SARAH THE GARDENER

Irrigating the Garden

When you have a garden as large as mine, ensuring it is all properly irrigated can be a little overwhelming.  To be fair, over the years I did my best with what I could to set up systems and deliver water to my garden.   I came up with many systems that were dodgy, bodgy and completely jerry-rigged, and my garden was watered.   It probably wasn’t the most efficient or even the best way but my plants managed to survive the season without expiring from thirst.

Irrigation plan

Any great project needs to start with a plan

But knowledge is power and you only know what you know, and the good people at Gardena and Neta took one look at my ‘interesting’ system and thought ‘we’d better help this girl out.’  And so, over the summer I have been on a wonderful learning curve to find out how to irrigate the garden properly and I’d really like to share what I have learnt so we can all give our gardens the blessing of water without standing on the end of a hose forever or not watering enough or even worst watering too much – especially if you have to pay for your water!

Water flow from the tap

Understanding your water flow is the key to successful irrigation

The first thing that happened was quite unsurprising when you think about it.  We needed a plan.   All great gardens should start with a plan and while deciding where to grow your plants is important so is decided where to put the irrigation.   You need to know the size of the garden so you can work out how best to irrigate it.

Irrigation supplies

Once you have a plan, gather together your supplies

One of the easy things to get wrong is to not understand your water flow rate.  In my previous attempts to set up systems I just charged ahead and put how many devices in the garden that I wanted.  I turned on the tap only to find that my water pressure wasn’t good enough to run them all at the same time, but also the sprinklers I was trying to use weren’t the right ones for the job.  Just because you can buy a connector for the tap with four hose attachments doesn’t necessarily mean you can use them all at the same time.

Marking out the garden

Transfer your plan to the garden and start the fun process of installation

The bucket  test is a great way to gauge your water flow rate at the tap.  All you need to do is time how long it takes to fill a 9 litre bucket and then using the conversion chart on the Neta Irrigation Planner >HERE<  you can find out what your flow rate is in Litres per Minute.  We used the Neta Irrigation range of products because they are really easy to use and as I mentioned in a previous post, our climate is extremely harsh and so to have something that has been UV stabilised is important so it won’t perish in a season under the sun.

Kitten digging

This whole system is so easy, anyone can do it!

The irrigation planner takes away the difficult part of deciding which sprinkler to use.  The number of times I have stood there in the garden centre with a vast array of sprinklers and connectors before me but without a clue as to which one I need to do the best job in my garden.  I went through a lot of trial and error of bringing just one home – just to see what it did.  But had I known there was a way to plan this out first it would have saved a lot of hassle and I would have discovered I had it all wrong.

Setting up irrigation hoses

Setting up the system that will get the water into the garden

In a vegetable garden the best kind of water delivery is by dripper.  There are so many plants that don’t like to get their leaves wet or they become susceptible to fungal disease.  While some plants don’t mind so much it is best to choose one system as they all have different flow rate requirements.  I do have to confess to having one bed set up with a soaker hose, drippers and sprayers all on one line and now I realise why it never really worked very well.   So, it is best to have a majority rules situation for the whole veggie patch.

Saddle clamp

It is important not to skimp on the accessories if you want the system to be effective and long lasting

To decide exactly what you need, the irrigation planner has a handy guide that helps you to figure out the number of lines, drippers, sprinklers or pop ups you can have in your garden before you run out of pressure.  You may find that you don’t actually need as many to keep your garden hydrated as with a dripper you are only watering where you need it.  We crunched the numbers and my flow rate meant I could have as many of 44 drippers in my tomato bed, but as I only grow 20 plants in there it makes sense to only have 20 and the bed would be well watered.   The drippers we used are adjustable so the water can be delivered over a large area or reduced to focus directly on a single plant, or even turned off.  This will be handy when I rotate the crops so the different needs of the different crops will be met without having to change the system.

Heating the hose

Heating the hose in hot water can help ease the connectors onto the hose

Once you have worked out what kind of sprinkler you need, then the planner helps you to figure out what you need to deliver the water, what kind of hose, any attachments like elbows, ends and a handy connector to attach to your hose.  But then there are other items that you don’t even realise you need, like clamps to hold the hose where you need it, be it in the ground or on the inside of the bed and the extremely important clips to stop the connectors blowing the whole system apart under the pressure of the water.  Seriously you don’t want to skimp on these.  This lesson has been learnt the hard way in my garden over the years!

Punch spanner

The punch spanner is the handiest tool

Once you have made your plan, and now is a good time – if your garden has come to an autumnal end or you are at a spring start and your beds are pretty much empty, then all you need to do is head off to the garden centre with a list and confidently buy what you need.   For my kiwi friends Mitre 10 has the best range of Neta products.  Installing the irrigation couldn’t be easier and is actually a lot of fun.  Having said that I find digging and weeding fun, but there is a satisfaction in the way it comes together without frustration or difficulty.

Spray pattern

To be honest I was a bit sceptical that the garden would be well watered with this spray pattern, but checking below the surface gave me confidence the water was being delivered across the garden and into the root zone

The planner even guides you to when and how much to water your garden so it is efficient for your plants and your supply and takes into consideration the kind of soil you have.  You may not have a garden as big as mine, but even a small garden can benefit from having a proper irrigation system.   One of the keys to a healthy garden is having the soil consistently moist all season, not boomeranging from dry to wet all season.    And the key to this is knowledge.   Knowledge is power.

You can check out how we went about irrigating my garden in my latest video and you can see for yourself how simple it all is.

I’d really like to thank the good people at Gardena for coming to my rescue to help me irrigate my garden properly for once and for all.  That is one less thing I need to worry about in order to have a healthy garden and a bountiful harvest.

Come again soon – there are bulbs and things that need to find their place in my garden

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

An invisible gardening hazard

My smile is about to become inconvenienced.  I could blame Global pollution for my troubles.

But I have to take some responsibility.  I am a child of the 70s.  My childhood was spent outside playing from dawn to dusk in the sun in little more than a T-shirt and shorts.  Or endless days in togs in and out of swimming pools or beside the sea building sandcastles in the beachy sand. Without so much as a hat.

Last chance watermelon

A lot of hope in a mild autumn will bring this watermelon to a harvestable state

As a teenager, we longed for that perfect tan that was perceived as the epitome of good health.  No one wanted to be seen as pasty. We lay out there for hours, friends together listening to the likes of Madonna, Def Leopard and Bon Jovi and turned every three songs like sausages on a BBQ.  To assist with the gradual colour change we would baste ourselves liberally with coconut oil or baby oil.  It was a fine balancing act to bronze without burning.  Burning was painful and the peeling that followed would mean having to start the colouring of our skin all over again.

Late sweetcorn

The lateness of the season doesn’t bode well for this sweetcorn but there is always a chance

And as an adult I found myself back out in the great outdoors, pottering about in the full sun of summer that my vegetable garden demands.  By now the world had become wise to the risks of the harsh sun.  It can kill you, and can take the unwary quickly.  The mantra ‘slip slop slap’ have become ingrained in our national culture.  Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat.  A tan is no longer a desirable look for the young things listening to todays latest music.

Broccoli Broccoli side shoots

It has been a good couple of weeks since I took the main head from this plant and the side shoots just keep coming.

But I have to confess… the habits of a lifetime are hard to break and my hat is often discarded along the way in the garden as a hindrance.  Sunscreen, when I remember to apply it, more often than not is not reapplied as time goes so fast in the garden and as the sun races across the sky in what feels like a heartbeat under the toil of the day, what protection I had applied would have been sweated away.  Not that I sweat, because ladies glow.  I need to take more care.  I protect my garden from all that would harm it.  But I need to take time to protect the Gardener.

Rhubarb

I think the recent rain has a rhubarb seal of approval – this is best it has looked all season.

You see the thing is there is a hole in the ozone right over our beautiful land and the harmful UV rays pound down and cause harm.  They fade the colours right out of plastic.  A red bucket can become brittle in a season.  Polycarbonate greenhouses don’t stand a chance – it isn’t the wind that brings about its demise but the sun.  And it also beats down upon the gardener and penetrates beyond skin deep and damages cells.

Coriandar

Now the temperatures have dropped, the coriander is much happier and not bolting to seed as quickly.

Recently I noticed a patch of dry skin, just above my smile, that had appeared and was always there and showed no sign of leaving.  It soon became a cause for concern and I went to my Doctor who told me if I’d left it, it would become a thing that would turn into the dreaded melanoma.  The big C that could swiftly extinguish the bright light of any beautiful soul.  Fortunately, this is not my destiny.  I have caught it early and with a simple treatment that will inconvenience my smile for a while but I’ll be fine.

Red pepper

The leaves may change colour in the autumn, but to see the peppers change is a wonderful sight.

My message to you is to stay safe.  Protect yourself out there in the garden. Slip slop slap. Re-slop regularly.  Keep an eye on any changes in your skin.  Don’t think yeah nah – she’ll be right because there is a chance it won’t.  Early intervention is important to a long and healthy life.

Bees in flowers

There are still plenty of bees about, which is just as well as there are plenty of flowers too

On a grand scheme of things, you can save lives and reduce the risk for others by the simple act of reducing your waste.  Reduce reuse and recycle.  Don’t send things to landfill that would break down and release greenhouse gases.  Don’t burn plastics, because that is just nasty.  While where you are the sun burn time may be hours, not minutes like it is down here – your actions with your environmental responsibilities can actually reduce our risk or cause us harm.  We are all part of a global community and what happens on one side of the earth can have a knock-on effect on the other side.

So take care of your gardens and in your gardens and stay safe.

Come again soon – something really exciting has been going on in my garden.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Embracing Autumn

Pumpkins

If autumn could have an iconic vegetable it would have to be the pumpkin

I have been dragged kicking and screaming into this new season.  According to the calendar our autumn is officially three weeks old.  But at precisely 11:28pm last night, the autumn equinox occurred.  I wasn’t really aware of it as I’m not so keenly cognisant of an event that brings about the demise of my growing season as I am something that brings about the arrival of it.   I tend to bury my head in the sand and pretend the leaves aren’t changing colour, the need for socks is just a one off, the dwindling harvest is just an excuse to plant more things.

Echinacea

Even the flowers know when it is time to give up on summer. But still have an elegance about them, like this Echinacea

Astronomically the equinox means the position of the earth in relation to the sun is such that where ever you are in the world the length of the day is the same as the length of the night.  It is like passing a baton in a relay – the baton of long warm summer evenings.  We have enjoyed them down under and now it is time for the north to have them.   I do have to admit to reluctantly noticing the creep towards this moment as the nights are drawing in and more often than not I am waking to something that could be called darkness, but not quite.   So now we have to hunker down for shorter days with increasingly colder weather.

Early Garlic

Now is the time to plant early garlic and after the last few years of garlic rust I am keen to get a jump on the season so my plants can grow well before they hit the soggy season.

However, despite my love of the growing season, and all the wonderful things it brings, I do love the autumn.  The air, while cooling, is still warm and cosy and it embraces you in a way the searing heat of summer doesn’t.   You can’t deny the beauty in the colours of the leaves.  After a season of salad, a bowl of thick vegetable soup is welcoming.  The weather in this season is generally the most settled of all and gently eases us into the harshness of winter.

Daffodil bulbs

I love the optimism of autumn, it encourages us to act now for a brighter spring.

So, from today I will no longer bemoan the loss of a season that never was and embrace all of the wonderful things about the season we are in.   Autumn deserves to be acknowledged for all that is good about it and not as an usurper of summer.

Come again soon – we shall garden boldly into this fabulous season

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Going, Going, Gone

It is with great reluctance that I have to announce the season is officially over.  You see a summer garden without tomatoes isn’t a summer garden at all.  I thought long and hard about it, but kept coming to the same conclusion – it is better to put the plants out of their misery than drag the sorry looking plants through a few more weeks, just so I can lie to myself about it still being summer.  And to be honest this was a horrible summer and I would really like nothing more than to put it behind me.

Tomato flower

You may be a pretty tomato flower, but you are too late

In spite of the gloomy and soggy season that was not befitting of the name summer, the tomatoes surprisingly avoided blight.  Which was a bit of a surprise as normally by now the decision to rip them out is forced upon me by this dreadful fungal condition.   I’ll probably still burn the plants as they have patchy grey splotches from powdery mildew which is nothing more than annoying and aesthetically unpleasing.   It may be responsible for the reduced harvest but to give it all the credit for this would be unfair as the weather conditions would have had a rather large hand in this as well.

End of season tomatoes

Hardly an image of health and vigor. It wasn’t really a hard decision to put them out of their misery.

I had 20 different varieties in the garden this season – all the healthiest of seedlings, all spaced well in soil enriched to suit their desires, irrigated regularly at the roots, in the early morning so as not to create a humid environment – although the weather just laughed in my face there, and I fed them regularly once they started to flower and I hoped for the best.  But with the lower than normal for summer temperatures and plenty of gloomy sunless days, the plants didn’t stand a chance and there just wasn’t the bountiful harvest I’d seen in previous years.

Powdery mildew on tomato

The powdery mildew was a losing battle in this exceedingly moist summer

Then finally once they did decide to change from green to red, it rained – a lot and I’d be out there with dark ominous clouds over my shoulder as I picked the ripe and almost ripe as fast as I could before the big fat drops splashed down from above.  Those tomatoes that were left hanging inevitably split with all of the excess water being received at the roots.  The flavour of these were never good as they hadn’t had the benefit of the full sunshine they should have and what flavour they had was diluted.  And then just as the crop seemed to recover and have a new batch almost ready for harvest – the rain would come again.

Weather beaten tomatoes

Weather beaten tomatoes

Even the birds stopped eating my tomatoes, like they weren’t good enough to bother with.  I guess I have to thank the weather conditions for the reduction of pests I’ve seen in my garden.  The Green Vegetable Bug has hardly made an appearance and nothing like in previous years when there were many clambering over my tomatoes to suck the goodness out of them. Even the Cabbage White Butterfly numbers are down and I’ve managed to grow broccoli in the summer without having to pick caterpillars out from every nook and cranny before cooking.  This is almost unheard of.  I’ve not even seen many aphids.  It is like some kind of garden wonderland.  Well it would be if the weather was perfect too.

End of season tomatoes

And that was all there was – the end of season tomatoes

Although I did get the dreaded Tomato Potato Pysllid a couple of times, but I was able to stop his spread with spray before harm was done.   Although harm to the host plant was almost unnoticeable in the fruit due to the already poor performance.

Empty bed

And just like that the season came to an end

So with less than a full harvest stored away for the winter, possibly enough to last the first week of winter, I have put this sorry season behind me and wiped the slate clean.  The tomatoes are gone and the bed will be topped up with well rotted manure in anticipation of the onions that will find themselves there on the shortest day that will technically herald the start of the new season – and it better be a good one.

Come again soon – autumn is making itself felt in the form of bulbs that need planting sooner rather than later!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Green is Good

In honour of today being St Patrick’s Day and acknowledging the heritage of my family line…  to be honest most kiwis will find Irish DNA bound up into the essence of who they are, and Scottish, and English and Swedish and Dutch – well something of everyone to be fair.  But with a last name like ours you can not help but notice the Irish… I have decided to celebrate by doing a tribute to all things green.

Yams

Yams are a distant relative to the shamrock – so I’ll grab this loose link to celebrate all things Irish

I love to take the celebrations of different cultures – under the assumption that there is bound to be a bit of them in me and enjoy the occasion, be it a Guinness with the Irish on St Patrick’s Day or french fries with the French on Bastille Day.  Nah, actually we are classier than that and usually celebrate with fine wine and French cuisine.

The reason we do this is life seems to slip through our fingers so fast, like there is no handbrake.  It feels like New Year was a few weeks ago but now we somehow find us at March 17 with no idea how we got here.  By creating moments to stop and be a little different means we have punctuation points throughout the year so when we look back there are memorable moments and not just a blur of the ordinary.

Gardeners are blessed as the act of gardening puts them directly in touch with seasons and the passing of time.  We are slowed right down to the rhythm of nature.  We know how to wait as seeds take their time to emerge, tomatoes take forever to go from green to red. But even then the season can be over in the blink of an eye.

Cabbage

The morning light makes this humble cabbage seem beautiful

Life passes by.  This is inevitable.  But I for one want to notice every last minute of every day.  I like to stop and smell the roses and enjoy all my garden has to offer me.

Happy St Patrick’s Day to ya.

Come again soon – the weather is being nice again…  for now.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Soggy is the new ….

Red sky in the morning

Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning

I was trying to think of something funny and witty for my title.  But soggy is not good, but is the present state of my garden.  I’m not really all that happy about it.  I got so used to finally having lovely hot summer like days – even though it was technically autumn.  I revelled in the fact it was too hot to sleep and the hum of the fan made a wonderful lullaby.  It was energising to be greeted by the sun each morning and the chorus of the birds were drowned out by the cries of the cicadas who were already basking in the warmth of the day.  Tending to the garden was a joy and a pleasure.  It was too hot for weeds to grow so it was just a bit of primping and preening here and harvesting and sowing there, then coming in out of the midday sun for a bit of a break and back out again in the afternoon for even more gardening fun.

Rain radar

I checked the rain radar frequently over the last few days hoping for a break, but was mostly greeted with this or something similar.

This is how it should have been all summer, but I accepted this autumn blessing and ran with it.  Sadly, it came to an abrupt end.  Wednesday started with a warning, a magnificent red glow lit up the dawn sky.  The boffins had been jumping up and down suggesting we all brace ourselves for bad weather, but to be honest the sky was what really convinced me.  The sky became progressively gloomier as the day wore on and then the heavens opened and started to rain.  Big fat heavy drops.  The ones that mean business and they dramatically fell to the parched earth.  My garden received 55mm in the first 24 hours.  Then we had a reprieve for a day, although the sun didn’t come back.  Then it rained again and we receive another 85mm in a torrential period that seemed to last for hours then it eased back to a drizzle until the final pounding delivered another 23mm.

rain gauge

This was from the second and third bursts of rain. I should have emptied it in between as I was worried it would overflow.

It was almost like nature was following the rules for rehydrating a parched soil… start slowly to break the dry crusty seal, then wait and allow it to soak in and create pathways deep into the soil.  Then come back and water deeply on a ground more receptive to receiving moisture to the depths of the root zone and beyond.  Then once more to make sure every last part of the dry soil is rehydrated.

puddles

Who hasn’t left the sprinkler on before? A puddle or two, or a bit of flooding drains eventually. We are just grateful it wasn’t worse.

Having said that – nature did leave the tap running a bit too long and created puddles and surface water across the garden.  I have to say I have been guilty of this myself in the past so know how easy it can happen.  You pop the sprinkler on, check the time and think I’ll just do these few chores, and come back and turn the tap off.  Then half way through dinner, or even worse, you’re lying in bed and you sit bolt upright as you remember…”oh no… the sprinkler….!!!!”

Bedraggled tomatoes

My poor tomatoes. I did a heavy pick before the rain, but the ones left have split from too much moisture in the ground. The old tired leaves are brown and soggy and to be honest I looks like I’ve given up on them – but I haven’t. I just wasn’t able to protect them from the storm.

So now the rain has gone, the garden is nicely hydrated, the sun is shining again, the cicadas are singing once more, but it isn’t the same.  There is a barely perceivable chill that wasn’t there before.  The surface of things maybe dry but there is a sogginess deep down.  The tomatoes are completely bedraggled and makes you wonder if it is worth leaving them there.  And the weeds have responded with great excitement to the rain and created a carpet of green wherever there was bare soil a week ago.  There is a lot to be done, but the spring has long since gone from my step.  There is no denying it now.  We are in the final days of this growing season.

Weeds

The eternal question: Why do weeds grow so fast and with such vigor when my tender wee seedlings need such care and protection. And why aren’t the bugs eating them. If they were brassica seedlings what the slugs and snails hadn’t taken care of would be covered in caterpillars by now!

Come again soon – this doesn’t mean the garden comes to a halt, it is just different.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

For the want of a slice of beetroot

Beetroot in the garden

I like to grow Cylindra beetroot because they grow long and skinny and fit nicely in the jar. You can also eat the tender young leaves in salads – delish!

A good burger NEEDS a slice of beetroot between its buns and above the meat patty.  That is the kiwi way.   I was making homemade burgers for tea the other day and reached into the fridge for the jar of beetroot, but even lurking at the back with the nasturtium seed ‘poor man’s capers’ that are ok but we rarely use them, the pickled green beans that were ‘interesting’ and 3 jars of gherkin with a single slice floating in each, the cheese that must have gotten lost down there in the back because it had gone quite hard and a cucumber stub that we should have finished off a week ago, and would have, had it not been pushed to the back, there was not a sign of beetroot.

So I went to my larder and rummaged around there.  I found a few things I’d forgotten about – jams and relishes that were too good to have slipped my memory and pulled them towards the front.  I moved all of the older jars to within reach so they would get eaten first and made sure my most recent additions were on the top shelf so they could mature, or wouldn’t jump the queue and cause some other jam to languish for possibly years in a dark corner.  But I couldn’t find any beetroot, so we had to go without.

The garden had beetroot in it.  It had been there a long time.  Almost too long.  I sowed the seeds enthusiastically in the spring, in the greenhouse with all of the other spring time seeds.  They could have been sown out in the open, in the ground where they are to live all season, but the spring was soggy and it just wasn’t as nice as in the warm cosy greenhouse.  Besides when I grow them indoors I can indulge in my control freakery and space them out nicely.  Each seed is actually a corky cluster of 1 – 3 seeds and so then you have to do the dreaded thinning.  I hate waste.  But if I start them in seed trays I can just separate them out once they get their true leaves and they all get a chance to grow big and get eaten.

Then when the weather warmed up I spaced them out about 20cm apart and waited, making sure they are well watered, although in this summer that wasn’t too much of a problem.  They are such a low maintenance crop, nothing really bothers them and they just do their thing and grow big.  They are so versatile as you can eat them raw in salads and I made a delish one the other night with pear, raw beetroot, mint and lemon juice dressing.  Beetroot goes great in a chocolate muffin, but best of all, it is a pantry staple just sliced and pickled.

So now the larder has been replenished, and our burgers once again can live up to the kiwi tradition of a slice of beetroot in its midst.

Come again soon – once I’ve pickled peppers and onions, the garden will show me what to do next.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  Scroll over the photos for the recipe

The overlap days

The overlap into autumn, the next season has officially begun.  It is kind of weird because, aside from the onions and garlic, the transition from winter to spring is effectively a blank canvas.  The beds are empty, cold and often wet.  In the best case scenario they are free from weeds but often they are a wild jungle that needs taming – with a machete.  This sounds quite a miserable situation, but the enthusiasm is strong and the work required is tackled with gusto because the taste of a sun warm tomato is almost there on the lips as much as it is in the memory.   Aside from memories from last season and the hope that it will be better, there isn’t much of an overlap at all.

Sowing seeds

Sowing seeds is always an exciting time – no matter what season you’re in

The progression from spring to summer is all about progress.  Aside from the anomaly of the onions and garlic, not a lot is coming out.  Most of the plants are growing and beginning to bear fruit.  There isn’t a lot of coming and going, just a lot of going on.  The switch between the seasons is almost unperceivable and doesn’t have quite the anticipation as spring does.  Although the warmer days and longer evenings are gratefully received.

Labels are important

Labels are important. I use and reuse chopped up milk bottles and a permanent marker pen that won’t fade. I soaked these in bleach for a few days to clean them up. Most of the marker from last season came off, but for the stubborn ones a swish in methylated spirits does the trick.

All the seeds sown in the nursery bed

All the seeds sown in the nursery bed. As this isn’t their permanent home and they are at the mercy of the elements then they can be sown thicker than normal. As we can’t control the environment as well as we can in the greenhouse then we need to rely on survival of fittest and safety in numbers.

The arrival of autumn on the other hand is tinged with sadness.  The heydays are coming to an end.  The glory days of summer fruit and bountiful harvests find their way into jars and freezers to remind us in the depths of winter just how good we had it.  Plants that have stood for a good six months collapse exhausted in a compost heap.  But with the passing of the good times, autumn throws us a bone and gives us cool season crops that planted in the lingering heat of the fading summer grow perfectly well as the temperatures slowly decline into winter days.  A gardener can continue to indulge in growing a good crop even on days when the sun doesn’t shine and a beanie is needed to keep the chill from around the ears.

Tamp down the soil

Using a small block of wood, tamp down the soil to ensure the seeds have good contact. As the soil in the garden can be full of cracks and crevices and worm holes you want to ensure the seeds stay where you want them to be.

Water well.

As I have already drenched the bed to ensure it is moist to a great depth, once the seeds were sown I watered again to moisten the top layer of soil the seeds are in that had dried out in the warmth of the sun and settled the soil around the seed using the gentlest flow my hose could deliver.

And then winter comes and the garden stands still.  The plants that remain there from the autumn wait patiently to be eaten, growing almost unnoticed and gradually the beds empty out waiting for the spring.

Protection

Now Fennel the Cat has pretty much got the hang of outdoor living and playing, I need to protect my garden from her. The last thing I need to upset my well laid out seeds is a scattering from playful paws. I’ve also popped down some little blue pellets, although there isn’t much slug and snail action at this time of year, but I’m not taking any chances.

Cloche

Finally I’ve popped a cloche over the top to protect it from the harsh heat still found in the midday sun, but also the boffins are saying there is to be a lot of rain in the coming days and I want to try to protect my seeds from being washed away.

But we’ve only just entered autumn so I will try not to dwell on the winter just yet.  The days still feel like summer should and aside from the date on a calendar could still very well be.  The soil is still warm and plants are growing with vigour.  The harvest is still coming in and will continue to for quite some time.   But not forgetting it will all be over soon for many plants, I took my plan and laid down seeds to ensure the harvest would continue well into the winter.  There is a quiet comfort knowing there will be plants growing for months to come that will need my tender care and I can continue to wear the label of contented gardener.

Come again soon – I may just get into a bit of a pickle.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Peaches for me

As I perched precariously between the branches half way up my young peach tree, reaching out to bend tender branches bearing the best fruit towards me, I remember thinking “what am I doing?  I’m getting to old for this.”  To be fair the tree isn’t that young.  It was the first tree I planted in my orchard about 9 years ago, so while still young in the life of a tree, it is probably more of an adolescent and can take on a bit more than a sapling.  I remember when it arrived, it was no more than a stick and I tenderly planted it and hoped for the best.  And the best we got.  My goodness.  Those peaches are the sweetest, juiciest amazing fruit I’ve ever had.  I have the name written down somewhere but for the life of me can’t remember where.

Peach Jam

Jars of sunshine to brighten up a winters day

These peaches have been a huge distraction from the moment I decided I’d just pop down to the orchard to see if they are ready yet.  They are about a month later than last year but there are no surprises there thanks to the gloomy weather, but well worth waiting for.  I have eaten more than is probably good for you in one sitting and I have made 7 jars of peach jam with the bird pecked ones – I just cut the bad bits out.  Waste not want not and all of that.  But most shocking of all, they even caused me to abandon the exciting task of sowing my seeds for the new season to come.

Summer officially ends tomorrow.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  I have mixed feelings.  Half of me just wants to put it all behind us and put all my hope and expectation into next season.  The other half is sad because gone with it is the possibility that it will come right and we will get nice days.  All we have to look forward to now is the slow descent into the cooler weather and darker evenings.

Autumn nursery bed

My cool season seedlings should be happy here until they are strong enough for their proper homes.

The one blessing is we can grow all year round here and before I got excited about the peaches I began preparing a nursery bed to start my seedlings off in.  It gets way to hot to grow them in small pots in the greenhouse.  They’d fry in an instant.   I even made a video of how I prepared the nursery garden.  You can check it out here:

But for now I need to go back outside while it is still summer and sow those seeds.

Come again soon – autumn does have its advantage.

Sarah the Gardener  :o)

Letting go of summer days

I can’t put it off any longer.  While the days are full of heat, the kind we haven’t seen all summer, and the air is thick with the sounds of cicadas, finally able to bask in the kind of temperatures they prefer and the skies endlessly blue, this morning when I woke up, I found myself reaching for my slippers.   It wasn’t cold as in brr cold, but that easy comfort of waking up and walking across the floor in bare feet was sullied by a coolness that offended my early morning senses.  Autumn is knocking at the door, demanding a turn, with no regard whatsoever to summers late appearance.

Summer garden

The garden looks full and productive, it is hard to believe summer really has less than a week left!

Even if we were to get an extended summer, I can’t really put off starting my cool season crops now so I don’t miss the window of opportunity as plants have their own sense of timing and often it is different to what I’d like it to be.   It is quite humbling to remember that the plants are the ones in charge of things, as the gardener I am just doing their bidding, and enabling them to grow.  It’s a bit like kids really, we brought them into this place, and given them what they need, fed them, trained them and then eventually their personality and their way of being is what results in their fruitfulness.  I’m feeling a little sentimental today, as today I find myself with my first teenager, who is confident, determined and happy and ready for the next season in his life.  It doesn’t seem that long ago he needed all the nurturing of a tiny seedling in the warmth of a greenhouse.  Where does the time go?

Zucchini

The zucchini has pushed passed the troublesome powdery mildew and having another growth spurt so it will be fruitful for some time to come.

It seems to race by and each day that passes is making me painfully aware winter will be hot on the heels of this impatient to get started autumn, like my teenage child, so I need to prepare the ground and sow seeds so the winter will be a fruitful and bountiful place.  So I studied my plan of the garden and tried to make sense of it all to get the most out of it.

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The grand plan for the winter garden of 2017

Fifteen beds are immediately eliminated from the winter garden planning as they have permanent crops in them.  That is just under half of them which makes things a lot less daunting.  Things like strawberries, rhubarb, artichoke, asparagus, the berries and the herbs.  They will need things done to them over the next few months but the beds aren’t available for planting  and won’t lie barren over the coming seasons.

Broccoli

Not a bad mid summer broccoli. There doesn’t appear to be any caterpillars in it at all! The butterflies are late this year.

Most of the things I want to grow over the next few months and can actually grow fall into the brassica family and I’ll pop them into the existing brassica bed.  They should all be done and dusted by the time I need the bed again in the spring for all my odds and sods and exciting crops.  It isn’t ideal to plant brassicas in the same place year after year, to avoid the build up of club root disease in the soil.  However, in my crop rotation cycle, there won’t be brassicas again in this bed for seven years so two crops in one year shouldn’t be too much of a problem.    The kinds of brassicas I’ll grow are pretty much the standard stuff – the things we’ll actually eat.  After all these years of growing, the weird and the wonderful start to lose their allure as the excitement gained in the growing is often lost in the kitchen, when you are overloaded with things you aren’t entirely sure what to do with and hate to admit you don’t actually like the flavour.  I won’t be growing tomatillos again.

Brassica seeds

Winter will be full of hearty goodness with these wonderful brassicas

So in the brassica bed I’ll plant cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, turnips, kohlrabi and to take advantage of the cooling weather some radish.  Having said that I am going to try a Wombok cabbage which is similar to a Napa Cabbage to see what all the fuss is about.

Eggplant

This must be a good year for eggplants – they are so prolific!

The bed the odds and sods were in over the summer, still has peanuts, okra, eggplant and tomatillo thriving there.  They can take their time and the first frost will probably take care of them.  I’m in no hurry for the bed as the onion overflow will take their place when the time is right.  This is generally my leeks and shallots and varieties I want to try that don’t fit in the main onion bed.  I like to try to grow enough onions to last the year.

Leeks

There are plenty of leeks to see us through the winter, hmmm leek and potato soup…. hmmm

Meanwhile the leeks in the old onion overflow bed can stay put so we can eat them fresh throughout the winter.   The beans will go in there next season but they do best sown directly in soil about 18°C, so we have plenty of time to eat the leeks.  I’ll pop in some more spring onions too as they are so versatile for that mild onion flavour.

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In the past I’ve sown autumn sowings of carrots in their summer bed, but then find I’ve no room in the spring for the salad that can be started earlier in the season and after a winter of comfort food are often craved for their crunch.  So this season I have started sowing the successive rows in where they will be next year – where the potatoes were.  Well technically still are as I’ve popped in a sneaky couple of rows hoping for a late crop.  I’ll put some fennel and beetroot in here too as they normally cohabitate with the carrots with no problems at all and grow well over our mild winter months.  The hardy varieties of salad will stay in their summer beds as they are such a quick crop on the grand scheme of things they won’t hold up the new season brassicas at all.

Carrots and spuds

My sneaky late season spuds and my sneaky early crop rotated carrots

The pea bed had some broccoli and painted mountain corn in it over the summer months and the broccoli is ready to harvest the corn isn’t far away so the timing is perfect to sow some autumn peas.  This is their old bed and their new bed will be where the zucchini and butternut squash is still doing their thing.  And call me a sucker, but I may pop in a few broad beans.

Peas and beans

Peas and beans for late autumn and early spring green goodness

The last seeds to consider are the onions and garlic, which generally go in mid winter and will go in where the peppers and tomatoes currently are.  All going well they will last until the frost, so there isn’t much time to do anything fancy with the beds to prepare them other than spread them with some well-rotted manure that my lovely farmer friend brings me in his tractor.    The rotted manure will also go in the squash bed as the peas that will go in there next season get an early start and so I wouldn’t want to hold them up with a crop.  I’ll just lay it across the top and let the worms do the work.

Onion seeds

Within these small packets lies a years supply of onions for my kitchen

I’m still undecided about what to do with the pea bed once  it’s finished – whether I use more manure to enrich the bed to prepare for the following seasons tomatoes or sow mustard to clean the soil, just in case there are problems lurking there.    The old carrot bed is a tough one too – as the parsnips smack bang in the middle get eaten over the winter and so it is jolly inconvenient to have them there in terms of future prep.  I may just have to keep this bed weed free and enrich it in the spring.

Parsnips

I’m waiting for the frost before I eat these so they’ll be so much sweeter… not that I’m wishing for a frost. May next time I’ll sow them on the outside of the bed so I can treat the rest of soil for the next crop.

Where hungry plants like the corn, leafy greens and cucumber are now – I’ll plant lupin… having said that the silverbeet lasts all winter…  hmmm, not sure now.  It’ll give something back ready for the next crop when I dig it in before it flowers.

Leafy Greens

The upside of this gloomy season is it has been marvelous for the leafy greens

And finally I’ll put wheat in the mixed bed and pumpkin bed as these are in ground and not raised so it will help to hold their place against the encroaching weeds, as wheat is allopathic and will deter other things from growing there and it will give me some mulch for the rest of the garden in the summer.  I’ll also pop some wheat where the zucchini and squash will go as they don’t need the bed until it is really warm in the spring so there will be plenty of time to get a good crop.

Late Summer garden

The lettuces bolting to seed are just a few of the signs that the season will shortly draw to a close

So now what I need to do is create a nursery bed – possibly in an unused corner of the leek bed as it is far too hot to grow seedlings in the greenhouse and wait patiently for summer to come to an end so I can put these plans in place.

Come again soon – there are seeds to sow and plenty to harvest.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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