Treating powdery mildew

A downside to wet weather like we have been having recently in Sydney is that your plants can become infected with powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a fungal infection that is predominantly seen on the leaves of plants. It is very similar to black spot, which affects roses. I have had some of the curcubitsin my garden succumb to the disease over the past couple of weeks.

Powdery Mildew on Zucchini

Now that the weather has been dry for a couple of days I decided to go out this morning and treat my poor curcubits. It seems to be mainly affecting my zucchini and squash plants which I have beside my driveway. They are partly shaded by trees in my neighbour’s yard, and it is likely that they do not get as much sun as some other zucchinis and the pumpkins that I have growing in a sunnier position at the other end of the same garden.

There are plenty of options available for treatment. you can use either anti fungal chemical sprays, or a commercially available organic alternative. Or you can use the no-frills option as I have, and use bicarbonate of soda.

That’s right, humble old bicarb soda, which is cheap as chips and sitting in your kitchen cupboard.

The theory is that powdery mildew does not like alkalinity. Bicarb soda is an alkaline substance, and so should make the conditions unfavorable to powdery mildew. I made up a solution of about 2 teaspoons to 500mL of water, put it in a spray bottle and sprayed it on the affected leaves. I have done this before, and it does work. And to boot the commercial organic product was mainly potassium bicarbonate and cost about $20. Bicarb soda is sodium bicarbonate and is cheap as! Seeing as it is the bicarbonate bit that I want to increase the alkalinity, you can see why I just went for bicarb soda.

What a zucchini should look like - Mildew Free

Lets hope they look a bit more like my healthy plants soon.

Oh, and in an update to my potatoes, I got just over 5kg of Ruby-Lou, bringing the total to just short of 9kg potatoes from 22 tubers planted.


Going Back to my Roots

I grew up in Guyra, a town on top of the Great Dividing Range in Northern New South Wales. At 1320m above sea level, and with a population of 2000, the town is probably best known for its bitter cold winters. Agriculture is a major industry, with most farmers growing some combination of sheep, cattle and potatoes. My family grew the trifecta, and my childhood years revolved around all those tasks associated with fine wool sheep production, beef cattle production and growing spuds.

So when I finally got my veggie garden here in Sydney one of the first vegetables I wanted to grow were spuds. I mean, I had been growing them since I was a kid, and I thought I knew a fair bit about it. It turns out that growing them in Sydney is quite different to in the High Country.

Sydney’s climate generally hot and dry over summer, with good winter rains. Where I live near Parramatta, there is the odd frost through winter, but the nights never really get that cold. Guyra’s climate has wet summers with temperatures rarely going above 30 degrees, and the winters are freezing cold, regular frosts and occasional snow falls. There we always planted potatoes between late October and Christmas, and harvested around Easter the following year. I tried this sort of growing pattern three years ago, planting in early October, and the result was that the spuds grew but the weather got too hot before any decent number of tubers could form, and the plant died off with only very small potatoes.

In the foreground are my Ruby-Lou's, the Dutch Creams are the slightly yellow looking plants in the background.

After a little bit of research on the Sydney growing season I have brought my planting right back in the year. This year I planted in late June. I planted two varieties, “Dutch Cream” and “Ruby Lou”. Both were disease free stock purchased from Garden Express. I planted 10 tubers of each.

Potatoes are a reasonably nice looking plant. They need to be planted about 10cm into the ground, and need to be “hilled” up with soil or mulch covering up most of the plant so that just the top of the lave are poking out just before they flower at approx 8-12 weeks. This is a photo of my “ruby Lou Potato flower which was a nice purple colour.

The Dutch Creams died off early, and I harvested them at the end of October. I got 3.5kg of spuds from this crop, which kept us going until now. The Ruby Lous are just about ready for harvest now. I will harvest them in the next week or two. Potatoes keep well in the ground, and seeing as I bought some potatoes this week, I will hold off digging them up until I am in need of more spuds in the kitchen.

The Dutch Cream harvest - 3.5kg of poatoey goodness

My Favourite Fungus

Did you know that yeast is a type of Fungus? Until I started this blog I didn’t – for some reason I thought yeast was some sort of bacteria. But yeast is a member of Kingdom Fungi, a Kingdom probably best known for mushrooms. The yeast I am going to be highlighting today is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, more commonly known as bakers yeast, or brewers yeast.

My interest in yeast was reinvigorated this Fathers Day, when my daughter (no doubt with a bit of help from Mum) bought me a Coopers Home Brew Kit. I had experimented with home brewing during my days as a poor uni student, and had produced quite a few batches of home-brew, most of them resounding disasters.The product I ended up with was generally pretty poor, and most of it remained undrunk in my parent’s garage. Years later when they moved they asked me if I still wanted it, to which I replied (quite wisely) that perhaps it had had its day, and should be tipped down the sink. Never the less, I was determined to give this a try again – the prospect of cheap beer was always going to lure me back.

Making home-brewed beer is actually a relatively easy process. I used a commercial concentrate form Coopers – the mix that came with the original kit was a Lager. The process is to dissolve the concentrate and sugar in boiling water, make up to 23 litres with water, ensuring that the right temperature is achieved, then add yeast, and wait for 6 days. After this time the brew should be fermented. The next step is to bottle the beer, add more sugar for carbonation, and let it sit for 2 more weeks. After that you have delicious, bubbly beer.

I have tried the lager that I brewed and it was pretty good. The second brew that I made was a Coopers Mexican Cervesa and in my opinion it rivals commercially bought beers. It is fantastic, and with a wedge of lime, is perfect on these hot Sydney Summer afternoons.

Today in the garden

I love it when you get good weather on the weekend. All of those jobs in the garden that I just can’t get done during the working week are able to get done. You also get to look around the garden in full sunlight, and you can see clearly the things you have been looking at in the dark for the past 5 days. Now the days are getting longer it is not that bad: I have been endeavouring to get home between 5 and 5.30 this week, so I do manage to squeeze in a little bit of garden time, but most jobs take more than 20-30 minutes, so I find that every weekend is always a busy one.

My cauliflower - almost ready to pick

I went to the Farmers Markets at Castle Hill this morning. It’s a great chance to get out amongst it and talk to the people who make the produce. You know exactly where the food you are buying is coming from. It fits in well with my food philosophy. I like to buy local (within 100km ideally) and seasonal produce. The one thing that the Castle Hill markets do well is make it clear who are the genuine growers and producers of food grown in the Hawkesbury region with signage on the stalls. So this morning I managed to buy apples, tangelos, lemons, broad beans and snow peas. I also bought some zucchini flowers, something I have never cooked with before, so I am looking forward to seeing how these work out. The broad beans and snow peas will keep me going until my own broad beans and sugar snap peas start producing over the next few weeks. Already I have 3 or 4 broad beans that are basically able to be picked at any time now, but there are plenty more which will be ready shortly. The peas have just started flowering, and given that it is starting to warm up, they should be giving me lots of peas soon. I also bought some haggis, something I have wanted to try for a long time, and can’t wait to cook it, I have some kale and cauliflower in the garden which should go really well with it.

After I got home I had a bit of a wander and have been surprised how well everything is growing. As well as the aforementioned cauliflower and broad beans, the raspberry canes and loganberry which I bought in June as bare rooted canes are now shooting, the grafted stone fruit is covered with pink and white blossoms, and my grafted citrus is putting out new shoots and buds are appearing on it. It’s all very exciting! I am feeling really organised. My greenhouse has plenty of seedlings already growing ready to be planted out in a month or so once the ground warms up a little bit more.

This is my red cymbidium orchid

As well as the veggies I have growing in the garden, I also have plenty of flowers, and now is one of the best times in my garden. Our house was previously owned by a couple who were obviously very passionate and proud of the garden, and we inherited a very well established (if maybe a little bit overgrown) garden. At this time of year we have cymbidium orchids and beautiful camellias. We have a camellia reticulata, which has grown in to a quite impressive tree, and when it flowers has the most amazing salmon coloured blooms which are absolutely huge!


Every story has a beginning. The beginning to this story happened in days past when blogs, information superhighways, and social media just didn’t exist (at least to me). We join the story in the now. There will be of course some new things that I will talk about from beginning through (hopefully) to the end, but for things that have a background, I will try to fill you in along the way.

This blog is going to be about growing things. I decided on the name “Four Kingdoms” because the things I grow represent four of the six kingdoms of life: Animals, Plants, Fungi and Bacteria. Most of these things I grow to consume: mushrooms, fruit, vegetables, beer, and yoghurt among others. Some things like flowers I just grow for the sheer pleasure of it. And then of course there are those that live with me: My wife and daughter, and my dog and cat. Hopefully one day this blog will be about other animals like chickens too.


The white mushrooms are about the size of a 10c piece

Today I am working on my mushrooms: Kingdom Fungi. I have been growing a kit that I got from Garden Express. It is a combo kit that is half white button mushrooms, and half swiss brown mushrooms. It appeared to be fairly recently inoculated with mycelia when it arrived in the mail at the end of June. The instructions said that the growing medium should have been white with mycelia, and if it wasn’t then I should just leave it for a week or two. I did, and soon there was a white tinge right across the box. The next step was to add peat moss on top, and begin to spray it daily. The instructions told me that at this point I should open the box up, but instead I left it covered for a couple more weeks until the mycelia had spread into the peat moss layer. It was only then that I opened the box up. At this point the box also moved from my lounge room, where it was being warmed to maybe 25 degrees celsius, to my office, where the temperature is not artificially controlled. Here in Sydney it is winter, and it was probably 18-23 degrees most of the time. It is now about three weeks since I did this, and I have mushrooms! I was actually amazed at how quickly they have grown since Monday, when I first saw some tiny pin-head sized fruiting bodies starting to form. My first few mushrooms are Swiss Browns, but there are also some white mushrooms that are now poking their heads up through the peat.  I think that we will try the first two tonight before they get much bigger, and from the way they are growing, we should be able to have plenty of mushroomy goodness in our meals over the next few weeks.

Also this morning I am sterilising some growth spawn that I am planning to inoculate with oyster mushroom  mycelia. I learnt to do this at a course run by Milkwood Permaculture in June that I went to with my friend L from 500m2.

These ones will be dinner tonight!

A few weeks ago I tried to do the same thing but without a pressure cooker, so all I could do was pasteurise the stuff. I ended up with a mouldy mess which had to go in the bin :(. My growth spawn is a mixture of used coffee grounds and wheat. To make sure that the sterilising process is complete I have been pressure cooking the spawn mix for two hours now. I want to ensure that the heat makes it all the way through my spawn mix and kills off any bad microbes that may be harbouring there now. Sterilising is done in a pressure cooker, which allows for the steam to reach 120 degrees celsius. At this temperature nothing can survive. I will be able to report on whether or not this is successful in a few weeks.

As far as the rest of my day goes, I will be doing a few odd jobs around my garden. Sydney has experienced some absolutely fantastic weather this past week. It is definitely time to start thinking about planting some more seeds into my greenhouse. Pumpkins, button squash, and tomatoes are my priority today.