Sunday, March 20, 2016

Seedling emergence and irrigation installation

Burnley vegetable plot update

This post describes my plot at Uni as it was last week on the 9th of March (a week after planting out).

Being a part time student means that unlike the full timers I have to leave my plot to fend for itself for 5 days. During my absence the weather was warm with some days in around or over 30 degrees Celsius. I was initially worried that the seeds I had sown weren't going to sprout, but my worries diminished upon arrival where I was greeted by several small green cotyledons (seed leaves) piercing the fine mulch I spread the week before. The carrot seeds seemed to have a high germination rate and the snow peas all had at least one representative present at the base of each bamboo tripod leg. Under the mulch the ground seemed moist so I suspect my fellow student came through on their promise to water my plot which was great considering rainfall had been minimal. All the other seedlings seemed healthy and all were still present and intact unlike some other plots which had endured nibbling from either various herbivores (I'm assuming wood duck or snail). I did a little weeding and watering and then installed drip irrigation which consisted of 5 drip lines. I mulched over the drip line and called it a day.

Example plot showing our drip irrigation layout

A snow pea seedling stretching towards the sun

This is possibly the most boring photograph I have ever taken. If you look carefully you can see the tiny carrot tops in a row.

New Zealand yams doing their thing

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show. Building Melbourne Uni's exhibit.

MIFGS Pre Release!

After years of blogging reviews of the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show (well except for last year when I went but was too lazy to write a review) I finally got my first opportunity to be involved with one of the exhibits. To be truthful it was a voluntary position with my only 'payment' being some show tickets to get in once it is open.

The exhibit I was working on was the University of Melbourne's horticulture display which celebrated 125 years of continual horticultural training at the Burnley campus. The fact that the Burnley campus has been in operation for that long is quite an achievement and no other institution in the world has provided continuous horticultural training for that length of time.

The display itself consisted of a shipping container we adapted with a green roof and green wall panels. The scaffolding outside the container was converted into a hanging garden with waxed paper cones used as plant containers. Each cone has a horticultural icon and a brief description of their achievements and influence on horticulture.

It was a fun but exhausting day and I left feeling chuffed that I had contributed something to the show which I have gone to and admired for years. By the end of it all I was so tired I only took a brief walk around to see the rest of the exhibits. I left at 3.30pm and some of the other sites looked like they still had lots to do considering the opening is tomorrow. I will visit the show proper this week and write up a review of some of the displays next week. Right now though I think it's time for a cup of tea and a spell on the couch :)

A view from the south side of the exhibition building.

On top of the container planting organising the green roof

A view from the top of the container at our next door neighbours exhibit

Another picture taken from the top of the container showing the back side of the garden exhibits getting ready to be judged

Nick organising a green wall panel

 Those damned cones took all day to hang up and fill with plants

Jasmine plants ready to get transferred to the roof

Jasmonified green roof

More cones (see if you can spot Megan Backhouse)

Teeny weeny plants in teeny weeny test tubes

Test tube plant

 Almost done for the day

 More cones

Some old fashioned plant biology lab gear in the container (and also a portable air conditioner which was heaven to stand in front of)

One of our green wall panels filled with succulents

 Why did I take so many pictures of cones?

Ah now for the important pictures. Ben on the left and me on the right.

All the crew from Burnley at the end of the day

Sunday, March 13, 2016

My plot at the University of Melbourne (a tradition since 1950)

Melbourne University Burnley vegetable plot week one (1/3/2016)


History of the plot system for students at Burnley

As part of our subjects for this year we are establishing vegetable plots in the field station at Burnley. The whole idea of having plots to develop and nurture was initiated back in the 1950s after a visit from Miss Frances Miner from the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. She described a system of individual plots. The idea was implemented at Burnley and sections of the field station (back then a market garden) were transformed into cut flower, tree and also vegetable plots. Students were assessed on their plots and the best ones were awarded prizes (Winzenried 1991). The idea has been continued to this day although I'm not aware of any prizes being awarded. The plots are a great way to provide some hands on gardening experience for students that haven't done much actual gardening.

Plot layout, dimensions and soil composition

The plots were given are 4.2m long by 1.2m wide with the top of the plot (the short edge) facing north east. They all form a grid with walkways of roughly 60cm between them. All plots were raised beds of soil with no sides made of sleepers. We levelled them all down to roughly 15-20cm. The soil in the field station was a welcome contrast to the heavy clay of my home garden in Macedon. It seemed quite sandy and was a dream to work with a spade. The soil itself seemed a little hydrophobic as I noticed some water run off but this was easily worked around by constructing berms (water wells) which helped with the initial watering in of the seedlings.

Crop species

Our lecture Dr Chris Williams chose the crop species. It was always going to be touch and go as to whether some of these plants were going to mature as some of them (eg tomato plants) were being planted out rather late in the season. The timing of the start the semester meant we were growing our plants in more of a transition phase between summer and autumn rather than planting out in spring as one would traditionally do. From south to North we planted out the following seedlings / plants;
  • Advanced tomato plants (Grosse Lisse and Roma) with intermingling Genovese basil seedlings as companions.
  • Black Beauty zucchini seedling (semi advanced)
  • Oregon Sugar snowpea seeds planted around a bamboo tripod
  • A row of Brown Beauty bush beans (planted from seed)
  • Cos lettuce seedlings
  • New Zealand Yam / Oca (delicious if you haven't tried it then give it a go)
  • Nantes carrots (by seed)
  • Green Dragon broccoli seedlings
  • Ruby silverbeet seedlings

Work done during week one

We initially level out or plots down to raised earth beds approximately 15-20cm in height. I then plated out the seeds / seedlings mentioned above and installed a bamboo tripod for the snow peas. I paid careful attention to irrigation as we were working on a day that was to reach 36 degree Celsius! I watered in each hole, planted the seedlings, constructed a berm (water well) around each seedling then watered in the seedlings. I spread dynamic lifter fertiliser on the bed and then mulched the bed with lots of straw (the sown seeds were lightly sprinkled with very fine sugar cane mulch). I mulched the walkways and then irrigated the whole bed very thoroughly.

Worries about irrigation

As I am a part time student I was worried about my plot drying out over the coming week. I only attend Burnley two days per week which meant five days where I couldn't water. The forecast predicted very hot weather. Luckily in my absence a fellow student voluntarily irrigated my plot.

A note on my lecturer for this subject (Plant production and culture)

Dr Chris Williams is particularly interested in edible plant culture, public open space issues and also in combining the two in the form of edible landscapes . He writes his own blog on such subjects. If you are interested the address is

The field in 1894 when it was a market garden (Winzenried 1991).

Women attending crops in 1900 in somewhat impractical attire. Women were allowed to train at Burnley starting in 1899 which I believe was a quite progressive decision during that period of Australia's history (Winzenried 1991). 

Seedling being planted out at an unknown date (Winzenried 1991).

Class of 1950 students in what I assume could have possibly been the first student plots (Winzenried 1991).

 Student plots in 1965 (Winzenried 1991).

Student plots in 1980 (Winzenried 1991).

Overview of the area for our plots

Plots as furrows.

My levelled bed with spacing marked out and a few plants in the ground.

My plot all planted out and mulched.


Winzenried A.P. (1991) Green Grows Our Garden: A centenary history of horticultural education at Burnley, Hyland House Publishing Pty Limited, Melbourne.

Williams C. (2016) Lecture notes plant production and culture, University of Melbourne, Burnley.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

2016 Emerging from the darkness (getting this blog back on track)

Salutations to all

Hello to anybody reading this blog. I say hello because I feel I need to reintroduce myself after the lean year that was 2015 which produced a meagre four blog posts. Those who subscribe to this blog may well have thought I had fallen off the edge of the earth but rest assured I am well and feel energised to write lots of posts in 2016.

Melbourne University Burnley

Probably the main reason I slowed down with my writing was that 2015 was a very busy year. The main thing keeping me busy was my acceptance into the University of Melbourne's 'Associate Degree in Urban Horticulture' at the Burnley campus. Dealing with the travel from Macedon to Burnley in itself is exhausting then added to that was all the work I had to do. In truth the amount of work was probably not too bad but I really threw myself at the subjects with gusto (maybe a little too much at times). The first year subjects included Plant Biology 1 and Plant Biology 2 (advanced) which were difficult but extremely rewarding. I ended up getting good marks for the year so I suppose it was worth it.

Adventures in India

After the end of semester two I was lucky enough to get free airfare for myself and my family to India courtesy of my Indian father-in-law. It was an amazing place full of intense sights, sounds (and sometimes smells). Somebody once told me that 'in India everything is turned up to eleven' and that proved to be an accurate description. I had a great time staying with family half the time and travelling by rail across the central part of the country. I managed to get some great plant photos when I was there and also learned a little about the common trees that grow there.

Goodbye International House

Recently I resigned from my role as a gardener at Melbourne University's International House college. I had been there for several years and my role there was really one of an assistant. I thought if was time to leave as I had outgrown that role and there wasn't really any opportunity to advance. I have decided to try and build my own horticulture / gardening business and also try and expand into selling native seed. It is exciting to leave old ways behind and start new things, hopefully I can make it work.

A meandering path through the gardens at Burnley on a 36 degree day!