How I keep the Kikuyu Grass out of my garden.

Kikuyu Grass and a chicken

Stopping Kikuyu grass invading is a constant battle and to be honest – chickens aren’t up to the job!

Out here on the coast the sandy soil is pretty much held in place with the kikuyu grass, especially on the hills and I have no problem with this.  The last thing we need is erosion or even worse – a blow out, where the wind whips away the sand causing a deep hole.  Once you get a blow out it can be difficult to get it back into control as the lack of substance in the soil and the constant wind creates a bigger and deeper hole.

Kikuyu Grass on coastal hills

The Kikuyu Grass does a great job of holding the sandy coastal hills together.

Our lawn is also Kikuyu grass and we enhanced what was already here by sowing seed!  We have a lovely spongy lawn that stays green for most of the year, but when there is a drought it will brown off but comes back quickly with that first rain.  But I also have a massive garden that I do my best to keep weed free and with Kikuyu Grass surrounding it on all sides it can be a bit of a constant battle to keep the creeping runners from encroaching into the garden, but after five years I can confidently say I have an effective barrier system of protection.

Kikuyu Lawn

We have such a lovely kikuyu lawn kept in tip top shape by Blossom, my Gardena Robotic Lawnmower.

The first and most important thing is to make sure the ground is completely free of Kikuyu – roots and all, before you start.  I had the benefit of getting the help of a tractor to scrape the soil bare.  If you want to dig, then a slow and steady approach, doing a small amount at a time in a thorough and methodical way will get you there.  The good news is you don’t need to dig to China.  The runners form a thatch above and below the soil that is only about 30 cm deep.  But you need to get every last bit of runner.   Whatever you do, don’t use a cultivator as this will just chop them up and make a million more plants.   The runners can regrow from the smallest shoot.

Clearing Kikuyu grass with a tractor

This has to be the fastest and easiest way to get rid of the Kikuyu grass but I appreciate not everyone has access to a lovely neighbour with a tractor.

A good thing I have found with Kikuyu is if you leave something sitting on it to block the light the vegetative grassy bit quickly dies back to leave a bare patch.  This is handy if you want to clear the land by putting a heavy cover over it, such as black plastic or cardboard.  It’s not so great on the lawn though.  Although it does grow back quickly as the roots and runners are still there, but it gives you an easier area to work with if you are doing the clearing by hand.

Blocking out the Kikuyu Grass

Sheet mulching is a good option to help an overgrown plot to die down, but it is only temporary as it can grow back quickly once the cover is removed.

Once you’ve cleared the land, leave it for several weeks and any bits that you have missed will start to pop up like little green flags.  So, you can just pull them up from the loose soil.  Once there aren’t any more popping up, you are good to go.

Clear Light weed barrier

This was an affordable solution to keep the kikuyu out of one of my gardens. It works quite well but doesn’t stop the annual weeds that blow in from elsewhere!

But to stop them encroaching into your lovely clean soil requires regular attention.   You can create a barrier – something about 40cm will work and there are things out there you can buy.  Or you can get creative and see what you is around.  In one of my gardens, I created a barrier by cutting some sheets of ClearLight roof material – the cheapest one, and inserted it into the garden to separate out the clean side and the wild side.  This still does need attention as the runners can climb over the top – but they are easy enough to remove with a gentle tug.

Hoeing weeds

Regular attention to the weeds in a little and often approach helps keep things under control. If we only get 90% of the weeds this week, no worries because next week we will get 90% and a good dent will be made over time.

For the majority of my garden there is no barrier.  The main garden has a fence, but it was never designed to keep out the Kikuyu so is not very effective other than keeping the long blades from drooping across the edge of the garden.    In this garden I hoe the sandy paths once a week to nip any weeds in the bud.  If I encounter any green flags of the Kikuyu trying to bust through, I pull them out.

Clear fence line

A regular weed and occasional deeper dig along the fence line keeps the Kikuyu at bay.

Sometimes it requires a bit of a dig about with a fork to loosen the soil and make it easy to pull any underground runners back all the way to the fence.  Any overland runners get clipped off at the fence with a sharp pair of secateurs.  This weekly approach works well, but if I leave it 2 or 3 weeks due to busyness, it is still a simple task.

Kikuyu invading no man's land

I have to admit I have left this area a little too long and the kikuyu runners are beginning to creep in.

In the newest garden, I tried something different.  I kept a spades width around the garden free from any plants or mulch and that is my barrier there.   I have to confess I have left it a while – too long, and the runners had snuck across the no man’s land and was popping up in the actual garden.   So, over the last few weeks I have been working my way around this garden strip and with a fork and a pair of secateurs I have loosened the soil and pulled out the long runners and cut them back to the edge of their boundary.

Clear weed free barrier

It hasn’t taken much effort to clear the no man’s land down to a spades depth and stop the encroachment so the garden stays grass free.

To be honest this has taken a wee while as it has been too long since it was last done.  But the time consuming bit is the size of the garden and not the actual work.  So, I set myself up with a podcast and just work until it stops.    Once I get it finished, it will be popped into a maintenance schedule where at least once a week I will hoe the no man’s land to stop normal weeds and pull any Kikuyu shoots.  But once I month I’ll loosen the soil with a fork and rummage around in the soft soil to find any sneaky runners trying to breach the divide.

So, the key points to keep on top of kikuyu are:
  • Start with a clean soil, and you really can’t skimp on this stage, or you will be wrestling with the grass in the garden, and it will be harder to remove.
  • Take a ‘little and often’ maintenance approach to put a stop to anything trying to sneak into the garden.

I hope this helps someone out as Kikuyu can be such a pain to deal with in the garden.

Come again soon – #MakeMayCount is still going well (it is only day 3!)

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Making May Count … Again…

Historically May has been my least productive month.  I prematurely convinced myself that it is close enough to winter that I might as well just settle down in the warmth and cosiness of indoors and wait for things to get better outside.  The thing is, May isn’t really that bad in the grand scheme of things and it should really be spent finishing off projects and getting things ticked off the ‘to do’ list, while we still can.  Winter may seem like a long drawn-out season, but each year I’m almost surprised by how quickly it comes to an end, so not a moment should be wasted as there are always things to do.  So, for the last few years I have challenged myself to #MayMayCount and get stuff done.

A rainy day

A dismal start to the month.

This year we aren’t off to a great start.  There is an ‘atmospheric river’ flowing through the nation right now and the extended weather forecast only has big black rainy cloud icons for the next ten days.  That is a third of the month!  And goodness knows what lies beyond the outer reaches of the extended forecast.  I’m either going to have to get creative or embrace my red raincoat or May won’t count for anything!

weather forecast for May 1st 2023

This is not something I was pleased to see on the first day of my month of productivity.

If I’m optimistic there seems like there could be gaps in the rain according to the 48-hour forecast, so I’m going to have to be a bit flexible with my planning and seize these opportunities between the outpours to make any kind of progress.  As soggy as it is, I doubt it would rain solidly for 30 days and 30 nights! So, I shall write my lists as though it will be ok.


Sigh… this was weed free recently. Why oh why didn’t I just run the hoe around… now I have to actually get on my hands and knees and pull stuff out! It isn’t so bad and won’t take ages and won’t be difficult but it could have been easier. Past me is feeling shamefaced!

This week I have a couple of goals – finish tackling my weedy areas, and get my cover crops in.    I have been working hard on the weedy areas, as it really doesn’t take much for things to get out of control.  I’ve been away a lot already this year and there are several major events on the calendar that will take me away again.  It isn’t just the away time that causes problems but the before and after prep and catch up that causes deep neglect if it is allowed to take priority.

Sector one - weeded and tended to

It looks a little messy and soggy, but strong winds whipped through yesterday and it is late autumn. But even so I took the hoe around the paths and removed the tiniest signs of green life and evicted anything from the beds I didn’t want in there. I can happily say sector one on Monday 1st May has been taken care of and has Jasper the Dog’s seal of approval!

My handy helper and I have been doing some deep work in the garden over the last while and have made great progress, but we aren’t there yet.  The key to staying in control is each week is to go back over the work already done before getting into the big jobs.  This is where my sector system is working well.  Each day I set the timer for one hour and take care of the needs of one of the five areas in the garden, whipping out tiny weeds, hoeing the paths and anything else that needs attention.  If there is still time on the timer then I move on to a bigger job.  I’m pleased to say progress is being made with the aim that some time soon there will be no big jobs left and the whole garden will just need a quick tickle.

Garden awaiting cover crops

This bed has taunted me for weeks – it is good to go, aside from the weeds trying to sneak in. It just needs a sprinkle of mustard seeds for a green manure it won’t take long at all. I have no idea why I have been procrastinating, wasting all those fine days, and now there is nothing but rainy days ahead for as far as the eye can see. Present me is very annoyed with past me.

The cover crops are more of a worry.  I should have done it last month and I have no excuse.  And now with all the rain I worry that the seeds will rot in the ground.  I’m toying with the idea of putting a tarp or something over the bed to protect the seeds from excessive rain and from creatures like birds and rodents who are out in full force looking for an easy meal.  I think that is what I’ll do…  Before the end of the week.


Oh and I want to move this eggplant into the greenhouse before it gets too bashed by the wind or the temperatures drop too much. It has barely produced anything yet and I want to give it a chance!

I could write a massively long ‘to do’ list, but I don’t want to scare myself off.  The last thing I need is for procrastination to set in.  And I’m only looking at an hour in the garden each day except three on Tuesdays with my Handy Helper that wonderfully turns into six hours between the two of us.  I think 10 hours a week in the garden at this time of year isn’t unreasonable.  That leaves the rest of my time for computer gardening.  To make sure I stay on top of all of my commitments, I need to move everything forward together, spending a little bit of time on each one, so no project gets left behind in a panic.  If I get this right, I have plenty of time for everything.


If the weather does rain for 30 days and 30 nights I have all these lovely houseplants to play with for a deadline based project so I can garden indoors, so it isn’t all bad!

Making May count this year seems to have its own set of challenges compared to previous years, but I’m up for it!  If you find May a bit sluggish, then join me in #MakingMayCount and we’ll all get stuff done!

Come again soon – things are about to get busy!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Dodging thunderstorms

I’ve done loads of things in the garden lately and it feels really good.  Up until recently my garden time has been limited and to be honest I didn’t realise how much I’d been missing it until I was fully up to my elbows in dirt, ripping out weeds.  There are a few areas in the garden that have slipped into a shameful state, and I am quite upset about just how quickly that happens.  It wasn’t that long ago it was a weed free paradise.  But there is no point moaning about it – I just need to get on with it with a sense of determination to return it to a point of control and then keep it there.

pre sprouted garlic

I was so pleased to see the garlic had pre-sprouted. To be honest I wasn’t holding my breath and was fully expecting to go and buy new ones.

My aim is to do an hour a day of weeding.  It sounds a lot and is probably an over estimation but the way I see it, it is a temporary measure.  There are plenty of areas that are in control and just need a tickle to keep them that way.  So, if I start my hour on the sector of the day and take care of all of its needs and then with any time left I head over to the shameful places and finish my time there.  By setting a timer I know it won’t be a relentless slog.  Having said that, I was getting stuck in today, stopping several times to dodge bursts of thunderstorm.  I made great progress and after the hour was up I was having so much fun I convinced myself to fill one more bucket!  I must be mad!

garlic measuring system

This is my handy dandy garlic measuring system. It is never exactly perfect and tends to go wonky somewhere along the line, but for the most part they are orderly enough to appeal to my sense of control.

I have also started the first of next season’s harvest with the start of my garlic and onion.  The garlic are early varieties that should be started in April rather than the traditional midwinter time for ordinary varieties.  However, I find the early start helps them to get a jump on the rust that inevitably appears, allowing them to get strong enough before it strikes.  I am always determined to preventatively spray regularly, but somehow miss a session, normally by going away, and the rust thinks ‘a-ha’ and begins to make itself at home.

garlic in a hole

This hardly needs a description – it is a pre sprouted clove of garlic sitting in its hole waiting for me to carefully bury it.

But this season I had a new problem – there was some kind of worm in my stored garlic.  So much for garlic being great at pest control!  Not this one!  I suspect it is a pantry moth.  Its main target was the base of the bulb so I was uncertain if they would still be viable.  I didn’t want to just plant them and hope for the best.  There is nothing more discouraging than having a crop fail.  So, I decided to pop them all in a seed tray filled with potting mix to see if any of them take root.  I wasn’t feeling too optimistic, so I used more than I needed.

washing pots

Sometimes I’m good at washing pots and other times I don’t bother. But last year my onion seedlings ended up with a weird growth on their roots. I didn’t trust them to grow well so I threw them all out and grew my onions from bought seedlings. This year I’m taking no chances.

A week later I rummaged around in the potting mix and was delighted to find most of them had sprouted healthy roots.  Having dug them up, I really had no choice but to plant them immediately.  Fortunately, I had already prepared their spot ages ago so all I needed to do was consult my garden plan for spacing instructions and get to work.  I find the easiest way to do large scale planting like this is to mark out the distance between the plants (15cm) on one bamboo stick and the distance between rows (20cm) on another and move the short plant stick along the longer row stick, poking holes in the soil with an old broken handle and dropping the pre-sprouted garlic in.  Just a few days later, they are all up and it is such a welcome sight.

sowing onion seeds

There is nothing nicer on a sunny day in a tidy (ish) greenhouse to set about sowing seeds.

And the last significant thing other than a bit of pottering about was to sow my onion seeds.  It is 10 weeks between now and the shortest day, which is really encouraging.  It hasn’t even started to get really cold yet, but knowing the days begin lengthening again in a mere 10 weeks is something to look forward to.  Not that I’m wishing my life away.  The shortest day is normally the traditional planting time for onions, and I wanted my seedlings to be a good size, with enough time to sow more if anything goes wrong.

watering in the seeds

The seeds were all tucked into their seed raising mix with a gentle spray of water. All going well in a couple of weeks we should see some green action!

But as I was sitting here telling you about it, I thought ‘hang on… 10 weeks is too long to have seedlings hanging about – ideally it should be 6 – 8 weeks.  But then I reminded myself that due to problems at harvest time last season I wanted to move things back by two weeks.  It shouldn’t be significant enough of a change to affect the thermophotoperiodic state of onions, but enough of a change to improve my chances of success at the other end.  And so earlier than normal my onion seeds were lovingly tucked into seed raising mix with a hope and a prayer.

Come again soon – I am intending to get a good rhythm going.  If I can dodge thunderstorms today, I can garden on any day.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  There are no weeding photos because shame prevents it.  Also try to avoid looking too close in the pot washing photo!

I’m turning over a new leaf.

I always start the year with good intentions and normally by now my new year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside.  However there is no rule to say this is the only time of year you can try to reset things and so I’m taking the opportunity with the start of a new month to be more focused and intentional with telling you about the garden.

Full compost bin

You can tell it has been a busy week when the compost bin can’t take anymore!

It is looking good right now but that is mostly because I’ve pulled most of the faded summer crops and there is nothing like the clean crispness of empty beds.  I’ve been giving each of the beds a jolly good deep sort out – a bit like a spring clean… but in autumn.  Structures have been taken down, where applicable all plant life has been removed and the soil given a slow-release feed of blood and bone and Yates Dynamic Lifter.   The lingering harvest has been brought in, although some of it still sits on the kitchen bench waiting for my good intentions.

Empty beds

Empty beds look so fresh and hold the potential for a bountiful harvest.

I have planted up a load of brassica, silverbeet and lettuce to take to the food bank once they are ready, to be of help to those who find themselves struggling in this precarious and troubled time.  I have yet to plant mine out, but I’ll get there.  The bed the giving plants ended up in was just one that is usually spare at this time of the season and one I normally sow a cover crop into.  The usual brassica spot needs a bit of love still, but it is on the top of the list.

The old melon bed

The melons are long gone, the structures holding them up have come down and that eggplant will be moved into the greenhouse because it hasn’t given me a single fruit and I’m not about to give up on it now – it looks so healthy!

I would say I am halfway across the garden, sorting things out.  I could rush through just yanking weeds, but I want to do it slowly and do it well, so it will be less maintenance in the next wee while so once the whole garden is done I can either throw myself into a new project or just spend a season taking it easy.  I haven’t decided which one yet.

Giving plants

All going well, one day soon this will have a broccoli ready to harvest and destined to end up on someone else’s table. I just need to be extra vigilant keeping the pests away.

The slow methodical process feels like a bit of a reset in itself.  The previous season was not the best we’d ever had, and it was pretty close to being called the worst, so I am pleased to be putting it behind me.  The best thing about a garden is each season is a fresh start, a new beginning and is loaded with hope and anticipation and that is what keeps the love of gardening alive, even after a disastrous season.

The garden in the evening light

There is always a ray of hope in a garden!

Autumn to many may seem like the end of the gardening season, but there is still plenty to be done.  It is the time to work on the foundation of the garden and set things up so the new warm season has everything it needs to be all it needs to be once we emerge from the wintery days.  Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather but if it is a good one… I’ll be ready for it.

Come again soon – I intend to be here more often.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

The long way to Dunedin

I’ve been away again.  I suspect it will happen a lot this year – the stars have aligned to make 2023 the year of travel for us.  I don’t mind, so long as the garden still gets what it needs and remains productive and in control, with opportunities for exciting projects, and that I can squeeze in some horticultural goodness while out and about.

Dunedin Botanic Gardens

Dunedin Botanic Gardens – always well worth the visit, no matter how long it takes you to get there!

And this last week was no different.  I managed to fill my horticultural cup while on a cruise that was mostly at sea!  Hubby the Un-Gardener is a professional motivational speaker and gets invited on the ships as guest entertainment, and I get to go along for the ride!  It is a great way for a bit of an enforced relax in the midst of a hectic schedule and I certainly managed a lot of relaxing in the four days at sea, but on the land days – there was plenty of garden interest.

Three modes of transport

The first mode of transport was a tad deceptive… You couldn’t tell we were off to Dunedin!

The first destination for us was Adelaide in Australia and we set out from Auckland Airport with Qatar Airlines, which makes the whole thing seem really exotic.  However the trip was around the South Island of New Zealand and we left the ship half way through and took a domestic flight back home again from Christchurch to Auckland.   We were supposed to visit Milford Sound however biosecurity prevented this and rightly so, we need to protect the pristine places we have!    To make up for that we went on a detour around the bottom of Stewart Island which was rather special as we got to see Albatrosses wheeling  above the ship with their majestic wings barely moving.   While at sea I also saw a dolphin and a couple of penguins.

However, the only actual destination on this exotic trip for us was Dunedin, which in the grand scheme of things is a very beautiful place, but quite ordinary in its ‘kiwi-ness’ – which is great if you are looking for an authentic Kiwi experience!

As for Adelaide, well we were only there for 18 hours.  We arrived exhausted in darkness and woke early thanks to the time zone changes.  To make the most of what time we had in Adelaide, first thing in the morning we headed to the Botanic Gardens, that were fortunately only a short walk from our hotel.  It did not disappoint!  There were so many wonderful things including plants I could only dream of growing, and left me with a head full of inspiration and creative possibilities.

Naively aware Australia is fraught with dangerous creatures, we were constantly on the lookout for possible danger, although from time to time I’d lean into a plant for a closer look and Hubby the Un-Gardener would warn me not to get so close because ‘something might jump out’.  Being as the garden is in the midst of the CBD of Adelaide I doubt we were in much peril but you never can be sure…

dangerous creatures

We didn’t hang around to see who built this enormous web and so I can’t tell you what was at the end of this path!

Aside from the plants one of the cool things we saw there… well we heard it first, with this cacophony of sound, initially out of sight.  My guess was there was maybe a water feature filled with frogs around the next corner, however I was completely wrong and was excited to look up and see bats!  Lots of bats hanging in the trees.  I’ve never seen bats before!  At the gardens I also saw turtles just swimming in a pond!

It was a short but wonderful visit as we had to head to the port to embark onto the ship at midday.  From my brief glimpse of Adelaide, I loved what I saw and would love to go back one day.

When we arrived in Dunedin, we made a bee line for the Botanic Gardens.  It was quite the distance from the ship by foot, but we made the journey at a pace, so as not to lose precious time.  I’ve been to the gardens before as part of my botanical tour guiding with Botanica last November, but this time I wanted to have a slower look around so I could fully appreciate all it had to offer without having to get back on a bus.  I did have to get back on a ship but we had a few more hours at our disposal than last time I was there.

We did consider making it a trifecta and going to Christchurch Botanic Gardens, but we would have had our luggage with us, and besides there was some kind of boat race in Lyttleton that Hubby the Un-Gardener wanted to see.  Sadly this didn’t happen, even though we lingered as long as we could at our prime viewing spot on the back of the ship with all of our new found friends, but with our flight looming, and racing not yet started we reluctantly disembarked and headed home.

Cruise ship reading material

The best thing you can do on a sea day on a cruise ship is lie on a deckchair, get in a bit of reading and sip a cocktail…. the next best thing to being in a garden.

And so there you have it – this is how it took us 6 days and 6500km and an exotic sounding trip on Qatar Airlines to get to Dunedin – via Adelaide.   The whole thing was wonderfully bonkers!

Come again soon – the garden missed me and March is marching by.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  There are loads of photos in this post – to find out more about each one click on it to enlarge it.  (To get a full description click on the (i) symbol on the bottom right).  Oh and check my Instagram @sarahthegardener for even more photos.

Welcome to Autumn

A pinch and a punch for the first of the month and no returnsies.   (Such a strange tradition!)  But here we are celebrating the start of a new season.  As much as I can’t believe we have arrived at March already having lived through the first two months of this year that still feels quite new.


My pumpkins are way ahead of me and are ready to be harvested now! I couldn’t bring myself to do it while it was technically still summer!

Ordinarily I would be bemoaning the fact that it is too soon for the end of summer, and I’d stretch it out by calling the official end on the equinox in three weeks’ time and hoping for an Indian Summer, but this summer has left me ever so slightly traumatised and totally disappointed.  It was not a good one.   I am pleased we are in autumn where the occasional burst of bad weather is accepted as normal as we make our slow descent into winter.  It is ok to begin to pull out the poorly plants in the garden and freshen things up for the new season ahead.


Sadly this is the best of my original tomato plants and the change of seasons gives me permission to put it out of its misery and let it go.

It almost feels like the garden can breathe again, no longer burdened with plants it hasn’t been able to adequately support.   And there is something cathartic in allowing myself to give up on struggling plants and remove them from the garden.  With the absence of the brown, and crispy leaved plants, contorted by the wind, the garden is returned to a blank canvas, bursting with the hope and expectation of the new season.

Honeydew Melons

I guess my honeydew melons are finished… I just need to harvest them all and clear up the mess.

There isn’t as much to grow over the winter and things are generally shorter and grow a lot slower but are much better suited to adverse conditions.  From my rich bare soil will come a green verdant effect that will bring a much needed optimism and at the same time a sense of peace.  And I need that right now.

cool season seedlings

As always, a seed tray bursting in to life brings with it a renewed sense of ‘everything will be ok.’

As much as I normally fight against the passing of time, just this once I’m ok with it.  Welcome to Autumn.  At this time of year, the garden can be a place of peace, joy, solace and healing.  Everything is going to be ok.

Come again soon – I’ve got some sharing to do – one cabbage at a time.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Jumping the Ditch

I’ve been away – not for long, but just long enough to soak in a few days of someone else’s summer, which was a lot better than ours.   I got away to Flinders, outside of Melbourne for three days for all things gardening, hanging out with my fellow Botanical Guides from the fab tour company Botanica World Discoveries.  It is a privilege to be counted among these amazing and knowledgeable gardeners as part of the team.    There was a bit of ‘work related’ stuff, but there were amazing gardens too and I can’t not tell you about them….

As the only kiwi – I may have been mocked ever so gently for my perpetual fear of encountering snakes in the gardens and my disappointment in not seeing koalas or kangaroos (although there was a dead kangaroo on the side of the road but I’m not sure that counts as seeing one!)

The area was so beautiful and you got the sense of being in Australia, as the overall landscape was just what you would expect, with the dry land and gum trees and screechy but ever so beautiful birds making themselves known.  It helped that the weather was perfect – every day had blue skies and it was just the right amount of warm – not too hot and not too cool.  Although I was told this is a spot where you can get the best and worst of all the seasons in one day.

Aside from the company of wonderful people and some amazing food, the highlight had to be the gardens.  We saw four very different gardens.  Two were the very private gardens of guides who lived locally, one was the remarkable garden of a local who claims she just planted things with no plan, just put plants where it felt right and ended up with something truly amazing.

And finally, we ended up with an exclusive behind the scenes tour of The Diggers Club production nursery.  The Diggers Club is a nationwide club for Australian gardeners to get inspiration through their publications, visit their remarkable open gardens and order garden supplies, seeds and plants online, including rare and heirloom plants to help prevent them from disappearing.  It is a great central point for gardeners across such a diverse land to come together and it was a rare treat to get to have a look behind the scenes.

And as quickly as it began we were whisked back to the airport to return home, with hearts, heads and bellies full of good things from our time together.  Now I’m back to our gloomy soggy summer, I need a few moments to catch my breath and then get out in the garden and continue clearing up the wind and salt burnt plants and try to freshen things up as best as I can and get ready for the new season ahead.

Come again soon – autumn starts next week.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  There are loads of photos in this post – to find out more about each one click on it to enlarge it.  (To get a full description click on the (i) symbol on the bottom right).  Oh and check my Instagram @sarahthegardener for even more photos.

And to find out more about exciting garden travel opportunities check out:  Botanica World Discoveries

Could this summer get any better?

The answer to this is ‘Yes it could’.  There is plenty of room for improvement.  We barely set things right after the last storm and here we are again with an even bigger one, that was even more destructive as there was wind in its midst.

salty windows

It was so nice to see the sun again, even when looking through salt caked windows.

I am grateful to say we survived the storm unscathed.   For the most part the winds were blocked by our massive hill, although when the storm swung round to a south-westerly position, gusts of 100km/h or more knocked at our windows. The windbreaks in the garden seem to have provided a degree of relief as the weather station in the garden was recording winds at about half that speed.  The other blessing for us was the repairs we made to the external house wall seem to have worked.  With all of the rain pounding against it, the internal wall stayed dry.

salty windows

The popcorn took a hammering, but if I am careful I can gently lift them back into the upright position. I just hope pollination had finished.

However, we appreciate our experience of Cyclone Gabrielle is very different to that of others.  We thought the last storm was unbelievable and unprecedented, but this was far worse on an even greater scale.  It will take some time for life to get back to some kind of normal for so many people.

storm damaged bottle gourds

My arches and the plants themselves didn’t stand up well to the storm. I will leave the bottle gourds in place to see if they ripen in spite of the damage. But next season I have plans to do things differently.

This summer has two weeks left if you go by the meteorological calendar.  Ordinarily I like to go from a meteorological start at the 1st September and then stretch the season by ended it on the astronomical equinox on the 21st March.  But this season I’m happy to call it a day on the 28th  of February.    Autumn is normally my favourite season anyway.

storm damaged zucchini

I guess that is it for zucchini this season. These photos are the worst damage I faced, so in the grand scheme of things it is ok. Most plants with a bit of love and some seaweed tonic should recover enough to limp across the seasons finish line. I’m not complaining.

Hopefully going forward there will be a lot less moaning about the weather and a lot more gardening.

Come again soon – I’m going to sow some cool season seeds of hope.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Is water essential?

Once the weather returned to some kind of normal summer-esk conditions, I took  the opportunity to process the harvest I was able to salvage.  While not everything did well this summer – namely my tomatoes, some things have done exceptionally well and the beetroot can be counted as a success.  The good thing about beetroot is I can pretty much grow it all year round and so there is always some available, if I remember to sow new seeds at least once a month.

Harvested Beetroot

I was aiming for a manageable amount of beetroot this year through succession planting, however these ended up a little on the large side so I still ended up with a lot!

Beetroot is so versatile and is great roasted, made into muffins or chutney or but where they are exceptional is pickled in slices to go in burgers, on sandwiches and in salads and wherever the creativity takes me.  We have had a good supply of pickled sliced beetroot up until recently, so it is time to make some more.

Succession growing beetroot

The next beetroot harvests are coming along nicely. They were started about a month apart – give or take, to avoid being overwhelmed. Hopefully these will become roasted for warming autumnal meals.

It has been a while since I made them as my mum kindly made the last batch on one of her visits. So I started looking into possible recipes to use and loved the suggestion of using star anise in one of the recipes and ginger in another…  I was spoilt for choice.  But then I noticed something in the ingredient list I wasn’t expecting to be there… water.

Beetroot seedlings

And these were sown not that long ago and should see us through into the winter. I’ll sow another round in a few weeks for a late winter – early spring harvest to fill the hungry gap! I’m so pleased this is a year round crop I can grow well.

Pickled beetroot is a staple and I’ve watched my grandmother and my mum make it and they never added water.  So, it threw me – this traditional experience vs the increasing number of recipes requiring it.  The thing with pickling and preserving is you need to use a trusted recipe and shouldn’t mess with the ratios lest you invoke food poisoning and no one wants botulism.   It has to be noted that many of the recipes online are from bloggers such as myself and we know what works for us, but at the same time, it is all very well to experiment with a baking recipe, but preserving is something else.

Boiling Beetroot

You take your eye of boiling beetroot for a moment and your kitchen turns pink!

Coming from a science background and in particular a food science and microbiology, I understand the principles of preserving.  So I went on a journey of exploration trying to find out why water was being added and was I missing something?

beetroot - cooked and cooled

Once boiled I left the beetroot to cool down so I could do that satisfying slipping off of the skins without burning myself.

I understand that Vinegar is the key preserving agent in my beetroot and at 5% acetic acid it is enough on its own to make my beetroot safe for months to come.  But it can be a touch harsh in flavour.  So, sugar and salt are added.  Although not in their official capacity as a trusted preservative in their own right but to help balance out the harshness of the vinegar on our taste buds.  And then for excitement herbs and  spices are added in such minute quantities that they don’t impact the safety.  The salt, sugar, herbs and spices can be adjusted and manipulated to give a flavour that complements whatever is being preserved and in a way that can be appreciated by the eater.  But that still doesn’t explain the addition of water, as it isn’t a preservative and it has no flavour.

Beetroot muffins

I took one of the cooked beetroot and turned it into beetroot muffins before getting started on the pickling for a tasty snack to keep me going.

The only hint of an explanation I could find that remotely made sense as I poked about on the internet while my beetroot bubbled away in a giant pot, was it helps soften the harsh hit vinegar can deliver, with the caveat that so long as there was never more water than vinegar – so you could match them and it would be ok.

Pickled beetroot recipe

In the end this is the recipe I used, from one of those old heirloom recipe books where the cover is long gone… Although I did use the star anise in the vinegar and any other spice in my cupboard I thought would compliment things…

I was nervous about such a significant addition of water, but found an actual trusted preserving site who pH’ed the vinegar / water mix with increasing additions of water, and when you are operating at the low pH that vinegar is (between 2 – 3) it is important to note that the pH scale is logarithmic and therefore the addition of water, while seeming a great quantity didn’t appear to have a dramatic effect on pH and the preserving liquor is deemed safe from that respect.

Pickled beetroot

I ended up with 5 jars of rough matchstick shaped beetroot to add to salads and 6 jars of slices – although most of the slices are quartered as they were too big for the jar!

Then I noticed something.  The water adders were American and the non-water adders were from places like here in NZ, Britain and Scandinavia.  I didn’t look any further as to who else did or didn’t do it as my beetroot was beginning to splash pink water all over my cook top.   But the biggest difference is the straight vinegar users just sterilised the jars, packed in the beetroot and then poured the vinegar over – sometimes it wasn’t even hot!  And then the lids went on and the beetroot was stored on shelves for  months with no other treatment.  Whereas the water adders took things one step further and either did water bath or pressure treatments before storing on the shelf for good measure.

The garden

Things are still soggy in the garden. I really need to change my thinking to not hope for better days as the long range forecast isn’t full of sunshine’s. But it is what it is and autumn is my favourite season anyway!

With my beetroot now cooked and cooling I need to make a decision – what method am I going to use… I took some of the beetroot and whipped up a batch of beetroot muffins while I deliberated…. But eventually I decided to go with what I knew and trusted, and used one of my mum’s favourite recipes, with all vinegar and no water, tweaking the spices to include star anise because it sounds like it would be a good match to the sweet earthiness of the beetroot.   Time will tell, but our burgers will once again have the traditional slice of beetroot tucked in between the lettuce and the beef patty.

Come again soon – I need to do a post storm weeding across the whole garden.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

NB:  if you want the beetroot muffin recipe to try for yourself:

My beetroot muffin recipe

Although this time I didn’t have chocolate chips so I used dates and I didn’t have vanilla essence so I used raspberry flavour and they were just as delish!

It’s been unprecedented

Firstly…  we’re ok.

There has been an extraordinary amount of rain in our neck of the woods this week.  So much so the word unprecedented has been bandied about quite freely.  But it isn’t everyday you see people wading through the airport up to their knees or water cascading over motorway barriers like a infinity pool or sloshing about inside buses.

Gloomy conditions

The water filled sky has been dark and gloomy, most of time for days!

Sadly this has been a devastating event, affecting a really large region, taking many by surprise before sliding further south to wreak havoc in more communities.  The amount of rain broke records.  The highest number was at the airport which recorded 249mm in 24 hours!  The worst part of it all is lives were lost and homes have been destroyed.  It was …  well….  Unprecedented.

Weather station

I think this is the most rain I’ve ever seen…. Just as well it wasn’t accompanied by harsh wind – that would have been all the more disastrous!

For us we were ok.  It isn’t like we didn’t get the rain, we got 150mm in that period, with 50mm coming in an hour in the middle of the night!  This is where living on sand is such a blessing.  We had surface water for a while but it was gone not long after the rain stopped.  At our old place in the swamp the water would have lingered, mixing in with the water from the previous outburst.  There it can take a week or more to drain away, but not before levels get so deep it becomes a flood.  We’ve seen some aerial footage from that neighbourhood in the news and it would seem that is exactly what has happened – the flat farmland has become an ocean with the tops of fence posts barely showing through the murky water.

River plume in the ocean

The plume of muddy fresh water from the Waikato River can be clearly seen in the ocean out the front of our place.

We haven’t come out completely unscathed but it is barely worth mentioning in the face of what everyone else is dealing with.  We had to put buckets out to catch a few drips from the ceiling, but not really anything to bother the insurance company about…  But it did prompt us to do something dramatic…

Wall repairs

Well this isn’t something we had been expecting to do this weekend, but we are so pleased we did.

Our house was built in the 1930’s and has suffered the indignity of being relocated twice!  Each trip, ten years apart were about 200km each.  House removal is a wonderful way of saving an old house from destruction for a very good price so was a great option for us.  The thing is our house is stucco, with a solid cement coating which, in general, protects us from the worst of the wind in this harsh environment.

Rain gauge

During a break in the weather I went into the garden to check things out… it would seem my rain gauge is woefully inadequate!

The thing is, with the moves, the stucco has picked up some cracks along the way.  For the most part this hasn’t been a problem.  A regular coating of paint keeps the stucco in good condition; however we haven’t painted the house at this point.  Firstly, we were distracted by other things…. Maybe a garden… and then we took ages to choose a colour.  Then we thought we’d do it ourselves, but never found the time.  Then tracking down a tradesman has proved to be next to impossible, so there have been delays.

Shifting sand

The pumpkin vine was buried in the shifting sand, but it was easily freed.

This storm, while being a terrible disaster and without being glib, it was a bit of a blessing as it made us notice all was not well on one of our external walls.  We pulled off the gib board and pulled out the insulation and exposed the frame and were shocked to find some wet patches on the inside of the outside wall.  It wasn’t bad, there was no mould or rot, just wet – possibly accentuated by the unprecedented amount of water.

garden path

It must have been like a river as the water raced through the garden from the surrounding hills.  It’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a rake when things dry out.

We consulted with our excellent kiwi architect friend, who just happens to live in America, who coincidentally was being visited by another friend of ours who was also a great architect.  So, with the best advice given to us by our trusted source over the internet we feel confident in fixing this ourselves.  Considering we probably aren’t the only people ripping gib board off their sodden walls right now I expect the hardest bit of the project will be sourcing new gib board when we need to put it back on again.  Once again this hasn’t been caused by the storm, just highlighted by it, so its not an insurance thing.


The driveway must have had quite the torrent race through, as it was on the verge of become a washout near the bottom. Our lovely farmer neighbour has since shored it up with his handy tractor.

In the meantime, the garden is ok.  It is quite soggy but I’m not doing much until it all stops as there is no point.  It is always best to wait until the weather calms downs before attempting to make repairs, to avoid causing further damage.  Besides, it’s still raining and I don’t want to get wet and that is ok.

Come again soon – hopefully normal summer will resume soon.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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