem very prone to Citrus Gall Wasp.

In August 2017 we purchased 10 Meyer lemon trees. At the time of purchase, they were relatively identical in size, shape and stage of growth. The trees were randomly paired up and allocated to five different treatments:

  • Citrus Galls pruned out in June every year, fertilized monthly Sep to May.
  • Citrus Galls pruned out in June every year, fertilized monthly in Dec and Jan only.
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly Sep to May.
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly in Dec and Jan only
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly Sep to May and treated with calcined kaolin clay (Surround®).

The trees were potted up into 40 cm pots and filled with Fulton’s Bulk potting mix. We chose Fulton’s Bulk potting mix as it was an average performer in our recent potting mix trials. This meant that we could control the amount of nitrogen rich fertilizer, that we applied during the first few seasons of growth. A better performing potting mix would have promoted a flush of spring growth regardless of any extra fertilizer that we applied.

We potted up 10 lemon trees. Two trees are each going to be subjected to different treatments.

The plants were placed together to ensure that all experienced similar growing conditions, sunlight, microclimate and irrigation.

There are several large citrus trees growing less than 50 metres from where the experiment is set up. There are other citrus trees visible in nearby neighboring yards. They are all likely to have some Citrus Gall Wasp in them.

Citrus Tree Pruning Regime

Treatments subjected to the “Prune in June” regime (four trees in total) are to have all visible galls pruned from the tree in June. The galls are to be soaked in a bucket of water. None of the purchased trees had any galls present when purchased. We decided to mimic trees that have been infected to speed up the accumulation of results. So approximately one third of the foliage was removed from the trees subjected to the June pruning regimes (despite there being no galls present in the first year). The other six trees will not be pruned at all in June, in any year.

Our citrus trees following our simulated “prune in June” regime in the first year.

All ten trees will be tip pruned as required in/or around November and again in/or around February (if required). Whilst the trees are small, this will be done with secateurs or finger tips. As the trees grow, we may resort to using hedge trimmers. Pruning will aim to retain as much fruit and blossom on the tree as possible. This pruning is a typical regime that I use on most citrus trees (see our guide on citrus tree maintenance for further details)

Fertilizing Regime

Trees are to be fertilized according to one of the following two regimes

  • monthly Sep to May
  • monthly in Dec and Jan only

Trees are fertilized with Richgro Organic Fruit and Citrus Fertilizer, which was the best performing organically certified fertilizer in our recent experiment.

It will be applied at the rate of one handful per pot, per month. The fertilizer will be scattered around the surface and then watered in well.

Calcined Kaolin Clay (Surround®) Regime

The NSW DPI has been trialling some different treatments in commercial citrus orchards. One organic treatment method is showing promise. It involves spraying calcined kaolin clay (Surround®) twice during the citrus gall wasp emergence period. This disrupts the laying of  eggs  and has shown to reduce gall occurrence significantly. We’ve decided to include this treatment as it’s relatively inexpensive, easy to apply and it’s organic.

Calcined Kaolin Clay (Surround®) is to be applied fortnightly for a total of three applications. The first application is to occur in spring at the start of each October.

It is to be applied at the “sunburn rate”. To do this we mixed 8 spoonfuls of power in a small jar of water. This was then tipped into a sprayer and made up to a final volume of 2 litres by adding more water. The trees are to be moved away from the other trees for treatment. The clay is applied using the sprayer and allowed to dry before being returned to their usual position.

Results of Our Citrus Gall Wasp Control Experiment

Stay Tuned! This experiment will run for several years. We will be regularly observing  overall tree health as well as  productivity. Periodic updates will be added to this page as the results develop. We will also share them on our Facebook Page and in our newsletter. Sign up to the newsletter so that you don’t miss out on seeing the results.

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The post Experiment: Control of Citrus Gall Wasp appeared first on Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services Hawthorn.

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What is the Citrus Gall Wasp?

Citrus Gall Wasp (Bruchophagus fellis) emerging from a gall.

Around Melbourne, Citrus gall wasp (Bruchophagus fellis) has become a large problem for backyard citrus growers. It is a small, 3 mm in length, shiny, black wasp that is native to Australia. It originated in northern parts of Australia where the native finger lime is the normal host plant. However, the Citrus Gall Wasp has also adapted to use our introduced citrus trees as host plants.

It was first recorded as a pest of citrus in Queensland and New South Wales in the 1930s. During the last decade, it has spread to the Riverina and Sunraysia regions of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the southern parts of Western Australia.

The citrus gall wasp causes unsightly lumps in citrus trees. This is the tree’s reaction to foreign bodies of the wasp larvae, that are incubating in the branch. Traditional thinking is that these galls are stressful to the trees. It is also believed to create weaker branches and lower the productivity of the trees.

There are two natural predators of the citrus gall wasp. The wasps Megastigmus brevivalvus and M. trisulcus insert their eggs directly into the citrus gall wasp egg. There it slowly develops in the host larva, eventually killing it. When well established, these wasps can parasitise more than 90% of gall wasp larvae. Neither of these natural predators has established populations in Melbourne, to make a significant impact on the gall wasp.

Citrus Gall Wasp Life Cycle

The citrus gall wasp has a life cycle that spans one calendar year. The adult wasp emerges from its woody gall in late spring or early summer. The emergence of the wasp is determined by the temperature. Most wasps emerge around the same time (within 20 days of each other). Warmer springs will see them emerge earlier than cooler springs.

Once the wasp has emerged, it has only 5 to 7 days to mate and then lay up to 100 eggs under the green bark of a citrus tree.

The eggs hatch after 2 to 3 weeks and feed within the stem for the next 9 to 10 months. During this time the tree will promote woody growth around the infected area. These galls become visible from about December and will gradually enlarge through autumn and winter.

After a short pupation period in spring, the adults emerge from little holes in the galls and the cycle continues.

Adult wasps normally do not move very far, but can be transported longer distances on prevailing winds or by movement of infested branches or trees. They usually re-infect the same tree, or another one nearby.

The NSW DPI has been trialling some different treatments in commercial citrus orchards. One organic treatment method is showing promise. It involves spraying calcined kaolin clay (Surround®) twice during the citrus gall wasp emergence period. This disrupts the egg laying and has shown to reduce gall occurrence significantly.

Observation’s I’ve made when growing citrus

At Leaf, Root & Fruit we implement and maintain many edible foodscapes across Melbourne. Citrus trees are a popular fruit tree and many of our clients have them in their gardens. Over the years, this has given me plenty of opportunities to watch and observe the Citrus Gall Wasp in action. Here are a few observations:

  • Citrus Gall Wasps tend to infect mainly lemons, grapefruit and to a lesser extent oranges.
  • Whilst they will infect mandarin and Tahitian lime trees, they seem to prefer lemons and grapefruit as their host
  • I’ve never seen an infected cumquat
  • I’ve never noticed them on any of the native limes such as the finger lime or sunrise lime. This is ironic, because they are the original host plants for the citrus gall wasp. We’ve had a lower number of native citrus trees available to inspect for gall wasp, so this may not be accurate.
  • The gall wasp always lays its eggs in very lush, new growth. This is evident as galls are most easily seen six months later at the base of light-green coloured shoots.
  • Citrus trees are traditionally fertilized heavily in spring, summer and autumn. Heavy fertilizing in spring promotes a flush of new growth that is preferred by Citrus Gall Wasp.
  • There is a public awareness campaign to “Prune in June”. Removing all citrus galls from a tree in June results in a flush of strong new growth in spring. This new growth is preferred by Citrus Gall Wasp.
  • Slow growing, underfed trees are rarely infected by Citrus Gall Wasp in spring
  • The Citrus Gall Wasp problem is now so widespread and established in Melbourne that eradication of the wasp from the area is going to be impossible through pruning or other mechanical methods.
  • Citrus trees infested with Citrus Galls can still be quite productive. I’m not sure that the galls are as stressful to the tree as traditional theories have made out.
An alternative theory on controlling citrus gall wasp in Melbourne

Based on the observations above, I have come up with some theoretical practices that are worth trialling for growing citrus in Melbourne.

Citrus Galls caused by the Citrus Gall Wasp are traditionally pruned out in June or July to prevent reinfection in spring.

Avoid pruning out the gall wasps in winter. Doing so unbalances the tree so that it has a larger root system area than foliage area. This causes the tree to try to restore the balance by growing vigorously in spring. The vigorous spring growth results in a flush of new foliage that the gall wasp prefers. Yearly pruning regimes, such as this perpetuates the cycle. The “Prune in June” program is likely to result in a downward spiral of the tree over the course of several years until you are left with nothing but a stick. Most fruit trees are covered in fruit (and possibly blossom) in winter, so it is another good reason not to “Prune in June”.

Avoid heavily fertilizing trees in winter or spring. This also results in a flush of new growth that the gall wasp prefers and perpetuates the cycle. Unfortunately, citrus trees are heavy feeders and require a lot of nitrogen rich nutrients. Without these heavy feeds, the leaves will go yellow and they may not be as productive as heavily fed trees. In some cases, I’ve waited until December to feed my citrus trees and this has meant that they have remained uninfected by the gall wasps. Feeding citrus trees in February or March can result in a second flush of new growth that is preferred by the Citrus Leaf Miner. This means that to avoid pests the only time to feed citrus in Melbourne is Late December and all of January. This is probably not enough for supporting productive healthy citrus trees. So there is a conundrum for the Melbourne based citrus grower. It seems we can have a well-fed productive tree, or an underfed, yellowing, pest-free tree, but not both!

Grow a variety that is not preferred by the Citrus Gall Wasp. Most people know someone else with a lemon tree and in winter they are a staple of local food swaps. So why not grow a mandarin, native finger lime or cumquat instead? There are plenty of other varieties out there to try. Check out our citrus variety guide for more ideas.

The general timing of events related to growing citrus in Melbourne. Please note, some of these events may vary slightly for different citrus varieties. This is especially the case for lemons which may have multiple crops per year.

The Leaf, Root & Fruit Citrus Gall Wasp Experiment

To test these theories, we are going to set up a trial to see which management practice is most beneficial for growing citrus.

We will purchase ten small lemon trees that are relatively identical in size, shape and stage of growth. The trees will be paired up and allocated to five different treatments:

  • Citrus Galls pruned out in June every year, fertilized monthly Sep to May.
  • Citrus Galls pruned out in June every year, fertilized monthly in Dec and Jan only.
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly Sep to May.
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly in Dec and Jan only
  • Citrus Galls not pruned out, fertilized monthly Sep to May, treated with calcined kaolin clay (Surround®).

This experiment will run for several years. We will be regularly looking at the overall tree health as well as productivity. Further details on the experiment, as well as periodic updates will be found on our Citrus Gall Wasp Experiment Page. We will also keep you updated on the results as they develop and share them on our Facebook Page and our newsletter.

Want to know more about growing citrus in Melbourne? Check out our handy 5 part growing guide.

Have you made any similar observations to ours? Do you have any thoughts or great ideas on how to control citrus gall wasp in Melbourne? Please include them in the comments section below.

The post Treating Citrus Gall Wasp in Melbourne: An alternative approach to “Prune in June” appeared first on Leaf, Root & Fruit Gardening Services Hawthorn.

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