Kitchen Gardening – with Tess and Ruben

My sister Tess and her husband Ruben are avid gardeners of all things edible and have been an inspiration to me. With their help I’ve grown around 12 different types of herbs, potatoes, tomatoes, and they’ve helped me establish peach, lemon and olive trees. I wish they lived closer so they could be my constant garden muses!  With spring around the corner, Tess has kindly written a piece for The Abbotsford Kitchen that might help or inspire others in the garden. And she is happy to answer your questions, so just leave one as a comment if you have anything you want to ask her.  Thanks Tess!

“Just over a year ago Ruben and I bought a little garden flat in Sydney. We love our new place but have had to compromise on the amount of gardening space when compared to our rental flat. The new place has a lovely courtyard garden with hedged off ‘rooms’. The back fence line was hedged as well taking up valuable vege and herb garden space.

Soon after moving in we set to work pulling out some of the hedges and composting the soil in preparation for a future kitchen garden.

Over the last summer and autumn we planted basil, chilli, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass and rocket. The basil lasted for over six months supplying the whole block of flats with enough leaves to satisfy everyone’s pesto cravings. We planted the rosemary near an established rose bush a year ago and it has now doubled in size. Six months ago I planted the rocket around the base of an existing quince tree and it is still going strong. The chillis are more cyclic and we only stopped harvesting from the plants in May – we will replant new chillis in the spring.  Last September I purchased two very small lemongrass plants and transplanted them into a very large garden tub and they have now grown large enough for us and our neighbours to harvest (below). I may even have to dig up one of them and replant elsewhere.

In mid July this year after a year of working on the largest of our garden beds (approx 1.5 m x 1 m) we planted some seed potatoes, broccoli and silverbeet. This garden bed was where we had the basil growing and where we have been adding compost and fertiliser consistently over the year. Four weeks later the potatoes have sprouted through the soil and the broccoli (below) and silverbeet have not perished.

At the same time we planted some rhubarb around the roses as I read somewhere that they are good companion plants and some Dutch carrots at the base of the rosemary for the same reason. Both of these have taken off and seem to be loving their position in front of a north facing brick wall, below left.


If you are thinking of beginning a kitchen garden, it’s a good time of year to start as many of our favourite herbs and veges and trees are still in their winter ‘resting-time’.  If your garden consists of nothing but soil then begin by preparing your soil.  Compost, compost and more compost is a great start. Add nutrients such as lime and manure to your soil.

For cool climate areas it’s not too late to plant winter vegetables such as broad beans, onions, peas, spinach, peas, mustard greens. For more temperate areas success can be achieved with all of the above plus garlic, chicory, shallots, rhubarb and asparagus. Although really, let’s face it, in our country I believe we are only limited by our individual sense of daring. So go ahead regardless of where you live and plant rocket, artichokes, asparagus, brussels sprouts (my all time favourite), leek, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, all the root vegetables, spinach, peas, lettuces. The main thing to keep in mind is position (need lots of sun), watering needs and soil types. Vegetables can be as fussy and as needy as your last partner.

If you want to plant a herb garden, put parsley, mint, thyme, sage, and rosemary now and wait until the warmer months for basil. It’s a good idea to remember to plant at the appropriate times of the year according to where in Australia you live. I live in a temperate zone so for example I will be planting new basil in late September. For those of you in cooler climes it’s probably best to wait a tad longer.

For kitchen gardening, you may also want to think about small or dwarfed aromatic trees such as the bay laurel and kaffir lime. I have mine in the dwarf variety growing in pots on my terrace alongside dwarf orange and Tahitian lime.  Whether using terrace pots or planting straight into the soil I highly recommend adding soil that is usually sold for roses. Both citrus and roses enjoy gobbling up the same nutrients.  For the bay laurel this is not necessary as they are much hardier and require far less attention – I like to think of my little bay tree as the quiet achiever in my garden.

If any of you are fortunate enough to have deciduous fruit trees in your garden then now is the time to give them a bit a spraying with a lime sulphur insecticide/fungicide in order to prevent any future pest problems. An important note here is that if you do use lime sulphur then please wear protective eyewear and clothing because as “natural” as lime sulphur is, it is not good if you come into contact with it. And remember to wash out your spraying device afterwards.

Whether planting trees or vegetables this winter and spring remember to water your new babies with a lush soaking of water that has been infused with a quality seaweed solution (I use Seasol).  This helps prevent the roots from going into shock and can kick-start new growth on your plants in their new home.

And for help with soil, nutrients, manures, sprays etc, I highly recommend you consult your local gardening expert. These people will have local knowledge for local environments.

This weekend just past I pruned the quince tree. My neighbours have told me that all the time they have lived in this block it has not produced any fruit. Last summer it flowered but sadly that was all it offered. I have never pruned a fruit tree before so I was a tad nervous. However, after researching I  discovered that I had to be cruel to be kind and prune heavily leaving most of the outer branches creating what is known as a ‘wine-glass’ shape. Time will tell if my efforts worked.

This weekend I am going to fertilize everything with Seasol or dynamic lifter – all my plants should then enter their spring growing phase.  I may also plant some garlic and sprinkle some parsley seeds around the place – after I vote of course.”

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2 thoughts on “Kitchen Gardening – with Tess and Ruben

  1. JL August 19, 2010 at 1:46 pm Reply

    Excellent tips re the ‘erbs! Had been trying to work out what to plant when, and worried they might not survive the colder whether.

    • Tess August 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm Reply

      JL… just give everything a go. Trial and error is the only way to learn. If you keep a diary of your attempts it will help for future successes. I look forward to reading of your achievments.

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