SARAH THE GARDENER

Letting go of summer days

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

Summer garden

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

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

Zucchini

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

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

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The grand plan for the winter garden of 2017

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

Broccoli

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

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

Brassica seeds

Winter will be full of hearty goodness with these wonderful brassicas

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

Eggplant

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

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

Leeks

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

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

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

Carrots and spuds

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

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

Peas and beans

Peas and beans for late autumn and early spring green goodness

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

Onion seeds

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

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

Parsnips

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

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

Leafy Greens

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

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

Late Summer garden

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

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

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

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Off with their heads

I’m starting to get the hang of this flower garden thing.  Especially with my fabulous organisational sector system.  Instead of being rather low on the priority list – because they are only flowers, they now get seen to every Friday.  Having said that, the poor plants in the old Friday sector do suffer a little from end-of-week-itis as opposed to those in the Monday sector which get the bright-and-early treatment.  But now I am actually spending time with them, instead of passing them by with an “I’ll get to you soon” mentality that is tinged with guilt.

Bee on echinacea

I love how the flowers bring bees into the garden

I like having the flowers there and have even begun to pick them and bring them indoors.  Although my flower arranging leaves a lot to be desired.  My most successful arrangements to date are when a single stem zinnia graces a small narrow necked vase.  I have loads of these about the place and they last for ages.

Bee on zinnia

Even bedraggled flowers have an allure to the bees

I have even got tough with myself and strictly pull out self-seeded flowers that emerge beside the weeds from the seeds deposited from a couple of seasons worth of neglect.  The flower garden is now much more orderly – well it is supposed to be a cutting garden, and gone are the days when I allowed self-seeded pumpkins and tomatoes to run rampant through it all!

alissium with bay

I didn’t even plant these, I have no idea where they came from. That’s probably why they’re doing so well

I have discovered some that I have planted are perennials and come back year after year, unfortunately, I have changed the layout and I’m not entirely sure I want them where they are. Others I thought were perennials were in fact biennials and disappeared without a trace in year three.   I can’t believe I’ve being trying to master flowers for three years now.  But to be fair as I was mostly disorganised in the garden it was more of a plant out and fend for yourself kind of operation.  I mean they were just flowers after all.

Beans

Harvesting beans for tea is a form of deadheading. Who would have thought it?!

I am discovering they actually have a lot in common with veggies.  For example, if I stagger my plantings of sunflowers then I can enjoy them throughout the summer as they seem to grind to a halt midsummer if you start them too early and then a summer storm blows through leaving them quite bedraggled. This isn’t too dissimilar to succession planting of my lettuce or carrots as I quite like to have them available all season long so replant regularly.

I think I may have fallen a little for dahlias

I think I may have fallen a little for dahlias

The other thing is I’m always telling people with veggies – especially peas and beans, the more you pick the more you get.  Well it turns out, being as flowers are plants too, the same applies!  While I may not be able to pick every single flower like I would with the peas, and bring them inside to hideously arrange, and besides it is nice to leave a few to look nice in the garden, the same rules apply.

Dahlia buds

Take care deadheading dahlias – the pointy buds are the spent flowers and the round button ones are the new flowers to be. Don’t chop the wrong ones off.

With peas and beans if you miss a few and they are allowed to go from sweet young tender pods into hard, inedible seeds, then the plant thinks it has done its job, created progeny and its future is secure, so it stops and pretty much dies.  Flowers are exactly the same.  When you pick all its potential offspring off the plant, it shrugs it off and starts again attempting to create new seed for the future.

So you should pick all you can, and for those left behind then when they get a bit sad and tired, cut them off, before they get to the setting seed stage.  In some situations, if a flower is allowed to set seeds they can quickly become a weed.  They also go from being a thing of beauty to an eyesore.

Dead head flowers

Even the trimmings headed for the compost look pretty

And there is a strange pleasure to be found by lingering in the garden with a good pair of scissors doing a bit of deadheading and snipping off the heads of old and tired flowers.  If you do it often there often isn’t much to do, and as you work your way across the plant you will find more emerging flower buds waiting for their chance to bloom in the sunshine and you end up with a display that seems to last forever, or until the frost comes along and wipes them out for good.

Come again soon – I wonder what flowers I can sow now for some winter colour

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

We need a lake

I have spent a lot of time over the years just plodding about in my own garden and this made me perfectly happy.  I love my garden and I wake up every morning and feel blessed to be living where we do.  It is my slice of paradise and gives me all I need – all the vegies we can eat, an incredible vista, all the space in the world for my kids to run around in, a garden to enjoy and a meagre income to be earned from the fact that we live here.  So at the end of the day it is fair to say I don’t get out much.  And I’m ok with that.

Just one of the many delightful lake vistas

Just one of the many delightful lake vistas

But last week I got a call from the lovely Lynda Hallinan, to invite me to give a talk at her Heroic Garden Party. This leads into a wonderful weekend of garden visits for the Heroic Garden Festival where amazing gardens across Auckland throw open their gates with all funds raised going to Hospice.  It was such a worthwhile cause and an amazing invitation that I could hardly refuse.

The best thing is the venue for the garden party was the amazing Ayrlies Garden – a Garden of International Significance.  The weather had been rotten for the last few days and the boffins had said it would continue to be horribly rainy so it didn’t bode well.  No matter how incredible a garden is, loads of folk viewing it in the rain wouldn’t have been very nice at all.  But the day cleared to be lovely, but quite muggy and it was refreshing when the water was bubbling over rocks into gorgeous lakes rather than falling from the sky.

From the moment we arrived, you could tell it was an immaculately kept garden and with every turn of the path it didn’t disappoint.  I brought Hubby the Un-Gardener with me so he could lug all my stuff about the place and I thought it was fair enough he came garden visiting with me as I’ve been to a few boat shows so we need to even things up.  But even he was swept up by the grandeur of the place.  We perused the market place eying up all the cool bits and bobs for sale and resisted temptation to buy any plants.  I guess this is the upside of only really doing veggie gardening.  The vast array of plants before you look really amazing but you wouldn’t have the first idea how to care for them so you just admire them in their pots and walk on by with your money in your pocket.

But I looked at this garden and there was something about it that stirred something in me.  We need this in our slice of paradise. The restful nature of a large body of water, the dappled light through shady glades and the play of brightly coloured plants contrasting against pale ones.  Meandering paths that lead you on a journey through the garden and of course what better reason than to have statues, columns and objet D’art waiting to be discovered.  And hundreds of flowers of all different kinds, colours and shapes.   The garden was amazing and it made me long for something more from our roughly mown paddocks.  Besides they had to start somewhere all those years ago.

But I couldn’t linger in the beauty of the garden too long as I had to go off and give my talk on separating fact from fiction in the veggie garden, which was well received and is one of my favourite topics.  Every day I see so many illogical things being suggested to try on hapless gardens, so it is nice to be able to set the record straight.

We need a lake

We need a lake

Then before we knew it the day had drawn to a close and as we headed home, even Hubby the Un-Gardener was excitedly discussing the possibility of having a lake in our backyard.   Now my sector systems are working as well as I had hoped they would in the veggie patch, I think I can find some time to learn about the finer points of landscape gardening.   It won’t happen overnight, but I do sincerely hope it will happen.

Come again soon – it is almost time to get those cool season seeds started.  Where did my summer go?

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

If you want to find out more about Ayrlies Garden you can click >HERE<

Inauthentic Kimchi

February has mostly been kind so far, the days that have been hot and sunny have not disappointed and have been proper summer hot and sunny.  We just won’t talk about the other days…   But things in the garden are ripening up at a great rate of knots and it is fabulous to do my meal planning right there in the garden.

My beautiful Savoy Cabbage

My beautiful Savoy Cabbage

And with that, I was so proud to see my savoy cabbages were ready.  Two of them!  At the same time.  We’d never eat that much cabbage in one go so I had to think about ways to use up cabbage – a lot of cabbage.  The idea popped into my head,  “I know, I’ll make Kimchi.”  This was rather a strange thought as not only had I never made it before, but I’d never eaten it before.  It was going to be an interesting journey.

Hubby the Un-Gardener and the sheep

While waiting for the Kimchi, Hubby the Un-Gardener and I decide it was a good time to move the sheep. This actually went surprisingly well as there was potential for it to go horribly wrong… We’re not really farmers.

After a lot of research on the great big internet, I had a vague idea of how it should be done and headed off to our nearest Asian supermarket.  It had such a vast array of cool stuff that I didn’t know what it all was, but would love to have tried.  They didn’t have any Kimchi Powder – a key ingredient in Kimchi, but I didn’t leave empty handed.  I bought a grass jelly drink…  ummm yeah… interesting.  Do everything once and the fun things twice.  I think I’ll stick to once on this one.

Kimchi

Wow – I made Kimchi… of sorts. The aroma is amazing. I can’t wait to try it.

So I decided to create my own inauthentic Kimchi powder, which rested well enough with me as after my research I had discovered I have the wrong kind of cabbage.  I had a savoy and proper Kimchi is made with Napa cabbage. I’ve decided to grow one this winter in the off chance I actually like Kimchi.  The other key ingredient I didn’t have was a Daikon Radish, but I was committed to the project now and there was no stopping me so I substituted it for a Kolhrabi.  She’ll be right.

Now you can watch the bringing together of all these wonderful ingredients on my latest video.  You may want to grab some popcorn as it is a tad longer than my normal videos, but it will entertain you as I make my Inauthentic Kimchi.

Come again soon – I have my garden plan and I’m gathering seeds.  It’ll be sow time very soon.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Control at last

Finally, the weather blessed us with a fabulous weekend.  It was hot, blue sky amazing and perfect for time in the garden.  You could almost see the plants breathing a sigh of relief as they stretched out their leaves to receive the full impact of the sun.   And of course, I was out there revelling in it too, with a thick layer of sunscreen and a large bottle of water.  It was a fabulous day.

Sunny days

A full and vibrant garden, blue skies and warm weather. It doesn’t get better than this.

It is amazing how much you can get through when the conditions are perfect, the garden has never looked better.  The beds are now all mostly weed free – except the raspberries.  I have completely written off the bed, for now.  The flooding in the spring didn’t agree with them and they never really recovered so I abandoned the poor plants that languished there to their own devices.   When the weather cools down I’m going to completely empty out the bed and start again with fresh plants, fresh soil and an extra layer on my raised bed so we won’t have a repeat of the soggy season.

overgrown raspberries

Not my proudest moment, but my raspberries are not looking their best.

So aside from the shameful raspberries everything else looks as magnificent as could be for a season that hasn’t actually been ideal.   It is so nice to have the garden in a place of order and control so I can go forward into the year proactive not reactive and enjoy it a whole lot more.

Sunny days

The colours seem bright and beautiful when illuminated by the full sun.

Being in control also means you have a greater appreciation for what is going on.  It’s not  – “oh no the gherkins are ready again, I need to find time to process them…” It allows you time to examine the garden in detail and prepare for a coming glut, be instantly reactive to problems and enjoy just messing about in the garden instead of tackling it.

Painted mountain corn pollen tassels

The great colours on the painted mountain corn highlights the pollen tassels so well.

As I worked my way across the garden this weekend I was able to notice the cycle of the garden, as the sweetcorn is on the verge of being ready, the strawberries are pretty much over and now is the time to consider what it needs for the next season.  Then of course are the seeds still to be sown for the cold season to come.  Nothing stands still and the life of the garden is a constantly entertaining thing, if you don’t allow it to overwhelm you and get lost in the ‘out of control’.

I managed to capture some of this summer sunshine and preserve for viewing in cold weather so I can feel the sun radiate from the screen and onto my frozen winter face.  You can check out this sunshine too in my latest video talking about how to tell when sweetcorn is ready and what to do with end of season strawberries and a bit of a wee tour of my fabulous in control summer garden.

Come again soon – we shall be talking about cabbages and kings.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Making plans… again

Well now we find ourselves on the front door of February.  Late summer.   And now in what should be the height of seasonal fun and frivolity, with BBQs every night and picnics every day, swimming at the beach at every opportunity, basking in all that is glorious about the sunny season.  But I’m just not feeling it.  It is a lovely blue sky day… and an hour weeding in the late afternoon works up a sweat – not that I sweat, ladies ‘glow’ – but yesterday most of the day was raining and gloomy.

Brassica bed

Gaps are appearing everywhere, as we slowly work our way through the broccoli, cauliflower and kohlrabi, the brassica bed becomes more gappy than a 6 year old’s smile.

As much I hate to relinquish my hopes for a descent summer, now is the time to plan for winter.  Normally I miss this window as I don’t want to believe it is possible to let go of the wonderful endless, blue sky days and leave it until the very last minute.   This year I’m just keen for a fresh start and so shall plan meticulously, weighing up the pros and cons of each variety that will grace my garden over the winter months, that will lift my heart when I look out on a bleak, cold day and see thing growing and not just a sea of mud.

Luffa

This luffa is in the middle of my cucumber bed and I love to grow them, but takes an age to be ready, long after the cucumbers are gone. This delays this bed from being used for anything useful as the season draws to a close.

I will consider the garden as a whole and work out what will be best to go where, instead of just filling gaps like I normally do.  This leads to so much difficulty as often the crop isn’t finished by the time I need the garden for the spring things.  Having said that, this could also be down to my poor organisation in previous years that leads me to the late start to the cool crop season.

Odds and sods bed

This bed is also opening up. I dug up the popcorn that was still languishing there since the terrible attack by some vile creature. I also took out the epazote as it ended up looking more like a seed fest… it is important to find out everything you can before introducing something unfamiliar into your garden and finally I accidentally removed my stevia by standing on it, but all is not lost I’ve taken cuttings and it roots very easily in a jar of water! I also trimmed back the tomatillo because at the end of the day, while cool to grow it, I don’t really love it enough to have it take over the garden.

What beds don’t find themselves with crops in, because let’s face it,  the choice in winter while varied is nowhere near as vast as the summer options, will have cover crops in them to help replenish the organic matter taken from the garden during the long summer months.  Even this in itself requires careful consideration because while mustard is said to have beneficial properties to cleanse the soil, it is a brassica so can’t interfere with the crop rotation, because the last thing I want to do is introduce club root to my garden.

Corn

The corn isn’t far from being ready, and then an entire bed will come free, but the garlic will take it’s place in midwinter, so what ever goes in here needs to be quick – maybe a lupin cover crop to replace what the hungry corn is currently sucking out of the soil.

I would also like to grow more wheat as this year’s crop was just enough to mulch the strawberries and I’d really like to take this further.  When you have a large garden, mulch is an expensive proposition.  But I can’t just put it in any old bed, it needs to go into one that won’t be needed until about mid – late spring as the wheat seems to always take it to the very last moment before being ready for harvest, and in the meantime, I have plants in pots, desperate to go in.

Onion bed

With the shallots gone, all that is left in this one bursting with life garden is the leeks and some spring onions and a vast expanse of possibility…

Then if there is any odd bed that doesn’t fit in then I can smother it with some lovely well-rotted poop my farmer friend delivered to me by the tractor bucket load the other day and the earthworms can work it all in.

Celeriac

The celeriac is looking fabulous this year, and will be ready soon. There are only six of them so they will be gobbled up soon enough leaving a row sized gap in my leafy greens.

I think I’m going to need to sit down with a clear head and a large cup of tea and work this all out.  Deciding what to grow and where to put it; considering my crop rotation;  how long things take in the winter months – which is a lot slower than summer;  what needs to go in where in the spring, because some things can go in earlier and some things need to go in later when it is warmer; which cover crops and where to fit in my wheat already seems like a lot to figure out.  Just getting to this point where it is no longer floating about in my head, but safely on paper feels like a good start.

Come again soon – I’ll let you know what I decide to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Marrow Chips

Marrow chips

This is an amazing bowl of deliciousness. Marrow chips have to be the next big thing. Try it – you won’t regret it.

Is that even a thing?  Well it is now, especially in our house as I crunch my way through a bowl of deliciousness.  With the holidays behind us and routine returning to normal, much to our surprise the sun decided now was a good time to shine and the weather has been glorious.  This is what summer is all about.  Then what happens?  …  another holiday.  A long weekend to celebrate the anniversary of Auckland.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a holiday as much as the next person, and we only have one more long weekend before the long run to Easter, but when you work from home and your hobby and your job is your garden, then sometimes leaving it is hard to do.

Marrow

Take your marrow / over sized zucchini…

Sometimes it is hard for the garden too.  With the first decent spell of good weather, the plants thrived in the sunshine, but at the same time it competed with it for the moisture remaining in the soil.  It doesn’t take long to go from sodden to dry in the heat of midsummer.  The beans plumped up and needed harvesting in quantities not seen before this summer, the tomatoes ripened, the strawberries put on a second wind and the cucumbers continued to go nuts, producing more than enough.  The new potatoes and carrots I popped in the other day peaked through the soil to bask in the warmth of the day and the zucchinis quickly turned from being too small to being too big in the few short days we were away.

Marrow quartered

… and quarter it.

Most of the produce harvested were easy to treat, a quick blanch of the beans and into the freezer, tomato and cucumber salads and sandwiches for everyone and the gherkins got pickled.  The strawberries – well they were just a treat, quickly gobbled up by all.  But the marrows were a problem.  I could stuff them with my favourite meatloaf mix, but we’d need to eat them every day to clear the back log and with so many other yummier vegetables I’m not sure how this would have gone down.  Even dicing them and smothering them in cheese sauce seemed like an option, but not really a dish to celebrate this magnificent weather.   This is salad season.

Marrow deseeded

With a large spoon, scoop out all the seeds.

Then I thought … hmmm I wonder.  This is often a risky course of events as not everything goes according to plan.  But waste not want not and all that, I decided to try to make marrow chips.

Peeled marrow

Next, peel off the tough outer skin

A good size marrow was selected to start with – not too big in case we didn’t like them but not too small in case we loved them and quartered it lengthwise.  Then I scooped out the seeds and peeled it.  The next bit could have been tedious, but I got a cool new gadget for Christmas that slices and grates at the press of a button and makes the job quick and easy.  So, I attached the slicer and ran the marrow through to get what looked like good chip sized slices that were about 3mm thick.

Sliced marrow

Slice your marrow into thin slices – although I’d make them bigger than these.

Note:  I have to add, that next time, I will slice by hand and try to replicate the thin perfect slices the machine delivers, as I was limited by the size of the input chute which turned out to be a little too small.

marrow chip flavourings

Mix up the juice of half a lemon, sunflower oil, salt and sugar (clockwise in the picture) Cracked black pepper is missing from this line up.

The slices were then transferred to a large bowl and I added the juice of half a lemon, a pinch of sugar to take the sharp edge off the lemon, a dash of salt, because chips are supposed be a bit salty, some sunflower oil to make it all stick together and a bit of cracked pepper as an afterthought and mixed it all together so all the chips were well coated.  So essentially, I made a vinaigrette.  The options to get creative here are endless and next time I may try crushed garlic, white wine vinegar and finely chopped rosemary, or the oil you get in the sundried tomato jar, a splash of balsamic vinegar with finely chopped and crushed basil.   Yummo.

marrow chip flavourings

Add the flavourings and mix well.

I left them all to marinate as long as my patience would bear… so about 5 minutes.  Longer would have been better, but the flavour was still very good.  Then I carefully placed them on oiled dehydrator trays so they weren’t touching, set the dehydrate to the top setting and kept it on until the marrow was crispy. It probably took about 8 hours, but I’m not sure if this is the setting you are supposed to use as my instruction manual was lost years ago.  I do most things on full these days with no real adverse effects.   And for the marrow chips it seems it was the perfect setting for golden crunchy slithers of delight.   The drying did cause them to shrink quite significantly and so next time I’ll keep them thin, but make them bigger – the bigger the better.

dehydrating marrows

Lay them out on the dehydrator. Do your best to make sure they aren’t touching.

And in record time my family devoured an entire marrow in four minutes flat and were looking for more.  I have to say this is the best use of what is normally an undesirable by-product of a moments inattention in the garden.  The chickens often get marrow as a summer treat, but not anymore.   I may even deliberately let zucchinis go beyond that young small, sweet, tender stage, just so we can make chips.   I wonder what the yellow ones will be like……

Dehydrated marrow chips

Dehydrate until they are crispy and crunchy, then gobble up noisily. So very good.

I love it when a crazy plan turns out even better than expected.

Come again soon – the garden is bursting with inspiration.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Rain on a summers day

I’m not moaning, but this summer has really not been what you imagine summer to be. It has been cold and miserable and I have done nothing but complain about it for weeks. And then we had the storm. But the thing is, while I was busy being busy with the festive season and all of the holiday stuff, it changed… by stealth. Not being in my garden as much as I would have liked, I failed to notice that it had changed for the better. In the 26 days between the last most significant rainfall which was a doozy at 11mm and the storm, there were 21 days without so much as a drop of rain.

garden fountain

The sound of falling water on a hot summers day is enough to feel refreshed – but plants need more than sound.

The temperatures haven’t really been up there though and have averaged a high of only 23°C in the those 26 days, which is hardly warm enough to lure me for a summer swim in  the ocean. Along with the less than ideal temperature, the endless blue skies that are the quintessential picture of summer have also been mostly absent, hidden behind bleak and gloomy clouds. All of these things conspire to slow everything down for the season, which explains why I have had to wait longer for my tomatoes to ripen.
And then after days of nothing, it rained. Only for a bit, but we ended up with a whopping 13mm, before the sun came out briefly and began to dry things out again. However, it wasn’t enough to begin to repair the deep cracks appearing in the ground.

Rain gauge

13mm seems like a lot – but is it?

It is just as well my poor old garden has continued to be watered well throughout the growing season – either by the rain in the early months or by the hose more recently. Sometimes a good thirst quenching rain is the best kind of watering as it tends to cover the garden far better than the hose can. But even then, it shouldn’t be relied upon and you may still need to water after the rain. The leaves of the plants themselves can divert the water away from the root zone or it may be enough for the surface, but it won’t have gone down deep. The best way to tell how well the rain or the hose for that matter has restored the soil to a moist state is to dig a hole and just see for yourself.

Dry ground

Some pretty deep cracks have been forming

As you can see from my small hole after that day’s rain that it really wasn’t enough and would only serve to encourage roots near the surface, making them vulnerable in days to come when it dries out again. You really need to water deeply to encourage the plants to send down roots deep into the soil to seek out the moisture that will be found there long after the surface layer has dried out under the warmth of the summer sun. This makes it easier for the soil in the root zone to stay evenly moist.

Checking for rain penetration

All that rain really hasn’t penetrated very deep at all!

That is generally what you are after – the elusive prize of consistently moist soil, and not just in the top layer, so just sprinkling the hose about the place as you race past your plants isn’t going to cut it. Just because the soil looks wet doesn’t mean it is. Watering deeply every 2 – 3 days is much better than a squirt daily. Having said that – it helps to know your soil. A sandy soil will need more frequent deep watering as it is so free draining, all the water will drain away. I’m blessed. My soil used to be a swamp so it holds onto the water well and I can get away with a deep watering once a week.

Beware of rain shadows

Beware of rain shadows

Between watering however, the surface can dry out and crust over, which can actually act like a kind of mulch as it retains moisture in the soil below it. In order to get the water to penetrate this crust you should water in stages – firstly a gentle burst from the sprayer and allow the water to seep into this layer and open the pores in the soil to allow more water to enter. If you don’t do this, then the water will just roll away from where you need it to be. Then come back and water some more – generously this time, but if it starts to pool on the soil, take a break and then once it has soaked in come back and do it again. A nursery man I was once helped out, told me to water the plants in his greenhouses three times for the most efficient watering.

You can only do what you can only do, but watering first thing in the morning before the day heats up is the best time. This gives the plants a chance to have a good drink before the sun heats up and starts to evaporate any spare moisture lying around. If you can’t do mornings, then unwinding with a glass of your favourite chilled beverage in one hand and a hose in the other is a great way to end the day. Although, don’t leave it too late, you want the warmth of the late summer sun to dry off some of the water to avoid plants hanging around in humid conditions overnight as this can just invite disease and no one wants that.

rain droplets on broccoli leaves

There is much debate about water droplets magnifying the plants and burning the leaves in the midday sun… some say it’s true and others declare it a myth

If you have no choice, then during the day will have to do, but you will end up wasting more water than necessary as the hot midday sun can almost evaporate the water as it comes out the hose – well not quite, but if you are paying for your water or have a precious source in a tank collected from what little rain summer brings, then you want to water intelligently.

This also means – water where the plant actually wants it – at the soil near the roots. Most of the plants water uptake is through the roots, so watering the leaves, while rinsing off dust and debris and making the energy producing photosynthesis more efficient, it can also promote fungal diseases like powdery mildew and blight. It can also cause the water to run away from where it is actually needed.

Watering in the rain

Don’t laugh but watering in the rain may be necessary

Getting the watering right over the summer months will ensure plants stay healthy, so I shall head out into my garden in spite of the recent rain, check the soil and give them a proper drink if needed.

Come again soon – the kids are going back to school next week – maybe the sun will come out properly!

Sarah the Gardener : o)

For more information about getting the most out of watering your garden check out this great advice from the good people at Gardena: > 10 Golden Rules for Watering <

And if you want to learn a cool trick to find out how to stop your new hose from kinking and twisting and being difficult to use, check out my video that will solve all your problems:

It was a dark and stormy night

I have to say I’m really struggling with this summer.  Just when the busy is behind me and normal life stretches before me in a gentle ebb and flow of routine and I begin to enjoy the garden again – we get a storm!  Really?! Some high areas even got snow! This is not the summer I was looking for.  I feel so cheated.  We haven’t had that perfect summer for years.  We’re owed it.   And this frustration seems to bring out the worst in me because all I seem to do is moan about the weather.  I’m not normally a moaner.  I’m a happy go lucky, carefree garden lover.  I love growing food in my garden but this period of seasonal adversity is driving me nuts.

Wind damaged cornflowers

My cornflowers were the hardest hit and the worst of the damage. I should snip off the broken stems and plonk them in a vase. Nothing wasted.

While the storm for many was quite devastating and many gardens were torn to shreds overnight and months of work, just days from fruition were destroyed, I have been blessed.  There was very little damage.   My own mother was out there in her garden at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to rescue her tomatoes.   The bamboo poles supporting them had given way under the combination of very strong winds and very heavy, almost ripe tomatoes.  My tomatoes are still standing and are looking well.  I put this down to the steel bars I have been using this year.  Even the gherkins have remained steadfast, in spite of their self-imposed sagging.  The continual tweaking and improving the way I garden has ,in this instance, stood up to the test.

Wind tossed sunflowers

My poor sunflowers are all in disarray. But to be honest they were starting to be past their best and most of the petals had already shriveled and dropped off.

The weather now has a weak sun trying to push through and shine on a day that is overcast with clouds being whisked by at a great rate of knots as the storm reluctantly calms down.  The boffins are suggesting things will return to a proper summer by the end of the week.

Sweetcorn

I put the fact the sweetcorn is still standing down to my elaborate network of bamboo poles and string that I put in when I sowed the seed. The wind may have pushed the corn but it was held up by the string so could not fall far at all.

But in the meantime, the best I can do is wrap up warm – although not sock and beanie warm, and head out to the garden and set things right and then come inside and watch the video I made last week and feel the summer radiate out of the screen and hope the lovely days return very soon.  Check out my latest video where I show you how I hang my onions:

https://youtu.be/gwUmsMOzWaU

Come again soon – the sun will shine again and I promise to stop complaining about the weather for the rest of summer, even if it is horrible again.  (Well, I’ll  do my best)

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

OK Garden – what can you teach me?

We are now just passed the middle of the middle of summer.  Although strangely enough the weather in the first half of summer is always a bit rubbish and the second half is generally much more settled.  But we tend to get it all wrong – the holidays are in the first half and the kids go back to school in the second…  But anyway, finally all the holiday things are behind us – there are no more festive occasions to mark in grand style and we have gently fallen back into the ebb and flow of normal life again.

Summer days

The garden does look lovely on a sunny day

But not without one last camping session.  Don’t get me wrong, because I really did enjoy myself, but I’m not sure I’m a camping kind of girl.  Going to bed in a cold and slightly damp tent, with nothing more than a millimetre of fabric separating you from whatever is roaming about outside… in the dark!  Not to mention sleeping on an airbed that isn’t inflated correctly, then waking up to a searing heat so intense it drives you from the tent in the early hours that you’d never normally see.  But in order to get out of the tent you have to crawl on your hands and knees in a most undignified fashion as there is no standing room.   Yeah, not sure camping is my thing…

Hanging onions

The first batch of onions are hanging nicely in my shed.

But we’re back now, doing life in the ordinary way.  I’ve set about restoring order in the garden, not that there has been much to restore, this season the garden is in a good place and I’m grateful for that.  So I can rightly stand with my hands on my hips and look at the garden and try and find out what it is trying to tell me, things I should really do differently next season to improve the garden and all that grow in it.

destroyed popcorn

This is such a heart breaking sight to come home to. My poor popcorn.

Firstly – once again, some vile creature stripped my popcorn.  I didn’t even know it was ready.   Normally I’d leave it on the plant to dry and by the time it was ready it was late season and so I thought maybe it was a creature that was storing up food for the winter.  Then I started harvesting it earlier and letting it dry in the greenhouse, which seemed to work.  But this year I thought maybe if I planted it earlier, then it would be ready before the creature got hungry, but this clearly didn’t work. The harvest day fell while we were away and the marauding was able to carry on night after night until there were very few cobs left.  What I need to do differently is to calculate the harvest date to a time when all the camping and such is finished so I can keep an eye on things.  I also may need some kind of deterrent or physically cage my popcorn once the ears form….  Hmm this requires some thought…

Gherkin trellis

I think a solution to the sagging will improve airflow and make the gherkins easier to harvest.

This season I have replaced all my bamboo poles with steel rebar.  Not only did it turn out cheaper but the strength it offers is beyond compare.  Nothing has snapped under the weight of plants laden with full fruit or tossed about in the slightest of breeze.  I’m hooked on these.  However I think the trellis supporting the cucumbers and gherkins needs attention.  With a pole at each end of a nylon netting that starts the season stretched tight, has not stayed that way.  The gherkins instead of climbing the netting, have pulled it down towards them and gherkins are surprisingly strong and the poles have taken on a distinct lean.  So next season I’m going to need something across the top that will keep the poles upright and at the correct distance apart to resist the lean and also will be able to hold the top edge of the netting to stop the sag.  It is all very easy to suggest this, but I’m not sure how to connect whatever it will be, securely to the top of the rebar.  I’m going to need to ponder this.

Melons in pots

I can’t believe I’m showing you this disgraceful sight. I really should take better care of my melons.

In order to get a bigger onion crop and a bigger melon crop – I got greedy.  I did the same for my garlic and peppers and in theory it should have worked.  The onions and garlic are generally due out on the longest day which is usually a miserable un-summer-like day just before Christmas.  So I figured if I could only just hold back the peppers and melons in containers until the onion and garlic come out and then pop them in their place to carry on growing all season.  It also gives a use to this empty bed that I normally don’t really know what to do with.    Now I’ll freely admit some of this problem is mine as I didn’t plant the waiting plants into big enough containers so they could continue to grow unhindered.  I ran out of time and didn’t have enough big enough pots.  I’ll need to find some.  But one thing happened that I didn’t expect, but probably should have – the weather has been horrible for summer and everyone is saying things are slower than normal, even my onion growing farmer friend across the road.  Added to that the ‘fun’ of camping and my onions have only just come out of the bed I need for the melons, almost a month longer than I’d planned for.

Pepper plants

While still quite productive, my peppers aren’t as big as they have been in previous years.

So the melons are languishing in pots too small in my absence in increasingly hotter weather.   I don’t hold out great hopes.  The garlic came out earlier than expected due to the rust, but the peppers aren’t as lush as they normally are.   So I think in order to learn from this for next season – is I need to be diligent with my plants in pots care.  I need to ensure they are in the right sized pots and are lavished with love and attention until the time is right to move them.  I still think this a sound idea that just needs tweaking.

flowers

It isn’t all bad – the flowers are fabulous.

These are just the obvious problems that stare at me and taunt me each time I go into the garden, but if I look closer I’ll see I’ve too many zucchini – what was I thinking? and the butternuts could probably do with more space, I should give up on the catch-up sweetcorn and just make sure the seed is fresh to start with, besides the pukekos just keep pulling them out anyway!  I need to go for a wander in the garden with my notebook and take notes – and then make plans and put them in place next season.

Come again soon – most of the garden is well and thriving, but growing as a gardener is just as important as having the plants growing.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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