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Regional vegetable gardening advisors: local garden advice for you

Regional advisor columns highlighted by circles:

Anchorage San Diego Boston South west Missouri Central Washington state Victoria, British Columbia

Perth Melbourne North coast NSW Brisbane Central Victoria

Our regional advisors page was a new concept in vegetable gardening web sites when launched back in the dim, dark days of the 20th century. Living in southeast Queensland there was only so much we can help gardeners with. We didn't know the first thing about the best time to harvest before frosts in the United States, what tomato varieties grow best in the UK or how far south can you grow tropical fruit in Australia. That's why we threw this page open to people worldwide who wanted to help their fellow local gardeners.

But as time went by, and our lives became busier and busier and the demands of running this site grew, we decided to put it into hibernation. This means that large chunks of the site may appear to be stuck in a timewarp.

Click here for previous monthly contributions from around the globe.

We take no responsibility for the content of information and advice provided by regional advisors, see our disclaimer for full details.

May 2003

Anchorage, Alaska
With Virginia Badger

More columns coming in spring.

Previous Anchorage updates.

Boston, Massachusetts
With Lisa Pearson

Coming soon.

Previous Boston updates.

Central Washington
With Jim McLain

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Robert Burns was aware of this many, many years ago—and he wasn’t even a gardener as far as I know. His quote from, “To A Mouse” popped into my mind this evening as I was rototilling the part of my garden that isn’t in raised beds. I had just moved a huge pile of garden refuse that I hadn’t had time to compost last fall. When I ran the tiller over the area, four mice scurried away in four directions.

At the end of March I had planned to accomplish so much in the garden in April. But as Bobby Burns reminds me, “The best laid plans of mice and men…” we don’t always get to do what we plan. I suspect the mice had the same thoughts. Several health problems caused my plans to go awry. But this is May! Surely this month I will get to have fun in my garden!

Peas will be up before May begins. The first radishes are up as well as the first planting of lettuce. But I’m behind—way behind! I have neither planted onion sets nor Walla Wallas (sweet onions). Spinach should have been planted and up, as well as beets. (I think those of you in Australia call them beet roots.) Yukon Gold potatoes should have been in the ground weeks ago. Then there are the cole crops to transplant—broccoli, cauliflower, and maybe a few early cabbages. Oh, and I need to get carrots planted right away.

Some optimistic gardening friends have already set out tomatoes with protection—we are sure to have more frost between now and the end of May. Several nights recently I have heard the wind machines in neighboring cherry and pear orchards running for frost protection. (I checked a sampling of blooms from several trees a couple of days ago in the sweet cherry orchard. The results didn’t look good--eighty percent of the blooms I checked were dead.)

I am going ahead with my experiment of no-till in some of my raised beds. In some I have been sinking my spading fork down about 6 or 8 inches and wiggling it up and down just enough to allow air to get into the soil. In other beds I will just scratch a row just deep enough to plant seed. For transplants, I’ll dig only a planting hole just large enough for setting out the transplants.

Our last average killing frost is May 15, so I don’t usually get in a hurry to set out either tomato or pepper plants. I had planned to plant a few tomatoes by the middle of April under Walls’ O Water. But now I think I’ll be lucky to get around to setting them out by the third week in May.

In the raised beds that I am spading, I’m finding more earthworms than I remember in previous years. Maybe it was the warmer than usual winter that didn’t send the worms going deep down in search of warmth. Maybe it is because the soil has warmed up to about 50 degrees in the top six inches. But I really think it is because of the vast amount of organic material I have been working into the soil and the mulch I have left on the soil the year round the last several years. Anyway, the earthworms seem to be happy, and I know I’m happy just to be able to be out digging in the dirt again.

Previous Central Washington updates.

San Diego, California
With Bonnie Lara

Coming soon.

Previous San Diego updates.

Southwest Missouri
With Dan Owen

Yikes! Spring has arrived and I'm already behind the pace set by my neighbors! It's hard to keep up with them... I work Monday through Friday. Though they're slow, they're also retired and have the entire week to spend in their beloved gardens. Frustration really sets in when I see how much they have accomplished in my week long absence. Plant starts in nice rows here, cadged peas over there... who knows what's under that tarp two houses down?? This activity reaches a crescendo every weekend when working stiffs such as myself try to make up for lost time. I arise early to the sound of rototillers and lawn mowers. Hurriedly, I get dressed, then go outside to limber up. I do this by taking a stroll down my block. Great exercise, but I also have a sinister purpose in mind. As I'm stretching aching muscles and joints, I'm also performing covert reconnaissance. Walking briskly eastward toward the main highway, my beady little eyes take rapid fire note of who has what growing where in their veggie patches'. With lightening mental speed, I note that Ralph Taylor has a large area reserved for corn, and yes, Betty Spites is going ape with tomatoes this season. Old man Leonard McKinely has a strawberry patch that is now in blossom... Yes, I'm a walking snooper... my brain churning like an old windmill, cackling and muttering to myself as I visually invade one neighbor's patch after the other. Once the summer harvest begins, I will be ready to pounce on these unsuspecting micro-farmers. Just like a mirage, I will appear from nowhere, basket in hand, more than ready for any handouts that come my way. As part of my friendly veneer, I will compliment each on his or her wonderful (insert veggie here) plants while holding out a tomato or two to help prime the pump.(Of course, these exchanges are done for the shear fun of it. Everybody benefits by spreading out their surplus and truly there's nothing like barter to brings us back to our roots.)

Yes, summer in the suburbs can get interesting! For my part, I try and grow just enough of each type of veggie to continuously supply my needs over the coming months. This year, using the square foot method, I have planted 36 square feet of leaf lettuce (about 45 plants), 16 square feet of onions and peppers (because I love them). In addition, there are enough side plantings of radish, basil, oregano to keep me happy. (If you get the idea I love salads, I do). Inside my house are tiny tomato and cucumber seedlings waiting for their turn to go outside when the weather warms. Next to them are young starts of lettuce and chard that will replace my first runs of lettuce. Later this month, I will plant a couple of hills of Kentucky Wonder pole beans. I just love these guys in salads and soups. They freeze well and are easy to harvest. What more can you ask for? As a bonus, I always let a few pods fully mature at the end of the season.

That's my plan for this season. I like to keep things simple and uncomplicated. Just a simple square foot garden plan that always has something coming or going. I weed only once a week because there's so little space that is left over for weeds to take hold. I water once a week if it doesn't rain and before you know it, I'm plucking something from the garden almost every day. We'll see just how well it works out come Fall. I may yet get bit by the garden bug and go crazy like I did a few years ago, but that's another story. Talk with you all next month.


Previous Southwest Missouri updates.

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
With Jill Winstanley

My husband and I have developed a technique that is extremely low maintenance once in place. It saves on water,soil erosion,weeding and allows plants of all types to flourish. Our method has been adopted by all of our friends who are into low maintenace~high yield veggie gardening. After construcing our deep beds(2 -3"wide x as log as you want) we lay down drip irrigation hose and then cover the entire bed with landscape fabric. From there you can either cut an x and pop in your transplant or cut out a small strip and direct seed.

For plants and areas that dont mind overhead watering, instead of putting the drip line under the cloth we use small fan emitters on a spike which we can place as needed. We noticed that our Strawberries did not like the emitters, but with the drip line under the fabric they produce an unbelieveable amount of berries, and very late into the season. Our whole garden is hooked up to a little computer that kicks on in the early morning just like peoples lawn sprinklers. With the black landscape fabric, the soil warms up, the weeds stay out, the water and manure tea go straight to the plant and not the weeds. Come fall, you can roll the fabric back and plant a cover crop to dig in in the spring. We get at least 3 yrs out of the fabric and the cost to replace it is really minamal if you need to. In early spring the garden stores always have it on sale for pretty cheap.

We just find that for what we save in water and weeding its definately worth it. Its nice to be able to stand back and enjoy the garden and put more time into harvesting and canning/drying.

We have tried lots of different mulching techniques and have just found this to be the ultimate.

We let our chickens and ducks mulch up old hay, straw, kitchen(even used paper towel and can labels) and garden waste doing the sheet composting method. When we need compost we just dig off the top layer somewhere in the coop.

For Potatoes I use big old garbage cans in our chicken coop. I plant the potatoes in about 1 foot of dirt at the bottom and then cover with more dirt as it grows leaving the top leaves exposed. When we are ready to harvest, we just push it over, pull out the taters and let the chickens scratch up the rest. Its a good way to have potatoes in a very small space.

I learned a really good tip this year for repelling deer : one egg blended into 2 liters of water. Put in spray bottle and spray foliage early morning. Repeat after a rainfall.

This really works well.

Well , Thats a little about about me and our garden. Chow from Canada ~ Jill Winstanley

P.S. ~ The trick is to NOT COVER the landscape fabric. As soon as you do little weeds get a foothold in it and its over.

Brisbane, Australia
With Gavin & Paula Atkinson

It's really weird at the moment. One weekend I get a chance to spend a couple of hours out gardening, which allows me to get most jobs done (you know the fun stuff like weeding!), but the next fortnight becomes so hectic that nothing get's done. Then, I get a chance to clash with the new weeds. I'm losing an endless battle in trying to update the garden, whether it's sowing seeds, planting out seedlings, fertilising, mulching or even donning the gloves to squeeze the aphids infesting my rose buds. I just don't seem to have the time at the moment. This means that it still looks good, but it's not getting better. Each weekend I have this hope that maybe this weekend, if I'm lucky, I can start taking some steps forward.

The one thing I was really happy about, was I finally got our creeping rose trellised up on the oversize lattice work on the side of our house. It's made a big impact so that the side of the place is no longer a monument to my neglect, but actually looks very presentable now. Now if it could only flower....

I ended up losing one of my gerbaras at the end of April. Strangely enough it was the gerbara that I thought was the healthiest. Just goes to show what happens if you forget to water the things after a week. At this time of the year the weather is very deceiving. The days are getting cooler (as well as the nights) and it's so pleasant to be out and about in the garden. But with little rain, it's easy to forget to water the garden every week.

Of course, if I actually had some time in the garden (ha ha ha!) I'd be doing some pretty serious fertilising, both with our homemade compost, liquid manure, and all the organic good stuff you can buy from the shops (aged animal manures, blood and bone and potash). Out in the vegie garden the time is ripe to plant the winter garden - broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, peas and snowpeas, turnips, parsnips, leeks, onions and garlic. Here in south east Queensland we can still continue growing lots of other stuff too - carrots, beetroot, tomato and capsicum seedlings, lettuces by the truckload, and asian vegies. It's sometimes a little difficult to find 'green manure' seeds (legumes, lupins and a range of nitrogen rich crops) in the nurseries and hardware shops. I usually get mine from Green Harvest and sow them where I've previously grown my gross feeders (like corn, melons, zucchinis, cucumbers and pumpkins). It helps replenish the soil after the previous season's busy efforts.

I hope you have more joy in getting out into the garden than I do at the moment!

Previous Brisbane updates.

Central Victoria, Australia
With Liz Ingham

Confessions of a Weekend Hippy - Part 2

The moon comes into its own in the dark months. I'm more aware of it, watching from the outdoor bath at sunset as the new moon materializes low on the horizon, out of thin air, or the full moon sending shafts of silver as it comes up through the trees, or slivers of pale daytime moon on those clear days.


Some recent good news - our application for revegetation funding has been approved by the Catchment Management Authority. They are going to pay for seed, seedlings and a circular fenced enclosure, and we can start as soon as the soil is ready.

In this rough terrain, planting native seeds directly where they are to grow is a better idea than planting tubestock in holes in the hard baked clay. We're also going to try disturbing the soil in some areas, and seeing what comes up from dormant seed already in the ground. We're also building a circular enclosure to keep Swampie (wallaby with arse like troop carrier) and kangaroos out, using a new technique of making the fence angle outwards, rather than straight up. The theory is that they can jump high, but don't like jumping high and far at the same time.


I'll be arriving at Clydesdale by bicycle tomorrow, and hope to eat completely out of the garden, except for a few cupboard staples. Last week I planned a few menus:

  • Potato chunks with spring onions, new season broccoli, lots of garlic and sea salt. Good and filling after a long ride - boil the spud pieces, fry the rest in olive oil, making the garlic all crispy, then add the spuds and fry until yummy, maybe adding sesame oil or more good olive oil at the end. This only works with strong-tasting greens like home grown broccoli, brussels sprouts or Choi sum/Chinese broccoli.

  • Zucchini bread - just make bread but include grated zucchini and dark-tasting herbs like thyme or rosemary. That's if the zucchini wasn't finished off in a frost during the week.

  • Salad with rocket, lettuce, spinach, chocolate capsicum (still ripening in the cool weather, but not as tasty as the thick red ones), nearly-the-end tomatoes and herbs.

  • Snow peas and the last of the beans with beetroot dip - boil beetroot in skin with tail and an inch of stalk attached until cooked, remove skin and stalk, mash with olive oil, sea-salt, pepper and lemon juice/vinegar. You can put in greek yoghurt instead if you're not travelling by bike.

  • Stir fry of bok choi, young broccoli leaves and almonds.

I should be cooking kohl rabi. It's mature, but it's just so pretty, I can't bear to hurt it.

I haven't been planting much lately, except for a few follow-up rows of spinach and beetroot, since I've been researching root-barrier fabric and want to wait until the tree root problem is solved before I waste any more compost on those greedy giants. Sadly, there seems to be no fabric that can keep tree roots out and still allow water to drain away. All the root barrier materials are meant to be placed vertically to keep roots from moving sideways under the soil surface. My problem is with tree roots coming in from underneath the raised beds.

This weekend I'm going to dig up some areas that were lined with newspaper in an experiment last summer, and see if that at least delayed the tree root re-invasion. I'm going to buy some lard and smear it around the stalks of affected plants to stop the ants farming aphids (that's if the aphids haven't been frosted off - for the last month it's been too cold for predators and warm enough for aphids - a bad combo - I've never tried the lard method before, so I'll let you know if it works).

And I'll sit and think. There are difficult decisions to be made about the fruit trees and perennial plants

Previous Central Victoria updates.

Melbourne, Australia
With Rachel Bucknall

Rachel's rocket and lettuce taking off!

Bugs, bugs, bugs. I've found lots of them while digging up the vegie patch, so I figure I must be doing something right! Digging didn't happen over Easter as partying took over instead (I figure I've got to make the most of my 20s while I still have them) and then uni time management issues have taken over since then...the patch is back on the agenda now!

Given that my previous attempts and gardening have been thwarted by too much to do and too little time to attempt it all (let alone learn from it) I'm keeping to just two beds this time round. I've sorted through my seeds and mum's promised some seedlings to make sure we have *something* to eat at the end! The rocket and lettuce in mum's planter bed are going great guns though.

Previous Melbourne updates.

Perth, Australia
With Marion Macgregor

Coming soon.

Previous Perth updates.

NSW North Coast, Australia
With Betty Fowler

May in the Garden.

May his here at last and so is the cooler weather. We have had a lot of rain - showers mainly but it has been so good for the garden. Everything is growing so well - very nice to be able to watch it growing instead of having nothing but weeds in the garden as we had over the last growing season due to the drought.

My pumpkin vine, the one that has encroached on part of the garden, it has paid off by my leaving it there. I have counted about 8 large pumpkins growing on it - just as well. It is still growing and producing flowers and has a number of little pumpkins starting on the ends of the runners as well. These will have to get a move on before the cold weather sets in.

We have been picking the lettuce I put in earlier - my 6 plants (about 24 from my friendly nurseryman) have all grown well. I am giving a lot of them away to help with the oversupply. I have other lettuce coming on as well. I planted the seed of a selection of lettuce varieties all out of the same packet. These contain the oakleaf, cos, buttercrunch and a couple of other varieties. I have a few rows of these planted on and these are growing well and we should be able to pick them in a couple of weeks. This year I have also tried rocket. Nothing like a mixture of salad greens.

The cabbage have been attacked by the grubs which I am trying to keep at bay each day. I may not win the battle with these - the first crop here is always the same. No matter, the chooks love cabbage especially laced with grubs.

The broccoli is growing steadily and has a few grubs on it - easier to find on the leaves than the cabbages. The caulies, I still have about 3 plants standing - I do not know what happened to the others as they seem to have disappeared - just chewed off at ground level. (looks like cutty grug activity - they are hard to find as they come out at night and do their damage). This has happened to some of the other plants that I have put in previously - joys of gardening I suppose. I have planted another few cabbages, broccoli and caulies out and these have taken off now the cooler weather has arrived. I find it is better to keep them coming in stages than planting a lot and then having none to follow on.

I have just about pulled all the beans out apart from one or two stragglers which are still flowering and producing. Some of the beans on the trellis are still valiantly trying to flower and grow. I should be hard and pull them out and plant peas on the trellis ---- next week perhaps. I have one trellis of peas planted already - these are sugar snap and snow peas. These are up and just starting to get a bit of size in them before they start to climb. I am going to plant a couple of rows of garden peas as well - I have the seeds of massey gem (an early variety) and green feast. (later variety). I often wonder if it is worth the effort as the parrots watch the peas ripen and have keener eyes than me at times. Nothing like sharing the produce.

It is time to plant broad beans this month as well. John and I plant a crop of broad beans and peas for a green crop. What we don't eat we chop back into the soil. Over the years it has helped with the fertility of the soil.

The turnips, swedes and parsnips I have planted are doing well. The purple top turnips have started to bulb and I have managed to pick one or two - rather on the small side of course - just to put in the soup for flavour. John is hanging out for the pasties I make with the turnips or swedes and other vegies. Great winter food. It is surprising how many people do not use turnips or swedes or even parsnips. They have a great place in cooking , I use them a lot. Growing them quickly (plenty of manure and water) is the secret to keeping them sweet and not strong flavoured. A good frost helps sweeten the swedes I have found - This means that they have to be growing early and bulbing before it frosts.

I have planted a packet of bok choy (chinese greens) seeds and every one of them came up within 4 days. They are fast growers and I have started thinning out the plants already and using them as greens mixed with a few leaves of spinach to help make up the quantity. I will let the other plants grow on till they are more mature. These are really delicious steamed with noodles and a little soy sauce as well.

I planted some onion seeds last month and these have started to come up along with the weeds. I will plant out some of the onions seedlings when they get large enough to handle. Using the young plants as shallots helps get rid of the excess if you do not want them to grow to maturity. Our area is not a good area for growing onions. When they are to be picked we usually get rain. This also brings a bit of disease (mainly mildew) to the plants as well. I have also planted leek seeds and these have started to poke their heads above the ground. I usually buy a punnet of seedlings and plant these out. I am being very virtuous this year, planting as many seeds as I can instead of going to the nursery.

The carrots and beetroot seeds I planted have germinated and the rows are well defined. The beetroot will have to be thinned out a bit - these will make another row - I can't bear to throw the excess away. The carrots will grow and I will thin these out gradually as they fill out and use them as baby carrots. Great with parsnip if you have both growing.

We have been carting plenty of compost out of the chook pens and putting it on the garden beds before planting this year. This with added lime and blood and bone have kept the fertility up. I am so happy with the way the soil has built up over the years with everything that we have put in it. It is a pleasure to dig in it. The depth of soil is great and the drainage is superb.

I just like wandering through the garden and seeing what is growing - good early morning activity. I love it especially when it is frosty -

Our citrus fruit is starting to colour already. Great, I can hardly wait. It will be good to pick our own fruit again this year and of course a few of them will end up in the jam pot as marmalade jam. The orange trees, (I have 4 of them) cover quite a long period - starting with an early navel orange and progressing to a really late valencia. The Tangelo is a great juice fruit and fruits from July onwards. The later in the season the riper the fruit gets of course - I start using them as soon as they colour up enough. I have also a couple of mandarin trees, a lemon , lime and grapefuit trees as well.

We had a lot of cherry guavas on earlier - these I was planning on making some jam out of but time beat me as usual. We ate quite a few of them fresh. I often picked a few and put in my pocket when I went for my early morning walk. The yellow guava did not do as well this year. I am sure the drought affected it a lot. We had a few fruit on it - much larger than other years but not as many. We missed out on being able to have stewed guavas this year and the guava jam did not get made.

Well I have again rambled on long enough.

Happy gardening till next time.


Previous NSW North Coast updates.



Last updated 23 October, 2008

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