SARAH THE GARDENER

Taking a hard line with my soft fruit

The soft fruit in my garden have been on a bit of a journey.  One that began in a place of unfamiliarity and good intentions and a bit of a learning curve.  Now they are on the straight and narrow and are being cared for in a way that clearly pleases them as they are bearing much fruit and of course that pleases me.

Blackcurrants

In order to get an abundance of delish currants you have to take some hard action

As a gardener who likes order and structure in my garden – hence my carrots in straight-ish rows and specific beds for specific plants, I initially put all my fruit plants in the orchard because that’s where the fruit should be.  Except the strawberries.  They were in the veggie garden close to the house because I knew you had to pick them every day in the height of the season.  But what I didn’t fully appreciate was most of the other soft fruit were also of a little and often nature.

black currant in need of a prune

This black currant is in desperate in need of a prune.

I had managed to convince myself that I’d go to the orchard regularly to tend to them, but I was kidding myself, because the orchard is ‘down the far end.’  Not miles away by any stretch of the imagination, but far enough to make wading through long grass everyday a bit of a chore.  It is all very well for the big trees as they are more of a once every so often kind of crop.  Taking care of them is like a destination activity – you go there and get the job done and then it’s done, be it pruning or harvesting.   We put the orchard ‘down the far end’ so we would have a reason to go to the far reaches of our vast three acres.  So, to go there daily was little more than wishful thinking.

Gardena bypass pruning lopper

Good quality loppers

 So my poor black and red currants, blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries suffered horrible neglect in their formative years, and I hardly got to taste more than a morsel.  It was my own fault and once I realised this, I carefully dug them up and replanted them closer to home in the veggie garden.  However this was still not the end of their traumatic existence.  I planted them directly into our swamp soil on a strip of land I had stolen in a sneaky land grab.  Hubby the Un-Gardener didn’t want me to extend the garden much further.   Now the fruit are in the second row from the back, not on the outside edge like they once were.  I really need a fence to contain myself.

Before pruning black currant

Before pruning black currant. To be honest I’d never really done it well – pruning can be quite intimidating.

Before pruning black currant

After pruning black currant. I wavered nervously before making the first chop. But once I was into it each next cut seemed logical. I was like a maniac with the loppers.

What I didn’t realise was this land lay slightly lower than the rest of the garden, and so they stood in soggy soil more than once.  To add insult to injury I didn’t have my wonderful sector system back then where weeding takes place on a weekly basis, and as they were at the back and didn’t do much for most of the year I may have forgotten to weed them from time to time. So I built them their own little raised beds and they looked so cute.  But they were too small to manoeuvre the lawn mower around them and it just wouldn’t do.  So I dug them up once more and built more sensible sized raised beds and they are finally happy and have gone on to thrive.

Gardena loppers to prune blackcurrant

Make sure you have the best tools to make light work of the job

They are weeded regularly, their irrigation needs are met thanks to my wonderful new system.  They even get feed routinely and in return they bear fruit.  I had enough blackcurrants for the first time this season to make jam and cordial.  There were loads of blueberries and I ate every single one as I toiled in my garden this summer. They were delicious.   The raspberries haven’t faired as well, as they are in the new back row and their raised beds weren’t high enough and they drowned.  But that’s a task for another day.  The gooseberries – well you can’t tell for looking but they aren’t the original ones.  I think these are the fourth version of themselves, but I really don’t won’t to count because they weren’t cheap.

Pruning red currants

The red currant didn’t need as much of a chop as the black currant. Just a bit of a tickle to remove dead and crossing branches, After the black currant, I really didn’t feel I’d done enough – but they are two different creatures with different needs. They will both be fine.

So there they all are – my soft fruit.  All happy and healthy and I’d like to keep them that way, so I’m going to chop them up a bit.  Gosh that sounds harsh for something that has had such a hard life.  But you have to be cruel to be kind.  They are in for a pruning.  The blueberries should escape the too much attention as unless there are dead or dying branches it is best to leave them be.  The gooseberries are still too small to get a chop and I’d hate to do something to them that would result in version five.

Soft fruit row

And with that, the soft fruit row is now ready for the new season… I can hardly wait.

So the main focus of my secateurs and loppers will be my currants.  It turns out the red currants need to be treated differently from the black currants.

Black currants like to produce fruit on young wood so they need to be reduced by about a third every year. This means effectively every year the oldest stems up to a third of the plant need to be removed to just above a healthy bud down in the base of the plant.  That should leave behind about 10 stems that are 1 – 2 years old so the plant stays youthful and vigorous forever!  Well actually I’m not sure about forever as a black currant bush tends to live for about 10 – 15 years.

Red Currants almost make it look like Christmas

Red Currants almost make it look like Christmas

Red currants on the other hand like to produce their fruit on old wood, so all you really need to do with these is to remove any dead, diseased and weak branches, any growing in the wrong direction and maybe open up the centre a bit for air flow and that’s about it.

And all going well there will be a fabulous harvest come the summerif I can beat the birds to the lovely jewel like berries.

Come again soon – we are getting deeper into winter, but the garden still calls to me.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Before and After

Today was one of those amazing blue sky days that winter graces us with from time to time.  There was not a cloud to be seen and not even a puff of wind.  Out of the shadow a warmth from the sun was discernible.  It was magic.  It was a day for gardening and gardening I did.

Asparagus fronds

BEFORE: Spent asparagus fronds do tend to look a little scruffy. Time to pull them down.

I started with the asparagus as the fronds were yellow and fading to brown, which is a sure sign the crown has sucked all the goodness out of it and stored it up for the new season.   As I cut down the first frond I had an idea that my poor fingers now regret, but it was so worth it. Instead of hauling it off to the compost heap, I decided to use is as a mulch back on the bed so the plant could continue to reclaim some of the goodies it had pulled from the soil back in the spring and summer.

After a check to make sure there were no pests or disease, I grabbed my handy secateurs and proceeded to chop all of the fronds into short lengths and popped them into my trolley for the time being.   It didn’t look like much but after over and hour of snipping and chopping the fronds from the first asparagus bed I filled a filled my trolley to overflowing.  Then I weeded the bed, enriched the soil with a thick layer of compost, some blood and bone and some sheep pellets.   The fronds were returned to the bed in a satisfying mulch layer.

Asparagus beds

AFTER: All clean and tidy and all we have to do now is wait for the delish asparagus spears to show up in a few months. I can hardly wait.

The process was repeated with the second asparagus bed and by the end of the morning the garden was once again transformed.  An area of height was reduced and the outlook is completely different.  The other thing that resulted from a morning of an extend period of snipping and chopping was three rather large blisters on my hands, but it was worth it.

Garlic bed

BEFORE: The early garlic is coming along nicely, and the other half of the bed is waiting for its crop to be planted

The next task at hand was a bit of a doddle.  It was a couple of weeks early if you go by the old wives tale but the packet assured me now was a good time to plant my garlic.  The early garlic is racing ahead and looks promising.  Hopefully it will get big enough before the rust strikes, although it would be nice to avoid that this year.

Garlic bed

AFTER: 30 small cloves have been tucked into the soil and a blanket of pea straw pulled over them to keep them safe as they grow

I couldn’t remember if I’d enriched the entire bed when I planted the first lot of garlic or just the half I planted out, so I chucked in a few extra bits and bobs just to be sure.  I planted 30 Presto and 30 Takahue cloves so now we have 120 possible garlic bulbs to harvest in the summer and last us all year.  This is the plan and I intend to stick to it – the environmental conditions will just have to conform to the plan too.    To reduce the risk of fungal spore splash back from the soil I put a lovely layer of pea straw mulch over the bed.  The new shoots should have no trouble growing up through when they decide to emerge.  All of the bending over did however, make my poor old back a bit stiff.

weedy garden bed

BEFORE: To the untrained eye there looks like there is no coming back from this nightmare. It would be easier to run the mower over it can call it lawn. But I need the space.

Finally with the afternoon beginning to wane, I tackled one last bed – my in ground mixed bed.  It was an overgrown weedy mess.  The soil was still damp-ish and to work my way across it would have been nothing short of a nightmare and would take forever.  So I took the easy way out.  I grabbed some of the big boxes from the replacement fridge and freezer for the ones that died in the flooding.  I was almost more excited to have such great quantities of cardboard than I was the shiny new appliances.  I’m sure the delivery guys thought I was a tad weird when I did a happy dance when they said I could keep it.

I didn’t even chop the weeds back or pull any of the nasty ones out.  I just laid the cardboard over the top, weighted it all down and all I have to do now is wait.  I’ve got plenty of time before I need the bed in the spring, so if there are stubborn weeds I can repeat the process.  It should take about six weeks to clear the bed and the worms love the cardboard.  The rotting weeds will add organic material and the bed will be amazing.

sheet mulching

AFTER: And in no time at all the problem has been taken care of with very little effort. I like this sheet mulching method if you’ve got the time.

As I stood back to admire my handiwork, I noticed the sinking sun was leaving a chill in its wake and the damp knees in my pants made my kneecaps stiff with the cold, so I packed up my tools and hobbled away from the garden feeling rather pleased with myself.  With a bit of luck the gorgeous day will repeat itself tomorrow and I can do it all over again.  Maybe with some less strenuous tasks.

Come again soon – this winter is turning out to be the nicest season so far.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

New Season – New Friends

Winter made a dramatic entrance today, but was all puff and no substance.  It was all fog, but not really cold – not in the standard winter scheme of things.  Once the fog lifted it was a lovely sunny, mild day.  The kind of day you would expect from a gentle autumn.   I hope this is an indication of how things will continue for the next three months, but it probably won’t be.

old chickens and new chickens

One day soon we’ll be able to remove the fence between them and they can all be together – happy as Larry.

Not trying to moan too much about the last season, but we encountered a bit of a problem.  The chickens really didn’t give us many eggs at all.  Time has whizzed by so quickly that it never really dawned on us the chickens were getting a bit elderly at 8 and 9 years old.  That is about the equivalent of 80 – 90 year olds so no wonder they didn’t want to enter into a breeding program for us to refresh our flock.  Old Chicken the Rooster is probably firing blanks anyway.

The retirement village

The retirement village has everything an elderly chicken could possibly want – superfluous nesting boxes and swings should they want to recapture their youth.

So instead of being accused of being freeloading good for nothings – they have been allowed to take it easy and enjoy a life of leisure with no expectations placed upon on them.  If they want to lay an egg then all good and well but if not that’s ok too.  The coop became a retirement village.

Caged Chicken meets free rooster

‘Hello, I’m Chicken and I’ll be your rooster. I’m really sweet and gentle. You’ll love me’

This didn’t help with our egg situation and we had to resort to purchasing eggs.  They just weren’t the same.  The yoke wasn’t as nice and rich but we didn’t need to crack it into a bowl first to avoid a potential nasty surprize that is always a risk when you have a rooster and the kids collect the eggs.

Buying eggs was a bit of an eye opener after not buying eggs for the better part of a decade.  There are different varieties depending on your social consciousness.  There are organic, free range, eco, colony, barn, uncaged, caged and one that doesn’t say for those who don’t want to know.  Of course, the prices also varied greatly.  Organic were the most expensive and the poor caged eggs have very little value.

Caged chicken

This chicken is in average condition. Some have more feathers and some have less. It isn’t right that some of God’s precious creatures are treated in this way. This is where caged eggs come from.

Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to increase our flock with a youthful vigour, and in doing so saving 6 poor wee souls from a life in cages.   Our new chickens have been adopted from a group of 1600 chickens  that were rescued from a caged chicken farm.   Having seen these poor bedraggled birds, it upsets me that they have spent the first eighteen months of their lives living in such an unnatural way.

fresh leaves and chicken

‘This is silver beet and rainbow chard – you can eat it’ They still hadn’t figured it out by the end of the day. The leaves on the other side of the fence got gobbled up in no time by the old dears.

But they are with us now and things are about to get a whole lot better for them.   I’ve set them up for now in the lamb’s quarters with their own roost, nesting boxes and outside area.  It is right next to the actual coop separated by a fence so they get used to their soon to be geriatric roomies.

It has been interesting to watch them explore their new world.  At first, they were reluctant to come outside, but Chicken the Rooster, sensing they were there, called gently to them and they came over to the fence and they cooed back and forth.  He is such a sweet natured rooster and we love him for it.  Although the bravest of the 6 did stand up for the group to start with and in an act of dominance tried to take him on.  He is too old for all of that and quickly defused the situation.  But I am pleased there is a fence between them.   He hovered there all day trying to connect with them, and the old ladies wandered over from time to time to say hi and see what all the fuss what about.

Sunbathing rescue chicken

This chicken quickly discovered the pleasure of basking in the sun with her legs and wings extended.

The new girls were kind of funny.   Walking on the earth was strange to them and they kept lifting their feet in a way that looked like they were going ‘ewwwh…. Something is making my feet ikky.’  Two of them preferred to avoid the experience all together and pretty much stayed indoors.  One girl with barely any feathers discovered the joy of lying in the sun and popped herself in a sunny corner and pretty much stayed there all day.   They all laid an egg, however due to the worming treatment they received upon rescue we can’t eat them so I left them in the nesting boxes for now so they know where to lay next time.

cat meets chickens

Fennel the Cat is curious about our new friends.

There is something mesmerising about watching them discover life at our place.   We’ll probably leave them in the lamb’s quarters for as long as they need to, so they can join the flock with little fuss, all going well.  But for now, they are just featherless, bewildered nervous wrecks and are being spoilt rotten by us.

Come again soon – winter is here and I am going to make the most of the quiet time.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Loofing Luffas

Not only did the last frost cause the demise of my peppers, but the luffas took a hit as well.   They are a little slow to get started but once they get going they really get going.  All of their bed companions have long since been composted.  They are left hanging on a season weary trellis, daring the frost to come and finish them off.

Bedraggled Luffa plant

Once the frost hit the plant there was no recovery. The best thing was to remove the plant as it had become a bit of an eyesore.

And so it was –  the final summer crop was removed from the garden, its stalks and stems composted and its fruit harvested.   It is always a fun crop to grow, not to eat – although you can eat the young luffas, but it has a surprising use.

Luffas

This was the haul from just one plant. It is almost a shame the frost came when it did as there are some lovely straight ones among the green ones.

Most people think the luffa sponges that find their way into bathrooms everywhere come from the sea.  Or little thought is given to their origin as they are scraped up and down dried skin to restore a soft smoothness.    However, it isn’t anything as fancy as an exotic sea creature, but a humble vine that can be grown easily in most gardens.

Green luffa

I tried to loof the green luffa but it was a disaster. The flesh was still too soggy and the fibre was just to soft to be of any use. It was more like a stringy zucchini.

Exposing the wonderful exfoliating fibre from the plant is a simple process:

Dried Luffa

The best luffa to loof is one that has dried on the plant and still intact with the bottom ‘bung’ still attached.

Dried Luffa

Remove the ‘bung’ at the bottom – it should pop off easily.

Dried Luffa

Shake out all of the seeds. They look like each one has been carefully wrapped in tissue paper for safe keeping.

Peeling Luffas

Radiating out from the luffa stalk are fibres that run the length of the fruit. If you peel them away like you would taking the string out of a string bean, it makes it much easier to remove the dried skin

peeling luffas

The skin should easily come away and reveal the fibre below. You may need to do a bit of chipping way at it, but nothing too difficult.

Luffa

And there you have it – loofed luffa ready to scrub the rough gardeners skin.

Told you it was easy.  If you haven’t grown luffas before then give it a go – they are such fun and will make wonderful gifts – if you don’t keep them all for yourself, because they are really cool.

Come again soon – its winter tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The best time to plant a tree is now.

Arbor Day is a long held tradition in this country.  People have been planting trees to mark the occasion since 1890!  There was even a time when people were given the day off school and work to go off and plant trees.   These days it often slips by unnoticed except by a few intrepid gardeners determined to restore habitats and biodiversity.   Arbor Day on June 5th is a thing and we should all embrace it.   Plants and trees are the lungs of our planet and hold things together in more ways than one.  We need the trees so we should plant them.  It is quite simple.

As a child my favourite place to be was in a tree and we had many in our sprawling backyard.  Some I enjoyed for the lofty heights it offered me.  I could see forever and felt like the king of the castle.  Other trees where bushy and full of leaves where I could sit and hide and get away from the pressures and stresses my eight year old life held.   Sometimes now I long to find a good tree to just sit in.  It is such a tranquil thing to do.

Children belong in trees

Children belong in trees

But my favourite trees were the fruit trees.  We had so many of all different kinds and all summer long they were filled with the chatter of greedy children gobbling down as many sweet ripe fruit and some not so ripe before we were called in for dinner.  Just the taste of a juice, red delicious plum can pull back the years and take me to a carefree place where the summers lasted forever.

Kids don’t seem to climb trees these days.  But they should.   Falling from a tree was just what kids used to do, and almost an essential part of obtaining the biggest, ripest fruit in the highest branches.  In order for kids these days to climb trees, they need to have trees to climb.  There is an old wise saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb, and with Abor day approaching now is certainly a good time.

Apple tree

A tree like this should be full of children enjoying the fruit

Arbor day isn’t at this time of year by accident.  Late autumn, early winter is the perfect time to plant tree as many trees aren’t actively growing and the deciduous ones are dormant.  It also allows the roots to establish before the leaves place their demands on the young plant.

Before you even go tree shopping you need to decide what you would like to grow and where you would like to grow it.   Find out as much as you can first.  How tall does it grow? how wide will the roots grow?  People often make the mistake of planting a tiny sapling too close to a house or a fence only to find it begins to damage foundations or blocks views or the sun entering windows.   Tree roots are often the cause of blocked pipes and planting away from your amenities is a good idea.  You really want to view your tree as a thing of beauty and wonder, not a pain in the backyard.

Once you have found the right place for the right tree, it is a good idea to dig the hole first.  These days the thinking is to make the planting hole square as the tree will often be found in a round pot.  If the tree has been in the pot for a while then the roots will tend to grow in a circular direction and can continue to do so in the ground and become root bound.  In a square hole the roots will find themselves confronted by the sides of the hole instead of running alongside it they will grow into it.

If you do find the roots are a little root bound when you take it out of the pot, you can tease them apart and even prune off damaged or overly bound roots.  Pruning roots can have the same effect as pruning branches – it will encourage more root growth.

Tree planted

And after a bit of digging, a tree is planted and in a few years time we will have loads of delish persimmons to eat.

Other advice for planting trees to make sure the hole is twice as wide as the root ball, but importantly – to the same depth.  You can adjust this once you have your plant beside your hole, but by digging it first your poor plant isn’t hanging about above ground longer than necessary.   If you plant it too deep you could rot the trunk and too shallow will not make a suitable anchor to support the tree and the exposed roots will dry out and die.

The advice to fill the hole with all sorts of goodies to feed the tree isn’t thought of as such a good idea these days as it can encourage the plant roots to stay in the hole instead of reaching out in the ground around so it is better to fill the hole with the same soil that came out of it.  Too much of a good thing can also harm the roots.  Also as the tree is dormant at this time of year, it doesn’t actually need a lot of extra nutrients.

So set the tree in the hole at the right height and gently backfill, tamping down the soil to exclude air pockets until it is at the right height, but not so firm that it would be difficult for the tree roots to penetrate.

persimmon

Persimmon fruit are delish – sweet yet sour, soft yet crisp and juicy. I can hardly wait.

Hammer a stake into the ground beside the tree, taking care not to go through the root ball, secure to the tree with a soft tree tie.  Don’t tie it too tight as the tree needs to be able to sway in the breeze to form a strong trunk.  But not so loose that the root ball is continually rocking in the wind.

Water well for the next few weeks while the roots establish.  A mulch can help retain moisture but don’t mulch up around the trunk as this can cause the tree to rot.

Grow well little tree

Grow well little tree

And it is that easy.  So now you know how – this Arbor Day, plant a tree so in the not too distant future a kid can climb up into its branches and feel the pleasure of indulging in fruit still warm from the sun, listening to the breeze in the leaves and looking out over their neighbourhood and feeling on top of the world.

Come again soon – winter is just around the corner.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

It’s time to call it quits

I feel like I’ve been flogging a dead horse for the last few months and this morning’s heavy frost was the final straw. We are 10 days out from winter so I’m just kidding myself.  The peppers weren’t going to give me my bumper harvest anytime soon.  They needed to come out.

Frosty garden

It was a bit of an icy start this morning and it is not even winter yet!

Due to the dreadful summer we had the peppers never did very well and so I had been limping them along.  Every time the mere suggestion of a frost was mentioned I was out there popping on the frost cloth in the hopes of receiving something worthy of a plant whose seed was sown 10 months ago.  Then whipping back out in the morning to remove the cover so they could bask in the weak sun.

Frosty peppers

A sad sight, but it had to be done.

But I came to the sad decision to pull them out. Let’s face it, they are hardly going to grow to the expected enormous proportions and develop a rose red glow in the weakening winter sun.  If left there they will more than likely grind to a halt in a state of suspended animation and slowly rot in the damp, cold conditions offered up by winter.

Clearing the pepper bed

And so the removing of the last traces of summer begins.

It wasn’t a decision made lightly.  To ensure I followed through I didn’t go out last night and put the frost cloth on for one last time, in spite of alarming headlines in the news about a dreadful polar blast racing up the country directly from the Antarctic.  The boffins were suggesting 3°C which of course you always take with a grain of salt and prepare for -3°C.  I allowed the plants to be hit by the stiffest frost we’ve had so far so I would be spurred into action first thing in the morning to remove all of the fruit languishing there.

Empty bed

A bed – a mere hour ago so full of life and now … nothing

Once there was no fruit there was no point keeping the plants as nothing new would come from them and the thought of protecting empty plants from frost throughout winter didn’t seem exciting at all.  Besides they do perfectly well when started from seed each year – provided the summer doesn’t suck!

Pepper

Not exactly and bountiful harvest but it is better than nothing.

It did feel monumentally sad.  The peppers are the first of the season to be sown and done so with great care and fanfare.  The poor old cucumbers later in the season just get plonked unceremoniously into seed raising mix as there is so much going on by the time they need to get started there isn’t a moment spare to acknowledge just how cool the cucumber is.  The peppers are special though.  They are with us for so long.  They don’t really get going until midsummer – in ideal conditions and then generally continue until the frost with a bumper harvest.  Ordinarily the first frost brings relief from an overabundance of peppers stored up in the freezer for use until the new crops kick in.

Lupin seeds

And into the future – lupin seeds take their place under trellis to stop Fennel the Cat from digging them up.

But I can’t linger over what’s old in the garden.  I need to focus on what’s new.  The next crop to go into this bed is the cucumbers and I want to make it lovely and rich for them and replace the goodness the peppers used up.  Sow I’ve sown a cover crop of lupin in the bed and before long the gorgeous foliage will fill the bed and make the winter garden seem less dreary.  It is almost a shame to have to dig it in before it flowers as lupin blooms are so pretty.

Sunny late autumn day

On a day like this you can almost forgive the frost as it is such refreshing conditions to work in. I had a marvelous day.

And just like that the time marches on in the garden in an orderly fashion.  Peppers just aren’t a winter crop.

Come again soon – I’ve got luffas to loof.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Five photo Friday

Things have been so slow in the garden this week.  Mostly because it has been raining.  I am determined not to complain or bleat about this state of weather so I have gone out into the garden today and found some bright side stuff so I can feel good about my gardenless week.

Jars of preserves

It hasn’t been an entirely unproductive season – I have all these jars to find a home for in the cupboards. There is feijoa jam, cape gooseberry jam, quince jelly and pickled eggplant. This season I am using green lids on all of my preserves and last season I used gold ones. Next season I’ll order black ones. That way everyone knows to eat the gold ones first before starting on the green ones. That way we won’t end up with manky old jar at the back of the cupboard that no one knows what it is because the label had long since come off.

Chicken

This is Apricot. She has been poorly so I have been looking after her, but now it is time to reintroduce her back to her friends in the coop. I hope she’ll be ok, chickens can be a little mean.

Pea seedlings

I’m about a month behind on my pea schedule. The plants in the garden should be giving us fresh peas by now but aren’t even flowering yet. These new Novella babies are more tolerant of the cold so hopeful it will be pea business as usual in spite of the delay.

Wheat seedlings

The wheat seedlings are doing well in spite of being under the weed mat. So much for that suppressing growth of unwanteds. The seedlings are quite green but I don’t want them to go yellow for lack of sun, but there are still a lot of seeds to germinate and I don’t want the birds in there scratching about, so I might replace the weed mat with frost cloth until the plants are established well and of no interest to the birds.

Mustard cover crop seedlings

I’m excited to see my mustard cover crop seedlings are germinating and they are such a pretty colour.

I’m sure next week will be better.  I have an exciting project to get my teeth into – more on that later, a tree to plant and general potting about the place.  I’m not even going to check the weather because the forecast is always changing so I am believing for sunny days.

Come again soon – any day in a garden is a good day.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Sweet As

As we say here in New Zealand everything is Sweet As, which means its pretty good.  Earlier this week I made a video and the garden was in such a lovely place – the grass was low, the weeds were mostly gone and the soil was dry.  I was able to plant and sow and things were sweet as.  It was also a cheeky nod to the cool sweet peas I’ve sown.  Things felt amazing!

Blue sky day

How can you not feel hopeful on a day like this

And then we had the rain.  It didn’t rain for long – just a day and in the end not much more than 110mm.  Now today we are back to the glorious blue sky days we had before like nothing ever happened.  Except I have a layer of water shimmering in the sun below the level of the grass.

Blue sky day

The garden should dry out in no time

So I’m back to the old waiting game – waiting for things to have drained enough to be able to work in the garden without damaging the soil structure.  The good news is it seems to be draining away quicker than before and the soil is making that satisfying sucking sound.

Blue sky day

Things will be ok

So check out my video of better times…  it is amazing the difference a few days can make.

Come again soon – the garden will be sweet as again soon enough.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Not again!

Cyclone Donna.  There are no words….

full rain gauge

It started raining spits and spots at lunch time yesterday – about 20 hours ago. It isn’t expected to stop until 6pm tonight – so about 8 more hours to go.

It could be worse…  sigh.

Come again soon – I was looking forward to this winter,  now I need to dig deep to find the joy of gardening again…

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Only three weeks until winter

Normally at the this time of year there is a reluctance to except the winters arrival.  With every drop in temperature I moan and complain.  As the nights draw in, long gone are the leisurely evening antics in the garden – weeding and watering in the lingering heat of the day.  Now gardening tends to wind up in the late afternoon, usually extended by torch light as I nip out to get something for dinner.

Tidy autumn garden

While not as flamboyant as a summer garden, it isn’t looking too bad for this time of year.

But this season there is something different going on.  I am excited for winter as it brings me closer to the new season – one full of hope and expectation.  Surely we can’t get two horribly horrendous growing seasons in a row.  I’ve pretty much written off in my head any expectation to cling on to the dying remains of last summer.  Except the peppers, they hardly had a chance to get going so I’m pampering them a bit in hope of some kind of harvest.

Pepper plants

I do feel for these poor pepper plants. Have just haven’t had a fair go. And yet they are still determined to push through this adverse season, so of course I’ll do what I can to help them out.

With this forward thinking for winter, rather than a reluctance, I am able to see it in a new light.  This isn’t a season to be endured but one to be cherished.  It is a time for projects, planning and dreaming.   The chaos of the growing season can be meticulously planned so it becomes organised chaos with better results.  Lessons learn over the last 12 months can be applied and new things that can help make gardening better can be constructed.  I never thought I’d say it but I’m looking forward to the winter.

Broccoli side shoots

This row of broccoli keeps giving. It has been in for months and it was such a long time ago I that I took the main head off and the side shoots have been so prolific we can hardly keep up.

Thanks to a garden visit earlier this week by an enthusiastic garden group, I was forced to pull myself out of my floody blues and whip the garden back into a shape that would be respectable enough for a public showing.   In spite of the grass being halfway to knee deep and the beds full of the dead and dying, there was the bones of something good.  My section system for the care of my garden, implemented throughout the summer and autumn in spite of the weather had left me with a garden that was easy to restore order.  There was no backbreaking digging and weeding, just a gentle tickle here and bit of a pull there.  The thing that made it a big job was the size of it all.  I’m seriously considering putting in a fence to contain my enthusiasm for new gardens!

Yellow asparagus fronds

The asparagus fronds are taking on a brilliant yellow as it dies back, taking nutrients back into the crown.

So now I’ve come up with an easy plan to manage the garden over the winter.  I remember how I normally enter the cold season with an eye roll and the presumption that it will last for EVER!  But I also remember how it is normally over in a flash and leaves me on the hop with half completed projects that need immediate attention before they get lost in the craziness of the growing season.

empty bed

This garden may be empty now, but not for long, come the shortest day it will have tiny onion seedlings beginning their journey towards the summer harvest. I always love this mid winter link to the summer to come.

I also remember well how wet it gets here in September and it is something I have learned to live with.  But I’ve not been very good at living with it.  I normally slowly plod towards the spring thinking I have all the time in the world to get the beds ready and then boom – it rains for weeks and I end up not ready and catching my tail with plants languishing too long in pots.  Well not this year.  The beds are in a good place now – weed free and mostly empty of crops, or nearly empty and some are even still working hard for me.

empty bed

This bed won’t see crops until the peas make their home there in the spring, so there is time to pop in a quick mustard cover crop.

So as these beds come free I’ll begin the process of enriching and preparing.  This is best done ahead of time and not in the hours before planting as it allows time for the organic materials to incorporate into the structure of the soil, so the tender roots aren’t burnt by fresh nutrients.  The microorganisms can change things to the way plants like them.  The frost can break up the clods of soil.  Cover crops sown now (albeit a tad late) will have plenty of time to break down, enriching the soil before it is needed.  Thick layers of compost and well rotted manure can be absorbed into the soil on there own with little effort on my part.   My aim is to have the beds ready before the September soggy.

Brassica bed

The brassica bed has been refilled with broccoli, romanesco and cabbage that will fill our late winter plates

To add to the winter workload, I have three construction projects I aim to achieve – one each month, but more on that later, but they will make such a great difference to my spring and I’m looking forward to creating them.

Peas

The peas, while a tad late are reaching up and will hopefully flower soon

And on the days it is raining – because it will, I shall make grand plans for the new inhabitants of the garden this spring.  There will be old favourites, but places for something new and as complex as working out the seating plan at a wedding, I shall enjoy taking the time to decide the perfect place for everyone so we have a fabulous growing season ahead.

So for the first time ever I am anticipating the winter with great excitement.  I can hardly wait.

Come again soon – there is something good to be found in the garden every day of the year.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

%d bloggers like this: