SARAH THE GARDENER

Things have been a bit ratty around here.

Over the last wee while there has been a bit of a battle going on in the garden and up until recently I was the biggest loser.  There have been rats!  They have been so bold and brazen that they would waltz about in daylight hours like they owned the place.  I first noticed them when they ate an enormous hole in the side of the goat food bucket.  I’ve never seen anything like it here before and Snowy’s food has been stored in the same purple bin for the last couple of years.

Rat chewed goat food bin

Rats certainly don’t muck about to get what they want! The goat food is now in a metal bin.

I knew there were some in the compost heap because you could hear them squeaking and rustling about.  It’s not like I’d been putting cooked food, meat scraps or bread or any of the ‘no-no’s’ of composting.  It is all garden waste and kitchen veggie scraps.  I was doing everything right.  Maybe it was the habitat I have provided.  It is possibly a bit dry in there, but in our current water situation it is a bit dry everywhere.

Rat eaten Cucumber

It is so disheartening to come out each morning and see almost ready produce being eaten by someone else!

Another thing that alerted me to their existence in the garden was the almost ready sweetcorn was being stripped.  It isn’t like they were getting a great meal from it though, thanks to the lousy weather at the point of pollination for that batch.  But it was frustrating to have them reap rewards from my efforts.

rat proof seedlings

To protect the new seedlings from rat nibbling I put them in trays and elevated them in a way that would make it difficult for a rat to reach them.

Then they went into the greenhouse and nipped the tops out of the seedlings I had growing there.  I had tried so hard to get a beetroot crop this season and that was my last chance.  I was so cross.  Looking around the greenhouse I saw some of their droppings and this was when I realised I really needed to take decisive action.  The poop was enormous, which would mean there was an enormous rat out there – mocking me.  The final straw was when they harvested one of my unripe rockmelons and left it in the greenhouse, like they were sending me a message!  Something needed to be done and fast.

Rat eaten melon

This rock melon was dragged across the garden and left in the greenhouse. I mean…. what is this… a thinly veiled threat?

I started feeding them goat food in a location of my choosing in the hope they would be content there and wouldn’t eat anymore of my crops.  Then I made my plan.  I am not very good at checking traps, which is far from ideal and with the size of that rat I’m sure it would be able to shake them off as a mere scratch!  I don’t like using poison as we have some amazingly graceful hawks that ride the thermal air currents around here and then there is Fennel the Cat and Jasper the Dog to think of.  I would hate it if any of them became ill eating a dead poisoned rat.

Rat poop

Not wanting to be offensive – but this is the biggest rat poop I have ever seen!

So I decided to invest in a Good Nature humane trap.  It isn’t cheap but well worth it.  Firstly it takes care of itself for 25 kills at a time.  It is a set and forget kind of thing, and to be honest that is also my kind of thing.  First, it has some little detector kits that you place around the garden and wait three days.   On most of them I got evidence of rat activity as the detectors were a bit scratched up, but the one behind the compost heap got ripped to shreds on day 1.  So I had my spot and attached the device and waited.

Rat tracks

The good thing about having sand around the garden is you can notice the tracks and see who is lurking in the dead of night. I think it is safe to say these are rat tracks!

The great thing is the trap sends a notification to my phone when we’ve had a kill and last night I got 5 of the bug-gers!  It is just as well they send the notification as there wasn’t a pile of dead bodies lying around, so I’d never have know.  Apparently they remove their dead, goodness knows what they do with them, but I don’t imagine they have a funeral service.   The trap encourages the rat to poke his head inside to get to the bait and while it is licking the chocolate deliciousness it triggers a CO2 gas powered rod that rams into it and so it dies quickly and happy – eating some nice.

Good Nature rat trap

This cool Good Nature rat trap will save my garden!

I’ll keep feeding the goat food around the trap until I the day I wake up and see it all still lying there.   Then I may put out more detector kits and see if there is anywhere else that needs a bit of ‘special’ attention.     As we approach the autumn when rats and mice are out in force looking for a warm winter spot, it is a great time to put a dent in their populations.

Come again soon – I’ve been working on a bit of a project.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB: I’ve have not been sponsored in any way by Good Nature, I just bought the best piece of kit for my situation and I love it to bits.  Although I’m possibly a bit too delighted to receive a notification of a kill.  If you what to find out more check out their website: http://www.goodnature.co.nz.  Proudly designed and made here in Aotearoa.  Thank you Good Nature for a great product!

Monday Message:

MAKE HAY WHILE THE SUN SHINES.
The season will change soon enough and it will be too cold and miserable to want to finish projects.
 
Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

Without wanting to seem like a harbinger of doom, this warm, rain free weather won’t last for long and while I am hanging out for the rain (it has been over 40 days since the last decent drops fell from the sky), I still have loads of projects on the go…

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Use what you have.

There is one thing I haven’t managed to sort out in the garden, and it has been bothering me all season.  Actually, there are many things I haven’t sorted out in the garden, but this one is especially important and that is find a good mulch solution.

Pepper plants

Maybe the peppers would have recovered quicker from their various thrashings from the storms if they were tucked up with a nice cosy mulch. The soil looks so dry….

In this harsh environment and in this particularly dry summer where large swaths of the country are in drought and compounded by the fact, we had that huge water leak right before Christmas, watering the garden is something I have been deeply concerned about.  I love that the irrigation system only waters each bed once a week for 9 minutes and it is enough for the soil to retain the moisture locked in deep within the wonderful swamp soil I brought with me when we moved here.

Tree lupin weed

As you can see this is the perfect hiding place for a broody chicken.

But mulch is important, it helps to retain that precious moisture and it keeps weeds down by excluding light and blocking the way to the surface – however there will always be that weed that can get through even the slightest opportunity. You know the ones – you’ve seen them growing through the cracks in concrete!

Wheat as straw for mulch

I really must do something with this wheat mulch, maybe I’ll put it down around some of the winter plantings…

The problem is my garden is very large and so to buy anything in is very expensive, if I am to do a good job at mulching.  My favourite mulch is a fermented Lucerne, but one bag only does one bed!  You can use compost, but I don’t trust it in the weed reduction area, as weeds seem to love its rich organic goodness.  I never really understood its regular recommendation as a mulch, although I expect it would lock in moisture.    So essentially any thing store bought is out of the question – unless is a couple of bucks a bag.

Tree lupin flowers

I love it when the hill is filled with these sweet scented flowers.

I did toy with the idea of getting a bale of balage.  It should be along the lines of the fermented Lucerne, right?!  Then I looked into it and found it was quite acidic and in order for it to be of value in the garden I would have to experiment with the addition of lime or some other agent to bring the pH into the realms of something acceptable to plants that wouldn’t hinder the uptake of nutrients.  It all got a bit complicated and then the price shot up from $80 a bale, which would have easily done the whole garden a couple of times, to something no longer in my price range, thanks to the drought!  Then Hubby the Un-Gardener put his foot down as he was worried about the smell.  I let him think he was the reason for my back down from that option, but in reality, it just got put in the too hard basket.

Tree lupin trunk...

Yikes! Tree lupins grow very fast!

I did grow wheat from chicken food for mulch, not for the grain – although that would be cool if I had enough spare space.  I grow it over winter and then harvest it before the seed heads fill out.  Then I dry it in the greenhouse with the intention of using it as a mulch.  The problem is last season I didn’t grow enough – not enough to fill a bed and I couldn’t decide where to put it and indecision froze the project and it is still in the greenhouse.  It could make a great autumn photo prop at some point…  Ohh with some pumpkins….  I digress.  The thing is – I can’t grow enough, it is labour intensive to harvest it and prepare the soil for the next crop, which is also a problem, because there is so much to be done in spring, it tends to hold things up.

Lupin mulched rhubarb

The rhubarb doesn’t look so great now, but I will watch closely for signs of improvement with its new lupin mulch.

But what struck me as a genius idea, although time will tell if in fact it will solve all my problems is the result of a stupid chicken.  We have no rooster and yet this silly chook insists on trying to raise a family.  Last spring, she was in the wheat.  Now she is in my nursery bed, which I will need soon because it is where, I like to start my winter crops without them getting too thirsty in the greenhouse.  So, for a while I allowed her to indulge in this folly as it did no harm, except we weren’t getting any eggs from her.   But is has been well over three weeks now and I needed the bed.  The reason she liked this nursery bed for her imaginary family is it was quite overgrown.  And a month later it is very overgrown.

Disappointed chicken

Poor wee chicken – not only did I chop into one end of her haven, but nature decided enough was enough and her carefully nurtured eggs blew up! She seems a little startled… poor wee thing.

Now one of the weeds in the bed was some tree lupin seedlings that when small are easy enough to pull up.  However, I didn’t appreciate just how fast they grew.  In one season the trunk has managed to get to a whooping 15cm diameter with roots well and truly anchored to the earth.   The top is full and lush and the perfect place for a chicken to hide.    So, I thought enough was enough and decided to remove the weeds and lupin trees from the half of the bed she isn’t hunkering down in – to send a message.  And as I was chopping up the foliage to make it more compostable, I looked at the contents of my bucket and thought …  “Hang on a minute…” and the penny dropped.  I have loads of mulch all over the place and it will be perfect.

Tree lupin seeds

I certainly won’t be short of tree lupin seeds for my mulch plantation!

I quickly used some of my precious water to saturate the rhubarb bed as there is no point mulching a dry garden and so it was for the greater good.  I also took the opportunity to give it a bit of a feed with some blood and bone and then emptied the contents of my bucket all around and created a satisfying looking mulch.  If it works well for the rhubarb which, to be honest, has struggled a little in the heat of the summer, then I will roll it out across the garden.

I do like the tree lupin as it creates a nice backdrop to the garden and in the spring the yellow flowers smell heavenly.  Also, those strong roots are supporting the sides of the hill above the garden.  So, I don’t want to strip the leaves from these plants, so I may create a lupin plantation that I can harvest from when needed.  At least I know it grows well here.   Ahhh, you gotta love a creative solution.

Come again soon – summer seems to be slipping away but I’m not ready for it to do so.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

GROW WHAT YOU LOVE.
There is no point having a garden full of vegetables no one wants to eat!

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

(with a nod to Valentine’s Day at the end of the week)

Storm Pollinated Sweetcorn

You can always tell it is a good time to harvest your sweetcorn when you notice the rats are getting into it!  I have a bit of a rat problem, but I am currently deliberately feeding them with goat food, which they seem to like, based on the very large hole in the goat food container.  The goat food is currently being stored in the back of my car, of all places, to remind us to go and buy a metal bin.   I would much prefer to feed the rats in a known area than have them run freely around the garden.  Besides I need to find a good place to position my new fancy rat trap that sends my phone a body count each time it zaps one and if I create a feeding spot near it, then it should work out well. 

Rat eaten corn cob

This is a sure fire sign the corn is ready… blimmin rats!

But this isn’t about the rat problems.  It is about a completely different problem – the sweetcorn.   The poor wee things, they had such a rough start and every time a storm rolled through, I had to stand them back upright.  It happened far too often this spring.  Then I let my guard down.  There hadn’t been a storm in a while, the corn established and was growing strong and straight.   It wasn’t as tall as I would have liked but considering the difficulties they had to face early on, I was ok with it.  It was better to have them there than not at all.  The tassels were proudly unfurling above the plants and I could see a peep of silk poking out halfway down the stalks.  It was going to be ok. 

Windswept corn

That poor corn took a hammering… I am truly surprised there was any kind of harvest.

Until it wasn’t.  I was completely blind sided by yet another storm.  The timing couldn’t have been worse – as the pollen was beginning to fall from the silks.  I think my pollen ended up pollinating the neighbouring corn as it was picked up and carried off.  I didn’t imagine much fell gently to the silks below like it should have.  

Sweetcorn harvest

The sweetcorn harvest is loaded with anticipation – a little like Christmas. The expectation is high, but it is only when you unwrap the husks do you know just how well those weeks and weeks of tending the plants has turned out.

When I felt brave enough to peek through my fingers and look at the damage I was dismayed.  The stalks were all akimbo.  They were leaning every which way, and many had been snapped.  My instinct was to just rip them all out and be done with them.  However, that would be just as bad.  The garden would have an empty spot, grinning at me like a gapped tooth 6-year-old, reminding me of the harm done.  So, ignored them for a while, unprepared to deal with the waste of time, effort and potential. 

Poor corn pollination

Sometimes beggars can’t be choosers and I certainly won’t be wasting this ‘bountiful’ harvest.

Then I noticed some of the plants were beginning to rally, they were making their own way back to vertical.  So, I left them to it in the hopes that something could be salvaged from the disaster.   In the meantime, as a back up I went to the garden centre and cleaned them out of their last corn seedlings and planted a new crop to increase the chances of fresh sweetcorn from the garden this season.  They are almost at the point of sending out the tassels and I’m watching the weather forecast with bated breath…  surely it wouldn’t be possible to get another storm at the same crucial point, but it has been a cruel summer and so I’m kind of expecting it.

Creamed corn

Waste not, want not – all those individual kernels made a good batch of creamed corn.

So that brings us to now, with the rats chewing down on a couple of cobs.  So, I did the feel test – the one that should tell you the cobs are full and fat and ready.  If I could read braille, the intermittent lumps and bumps I felt could possibly be sending me a message.  The corn was kind of poking out from the stalk at a jaunty angle, but with incomplete cobs, they weren’t compelled to push out to make room and besides, everything was at a jaunty angle.  The silks were dark brown and crispy, but this can be quite subjective – how brown and crispy is brown and crispy enough? and how long has it been brown and crispy? because I wasn’t paying attention until the rats alerted me.  So, I did the final test and pulled back the husks and gently pierced the first kennel I could find, and a milky juice flowed from it.  Perfect – the time was right now.  The rats knew what they were doing. 

Sweet corn

And these are the good ones! I guess I can’t complain, under the circumstances.

I wasn’t expecting much and got more than a fair share of toothy gapped cobs, but some did surprise me as they were 70-80% full – although in some cases only down one side.  I managed to get a harvest of sorts.  Normally the mostly misfired ears went to the chickens.  Normally there aren’t that many, but when it is the majority of the crop it is like that – waste not want not, and I cut every last kernel from their cobs and managed to get 500g of creamed corn.  I froze it, and the decent looking cobs, within a couple of hours of being harvested so it will retain that sweet delicious flavour to bring sunshine to a winter day.  We also ate some for dinner and the good thing is you don’t have to be pretty to be good.    The flavour made the drama dissolve away into a distant memory. 

Back up corn crop

The back up corn crop is doing ok… so far so good, fingers crossed at all that…

Oh – and there was another upside that made me feel great – there were no nasty surprises from the nasty, nasty corn ear worm.  There were none!   This is thanks to having some spray left over from tackling the Tomato Potato Psyllid in the tomatoes.  What I used was probably a bit overkill, but giving each silk a squirt of pyrethrum each year will definitely become a part of my annual routine.  That particular pest is disgusting! 

Come again soon – some days we’re winning with this gardening thing.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Death Valley

Ok that may be a bit of an exaggeration – but my garden is in a valley and there has been death – three so far and by the end of the season I suspect there will have been twenty with a complete tomato population wipe out.  The only advantage I can see is I will still get some tomatoes although from what I have read, they won’t be as “tasty”.

Young tomato plants

I started my growing season with such hope and each plant held so much potential.

I have a disease.  To give it its full name:  Pith Necrosis.  And to be honest I’d never heard of it until today and it isn’t one of the big three problems that strike tomatoes in their prime.  You normally think of Blight, Blossom End Rot (which isn’t a disease but a nutrient availability issue) and the dreaded TTP Tomato Potato Psyllid.  I have a problem solver book that lists 22 things that could possibly go wrong with tomatoes, and Pith Necrosis isn’t there!  It wouldn’t surprise me if it was rare, we’re always getting some kind of rare problem around here – nothing that will kill us mind you.

Tomato Potato Psyllid eggs

And I thought my troubles began and ended with the Tomato Potato Psyllid which is why I was so quick to treat their eggs, however treating them the way I did only made my other problem worse. Sorry not sorry.

I discovered the problem yesterday, unintentionally, but in doing so may have made it a whole lot worse.  I have been diligently spraying my tomatoes for the Psyllid every two weeks ever since I discovered those first tiny eggs clinging to the edge of a leaf.  I have been taking care of the needs of the tomatoes on a Monday as they are in sector one and doing the spraying then.  But last time I wasn’t able to do it on a Monday and couldn’t remember for the life of me if I had done it on a Tuesday or a Thursday and decided to wait until the next Monday to get back into routine.  But my goodness, those horrid little bugs didn’t wait for me…  there was quite the infestation, and plenty of green vegetable bugs to boot.

poorly tomato plants

I have been a bit ashamed of my tomatoes as I have felt something wasn’t quite right so I avoided showing them off too much. They are all a bit scrappy.

So, I grabbed the nearest secateurs and removed infested foliage and tied in wayward branches, making it easier to penetrate the tops and bottoms of the leaves with spray.   Before spraying I did a hard pick of anything that may come ripe in the next 7 days for the withholding period, which will probably save them from the ravages of the green vegetable bug.  There weren’t many but I thought that was because of the Psyllid.  Oh, how I was mistaken.

Dirty Secateurs

This is terrible. These dirty secateurs are completely disease laden and ready to inoculate the next tomato plant I touch.

While I was at it, I decided to remove the plants that were clearly dead.  I knew it wasn’t the Psyllid but thought it was a stem borer as it looked a little munted at ground level.  Not only did I pull them out, but I chopped them up to make it easier to fit in my weed bucket.  Little did I realise what harm I was doing.  I was spreading disease!

Clean Secateurs

Much better. Keep your tools clean and sanitise between plants. This isn’t a suggestion or recommendation, it is actually very important. The dirty world of gardening requires good hygiene practices.

You see – Pith Necrosis is a bacterial disease and Pseudomonas corrugata is responsible.  If I remember back to the days of my microbiological training, many moons ago, Pseudomonas was one of those ubiquitous bacteria that are found everywhere and if you didn’t know the answer to a question in a test or exam – if you wrote Pseudomonas down there was a high chance you’d get a point for getting the genus right.

pith necrosis

This is what pith necrosis looks like when you pull up the plant.

This particular species lives in the soil and takes advantage of weak tomatoes in the perfect storm of weather conditions, with a little bit of help from an unwary gardener.

Firstly, as a bacterial disease, it is spread easily through contact and if you remove the lateral from one plant and then move on to the next plant without washing hands or sanitising tools, then you are spreading disease.  I should have known better.  It is microbiology basics drummed into students from day one.  I will no longer do or recommend pinching out laterals.  It is best to do it with clean, sharp secateurs and sanitised in between with a small spray bottle of meths.

pith necrosis

When you split the stem you can see the destroyed tissue up the middle. You can see how I would have mistaken it for a stem borer.

The main reason my tomatoes were weak is my fault…  I wanted them to grow fast as they went into the garden late and so when they shot up, I thought nothing of it.  It turned out they shot up because there was too much nitrogen in the soil.  This causes fast but weak growth and makes them a target for all sort of pest and disease that can sense weakness.  But all that lush green growth looked healthy.

Green tomatoes

Tomatoes in healthier days…. so much potential… sigh….

The first mistake I made was I thought I was doing a good thing following the tomatoes with the peas – a nitrogen rich soil must be good – right?!  Then I grew a cover crop to return organic material to the soil – only the best for my plants.  Once that had been dug in and allowed to rot down, I added compost, blood and bone, sheep pellets and Dynamic Lifter – all according to the instructions.  However, there should be instructions that says “when used in conjunction with…  then use this much…”

burn or trash diseased material

I would show you what a fully diseased plant looks like, but I’d already chopped it up. Remember burn or trash diseased material. Don’t put it on the compost or send it out with the green waste.

For the home garden it is difficult to know what state the soil is actually in as soil testing in a laboratory is cost prohibitive.  To test each of my beds individually would be well over two thousand dollars.  And there aren’t any effective home test kits readily available here – although under the circumstances I may need to investigate this further.  So, what is left is trial and error.  You know you need to replace the nutrients taken by the plant and tomato plants are big there for it makes sense to give the soil lots of love.  However not all plants have the same needs.  Corn is a big tall hungry plant and would love the preparation I prepared for the tomatoes.  Carrots on the other hand don’t like too much nitrogen and would split at the thought of it.

Pith Necrosis

The new growth is quite spindly and the small leaves can begin to look like they have a nutrient deficiency, which would make sense when the stem is being destroyed from the inside.

So, I will ease up on the additional material going into the garden and rearrange my crop rotation – again – to put the corn before the tomatoes instead of the peas.  I was going to move the corn into that cycle anyway to benefit from the shelter provided by the wind break along the fence.  I just need to make sure where I put them fits in with the timing of the early starters and the slow pokes who languish in the beds too long.  It is a bit of a puzzle.

Soil

If only you could tell if your soil was good by looking at it. This looks like good soil…

The last part is out of my control – the weather.  Cool night time temperatures, high humidity and wet conditions are the final factors that encourage this disease.  And that dodgy spring and early summer we had would have been perfect conditions for a bunch of rampaging Pseudomonas to go off looking for a nice juicy stem to climb into.  If only I could control the weather…

tomato harvest

This is the result of a hard pick from 17 plants. Not exactly abundant. I look on with envy at the bountiful harvest people are getting from just a few plants. The fruit is ok to eat but it isn’t advisable to save seeds.

So next season – I will have a gentle hand when preparing the soil, I’ll pop them into the bed where the corn once was, which will mean the corn will be where the tomatoes have been and before the peas.  This arrangement should suit everyone.  I will be slow to grow my tomatoes – there is no hurry and hope they respond by growing slowly.  I will take garden hygiene more seriously and I will pray the weather is better suited to avoiding this problem.

As a gardener you are always learning and boy have I just had a major lesson.

Come again soon – I’ll come up with something less gloomy.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  Thanks to the experts at Yates NZ who diagnosed the problem for me.

Monday Message:

The more you pick the more you get. Harvest regularly for the best rewards!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)20200203_135931

Waterwise

After the drama of the Great Water Escape over Christmas when we lost over 30,000 litres overnight thanks to a tap fiddler, I’ve made a few changes.  The leak wasn’t intentional as the tap didn’t immediately gush with water and needed the pump by the tank to activate before flowing so it was impossible to know if it was on or off.  There was no point getting upset, what was done was done and the offending tap has been moved out of sight from potential tap fiddlers.

The garden water tank

It is all very well having a 30,000 litre water tank for the garden, however if it doesn’t have any water in it then it isn’t a lot of good.

But what that experience did teach me was just how valuable a resource water is.  We managed for three days with large bottles and buckets of water.  We ate Christmas dinner on paper plates to save on the dishes and the fine china and silverware we normally use was left in the cupboard.   In the bathroom we applied the ‘if it’s yellow let it mellow…. ‘ approach and in the garden, plants were watered with a watering can, but only if they started to look a little peaky.  This added insult to injury to plants that had already suffered enough this season, but we got through with limited water until the tanker was available to bring us more and nobody died.

Watering the beans

The drippers are great to water the plants where they need it – at the soil.

At the last garden we were fortunate enough to have an artesian bore with access to so much water at no cost that we didn’t even need to think about it.  So, I didn’t think about it.  The garden was well watered, if not over watered as I set the irrigation system for 20 minutes a bed and based on my experience here, that is about 11 minutes too long.

Underground irrigation system

The work I put in digging the trenches to connect the beds has really paid off.

This whole experience forced me to take care of something I’d been procrastinating over for quite some time.  Sometimes it feels like procrastination is my superpower, but it isn’t something I’m entirely proud of.  You see I have this amazing irrigation system, thanks to the good people at GARDENA.  The whole garden is hooked up with drippers in each bed, connected to hoses that run under the paths to hubs for groups of 6 beds.  OK, to be fair, 3 out of 5 groups are connected to hubs. Twelve more beds need to have trenches dug to group them together at two more hubs, but their trenches are longer than the first three groups and it is best to do it in the winter in wet sand and so I missed my moment.  I will do better this year.

Undug trench

I still need to dig a big long trench to connect all of these gardens. It will make my life so much easier to have them connected, but…. digging…. lots of digging….

So up until this water crisis I was watering one bed at a time, using the alarm on my phone to alert me when to swap the hose to another bed.  So every nine minutes all day the alarm would ring out however, if I was in the middle of something, this could easily stretch out to 12 minutes if not more, or on occasion I’d switch off the alarm but forget to switch off the water.  I have learnt through experience in this garden that 9 minutes is the perfect amount of time to fully moisten the entire bed and any more than this water floods out the bottom of the raised beds so any watering longer than 9 minutes is wasted water.

End connector hub in use

There is something so satisfying connecting all of the hoses here at the hub knowing 6 beds will be watered with no effort on my part at all.

But the good people at GARDENA had not only helped me out with the drippers and hoses, but also a very easy to use water computer and an amazing 6 hose water distributor.  So, to avoid the incessant beeping ringing out across the garden, all I needed to do was set up the computer on the tap and set up the distributor so it could be plugged into the 6 end connectors in each hub.  Now this is where the progress broke down.

GARDENA 6 Hose Water Distributor

The GARDENA 6 Hose Water Distributor is such a useful gadget, it made my day when I found out it existed. I love it so much!

For the average person this is a set and forget process as it is set up as a stationary system, however, I’m not your average person and I need to move the 6 hose water distributor about the garden in order to water each of the groups of beds and for that I needed some kind of vehicle.  I had a similar set up at the previous garden and version 3 – a converted store-bought trolley worked well.  However thanks to the salt spray from a multitude of storms the trolley I bought a year ago with this in mind wasn’t looking so great, so I needed to have a bit of a rethink and create something that would last longer and possibly made of wood.

Gardena Water Distributor Automatic

I love the trolley I made to go with the GARDENA Water Distributor. It works really well.

Eventually I came up with the perfect solution and set about making the perfect trolley for my 6 Hose Water Distributor.  Nothing was going to stop me having the perfect irrigation system.  I was all set to go and then we ran out of water.    I was all set to go but wasn’t in a position make it happen.

Gardena Water Computer MasterControl

The GARDENA Water Computer MasterControl is the final piece of equipment to go into my watering station

Once our water supply became more stable I, with great excitement, took the trolley housing the 6 Hose Water Distributor and plugged all 6 end connectors into the hoses coming from the distributor.  Then at the other end I connected the Water Computer to the tap and connected the hose to the bottom of it.  I programmed it easily by pressing buttons and turning the knob and it was all set to go.  The water did what it was supposed to, and in just over an hour 6 beds had been watered for 9 minutes each and there was no beeping and not a drop wasted.

Garden view from the shed

This is one of my favourite watering positions – sitting in my comfy chair in my office shed doing not a lot, except watering…

Now it is such a pleasure to water the garden.  I can move it to the new location, adjust the time on the computer and make sure the taps are on and walk away.  The great thing is, I don’t need to water all six gardens, especially if a bed is empty, so I don’t waste precious water.  Now I weed while I water, or put my feet up for a bit, or even stop for a cuppa.  It is so much easier to water this way and as a result it is easier to develop a good routine.  My garden looks so much better for it.  I really should have gotten onto this earlier, it is a pretty cool way to water the garden.

Come again soon – the harvest is beginning to come in.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

NB:  If you want to find out more about these cool tools for  Clever Watering check out:  GARDENA Water Computer MasterControl  and Water Distributor Automatic

Pickled Onion Problem

I had a bit of a problem.  Well it was a good problem, but with a knock on effect that turned it into a not so good problem.  But in terms of real life serious problems it is hardly a blip at all so could probably be described as a good problem to have.  I grew my onions too big!

Hunter River White Onions

My enormous (by my ordinary standards) Hunter River White Onions are drying in the dome ready to be eaten in almost every meal.

Normally my harvest is a mixed bag of small, medium and large.  The medium and large ones are set aside for the normal purpose of eating onion and generally end up in every meal in one way or another.  And the small ones get pickled and stored way to provide a deliciously sour crunch to our platters when we entertain, in sandwiches – gosh you can’t beat a simple cheese and pickled onion sandwich or just munched upon whole as a treat stolen from the jar.

Pukekohe Longkeeper vs pickling onions

To be fair this is my biggest Pukekohe Longkeeper onion, but as you can clearly see, this will not fit into a jar!

Peel the onions and sprinkle with salt

The recipe tells us to peel the onions with the handy tip of soaking them in boiling hot water for 20 seconds to make peeling easier. It then said sprinkle half a cup of salt over 1.5kg of onions and then cover with water. In my haste I didn’t see the boiling water bit and I completely missed the covering with water, but my onions were fine. I’ve never been good at following instructions!

The thing is this season my onion crop was a huge success and it grew well…  too well and they were all large or huge.  There were a couple of tiddlers, but certainly not enough to make the effort of pickling them worthwhile.  I was resigned to the fact there would be no pickled onions this year.  To be honest I shouldn’t be complaining as there was that year where my entire onion harvest – which was supposed to be a year’s supply of onions ended up pickled in two medium sized jars.  Some seasons are good for some crops and terrible for others.

Rinse onions in fresh water

After soaking the onions for 24 hours in a non metallic container, rinse them with fresh water.

Determining Volume

This is another spot where the recipe and I parted ways. It says to pack the onions in to sterilised jars and cover with vinegar. However I like to know how much vinegar, so I pack the onions into clean jars, pour in some water, then empty it all out, measuring the amount of liquid needed, then sterilise the jars.

However, while at the grocery store, I noticed bags of pickling onions at a very good price and I couldn’t help myself, and a kilo of onions ended up in my trolley.   I normally just pass through the produce section and often wonder what the checkout staff must think of my seemly unhealthy trolley filled to the brim but bereft of vegetables.

Chilli and peppercorns in vinegar

The recipe suggests adding a chilli and 2 peppercorns to each jar filled with onions and then just pouring the vinegar over but I like to boil the vinegar up with the chilli and peppercorns in with the vinegar. I also added a little bit of sugar to take the edge off the sharp sourness, but not enough to make the onions too sweet – just a few tablespoons.

Filling the Jars

Then I pack the onions into sterile jars and add the boiling vinegar and seal.

I used an old favourite recipe from the reliable Edmonds Cookbook, although I did split the batch and used white vinegar for half of them as more and more of my friends and family struggle with the debilitating effects of gluten and so when they come to visit I like to be able to offer them food on my entertaining platters they don’t need to worry about.  The other half I made with malt vinegar as it is the traditional way to pickle them from my childhood and they taste great that way and invoke such nostalgic memories.

Pickled onions

And there you have it, pickled onions. Although it has to be left for at least 6 weeks before I can enjoy that pickled onion crunch. If you end up with vinegar left over – like I always seem too – in spite of my pre-measuring, it makes a great base for a salad dressing – just add your favourite oil.

So, I am excited to say there will be pickled onions in the very near future, I just need to manage the long wait while they soak in all that good pickling juice!

Come again soon – the garden seems to be doing ok…  for now.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

 

 

 

The state of the Garden   Part Four of Three (or possibly four)

This takes us to the final phase of what I got up to this week.    It got a little muddily towards the end of the week.  The wind died down to just a gentle puff which was lovely.  The first time it happened I remember this weird feeling of something being missing, as the sound of the wind whistling through the cracks and crannies in the house had ceased.  It can almost become like white noise if it goes on long enough.  Aside from the damage it does to the garden, I don’t mind it that much.  When you stand in the face of a bracing wind you know you are alive.  But it is the noise I hate.  It makes it feel so much worse than it is.

Sector three

Sector three is looking pretty good, all things considered

It has been sunny and hot ever since, with just a slight sea breeze.  Gardening in the middle of the day has become a little foolhardy as the sand is so hot on the paths between the beds that shoes are a must, lest you burn the soles of your feet.  It is just too hot and like gardening in weather that is too wet or too cold, more harm can be done than good.

Frog

I have wildlife in my wildlife pond. It is so nice to know I have created somewhere cool for a frog to hang out on a hot summer day.

However, on Thursday I carried on with a sense of determination.  If I can get everything back into shape, then it frees me up to throw myself into all the exciting projects I that may come my way this year, without the burden of lurching from weedy bed to weedy bed.  And in control garden just needs a light tickle from time to time with a few bursts of effort when needed.  Gardening needn’t be a chore.   Although I’m not sure I’ve made it entirely clear, but I didn’t actually do the sectors in order – I picked the easiest one first so on Monday I did sector three, then sector two the next day then sector one, followed by sector five.  I feel like a bit of a rebel to do it out of order!

Sector Three

Asparagus:  This is doing far better than my expectations, but it has coastal origins and so it is like it has come home.  At this time of year, it just needs to be kept moist and weeded while the fronds create energy to take down into the crown and provide shade for Fennel the Cat to loll about in.

Asparagus

The asparagus is magnificent, all things considered.

Leafy Greens:  It is all a bit of a disaster in here.  I got confused with my rainbow beet and my rainbow beetroot.  I normally sow the whole packet of rainbow beet so I can have all the delightful colours brightening up my winter garden with their exuberant leaves.   But unfortunately, I ended up with a pink one and a red one and the yellow, white and orange turned out to be beetroot that need to be eaten and gone and won’t be brightening up anything but my plate.  The Asian greens and the spinach bolted in the erratic weather conditions and celery and celeriac are crying out for more water than I have to give them.  But as thirsty crops I did turn the irrigation on for just a moment.

Rainbow beet

How can you say no to a drooping bright pink plant. Of course you can have some water sweetie.

Garlic:  The only reason this is the garlic bed is because it is what was there.  It has long since been pulled up, dried in the shade – because full sun can spoil the flavour and keeping qualities, and separated into 3 groups:  eat now, save for seed and long term storage.   I’m toying with the idea of pickling some of the eat now ones but peeling enough to make it worth it is such a phaff.  The bed isn’t empty though.  It has overflow corn from the first batch that got wind bashed and the rest is destined for some popcorn that has been germinating in the dome.  It is late in the season to be starting corn, but we don’t get a frost here so it’s worth a shot.

Corn bed

All going well, there will be a successful harvest of strawberry popcorn out of this bed by the end of the season.

Beans:   The kidney beans are great.  I love their set and forget until they are dry on the plant nature.  One less thing to worry about.  The green beans (and purple and yellow) are slow to get going but we may have enough for a meal next week and then they’ll be away, and we’ll have too many.  I don’t hold out much hope for the tall snake and ‘Humongous MegaPod’ beans.  They were looking great before the last wind.  But now…  well it’s a bit of a sorry sight.

Kidney beans

Ya gotta love a crop you can just plant and then come back months later and harvest, with little intervention in between.

Potatoes:  The wind hit the tops of these too, but they were almost done anyway, so all I have to do is dig them up.  I have been rummaging around in the soil for meal sized harvests, but I think I need to just get in there and clear them out.  In our frostless conditions I may even get another full crop out of the bed before it gets too cold.  That should be incentive enough to do a bit of digging.  Fresh potatoes taste so good.

Potato

The Red Fantasy potatoes are delish, but I can’t wait to try the other nuggets of deliciousness lurking under the soil.

Carrots and friends:  The erratic weather caused problem here and I have pulled out more than my fair share of bolted carrots and beetroot.  The beetroot here is not doing well at all.  I should be harvesting by now, but they are still too tiny, unlike the confused ones in the leafy green bed.  I have planted more seedlings and sown more seed in desperate hope of some kind of harvest that I can drop down my front and stain my white shirt while trying to eat it.  At this point my white shirts are looking pretty safe.  I have managed to keep up with succession sowing my carrots, but the fennel is acting more like a windbreak than a potential crop, but I guess that is no bad thing.

beetroot

There should be big fat beetroot beneath these leaves, ready for the picking…. but alas no.

Cucumbers:  These were really slow to get going.  I think I had to replant several times.  But there is a plant in every space that corresponds to my plan, they just aren’t very big.  I am getting a harvest, but they aren’t exactly large enough to be proud of, but they have that cucumber taste and crunch so that makes it ok.

cucumber

I’m surprised these poor bashed up plants have had enough in them to produce any fruit at all.

On Friday I was supposed to do sector 4 – the middle little beds, which was a daunting mess, however I gave in to the cold that has be hounding me all year and took a sick day.  By Saturday was convinced I was cured and threw myself into the mess and made quite the dent in it.  The chicken is still in residence in the worst bed and so it remains a weedy mess.  I only made it halfway across the sector before the heat drove me indoors.  I had hoped to knock it all off today, Sunday, but alas the cold symptoms returned, and I just don’t have enough get up and go to carry on.   Maybe tomorrow.

Come again soon – The garden is so close to being in full control… so very close.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

If you want to update yourself with the rest of my week you can find it all >here<, >here< and >here<

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