The Winter Garden

At this time of year, many of us take the opportunity that the weather provides to finally wear layers, start fires and cook soups and stews. Deciduous plants have dropped or are the process of dropping their leaves. Generally, when a plant goes dormant it is a good time to prune. If you have dormant plants (Stone fruit, Pomegranates, Mulberry, Figs, Grapes, etc) or generally any plant that has finished flowering and fruiting, like citrus, you also might like to give them a prune. Plants are often pruned after they have fruited.

When starting out, after your adoption of another family member, your new tree or shrub will need an establishment period. This establishment time period is different for every plant. It will all depend on the health of your plant, soil and suitability of the location. A normal time frame would be 2-3 years. During this time it is a good idea to encourage healthy root systems and strong stem growth over early flowering and fruiting. Use appropriate training techniques to help maintain a good size and shape with pruning used as a supplement and supporting role, not the main focus. With good training and supplement pruning in the establishment periods, the need for ongoing pruning is reduced.

Winter is also a wonderful time to create and plant out gardens. The cooler weather makes the days a perfect time to be out playing in the garden. And plants that are planted out have time to adjust to their new homes before the spring heat. So have an amazing winter and be sure to enjoy the seasonal changes. Remember healthy soil, healthy plants and healthy plants, healthy harvests. Happy growing everyone.

Happy growing everyone.

 By Joshua van Veen

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Rescuing Native Stingless Bee Hives

Have you ever seen small black insects quietly visiting your flowers and shrubs? If so, maybe you are lucky to have a wild hive on your property already! They are Australian native bees, of which the most popular has to be the small social stingless bees. In the wild, these species mostly inhabit tree hollows and produce small amounts of medicinal honey each year. Like the honeybees we know which are native in Europe, the native stingless bees are invaluable as natural pollinators for the diverse range of plant species of Australia. Commercially, they are used to pollinate crops such as macadamias, avocados and lychees.

van Veen Organics strives to protect our beautiful local wildlife, even the smallest ones! Habitat loss is currently the number one cause for the wild decline of these bees. We travel to rescue hives that in trees that are scheduled to be cut down and thus in danger of being destroyed. The hive then needs to be checked and monitored, to make sure the colony is healthy and progressing well. Once the hives are strong, we take and rehome them away from danger.

Through a network of arborist, council workers, farmers and developers who are paid a spotting fee to look out for threatened nests, we identify, locate, and rescue threatened hives. All this takes knowledge, time and resources to complete. It doesn’t come cheap unfortunately, but through education and rehoming we are able to provide this valuable service to protect these stingless bees hives from otherwise certain death.

The retail price of our native beehives is a reflection of the resources involved in the care, education, and protection of this awesome native species. A rescue generally, but not always, involves a spotter’s fee, travelling costs, rescue time and equipment, monitoring and recovery time, and finally, rehoming. The rescue itself takes twelve to fourteen hours and the recovery can take many months. Sixty percent of our retail prices covers this process, including equipment (beehives, boxes, etc). Another twenty percent covers the education and time taken to find new loving homes where they will be protected. As a small local business, this gives us an average hourly rate of $8 per hour of labour for each hive rescued. Not the most profitable exercise but one well worth it and definitely a labour of love.

If more people were aware of the problems that our native stingless bees faced and actively helped to protect these bees, they would no longer be at risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Until then, part of our mission is to help this keystone species as much as we can. This goal is going to take time, but can be achieved through education and word of mouth. Together we can help our native bees, please share your knowledge of our native bee species with your friends, family and co-workers so more people are bee aware!

As well as running workshops to showcase the many benefits of these native bees, van Veen Organics also organise crop pollination services for large commercial growers. We propagate our own hives on site, and work with other native stingless bee keepers in showing them how to propagate new hives from old ones. We also install new hives at educational centres locally, mostly at kindergartens.

By Josh van Veen and Theo Darmawan

Images by Luisa Johnson

Training and pruning fruit trees

Winter time is here. Cool days followed by chillier nights. In our subtropical climate, whether you are in Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, it is a great time to get out and enjoy the sunshine in the garden and get some of the heavy duty task complete, like establishing new garden beds, while it is still cool. As well as get everything ready for the beginning of spring and summer. In winter here at van Veen Organics we also do our supportive pruning for all deciduous and citrus plants.

We call it supportive pruning because we believe that the training a fruit trees is most important and that the pruning is secondly and acts to support the training we are doing. Training and supportive pruning is more important than just doing pruning by itself. Proper training reduces the amount of pruning you have to do each year by up to 80% in some varieties while also helping the maintain long term health, vigor and improved fruit production over the life of the trees. So for any growers of stonefruit, pomegranates, figs, mulberries and grapes now is the time to either start looking into training and to prune while these species are dormant for the winter. T

his time is also good for dealing with citrus plants as the sun isn’t so intense and unlikely to cause sunburn damage. Pruning now will give them time to put out new protective foliage before the hotter weather. Remember do not take off more the 1/3 when pruning, if more is required pick your battle with the most important limbs and plan to do the others next time. If you have an older tree that has been let go stage the recovery pruning over a few years. We also like to get back what we have taken so we give the plants some fertiliser after the prune to help with the recovery and provide some of the nutrients that we took away with the pruning.

No Dig Gardens

No dig gardening

We create many new garden beds each year here at van Veen Organics and we are not fans of heavy labour just for the fun of it or because double or triple digging is what they do on the gardening shows on tv. In fact digging up a whole area of soil is more likely to be doing more damage than it is solving.

This is due to the fact that every time you dig into your soil you are potentially killing hundreds of thousands if not millions of beneficial soil bacteria and fungi. These organisms play a virtual role in breaking down nutrients to make them available for your plants easily use. Easy no dig gardens can be created by firstly snipping down grass or unwanted planted, then scattering fertiliser (quality complete organic pellets or compost) in the garden area. Then layering a cover of newspaper or cardboard over the top and covering with mulch and watering the area.

After a week or two you will be able to dig just a small hole and plant your desired plants. Weed out any undesirable plants as they emerge in the following weeks while you are watering the new plants, settling them in. That is it you’re all done and you have a newly planted garden without hard weeding or digging and in a way that promotes healthy soil and plants.


Berrylicious: Motivation to Grow your own Berries

Berries are yummy, full of health benefits but expensive.

They are one of the most popular fruits on the market today so much so that Australians import a large amount of fresh and frozen berries each year.

The recent health issues associated with imported frozen berries have stopped many people from eating these lovely fruits.

It does not have to be this way. The Glasshouse Region is in a perfect location which enables us to grow many different types of berries right in your backyards without all the cost and worry.

Blueberries, Raspberries, Mulberries, Strawberries and Grapes all grow will locally. It is all about selection, plant and location. Some blueberries worth trying are the low chill types. Common ones available locally include ‘Gulf Coast’, ‘Biloxi’, ‘Sharpblue’, ‘Misty’, ‘Britwell’, ‘Legacy’ and ‘Powderblue’. For exotic Raspberries try the autumn fruiting types such as ‘Heritage’ and ‘Autumn Blizz’.

There are a few good native raspberries worth trying also the most known and largest being the Atherton Raspberry. For Mulberries there are Black and White types (whites don’t stain) and Red and White Shahtoots. The Shahtoot types are longer then the standard mulberries and are very sweet. For strawberries there are hundred of different types so pick a few and try your luck and see which ones are keepers.


If you want to grow grapes go for the older types. Two good ones locally are the white type ‘Pink Iowa’ and the black type ‘Isabella’.

In a permaculture system grapes can be grown over your mulberries trees or other fruit crop like the tropical apples and pear. This method has many benefits but the most noticeable one being the saving of space.

There are also many different types of berry fruits suitable in our local environment. Some of these berry fruits include, Grumichama, Jaboticaba, Brazilian Cherry, Capulin Cherry, Panama Berry and Acerola Cherry to name a handful.


The yummy fruits, their health benefits and the money saved from growing some of your own berries makes it all worth the while.

Article written by Joshua van Veen, Horticulturalist and Permaculturalist at van Veen Organics – Permaculture Plant Nursery in Elimbah.