SARAH THE GARDENER

What I want to grow in the winter garden

It rained in the night and will rain again today.  This is a welcome relief and for once, a day out of the garden is no bad thing, I can still garden inside as I sit here looking out at the bleakness of the day.  If it wasn’t for the heat of the day, even though it is still early, I could be lured into the belief that it was the kind of grey winter day I’m planning for.  It sets the mood nicely and reminds me of the urgency of the preparation for winter in the way a sunny blue sky can’t.

Gloomy weather

Summer isn’t over yet – there’s still a week left! It is too soon to take my sunshine away. Having said that the rain will be good for the garden and the water tank.

So, I feel pleased with myself in that I know what is to be done with half of the garden and now I need to make plans for the rest.  A good place to start is with what I want to grow.   They are the stars of the next season and shouldn’t be lost to the reluctance of the summer crops to finish or the impatient spring crops to begin.  The next season is winter and if I’m to get the most out of it then these will be my fruit.

I have made the first step in the right direction and have gathered together the seeds I need.  Most were already sitting and waiting in my seed tin.  I did have to go out a buy a few things as while I have broccoli and spinach in my selection, the varieties were summer ones and wouldn’t have done as well over the cool of the next season.  It is important to have the right seeds to match the conditions to get the best outcome – something good to eat.

The seeds I will be growing this season are:

Peas – in order to catch the last of the warmth of the season before it gets too cold, I will be sowing these sooner rather than later.

Fennel

Fennel started now will be a delight in the early days of spring.

Also to catch the lingering warmth but not expect a harvest until the other end of winter I’ll be sowing broad beans and fennel  The refreshing crispness and lightness of flavour is so welcome in those early days of spring.  The broad beans not so much as I still haven’t made my peace with their flavour, but growing the Hughey variety gives such lovely red flowers in late winter and early spring, so all is forgiven.

Broccoli

Broccoli – a staple vegetable and the bonus of growing them over winter is there is less likely to be hitchhikers found deep within!

My brassicas need topping up.  They are a crop that once eaten is pretty much gone – having said that you can eke them out a little longer by allowing side shoots to form instead of pulling out the whole plant at the point of harvest.  And I need more kohlrabi.  I love kohlrabi, it is so versatile.  And I need more broccoli (a winter variety), Romanesco, and cabbage – savoy and red that were so successful this summer and there is still plenty of time to sow more.

Kohlrabi

It is a tough call but I am close to declaring kohlrabi as one of my absolute favourite veggies!

I am also going to sow some tatsoi and buk choi in an attempt to take advantage of the cooling weather of autumn as in the rising temperatures of spring, they just bolted before I had the chance to use them.  There is still time to sow these.   They will also be joined in the leafy green section by some winter spinach as the summer spinach went the same way as the Asian greens and bolted too soon.  I didn’t even get to make my ricotta, chicken and spinach stuffed cannelloni with fresh tomato pasta sauce.   I still hanker for it even today.

Tatsoi flowers

While the tatsoi flowers look amazing against the blue of the sky, it would have been nice to have been able to eat some before that happened!

I have the advantage of being able to grow spring onions, carrots, and beetroot all year round and so will continue to succession plant these for a continual supply.  You really can’t beat a fresh carrot.  Although it is important to check the planting times as some won’t be happy being started in the middle of winter.

Carrots

Carrots are another staple vegetable and as such it is great they can grow in my garden all year long.

I have to confess my summer salad succession planting was a complete disaster.  I started off with a whiz and a bang with more lettuce than I knew what to do with but in the heat it soon bolted. It happened so quickly my supply dried up and seedlings from the garden centre took longer than expected to reach edible size.  I sowed more seed several times but a moments inattention after weeks of nurturing caused them fry to a crisp in the midday sun.   To be honest lettuce doesn’t like the hot weather, but we grow it because that’s when we like to eat it.  It prefers the cooler temperatures of spring and autumn so all going well I will have delightful array of salads to see us as far into winter as possible.  And hopefully beyond with the lambs lettuce that promises to be a superb cool weather salad ingredient.

lettuce

Lettuce – such a refreshing crop. I really must try harder to master summer salad crops without frying them!

Aside from trying to make summer last I am going to embrace the winter comfort and do some succession sowing of swedes and turnips.  They are old fashioned crops not often seen and maybe that is for good reason, but we’ll see.  They may surprise me in the same way other crops have in the past.  Try everything once and the fun things twice.

swede and turnip

I’m hoping they are comforting in the middle of winter.

Oh and not forgetting the onions and garlic that will be going in later on.  I absolutely need to grow loads of elephant garlic – if not for the scapes alone – they were soo good!

Elephant Garlic scape

I can’t forget to leave loads of room for the elephant garlic.

And now all I have to do is fit these in somewhere.  They will have homes to go to, but will it be the bed that was theirs or the one to be theirs? If only this season was as simple as the spring, everything has a predetermined place thanks to my summer crop rotation plan and so no thinking is required – just planting.   But I’ll get there and next winter will be a doddle.

Come again soon – I have to figure out who goes where like determining place settings at a dysfunctional family wedding.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Sorting out the cool season garden

After much deliberation I have a plan…  of sorts.  Outlined below is the first half.  These are the beds where there will be no change really as they aren’t part of the crop rotation, so they are easy enough to deal with.  So, this is what I’ll be doing with my permanent beds.

The Annual Herbs

Winter:  I will try and keep all of these going as long as possible with succession planting of dill and coriander often to try and keep a continual supply but eventually the end will come.

Spring:  At some point over winter will refresh the soil for the new season and sow new herbs from seed.  I won’t be growing borage again – for all that it might look pretty in summer drinks, as a plant it is a rather large and self-seeds prolifically and I’m just not that much of a sucker for a pretty face.

Basil

Basil is a must have in the herb garden but it is always quick to try and set seed.

The Perennial Herbs

Winter: I’ll give them a prune to control size – the thyme has gone nuts! I need to refresh the parsley with new seedlings as it has gone to seed and I’m still on the lookout for French Tarragon.

Spring: There’s no change really.

Pizza Thyme

The Pizza Thyme obviously likes its spot in the permanent herb garden, it is attempting to take over!

The Cutting Flower Garden

Winter:  I will remove the spent annuals and refresh the soil.  I’ll also remove the garish pinky orange gladioli and replace with something nicer.

Spring:  I will look for new flowers to replace annuals and start them from seed.

Aster

I love my cut flower garden so much I never seem to cut any flowers because they look so pretty where they are!

The Asparagus

Winter: Once the fronds turn yellow, I’ll cut them back and apply enriched compost to bed.

Spring:  I’m looking forward to enjoying a few 2nd year asparagus spears and then go back to waiting for the real harvest next year.

Asparagus

Judging by how well these year old asparagus crowns have settled in bodes well for a bumper crop for years to come.

The Bee Flower Bed

Winter:  This very last bed needs to finish having the soil added.   Maybe I’ll plant wheat as a cover crop to use as a mulch elsewhere, as most wild flowers don’t like things too nutrient rich so it should work well.

Spring:  Then once I harvest the wheat, I just need to sow seed and enjoy.

The Yams

Winter:  Once plants die completely down, I can see what kind of harvest I have – if any and then, replenish the soil and re-sow with more yams in the hope of a better season

Spring: All I need to do in spring is weed, feed and water and repeat all summer long.

Yams

I suspect we are too warm to grow yams well – but that won’t ever stop me trying. The fun is in the trying.

The Globe artichokes

Winter: There isn’t a lot to be done aside from side dressing the soil with enriched compost.

Spring:  Just wait for the harvest – assuming there will be one – artichoke is delish!

Globe artichoke

All going well, this time next year this globe artichoke plant will be huge…

The Jerusalem Artichokes

Winter:  This didn’t go well last season.  They died before they got started.  So, I need to source new tubers.  I think I know where I can find some.

Spring: Once I know they are alive, I will need to set up structures to support the tall growing plants.

The Nursery Bed

Winter:  It is rather decadent to have a bed set aside to grow seedlings in but over the autumn it will come into its own as I use it as a seed raising bed for the winter crops.

Spring:  I should use this bed like a cold frame to help harden plants off.

The Rhubarb

Winter:  This is another set and forget plant and all I need to do is side dress with loads of well-rotted organic material and wait.

Spring:  Finally harvest stalks after trying hard to follow the rules last season about not picking any in the first year.  All I can say is the wind made me do it – if it was going to loosen them, then it would be a waste not to use them!

The Pumpkins

Winter:  In an ideal world they would be part of the crop rotation – they are sooo big!  So, I need to pay careful attention to make sure their soil stays healthy.  So, once I harvest the pumpkins, I’ll re-enrich the soil and grow a cover crop – possibly mustard to clean soil.  Adding loads of organic material to the soil will also help with moisture retention in the heat of summer.

Spring: I will dig in the cover crop 6 – 8 weeks before I need the beds (which is about 6 – 8 before the last frost – if we get them) or before the cover crop flowers – whichever comes first to allow the organic material to rot down and become incorporated into the soil.  In the meantime, I’ll start the new pumpkins from seed under glass.

Pumpkin

Unfortunately the pumpkin don’t fit in a crop rotation cycle so I have to really look after their soil

The Bonus Flower Bed

Winter:  This was an unexpected bed in front of the chicken coop and last season I just dumped in my left-over flower seedlings.  This time I need to decide what to actually do with it to make a nice display at the end of the garden. I know I want sweet peas so will sow them in winter.

Spring: I will put my master plan for this garden into action and sow seeds and source plants – maybe a rose or two with a nice smell and fat hips.

Bonus flower bed

This space really needs some proper thought and serious design to make the end of the garden a feature, not an after thought.

And in the Fruit beds:

The Raspberries and Boysenberry

Winter:  I used to have a raspberry that fruited in summer and autumn but the pruning technique was confusing so when I got the opportunity to get new ones I got 3 summer ones and 3 autumn ones and so all I need to do is cut the autumn ones back to the ground and take the canes out of the summer ones that have already fruited and the same for the boysenberry.  Then all they need is a side dress with enriched compost.

Spring: As they grow, I’ll just tie them into the trellis and wait for an abundant crop.

Raspberries

With years of complicated raspberry pruning behind me, I look forward to a more simple approach and an abundant harvest.

The Currants and 1st Year Strawberries

Winter: The currants will need a prune – damaged and crossed branches and to train it into a nice open shape with good airflow.   The strawberries just need a tidy up and remove the runners.  These will become next year’s 2-year-old plants.  Then I’ll side dress with enriched compost for all the plants in the bed.

Spring: This will entail weeding, feeding and watering and before the season is out there will be gobbling up delicious berries.

Strawberry runner

Strawberries are so great at ensuring their survival. This runner is a direct descendant of a 6 pack of plants I purchased over 15 years ago!

The 2nd & 3rd Year Strawberries

Winter:  Although technically they aren’t 3 years old yet, I will remove the plants with the 3rd year strawberry sign and replace them with runners to create next year’s 1-year old plants.   It might seem harsh, but you have to start somewhere to get a rotation cycle going so you only have 1st, 2nd and 3rd year old plants all performing at their optimum.  Then I’ll clean up the 2nd year plants and remove runners.  These will become next year’s 3-year olds.

Spring: I’ll weed, feed, water and gorge myself on big fat berries until I can’t take it anymore!

The Blueberries and Gooseberries

Winter:  These may need a prune, but they are young and small so probably not.  Then I’ll clear the spent cape gooseberries.  They self-seed terribly but are good to eat so it is best they stay put from year to year.  For the sake of everyone in this bed the soil will get a side dress and a jolly good re-enrich.

Spring:  In the hopes of a fabulous harvest I will weed, feed, water and sow new cape gooseberries to go with the ones that will inevitably pop up on their own.

Cape Gooseberries

I love cape gooseberries, but these are running a little behind because they were planted late I can hardly wait!

And now I know what I will be doing with half of the garden, I need to take a deep breath and work out what need to do with the other half.

Come again soon – for the next exciting installment of my new season planning.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Wrapping my head around the cool season

Ok so I’ve done some thinking…. About how I will tackle the next season.  But I’d like to say that this is as convoluted as getting my head around crop rotation in the first place!  Once I realised this, I decided I’d do it once and do it right, and then each autumn I can come back here as all the thinking necessary will have been done.

Empty bed

Now the sweetcorn is gone this bed won’t be needed until late October when the new season peppers get planted. The question is: how to make the best use of the bed in the meantime? hmmm….

What makes it complicated is several factors.  Firstly, which summer crops are lingering about and how long will they remain there, eking out their last ounce of productivity.  I could be ruthless and say, “I need the space, out you come!” but that would be at the expense of one last zucchini or tomato.  After a season without a garden I am certainly not going to waste a single opportunity for some fresh homegrown goodness, and as we don’t get frost here…  who knows when that will be.

Tomatoes

A basket of fresh produces is not to be taken for granted.

The next question is, when do the new proper season crops go in? (you know…  the spring ones, because growing during the winter is just killing time really – but you didn’t hear that from me!)  The last crops to go in in the spring will be the ones that really need it to be warm outside, the beans, peppers and melons are generally on the slow side.

Peppers

Who knows how long the peppers will last in this frost free environment.

But some go in rather early.  For example, I’m putting my new garlic in in April because I want to avoid the risk of rust.  My early garlic last year did really well without any orange dots dusting their tips.  The mid-winter ones were hit in the last month of growth and came to nothing.  They didn’t even get to bulb up!  If I hadn’t have grown the early ones, I would have given up on growing garlic altogether.

Carrot seedlings

I wonder if these carrots will make it to maturity or will they get in the way of the garlic?

This causes a bit of a problem I hadn’t foreseen when I did my crop rotation.  I wish I had.  Because the garlic follows the carrots and the carrots can go all year round, so now I have to decide do I plant my next successional row in the current carrot bed, and find I hold up the garlic, or do I start them off now in the potato bed – that still has potatoes in it, but only because I haven’t decided how I am going to store them this winter, and so have been digging up meal sized amounts at a time.  It feels too early to be rotating crops.  But any carrot seeds sown today will be ready in early June.  Ok so the spuds need to come out and become the new Carrot and Root Crop bed.  Although I’m not sure about the ones I sowed a few weeks back…  They may not be ready in time….  and this is a classic example of how every little thing you do in the garden needs to be examined as to how it fits in the big picture.  And this is just the garlic, carrot, potato conundrum.  Don’t get me started on the pea, brassica, squash problem!

Potatoes

I guess I’ll need to get in there and harvest all the spuds instead of as we need them…. but it is too hot to dig right now.

Then I need to decide what I actually want to grow over the winter.  So, I poured over every available source of winter crops and decided everything I can and actually want to grow is already on my list and in my seed tin.  Some of these are a one hit wonder – grow it once and its gone and others can be successionally planted between now and when the temperatures drop and growth all but ceases.  So, I need to figure out how much of each I want to grow for now and for later.  Bearing in mind the later could impact the planting of the spring crops.  The thought of waiting all winter for something only to have to rip it out because sweetcorn is more exciting.

cool season seeds

I think I have the seeds I need for the next season

Once I know how much space I need for what I want, then I need to think about where to put it, taking into consideration the window of opportunity in some of the beds.  I also need to decide to keep it in its normal crop rotation slot and put it in the old bed or in the new bed…  hence the carrot conundrum.  Or do I put it somewhere else where it won’t impact other crop rotation issues, like planting too many brassicas seasonally close together to build up disease in the soil.

Aparagus

At least I don’t have to worry about the asparagus – it’s not going anywhere. Not for the next 25 years or so!

Once I figure out where the winter crops will go – fitting them in around the old and the new summer crops, I need to decide what to do with the empty beds.  Cover crops are a great idea to get a green manure thing going on so I can enrich the beds naturally and replace the goodies in the soil that was taken by the previous crops.  But even this creates time issues.  You need to allow 6 – 8 weeks prior to needing the bed for the new crops to ensure all the organic material dug into the soil is well rotted and incorporated into earth.

Kidney beans

The kidney beans beginning to bulge and so it won’t be long before they are dried and done.

The other issue to give some thought to with cover crops is – which one?  Legume crops like lupin and Lucerne has nitrogen fixing abilities through its root nodules so would be great after a hungry crop like sweetcorn.  Other cover crops like oats are more carbon rich and will help to add structure to soil once dug in.   Mustard is another great cover crop and is said to be able to heal and restore the soil, especially after a crop that was plagued with disease, like the rust in the late garlic.  But you need to look twice before you cross the street with this one – was there a brassica in the bed, or in the one before it or after it as you really don’t want to increase the risk of club root.  If you get that you’ll never be able to grow brassicas again!

garden planning

Figuring out where very thing goes is like one of those complicated puzzles you find in the back of newspapers and magazines

I also like to grow wheat in some of my spare winter beds to use the straw as a mulch, but it generally isn’t ready for harvest until late September, so it is finding the right spot for it.  And for some beds nothing seems to work and there is no time to plant anything, so these ones will probably just end up with a thick layer of manure for the worms to work in, with possibly a bit of help from a fork if they don’t work hard enough in the time allowed.

So now I know what needs thinking about and why, I think I need to get out a piece of paper and a pencil and try and make it all fit together in a logical plan.  I’ll let you know what I come up with.

Come again soon – I may need a wee lie down after I figure this out.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Summer can’t last forever

Today is hot.  There is a gentle breeze coming off the sea, but in the microclimate of my garden, the wind speed monitor is turning lazily without a care in the world.  The hot sun beats down on the black sand paths, bouncing the heat from the dark surface, making it impossible to walk across barefoot.  The golden brown of the spent grasses on the hillsides and the intense blue of the sky all work together to make the garden seem like a scorching hot zone, where gardening is, for the moment, undesirable.  The best times to make the most of the garden are first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and early evening.

summer sky

The sky is blue and the hills are brown

Fortunately, there isn’t much to be done in the garden – well nothing of great urgency.  The weeds are under control with my weekly routine of staying on top of the little ones.  The watering, thanks to the swamp soil I bought with me only needs to be done every 3 – 4 days and can go even longer at a push.  The harvest is great, although due to everything going in later than I would have liked isn’t really at that glut status yet, and I suspect the best I will end up with will be in the realms of ‘manageable’.  I have great hopes for next season when everything will go into the garden in a timely fashion.

View to sea

The sea breeze is a real blessing and takes the edge off a hot day.

But what I am beginning to see, while I certainly don’t feel it, is the beginning of the end of summer.  For example, I harvested my sweetcorn the other day and vacuum sealed it and popped it into the freezer to bring sunshine to a winter day.  Sweetcorn is always such a dramatic crop to grow and at its height, it dominates the landscape of the garden as it towers above everything else.  However, once the ears are plucked, there is no reason to leave it there and so it makes sense to chop it down.  The result is the garden no longer looks the same.  There is something missing.  Like when someone you’ve always known to wear a moustache suddenly shaves it off.  It doesn’t look or feel right.

Frozen sweetcorn

Frozen sweetcorn is the best way to bring sunshine to a winter day

 

There are still plenty of crops in the garden and many will be there for sometime to come, like the pumpkins who will be there until the bitter end, as their leaves dry up and wither away.  The peppers should keep going until the frost takes them out, and to be honest they are really only just getting started now.  Having said that, we don’t get frosts here.  I wonder if that means they’ll just keep going.  I’m looking forward to testing this one out!

Pumpkins

The pumpkins are in for the long haul and still have a long time to go before the harvest can begin and the plants removed.

But slowly and surely the crops within the garden will be either eaten and enjoyed like the brassicas and the beetroot or give up the will to live after producing a bountiful harvest for months on end like the cucumbers and zucchini.  This inevitable end will not only mark the passing of the season, but create empty beds.  But the thing is nature abhors bare soil and will seek to colonise it immediately and the golden seed heads from the grasses on the hill have probably be eyeing up my fertile soil all summer long.  I need to do something to protect my beds over the winter.

Peppers

The peppers are just starting to kick in and each plant hides many fruit.

The first thing I can do is grow more crops.  The winter crops aren’t half as exciting or as numerous as the summer selection, however I have the space and can ensure my winter diet need not be stodgy.  I need to make a plan.  I need to check the seeds I have and see if there are other exciting-ish crops that can fill my beds and make my winter gardening experience delightful.

Sandy garden path

The heat radiating from the black sand paths is pretty intense in the middle of the day.

Realistically it won’t be possible to fill all the beds.  There is only so much cabbage one can force ones family to eat.  And then there are other things to consider, will a bed filled with winter cabbage, mostly uneaten…  run into congestion problems in the spring.  Will my poor family be eating cabbage in every meal so their space can be cleared in time to plant the new season peas?  Or could I get away with putting a long season crop in a bed destined to be occupied by the peppers that can be planted up to two months later than the peas?  This all needs to be considered.

summer sky

Some beds are already empty, like this one with the not so recently vacated onions and shallots leaving a few leeks at the other end.

Of the remaining beds, the decision needs to be made – what to do with them.  Growing a cover crop is a great way to keep the beds weed free, give winter interest and by digging them in 6 – 8 weeks before needed, the soil can be enriched and ready for the new season.  But which bed suits which cover crop?  It doesn’t make sense to follow brassicas with mustard, although a popular cover crop, as it can contribute to long term risk of club root disease as it is also a brassica.  Not just any old cover crop will do.  A legume crop will be ideal for replacing all the goodness the sweetcorn took from the soil creating those tall plants.  This needs a bit of thought.

Parsley going to seed

Even the parsley is going to seed. But I have found these green seeds can pack a parsley punch.

So, while I’m holed up inside on a hot and sunny day, waiting for the temperatures to drop, it makes perfect sense to decide what I’m doing next.

Come again soon – this summer isn’t going to last forever and I have plans to make.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

10 Year Special and Garden Tour

Today marks a pretty cool milestone for me.  It was 10 years ago today that I hesitantly uploaded my very first video to You Tube.  I was a great fan of those early gardening videos, although there weren’t many of them.  I would spend my Saturday mornings searching them out and being inspired by them before getting out in the garden myself.  There was a point where I could say ‘there wasn’t a gardening video on You Tube I hadn’t seen.’  It is very different today, everyone is at it!  But back then my weekends were filled with familiar voices, many of whom are still sharing great content and others have fallen by the wayside.  I enjoyed content from Sean James Cameron at ‘Diary of a UK Gardener’, Dan at ‘Allotment Diary’, Claire at ‘Claire’s Allotment‘, Patti Moreno at ‘GardenGirlTV‘ and the delightful ‘Gardenvespers777’, Donna at ‘Rainbow Gardens’ and ‘Webcajun’.

The new garden

After all these years I find myself in the most unexpected of places – beside the sea, but with a flourishing garden that I get to enjoy every day.

It was their friendliness that gave me the courage to upload my own video.  For most of them they were just ordinary people with ordinary gardens sharing their passion, without drama or great production.  You just needed to be yourself and you’d be fine, so with Hubby the Un-Gardener behind the camera I filmed my first video of my first garden in a very early incarnation.  In those days videos could only be ten minutes long, so I had to split it in two in order to show it all.  And with that I embarked on a social media journey that follows a similar path of the garden, getting bigger and better as time goes on.

The old garden

The old garden, oh how I still miss it. I lovingly built it up over many years and it was the backdrop to everything I did. But I know it is in good hands now.

Blogging came next, with my first writings appearing as part of a blogging competition in Spring 2010, then Facebook, Twitter and lately Instagram… Not to mention writing books, speaking engagements and brand ambassador work which I absolutely love doing. But while I’m not the most prolific video contributor – it takes a lot of effort to film, edit and upload those short little snippets of garden life, I have remained present on my channel over the last decade with sometimes sporadic posts, and briefly I managed a season with a frequency that could almost be called regular!

The early garden

The early garden was made up of 4 in ground beds and a strawberry patch. It only lasted a season where it was because it flooded in the winter. But I was undeterred. I’d been bitten by the gardening bug!

And so, in tribute to this special day I did the logical – I made a video.  A tour and overview of my garden.  So join me in my garden on this lovely sunny summer day as I mark the occasion.

Come again soon – goodness knows what the next ten years have in store.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

NB:  the bold green words are links to wonderful places…

Breathless moments

I did a bit of poking about on the great big internet to discover that a moment is 90 seconds, which is good to know.  This garden has provided more than its fair share of memorable moments.  Some memorable for the wrong reasons and others wonderfully unforgettable.

blue sky days

This summer was filled with days like this, days that made summer feel like it could go on forever

But the most surprising moments were the breathless ones.  The ones without wind.  Everyone said, “you won’t be able to grow much there, it is too windy.”  I have defied them as evident in the flourishing garden I have managed to create.  Ok there is wind but for the middle of the growing season it isn’t all that bad and compared to my old garden in the open, often windswept swamp, it isn’t out of the ordinary.

weather station

This weather station has been a most excellent gift and I will enjoy it for years to come

And I know all of this because is I got a fabulous weather station for Christmas.  I set it up in the centre of the garden and it measures so many aspects of my microclimate.  I can find out the pressure, humidity, dew point, and other things I still have to understand their relevance.  But that will come with time.  For now, I’m most interested in two things – wind and rain.

Jan 19 wind direction

It just goes to show that most of the wind comes in around the sides of the house, and the rest is blocked by the hills surrounding my garden.

Over the last month the wind came from all four quarters and directions in between.  But it comes as no surprise that the predominate direction was from the West (42%) and from the Southwest (28%).  It rarely came from the Northeast – only for 1.3% of the time.  And it wasn’t really that strong – not compared to the 212km/h winds that we experienced last April. The worst that was delivered in January was 27km/h with the worst gusts at 44km/h.  Ok so I had to prop up the sweetcorn a couple of times, but it was nothing serious.

Sweet corn tassles

In spite of a few set backs early on, with the wind applying a jaunty lean, the sweetcorn went on to grow tall and strong and should provide a fabulous harvest.

One thing I was really not expecting was there were moments with no wind at all.  1320 of them to be precise.  (Bearing in mind a moment is 90 seconds.) There were 33 hours without so much as a puff of wind.  This happened on 12 days with one day being calm for an astonishing 10.5 hours!   This place is beginning to lose that wild reputation with me – well for the month of January at least.

Jan 19 hours without wind

Now this info took me completely by surprise.

The rain is another set of data I devoured with great interest.  In the old place we had an unlimited supply of water in the form of a bore.  Here we only have the rain collected from the roof of the house.  We have two 30 thousand litre tanks, one for the house and one for the garden.  But the garden one has never been filled to the top as we installed it in September and the winter rains stopped and we had to start the summer with a truckload of water and got another the other day.

Gloomy days

Not all the days were blue sky perfect. Some started off positively gloomy!

I got the sense that we weren’t getting the kind of rain other people got. The water laden clouds would sail on by to dump on our inland neighbours, or it was accompanied by wind and so it would come in horizonal and wasn’t able to land on the roof.  Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink couldn’t be more apt.

Jan 19 rainfall

You can see at a glance how summery the summer has been, with a deep soaking in the garden mid way through,

There wasn’t a lot of rain in January, but as much as I would like to say “well it is midsummer.” But that isn’t a fair call as in more years than not it is a wash out, just as everyone goes out camping in their tents.  It is like nature has a cruel sense of humour.   But this year was one of the good ones, endless blue-sky summer days.  And the numbers agree – we only had 49.2mm of rain over 5 January days, and 40.2 of those where on one single day!

Temperature for Jan

All this talk of a heatwave and it would seem it completely missed us. These aren’t exceptional January temperatures. I wonder how much the sea breeze helped to cool things down.

They say knowledge is power and I look forward to gathering more data over the months and years and get a good insight into what is actually going on here so I won’t be bound by the limitations of what I think will cope on the wild west.  If the veggie patch is anything to go on, the possibilities are very exciting indeed!

Come again soon – late summer is now upon us.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

An Ode to the humble hose.

Of all the garden tools at my disposal the one that works the hardest is the hose.   It is the font of all hydration that is not heaven sent.   Actually, all the water here is heaven sent, but the hose delivers the water that was captured upon the roof and then saved for…  I was going to say ‘saved for a rainy day’ but while the intent is perfect the actual analogy doesn’t work at all.  But you get my meaning.  When it isn’t raining, the water comes from the tank via the hose.

Gardena Hoses

Call me a garden geek but there is nothing more covetous than a stack of brand new quality hoses!

With a garden as big as mine there is a lot that needs to be watered.  In normal conditions in my garden watering deeply roughly every 5 days or so is enough.  The soil in the beds is highly absorbent swamp soil and the fine sand has surprised me by holding the moisture deep down below the surface of the beds and so the roots have no trouble finding what they need to stay hydrated.  I have found that I only need to water using my irrigation system for a mere 9 minutes per bed.  Any more than causes the water to pool below and the sand becomes a little soft like it does just beyond the waves on the beach.  So, it doesn’t take much to get the garden beds wet and keep them that way.   I had feared the sand would be so free draining I’d be out there for hours with the hose.

Watering garden beds

The unexpected effects of over watering my garden beds for a few minutes too long!

But even with the irrigation system the hose still gets a workout, as it needs to be plugged into the system.  Eventually it will be via a 6-hose water distributor and water computer so I can set and forget six beds at a time, but I have still to connect all the beds in a wonderful underground network that still needs to be dug (watch this space.)   So, for now I am at the mercy of the timer on my phone blaring out across the garden in increments of just under ten minutes, demanding I stop what I am doing immediately and move the hose.  This alone makes the desire to dig trenches strong.

Gardena SuperFLEX Hose

For now, this is how I water my beds, with water I know to be fresh, clean and healthy for my plants and me!  It is good to know all Gardena hoses are toxin free.

So, every day the hose is unreeled and moved from bed to bed, snaking around corners and twisting and turning frequently as I work my way across the garden.  In normal conditions I only focus on 6 beds a day and by the time I get back to the original 6 beds five days later, they are just reaching the point where they could do with a drink again.   To do this job well it means a lot to have a hose that doesn’t kink.  I’ve had them before, and they can make watering a nightmare.  You spend more time untangling things than you do actually watering.  There is value in a good quality hose.

Gardena SuperFLEX Hose

This is one hard working hose.

But then you need to spare a thought for the poor, long suffering hose.  Once unwound from the reel, it can lay about for hours on end.  However, if it doesn’t have water flowing through it, the water can be left lying about within the hose and in the height of summer it can heat up to a remarkable heat.  It is often too hot to touch, so I measured it once and found it was around 70C, which, if I can’t hold my hand under it, would be extremely detrimental to the health and wellbeing of my plants.  It is always best to let it run free for a few moments until the cold water from the tank returns to the flow.

Gardena SuperFLEX Hose

My Gardena SuperFlex Hose puts in a long day in my garden.

And while we are on the subject of health and wellbeing, there is a lot of talk out there about the toxic effects of plastic once heated, with nasty chemicals leaching from it into the very food we eat.  And with some hoses, it doesn’t even need to heat up to provide all sorts of goodies other than water with its daily supply of a thirst-quenching drop.  I wouldn’t mind so much if I was just watering flowers, but I’m watering food.  Food my family will eat and just as important to me as a kink free hose, is one that only delivers water and not heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.

Gardena SuperFLEX Hose

A once shiny new hose snaked across a sometimes soggy, grassy garden.

My poor hose was once shiny and new, with the promise of a long life ahead of it.  It probably wishes it ended up in the hands of someone who only gets it out of the shed every now and again to hose down a path or briefly water a small backyard plot so it could retain its lustre.   But for all that it has worked hard, my hose and I get on just fine and will continue to do so for many years to come.  A hose may be humble, but you know when you have a good one!

Come again soon – I may have started digging a trench or two…. Either me or Hubby the Un-Gardener!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Food in Hand

The days are long, the sky is blue and the temperatures are soaring.  It is the perfect combination for the veggie garden.  I am seeing a harvest and am completely delighted.  There were a few points in time when it didn’t look like I would get there and while it isn’t as prolific as I would have liked due to the lateness of the planting in the spring, anything is better than nothing!

And so in the spirit of Wordless Wednesday here is an tribute to my harvest:

I will probably be spending the rest of the day either watering the garden, as it is so hot out there all the plants are screaming ‘I’m thirsty!’  Or I’ll be inside hiding from the heat.  The house beside the sea has as lovely cooling ability and the breeze from the ocean makes things in this heatwave actually quite pleasant.

Come again soon – we will soon be moving into late summer, and I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  Clicking on the images will reveal a comment so it isn’t entirely wordless – but it is Wednesday!

The delights of beetroot

This is a funny little vegetable.  I’ve always grown it in my garden because it is easy to grow and you can’t have a burger without a slice of pickled beetroot.  Oh and pickled beetroot sandwiches on white bread and a thick smear of soft butter.  Oh the flavour of my childhood.  Because to be honest, that is how I’d always had them.  Pickled in a jar, done by my mum or bought from the store.  That is how they came – pickled and if they didn’t, then you pickled them!

Beetroot

Beetroot, such an easy crop to grow. Just plant and forget for 8 – 10 weeks.

I didn’t realise you could have them any other way.  So I carried on the tradition and grew them and pickled them.  In the early days I grew the normal round ones – but the problem was I grew them too well and they grew too big to fit in a jar.  This was easily fixed by a change of variety to Cylindra which as the name alludes to, grows in a long cylinder shape.  My problems were over, I could slice them up nicely and they would fit in the pickle jar like it was meant for it.

Pickled beetroot

Pickled beetroot – part of the Kiwi culture.

You can see how I pickle them >HERE<  

My first outrageous adventure with beetroot was born out of necessity.  Back in 2014 a TV producer approached me and said we are doing a show called Cook the Books.  It was for chefs with cook books.   All the best names of Kiwi culinary geniuses were getting involved.  And they wanted me, because there were recipes in my first gardening book, The Good Life!   I was flattered and of course I said yes.

TV show filming

It is not everyday you have a film crew in your kitchen

The funny thing is I’m a bit of a slap dash kind of cook and when I contributed the recipes for the book the publishers said “Sarah, people will want to cook these recipes, can you alter them to make them more user friendly”  so I took them to my brother, who is an excellent chef to swap splodges of this and a dash of that for something more metric.  He came back with “Sarah that isn’t how you make soup!”  But I had made a soup like that and it was a very nice soup!

Beetroot salad with halloumi cheese

My famous beetroot salad with halloumi cheese. It looked much better on TV!

So here I was about to be on a TV show.  The format was the famous ones had segment one and three and in between the adverts someone less famous but with a recipe book filled the space.  I was sandwiched between Chelsea Winter and couldn’t have been more chuffed.  I never met her though.

TV show filming

When there isn’t much growing in the garden it is great to have cute lambs to focus on instead

The problem for me as a gardener was they wanted to film in my garden in September.  There is nothing in the garden in September.  It is smack bang in the middle of the hungry gap.  All there was in the garden was a determine stand of beetroot.  Such a blessing I can grow it all year round.  So I developed a fab recipe centred on beetroot.  I thinly sliced them and slowly baked them, making chips, I made of bed of tender young beetroot leaves, sliced red onion, marinated in lemon juice went into the simple salad.  The now pink lemon juice was mixed with salt and pepper and sunflower oil to make the dressing.  And the final addition was some halloumi cheese I whipped up from scratch from a show sponsors cheese making kit.  (The foolhardy thing was it never occurred to me to make a backup…  just in case.  Fortunately there was no need for just in case.)  I ran the recipe past my chef brother and then it was filmed it for all to see!

Beetroot Chocolate Chip muffins

These Beetroot Chocolate Chip muffins were a winner. I wonder what I did with the recipe so I can make them again.

Then I went back to pickling them, and making the odd chocolate chip filled beetroot muffin here and there.  Until recently.  Looking for ideas for quick and easily salads to feed crowds I boiled some up and diced them into dishes with feta cheese and a vast array of possibilities like nuts, onion, carrots or whatever else I had on hand.  I have been free and easy with my beetroot associates and have managed to pull it off every time.  Beetroot has become my friend.

Beetroot juice

I’m not sure I’m that into the health kick thing enough to make beetroot juice an every day thing.

But by far the most delish was the dip I made recently to go with some kohlrabi chips.  I did a brief search of the internet and saw the general gist for the recipes and threw cooked beetroot, a blob of sour cream, a chunk of feta cheese, some cumin, salt and pepper and some red wine vinegar – only because I didn’t have a lemon and the red colour matched, into my blender and moments later I had the most delish dip.

20190117_112130

I may never go back to pickling.  Beetroot has been elevated in my kitchen and is no longer a humble garnish for a burger – although that is nice too.

Come again soon – we are now passed the middle of summer and the garden is at the that productive stage that makes it all worthwhile.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

NB:  I have fished out the recipes for the TV show beetroot salad and the beetroot muffins for those who are interested. The beetroot dip is loosely described above.

beetroot and halloumi cheese salad recipe

beetroot muffin recipe

All the gardens under the sun!

With the last of the summer holidays ebbing away, there was only one thing to do…  squeeze in one more day away to do something you love.  So, I packed up the family for an early start to what has to be one of the coolest gardens around.  Hamilton Gardens.  I’ve been before, but it isn’t a just do it once kind of a place.  As the seasons course across the calendar the gardens reveal something else just as other features that have had their day in the sun fade away.   This should be an opportunity to go garden visiting at least once a month to soak it all in and appreciate the changes nature provides for us.  It is only two hours away from us and I always come away with the intention to visit again, until life gets in the way.  Not this time – I’ve marked it in the diary…  I will be back.

Hamilton Gardens

The entrance to the gardens hints at the pleasures to come

But let me tell you all about it.  Hamilton city had the forethought and great vision to convert the local rubbish dump beside the Waikato River into a garden, as far back as 1960.  They decided not just to create a botanical garden, but a garden museum exploring the development of gardens across time and cultures, which are represented in over twenty garden styles.   And they are all world class and award winning… internationally.

Hamilton Gardens

At every turn there is something to amaze you

Short of getting garden overload, which would leave me deliriously giddy for days, I paced myself and only visited a handful, peeked in a few and left a few for next time to ensure I’d return.  So, let me share with you my favourite gardens so far.

Chinese Scholar’s Garden

Normally the Japanese style garden is the one people seem to want to recreate and there were several versions created in Monty Don’s garden show Big Dreams Small Spaces, across three seasons that I binged watched over the holidays.  But no one had expressed interest in a Chinese style and to be honest I’d never really given it much thought myself as an exciting garden possibility.  But as the first garden of the day it blew my breath away.

This garden is based upon gardens from the Sung Dynasty from the 10-12th Century.  The garden is supposed to take you on a journey that evokes imagination and surprise.   This is a big call, but I think I’ll call it one of my favourites.

You can find out more about this garden >HERE<

Italian Renaissance Gardens

I almost didn’t visit this one as I wanted to save it for next time and the day was late and the kids were beginning to moan.  I promised them I’d just take a peek.   But on turning the corner and emerging from the dark corridor into the bright light of day, the most incredible garden revealed itself to us and we were lost to it.  The intensely blue of the sky allowed the bright colours of the plants, contained within the deep greens of the hedging plants of the formally laid out garden and the cream brickwork and sea green geometric pools at the centre of it all to just pop.  It was complex in its design, yet somehow elegant in a way that only an Italian could pull off.   I will visit this garden again, and again… and again….

You can find out more about this garden >HERE< 

Mansfield Garden

My third favourite garden was rather quirky in its origin, but it translated wonderfully from the pages of a book I now must read.  The garden is designed around Katherine Mansfield’s short story ‘The Garden Party’.  She is one of our famous authors from the beginning of the 19th century and had a fabulously daring lifestyle until her early death aged 34.  This garden not only reflects a garden in her story but also what a typical garden would have been like for the well to do kiwi back in the Edwardian days.   It is so well done, you feel like you are one of the attendees at the party as you make your way down the paths.

You can find out more about this garden >HERE< 

There are only so many words to fit on the page and images to jam in as well, so we will continue this again next week.  There is still so much to show you.

Hamilton Gardens

The walled vegetable garden is so impressive. I have garden envy!

Come again soon – after more than a week of sunshine the garden is beginning to finally bear a proper summer harvest.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB: Clicking on each image will give a bigger picture and a few words to describe them.

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