Growing Heirloom Vegetables

Heirloom or heritage seeds and vegetables are old plant varieties pre-dating the 1950’s that have a traceable lineage and have been grown for many years. They have been saved year by year, generation by generation. Heirloom seeds and vegetables are open pollinated producing true-to-type offspring. This results in seeds collected producing a nearly exact copy of their parent plant in each successive crop.

Growing heirlooms creates a tangible and edible connection to your food and offers a means to diversify and customize your garden. The beauty of heirlooms is that you can find specific vegetables suited to your own tastes, growing climate, and purpose.

Creating your own productive patch is incredibly rewarding, sustainable, great for the planet and extremely tasty. To ‘grow your own’ fruit and vegetables is environmentally friendly and whacking even a few heritage and heirloom varieties in the patch makes a good thing even better.

Popular Easy to Grow Heirlooms

  1. Beetroot
  2. Beans
  3. Peas
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Tomatoes
  6. Lettuce
  7. Zucchini
  8. Eggplant
  9. Capsicum
  10. Celery
  11. Onion
  12. Garlic
  13. Shallot & Chives
  14. Leek
  15. Pumpkin
  16. Potato
  17. Carrot
  18. Spinach
  19. Silverbeet

Top Tips for growing Heirlooms

  1. Feed the soil, not the plant – Golden rule for organic gardening. Feeding the soil comes down to adding organic matter. The more organic matter added, the better. Organic matter can be added by topping up the garden beds with compost and mulch. An all-round fertiliser such as Blood and Bone with potash should also be added to ensure adequate plant nutrition. Lime dolomite is also a great addition to the soil. This ‘sweetens’ the soil, balances soil pH and helps to increase plant production.
  2. Feed the plant as well – Foliar feeding involves applying dilute liquid fertiliser to the foliage of the plant. Seasol and Powerfeed are liquid seaweed concentrated fertilisers ideal for applying as a foliar spray. Foliar feeding increases the activity of beneficial bacteria on the leaf surface which aids plant nutrition. Foliar feeding encourages bigger, healthier leaves, which are the solar panels powering plants.

Where to buy Heirloom Seeds

  1. Diggers Club –
  2. Eden Seeds –
  3. The lost seed –
  4. Greenpatch Organic Seeds –
  5. Australian Seed Savers –

Seating Areas for Small Gardens

Long afternoons, extending into evenings sitting around in the garden as continuous pots of tea and bottles of wine flow from the kitchen. There are a few guiding principles about where to sit in a garden. We will want to be out of the wind. When I decide where to sit with a cuppa tea in my hand, the first thing I determine is what direction the wind is coming from. Then there’s the question of what you’re sitting on. Linked to the style of seating is the consideration of what you are sitting around. While style has a large bearing on the appeal of seating, so does the material of which it is made. Whether you’re after seating that looks transparent or solid will depend upon the placement.

What draws us into a certain part of the garden? People are drawn to and congregate in the open spaces of a garden. The addition of a seating area can add size to the home and result in outdoor spaces being used more. The size and amount of privacy provided in an outdoor seating area signals how a space will ultimately be used. Boundaries and privacy can be created using existing structures and plants such as trellises, screens, fences, arbours, the house, or garage to define the parameters of the seating areas.

A functional and practical area does not have to mean boring. Softening hard edges invites the garden in. Built elements need to be softened or de-emphasised to lessen the contrast between hardscaping and garden surroundings. Flooring is important with many options to choose from, stone, brick, pavers, concrete, gravel. Consider the area’s eventual use and likely furnishings (stability and traction). Incorporating planted boundaries adds depth to garden beds and creates softness.  For small, narrow areas there are ways to add softness without taking up much space. Plants can be trained against fences and walls to create living green walls. Using plants with narrow upright growth habits such as vines can create a living soft division of space without requiring a lot of living room.

Seating areas at Tamar Cottage

Every garden needs an area where we can sit down and enjoy a meal. This west facing section receives sun from from mid-morning onwards, gaining more sun over the afternoon. With comfy chairs and cushions, its a nice place to sit and eat a meal or read the paper while enjoying the view over the garden.

Almost husband and I, sometimes find ourselves soaking up the sun with a cuppa sitting on this round cafe table setting in this cosy sheltered spot on the veranda. This little area makes use of existing structures of the veranda and the house to define the parameter of the seating area and has been softened with pot plants and the outlook of the surrounding garden.

Almost husband and I often find ourselves under the shade of a deciduous climber, the ornamental grape, vine sitting in low, comfortable rustic cast iron chairs. Here we can sit amid the lush garden instead of above it. The ornamental vine has been trained up the arbour to create shade during summer and provides sun over winter.

One of the best parts about outdoor areas is sitting outside and soaking up the sun, whether its napping or siting outside and sipping your morning tea in a comfy chair. Almost husband and I often enjoy our weekend mornings pleasantly spent on the outdoor teak lounge in our east facing undercover gazebo soaking up the morning sun. Seating that is meant for convenience can also add character and colour to the garden. This seating area is in a good vantage point and comfortable.

The simply designed teak seat is perfect for curling up on a sunny day whether you are reading or drinking tea or coffee. The size of it allows 3 people to sit on together and making it perfect for afternoon naps too. Thick cushions with several pillows make the chair even more comfy. It is in a sheltered and cosy backyard spot, conveniently located in front of the fire pit with a view over the yard facing the house.

Autumn Windfall Fruits

We collect our plums and apples from the trees in our backyard. They say ‘plant pears for your heirs’, so some of our trees are yet to produce enough fruit for our use, but they should for our children.

Over the last month or so, we’ve had a large number of plums and apples ripen, and being unable to eat all the fruit while it is fresh, I slaved away like a good, but messy almost housewife over the weekend at my very first attempt at making plum sauce and jam.

What is jam, marmelade, jelly and preserve?

A jam is a set spread that has chunks of fruit in it. A marmelaide is a citrus jam. A jelly is a clear set spread with the fruit sifted out of it. A preserve is preserved whole or cut fruit in a bottle or jar, with no or little sugar added.

Sterilising Bottles

The bottles will need to be washed in warm soapy water and sterilised. I wash my bottles and lids in the dishwasher, then place them in the oven at 110 degrees celcius for 15 minutes.

It is important to remember:

  • Cold ingredients go into a cold jar
  • Hot ingredients go into a hot jar

Plum Sauce

This plum sauce goes well with roast pork and crackling.


  • 3kg plums
  • 1kg granulated sugar
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 8 cups malt vinegar
  • 3 tsp whole cloves
  • 3 tsp whole allspice
  • 2 tsp whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


  1. Halve plums and remove stones.
  2. Place sugar, salt and vinegar with the plums in a large saucepan.
  3. Make a small cheesecloth or muslin bag – tie cloves, allspice, peppercorn and cinnamon and add to the pan.
  4. Bring to the boil, uncovered and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until mixture is a thick, rich sauce. This will take about 2.5 hours.
  5. Strain off skins through a course sieve.
  6. Pour into warm, sterilised jars, with a 12 mm headspace from top rim of the jar. Put the lid on while still hot to seal.

Jam Tips

It is important to quickly dissolve the sugar over a moderate heat, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat until the jam reaches a rollicking boil. As I am still very much a begginner at jam making, I use ‘jam sugar’, which has pectin added to it and helps with the set. However, castor sugar can also be used as it dissolves quickly.

I found that the easiest way to test the setting point of the jam is to place a saucer in the freezer, remove the jam from the heat so it doesn’t overcook and dribble a little jam onto a cold saucer, wait 30 seconds, then run your finger across the drop of jam. If this causes the jam to wrinkle, then setting point has been reached.

High Dumpsie Dearie Jam

I found this recipe in Matthew Evans’ ‘Not Just Jam’ recipe book. I thoroughly enjoy watching his The Gourmet Farmer series on Fat Pig Farm.

This is a traditional English autumn fruit jam. It is believed to have originated in either Worcestershire or Gloucestershire. This jam is a deep rosy pink colour and is delicious in a warm jam roly-poly.


  • 500g pears
  • 500g apples
  • 500g plums
  • zest and strained juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, crushed
  • 1.2kg castor sugar


  1. Peel and core the apples and pears. Peel and stone the plums. Cut all the fruit into large chunks and out them all in the pot with the ginger, lemon zest and juice. Add enough cold water to just cover the fruit. Bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 30 minutes until the fruit is soft.
  2. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat to high. Boil rapidly for about 15 minutes, remove from the heat and check the set.
  3. Pour into sterilised jars and put the lid on while still hot to seal.

The Suburban Orchard

For a regular suburban block, Tamar Cottage has quite a few fruit trees … a suburban orchard one might say. It is important for a short person to be able to reach their fruit. To do this, the fruit trees need to be pruned to a manageable short person size, so I’ll be going through a few short person pruning tips. For someone who is vertically challenged, it is always a good idea to get some help from almost husband ….  

Summer pruning deciduous trees is important in a small garden to slow down growth. The main reasons fruit trees are pruned for:

  • Shape – ensures a strong framework of branches to support a heavy crop and pruned into a convenient size and shape for access, netting and harvest.
  • Fruit – pruning deciduous trees while still in active growth promotes new fruiting wood to grow within reach.
  • Longevity – removal of deadwood, diseased parts and reducing stress on a tree.

Deciduous fruit trees found at Tamar Cottage:

Apricot Tree
Nectarine – given a hard prune early this season due to leaf curl issues and sheer size.
Trixzie Peach
European Plum
Japanese Plum
Apple – Pink Lady
Trixzie Green Pear
Cherry – 2 different types here, attempting to espalier on the veranda rails ….

Deciduous trees drop their leaves in autumn and become dormant over winter. Branches tend to grow upright. The strongest growth comes from the top bud (apical dominance) on the branch. If this bud is removed, other buds further down the branch have more opportunity to grow and produce fruit. This can be exploited to change the size and shape of the tree. Dormant buds can be encouraged into growth by training branches into a more horizontal direction.

Winter vs. Summer Pruning

Most deciduous trees benefit from a structural prune in winter. The disadvantage of winter pruning is that it takes cut surfaces a lot longer to callous and heal in cool weather, creating the perfect disease entry point. In summer, pruning cuts heal quickly and a barrier is formed which keeps moisture in and disease out. Summer pruning helps facilitate the next crop of fruit, allowing the tree time to grow new wood.

Winter pruning of deciduous trees is useful for initial shaping of young trees and for renovation of an older tree (removing large branches) when the tree is bare, however regrowth tends to be more rigorous and less productive, so follow up with summer pruning.

How-to Guide to Pruning

  1. When pruning, consider overall tree shape, productivity and aesthetics.
  2. There are 3 basic shapes; central leader, vase and espalier.
  3. Keep several main branches that have a 450 angle from the trunk, to ensure strength for carrying a heavy load of fruit. These scaffold branches should be ideally spaced 10-15cm apart on the trunk. Fruit buds are plumper than leaf buds and are clustered together in groups of 2-3.
  4. New branches form from leaf buds. Pruning stimulates the branch to send out new branches, resulting in the fruiting area multiplying.
  5. Remove dead and diseased wood, cross-crossing branches and spindly growth.
  6. Open the centre of the tree for ventilation and light to reduce disease and improve ripening.
  7. Trim back most of the new growth by approximately 1/3 or bring tree down to preferred height. Shortening thin branches makes the tree sturdier as fruit is heavier when further out on the branch.
  8. Generally, cut just above a bud that is facing in the direction you want new growth to go (usually outward facing). Several buds below this will also produce new growth, so it is important to note what direction they are pointing to.
  9. If converting a central leader to a vase shape, cut the main stem just above the selected scaffold branches.
  10. For a small branch to form a fruiting spur, cut just below the bud to encourage a new spur and discourage vegetative regrowth. Make clean cuts, slightly angled, ideally parallel to new growth.
  11. If removing a heavy branch, shorten and lighten the branch first, then undercut to prevent tearing, then complete the final cut from above. Cut to the collar and don’t leave stumpy branches.
  12. Where several branches shoot out from a single origin, with tightly clustered upright growth, remove middle ones where possible to open the angle between branches. Don’t cut all branches off at the same height or the regrowth will collide.
  13. If a branch needs to be removed, do so while small.

When to Prune

Peach and nectarine trees are pruned immediately after harvest in late summer to early autumn. These trees fruit on the last summer’s wood, so branches that have fruited and are no longer needed to form the shape of the tree can be removed. Peaches and nectarines can be given an all over haircut, with each branch reduced by a third to a half. Another option is to shorten only those growing laterally from main branches, leaving the main branches intact.

Apricots are best pruned in April when sap flow has slowed to reduce exposure to fungal spores. Apricots fruit on a combination of old spurs and the previous summers’ growth. Plums fruit on mature wood and Japanese plums also fruit on new wood. Prune after harvest. It is better to give these trees a general tidy up rather than a heavy pruning.

Apples, pears and cherries are spur bearers. Prune to encourage more spurs and remove excess upright growth. Thin out spurs when too closely spaced in older trees. Apples, pears, cherries and other spur bearing trees benefit from having lateral branches pruned heavily. Take them back to just a couple of leaf buds in length — these buds will shoot, and hopefully form a fruiting spur.

Evergreen and citrus fruit trees found at Tamar Cottage:

Kalamata Olive
Outback Lime
Finger Lime

Evergreen trees such as citrus can be pruned at any time of year but avoid pruning heavily before harvest. Pruning mainly to lift the skirt and remove deadwood. Citrus tend to fruit mainly at the outer canopy so a light prune all over maintains a compact fruiting area.

A simple touch of Paradise

What do you call this? Much needed rain in just the nick of time!!!! Rain is 10% brains and 95% usually incorrect forecasting. And the rest is just good luck. On Friday, we received 30mm of rain, the most we’ve had in one day for 16 months. In most parts of Australia, rainfall tends to arrive in downpours from storms. Apart from short storms, Geelong does not have rainy days were a short person can sit inside and read a book (about short gardening).

It is autumn now, and I have a few bulbs coming through under my fruit trees. I have also planted some daffodil bulbs. Hopefully these will come through in spring. I hope to plant a few more hellebores under some of my trees. A short person gardener can never have too many…

Some of my plants are still flowering, and some of my trees are losing their leaves. My ornamental grape vines are normally the first to lose leaves and have already lost most of them. Sweeping under the vines is a never-ending job and almost husband is always making a fuss over the pile of leaves.

I have noticed my fruit trees have become confused with the changing weather patterns and tend to not lose all their leaves until late winter. The fruit trees haven’t started changing colour yet. Last winter, the buds for the new leaves had formed well before all the leaves had been dropped.

A short person’s garden of stuff

When I bought my home in Jan 2017, there was a large variety trees for the size of the block. As the trees became bigger, it became harder to keep them all pruned back so they fitted in the space they were planted in. I have therefore had to remove some of these trees and replace them with small flowering plants and shrubs. I am still learning which are best plants for the temperate coastal climate and different sections of my garden. It is now May 2019 and it has been the driest start to the year in 108 years, with less than an inch of rain all year. I have murdered a few plants so far ….

My garden is fairly shaded by the trees on the northern side of the block, with a range of different soil types in the garden: free-draining (some areas), sandy soils (possibly brought in) over heavy clay however black or darkish in colour.

I have a very productive garden with a variety of fruit trees dotted around the place: pink lady apple, green pear, nectarine, apricot, lemon, orange, peach, pomegranate, Japanese plum and European plum.

I am very proud of my 3 veggie patches (handmade by almost husband’s Dad and installed ourselves). For the soil, I used the original soil from the block (sandy), Lucerne and straw. I layered all three until the veggie beds were full. Over time the straw and Lucerne will compost down and give the sandy soil added/enriched organic matter. I use cane sugar mulch on top around the planted veggies. Over time the soil compacts down, and between veggie crops, I add a bag or few of either soil or compost and add more cane sugar mulch on top. I have a drip watering system on the veggie patches to water the beds. I find this is the best water saving method for a dry climate.

I am still learning how to grow veggies, with success at growing herbs (sweet basil, Vietnamese basil, thyme, mint, sage, curry, chives, chilli), and some veggies (spinach, egg plant, zucchini – I seem to grow massive bommy knockers). As much as I love carrots and really want to grow them, they always seem to grow into big twisted blobs …

A garden is not a garden without its random ornaments and manly functionality; always a much-loved work in progress. Most importantly the fire pit and a cubby house turned man cave to keep the almost husband pre-occupied and out of the way while I garden, until I need him to ‘dig a hole just to fill it back in’ for his almost wife (gotta make the blokes feel manly, right??).

My random ornaments began a few years ago (nightjar markets in Geelong) when I bought 2 groovy small dog sculptures made from scrap metal … it was only after I brought them home that I realised they were massively well endowed (how did I miss that?!?!?!?!) They’ll make most men jealous!


Gardening blog – A short person’s welcoming

Welcome to the ultimate short person’s blog. I hope all you readers find enjoyment in reading my blogs and hopefully find some helpful information somewhere along the way.

I have a home and garden on a small block (674m2) in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Climatic or growing zone is warm temperate, with an average annual rainfall of 564 mm (may as well be desert).

I hope to include lots of pics and videos, which may be photobombed with my fur babies … the spotted cat who thinks she’s a wild animal and the white fluff ball of a dog with tongue too long for his gob.