Over the last wee while there has been a bit of a battle going on in the garden and up until recently I was the biggest loser. There have been rats! They have been so bold and brazen that they would waltz about in daylight hours like they owned the place. I first noticed them when they ate an enormous hole in the side of the goat food bucket. I’ve never seen anything like it here before and Snowy’s food has been stored in the same purple bin for the last couple of years.
I knew there were some in the compost heap because you could hear them squeaking and rustling about. It’s not like I’d been putting cooked food, meat scraps or bread or any of the ‘no-no’s’ of composting. It is all garden waste and kitchen veggie scraps. I was doing everything right. Maybe it was the habitat I have provided. It is possibly a bit dry in there, but in our current water situation it is a bit dry everywhere.
Another thing that alerted me to their existence in the garden was the almost ready sweetcorn was being stripped. It isn’t like they were getting a great meal from it though, thanks to the lousy weather at the point of pollination for that batch. But it was frustrating to have them reap rewards from my efforts.
Then they went into the greenhouse and nipped the tops out of the seedlings I had growing there. I had tried so hard to get a beetroot crop this season and that was my last chance. I was so cross. Looking around the greenhouse I saw some of their droppings and this was when I realised I really needed to take decisive action. The poop was enormous, which would mean there was an enormous rat out there – mocking me. The final straw was when they harvested one of my unripe rockmelons and left it in the greenhouse, like they were sending me a message! Something needed to be done and fast.
I started feeding them goat food in a location of my choosing in the hope they would be content there and wouldn’t eat anymore of my crops. Then I made my plan. I am not very good at checking traps, which is far from ideal and with the size of that rat I’m sure it would be able to shake them off as a mere scratch! I don’t like using poison as we have some amazingly graceful hawks that ride the thermal air currents around here and then there is Fennel the Cat and Jasper the Dog to think of. I would hate it if any of them became ill eating a dead poisoned rat.
So I decided to invest in a Good Nature humane trap. It isn’t cheap but well worth it. Firstly it takes care of itself for 25 kills at a time. It is a set and forget kind of thing, and to be honest that is also my kind of thing. First, it has some little detector kits that you place around the garden and wait three days. On most of them I got evidence of rat activity as the detectors were a bit scratched up, but the one behind the compost heap got ripped to shreds on day 1. So I had my spot and attached the device and waited.
The great thing is the trap sends a notification to my phone when we’ve had a kill and last night I got 5 of the bug-gers! It is just as well they send the notification as there wasn’t a pile of dead bodies lying around, so I’d never have know. Apparently they remove their dead, goodness knows what they do with them, but I don’t imagine they have a funeral service. The trap encourages the rat to poke his head inside to get to the bait and while it is licking the chocolate deliciousness it triggers a CO2 gas powered rod that rams into it and so it dies quickly and happy – eating some nice.
I’ll keep feeding the goat food around the trap until I the day I wake up and see it all still lying there. Then I may put out more detector kits and see if there is anywhere else that needs a bit of ‘special’ attention. As we approach the autumn when rats and mice are out in force looking for a warm winter spot, it is a great time to put a dent in their populations.
Come again soon – I’ve been working on a bit of a project.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: I’ve have not been sponsored in any way by Good Nature, I just bought the best piece of kit for my situation and I love it to bits. Although I’m possibly a bit too delighted to receive a notification of a kill. If you what to find out more check out their website: http://www.goodnature.co.nz. Proudly designed and made here in Aotearoa. Thank you Good Nature for a great product!
You can always tell it is a good time to harvest your sweetcorn when you notice the rats are getting into it! I have a bit of a rat problem, but I am currently deliberately feeding them with goat food, which they seem to like, based on the very large hole in the goat food container. The goat food is currently being stored in the back of my car, of all places, to remind us to go and buy a metal bin. I would much prefer to feed the rats in a known area than have them run freely around the garden. Besides I need to find a good place to position my new fancy rat trap that sends my phone a body count each time it zaps one and if I create a feeding spot near it, then it should work out well.
But this isn’t about the rat problems. It is about a completely different problem – the sweetcorn. The poor wee things, they had such a rough start and every time a storm rolled through, I had to stand them back upright. It happened far too often this spring. Then I let my guard down. There hadn’t been a storm in a while, the corn established and was growing strong and straight. It wasn’t as tall as I would have liked but considering the difficulties they had to face early on, I was ok with it. It was better to have them there than not at all. The tassels were proudly unfurling above the plants and I could see a peep of silk poking out halfway down the stalks. It was going to be ok.
Until it wasn’t. I was completely blind sided by yet another storm. The timing couldn’t have been worse – as the pollen was beginning to fall from the silks. I think my pollen ended up pollinating the neighbouring corn as it was picked up and carried off. I didn’t imagine much fell gently to the silks below like it should have.
When I felt brave enough to peek through my fingers and look at the damage I was dismayed. The stalks were all akimbo. They were leaning every which way, and many had been snapped. My instinct was to just rip them all out and be done with them. However, that would be just as bad. The garden would have an empty spot, grinning at me like a gapped tooth 6-year-old, reminding me of the harm done. So, ignored them for a while, unprepared to deal with the waste of time, effort and potential.
Then I noticed some of the plants were beginning to rally, they were making their own way back to vertical. So, I left them to it in the hopes that something could be salvaged from the disaster. In the meantime, as a back up I went to the garden centre and cleaned them out of their last corn seedlings and planted a new crop to increase the chances of fresh sweetcorn from the garden this season. They are almost at the point of sending out the tassels and I’m watching the weather forecast with bated breath… surely it wouldn’t be possible to get another storm at the same crucial point, but it has been a cruel summer and so I’m kind of expecting it.
So that brings us to now, with the rats chewing down on a couple of cobs. So, I did the feel test – the one that should tell you the cobs are full and fat and ready. If I could read braille, the intermittent lumps and bumps I felt could possibly be sending me a message. The corn was kind of poking out from the stalk at a jaunty angle, but with incomplete cobs, they weren’t compelled to push out to make room and besides, everything was at a jaunty angle. The silks were dark brown and crispy, but this can be quite subjective – how brown and crispy is brown and crispy enough? and how long has it been brown and crispy? because I wasn’t paying attention until the rats alerted me. So, I did the final test and pulled back the husks and gently pierced the first kennel I could find, and a milky juice flowed from it. Perfect – the time was right now. The rats knew what they were doing.
I wasn’t expecting much and got more than a fair share of toothy gapped cobs, but some did surprise me as they were 70-80% full – although in some cases only down one side. I managed to get a harvest of sorts. Normally the mostly misfired ears went to the chickens. Normally there aren’t that many, but when it is the majority of the crop it is like that – waste not want not, and I cut every last kernel from their cobs and managed to get 500g of creamed corn. I froze it, and the decent looking cobs, within a couple of hours of being harvested so it will retain that sweet delicious flavour to bring sunshine to a winter day. We also ate some for dinner and the good thing is you don’t have to be pretty to be good. The flavour made the drama dissolve away into a distant memory.
Oh – and there was another upside that made me feel great – there were no nasty surprises from the nasty, nasty corn ear worm. There were none! This is thanks to having some spray left over from tackling the Tomato Potato Psyllid in the tomatoes. What I used was probably a bit overkill, but giving each silk a squirt of pyrethrum each year will definitely become a part of my annual routine. That particular pest is disgusting!
Come again soon – some days we’re winning with this gardening thing.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Ok that may be a bit of an exaggeration – but my garden is in a valley and there has been death – three so far and by the end of the season I suspect there will have been twenty with a complete tomato population wipe out. The only advantage I can see is I will still get some tomatoes although from what I have read, they won’t be as “tasty”.
I have a disease. To give it its full name: Pith Necrosis. And to be honest I’d never heard of it until today and it isn’t one of the big three problems that strike tomatoes in their prime. You normally think of Blight, Blossom End Rot (which isn’t a disease but a nutrient availability issue) and the dreaded TTP Tomato Potato Psyllid. I have a problem solver book that lists 22 things that could possibly go wrong with tomatoes, and Pith Necrosis isn’t there! It wouldn’t surprise me if it was rare, we’re always getting some kind of rare problem around here – nothing that will kill us mind you.
I discovered the problem yesterday, unintentionally, but in doing so may have made it a whole lot worse. I have been diligently spraying my tomatoes for the Psyllid every two weeks ever since I discovered those first tiny eggs clinging to the edge of a leaf. I have been taking care of the needs of the tomatoes on a Monday as they are in sector one and doing the spraying then. But last time I wasn’t able to do it on a Monday and couldn’t remember for the life of me if I had done it on a Tuesday or a Thursday and decided to wait until the next Monday to get back into routine. But my goodness, those horrid little bugs didn’t wait for me… there was quite the infestation, and plenty of green vegetable bugs to boot.
So, I grabbed the nearest secateurs and removed infested foliage and tied in wayward branches, making it easier to penetrate the tops and bottoms of the leaves with spray. Before spraying I did a hard pick of anything that may come ripe in the next 7 days for the withholding period, which will probably save them from the ravages of the green vegetable bug. There weren’t many but I thought that was because of the Psyllid. Oh, how I was mistaken.
While I was at it, I decided to remove the plants that were clearly dead. I knew it wasn’t the Psyllid but thought it was a stem borer as it looked a little munted at ground level. Not only did I pull them out, but I chopped them up to make it easier to fit in my weed bucket. Little did I realise what harm I was doing. I was spreading disease!
You see – Pith Necrosis is a bacterial disease and Pseudomonas corrugata is responsible. If I remember back to the days of my microbiological training, many moons ago, Pseudomonas was one of those ubiquitous bacteria that are found everywhere and if you didn’t know the answer to a question in a test or exam – if you wrote Pseudomonas down there was a high chance you’d get a point for getting the genus right.
This particular species lives in the soil and takes advantage of weak tomatoes in the perfect storm of weather conditions, with a little bit of help from an unwary gardener.
Firstly, as a bacterial disease, it is spread easily through contact and if you remove the lateral from one plant and then move on to the next plant without washing hands or sanitising tools, then you are spreading disease. I should have known better. It is microbiology basics drummed into students from day one. I will no longer do or recommend pinching out laterals. It is best to do it with clean, sharp secateurs and sanitised in between with a small spray bottle of meths.
The main reason my tomatoes were weak is my fault… I wanted them to grow fast as they went into the garden late and so when they shot up, I thought nothing of it. It turned out they shot up because there was too much nitrogen in the soil. This causes fast but weak growth and makes them a target for all sort of pest and disease that can sense weakness. But all that lush green growth looked healthy.
The first mistake I made was I thought I was doing a good thing following the tomatoes with the peas – a nitrogen rich soil must be good – right?! Then I grew a cover crop to return organic material to the soil – only the best for my plants. Once that had been dug in and allowed to rot down, I added compost, blood and bone, sheep pellets and Dynamic Lifter – all according to the instructions. However, there should be instructions that says “when used in conjunction with… then use this much…”
For the home garden it is difficult to know what state the soil is actually in as soil testing in a laboratory is cost prohibitive. To test each of my beds individually would be well over two thousand dollars. And there aren’t any effective home test kits readily available here – although under the circumstances I may need to investigate this further. So, what is left is trial and error. You know you need to replace the nutrients taken by the plant and tomato plants are big there for it makes sense to give the soil lots of love. However not all plants have the same needs. Corn is a big tall hungry plant and would love the preparation I prepared for the tomatoes. Carrots on the other hand don’t like too much nitrogen and would split at the thought of it.
So, I will ease up on the additional material going into the garden and rearrange my crop rotation – again – to put the corn before the tomatoes instead of the peas. I was going to move the corn into that cycle anyway to benefit from the shelter provided by the wind break along the fence. I just need to make sure where I put them fits in with the timing of the early starters and the slow pokes who languish in the beds too long. It is a bit of a puzzle.
The last part is out of my control – the weather. Cool night time temperatures, high humidity and wet conditions are the final factors that encourage this disease. And that dodgy spring and early summer we had would have been perfect conditions for a bunch of rampaging Pseudomonas to go off looking for a nice juicy stem to climb into. If only I could control the weather…
So next season – I will have a gentle hand when preparing the soil, I’ll pop them into the bed where the corn once was, which will mean the corn will be where the tomatoes have been and before the peas. This arrangement should suit everyone. I will be slow to grow my tomatoes – there is no hurry and hope they respond by growing slowly. I will take garden hygiene more seriously and I will pray the weather is better suited to avoiding this problem.
As a gardener you are always learning and boy have I just had a major lesson.
Come again soon – I’ll come up with something less gloomy.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: Thanks to the experts at Yates NZ who diagnosed the problem for me.
After the drama of the Great Water Escape over Christmas when we lost over 30,000 litres overnight thanks to a tap fiddler, I’ve made a few changes. The leak wasn’t intentional as the tap didn’t immediately gush with water and needed the pump by the tank to activate before flowing so it was impossible to know if it was on or off. There was no point getting upset, what was done was done and the offending tap has been moved out of sight from potential tap fiddlers.
But what that experience did teach me was just how valuable a resource water is. We managed for three days with large bottles and buckets of water. We ate Christmas dinner on paper plates to save on the dishes and the fine china and silverware we normally use was left in the cupboard. In the bathroom we applied the ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow…. ‘ approach and in the garden, plants were watered with a watering can, but only if they started to look a little peaky. This added insult to injury to plants that had already suffered enough this season, but we got through with limited water until the tanker was available to bring us more and nobody died.
At the last garden we were fortunate enough to have an artesian bore with access to so much water at no cost that we didn’t even need to think about it. So, I didn’t think about it. The garden was well watered, if not over watered as I set the irrigation system for 20 minutes a bed and based on my experience here, that is about 11 minutes too long.
This whole experience forced me to take care of something I’d been procrastinating over for quite some time. Sometimes it feels like procrastination is my superpower, but it isn’t something I’m entirely proud of. You see I have this amazing irrigation system, thanks to the good people at GARDENA. The whole garden is hooked up with drippers in each bed, connected to hoses that run under the paths to hubs for groups of 6 beds. OK, to be fair, 3 out of 5 groups are connected to hubs. Twelve more beds need to have trenches dug to group them together at two more hubs, but their trenches are longer than the first three groups and it is best to do it in the winter in wet sand and so I missed my moment. I will do better this year.
So up until this water crisis I was watering one bed at a time, using the alarm on my phone to alert me when to swap the hose to another bed. So every nine minutes all day the alarm would ring out however, if I was in the middle of something, this could easily stretch out to 12 minutes if not more, or on occasion I’d switch off the alarm but forget to switch off the water. I have learnt through experience in this garden that 9 minutes is the perfect amount of time to fully moisten the entire bed and any more than this water floods out the bottom of the raised beds so any watering longer than 9 minutes is wasted water.
But the good people at GARDENA had not only helped me out with the drippers and hoses, but also a very easy to use water computer and an amazing 6 hose water distributor. So, to avoid the incessant beeping ringing out across the garden, all I needed to do was set up the computer on the tap and set up the distributor so it could be plugged into the 6 end connectors in each hub. Now this is where the progress broke down.
For the average person this is a set and forget process as it is set up as a stationary system, however, I’m not your average person and I need to move the 6 hose water distributor about the garden in order to water each of the groups of beds and for that I needed some kind of vehicle. I had a similar set up at the previous garden and version 3 – a converted store-bought trolley worked well. However thanks to the salt spray from a multitude of storms the trolley I bought a year ago with this in mind wasn’t looking so great, so I needed to have a bit of a rethink and create something that would last longer and possibly made of wood.
Eventually I came up with the perfect solution and set about making the perfect trolley for my 6 Hose Water Distributor. Nothing was going to stop me having the perfect irrigation system. I was all set to go and then we ran out of water. I was all set to go but wasn’t in a position make it happen.
Once our water supply became more stable I, with great excitement, took the trolley housing the 6 Hose Water Distributor and plugged all 6 end connectors into the hoses coming from the distributor. Then at the other end I connected the Water Computer to the tap and connected the hose to the bottom of it. I programmed it easily by pressing buttons and turning the knob and it was all set to go. The water did what it was supposed to, and in just over an hour 6 beds had been watered for 9 minutes each and there was no beeping and not a drop wasted.
Now it is such a pleasure to water the garden. I can move it to the new location, adjust the time on the computer and make sure the taps are on and walk away. The great thing is, I don’t need to water all six gardens, especially if a bed is empty, so I don’t waste precious water. Now I weed while I water, or put my feet up for a bit, or even stop for a cuppa. It is so much easier to water this way and as a result it is easier to develop a good routine. My garden looks so much better for it. I really should have gotten onto this earlier, it is a pretty cool way to water the garden.
Come again soon – the harvest is beginning to come in.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I had a bit of a problem. Well it was a good problem, but with a knock on effect that turned it into a not so good problem. But in terms of real life serious problems it is hardly a blip at all so could probably be described as a good problem to have. I grew my onions too big!
Normally my harvest is a mixed bag of small, medium and large. The medium and large ones are set aside for the normal purpose of eating onion and generally end up in every meal in one way or another. And the small ones get pickled and stored way to provide a deliciously sour crunch to our platters when we entertain, in sandwiches – gosh you can’t beat a simple cheese and pickled onion sandwich or just munched upon whole as a treat stolen from the jar.
The thing is this season my onion crop was a huge success and it grew well… too well and they were all large or huge. There were a couple of tiddlers, but certainly not enough to make the effort of pickling them worthwhile. I was resigned to the fact there would be no pickled onions this year. To be honest I shouldn’t be complaining as there was that year where my entire onion harvest – which was supposed to be a year’s supply of onions ended up pickled in two medium sized jars. Some seasons are good for some crops and terrible for others.
However, while at the grocery store, I noticed bags of pickling onions at a very good price and I couldn’t help myself, and a kilo of onions ended up in my trolley. I normally just pass through the produce section and often wonder what the checkout staff must think of my seemly unhealthy trolley filled to the brim but bereft of vegetables.
I used an old favourite recipe from the reliable Edmonds Cookbook, although I did split the batch and used white vinegar for half of them as more and more of my friends and family struggle with the debilitating effects of gluten and so when they come to visit I like to be able to offer them food on my entertaining platters they don’t need to worry about. The other half I made with malt vinegar as it is the traditional way to pickle them from my childhood and they taste great that way and invoke such nostalgic memories.
So, I am excited to say there will be pickled onions in the very near future, I just need to manage the long wait while they soak in all that good pickling juice!
Come again soon – the garden seems to be doing ok… for now.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This takes us to the final phase of what I got up to this week. It got a little muddily towards the end of the week. The wind died down to just a gentle puff which was lovely. The first time it happened I remember this weird feeling of something being missing, as the sound of the wind whistling through the cracks and crannies in the house had ceased. It can almost become like white noise if it goes on long enough. Aside from the damage it does to the garden, I don’t mind it that much. When you stand in the face of a bracing wind you know you are alive. But it is the noise I hate. It makes it feel so much worse than it is.
It has been sunny and hot ever since, with just a slight sea breeze. Gardening in the middle of the day has become a little foolhardy as the sand is so hot on the paths between the beds that shoes are a must, lest you burn the soles of your feet. It is just too hot and like gardening in weather that is too wet or too cold, more harm can be done than good.
However, on Thursday I carried on with a sense of determination. If I can get everything back into shape, then it frees me up to throw myself into all the exciting projects I that may come my way this year, without the burden of lurching from weedy bed to weedy bed. And in control garden just needs a light tickle from time to time with a few bursts of effort when needed. Gardening needn’t be a chore. Although I’m not sure I’ve made it entirely clear, but I didn’t actually do the sectors in order – I picked the easiest one first so on Monday I did sector three, then sector two the next day then sector one, followed by sector five. I feel like a bit of a rebel to do it out of order!
Asparagus: This is doing far better than my expectations, but it has coastal origins and so it is like it has come home. At this time of year, it just needs to be kept moist and weeded while the fronds create energy to take down into the crown and provide shade for Fennel the Cat to loll about in.
Leafy Greens: It is all a bit of a disaster in here. I got confused with my rainbow beet and my rainbow beetroot. I normally sow the whole packet of rainbow beet so I can have all the delightful colours brightening up my winter garden with their exuberant leaves. But unfortunately, I ended up with a pink one and a red one and the yellow, white and orange turned out to be beetroot that need to be eaten and gone and won’t be brightening up anything but my plate. The Asian greens and the spinach bolted in the erratic weather conditions and celery and celeriac are crying out for more water than I have to give them. But as thirsty crops I did turn the irrigation on for just a moment.
Garlic: The only reason this is the garlic bed is because it is what was there. It has long since been pulled up, dried in the shade – because full sun can spoil the flavour and keeping qualities, and separated into 3 groups: eat now, save for seed and long term storage. I’m toying with the idea of pickling some of the eat now ones but peeling enough to make it worth it is such a phaff. The bed isn’t empty though. It has overflow corn from the first batch that got wind bashed and the rest is destined for some popcorn that has been germinating in the dome. It is late in the season to be starting corn, but we don’t get a frost here so it’s worth a shot.
Beans: The kidney beans are great. I love their set and forget until they are dry on the plant nature. One less thing to worry about. The green beans (and purple and yellow) are slow to get going but we may have enough for a meal next week and then they’ll be away, and we’ll have too many. I don’t hold out much hope for the tall snake and ‘Humongous MegaPod’ beans. They were looking great before the last wind. But now… well it’s a bit of a sorry sight.
Potatoes: The wind hit the tops of these too, but they were almost done anyway, so all I have to do is dig them up. I have been rummaging around in the soil for meal sized harvests, but I think I need to just get in there and clear them out. In our frostless conditions I may even get another full crop out of the bed before it gets too cold. That should be incentive enough to do a bit of digging. Fresh potatoes taste so good.
Carrots and friends: The erratic weather caused problem here and I have pulled out more than my fair share of bolted carrots and beetroot. The beetroot here is not doing well at all. I should be harvesting by now, but they are still too tiny, unlike the confused ones in the leafy green bed. I have planted more seedlings and sown more seed in desperate hope of some kind of harvest that I can drop down my front and stain my white shirt while trying to eat it. At this point my white shirts are looking pretty safe. I have managed to keep up with succession sowing my carrots, but the fennel is acting more like a windbreak than a potential crop, but I guess that is no bad thing.
Cucumbers: These were really slow to get going. I think I had to replant several times. But there is a plant in every space that corresponds to my plan, they just aren’t very big. I am getting a harvest, but they aren’t exactly large enough to be proud of, but they have that cucumber taste and crunch so that makes it ok.
On Friday I was supposed to do sector 4 – the middle little beds, which was a daunting mess, however I gave in to the cold that has be hounding me all year and took a sick day. By Saturday was convinced I was cured and threw myself into the mess and made quite the dent in it. The chicken is still in residence in the worst bed and so it remains a weedy mess. I only made it halfway across the sector before the heat drove me indoors. I had hoped to knock it all off today, Sunday, but alas the cold symptoms returned, and I just don’t have enough get up and go to carry on. Maybe tomorrow.
Come again soon – The garden is so close to being in full control… so very close.
Sarah the Gardener : o)