Ask Daniel…

Free advice and handy information for all your food gardening questions.

Please post your questions here (as comments) and I will get right back to you with an answer.

  1. Hi Daniel,
    Great advice. Have you got the list of all the nitrogen fixing plants that can be used in our local Central coast/Sydney environment-temporate. I remember seeing it once a while ago but can’t seem to find it at the moment.
    Keep up the good work and I hope to catch you soon especially as looking for land around here and may need some good advice and a plan before I start this time.
    Dave (fellow permie)

    • Hi Dave,

      Any time happy to help. I can teach you how to use google earth for land shopping as you can work out aspect and slope easily and rule out non contenders without wasting time visiting them.
      I have emailed you the document you mentioned but it’s pretty general. Try and get some info from your local council with regards to species list and sort them using the botanical names and family names.
      If you can find everything in the Fabaceae family then pick the ones suited to what you want to do with them. They are all nitrogen fixing. The seeds I got last week (that you commented on) were chosen for 2 reasons.
      The first tree “Fimbriata” was chosen because its the tallest growing wattle in my area that was suitable for a screen and a windbreak. The other 2 (cant remember the names off hand) were chosen because they are very spiky and make a wallaby proof living fence, make good habitat for insectivorous birds and keeps evil bush walkers at a distance.
      Keep in touch mate

  2. Hi Dan.
    I’m about to pick up my first ever hens 🙂 and want to know about feeding them grains. I have lots of weeds, scraps etc and would rather buy only what they need instead of simply getting a commercial mix.

    • Hi Janneia,

      What a great question. Chickens are omnivorous animals and require a diverse diet to live well. Like us, they need an amount of vegetation, protein and carbs. Chickens in their natural environment of the jungle roam from place to place scratching as they go. Their main interest is eating meat in the form of bugs, worms, and lizards (just to name a few preferences) and greens and seeds along the way. In an enclosed environment the chickens lose that ability to move on when the bug population is low.

      It’s important to decide how you will house the chickens and therefore what level of attention you need to give to their dietary requirements. Chickens that free range totally will clean up the bug population quite quickly and although people often think that what they are doing is the best thing for the chickens by just letting them wander anywhere, I would disagree. I prefer to see the garden sectioned off into small areas and allow the chickens into one of those areas for a couple of weeks before moving them on to the new area and allow the scratched up area to rest for a few months during growing season. This way, the chickens naturally disturb the ground and fertilise it at the same time so it is a positive use of the land. Allowing the chickens constant access to the same piece of land will see it overgrazed and scratched up, never allowing it to recover, and has a very negative effect on the land.

      So to answer your question, it is very hard to feed chickens well without bringing in any supplementary feed. You should give them weeds and scraps anyway but this accounts for very little of their dietary requirements. It certainly adds to the quality of their life and entertainment! In order to reduce the amount of grain required, you need to increase the protein you feed them. You could start a large worm farm (feeding it with scraps from other sources such as neighbours or restaurants) and feed the worms to the chickens or you could try Black Soldier fly composting and feed the larvae to the chooks. I have a friend that gets scrap meat from the butcher to feed to the girls once per week (but don’t feed them any chicken meat!). I have started growing eating fish in an aquaponics system and will feed the offal to the chickens.

      You can also recycle the used eggshells by drying them in the sun then crushing them into tiny pieces (you don’t want them learning to eat the eggs so need to disguise them) and adding it to their grain mix. This gives them back some minerals such as calcium that they would otherwise replenish through eating small stones as they graze so is extra helpful if you don’t let them free-range.

      If you are doing all the right things, you can get away with feeding the girls about a handful of grain each per day but I would highly recommend you start with more and reduce as you see how they go. If you are not feeding them enough they will tell you by crying and not laying.

      Happy chicken-raising, it’s a wonderful choice!

  3. I need advice on how to make my vegie patch more productive. I have basically sandy soil, but consantly enrich it with cow manure, compost, worm castings, sugar cane mulch… This has been going on for years, still no great results. Maybe I need trace elements??

    • Hi Catherine,

      Sorry for the late reply. We have just got internet back on after moving.
      Sounds like you are doing all the right things. Trace elements may be needed but the 2 main problems for people in your situation are:

      Check your ph. If your ph is too far either side of 6.5, it doesn’t matter what you add to the soil as the nutrients are not available to the plants. I don’t think that is likely given the stuff you are adding generally makes the soil naturally 6.5

      It’s more likely that you are competing for water and nutrients with tree roots. Large pine trees and eucalypts are the main offenders and can have root runs of 20m plus. Let me know if either of those answers the problem.

      Adjusting ph is an easy job, whilst dealing with tree roots is a much harder problem to solve


  4. Hi Daniel,
    I have a small problem with fruit fly, are there any companion planting tips you could give me in order to attract good insects into my yard that attack fruit fly? I have just noticed some parasitic wasp coming into my garden so I don’t want to use any chemical methods that might harm them.


    • Hi Andrew,

      I don’t know of any companion plants for fruit fly but I do know of companion animals. Chickens will scratch around in the ground where the larvae live, eat them and break the growth cycle.
      If that doesn’t work for you then use a trap of some kind. A plastic jar of some description hung on a tree with 4 holes around side approximately 30mm from the top will work well. You need to add some kind of bait. Here is a home made recipe. I use eco-naturalure. This product is sold as a concentrate spray mixture but I use it as a lure/bait. I got the tip from a friend. I bought a 1 litre bottle 3 years ago and I have used hardly any of it. You need very little. If you have now noticed the fruit fly in your fruit then you need to get rid of them. It is your legal responsibility to do so. Feed the fruit to chooks or boil before composting it.

      • Thanks Daniel,
        The trap is deployed, I had some of that eco-naturalure in the cupboard from last year and had forgotten about it. Thanks for your help, I’m very keen to be rid of the little buggers.

  5. Hi Daniel,

    I have powdery mildew on my crepe myrtles but one of them hangs over my veggie patch. What can I use to treat the powdery mildew without affecting any of my veggies?? There is no way of isolating the spray due to the location of each plant.


    Matthew – Glenbrook

    • Hi Matthew,

      The only available product that is sold as safe to use on edibles (and that cures powdery mildew) is Yates Lime Sulfur. Econeem also works and was (until just recently) organically approved for use on edibles. It still is approved for use on food crops in most countries but not here.

      Often, powdery mildew occurs when the conditions for that plants aren’t right, usually not enough oxygen and too much rain. You might consider moving the tree somewhere more appropriate (we successfully moved an established crepe myrtle from Faulconbridge to Haberfield in the inner-west last year!). Alternatively you could try thinning the branches so more airflow gets between them.

      Good luck!


  6. Dear Daniel,

    I have sprayed my peach tree with Bordeaux, rather late (last week) but better late than never. I make it up myself , according to a recipe from ABC’s Gardening Oz(copper and washing soda). Anyhow, the tree did not turn blue as it should have , so I’m wondering if I should try again, (and make sure that I make the spray properly.) But all the blossoms are open now. Last year the peaches did seem to be quite affected by an end mold kind of condition, and I only sprayed them once with Bordeaux, so this year I’d like to do better. Will the spray be bad for the open blossoms?

    • Hi Diana,

      Thanks for your question. Bordeaux spray needs to be applied twice at 4-5 day intervals. I am unsure about the effect on blossoms, but I would be inclined to avoid spraying blossoms. I have read that you can also spray after the blossoms have dropped.
      Personally, I would try not to spray anything at all ever and let nature do the work. This takes 2-3 years to see results but is worth it for the balanced environment it creates and you end up with fewer pest and disease problems. Providing a habitat for beneficial insects is vital for a balanced ecological system in your garden. Planting lots of flowering annuals and perennials encourages ‘bad’ bugs, which in turn attracts predatory ‘good’ bugs. Making ‘bug hotels’ out of twigs and bamboo provides overnight shelter during Spring and Autumn when the nights are too cool for some bugs to fly home. One good plant for overwintering beneficial bugs is Oleander, which can now be purchased as a dwarf tree.
      An alternate suggestion would be to grow garlic around peach trees as this can reduce the chance of peach leaf curl disease. Try this link for some more information about companion planting Some people are skeptical about the effectiveness of companion planting, and the jury is still out for me. It may be that planting companion plants is effective simply because more plants attract more bugs. Certainly planting more plants is better for promoting a sound ecological system, which is better for your garden as a whole, and your fruit trees in particular. With regards to the mold problem, last year was particularly wet and many fruit trees suffered.

  7. Hey Daniel,

    Can you let me know which landscaper you get your rock dust from? I live in the lower BM. Also, will they know what rock dust is?



    • Hi Roland,

      Landscapers generally will not know the term “Rock dust”. What you need to ask for is “Crusher dust” and if they have it you need to ask what kind of rock it comes from. If they say basalt or blue metal then you have the right stuff. Crusher dust can be any stone material. I have got mine in the past from Tunks in Katoomba but it has quite large particles making it unsuitable for potting mix without (painfully) sieving. I have found a better supplier in South Windsor called “Turtle Nursery” (Which also sells hard to come by new harwood sleepers). This place has two kinds of crusher dust. One is 5mm and the other is much finer. You want the latter. As it is a waste product and made from a variety of stones, you need to call ahead and check. I have bought stuff from another place and when I went back the crusher dust was granite. If you want the people in the landscape yard to think you are a proper weirdo then bring along a magnet and run it through the dust to check that it is paramagnetic.

      Happy dust hunting


  8. Hi Diana,

    I think you should be cautious about using poo from pets or humans in the garden. There is a parasite in dog poo which is believed to make people go blind. The other thing about using pet poo in worm farms is that often people use worming tablets on their dogs, cats and horses which in turn can kill the worms in the worm farm. I have been told that after about six months the worming tablets will have broken down enough to not kill your earth/composting worms so if you want to store your dog poo before putting it in the worm farm you should have no problems. The nicer cleaner alternative is to “Hot compost” the poop which should also render the worming tablets harmless. Hot composting can render lots of nasties much safer. This is the best composting book I have read and it is available in the Blue Mountains library.

    The Rodale Book of Composting

    To answer your question quickly……I would not be using dog poo on edibles.

  9. Dear Daniel,
    I have 2 worm farms in my backyard, which are very simple arrangements, although I tell the worms that they are in Worm Apartments. The furnishings in both apartments are simple:straw – but the menus are different. In the Premium apartments it consists of fruit and veg. but in the Canine apartments they also have to chomp through dog poo. They manage this with varying degrees of grace. Occasionally they seem about as happy as refugees at Villawood and stage an escape – but I digress.
    The premium worm wee goes onto the vege garden at the back of the house, and it’s rocket fuel. The plants love it. But I have been putting the worm wee from Canine apartments onto the front garden because I’m worried that there may be microorganisms from the dog’s innards which have survived the trip through the worms’ innards as well. What do you think?

  10. Hi Dan,

    Just discovered your site. Great!!

    First a comment on what has worked well for me re: cabbage moths. I plant established seedlings in small patches and create ‘tents’ as physical barriers by using mosquitoe netting or old continuous curtaining. I weigh the edges down on the soil and then cover the edging with a mulch….this also keeps out the snails. Tents are high enough to allow good growth and until the plants are well developed and can take some munching.

    I also have alot of bower birds that would eat everything down to the ground. So many kinds of physical barriers seem to work best for my area in Leura.

    My question is about the sooty mold that is affecting my lemon tree?? I’ve spray for the scale with white oil. What do I do about the soot??


    • Hi Maggie,

      Thank you for your message and also for your tip.
      Since I wrote the comment about cabbage moth I have discovered a much cheaper option for a spray when exclusion is not possible: 2 table spoons of molasses to 1 tablespoon of liquid soap in 1 litre of water. The spray needs to be used repeatedly if it rains. You can buy food grade molasses from the co-op in Katoomba.
      With regards to the sooty mould…..try good old soapy water sprayed over the plant (but do not allow it to dry) and then spray with water to rinse it off. If the mould is too thick to spray off then wiping with a cloth will get it off.  It’s important to remove the mould fairly well so that the plant can photosynthesise properly. 

      update 24.4.11…..the molasses spray works great


  11. hello.
    I seem to have a small problem with my gay pumpkin plant.
    I grew them from seeds and it took off in no time and I now have plenty of flowers ,but all male , no female flowers.
    When do the females arrive please and are they hard to pick , they are supposed to have a small bulb on the end of the flower , is that correct?
    Love to hear your advise.
    Regards John

    • HI John,
      It is probably stress caused by weather. We have had rainy and cool weather followed by extreme heat. I have heard similar stories at the moment about beans, zucchini, tomatoes and passion fruit. All I can advise is to make sure the plant is not stressed. Pumpkins are heavy feeders and need lots of good compost. It’s been a strange year. I would imagine you should see some female flowers as the weather gets a bit cooler and they are easily identifiable as the fruit is behind the flower. The male flower has a skinny stem while the female will look like a tiny pumpkin.

  12. Hi Daniel,

    What do you use to control cabbage moths?

    • Hi Fred,
      I use a few different techniques. In the (not quite finished) greenhouse the moths can be a problem on the seedlings. I have chickens (new for me this year) that free range and they seem to have controlled the moth population in the garden quite considerably. I do use biological control on seedlings. I bought a packet of Dipel (made by Yates) about three years ago and I still have it. I only use it while the seedlings are small and there are signs of attack. The caterpillar eggs are on the underside of the leaves which is where the spray should be applied. Have a look at This spray bottle allows you to spray under the leaves easily. My plan for next season in the greenhouse is to have a line of sage seedlings between each (Brassica) seedling tray to distract the moths, and nasturtium on the ground. The nasturtium attracts the moths and they lay their eggs there. The chooks enjoy eating nasturtium (especially when it is garnished with caterpillars).
      In the veggie garden I again companion plant things like sage (which distracts the moth) and lavender and nasturtium (which attracts them). Now the seedlings are strong enough to handle a caterpillar which is usually on the outer leaves and not affecting the main part of the plant. I cut off any leaves that have caterpillars and feed them to the chooks which reduces the moth population. You may need to spot treat plants with a biological control. Remember that caterpillars are other animals’ food too, so don’t use any poison that could harm their predators (beneficial bugs, birds and the French).

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