SARAH THE GARDENER

Now the Year can begin

I have been away on our annual summer break.  I do find Christmas and the summer holiday a tad incompatible with a fully burgeoning garden, however that is an argument for another day and at the end of the day getting away from it all and spending time creating family memories takes precedence.  So, we dragged ourselves away from our lovely West Coast vista and headed off to the lovely vista on the East Coast, where the sand is white and the waves not so wild.

East Coast beach

This is a beach made for summer relaxing

We were nestled into a great camping spot in the midst of the bush with a babbling stream where the sound of the gentle waves competed with the birds as the soundtrack of our summer.  The Kiwi’s and Morkpork’s filled the night air and then handed over the Tui’s whose dawn chorus is an incredible sound, like being in a cathedral filled with a million bells.  We were right in there with nature… with no power, no internet and a tent that didn’t hold up all that well to the torrential rain on day 2! However, once the rain stopped and the campsite dried out, we had some spectacular summer days where memories were indeed made.

NZ Bush

This path just invites you to wander deeper into the bush

Not having any internet or power and not being a great swimmer, I decided I would spend some time doing garden research and dragged with me some of my fattest gardening books to delve into and make plans.  The lure of doing nothing set in the moment we arrived, and the books remained unopened and I am no further ahead with my new year’s planning than I was before we left…  Which is no where at all.

Stream in NZ Bush

A babbling stream in the bush is the perfect thing to cool down a hot still summer day

As the year is over a week old now, I will need to schedule in time for planning alongside the doing and try to find a balance.  I’m kind of looking forward to it as it means I will need to timetable my day a little so everything gets attention, which will avoid the boom and bust of focusing on one thing at a time.

Garden in the morning

It was great to come home and see the garden looking so good

The good news is the garden thrived in my absence.  There was rain, but no wind.  Thanks to the care I put in before I left, my tomatoes are pest and disease free.  I lost one tomato, the leaves are brown and crispy.  It is most likely down to disease so I will carefully remove it and avoid the spread.  I have been using hand sanitizer on my hands and tools in between handling each plant and it seems to have paid off.

Sweetcorn

The sweetcorn is looking wonderful. Last summer I came home from the holidays to find it flattened.

Dead tomato plant

If this poor tomato plant is the only casualty of my time away then I guess that is ok.

Everything else is looking wonderful, although there is work to be done, weeds to pull, and plans to make and a Wong Bok that looks almost ready to turn into kimchi.  I’m not entire sure what 2021 will look like in my garden as I have yet to decide, but I am looking forward to the process.

Come again soon – I’m about to make some lists.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The Strangest Year

2020 was an odd year and to be honest I am pleased it is behind us.

January started with pest and disease and turbulent storms in the garden.  Little did I know this would be a metaphor for the entire year.    February lulled us into a false sense of security and was more settled.  There seemed to be a rhythm and routine and order and control.  I barely remember it.  It feels so odd to have a time when things were progressing as they should.  However, it would seem this was the calm before the storm.  Everything was about to be turned upside down.

jan 2020

January:  Starting the new year always feels like stepping out over a new threshold.

As March turned to autumn it introduced us to Lockdown.  It didn’t change much in my world but at the same time it inexplicably changed everything.   April brought with it a weird inertia, at that time of year the garden was winding down, so there wasn’t much to do but what there was didn’t fill me with joy…  possibly as most of it was pulling things out and an emptying of the garden rather than the excitement of filling it up and all the hope and promise that brings.

Feb 2020

February:  The garden is at its height of abundance at this time of year. (And we got the first look at the new tool shed)

In an attempt to shake the mood, I decided to #MakeMayCount.  There is a natural lull in life during May as it is the doorstep to winter and what stretches ahead isn’t as joyful as the doorstep to summer.  I would like to think I do this again as it brings life into the days, although the lesson I need to learn from last May is not to over do things trying to make the month count.  May also had the added strangeness of re-entering the world again.  Busy hands prevented dwelling on just how scary this was…  Was it actually safe, could we trust in what we once took for granted?

Mar 2020

March:   The sign on the shed – Grateful, Thankful, Blessed couldn’t feel more appropriate in light of what was about to happen.

June brought with the winter and a slower pace after the busy heady May days.  Just pottering about and starting to think about making plans for the new growing season.  July was typically winter with the ravages of storms and the turn of the calendar suggesting spring is closer than realized.  

April 2020

April:   was as weird as having an abundance of watermelon in mid autumn!

Looking back over August invokes feelings of stress and overwhelmedness.  I had taken my eye off the ball too much in the early mid-winter and now the entire growing season needed planning and preparation in a short space of time and if that wasn’t enough, we were plunged into another lockdown and the sense of weirdness returned.

May 2020

May:  In spite of days like these it was a very productive month.

Spring arrived in September with all the fanfare and excitement of a new growing season but with the underlying currents of a hastily prepared party, it was good enough, but not nearly as wonderful as I had hoped for. 

June 2020

June:  Just to add to the strangeness of the year I had self seeded sunflowers in winter!

October contained a milestone – a birthday with an ‘0’ in it.  Birthdays with ‘0’s in them always leave you questioning how you are going in life and I love where we are and what we are doing.   It coincided with the big spring plant out week and it really felt like a new beginning, the start of something wonderful, and yet the continuation of something that feels right and comfortable, like an old sock.

July 2020

July:   Midwinter was as was expected with plenty of storm weather.

November was a month of spring storms, holidays and reaching that sweet spot where the garden was finally planted out.  The time away from the garden for weather or leisure didn’t impact the tasks required from the garden.  But then November is always that month that is like the eye of the storm, the one where you can stop with the prepping and planning and enjoy the calm before the harvest and the festive season kicks in.

Aug 2020

August:   The time was right for making plans in the warmth of the office.

This December hasn’t been the easiest, the unbalanced and unsettled nature of life since the arrival of the first lockdown, culminated in an end of year frenzy of activity ‘to get things finished’ for the year.  However, this beginning and ending feels imagined especially when you are in the middle of the growing season and have yet to see an abundance of anything in the harvest basket.   

Sept 2020

September:  The potential for the entire harvest was sown in seed.

But a good push to cross things off the list, means 2021 will start afresh and the navel gazing of this blog post will help to set things in place so the good is repeated and the worst is cast aside.  

In hindsight I think I’m going into the new year in a different position as the entire garden is in control – there are problems, however they aren’t insurmountable and if things fail, then there is nothing to be done about it, so I’m trying not to lose energy and effort worrying about it. If I have put my best foot forward, then what will be will be.

Oct 2020

October:  Growth multiplies quickly at this time of year.

I started last year with the word Overcome but standing at the other end of the year it feels like the word has morphed into Overwhelm.

My words from this time last year still apply:   ”It makes sense then that my new year’s resolutions would be a focus of health and wellbeing with a bit of mindfulness thrown in for good measure.” … “I envisaged a sense of calm and slow gentleness where life falls into place perfectly and the garden will flourish under this new approach.”

Nov 2020

November:   It is important to make time to enjoy life, like a mini break away in the beautiful Queenstown.

What I need to do this year is approach it with a more level head.  Yes, take time to unwind, but also plan and prepare so the future doesn’t come as a surprise.  I need to even out the boom and bust situations in the garden so there is a gentle ebb and flow that is more enjoyable no matter what the weather or the season.  Plunging oneself into situations of panic on a regular basis isn’t good for overall wellbeing. 

Dec 2020

December:  The garden today, on the verge of an abundant harvest.

The word for 2021 shall be ‘Steady’ as in ‘steady as she goes’.

Come again soon – next year things will be the same but different.

Oh and…  Happy New Year!!!

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Merry Christmas

The run up to Christmas has been a little bit hectic, with last minute shopping and a busy work life balance, but I can now finally throw myself into all things Christmas and enjoy the festive season with my family.  But before I completely switch off my computer gardening and indulge in festive kitchen gardening and gentle garden gardening to maintain all that is growing there, I decided to do a quick tour to share with you what we will be eating from the garden this Christmas.  Most of it will be harvested on the day, moments before eating, because not only is it better this fresh, but it is also a great excuse to get a bit of gardening in on the big day!

Zucchini Flower

‘It’s like a Christmas star!’

So sit back and enjoy the tour and I’ll be back with more garden goodness for you in early 2021.

Come again soon – but in the meantime have a Merry Christmas and a Safe and Happy New Year.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

This post is bought to you by the colour green…

… with a few pops of colour thrown in for good measure.  

It hasn’t been the easiest season so far, however if I stop focusing on what is making it a struggle and look at the big picture. Or take a closer look at the things that aren’t considered superstars of the summer garden, yet are there every year and faultlessly do their thing.   On reflection, I think, just maybe this might not be such a disastrous season as I was thinking it might be.  It just got off to a rough start and there is every hope for a successful end.   I think I just need to treat the temperamental superstars like the primadonnas they are and not let them overshadow hard working plants who keep their heads down and do their stuff.

So with the impending start of a whole new year, I’m going to say no to the gloom and doom and look forward to better days.  Someone just needs to tell the weather – it is hot, but cloudy and muggy, not exactly ideal summer stuff… but it is what it is and I’m not cold wet or miserable!

Basil

The rescued basil is doing really well. I think I may need do whip up some pesto very soon. Yummo!

Come again soon – I think it may be time for a video tour.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Ending the year with a virus – how appropriate!

I have a disease in my garden.  I noticed it a few days ago and toyed with the idea of ignoring it, in the hopes that it will go away.  However knowing how dramatically another virus that shall remain nameless has wreaked havoc all over the place, the last thing I need is the little world that is my garden to be devastated and require complete destruction in order to control it.  

Alfalfa Mosaic Virus

It all started when I noticed this strange leaf effect…

I resigned myself to the possibility of doom and gloom and took a few photos and then did what they say you should never do for yourself with medical symptoms and I consulted the great big internet.  With all sorts of alarm bells ringing to the tone of fear in my head, I spent a restless night filled with worry.  In the light of day I decided to face these fears head on and sent an email off to my favourite horticultural expert who very kindly and gently suggested I did indeed have a disease but not the one I thought I had.

Pepper plants

It was all a bit distressing because they were beginning to bear fruit

It turns out I have Alfalfa Mosaic Virus which has a wide variety of hosts including peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, peas and beans, which is a large portion of what I have growing in my garden.  Looking on the bright side it is just as well I decided to do something about it, or all would have been lost. 

Sick pepper plants

When I cast a critical eye over the pepper bed I realised they were a sickly lot

It is spread predominantly by aphids, but I imagine other saps suckers like Green Vegetable Bug wouldn’t have good proboscis washing behaviours between plants.  It also is transmitted by mechanical means, ie not sanitising my secateurs between plants when trimming them up.  I could have spread this myself!  I was being good at sanitising between tomato plants after the Pith Necrosis bacterial disease of last year.  I just got lazy with the peppers.  The disease also passes on through the seed and so now I’m not confident to save seeds from tomatoes or pepper or anything right now.

The doomed pepper bed

I guess it is quite appropriate I didn’t focus this photo of the pepper bed properly. It gives it an ethereal look, which matches the mood. Once I discovered the problem I couldn’t take another photo as I’d already ripped out the plants!

Most of the peppers affected are the ones I accidentally managed to overwinter.  So, I’m wondering if the overwintering increased the risk of problems.  I don’t think I’ll do that again.  It isn’t worth the hassle for a slightly early harvest.  It is better to just clear beds and let the garden rest in the winter without having host plants for pests and disease to overwinter in.  This is especially more important where I am because we don’t get killing frosts.  We don’t get any frosts. 

Tomato Potato Psyllid

Pests can spot a weak plant a mile off and so it was no surprise I also found Tomato Potato Psyllid making itself at home.

Fortunately, it is still early enough in the growing season that the garden centre still had supplies, so I was able to replace them all.  Not like for like, but they had enough interesting varieties for me to choose from.  It is a little frustrating as the ones in the garden were starting to do so well.  There are a few that I did have to start from seed because the last season ones didn’t make it through the winter.  These aren’t showing signs yet so I’m thinking of putting them in pots and isolating them in quarantine to see if they have symptoms or not. 

Diseased pepper plants

I started tentatively thinking I could save some of the plants, but as I got into it and saw just how bad things were, I was ripping them out with wild abandon

I also need to increase my pest watch vigilance and look out for aphids and other sap suckers and be ready with the spray.  Fortunately aphids can be treated easily with a range of natural products and my choice of sprays is Yates Nature’s Way Organic Citrus, Vegie & Ornamental Spray with is a pyrethrum and canola oil combination insecticide where the pyrethrum disrupts the insect nervous system and the canola oil smothers them. My other favourite is Yates Nature’s Way Vegie Insect Spray Natrasoap which is based on insecticidal soap, which is made from natural vegetable oils. The soap damages the protective layer that keeps the soft bodied insects from drying out.  It is good to alternate between modes of action on fast breeding insect pests, so they don’t get used to the treatment and adapt.

An empty pepper bed

I wasn’t expecting to see an empty pepper bed at this time of year, that’s for sure.

I don’t remember having so many terrible problems in my early gardening days, but I think it may have been lack of experience and naivety.  I didn’t know what to look for or what was normal and if there was a harvest there was harvest.  I gardened with an ‘it is what it is’ approach.  But now that I know more, I am all the more vigilant with the out of the ordinary and am seeing what I never saw before. 

New Pepper plants

It was just as well the new pepper plants were made to self isolate, I discovered psyllid under their leaves and need to make sure they have been fully treated before releasing them into the garden.

One of these days I will have that perfect season where there are very few pests, the diseases are scarce, and the weather is the most perfectly ideal.  In the meantime, I will carry on and hope for the best safe in the knowledge there is always next season. 

Come again soon – hopefully disaster has been averted.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

 

NB:  This isn’t a Yates sponsored post – I’m just super grateful to them for helping me diagnose my problem so quickly.

 

Welcome to Summer – the movie

Today is day three of summer and so far we have had one perfect summer day and two miserable ones.  But that lovely day has give me something to cling to.  A horrid grey day can be turned on a dime into a blue sky wonder.  So I just need to remind myself this gloom will pass eventually.    

The garden on the 2nd of December 2020

The garden on the 2nd of December 2020. It really helps to have a hill to take a birds eye photo!

In the spirit of finding joy in this strange year, I captured the nice day on film, like capturing a fairy in a jar, so I can look at it from time to time and remember nice days are real.  The boffins are raining on my parade – the 7 day forecast doesn’t fill me with joy at all.  

Poona Cucumber

This is a strange and unusual cucumber, but what does it taste like? Check out the video for the verdict

So grab some popcorn and steal some of my sunshine…  You won’t need much popcorn, it’s only 12 minutes long.  Oh and there is a taste test for a new to me cucumber variety I’m trying this year.  It is strange, unusual and really delish!  

Come again soon – endless summer days are hopefully just around the corner.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Welcome to Summer 2020

It is no surprise in this topsy turvy year that summer is kicking off cold, wet, windy, and miserable.   It’s like it didn’t get the memo or it just doesn’t care.  I don’t mind a bumbling summer that is bit slow to catch up, but a deliberately nasty season with intentional storms is quite concerning.  But the boffins are saying it is going to be a La Nina summer with hot humid stormy weather.  I don’t trust them either – after that whole storm debacle of last week.  However,  it is clear it won’t be my perfect dream summer and I suspect I will be learning new lessons about growing in this coastal situation.  It is me vs the weather!  I would like to win this round.

stormy seas

Not exactly the great start to summer I was hoping for but on the bright side the soil is moist all the way through and the tanks are being topped with with water.

With a new season comes a lot of reflection and introspection and possibly a bit of navel gazing.  How am I going? How is the garden going?  What do I need to do to make 2021 better – in spite of any weirdness going on around me.  While I haven’t been directly impacted by the drama – aside from not going anywhere for weeks and weeks and the fear of the risk of catching something nasty, things just haven’t been the same.  I started the year in a good place with good routines and at several points along the way the garden was also in a good place with good routines.  But something is amiss.  I can’t put my finger on it but for some reason all gardening – outdoor garden gardening and indoor computer and kitchen gardening became almost like a chore.  The large cloud hanging over us stole the joy from the things I love.

gladioli

I love this gladioli, the emerging buds almost look black! Off the top of my head I don’t know the variety but I know I have the label rattling around in a draw in my office somewhere!

Well not anymore.  I am going to take back that joy and plant it firmly where it belongs and nurture it and watch it grow.  And what better time to do it than at the start of a festive season where joy is one of the messages that goes with it.  Joy to the World!   It may be challenging at first – especially as the festive season is a busy time anyway – but when combined with a burgeoning garden it can be downright chaotic!

Zucchini flower

Hope of great abundance is encapsulated in the image of this bee in a zucchini flower.

I will endeavour to share my joy with you all regularly as joy is thing to be shared, not hidden away.  It might be a simple picture of a pretty flower, or the recipe of something fresh from the garden that you ‘just have to try’, a tale of a magnificent harvest, or a story of a journey with flower garden that just never seems to get planted.

Come again – summer has just begun, and it will be wonderful.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Going large with onions

Well the storm didn’t eventuate, not on the scale the boffins were suggesting.  Well not here anyway.  So, it would seem I battened down the hatches for no real reason.   But it still wasn’t great weather for most of the week, and by the time the sun showed its face I was fully immersed in an indoor project and didn’t even look out the window to notice it. 

Onions ready for harvest

When the tops flop over, onions are ready for harvest.

But one thing I did get done before the so-called bad weather hit was I harvested the onions that had their tops flopped over.   I never really grow quite enough onions for the whole year and so I try to grow a good supply of Pukekohe Longkeepers as they last months in storage.  To try to reduce the gap between eating our own and buying them in, I grow early onions with the intention of having enough early ones to stop buying store bought onions sometime in November and pushing out needing to start eating the Longkeepers for as long as possible before the early ones start going soft as they don’t keep so well.

the onion bed

The Pukekohe Longkeepers still have a while to go yet, but I would love to have had more of them growing in the garden.

While it seems like a great plan in theory, in reality getting the balance can be quite tricky.  My favourite early onions have been discontinued by my favourite supplier and so I needed to look elsewhere for a similar onion that will perform well and be ready earlier in the season.  After much searching I settled on a Yellow Spanish Onion.  All I could do was hope these would become my new favourites and behave in a similar way to my old favourites.

Drying onions

Drying onions in a sunny dry place until the green turns brown and crispy and they form papery protective layers means they will store well. The greenhouse makes a great spot, but make sure it doesn’t get too hot in there.

The second spanner in the works was this season my Longkeepers didn’t germinate as well as I would have liked and so between all the onions there were enough to fill the bed.  However, with a view to storage in my 1 x 5m bed I like to have 3m of Longkeepers and 2m of early onions as that is as close as I have got to making the storage solution work out.  This season I had 2m of Longkeepers and 3m of Spanish Yellow and it was these that flopped over – according to plan, in November.

Large onions

Most of my onions are large. I was aiming for the biggest ones to be the size of the one in the centre with the marker as a size comparison.

Last season my onions were a little on the large side.  I like to have meal sized onions, so I don’t end up with halves lingering in fridge stinking the place out.  So, this season I decided to plant them closer together in an attempt to make them smaller as they compete for space, light, and nutrients.  It was always going to be a risk of reducing the airflow and last year downy mildew was a problem.  This season the mildew stayed away, and the onions didn’t seem to mind at all.

Red Onions

The red onions also flopped their tops so I harvested them too.

Red Onions

These had a similar problem to the Yellow Spanish onions in they were large as well. Nobody needs that much red onion sprinkled through a salad. I will need a plan here as well… I did see somewhere that if you slice one up and have it in a jar of vinegar or lemon juice you can have readily available pickled red onion in the fridge for quick snacks, salads and sandwiches anytime.

Not only were my onions on average bigger than last season, but there were more of them as I had squeezed 7 in a metre row where I would have normally put 6.  So now I have loads of ginormous onions that will probably do 2 – 4 meals per onion and will stink out my fridge.   But I suspect they won’t keep all that well as they don’t feel as dense as the Longkeepers.  

Pearl Drop Onions

And don’t get me started on the Pearl Drop Onions. Their tops flopped too and they too were large.

Pearl Drop Onions

The Pearl Drop Onions have a recommended spacing guide of 5cm apart and should look like the one on the right. They are supposed to be great for pickled onions however, most of mine are possibly too large to fit in a jar.

Either we will need to eat a lot more onion than normal or I need to come up with a practical solution.  I am thinking I may need to freeze or dehydrate them as well as use as many as I can fresh.  This could work out well in the long run.  Because if we eat as many as we can fresh, but preserve some in other ways as well, and then before they are showing signs of wanting to cross over to the bad side, switch to the Longkeepers and preserve the rest.  Then when we run out of Longkeepers we can reach into the freezer for our onion needs and because they are so huge and there is a 7th more of them it should eek out the season and we may even manage the whole year without buying any.  So, I guess my initial dismay of having so many large, short keeping onions will turn out to be a win after all.

Come again soon – Summer starts next week.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

In the midst of the storm.

So far so good after last night’s wild weather.  I could hear it howling in the night and tried not to worry.  Gone are the days of lying there listening for the sound of a greenhouse falling over, but I still fret for the plants. 

gloomy weather

It is so gloomy in the garden, but the soil is wet right down deep. Once the rain stops it will be the perfect time to spread some mulch… I’ll add that to the list.

But in the face of the imminently impending Storm Part II, I raced out there in a light drizzle with thunder rolling overhead to check for damage.  The tomatoes have been pushed over just a little, but nothing that can’t be easily righted.  Everything else was a little windswept, but it is best to wait until after the storm to make any repairs to avoid extra damage. 

windswept tomatoes

It won’t take to much effort to right these tomatoes – I just need to slide the tie along the wire.

I picked the asparagus I didn’t get to yesterday, the strawberries that would be too soggy to be nice after a day of rain and the first dahlias and lily and some gaura to make the flowers look pretty in a vase.

Late spring harvest

A meagre harvest, but I wasn’t about to dilly dally for long lest I got struck by lightning.

I also noticed some garlic had fallen over so I dug it up and found some ok sized cloves, but the outer layers have perished which won’t help with long term storage. I will need to bite the bullet and pull the rest out in the next dry spell…. argh… rust.

Flowers

I love how the colours work together. I can’t wait for the abundant summer days when I can fill a vase without leaving a gaping hole in the garden display.

Hopefully, the wild weather won’t be too bad, the wind is supposed to gust up to 100km/h, but it is coming from the North East and that is my most protected side of the garden.  The rain is supposed to come down in buckets, which will be good for the water tank, but hopefully not too heavy to flood or do harm in the garden. 

Come again soon – optimistically I hope this will be springs final hurrah and not summer’s ‘warm’ welcome.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

 

The Sweet Spot

Finally I have reached that sweet spot in the garden when everything is planted out and the harvest isn’t quite there yet.  The lull allows me to catch my breath and recover from the frenzied chaos getting all the work done.  I have time to come up with some projects and just relax for a bit.  But rather than tell you all about it I can show you.  Grab some popcorn and settle in to watch my latest You Tube video.  It is just over 20 minutes but you get to see everything in the garden like I was showing you around in person.  

Come again soon – I’ve been garden visiting and I want to tell you about the beautiful gardens I’ve seen.

Sarah the Gardener.  : o)

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