Top 5 – Gardening questions I don’t know the answers to

I have to admit that I am a bit of a bookaholic, I will read any gardening book I see, or rather that the Coburg library happens to have on their shelves.  I also read a lot of blogs on the subject.   But despite this rather studious approach to gardening and a number of years of experience, there are still questions I really don’t know how to answer.  Either they are things that I am confused about; due to there being huge variations in the approaches of gardening professionals, or else my experience goes against the conventional wisdom.  Regardless they are questions I feel I should be able to answer.  Perhaps you can help….

1. Should you prune tomatoes?  I always feel like I’m pruning off potential fruit if I prune my tomatoes.  Sometimes I prune, sometimes I don’t but really I’m not quite sure which method is best.  My suspicion is that pruning is of benefit with some varieties but not others but which and when I find endlessly confusing.


2. Does companion planting work?  There are heaps of books and magazine articles detailing the wonders of companion planting but they often contradict each other and I’ve yet to see much real evidence that it works.  But then I don’t have any evidence that it doesn’t either.

3. How do you get potatoes to sprout?  I have been trying to get some of my recently harvested potatoes to sprout so that I can replant them.  My research so far has told me to leave them in the light so that they go green and shoot, and that the greening stops them from shooting.  Which is it?  Why do gardening books insist on offering completely contradictory advice????

4. Does the taste of Basil change when it flowers?  I have seen a couple of online conversations about this, most recently on Zucchini Island where it was generally concluded that basil doesn’t really change flavour much when it flowers.  And I have to say I agree.  Do I have appalling taste buds or is the taste change a myth?  Is Thai Basil different – I find its often sold with flower buds attached.

And finally a very specific and Australia centric question:

5. Should I join Diggers Club?  Diggers Club is a Melbourne based seed and plant supplier that you can get discounts from by joining their ‘club’.  They are very well known but so far I have resisted their temptations largely because I can get a bit annoyed with them.  My only experience with them to date is an attempt to get a catalogue from which to order seeds (this was pre online ordering), the catalogue arrived, after about 3 months and was for the previous winter so was totally useless.  Since then I have heard stories about long waits for seeds so I haven’t bothered with them but they do have some interesting varieties.

Aside from their customer service I also find their marketing a little irritating. To quote from their website:

You may not have heard of us because we don’t sell the ordinary sort of plants you’d find at Bunnings, nurseries or supermarkets.

The problem with this is, that they actually do sell their own, very clearly labelled, plants in Bunnings.  Now its fabulous that Bunnings stocks heirloom varieties (not that I would necessarily choose to shop there for them but that is another post altogether) but I do think that for Diggers to suggest they have no relationship with them smacks of ‘ethical washing’ (incidentally I’ve made up that term but anyone familiar with the concept of green washing will know what I mean).

I also find the implication, that the so called ‘ordinary’ varieties, stocked by a lot of nurseries, aren’t as good, a little irritating.  In Melbourne most nurseries selling tomatoes, for instance, would stock heirlooms: Rouge de Marmande and Grosse Lisse, amongst others – both great varieties which are well suited to the climate and in my experience generally worth growing.  If I’m honest I would have been much better served tomato wise this year by planting more of those and less of the so called out of the ordinary varieties.

Incidentally if any Australian readers are looking for a seed company with excellent customer service and really, really quick delivery times: my last order from Green Harvest (an organic seed supplier based in Queensland) arrived in two days and had an extra pack of one of the lettuce varieties in it because they were concerned about germination rates (which have been reasonable – I wouldn’t have noticed they were reduced).  They also included a nice greeting on the invoice – which was a little cheesy but also great customer service.

So to all you Diggers members out there – is it worth it?  Is it fabulous?  Do you feel special?  I’d probably want all that and more if I was to fork out the $50 or so they want for membership, but I’m willing to be convinced.

And that concludes my Top 5, but if one Top 5 is never enough head over to The New Good Life for her runthrough of Beach Holiday Essentials.

This entry was posted in Top 5. Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Top 5 – Gardening questions I don’t know the answers to

  1. Phoebe says:

    No way am I joining or ever going to order from diggers again. I have never had anything come in a timely manner and I agree with everything you have said. I think $50 is a bit rich for small discounts, occasional seed packets and catalogues when other seed companies like Eden seeds send me a catalogue without being a member! GRR

    And I also don’t think basil changes its flavour and pruning is good to get bigger tomatoes but is probably only worth it if you want a manageable, neat plant and plate sized fruit.

    • Liz says:

      Ahh the tomato size thing does make a lot of sense – thankyou! And thankyou for agreeing with me on basil and Diggers I can now go to bed secure in the knowledge that my world view is right and correct (well until someone disagrees tomorrow that is….)

  2. L says:

    I agree with Phoebe to a certain extent re Diggers – not sure if I’ll renew my membership due to very long wait times and orders getting lost. I will continue to order from them, because sometimes they are the only ones who stock certain things, and I like some of their products.

    I must say I am slightly disillusioned with heirloom tomatoes after this year’s growing season – the hybrids really have a lot more disease resistance and I’ve found that my taste buds don’t agree with Digger’s taste ratings.

    My pick of the seed companies is Eden Seeds. Really fast and friendly service combined with excellent germination rates. They are my preference if they have what I’m after. As an aside, I have the exact packet of sugar snap peas from Diggers that you have photographed – it was mislabelled – I get snow peas from it every time.

    In my opinion, companion planting is a load of rubbish. Almost as much as moon planting, but I’ll make myself unpopular with people that I otherwise respect by saying that…

    • Liz says:

      So that’s why dad gave those seeds to me…..I shall have words….still I do like snow peas……
      I do sometimes suspect that Diggers taste ratings are carefully designed to favour their varieties but that maybe the conspiracy theorist in me doing them a disservice as I do think varieties taste quite different under different growing conditions. My dad grew a hybrid called KY2 or something – I will check – this year and it was fabulous – the best tasting that either of us have had this year (there are a few varieties that have yet to produce a ripe fruit though).
      I haven’t ordered from Eden Seeds – I use New Gippsland and Green Harvest usually, but I will definitely give them a try. I can feel a post coming on where I order from a range of different companies and compare service levels. I suspect I agree regarding companion and moon planting but am too reticient to really voice my opinion…..

  3. Veggiegobbler says:

    I can’t help with your first four questions – no idea. I look for answers from people like you! But I have been a Diggers member for a few years now and I have only good things to say about them. I’ve never had problems or delays with my orders. I suspect that their marketing comment just hasn’t been updated ‘cos I’ve only fairly recently noticed their stuff in Bunnings… But you’re right it’s not a good look that they haven’t changed it.

    • Liz says:

      Glad that you’ve had a good experience with Diggers – they do have some great varieties so hopefully I get more positive comments like yours as it would be nice to use them.

  4. Norma Chang says:

    I prune my tomatoes only if they become unmanagable. I do prune out the yellowed and lower leaves to allow for air circulation and light.

  5. maryhysong says:

    #1 Pruning tomatoes and keeping them to one stem on a stake results in less fruit per plant but you can plant closer together so may get more fruit per area. It gives you more sun on the fruit for ripening, which is good in a cool climate. Better air circulation if you are troubled by rots and mildews. Letting them ramble on the ground, even when well mulched will lead to more rots, especially in a wet climate. Growing in cages with 6×6 inch mesh so you can get your hands in works well, especially for me in the desert. Lots of leaves keeps the fruit from sunscald and it shades the ground to help keep it moister. Towards fall I go in and pinch and prune off lots of the newest growth that won’t have time to make ripe fruit before frost so the plant will finish ripening what it does have.

    #2 There have not been many really scientific companion plant studies but there is truth that scattering various flowers about gives beneficial insects some habitat to live in. There is also the idea that what was planted on the ground previous has a strong influence on the next seasons crop; more about that in Elliot Coleman’s books.

    #3 Potatoes need a period of rest/dormancy before they will sprout again. You might try putting your seed potatoes in the fridge for 2-4 weeks then bringing them out into the light and warmth.

    #4 I don’t believe flowering changes the taste of basil (lettuce and some other plants, yes, but not basil). However basil is an annual and of course once it sets seeds may die back. Unless I need more seed I always cut the flowers off. They are nice in salads though.

    #5 can’t help you there as I’m not in Australia. The American Seed Savers Exchange is terrific tho I don’t know if they can ship into your country and probably the postage would be awful.

    • Liz says:

      Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou – I believe these may become my stock responses to these questions. I do like the idea of putting the potatoes in the fridge for a bit – I will give it a try.

  6. I suppose it really depends what is meant by pruning tomatoes. Stopping them after they have formed a certain number of trusses is supposed to help with ripening. Some types need sideshoots removing and others don’t. Like all gardening there is no one size fits all.

    As for companion planting – some swear by it but we haven’t really noticed a great deal of difference but I have to admit we haven’t done any serious research. Some years pests are in greater numbers than others so you’d have to use a controlled experiment to give a true answer and then I’m not convinced it would be a definitive one.

    We always leave our potatoes in the light to sprout but we also have potatoes stored in dark sacks start to sprout too. We find that they sprout more as the weather becomes milder as some have started early this year during a mild spell. Maybe it just isn’t the right time for your potatoes to sprout especially if you have just lifted them.

    I’d find it hard to believe that basil changes flavour when it flowers – I haven’t noticed. It could well be that once the plants flower that the older leaves taste different – nothing to do with the flowers but fresh leaves I would expect to be better than old ones!

    As with all gardening questions different people have different opinions and what works for one may well not for others – gardening isn’t an exact science!

    • Liz says:

      I think that is so true – gardening not being an exact science I mean, all too often I find books presenting their particular method as fact where it is one of many that may or may not work in a particular environment. Thats why I like bloggers responses – you usually get a nice variety which I find makes it easier to reach a conclusion on things as a result.

  7. Leanne says:

    I haven’t done a lot of seed growing and haven’t ordered many seeds online. I have ordered stuff from Eden Seeds and was very happy, they were also cheaper than the seeds I bought elsewhere.
    I believe it takes a while for potatoes to sprout. I have had it happen to me on many occassions, and it will happen whether in the light or night. I very unhappily found some potatoes hidden in the bottom of the pantry that had sprouts a foot long on them and they hadn’t been in the light much.
    Now about the tomatoes, when I was buying my tomatoes at the nursery I heard the guy working there telling some other people that you can take off unnecessary leaves or new branches, especially ones that look like they won’t produce fruit.

    • Liz says:

      I find tomato pruning very interesting – I know that many of the Italian families around here do prune to a couple of strong leaders, but my father hardly prunes at all yet both get excellent results from their plants.

  8. Alex says:

    Agreeing with many of these replies, I would say its difficult to be definitive about companion planting, as there are few studies with accurate controls. There are more benefits to companion planting than just the intended bug-repelling ones (like marigolds vs nematodes). Firstly, I continue to grow marigolds because I also enjoy them as a plant, and they add to the diversity of the garden, which I believe helps to attract beneficial bugs. Nasturtium will definitely attract cabbage butterfly larvae, away from your brassicas, and will grow fast enough to be able to take the munching without noticeable damage, but I often wonder if this ends up with more butterflies around to do more damage later on. Planting basil with tomatoes just makes things convenient to harvest (as they are always nice to pick and eat together). Growing flowering plants like daisies, dill and coriander to attract predator bugs (like ladybeetles, lacewings etc) works quite well. As the green harvest site says, a bed of bug attracting mixed flowers can be useful, as is providing a perennial shelter (like rosemary, lavender borders). Attracting little bug-eating birds to your yard is also useful, so quiet corners of grevillea or other natives can be good too.

    Diggers club: absolutely right. It appears that they are not keeping their information up to date, nor are they conducting enough market research to remain relevant. Now that a lot of their stuff is more widely available, its becoming less important to go to the source, coupled with the rise of other seed producers.

    Flowering: Many leafy plants become more bitter as they flower, but this may be an artefact of the fact that the leaves have been left on the plant as the flowers and seeds are set. Keep the plant producing new leaves by water, nutrient and pruning management and you should be swimming in new leaves. Good moisture and warm weather, with adequate nitrogen should promote leaf growth. When the heat/dry conditions predominate, plants become stressed and begin to flower and set fruit.

    I dont bother pruning tomatoes, I just take what I get, so I defer to other knowledge on this one.

    My potatoes come from ‘compost planting’, so I cant comment on this either. As do all my pumpkin plants. I just wish all the eggshells that go into my compost would do the same, I would love an egg tree… and a coffee tree (flat white, no sugar).

    • Liz says:

      Great response – I do like the idea of both an egg and a coffee tree! I have seen many a cabbage white on nasturiums so I can both see how it would work and also see the dangers. I’m looking at my beds with their very tall staked and dying tomatoes wishing I’d planted (scattered seed to see what came up) a lot more lower level plants underneath, like dill and daisies etc as I think it would look pretty but also as you say help attract beneficial insects. I do have quite a bit of wasted space there at the moment. I like the idea of putting in some grevillea’s I have heaps in the front garden but none out back with the veg – I think I need to mix and match more.

  9. KL says:

    Hi Suburban Tomato,

    I have awarded you the Versatile Blog Award. Please visit to accept it and see the rules. I hope you will do so. Thank You, KL

  10. Diana says:

    I never bought seeds from digger. Its expensive and I don’t know why to be a member have to pay some substanstial amount of money. Well it so common to see digger seedling sold at nurseries here in Adelaide. There are more local seed companies now offering heirloom seeds available.

    • Liz says:

      This does seem to be the consensus – its a shame because they could be a great place to buy from if only they changed a number of things….

  11. becky3086 says:

    1) I don’t prune my tomatoes. More leaves means more sunlight can be utilized by the plant.
    2) I do not find that most companion planting really works.
    3) I think it takes a while for potatoes to sprout so your newly harvested ones will not sprout for a while no matter what conditions you put them in.
    4) I do not find that the taste of basil changes after the bloom, but they do stop growing after that.
    5) Don’t know a thing about it .

    • Liz says:

      I like the sunlight theory – works well for me as I have to say I don’t usually prune mine. That is interesting about the potatoes – I have set up something of an experiment by putting a couple in the fridge, I’ll take them out in a week and then see if anything happens – i suspect you’re right though. Having said that some varieties, I’m thinking Kipflers, do seem to sprout pretty quickly – I usually find one or two sprouting ones in each harvest.

  12. Mark Willis says:

    1. I have grown tomatoes for many years and I firmly believe that pruning them (removing the sideshoots) improves the size of the individual fruits, but reduces the overall yield in terms of numbers. I prefer quality to quantity. Traditionally Bush tomatoes are not side-shooted, because their shape lends itself to straggling all over the place, whereas Cordon-grown tomatoes ARE side-shooted to keep them slim and tall.
    2. I do not have any first-hand evidence that companion planting works. Except perhaps the “sacrificial planting” method – planting something that pests will really enjoy, specifically to distract them from what you want to grow. (Try Chinese Cabbage; my slugs adore it!)
    3. I sprout (chit) my potatoes in my garage, which is not completely dark, but has little natural light. I have no problem with getting good chits. If you keep the spuds totally in the dark they produce spindly anaemic shoots.
    4. I don’t find that flowering Basil loses its flavour, but if you do let the plants flower they will generally stop putting on new leaves, because they think their job is done if they can produce seeds.
    5. Dunno, Mate!

    • Liz says:

      Mum and dads Chinese Cabbage gets absolutely shredded too. I probably should have predicted that you prune your tomatoes – neater that way. I’ve got the spuds in the shed – we shall see….I do pick off any flowers I see on the basil and I do find that if you harvest the top leaves religiously you can keep it from flowering for a fairly long period – mine hasn’t yet this year. Nice point 5 – you’d fit in well downunder.

  13. Frogdancer says:

    I would never join Diggers. Their customer service is appalling. Green Harvest is FAR better and I’ve always been much happier with their quick service.

  14. Gardenglut says:

    On pruning tomatoes – you are going to hate this response. ‘I think it depends’… In a El Nino year I would say defiantely and definately, “DONT PRUNE”. If you prune you dont get protection for the soil and the soil dries out too much and the fruit gets sunburnt. However in a seriously La Nina year in Sydney this year, I wish I had prunned. I might have got more of my fruit ripening. I notice however this year despite being a very La Nina in Sydney, Melbourne seems to have had some seriously hot weather so agina I guess, it depends!

    On Diggers – well I dont thyink I get ‘value’, but I havent had delays in receiving seeds and I am in Sydney.

    • Liz says:

      Actually i think it depends is probably a good response as I do think that different things seem to work for different people and in different gardens. We have had a nice summer actually – I’m really struggling to think about something to complain about (except for lack of rain – but that would be cruel given Sydneys summer). It has been hot at times but then it doesn’t feel like summer if you don’t swear occasionally.

  15. Funkbunny says:

    Agree with the answers, especially with Diggers advice. Don’t do it!

    An aside – as you are in Coburg (as am I!!) do you know about the Inner-North Urban Food swap. Third Saturday of each month, corner of Shaftsbury and Munroe. Lots of lovely gardeners, advice and often seedlings and seeds! Email me if you want more info.

    • Liz says:

      I’ve been to the food swap at the cnr of Bell and Sydney but not that one – I will email you. Thankyou. For some reason I thought you might be local – not sure why…..

  16. Anonymous says:

    Regarding Diggers:
    In a nut shell: NO! They ARE a bunch of hypocrites. Their seed is expensive when compared to others in the industry. They are stingy with their seed when compared to others in the industry. Their varieties, if you look, you can find elsewhere. Their service is so/so. Their website is slow to navigate. Their products are expensive when compared to others in the industry.

    They charge you to go shop there if you aren’t a member. So don’t go taking a friend out to Blackwood to pick up one or two packets of seeds or seedlings because they probably won’t be in stock and they’ll charge your friend entry!

    The thing that upsets me most is that unlike any of the other good quality purveyors of rare and heirloom seeds out there, and there are a few, this lot feel the need to charge us for the privilege of being customers! I can accept that the quarterly magazine is expensive to produce but, I have to question its relevance!

  17. Rick says:

    Great topic Liz, looks like you really hit a nerve with the Diggers thing, as I’m in the USA I can’t comment to that!
    1. I will prune my tomatoes if I get some vines that get really out of hand, other wise I just leave them. I will pinch off any “sucker” vines that form in the saddle of another branch, that is supposed to help focus the plants energy on growing fruit. I’m better with that early on in the year it gets harder to get to it as the summer progresses.
    2. I’m not sure what to think about companion planting. I know my master gardener manual only mentions it briefly and more in relation to attracting pollinators than for any other reason.
    3. I usually don’t wait for my potatoes to sprout before putting them back in the ground. Once they are in the ground they will get the clue and start sprouting.
    4. Basil is something I have never grown, it’s on my list for this year so I will have to get back to you on this one 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Thats interesting about your potatoes – I have put some back in but nothing much is happening and I am a bit concerned they will rot under there but maybe patience is key….

  18. Zoe says:

    Hi Liz, I have actually just been compiling a list of seed companies, although I do also use Diggers:

    Eden Seeds
    Italian Gardener
    New Gippsland Seeds and Bulbs
    Southern Harvest

    Phoenix Seeds in Tassie, who quaintly don’t have a website, Tel : 03 6267 9663
    Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes

    For more difficult to find seeds (and plants too):

    All Rare Herbs
    The Lost Seed

    That’s probably your afternoon shot, sorry 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Thanks Zoe, I have used Green Harvest and New Gippsland as well as Tasmanian Gourmet Potatoes but none of the others, although I have bought both Greenpatch and Eden Seeds seed before jsut not via their website. The others are new to me. Thank you very much! And don’t apologise this will be fun having a look through all these…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *