A bit about gardening under gum trees

We have a beautiful big gum tree in our backyard, it provides shade in the hot summer and is always full of native birds but it does create a few problems in the veggie patch....
We have a beautiful big gum tree in our backyard, it provides shade in the hot summer and is always full of native birds but it does create a few problems in the veggie patch....

When we moved into our new home a little over a year ago we were excited to finally have a garden to call our own. The previous owners were keen gardeners and had left us with a beautiful space that is full of natives and grasses. It’s cool in summer and green and lush in winter and encourages lots of noisy native birds. While it ticked a lot of boxes for us it was missing one thing, a space to grow veggies. Vegies need at least 6 hours of full sun a day and are fairly fussy about the kind of soil they grow in. Large trees, especially gums, can wreak havoc on the pH levels of soil as the leaves decompose and break down. Their root systems suck up most of the moisture and nutrients in the ground and their broad branches pretty much rule out full sun within a 3 metre radius of the trunk.

Determined to grow my vegies I had to find a solution that allowed the best of  both worlds and the most simple and straightforward solution was to place large containers in the sunny spots of the garden and hope for the best. It’s not the monster vegie patch I’d been dreaming of but it’s more than enough to keep me busy. Over the last twelve months I have rescued old wooden boxes, recycling crates, wheelbarrows, pots and styrofoam containers from the side of the road (it’s amazing what people throw away!) and used them for growing whatever I can get to sprout.  I’ve been able to control the soil pH, keep it moist and free of weeds and, most importantly, still get a good yield with a bit of TLC and a good dose of liquid seaweed every couple of weeks.

I’ve just finished a busy couple of months of composting, preparing soil, sprouting seeds, nurturing seedlings and finally planting out the winter veggie crop and so far things are going well. I’ve got spuds, beets, two types of kale, bok choi, peas, broad beans, garlic, mini cabbages and cauli’s, two types of broccoli, spinach, radishes, carrots, silverbeet and a large container of lettuce. In the herb garden is a steady supply of sage, chamomile, dill, chives, mint, coriander, parsley and cat nip for the ‘kids’.  Citrus is a new experiment for me with a patio lime and meyer lemon in containers and a burgeoning mandarin tree (which is currently loaded with fruit) that we inherited from the previous owners. In the coming months I look forward to being able to cook, share and enjoy my yield with friends and family which is one of the most satisfying reasons to grow an edible garden.

Kipfler potatoes in an old recycling crate with the beets hiding away behind them. You can see the leaf litter from the gum tree around the base of the pots.

Two types of broccoli happily growing in containers. This photo was taken about a month ago, they have easily doubled in size sice then. The netting helps keep the moths away.

Garlic also grows well in pots, it’s happily growing here alongside a large pot of sage and parsley

I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to hard trash. This old wheelbarrow made a perfect container for growing lettuce, rocket and other shallow rooted greens. 


  • sally kitten says:

    my rocket got destroyed by caterpillars and my lettuce just wont grow. whats good to plant this time of year? i have no idea… x

    • Erin says:

      Hey Sally, yes the caterpillars are a constant source of frustration for me too. I’ve rigged up a few nets around the brassicas to keep them off but you can’t net the whole yard, sadly. The only other options are to use something like Dipel or pick the buggers off as you see them. Sucks that your lettuces won’t grow, are you trying to sprout from seed? If so, the seeds might be old in which case you should buy a new pack. Otherwise try dosing your soil with some blood and bone or add in some compost, that should get it nice and fertile for growth, regular feeds with Seasol and Powerfeed every couple of weeks will help keep them chugging along.

      As to what you can grow this time of year, think winter veg like cabbage, broccoli and the asian greens like tatsoi and bok choi. It might be a little late for the brassicas (cabbage, broccoli) though, worth a shot anyway. They need lots of fertile soil, so make sure you really spend some time building up the food in your soil. Another good crop to chuck in are sugar snap peas and broad beans as well as radishes and carrots. Do you use Gardenate at all? It’s really handy and gives you lots of good ideas about what to plant at different times of the year. Check it out: http://www.gardenate.com/

  • Lidia says:

    Hi Erin – I’ve been nurturing one tomato plant all summer (in a large container) and still no fruit 🙁 Quite a few flowers but with the recent heat many dried up. Is it too late? I’m determined not to use a pesticide and have picked off a few caterpillars and squash white flies on a daily basis. The container is under our house eaves and we face north east so there’s sun from about 11ish to 4ish. Move the pot? Ps your plants look fantastic and am inspired but I just can’t get past this 1 tomato plant ! Lidia

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