SARAH THE GARDENER

Checking the soil. 

Not wanting to go on about it, but the Pith Necrosis in my tomatoes (you can read about that >HERE<) has been on my mind.  One of the things that made the conditions ideal for the disease was the soil was too nitrogen rich.   I’ve been pondering this a lot.   The general instruction to gardener is to add organic material like compost and well-rotted manure to the garden between each crop.  Or grow a cover crop to replace the nutrients taken up and add ‘much needed’ organic material into the soil. But it isn’t all that clear as to how much is too much or even too little for that matter until it is too late.   You only really find out the truth when your plants are growing  and begin to show signs of poor health.

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds are proving to be a good measure for the quality of my soil.

This can often be mistaken for disease at first, rather than a nutrient deficiency or excess and so various remedies can be thrown at a plant already suffering from something else. And as an insult to injury pests and disease see a weakness and muscle on in and there you have it – a bit of heavy handedness with a bag of poop and your crops are ruined.

Mustard Seeds

I carefully weighed out the mustard seeds for each bed. I suspect there were too many for the size of the patch, but with them all being the same it would still result in equal outcome.

Adding too little can be easily fixed by feeding plants regularly throughout the growing season but adding too much is like adding too much salt to your mashed potato.  You can’t take it out again.  And it isn’t like all these excess nutrients are just sitting around in the soil like it is a supermarket waiting for the plant to take them up.   There is some complex chemistry going on in the soil and sometimes what can show up as a deficiency in the plant is because some other nutrient is out of balance and blocking the path to absorption and so there is enough of what the plant says it isn’t getting, but too much of something completely different.

Preparing the ground

I used an old seed tray to mark out the size of sample patch and removed all the lumps, bumps and other unwanted bits and bobs.

So, we need to take care when adding things to the soil willy nilly.  It isn’t like that overindulgent grandmother trying to fatten us up out of love because we look too skinny.   We may love our gardens but the more the better doesn’t apply when feeding the garden.   We need to get to know our gardens, and this can take time and trial and error as each season we refine what we have learnt and make adjustments.

Preparing the ground

I gave the dry soil a good deep drenching with water to give the mustard seeds a good moist foundation.

Preparing the ground

Then I sprinkled over the mustard seeds within the grid and sieved over seed raising mix to ensure they had good contact with the soil and to hide them from the birds.  And then we wait.

One easy way to know what your soil needs is to do a soil test, however for most home gardeners this is cost prohibitive so I came up with a bit of a plan to assess the state of the soil in each of my garden beds.    I got the idea from the mustard cover crops I grew last season.   One bed – the last to be filled with the dregs of the soil pile didn’t do as well as the cover crop in a neighbouring bed.  It was the same seed grown with the same attention but with a completely different result.  It did explain why that bed hadn’t performed as well that first season and as a result I gave it an extra bit of love at the start of the growing season and the crops did much better.

Germination

The germination stage was mixed results. Some beds were quite patchy….

But it was the mustard seed that was the tip off.  So, I did a little experiment.  In each bed I marked out the same sized plot and weighed out the same amount of mustard seed to go into each patch of the garden.  They were treated exactly the same way – even on the days I forgot to water them.   Then I took note of the germination rates and then looked at the growth several weeks later.  I didn’t need to see out the whole life cycle of the plant because after 4 weeks the results were apparent.  I could see at a glance which beds were doing ok with good steady growth, which weren’t ok with pathetically spindly growth and which were doing too well with loads of excessively lush growth.

Germination

… and other beds were abundant and lush.

This will give me a good plan going into the next season.   The ones doing well I will just give a light top up, using a proprietary packet of something following the directions on the pack, making the safe assumption that the dose will be ok as they wouldn’t want your garden to fail or you won’t use it again.  A trusted brand has my gardens best interests at heart.

Mustard plants

Just over a month later the results were in. Many beds seem to be in good shape with a good steady even growth.

The beds where the growth is not great, I’ll throw everything including the kitchen sink.  I’ll grow a cover crop and then add compost and well-rotted manure and do what I can to boost the obviously poor soil.

Poor mustard plant growth

Several beds have shown poor growth, but to be honest I think I expected it from these beds as they weren’t exactly doing all that great this season and may have been neglected a little during the seasonal enrichment between crops.

And the ones with the over exuberant growth – well I’ll do nothing.  They clearly don’t need anything.  But if it does look like it is really too much then I’ll grow a cover crop and instead of digging it in, I’ll add it to the compost heap where I can redistribute those excessive nutrients.

Too lush mustard plant growth

But not really surprising was the number of beds with very lush growth. The leaves are big, the stalks thin and weak. These are the ones with the most insect damage. It is important to note most to these lush beds have already had a season of growth and are still lush and not in the expected exhausted state. It would seem I’ve been a bit heavy handed with my soil enrichment, but now I know where to make changes.

The other thing I’ll pay closer attention to is, not all crops are equal, and some won’t need as much love as others.  Carrots for example really don’t like a rich soil and so I’ve always avoided adding compost or well-rotted manures to their beds.  But crops like corn – well it is a large plant and to get that large from such a tiny seed, it seems logical that it would need a lot of goodies in the soil to feed it.   Leafy greens like it heavier on the nitrogen than for example peas, where potassium and phosphorus would be more appreciated for their flower and seed production and considering they take care of their own nitrogen needs.  But the leafy greens wouldn’t need anywhere near as much nitrogen as the corn.

Come again soon – preparing the garden for next season is clearly not a one size fits all solution and I’ve got some work to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

Find a new rhythm and look for a new normal.

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

It is strange times indeed.  Daylight savings finished the other day and it made no difference – I didn’t need to be anywhere so time is almost irrelevant.   Even the garden doesn’t need me as much these days, especially after the massive harvest I did the other day.   There is still the tidy up to be done, where the old crops need to be removed but that isn’t urgent and can wait if I want to make it wait.    Some days I feel completely out of sorts and struggle to do ‘business as usual.’

It is days like these I need to find a new rhythm and establish a routine that works well in these times.  One where I feel just as productive, with a sense of achievement but also allow the weirdness of it all to be expressed because to be honest it isn’t ‘business as usual’ and chances are won’t be the same at the end of all of this.  The key is to adapt and cope and if that is all that can be done then that’s ok.

Stay safe.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The harvest waits for no one

I have been rather busy lately.   I am fortunate in that my workloads and deadlines haven’t changed and writing about gardening is just as popular as it ever was.  So, I have been tucked away in my office or creating the supporting imagery to go with the writing.  I don’t feel like I have had a spare moment.  Even the poor garden is feeling a little neglected as I squirrel away meeting my commitments.  Just getting out there with the hoe and taking care of the weeds in the paths is all I can spare, but it is enough to keep me connected with the garden.  Even Hubby the Un-Gardener who is a hardworking breadwinner for our family is at a bit of a loose end and often pops into my garden office for a chat.   Normally it is me popping into his home office for a chat.

Watermelon

I got a fabulous haul of watermelon that will keep us going well beyond this lock down situation.

Watermelon

There are these as well…  I may need to look into watermelon recipes.

But this week I had to call a stop to all the busyness.   While hoeing the paths I noticed the harvest.  I was aware it was needed sometime soon, but if I didn’t get to it very soon, the moment of perfection would pass and all my efforts over the last few months would have been wasted or at the very least be disappointing.  It couldn’t wait any more.  It was a pleasurable hour wandering through the garden deciding what needed to be harvested, which turned out to be pretty much everything.    It did feel a little odd to remove things that had been there for so long, just sitting there quietly ripening, but now the pumpkin bed is bereft of pumpkins and all that remains in their place is the dead and decaying leaves and stalks that can wait for my attention another day.

Pumpkins

All the pumpkins drying in the sun after being washed in a mild bleach solution to remove all the dirt and germs that may cause them to start to rot in storage.

There were also chillies and peppers.  This season I am determined to use each variety in a way that makes the most of their individual characteristics, but it would seem there are just too many hot and spicy ones and while I don’t mind a bit of heat I’m not crazy.  I expect I will end up making a giant batch of sweet chilli sauce, as I know we will use this as a family.  I once made 2L of a fermented tabasco style sauce that is about 1.9L too much!  I think it is still around somewhere – I should try and find it.  It will now be an ‘aged’ fermented tabasco style sauce, maybe it would have mellowed?!

Chillies, okra and Eggplant

Not a bad chilli harvest.  There was also some eggplants and some okra, but I suspect I let the okra go too long and it is probably a bit woody.

I also picked some tomatoes from my poor old tomato plants.  They have hung in there well, all things considered.  While they didn’t give us quantity, they gave us enough to have a tomato taster and be able to enjoy the sense of summer that only a fresh tomato sandwich can bring.  I think the next harvest will be the last. I will remove all the green ones and pull down the bedraggled plants and burn them and remove all trace of the tomato pestilence and disease from my garden.   I am hoping for better things from my tomatoes next season.

It isn't a great harvest, but it is something...

It isn’t a great harvest, but it is something…

There was also a sweetcorn harvest.  I had a super ambitious plan this season to grow 5 different varieties of corn – spaced out over time to avoid cross pollination.  The first to start was the popcorn – just ordinary old supermarket popcorn, but they got hit so many times by the storms in the spring I had to give up on them or the normal sweetcorn would miss its spot and as a staple veggie that can be frozen and used all winter, this was more important than something to snack on during a movie.  So, I gave up on them and planted the sweetcorn.  However, just as it was at the pollen dropping from the tassels onto the silks stage we got another storm and blew all the pollen away.  Suspecting a poor harvest (which I was right) I raced out to the garden centre and grabbed all the corn seedlings I could to replace them and ensure a harvest for the freezer.  It turned out I had grabbed 2 varieties and one was ready a few weeks before the other, which was great.  The first lot had a good yield, and the second lot was ready this week and I wasn’t disappointed.  My freezer will overflow, once I get them in there.  There is still some strawberry popcorn in the garden, and I am hoping the weather stays favourable long enough for them to be able to dry on the plant.  I didn’t get my painted mountain corn or my glass gem corn in, but they can wait for next year.

Sweetcorn

These feel promising – all fat and full.  All will be revealed when I shuck them.

Now they have been harvested I just need to find a moment in my day to process them all.

Come again soon – I think clearing away the dregs of summer is next.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

Staying busy is a great way to keep your mind from the worries of the world for a while.
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While in lock down it is so tempting to be glued to each and every update that comes in, seemingly by the minute.  But being an active relaxer with a tendency to worry about things, I decided it was in my best interests to just check the updates in the morning and in the evening and then go out into the garden and get on with long overdue projects.
Today I just finished an epic project, with the help of Hubby the Un-Gardener and I feel great, knackered, but great.  Tomorrow is another great day to cross things off the ‘to do’ list that have been there too long.
Sarah the Gardener  : o)

My garden has been invaded!

I have been feeling quite smug with the garden lately, especially after the epic panic gardening session I had last week for the garden visit… gosh was that just last week?!  So much has happened since then.  But since then I have just been giving the garden a cursory bit of love here and there.  I’ve been taking the time and the opportunity to get Hubby the Un-Gardener to help me with a project requiring power tools and the collective creativity of two non-technical minds to get something remotely suitable constructed to fit the vision in my head.  So, the garden has become a bit of an extension of my store cupboard and I only really reach out into it to get something for dinner.  Even the watering has been taken care of, thanks to an abundance of rain.  This also comes as a great relief as now we can do basic things like no longer having to choose between having a shower or doing the dishes or having multiple cups of tea!

Weeds

My paths are covered in thousands of tiny weeds.

So essentially – as far as the garden was concerned, I’d taken my eye off the ball.   Until today.  But then it didn’t take much of a look to see the problem that had crept into my garden.   All over the paths, the paths of lovely black sand, was a bit of a green glow.   I hadn’t given the paths much attention over the summer as the sand was so hot that nothing bothered it.  It got so hot it was impossible to walk on with bare feet and when we tested it with my infrared thermometer in the very height of summer the sand measured up to 81ᵒC!  The sand paths seemed bomb proof and a great solution in my garden.  The sand was already there, so why use anything else?  Although I do have to refill the occasionally dog hole, thanks to Jasper the Dog, but even then, I’d rather he dug in the paths than in the beds.

Garden path

I have a lot of garden paths to take care of

This morning, after a night of heavy rain I headed into the garden for my cursory glance and noticed it straight away – teeny tiny weeds, popping up everywhere.  It is pretty much the same weed over the entire garden with a few opportunistic weeds of other types among them.   But this teeny tiny insignificant little thing has almost overnight taken over my garden in matter of days.  Individually it is so small that one on its own wouldn’t be noticed but collectively it would be a disaster if left to do its thing.

Gaura flower

Friend or foe – has this Gaura flower been spreading its seeds far and wide. I guess I’ll never know.

At this point it is easy enough to take care of, a simple sweep of the hoe will uproot it and un-anchored it will shrivel and die on the surface.  But as the garden is so big, it is a lot of work to hoe all the paths, and I’m already feeling blisters forming on my hands as I take care of it.  It will take more than one day to hoe the whole garden, and I suspect I will need to start again at the beginning with the hoeing once I’ve finished as there will be more that will appear as there is something to be said for the old adage “one year’s seeds is seven year’s weeds.”  If I am to beat this, I will be out there hoeing every day for weeks.    I have had to ban the kids and the dog from the garden because they were running through the paths making it hard for me to see the weeds or work out where I’d hoed and where I hadn’t.   It is just better for now if it is just me in the garden, so I know where I’m at with the control of it all.

Sunflower weeds

Some random pop ups are allowed to stay. I’ve moved most of the ‘weedy’ sunflowers and am looking for more places to pop the rest. In our frost free location I’m hoping for some sunny faces, but if they don’t come to anything then nothing is lost.

I also need to look at the wider picture.  I don’t know what it is – it is too small to tell, but I’m sure as heck not going let it stick around so I can find out.   I am looking at all recently flowered and seeded plants with suspicion.  It could have come from a friend or a foe.  A weed or a flower.  They also say a weed is just a plant in the wrong place and these are certainly in the wrong place.

Garden hoe

I suspect my garden ho will become my go to favourite tool of the moment. We will be spending a lot of time together.

So, the best way to tackle this is while it is small and manageable and keep at it until I don’t see it anymore.  As I was hoeing the garden getting rid of this menace in my little world, I wouldn’t help but think of parallels to something else going on in the world beyond my garden.  I am personally grateful that in that situation I am like the dog – sent inside and told to stay there.  I am also extremely grateful for those working hard to get rid of the invader in our communities.  Please everyone, do what you need to do to stay safe and one day soon we will all be able to walk freely on our paths again.

Come again soon – As I hoed past a couple of beds, I noticed a big harvest is due.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

This is not normal

Although for many ways for me it still feels a little normal.  Because I’m not a great extrovert and so staying at home and potting about in my garden is my favourite thing to do.  So, I ordinarily I don’t get out much anyway.  And who would want to, we are in our dream home, in our dream location, with plenty of land, a working garden, my family around me.  Hubby the Gardener has always worked from home, although now may be time to oust him from the kitchen table and back into his workspace that he never really returned to after the summer break.   I have a furry shadow in Jasper the Dog who delights in my every re-entry into the room and Fennel the Cat who occasionally graces me with her presence.   I live in paradise.

The view from our place

Looking out over my horizon, it is almost possible to believe that anything is amiss.

It was with a sense of bewilderment that we watched the world as we know it unfold.  We did feel a little safe as we are in New Zealand, in our little corner of the world away from the world’s troubles.  But it came here, little by little from tourists and kiwis who just wanted to come home to be safe.  We have to be thankful that our leaders took the bull by the horns and took swift action, but they are not new to dealing with traumatic events, with the terrorism attack that should have never occurred on our safe soil, a volcanic eruption and as a country we have vast experience of supporting one another in the face of natural disasters.

Salad seedlings

I confess to doing a bit of horticultural hoarding – well not really, just some lettuce seedlings, potting mix and onion seeds for sowing in April.

And now this in such a short space of time.  On the whole we are a resilient bunch and so when the Government announced on Monday lunchtime that we are going into lockdown for 4 weeks as of Wednesday night, we pretty much got our acts together and got it done.  There may have been a bit of chaos, but time was short and when they blow the starter whistle, I expect we will all be doing what we need to for the greater good.

Dead tomato plants

If I get bored I can always take down the summer crops that are still hanging in there…

When I was a kid, we used to play a game with all the neighbourhood kids, where we would all race out and hide somewhere and one kid would run around everyone’s backyards trying to find us.  The object of the game was to make it back to the safe place – our front porch without getting caught but if the finder found you, they would yell out – “Go Home Stay Home”.  So, today’s call to stay at home immediately takes me back to being a kid when the same words rung out across our neighbour and the same point, both then and now, is home is the safe place.

Romanesco broccoli seedlings

As for the future, I have seedlings but I won’t be eating these any time soon – hopefully the world will have become a lot safer when these Romanesco broccoli are on my plate in about 14 weeks – give or take.

For the next four weeks I’m not going anywhere.  My Doctor tells me I’m at high risk, not because of the MS strangely enough, but because of the medicines I take to control it.  But I am still here.   I can virtually get out and about and share what’s going on in my garden.  It would seem I’m not the only gardener doing this.  If I stripped my social media down to just my gardening groups you wouldn’t know there was anything wrong in the world and it would be a place full of flowers and colour, hopes and harvests and a load of bugs and other creepy crawlies requiring identification for the curious.

Butternut

If the worst comes to the worst we can have pumpkin soup… every night!

I have everything I need, except maybe not enough flour to make hot cross buns for Easter and I do regret not getting my hair done when I first thought of it weeks ago, but I kept putting it off.  But that is what hats are for.

Stay safe everyone.

Come again soon – I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

Do what you can to stay safe. 💚

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message
It is indeed strange times.  I’m doing well.  It hasn’t reached into my area yet, but everyone is cautious.  My community is being sensible and there is food in the supermarket and seedlings in the garden centre.  We are in a good place to hunker down and the garden will give me more than enough to do.

I just hope and pray everyone stays safe and well and we manage to somehow emerge on the other side of this, with a new found appreciation of all that we have.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Update:  just hours after writing this the Government has announced NZ will be in full lockdown by the end of Wednesday.  We have already hunkered down…  how quickly life as you know it can change.  Stay safe : o)  xxxx

Looking its best

I have a garden group visiting the garden today, probably the last for a while. But I do love having groups coming to visit, first and foremostly to share the garden love, as there is always the opportunity for it be a wonderful exchange of ideas.  A throw away comment made by someone that starts with “have you thought of…”  can completely revolutionise the way things get done in the future.

Garden path

This is a never been seen before view. With the deck extension for the new shed, it has meant the whole length of the garden path – passed the compost bins and up to the wild life pond has become free of clutter and looking good.

But it is also a fabulous opportunity for me to get my A into G and give the garden a deep tidy up lest it shame us all.  Especially at this time of year when the garden is grinding to a slow but inevitable halt and there are signs of decay and desolation everywhere.   Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of plants in full health and they will do us proud as they are shown off in their full glory.  But there are others that aren’t so flash – like the sweetcorn I harvested but left the stalks still standing so the garden didn’t look so empty.  It is autumn after all…

The garden

Not exactly in full flourish but looking good for the season it’s in.

Harvested sweetcorn stalks

Don’t look too closely at the sweetcorn, they are more of a prop than a plant at this point.

And the tomatoes are still hanging in there in their disease ridden state.  To add to the Pith Necrosis slowly spreading its way through the patch thanks to my meaningful but harmful pruning to improve airflow with secateurs not cleaned in between plants.  They also have the pysllid problem, but as we are well past the glory days of peak production (minus the peak production) I’ve become a bit lax in the battle.  And now as we enter the humidity of a warm moist autumn, I noticed powdery mildew is making an appearance.  But surprisingly they are still producing and ripening some fruit so I will leave them until the bitter end and all going well I will end up with enough stashed away in the freezer to make a batch of tomato relish to get us through the winter.  And then I will pull all the plants out and load them into the fire pit and they can symbolise the end of this horrible season with bit of a celebration as we come around the fire to enjoy the lingering warmth of an early autumn evening.

Sorry looking tomatoes

This is a sorry looking patch of tomatoes, but while there is still fruit being produced then they can stay.

Tidy corner of the garden

Much to my shame this corner of the garden has never been clear of clutter … ever!

But aside from the plants, there is also an entire growing season of neglectful behaviour to clear away.  Without a reason this neglectful behaviour has the potential to become a permanent feature.  A stack of empty pots left in a spot that was convenient at the time, can become the place were all empty pots end up over the season – a place where they were never intended to be or stay.   Weeds in far corners that have been allowed to gain a bit of a foothold are ripped away, revealing a potential project as ideas are tucked away for another day as the cleaning continues.  Often these ideas can become a distraction to the cleaning and tidying because a project is always much more fun than cleaning and tidying.  But with people coming, you just need to push on and get the job done.

Tidy greenhouse

This is the tidy side of the greenhouse. Behind the image are shelves chocked with clutter, but I can’t move them all just yet so they are best left where they are.

Corner of shame

This is my new corner of shame, but I can’t do anything about this until I’ve taken care of a ‘that’

And so, the garden has never looked better.  Well it has looked better – in times when the plants were actually in full healthy and lush in the height of the season, which makes you turn a blind eye to any mess.  But now in the almost nakedness of the garden, it has become tidy!  There are still corners of things to be done, as there are still projects on the go and so I can’t put this away until I’ve done that, and that isn’t ready yet because I’m waiting for something else.  But on the whole the garden is looking good… ish.

Garden office

I may need to move the pumpkins for now so the visitors can have somewhere to sit. I was also able find the cat statue I bought to remind us of poor wee Toast the Cat. She will be remembered better up on the deck.

It isn’t the best weather for a visit- it’s a bit gloomy but at least the rain that was forecast has been pushed off for a few more days.  Having said that we do need the water in the tank sooner rather than later so I would appreciate it if the boffins didn’t keep changing their minds.

Come again soon – with a tidy garden there isn’t anything left to do for the meantime except exciting projects.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

You should always grow at least one thing you’ve never grown before.

You never know – you might find a new LOVE.

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

This season I’ve grown Lady Godiva pumpkin, grown for the seeds not the flesh. It is almost too lovely to open up! 
I have a garden that is dedicated to the ‘odds  and sods’ and last minute must haves, although I think I may have fallen in love with too many new things as there isn’t much room left in it for anything else.    
Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Monday Message:

Make places in the garden to sit.
How can you appreciate all you have achieved if you don’t stop and look every once in a while?

Sarah the Gardener Monday Message

I have loads of places to sit in my garden.  My swing seat overlooking it all is great for watching the sun set into the ocean at the end of a hard day in the garden, I have a chair on my deck, so I can sit with a dirty butt and have a cuppa tea in the shade. There is the comfy chair in my office shed that I have been known to take a snooze in and there is also my desk chair in there, but that is more for doing work and then there are a couple of new bench seats so I can share my garden with my friends.

I have no excuse not to sit in my garden once in a while!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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