Spring into new planting ideas with Don
IT's the new gardening year for most parts of Australia as the blossom flowers appear and gardeners start dreaming of what they want to plant in readiness for summer.
Before turning that dream into reality, take a few tips from gardening guru Don Burke on what to do to successfully grow tasty fruit and vegetables in a small area.
World's easiest vegie garden
"For older people who are not prepared to have a gigantic garden, they can have a small vegie garden, grow their own produce and it's very manageable, and get a lot of satisfaction from growing edible plants," Don said.
"You can buy virtually ready to eat plants. They are often in 20 to 30cm pots.
"What that means, say for some of the miniature tomato varieties, they will grow quite happily in that. Often they are shrubby so they don't need staking."
Oasis Horticulture has the small-pot Zest Plus range of pot tomato, fairy tale eggplant, mini mama capsicum, birdeye chilli and fragoo strawberry.
"All of those in an eight-inch to a foot diameter pot can go on your balcony as long as it gets sun most of the day or put it out in the garden or near the front door, and you can grow quite a bit of edible food in a very small area."
Don says if you are only going to grow one fruit, you should grow strawberries. "They are unbelievably good plants in the ground, but particularly in pots," he said.
They can be grown in strawberry towers or in nest of pots starting with a 50cm pot and then put a smaller one inside.
"They will fruit for many years and all they need is fertilising say once a month with a gentle liquid fertiliser," he added.
"It's perfect for a sunny balcony and for an easy picking plant."
Try something new this spring
Don is keen for older gardeners to turn their gardening hands this spring to growing espaliered plants which are tied flat to lattice work, for example.
Fruit trees such as citrus, apple and even olives, grown from when they are purchased with willowy stems, are easy to train flat. "It's perfect for a sunny balcony and for an easy picking plant," he said
Planted in a pot of no less than 50cm diameter with two vertical timber pieces which have the lattice work screwed to it and with u-shaped plastic clips which can be purchased from gardening stores, your willowy plant can quickly be turned into an espalier plant.
Remember to place the pot facing north where it will receive sun all day. If you aren't sure which way is north, Don suggests you buy a compass or use the compass on your iphone.
"No food crop in the world will do well in shade," Don added.
Citrus plants rule
Their foliage is glorious, their spring flowers are often richly perfumed and they produce more fruit than any other fruit tree.
Don says many will carry fruit all year round.
"Older people should always buy dwarf citrus which grow to pickable height," he said.
"Never buy the full-sized ones; they break legs, pelvis's and arms because Uncle Supremo gets up on his ladder to pick his fruit and its soft soil in the vegie garden, the ladder goes over and he falls to the ground."
There is now available a dwarf Eureka lemon, which is Don's favourite for lemons.
As to oranges, he says there is only one; the dwarf seedless Valencia orange. While the navel variety has a better eating flavour straight off the tree, when it comes to juicing, the Valencia juice can be kept for a few days in the fridge.
"The Maltese were right," Don declares. "They pioneered the Maltese blood orange. It has an interesting flavour and are brilliant in salads and drinks."
Emperor mandarins are his favourite, but are limited as they often fruit biennially.
The new pink or ruby-red, grapefruit is his pick as they tend not to be so sour.
Another new citrus choice is the Australian finger lime which Don says has a pleasant flavour and can be used in drinks, salads, in Thai cooking and even on fresh oysters.
"Take your time when you go to your nursery as there are so many new varieties," Don recommends.