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As the morning sunshine warms the frosty ground and the chill of another night lingers, all of autumn’s growth is awaiting harvest in nature’s fridge.

Winter is the time of warming soups and warm fresh-baked bread, slow braised stews and hearty puddings.

In the garden not a lot is growing but there is plenty to still do. The preparation work in beds now will be rewarded in spades come spring. Weeding, mulching and building compost are just some of the jobs that need to be maintained.

With your fruit trees. Winter is the time to buy your trees bare rooted which is generally a cheaper option for those with a hankering for a bargain. Ensure you prune at least a third to a half off the tree before you plant it to compensate for the roots removed when prepared for sale.

Winter may also be a time for pruning your trees. There are a lot of different opinions and ideas around pruning trees, more than the number of trees it seems!

I prune in winter when I want to reshape or rework a tree as come springtime the tree will put out lots of large long new growth that will let you choose new branches to keep and balance or reshape the tree. However, if possible don’t prune your apricots, peaches, nectarines or cherries during winter as there is a higher chance of bacteria and infection getting into the tree (often seen as a sappy gum on these trees). If you do need to rework or prune these trees, ensure excellent hygiene and sharp tools to minimise the stress to the tree.

A little bit of tender loving care during the winter months will help ensure that your trees are in prime shape come spring to provide you with an abundant healthy crop in the coming seasons. If you are unsure or wish to learn more about how to look after your trees, your local community houses often have classes and workshops run that will help you learn some new skills and boost your confidence in looking after your own tree. Just remember, there is no right or wrong in pruning, just different methods and ideas and most of the time the tree will bounce right back even when given a severe haircut!

Till next time, happy gardening.

Dave Key, Key Permaculture
0424 665 882

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Autumn is one of the most amazing times for me in the garden. While the days are getting shorter and the hint of winter’s approach occasionally pops up, you still get the glorious warm days with lingering sunsets and the echo of the summer past.
The other magical occurrence that happens is the drawing off all last spring and summers growth back into the ground in preparation for the coming winter, leading to the picturesque autumnal display on all the deciduous plants. Orchards and vineyards filled with the golden yellow and red hues that take the breath away with their natural beauty.
In the backyard autumn is the time to get the last of your winter veg started, while the soil is still warm enough to germinate seeds and the days are long enough to get the growth needed. Picking the last of the summer veg, bottling the last ripe red tomatoes, turning the last green ones into chutney and saving the seeds of the biggest and juiciest for next summer.
When storing your pumpkins, make sure you leave a good length of stem on and they are nice and dry. Check them every few weeks as moisture can sometimes get underneath shortening their storage life.
With the fruit trees, autumn is not the end of the harvest. The mid to late apples and pears still hang with promise and abundance waiting to be picked and eaten (or stored for the winter to be eaten with a tasty pork roast!)
If you are lucky enough to have a persimmon, the orange jewels of fruit hang on the tree hiding behind the falling leaves still waiting to fully ripen.
Autumn is NOT the time to be pruning your fruit trees. As they are drawing down all the spring and summer growth, if you prune at this time, the likelihood of disease entry is greatly increased. You also are removing some of the energy still stored in the leaves and branches the tree needs to bounce back next spring. You are better off to put aside the secateurs and saw for a few more months and then prune during winter (I will discuss summer pruning vs winter pruning next time)
I will end this with something to ponder.
Why are we, with all our modern technology and advances so disconnected with our food supply? Why do we have children that think milk only comes from a carton not a cow? Why do we have children who do not know vegetables are grown in the ground?!
And why have we allowed very large corporate companies to control so much of what we eat?
“No civilisation has outlived its food supply”

Till next time, happy growing.

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Summer, the time of long sweltering days and seemingly longer sweltering nights. It is also an abundant time in the garden as all the spring growth is now coming to fruition.
To keep the yield healthy and happy over this time, two of the most important things are watering and mulch.
 Let’s start with mulch.

There are 3 types of mulch that are mainly used in a garden and they all have their own place.
 Straw mulches (including sugar cane) which is what I use around and over all my veggies and fruit trees. It lasts a season and then needs to be replaced as it breaks down and turns into new soil. However make sure you keep on top of the sprouts, as depending on what you are using you could end up with a crop of hay instead of mulch. (If this starts to happen just lift the clump of green growth, turn upside down, free green manure. The next is woody mulches, which I recommend for paths and high traffic areas. As it has a much higher carbon to nitrogen ratio, and is bigger pieces than straw mulches, it will take a lot longer to break down meaning it can last several seasons before needing to be topped up. However, be a bit careful using it around fruit and veggies as it will rob nitrogen from the surrounding area. If you do use it around fruit trees, add a good handful of blood and bone to compensate.
 And the last type of mulch is living mulches. The best example is strawberries growing under my blueberries. They both like the same growing conditions and you end up with a double harvest. No matter what mulch you use, it is there to help stop evaporation and shade the soil keeping it and the roots cooler and happier.

The next important thing for summer is watering. It is actually better to slightly under water than to over water. The best time to water is very early in the morning before the sun heats things up. Definitely avoid watering during the heat of the day. To tell if you need to water your veggies, stick you hand under the mulch and feel the soil, if it is damp to the touch, it can wait. If is starting to get a little bit dry, wait another day then water deeply. Less frequent watering, but longer soaking watering is better than constant shallow watering as it encourages deeper root growth and more resilient plants that can cope with a day or two of neglect.
 With your fruit trees, a deep water around Christmas time and then later January or early February is all they should need this year as with the excessively wet spring there is a lot of soil moisture available. And just like the veggies, if you overwater your trees, they will develop shallow roots and need constant irrigation to survive.
 And definitely do not water the 4-5 weeks before harvesting your fruit. This will help concentrate the natural sugars in the fruit giving you tastier fruit with a better shelf life. If you are making alcohol from your fruit, it also means you will have a slightly high alcohol content due to extra sugar. 
Till next time, happy harvesting.

Key Permaculture and Constructions

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If you are a horsey person you will know what a hayband is. It’s the coloured plastic twine that holds together bales of hay.

Until now, when hayband were finished with they would go into the bin to end up in landfill. Now, fortunately, there is a new collection and recycling system in place.

Two local businesses in Emerald have volunteered to take used haybands for recycling. They are Emerald Stockfeed (opposite Woolworth’s) and Emerald Mitre 10 Produce Department.

Thanks to the community spirit of these two businesses, haybands will be recycled into compost bins, building boards and decking by a company called Plasback.

This service is being coordinated by Emerald Community Recycling. Pony Clubs or Equestrian Centres wanting to get free hayband collection bags can call Emerald Community Recycling on 5968 2824 or email

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Buds bursting and weather warming,
Gentle rain and longer days.
Spring is here, spring is here
Leave unfurling and seeds sprouting.
Warmer, warmer, but still not hot.
Spring is here, spring is here
No more cabbages, kale or swedes,
Bring on tomatoes and salad greens!
Spring is here spring is here.

Spring is my favourite time. After the chilly embrace of a slumbering winter, for everything to reawaken after the cold and wet months is such a joy to see. So much potential just shooting from the ground and reaching toward the warming sun and lengthening days.
Spring in my garden is the time to observe the fruits of the cold winters work. Taking a peek into the now cooled hot compost to
see the explosion of worms that have arrived to finish it off, tickling out a few baby potatoes (steamed and served with butter and fresh herbs, divine!) and harvesting the last of my winter veg for a final hurrah
with a winter cook.
As the weather warms and the soil temperature rises, we will see seeds sprouting faster and the urge to grow grow grow builds momentum before the heat of summer hits hard. Take the change of season with a whiff of caution, as a late frosty morning can undo or setback seedlings so ensure on those early cold clear nights to put out some protection for the young plants.
Spring is also the time for apple blossom. While some fruit trees have blossomed earlier (and some will blossom later!), the few weeks in October where the apple trees are laden with blossom is something just magical and wondrous to see.
Also, if you avoided a winter prune of your apple trees, you can use the blossom time to observe where the fruit will be to minimise the amount of fruit you will lose when you prune. This is a good indicator that I use on all my fruit trees when I want to prune but also want the best harvest possible.
Enjoy springs warming beauty with the longer days and warmer evenings, perfect for sitting outside with a hot chocolate to watch the golden hues of the sun setting on a glorious day with another just a short sleep away.
Until next time, happy vegetable & fruit growing!
Dave Key
Key Permaculture

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A resounding success – A touch of inclement weather did not prevent more than thirty members of the community from attending the National Tree Day event scheduled at Pepi’s Land in Emerald, Saturday.

The intent of the event was to foster a habitat for native animals and regenerate the area in order to increase biodiversity. Hosted by Johns Hill Landcare and Cardinia Shire Council, members of the community gathered to plant trees and shrubs and celebrated afterwards with a BBQ.

Cr. Brett Owen (pictured above) said “Great to see so many residents attend and support council’s National Tree Day planting events. These events are a fantastic way to positively engage the community, whilst increasing environmental awareness.”

Saturday’s event also represented one in a series of scheduled events that took place throughout the weekend across the entire nation. For information on National Tree Day, visit


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After a very mild May and a somewhat wetter and colder June, I wish I could know what July and August will bring.

Last July, you may remember, was unseasonably warm and many fruit trees flowered early, only to be held back by a cold spring, then scorched by sudden heat in January – quite unpredictable! But we do have likely predictions of another El Nino on the way, bringing warmer and drier weather, so we should be preparing for that as well as we can – maybe adding extra rainwater tanks, digging in compost to improve the garden’s water-holding ability, and adding mulch before the weather gets hot. Bushfire preparations will also be very important.

Seeds to plant now:

Broad beans, broccoli, coriander, endive/chicory, lettuce, mustards, onions, spring onions, peas of all sorts (peas and beans can be soaked overnight before planting to speed up germination), radish, spinach.

Bulbs, crowns, suckers etc.:

Globe artichokes, garlic, sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes), shallots, tree- and potato-onions, rhubarb and asparagus crowns, mint and strawberry runners, raspberries and all other cane berries, blueberries, black and red currants.

Seeds to plant in August:

Beetroot ‘Early Wonder’, broad beans esp. Red Flowered, broccoli, cabbage, calendula, coriander, endive/chicory, kohl rabi, lettuce, mustards, onions, parsnip, peas dwarf and climbing, potatoes, radish, rocket, salsify, silverbeet, spinach, spring onions, swedes, turnips.

Note: If you have a greenhouse, cold frame, or even just a sunny windowsill, you can make some plantings of ‘early’ cold tolerant tomatoes such as Stupice, Siberian Cherry, Rouge de Marmande, Ida Gold, or Silver Fir Apple; maybe also pumpkins and zucchini.

Bulbs, crowns, suckers etc for August:

Oca, shallots, globe artichokes, sunchokes, potatoes, yacon, rhubarb and asparagus crowns, chives and garlic chives, mint, bunching onions, and all the berries as above.

AND of course this is the main planting time for bare-rooted deciduous fruit trees. (The potted ones you can get away with planting any time, as long as you keep them watered through their first summer.) With barerooted ones, winter is the time: don’t let them dry out, remove any damaged roots, and trim the top back to match the loss of roots – up to two-thirds is OK, but watch you don’t cut below the graft!

In general fruit trees prefer a well mulched soil with a pH of around 6, though lucky for us, the cold-climate ones (like apples, plums, pears and cherries) will tolerate somewhat acidic soils down to pH 5. This also includes cool-climate nuts such as walnuts, chestnuts and hazelnuts. Might be a good time to do some soil testing, and as Pete the Permie says, don’t dig a $1 hole for a $40 plant – do it properly; you’ll be glad you did, later. Dig in plenty of compost or well rotted manure before planting; plant at the right depth, and water in well and label after planting. Any good book on fruit growing will tell you how – or consult the web.


Happy Gardening


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The Caucasian fir, Abies nordmanniana, is a magnificent tree from the Caucasus Mountains, which  are bordered by the Black Sea on one side and the Caspian on the other, with Russia to the north and Iran to the south. A great meeting place of weather systems, it is a plant rich kingdom tuned to heat, drought, frost and snow. It has similar latitude to Tasmania and the Caucasian fir thrives in the Dandenongs.

a-favorite-treeThe one pictured is a young tree I grew from seed from a tree in Avonsleigh, which alas is no longer there. It’s about 20 years old, having had a slow start due to some poor potting soil I used.  The seedlings sat for a couple of years and hardly moved at all. I eventually re potted them and they took a year to recover, then slowly they began to grow. During these early years they were given a minimum of care and were neglected I think you could say. When I planted this one in my garden eventually, it again took a few years to establish, and has now become a delectable, healthy tree with long shiny green needles. The needles are soft not prickly, a most beautiful foliage for Christmas decoration.

The new growth is a softer green and you can see three different shades of green of different aged foliage on the tree when the new growth is evident. Of course like many firs it will grow into a giant well over 100 feet tall with a wide spread if left to maturity. I don’t think I will to see mine that big if the eight feet in twenty years is any guide, but I notice that now it has established a good toe hold on mother Earth its growth rate is rapidly increasing, giving me enormous pleasure.

With a background in beekeeping I have enormous respect for native flora and for its value to wildlife, but if you like conifers as I have grown to, and have the room for a large tree, you could not go past the Caucasian fir. There are mature trees around Emerald where you may find seed in cones or seedlings underneath, but to speed things up a bit a nursery specializing in conifers should have one for sale.