March 2023 View Online

Dear Fellow Gardener

Welcome to the March 2023 newsletter from Sophie's Patch in the Adelaide Hills, SA. Each month I share what has been happening in and around my patch of garden in the Adelaide Hills, as well as some of my adventures further afield.  I hope you enjoy reading it. Sophie Thomson.

It’s been a huge month, as they all are, but I am buoyed by the fact that autumn is here and even if the days are hot, the nights are cool and give respite. Overall it has been a much milder summer than we usually have, even though there have been some heat spikes. We have also had a number of showers or rain events over the warmer weather which has been a blessing overall, even though the powdery mildew on my vertical vegies has flourished. 

In this newsletter

Around the patch

Vertical Vegies

The vertical vegies are covering all the arches, structures and mesh walls, creating shade, buffering hot winds and feeding us at the same time. The one which has gained most interest on social media is definitely Caigua or Achocha. This South American vegie, sometimes known as a Bolivian cucumber has smothered the bike wheel arch and tunnels in the citrus grove and is fruiting abundantly. While it does fruit late in the season, when it does it is worth it, with delicious pods which taste like a cross between cucumbers and green beans. Check out this Facebook post about them by clicking on the picture below.
The Tromboncino growing over the big archway in the main vegie patch looks impressive with over 40 fruits on the tunnel. This amazing climbing zucchini can get very long and whilst I don’t want to brag, I did grow Australia’s longest Tromboncino (even if only as an unofficial record). FYI (for your information) if you knock the stem off your produce, it can no longer be an official record, and when I was carrying my 168cm long whopper into the kitchen I accidentally knocked the stem off. Lesson learned!? As I said in last month's newsletter.... to me the real value of tromboncino is when you let them mature and go a butternut colour, they can store for up to 12 months so that means you can enjoy a warm season, summer-autumn crop in the cold seasons of winter and spring. So if you are growing them, don’t be tempted to pick them when they are young unless you plan to eat them immediately. 
Check out these old posts on Facebook about the giant growing and being measured. 
The New Guinea beans on the mesh walls to the north and west of the polyhouse are offering shelter and cooling to hot winds and afternoon sun. The polyhouse would otherwise bake in summer, but these vines help to cool it considerably through transpiration, as their foliage breathes out cool moist air and that flowers through the open windows into the polyhouse. 
The giant pumpkin is also covered with pumpkin vines and some fruits are starting to form. However due to the late and cool start to the season we certainly have less fruits on our pumpkin vines than we would usually have. Maybe they will still be able to fruit before the season ends, however there is a chance that if we get an early frost (several years ago we received one in early April) it will kill off the vines and end my chances of a good pumpkin harvest. 

The vegie patch

The vegie patch continues produce an abundance of vegies that we have been loving as well as sharing with friends. We are loving the fresh tomatoes, capsicums, chilli, zucchini, beetroot, leeks, lettuces, bok choy, rocket and more, and we are harvesting bunches of basil, parsley and coriander.
We are also loving last month’s harvest of Egyptian walking onions that are drying and will be stored in the cellar. I have only just used the last of the previous year’s harvest. If you haven’t read me raving about these before, they are also known as tree onions, top set onion, walking onion or self-perpetuating onion, and are a large shallot sized onion which a delicious flavour, eaten fresh, roasted or used in cooking. They are a more practical size for singles or couples as my single bulbing onions can get up to 900g, which is way too much for one meal. They are grown from small bulbils planted in late autumn and the bulbs multiply in the ground, with new bulbils forming on the top of the tall flowering stem. As the bulbils get bigger, the stems bend down to the ground under their weight and root away from the main plant, hence their common name ‘walking onion’ as the onion ‘walks’ around your garden. If grown in fabulous very fertile soil, the shallots are huge but I don’t get many bulbils produced, while when I accidentally miss a clump and leave it in the ground and they run out of soil goodness I get lots of bulbils produced. When you grow them be sure to be keep some bulbils for replanting in autumn.

In the orchard

In the orchard we have been feasting on plums and prunes, early apples and pears including nashis. Nothing beats the flavor of fresh fruit picked straight off the tree when fully ripe. My favourites have been Green Gage and Coes Golden Drop plums, D’Agen prunes, Pomme de Neige apples (Snow apples) and Nashi Twentieth Century. Still to ripen are loads of different mid to late season apples, pears, quinces, figs and a late peach.

With this abundance of fruit we have decided to make one of the cakes in our sweet tasting box at Easter Open Garden a delicious roasted fruit slice, which will be made with plums or apples, or both.

For the bugs

There is lots for the beneficial bugs and butterflies to feast on in the ornamental gardens around Sophie’s Patch with Sedum Autumn Joy, Salvias, Perennial Asters, Orlaya and Chocolate Queen Anne’s Lace being the favourite feeds. I've written a post about how you can encourage beneficial bugs into your garden.

Easter Open Garden preparation

With Easter Open Garden at Sophie’s Patch just 4 weeks away, it is getting exciting! 
The big news is …🥁🥁🥁💥🎉… that the one and only Costa Georgiadis will be here on Easter Saturday and Sunday. Costa is a joy to have around and will be doing chats for adults at 11am and then a walk and talk for kids at 2pm each day . Costa first visited Sophie’s Patch within weeks of starting as the host of Gardening Australia back in March 2012. That was 6 months after we purchased the property and he helped me start the main vegie patch, so he has seen the property develop and grow since the beginning. Check out the segment at 
We have also confirmed that the savoury food option will be.provided by the year 12 cohort from Waldorf School who are planning to serve delicious nachos.  Details will be on social media and my website before the event.
While 4 weeks may seem like plenty of time to get the garden ready, the reality is that I am away for a big part of that, with work trips to the Clare Valley and Victoria booked in between now and then. For the past twelve months I have been super busy travelling and catching up on COVID cancelled events interstate and around SA, so I have had help in the garden from Amanda for a day or two a week. I used to say its not your garden if you have a gardener help you, but I have conceded that I can’t do it all, especially with my work commitments and the serious volumes of food we produce. 
Last year, Sally, my master cake baker baked over 350 baking tray sized cakes for our events, not to mention hundreds of goose egg custard tarts and quince tarts.  All of these cakes were made with our own home grown produce and eggs from our flock.

Easter Open Garden – Saturday 8th, Sunday 9th and Monday 10th April

Open 10 - 4pm

Address 394 Springs Rd, Mt Barker


Who is here?

  • Beekeepers’ Society of SA 
  • Birds SA 
  • Butterfly Conservation Society SA 
  • Bickleigh Vale Organic Farm 
  • Hillside Herbs 
  • Tupelo Grove Nursery
  • Recreate

And of course, Costa Georgiadis (aka Costa the Garden Gnome) will be here on Easter Saturday and Sunday with adult talks at 11am and kids talks at 2pm. 

Kids Activities

  • Saturday – Kate Hubmayer – Nature Crowns
  • Sunday – Recreate  
  • Monday – Kristen Messenger - Bugs N Slugs

Food options

We will have sweet tasting boxes available with pumpkin cake, chocolate beetroot cake and roasted fruit slice (Gluten free options available). The savoury food choices are being provided by Waldorf School.   Tea, coffee and juices will be available.

Tickets at the gate

The event no longer requires tickets so simply turn up and pay at the gate. 

We are again partnering with the Rotary Club of Mt Barker who are raising funds for Operation Flinders who transform the lives of young people through quality remote outback adventure programs.   

No dogs…

Sherlock is our wonderful guard dog, flock protector, friend and family pet.  He is a breed called a Maremma, bred to protect stock from predators and to be intensely loyal to, and protective of, his family.

Sherlock is true to his breeding, and we ask that visitors do not bring other dogs to our property.  Visiting dogs will unnecessarily cause Sherlock stress as he feels the need to protect his flock and family from them. Your support is much appreciated.

Out and about

I have done a number of garden talks over the past month with highlights including a Garden Party fundraiser for the Mt Pleasant Branch of Australian Red Cross. I have spoken at this event for around 25 years and it’s always a delight talking in this lovely country garden.
The Native Bee workshop held at Clayton bay was also great with over 80 people attending and then staying on to make mini bee hotels. 
While at the Clayton Bay Community Hall I visited the adjacent Clayton Bay Nursery , Community Garden and also got to tour the Southern Bell Frog facility. Read more about this amazing initiative at  

Coming up 

Over the next month you will catch me around SA and Victoria. 
Next weekend I am up at Clare for a satellite Sophie’s Patch workshop and the SA Autumn Garden Festival. 

This festival itself runs on Sunday 19th March and is South Australia’s premier garden event. It includes over 70 traders selling an amazing array of plants and garden accessories, as well as a great line up of speakers. You can catch Costa Georgiadis, myself, Kim Syrus, Alex Czura (SA Water) and Rebecca Sullivan (Granny’s Skills) doing a number of talks across the day. Held at the Clare Showgrounds, there is lots to see and do for all ages and great food choices available for lunch. The great thing about Clare is that it is less than two hours from Adelaide so quite doable in a day, or go up and stay the night to make a special weekend of it. Check it out at

The day before the Festival, Saturday 18th March, I am running a satellite Sophie’s Patch Workshop - from 10am to 1pm. 

Grow Your Own – vegies for beginners 

The timing of this workshop is designed so that you can start setting up your new vegie patch and be ready to plant cool season crops in autumn. This beginner’s workshop is for everyone who wants to develop their own productive vegie patch or yummy yard and needs a combination of information and inspiration to get them started. I will cover the basics including the whys and 'wheres' of setting up your vegie garden and then go into the essential details such as soil, compost, irrigation, seasonal planting, seeds vs seedlings and much, much more. I will also cover how to bring in the good bugs to help manage the bad and deal with problems within the garden. 

This workshop, held in the red brick building at the Clare Showgrounds, includes delicious morning tea or coffee with yummy Sophie’s Patch cakes. 

So, if you are dreaming of eating your own, home grown, organic, delicious, vine ripened tomatoes, as well as every other wonderful vegie, this is a great workshop to attend.

In Victoria

Register for Horsham events

The following weekend I am heading across the border into Victoria to attend the Horsham, Harmony Day event  on Saturday March 25th put on by the Wimmera Landcare. 

On the Friday night I am part of the ‘Backyard in harmony’ event held at Holy Trinity Lutheran College from 5.30-8.30pm. Wimmera CMA and Wimmera Landcare are hosting this free event and other guests are Dalki Garringa Native Nursery and the Centre for Participation who will share the latest information about The Social Pantry, two initiatives that bring together nature, people and the wider community.

The Dalki Garringa ‘Good Growing’ Native Nursery at Wail grows plants that are important to the traditional owners of the Wotjobaluk nations and the region, while creating economic development opportunities for their people.

The Social Pantry is a fantastic initiative of the Centre for Participation which connects people with skills-based education and community support services. With the belief that anything is possible for anybody, this is also creating a strong and thriving community.

I will be talking about how gardening helps create harmonious, strong, healthy, connected and resilient communities, especially in the wake of natural disasters such as fire, drought and floods.

The event is free and being catered by Laneway Café without Borders however please register for catering purposes.
On Saturday March 25th at 9.30 in the morning I am speaking at a free Beginner’s Guide to Gardening event at the Patch Community Garden. Come along to learn how to start a vegie garden, including different structures, what to do with fruit trees and trouble shooting any problems you're having. The event is free and BBQ lunch is provided, however please RSVP for catering purposes.

Bendigo Sustainability Festival

Then you can catch me at the Bendigo Sustainability Festival on Sunday March 26th. I have heard great things about this event and am really looking forward to being part of it.

Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show

Then it’s on into Melbourne for Australia’s biggest garden event, the Melbourne International Flower and Garden Show 29th March to the 2nd April. 

See you around 😊

Upcoming events at Sophie’s Patch

Succulent Art Workshop at Sophie’s Patch – Succulent Picture Frame at Sophie’s Patch on Friday 28th and Saturday 29th April

Join Sophie and her friend and colleague Lorraine Thompson from Hillside Herbs and Succulents for this hands-on workshop where you will make your own succulent picture frame ……………… with the frame, succulents and everything else you need provided.

Lorraine and Sophie will guide you through the process, demonstrate how to make other succulent art projects like kokedamas and succulent birdcages, and cover the basics of how to get the best out of succulents and dealing with pest and disease problems.

You can book tickets to this event here 

Book review - 'What Your Food Ate'

This book was recommended to me by Steve Hailstone, friend, organic gardener and passionate food grower, and I have been absolutely loving it. As a matter of fact I am listening to it as an audio book, as well as going through the hard copy with a highlighter. 

I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who is interested in growing food or eating food. as I am writing this and thinking about how to encapsulate the significance of this book, I reread the recommendation from a friend and he said it so wisely that I have got his permission to quote him:

It is without any doubt THE most important book about food that I have read in decades, if not ever! It’s about the practices in growing food, what goes into those, what the food and soil subsequently contain, how they all then impact flavour, and how all that then impacts human and animal health. It combines “up-to-date” research relevant to all those elements, but is entirely readable by anyone – no science degrees needed (the authors have those). This is a serious book with no 'woowoo', nor unsubstantiated assertions based on wishful or gut-feeling thinking.

The importance of its content is ENORMOUS for those interested in growing food and by implication gardening more broadly.

Talkback gardening

Dont forget to tune in each Sunday morning to catch me doing talkback gardening on radio ABC Adelaide with the one and only Peter Goers. Peter and I always have a lot of fun and laughs……… and even manage to answer a few gardening questions. So, tune in via ABC Radio 891 or log in via 

Give away

For this month’s newsletter giveaway, two lucky subscribers will be drawn at random from our data base and receive a family pass to attend our Easter Open Garden 8th to 10th April along with two #SophiesPatch sweet tasting boxes to enjoy during their visit. 
Not yet a subscriber to the Sophie’s Patch newsletter? Simply click here to register.
Happy gardening!

  Sophie's TEDx talk.  
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