Vegetable Gardening for Beginners

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How to plant a tomato


Tomato Planting Recipe.

A friend gave me a recipe for preparing the holes prior to planting tomatoes. I’ve added to this recipe, tested it and would now like to share it with you all. This recipe should work for Eggplants and Capsicums as well. I’m having great success so far!!

1. Dig a nice deep, big hole. Approximately 40cm (at least) wide and as deep as you can make it.


3. At the bottom of the hole add: 4 x cups of worm castings or well rotted compost.

1/2 x cup of powdered full cream milk.

1 x Teaspoon of raw sugar.

1 x Tablespoon of Bicarbonate soda.

½ x cup of Epson salts.

½ x cup of natural Gypsum.

If your soil is clay based:

Add more Gypsum and Course Washed River sand to the base of hole but also to the soil you add to the planting hole.

If your soil is sandy or dusty based:

Add more worm castings/compost to the mix.

4. Mix all the ingredients up at the base of hole and combine into existing soil.

5. Hydrate the hole thoroughly making sure there are no dry pockets.

6. Add a few big handfuls of damp, plain soil on top of ingredients.

7. Plant your tomato as usual.

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8. Once planted sprinkle more powdered milk on the surface of the soil.

9. Water in well.

10. Water in with liquid seaweed.

11. Mulch with an inch of sugar cane mulch to well outside the drip line.

12. Continue to water with liquid seaweed every few days for at least the next two weeks, and then cut back to once a week for the remainder of the tomato’s life.



Organic matter. Worm castings contain all trace elements and will aid in moisture retention.

For a full list of why WORM CASTINGS are amazingly brilliant for your garden please refer to:


Organic matter. This is a microbial food source that will also aid in moisture retention and attracting earthworms.


Calcium. This is a soluble form of calcium that will aid in luring beneficial bacteria.


This feeds the fermenting process of compost etc. Adds glucose that will attract beneficial bacteria and may aid in flowering.

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Sodium bicarbonate. This will create bubbles of carbon dioxide being released into the soil. Bi carb has been used as a natural fungicide that will help prevent powdery mildew etc.


Are magnesium sulphate. This will aid in photosynthesis and chlorophyll production.


Calcium and magnesium. A form of gypsum that has no heavy metal content. This will also help to break up clay soils and aid in mineral transport and uptake.

Calcium is like the bus driver. He takes all the elements (Nitrogen, Potassium, trace elements etc) to where they are needed. No bus driver and all the elements are just sitting at the bus stop, being useless. You can add all the elements you like to the soil but if there is nothing to transport them…..


This will aid in drainage, aeration and cation exchange. If using for with clay soils it will help keep the clay particles from binding together again. Think of clay particles as hugging themselves tightly. You add Gypsum and the hug releases itself. You add course washed river sand and it helps keep the particles from reforming that bear hug.


Is considered a “growth stimulant and a plant tonic” not a fertiliser as it contains marginal macro nutrients but a large amount of trace elements. Liquid seaweed also contains:

growth regulators, alginates, carbohydrates, naturally occurring plant hormones (auxins and xcytokinins) and essential plant vitamins.

It is considered a plant stimulant which:

• Improves the root system and encourages fibrous root systems.

• Increases the reproductive capacity, therefore encourages greater fruiting.

•Strengthens the cell wall which decreases the likelihood of fungal disease and sap sucking insects been present.

•Increase the cell wall density which decreases the point of terminal wilt and increase the plants frost tolerance.

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• Encourages flowers to stay longer on companion flowering crops.


A bacterial based mulch that is perfect for all bacterial motivated plants: vegetables, small flowers (Cosmo, Allysum, etc), small shrubs, grasses, citrus etc.

You can also help your tomato fight unwanted pests by planting flowers around the garden that will attract beneficial insects:

An Amish Pate tomato that was grown by P. Burroughs that weighed 800 grams!!


Zucchini- Cucurbito pepo

Zucchini- Cucurbito pepo

Family: Cucurbitaceae.

Origin: France.

Growing conditions:

• Zucchini is a warm season crop that dislikes cold weather and frost. They require a full sun position in the vegetable garden with plenty of air flow to help combat fungal disease.

• Humus rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6-7.5.

• Mulch well with sugar cane mulch.

• The watering requirements of zucchini change throughout their growth stages. Once fruiting has started you need to be vigilant and water more frequently to aid in proper fruit development.

• Watering practices: always water in the mornings, never evenings to discourage powdery mildew. Only water the base of the plants avoiding the foliage. Regular fertilising of liquid seaweed and worm castings will strengthen the plants cell walls and make it harder for fungal spores to attach themselves. Blossom end rot is also caused by irregular watering and/or too much/little water. Lack of calcium also plays a role in blossom end rot so when preparing the planting beds incorporate a dose of gypsum. So the mantra is- regular, deep watering early in the mornings. This will help combat the two most common problems with zucchini.

How to grow:

• For strong plants is best to direct sow seeds. Seeds need to be planted 15-20mm deep into raised mounds with a diameter of approximately 1metre and a height of approximately 30cm. Each mound should be approximately 1.5 metres apart (in hot humid climates) or 1 metre apart (for cooler climates).

• Sow 3 seeds for each mound. Once the seeds have emerged and sprouted their first set of leaves select the strongest seedling and gently cut off the remaining seedlings just below soil level.

• High temperatures are required for the germination of seeds and occur when soil temperatures are approximately 18-32°C.

• Zucchini is a bee pollinated vegetable so encouraging bee populations to your garden will prove adventitious. Refer to the companion flower section later in the book. Nature’s handiwork can be imitated by hand pollinating the plants. Approximately six weeks after the seeds have germinated, the male flowers will appear. These generally outnumber the female flowers. Male flowers- narrow and straight. Female flowers- smaller in size and have a small fruit at their base to hand pollinate and aid in fruit production pick a male flower, remove all of the petals and lightly brush the pollen laden end across the female flower.


When to harvest:

• Picking zucchini while they are small – 15cm will guarantee the best flavour.

• Don’t forget that the flowers are also edible.


How to harvest:

• Choose a sharp knife and slice between the thick stem and the zucchini.

Common problems:

• Common pests include: squash vine borer, cut worms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, wireworm, pumpkin beetle, twenty-eight spotted ladybug and thrips.

• Common diseases include: powdery mildew, pythium, black rot, gummy stem blights, wilt, and blossom end rot.

Tomato – Lycopersicon esculentum

Tomato - Lycopersicon esculentum

Family: Solanaceae.

Origin: South America.

Growing conditions:

  • Tomatoes are a warm season, frost tender annual. Seeds require a warm soil of between 18 – 28°C to germinate. Sowing at too low a temperature will cause delayed or failed germination.
  • Growing tomatoes successfully requires good soil nutrition. Grow in a fertile, well-drained vegetable bed with a soil pH 5.8 – 7. Prepare the soil by adding gypsum, an organic slow released fertiliser and organic matter prior to planting.
  • Adequate, regular water is essential for optimum growth and development of the fruit. Irregular, light watering practices will encourage thick skinned, small, sharp flavoured fruit.
  • By deep watering of the soil (not foliage) and layer of sugar cane mulch you will prevent bacterial and fungal disease as well.
  • Tomatoes can be grown on many different support trellises. This can include 3 stakes in a tee pee shape, lattice, or a chicken wire fence or over any structure that allows good airflow.
  • If staking the tomatoes be sure to place the stakes into the soil prior to planting. This will then minamalise root damage and disturbance later.

How to grow:

  • Seeds can be direct sown into vegetable beds to minimise transplant shock.
  • Tomato seedlings germinate best at a temperature of 15 degrees Celsius and above.
  • Keep moist and at the first sign of emergence liquid feed with a half strength dose of liquid seaweed and half strength worm juice to aid in root development.
  • If raising the seedlings in containers prior to planting sow seeds at a depth of approximately 6 mm deep into seed raising mix. Germination takes approximately 7 – 14 days. Seedlings are ready to transplant into the vegetable garden when the 2nd set of ‘true’ leaves appear. During the seedling development make sure they are not overcrowded and that they receive strong light. Seedlings will become etiolated (leggy) with weakened stems if insufficient light is given or if they are overcrowded.
  • Tomatoes seedlings can be buried up to their first set of leaves (remove this set of leaves prior to planting to prevent rot). This will encourage greater growth and fruit production.
  • Plant approximately 1 metre apart with 50cm between each plant to allow for good airflow, and lessen the chance of bacterial leaf spot occurring.
  • Pinch out lateral growth as the plant develops to encourage greater fruiting and less leaf production. Lateral shoots are small shoots that grow between the main stem and a side stem.

When to harvest:

  • You can either pick tomatoes when they are just starting to turn red and allow them to ripen on a well lit airing tray away from sunlight, or, you can allow them to ripen on the plant. If you choose to let them ripen on the plant you may need to enclose them in grow bags to prevent birds and other tomato loving animals from harvesting the crop for themselves.

How to harvest:

  • To pick tomatoes make sure you cut the stem cleanly with scissors or a knife.This reduces the chance of damaging the fruit and allowing disease to enter the plant.

Common problems:

  • Common pests include: white fly, caterpillars, nematodes, aphids, mites, fruit fly,
  • Common disease include: bacterial wilt, mosaic virus, fusarium wilt, grey leaf spot and damping-off just to name a few.
  • Blossom end rot is also common in tomato growing if you have not supplied the plants with sufficient calcium (gypsum) and regular, adequate water. This can be overcome by incorporating calcium into the planting beds prior to growing the tomatoes. It’s never too late to do this. Simply water the soil, sprinkle the calcium (gypsum) around the base of the plant and water in again with water, liquid seaweed or worm juice.
  • Tomatoes grown in the same spot each year can be badly affected by root nematodes. So it’s vital to rotate your tomatoes each season. They’re grown in the same bed as eggplant, capsicum (bell pepper) and chilli’s (hot peppers).

Rosella – Hibiscus subdantta

Rosella plant flower and calyx red

Origin: Native to tropical West Africa.

Family: Malvaceae.

Plant description:

  • Rosella is a fast growing annual shrub which reaches heights to 2 metres.
  • An attractive plant, with reddish green leaves and yellow flowers that resemble hibiscus. It is widely grown for its edible red fleshy calyx that are used in salads, jams, jellies, syrups, teas, wines and cordials.
  • The young leaves can be cooked like spinach and the fibrous stems can be used as jute substitute.

Growing conditions:

  • Rosella will grow in most soil types provided there is adequate drainage. The size of the harvest will depend on you providing plenty of water and fertiliser throughout the growing period. Once the rosellas starts to show signs of flowering, cease fertilising and only supply the plants with liquid seaweed.

How to Grow:

  • Sow seeds in early September- tropical areas or the onset of warm weather in other regions. Rosellas need a very warm soil, 25 degrees Celsius or over, to germinate. In cooler climates you will need to start the seeds indoors under glass, by using a bottom-heat propagating unit, or the top of a water heater.
  • Rosellas need at least 5 months of frost-free conditions to bear fruit.
  • To produce an abundant crop, three to five plants is all that is needed. These are usually grown from seed but can also be propagated from cuttings, but the yield will suffer from this. Leave approximately one square metre of growing space for each plant.

When to harvest:

  • Plants will generally begin to bear fruit when about they are approximately four months old and may continue to crop may for up to 9 months. It is advisable to remove the first “flush” of flowers. By doing this you will allow the plant to fully develop, which will provide you with more fruit in the coming months. Tip prune the Rosella when it becomes lanky to encourage a bushier, more productive plant.
  • The fruit is ready to pick when they are approximately 2 – 3cm across at their widest part. This is approximately 3 weeks after flowering.

Common problems:

  • Mealy bug and aphids may be your only adversaries with growing rosellas. If you have provided a balanced, regular fertiliser program along the way then these pests will probably not present themselves.

Lettuce – lactuca sativa


Family: Asteraceae

Origin: Lettuce originates from Mediterranean and Near East (Persia).

Growing conditions:

  • Lettuce is one of oldest, most prevalent salad vegetables. There are varieties available for all seasons to allow all year planting in temperate climate conditions. Select the most suitable variety for the time of year and the climate that you live in. A general rule of thumb is to avoid planting hearting varieties throughout the hottest time of year to avoid humidity and moisture problems.
  • Lettuce enjoys a rich, well-drained soil with consistent moisture. Soil pH should be close to neutral as it dislikes acidity.
  • Prepare the soil with organic matter, gypsum, a slow release fertiliser and a little added potash.
  • Feed regularly with liquid seaweed and worm juice.
  • Mulch well with sugar cane.
  • Growing under shade cloth is beneficial in hot areas.
  • Always regularly water in the morning to prevent a bitter tasting lettuce and combat fungal diseases.

How to grow:

  • The best soil temperature for germination is between 15 – 20ºC. Lettuce seed refuses to germinate over 30ºC. In the warmer months, chilling the lettuce seed in the refrigerator for a few days before sowing will improve the germination rate.
  • Direct sow or sow into seedling trays for later transplanting. Cover the seed lightly to a depth of 5 mm deep. This will still allow light and moisture to penetrate the soil. Firm down the soil and keep moist. Space plants approximately 20 – 30 cm apart for good airflow.

Sweet Corn – Zea mays

Sweet Corn – Zea mays

Origin: | Family: | Growing Conditions: | How to Grow: | Harvesting:

Growing conditions:
How to grow:
When to harvest:


10 Poisonous Plants for your Dog

Toxic plants for your dog

Here are 10 common plants, found in suburban vegetable gardens that have the potential to harm your canine friend.

This is to be used as a guide only. If in doubt – Contact your vet immediately!

Arnica Low Toxicity Arnica Montana Rhizomes and Flowers Direct contact with skin & consumption Vomiting, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, redness of skin, rash and drowsiness Rinse any red areas with cold water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed-remove any plant material from the mouth & rinse. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact vet.
Amaranth High Toxicity Amaranthus sp. Leaves, stems and roots Consumption Difficulty breathing, trembling, weakness, paralysis, convulsions, lack of coordination, kidney failure, and abortive. Remove any leaves from mouth, rinse with water. Contact vet immediately.
Asparagus Moderate Toxicity Asparagus officinalis. Entire plant Direct Contact with skin & Consumption Allergic dermatitis, berry ingestion can cause vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea. Tremors, kidney problems. Rinse any red areas with water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed, remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact your vet.
Beetroot Low Toxicity: mainly only effects livestock not domestic animals. Beta sp. Leaves and roots Consumption Abdominal pain, laboured breathing, raised heart rate, muscle twitching. Remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact your vet.
Delphinium High Toxicity Delphinium sp. Entire plant Consumption & direct contact Dermatitis, digestive upset, salivate excessively, burning of lips, numbness fo throat, intense vomiting, bloating, loss of appetite, breathing difficulties, spasms, lack of coordination, paralysis. Rinse any red areas with water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed, remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. If symptoms persist or get worse, contact your vet.
Foxglove High Toxicity Digitalis purpurea Entire plant Consumption & direct contact Nausea, Heart Failure, Tremors, seizures, loss of balance, weakness. Rinse any red areas with water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed, remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. Contact vet immediately.
Cape Gooseberry High Toxicity Phylsalis sp. Entire plant, especially the immature growth & unripe fruit Consumption & direct contact Dilated pupils, vomiting, diarrhoea, collapse, seizures, lowered temperature. Rinse any red areas with water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed, remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. Contact vet immediately.
Elderberry Moderate Toxicity Sambucus sp. Entire plant Consumption Diarrhoea, vomiting, increased respitory rate, panting, extreme difficulty breathing, and excitability. If consumed-remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. Contact vet immediately.
Tansy High Toxicity Senecio sp. Entire plant Consumption & direct contact Dermatitis, wandering aimlessly, head pressing, disorientation, liver damage, kidney damage. If consumed, contact the vet immediately. Remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. Rinse any red areas with cold water for a minimum of 10 mins.
Broad bean High Toxicity: mainly only effects livestock not domestic animals. Vicia sp. Seeds and leaves Consumption & direct contact Welts on skin, hair loss, nausea, diarrhoea, convulsions, laboured breathing, swollen nymph nodes. Rinse any red areas with water for a minimum of 10 mins. If consumed, remove any plant material from the mouth and rinse. Contact vet immediately.

Interesting Gardening Facts

Garden Facts - Cool as a Cucumber
  • Torenia, a shade-loving annual, is called the wishbone flower. Look for tiny wishbone-shape stamens inside the purple, blue or burgundy petals.
  • Tomato juice is the official state beverage of Ohio, honouring the part A. W. Livingston of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, played in popularizing the tomato in the late 1800s.
  • Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that grapes were grown to make wine about 8,000 years ago in Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), although the ancient Egyptians were the first to record the process of making wine about 5,000 years ago.
  • Vanilla flavouring comes from the pod of an orchid, Vanilla planifolia. Though the pods are called vanilla beans, they’re more closely related to corn than green beans.
  • From a botanical standpoint, avocados and pumpkins are fruits, not vegetables, because they bear the plants’ seeds. Rhubarb, on the other hand, is a vegetable.
  • Saffron, used as a flavouring in Mediterranean cooking, is harvested from the stigmas of a type of fall-blooming crocus, Crocus sativus.
  • A sunflower looks like one large flower, but each head is composed of hundreds of tiny flowers called florets, which ripen to become the seeds. This is the case for all plants in the sunflower family, including daisies, yarrow, goldenrod, asters, coreopsis, and bachelor’s buttons.
  • The first potatoes were cultivated in Peru about 7,000 years ago.
  • The difference between nectarines and peaches is that nectarines don’t have fuzzy skins. You can graft peach branches onto a nectarine tree or nectarine branches onto a peach tree so you have both types of fruits.
  • Sulfuric compounds are to blame for cut onions bringing tears to your eyes. According to the National Onion Association, chilling the onion and cutting the root end last reduces the problem.
  • Garlic mustard is a member of the mustard family, not garlic. This invasive herb out-competes native plants in the Eastern and Midwestern United States, posing a threat to other native plants and the species that depend on them.
  • The title for the world’s hottest chilli pepper remains contested. ‘Bhut Jolokia’, 401.5 times hotter than bottled hot pepper sauce, earned the Guinness World Records title in 2007, but several hotter chillis claimed the title in 2011.

Citrus leafminer – Phyllocnistis citrella

citrus leafminer adult and damage caused

Leafminer is native to eastern and southern Asia and is now widely distributed where citrus is grown in Asia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, northern and central Africa, and Florida in the United States of America. The moth was first recorded in Australia in and around Darwin in the Northern Territory in 1912.

Citrus leafminer is the most common pest that attacks all varieties of citrus.


citrus leafminer adult

Citrus Leaf Miner Adult

The adults are small, delicate moths with narrow paired forewings and hind wings fringed with long hairs. The upper surface of each forewing has a black dot at the tip, and irregular dark lines separating an inner region (covered with silvery scales) from an outer region (with silver, light yellow and brown scales). The hind wings are narrower than the forewings and are covered with silvery scales. At rest, with their wings folded lengthwise, the moths are about 2 mm long. In flight, their wingspan is about 4.5mm.

Because flight generally occurs at night, the adults are rarely seen in daylight except when they are disturbed, generally by human activities. When this occurs, flight is short and rapid. Females are slightly more common than males. Both sexes emerge from their pupal stage during the early morning hours. Mating generally occurs at dusk and in the early evening about 9 to 12 hours after emergence. Adult female moths start laying eggs about 24 hours.

CLM larvae

Citrus Leaf Miner Larvae


It is not the adults that cause the most aggravation to home gardeners but the larvae.

Citrus leafminer larvae feed by creating shallow tunnels, or mines, in young, immature leaves of citrus trees.

CLM damage flushing foliage

Citrus Leaf Miner damage flushing foliage


A common description is: “My citrus leaves are curling!”

With further investigation it is discovered that the new leavers are twisting and distorted but also have the tell tale sign of “silver, wiggly, snail trail looking lines”.

The silver wiggly lines on the leaves are the first sign. The leaves then become distorted. This inhibits their photosynthesising ability. This won’t kill trees, but they will be stunted and unhealthy with a reduced yield. When fully grown, the larvae will curl the leaf around for protection while they pupate.

Such infestations usually only occur in late summer and autumn, and are often related to low natural enemy activity.

Because infestations are limited to flush growth, predominantly in late summer and autumn, their severity can be reduced by:

  • Fertilise in early Spring to promote a flush of new growth in spring when the pest is either not present or rather scarce. A secondary fertilise (only small amount) in Autumn if required.
  • Pruning of late summer and autumn flush growth can also be of use to regulate and get rid of unattractive infestations on trees.
  • Cut off any curled, damaged or rolled leaves that could be hiding the pupae.
  • Spray with horticultural oil early morning to deter the moth from laying new eggs. Be aware that the oil won’t kill the larvae but simply deter.
  • Natural enemies: These include small parasitic wasps and predators such as lacewings.

Pests and Diseases

garden pests

All gardeners at one time or another have lovingly cultured a garden only to have it succumb to the ravages of pest and/or disease. But before we reach for the chemical sprays take into account a few simple things that will make a massive difference in diminishing or eradicating unwanted pest and disease.

First and foremost – A functioning garden design that takes in account: airflow, sun tracks, wind tracks, shadows from larger surrounding structures and trees, irrigation options and useability.

  • Adequate airflow throughout the garden.
  • Adequate sunshine (morning sun and then at least 6 hrs).
  • Minimal soil disturbance and compaction – make designated walkways and stick to them.
  • Wise water distribution and application practices. Water in the morning preferably. This will hydrate the plants for the duration of the day and will decrease the  chances of bacterial and fungal issues. Water only around the plants roots and not over the foliage. If you water over the foliage you can encourage bacterial spot to prosper etc. Water deeply not just a light little spray. This will encourage plant roots to dive deeper into the soil. Wet leaves does not mean wet soil.
  • Great soil nutrition – practice crop rotation and supply adequate macro and micro elements.
  • Companion planting to discourage unwanted insects and attract BENEFICIAL INSECTS.

The NASAA Organic Standard (December 2004) defines organic agriculture as “a holistic system built upon natural ecological processes”. These ecological processes include the biological activities of all organisms living within the soil as well as those living above the soil surface. Of all such organisms, of which there are many tens of thousands of different types, only a relatively small number cause problems in our crops. In fact, most are beneficial and some are essential to the health of most plants. Consequently, we need to be mindful of the disturbance to the overall ecological balance of organisms living within our garden caused by the use of sprays or other methods to control pests and diseases. After all, it is the maintenance of that ecological balance which is the key to a productive organic garden.


All too often the heavy handed use of either chemical or organically certified products can ultimately result in more harm being done then good. Some sprays are indiscriminate and will kill ALL garden pests, good and bad alike, just as other organically accepted products can upset the vital balance between beneficial bacteria and fungus’s present within the soil. Try to choose sprays that target select insects/diseases rather that broad spectrum sprays that will kill indiscriminately
Planting flowers and herbs that attract beneficial insects will help in tipping the balance in your favour. If there’s “good bugs” present to deplete the”bad bugs” than they will be doing the job of pest control for you! Investigate which insects are “good” or “bad” before spraying.

Constant maintenance and monitoring of your garden will help dramatically.

  • Remove all unwanted weed species that could be harbouring the “bad bugs”.
  • Mulch as required to help keep weeds down in the first place.
  • Water regularly and adequately to reduce plant stress.
  • Regular fertilising of a balanced organic fertiliser will keep plants humming along.
  • Remove all fallen or older fruits etc.
  • Observe and act on unwanted pest arrivals before they get out of hand.

The 5 components of soil are:

  • Air – adequate air flow and soil drainage.
  • Water – adequate soil moisture holding content.
  • Minerals and trace elements – providing plant available balanced fertilisers.
  • Organic matter – to provide optimum environment for soil flora and fauna to flourish.
  • A balance of micro and macro organisms existing both above and within the soil structure.

Vegetable gardening is neither hard nor overwhelming once you have the correct mental tools. By observing and recording your journey throughout the year you will help yourself in following years by recognising trends within the veggie patch. Correct information relevant to your climatic region and local micro climate is the key. The more you research, the easier it all becomes.


Spinosyn_D Chemical Structure

A natural alternative to toxic chemicals for your vegetable garden.


Microbial (Derived from fermentation)


III Caution


Spinosad is composed of spinosyns A and D, substances produced by aerobic fermentation of the actinomycete species Saccharopolysora spinosa. This rare species wasfound in soil samples from an island in the Caribbean in 1982. Actinomycetes are filamentous bacteria found in the soil that give it a sweet ‘healthy’ smell. Following fermentation, spinosad is extracted and processed to form a highly concentrated aqueous suspension.Spinosad is a light gray to white crystalline solid with an earthy odour.

It has a pH of 7.74.

Spinosad has a shelf life of three years as formulated material.


Spinosad is a fast-acting, somewhat broad-spectrum material that acts on the insect primarily through ingestion, or by direct contact with a spray droplet or a newly treated surface. It activates the nervous system of the insect, causing loss of muscle control, prostration with tremors, and paralysis. Continuous activation of motor neurons causes insects to die of exhaustion within 1-2 days.

(Larson 1997).

Spinosad is a broad-spectrum, organic insecticide.

Definition of broad-spectrum:
Denoting antibiotics, pesticides, etc. effective against a large variety of organisms:

(Oxford Dictionary.)

However it is comparatively non-toxic to mammals and beneficial insects. Only insects that actually ingest the plant material that was treated, such as leaf matter, are affected. Spinosad is partly taken up by leaf tissue and this enhances its effectiveness over time. Dry surface residues do little harm to non-plant feeding insects.

(Saunders and Brett 1997).

Spinosad shows slight toxicity to birds, moderate toxicity to fish and slight to moderate toxicity to aquatic invertebrates. It is highly toxic to bees in laboratory tests and is highly toxic to oysters (US EPA 1997 a,b) and other marine

(Dow 2001).

Care must be taken when applying spinosad while honeybees are foraging; after residues dry (a few hours) it is far less toxic to bees .

(Bret et al. 1997).

Spray droplets can also harm Trichogramma wasps and other parasitoids

(Suh et al., 2000; Tillman and Mullrooney, 2000; Bretet al., 1997).

However, once the deposits dry, they are generally safe for

beneficial insects. So basically, don’t spray when you can see beneficial insect activity. Effects of spinosad on earthworms and soil microorganisms have been investigated in the laboratory. Results indicated that application rates of 25-150 g/ha should not cause significant effect on soil microflora respiration. Earthworms were not very susceptible to spinosad.

(Jachetta 2001).

Spinosad has very low acute mammalian toxicity.


There was no evidence of carcinogenicity in two rodent species at any dose tested.

Mutagenic studies showed no mutagenic activity. There were no effects on normal development in rats and rabbits even at the highest dose tested.


Spinosad is principally toxic to plant-eating insects in the orders Lepidoptera (caterpillars), Coleoptera (beetles), Thysanoptera (thrips), and Diptera (flies). It is not a plant systemic, but will penetrate leaves to some extent and therefore has activity against some leafminers. Spinosad is not effective at controlling mites at normal use rates.

(Thompson et al., 2000; Cowles et al., 2000; Tjosvold and Chaney, 2001)

What can I use as mulch ?

Types of Mulch

There are many other forms of mulch that you can use instead of store bought, plastic wrapped mulches. Store bought mulches are great, they should contain no seeds and no pathogens. They are easily transported due to the wrapping and are generally an affordable option. There are other options available though that you can grow at home and harvest yourself.

These can include:

  • Lucerne

It is nitrogen fixing, deep rooting, extracts water and nutrients from deep within compacted soils. Harvest before flower set for best nitrogen release from the nodules on the roots.

  • Clover

It is a nitrogen fixating cover crop.

  • Green manure crops: borage, buckwheat, fenugreek, lupins, mustard, sun flowers.

Please refer to my article ’Green Manures’ in the blog/article section

  • Lawn clippings

Leave lawn clippings for a few days to a week to start to break down before applying to soil. High in Nitrogen. Keep in mind: have you sprayed chemicals on your lawn? Are you adding them to your vegetable garden? Thick layers can dry out and form a crust or impervious barrier for water penetration. Rough up occasionally and apply some organic fertiliser pellets into the mulch to aid in efficient breakdown.

  • Algae

Algae from dams and waterways are high in nitrogen. Simply scoop it off the surface and apply directly to the garden.

  • Arrowroot

Fast growing.

  • Acacia (wattle) and other nitrogen fixing shrubs

Provides Nitrogen.

  • Sawdust

It must be aged for a length of time to be useable. These can be acidic and best used for native plants and larger shrubs. It is great as a weed suppressant through pathways of your orchard.

  • Leaves

Be sure to let age before use to start to break down. Pine needles and Eucalyptus sp. are highly acidic and are not suitable for the vegetable garden. Save them for the strawberry patch or established trees. Use aged chook manure, spread lightly, through your compost pile layers to aid proper break down of these types of leaves. A wire cage 1m by 1m, lifted off the ground (to aid bottom air flow) allows high temperatures to be achieved. This will help create a useful compost/mulch from these plant materials.

  • Old clothes!

Probably best to give to a local charity store but they can always be used as mulch.


  • Manures from cattle

Most commercial grazing animals are regularly wormed on a 3 month basis. Let the manure sit for at least 3 months to expel any worming agents before putting on or into your vegetable garden. You don’t want to kill your earthworms!

  • Lemongrass

It is fast growing but low fertility. Great as a windbreak or to help stop unwanted grasses forming.

  • Comfrey