SARAH THE GARDENER

In a season of busy

I wonder if you know how it feels…  You make grand plans for something and completely over estimate your capabilities.  But through sheer tenacity manage to make some kind of dent what needs to be done.

Chitted potatoes

I wonder if it is possible to over chit potatoes. I really must find a window of time to get these puppies into some soil! : o)

I feel a little like this now, but I think now we are in the throes of spring and the workload increases on top of the commitments, responsibilities and garden building program, there are now seedlings to care for!

Mini Digger

Hooray for mini diggers – know if only I could automate some of my other responsibilities so I can spend more time in the garden!

The garden is progressing and is as far as having the beds built and the layout completed, there are two beds left to do.  And for filling them up – I am blessed to have been saved by my marvelous builder with a mini digger.  It just wouldn’t have happened without him and Hubby the Un-Gardener.  The digger filled barrows and Hubby the Un-Gardener wheeled them to where they needed to be and over the course of a long morning the job was done.  Such a feeling of relief.

Seedlings on a gloomy day

The seedlings are crying out to be transplanted out of seed raising mix, and it would seem like the perfect job for a gloomy day – except I need to step outside to get what I need without being blown away!

The beds still need enriching with compost, blood and bone, sheep pellets and a great product called Yates Dynamic Lifter to ensure the plants get what they need.  The weather today is horrible.  Freezing cold and rainy and miserable.  A far cry from last week when you could almost feel the full potential of summer.  It is a timely reminder to not trust spring with your seedlings – she is emotionally unstable!

Fennel the Cat and the Seedlings

After causing a minor disaster earlier Fennel the Cat knew she wasn’t supposed to be there and refused to look me in the eye! Well it is the warmest sunniest spot in the house!

But looking for blessings where they can be found, we haven’t had rain in weeks and so it should be filling the tank a little – if the wind allows any of the rain to actually settle on the roof to fall into the gutters!   But also after weeks of no rain the soil had become hard and difficult to work with.  This rain will return it to a more malleable state and make mixing in the enrichment materials easy.

Pumpkin, cucumber and Zucchini seeds

Now is a good time to think about sowing pumpkin, cucumber and zucchini seeds. There is always something to be done in a spring garden.

But my priority today is to transplant seedlings and to be honest there is no way I am working out there in that weather, so I’m going to drag all I need indoors and make a mess here.  Oh how I long for my dome to be done.  A warm greenhouse on a cold spring day can be such a sanctuary.

Come again soon – I’ll make time in the busy to stop and share.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Weed or wildflower?

It has been a busy week, but unfortunately not out in the garden.   I have been hard at work on my computer, working on exciting projects there, or staring out the window at weather that clearly shows my hardiness as a gardener.  It would seem I’ve gone a bit soft and freezing winds blasting straight up from the ocean, laced with sand it picked up along the way that could exfoliate my skin just as effectively as a facial in a fancy beauty salon, but for free, aren’t my idea of acceptable gardening conditions.  And then when the weather was perfect, and I had a clear day, I headed off on a road trip with a bunch of other garden writers.  Although I wouldn’t have missed that day as it was loads of fun.  However, doing it on a bleak and rainy day wouldn’t be nice either.  And so, when I finally emerged into the garden I noticed there had been some changes in my absence.

Daisy Chain

Daisy Chain

Sadly, it isn’t the beds being miraculously being filled.  That would make me jump for joy.  What it was that I noticed is there are flowers all over the place.   And I didn’t put them there.  We are in a slice of paradise that has only been occupied by cows in recent history and there certainly hasn’t been anyone planting anything here.  Just the whims and wishes of nature.

Blossom

I do have a few blossoms on the fruit trees I bought earlier

However, there is beauty everywhere, and not the soft pastel beauty normally attributed to spring in the form of daffodils and blossoms, but strong, bold yellows are the dominant colours and it has taken me by surprise.  It isn’t the kind of spring I’m used to, but I’ll take it.

But the question remains – weed or wildflower?  Every single one was found listed on a website that documents all of the weeds and ornamental escapees and lurk in our fine country.   So, do I enjoy, or do I seek and destroy?  Many on the list are things found in garden centres or used to be.  This makes for an interesting ethical choice as I go about planning my landscape. Even a common daisy can become a pain elsewhere so what seems like a lovely choice is so much more and comes with responsibility.

But for now, I have some weedy wildflowers to enjoy and then possibly destroy.

Groundsel

Groundsel

The most common has to the Groundsel (Senecio skirrhodon) a cheery little daisy like flower that is everywhere, but as cows were the previous occupiers they tended to avoid eating it because its toxicity.  Which I guess is why it is there spreading its cheerful seeds. It is suggested if you are a good neighbour in rural parts you’d get rid of it as it is an aggressive invader of pasture and coastal areas!

Gorse

Gorse

The next common I know needs to go, but when you look at the flowers you can see great beauty, but it is like those sea sirens that lure sailors in with their sweet sound and then turn nasty and that is gorse.  Those prickles that come with it are certainly not welcome and at the rate it can take over we need to act now.  Apparently, the country has spent millions of dollars trying to control it and so personal reasons aside I need to do my bit for my country.

Clover was a nice surprise as it shows the sand is being colonised by plants that can do good and use their nitrogen fixing powers.  There is a lot of lupin as well, but that isn’t flowering right now. I have a few patches of the red one (Trifolium pratense) and the white one (Trifolium repens).  They only appear to be listed in the weed section as they aren’t desirable in lawns but have a beneficial role in pasture.

Onion Weed

Onion Weed

Onion weed (Allium triquetrum) has also shown up – but in small numbers.  As much as it can be a pain to many gardeners you can’t help loving their cute little white bell shaped flowers.  I’m not game enough to try and eat it although from what I understand it is possible.

Gazania or Osteospermum

Gazania or Osteospermum – either way it is rather lovely.

One that surprised me was the Gazania – at least that is what I think it is.  It could be an Osteospermum.  They are both on the list of undesirables.  The Osteospermum because it is highly toxic specially to cows and the gazania because it is an escapee who just shouldn’t be in our sand dunes.  Either way there is a gorgeous apricot daisy-esk flower in the middle of nowhere!  I hope it is the gazania as I would love to use them to cover a sandy bank.  Not only is it pretty but if it likes the conditions it will help stabilise the bank and if it’s already here and not harmful to the neighbour’s cows…

Cape Daisy

Cape Daisy

Finally I was delighted to see Cape Daisies (Arctotheca calendula) as I remember them from my childhood.  The leaves grow out in a wide rosette and the flowers grow around the edges and so it looks what you would imagine a fairy ring would look like.  I spent a lot of time as a little girl imagining fairies hanging out there.  They are also perfect for making daisy chains as the stems are nice and wide and perfect for slipping a thumb nail through to make a hole in the stem for another stem to be threaded through.  We made chains by the metre!  Fun times.

Cape daisy

To a small child with an over active imagination this is absolutely a fairy ring!

However now it would seem to be a weed because it isn’t welcome in lawns and isn’t a good thing for cows to eat.  But it does seem to like it here beside the sea.

But enough the admiration, the calendar is clear and the day is mild, and I’ve just added invasive weed control to my very long list of things that need to be done in the garden.

Come again soon – things will be done.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

A proud history

I have to say in this fine country we are completely blessed with people full of passion and added to that exceptional resources, which have come together to make the kiwi gardening experience what it is – something amazing.

Many of our established garden brands are built on such vision and invention and to be honest as a humble gardener I don’t think we fully appreciate the effort these pioneers in New Zealand gardening have made it possible for us to have it so good.   For example, the good old Yates garden guide, started in 1895, Arthur Yates saw a need for a book that would answer gardeners’ questions and it is still a go to guide almost a century and a quarter later!

I was fortunate enough to be invited on a tour of the Daltons site down in Matamata this week and while not as old as the Yates Garden Guide, it is steeped with the same kiwi ingenuity and passion that makes us proud to be kiwis.  It is a company that began in 1947 and evolved to develop uses for local resources and biproducts and meet the evolving needs of their customers.  It was with a tenaciousness that the company worked on becoming what it is today.  It is still a proudly run family business.

They have also collaborated with the lovely Xanthe White to create a spectacular 10 acre display garden at the Dalton’s Plantation (just down the road) which is open for group bookings and events, that is oozing with inspiration at every turn.  The gardens are stunning and made all the more incredible with it being the most glorious blue sky spring day, making all the features pop.  As the season progresses and the plants grow to take their places, the gardens can only become more magnificent.  If you get the chance to check out these gardens, you are in for a treat.

Come again soon – it is one thing to swan about in other gardens, but it won’t get mine sorted out!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Window Sill Gardening

I love my dome.  It is the coolest thing I think I have ever had built.  But I have a bit of a problem with it…  It is not ready.  The builder has done his amazing bit and created it.  He has even put in a concrete floor with a ramp, so I can get Wilbur the Wheelbarrow in easily if I need to.  There is also a drain, so I can hose it out if it gets mucky and a pipe, so I can pop a tap in there too.  I’m toying with the idea of putting a sink in there as well, so I can wash things.  But the initial thoughts for the tap was so I could irrigate the seedlings automatically as Hubby the Un-Gardener is making noises about wanting to go away for family time on his boat from time to time.

Greenhouse ramp

Good to see Wilbur the Wheelbarrow will have easy access to the dome

This is a bit of a conflict for me as, as much as I love family time and enjoy the boat – the boating season clashes dreadfully with the gardening season.  So, I have to find a way to ensure my garden is happy while I’m off on the water being happy.  I can’t really begrudge him and the boat.  He is as passionate about it as I am about my garden, and like the garden it resulted in a bit of a budget blowout while restoring it, so now I feel justified in having my budget blowout so long as it isn’t more than he spent, and we are still a country mile away from that!

drainage

These little holes in the floor of the dome mean so much to me… they represent water in and water out!

So, all that remains for the dome to be a sanctuary for my seedlings is glass and shelves.   The shelves aren’t too much of a problem – I could give it a crack, under the direction of my builder and I can get to use the drop saw I picked up at the op shop for $24.  We’ll soon see if it is up to scratch…  The glazing on the other hand is a specialist job.  And we’ve had folk around to give quotes and wait with bated breath.  One suggests a very good price but a terrible time line – I ideally would like it done yesterday, and we are still waiting to hear from others.  I have no idea how much it is going to cost, but I’m in too deep to back down now.

Concrete floor of the dome

And now the dome has a lovely concrete floor.

Having said that, I am close to just temporarily getting a roll or two of that plastic they use to wrap pallets and go around and around and around until it is water tight.   These are desperate times.   You see, the season has begun.  Seeds have been sown.  It has been a long time since I had to grow seedlings on windows.  In fact, the last place didn’t have adequate window sills which is why I jumped into the greenhouse journey early on.

Fennel the Cat

Fennel the Cat getting up close and personal with my seedlings

Like with the container gardening I have being doing while gardenless I have been humbled by how others garden when there is no other choice.  I really take my hat off to container gardeners, you need to hover over your plants like a helicopter parent and take care of their every need because they aren’t in a position to do it for themselves, being stuck in a pot!  Unless you grow in containers you really don’t know how needy plants can be.

Baby Chicken

Turducken the baby chicken learning how to be an outside chicken by hiding from the big chickens.

So now I am window sill seed raising.  The first and biggest problem is Fennel the Cat and Turducken the baby chicken who is in the process of being weaned to outdoor living.  I solved this problem by popping my seed trays into large clear plastic containers with lids.  So, it didn’t bother me too much to see Fennel sleeping on top.  It is the sunniest spot in the house after all.

Seedlings in the bay window

These plants have the best spot in the house – so long as they survive the cat!

This new house is blessed with fabulous bay windows and my seedlings are currently occupying the better part of the best one that gets east, north and west sun (when it is shining).  I thought ‘clever’ me.  I’ve sussed it and it will be fine.  But then it would seem the clear plastic wasn’t clear enough, and my tomatoes are erring on the side of leggy!  Argh.  This meant bringing the plants out as they germinate, into the full sun of the bay window and exposing them to the risk of cat or chicken damage.  I did have some under a laundry basket, but there are too many now.

Curtain barrier

If you were a cat would this look impenetrable?

I pulled the curtains and leaned things up against them to make it seem like an impenetrable barrier.  I think I can convince the chicken, but I still don’t trust the cat.  I’m also hoping the white lining of the curtain will bounce light back onto the plants as I’m currently turning the trays regularly to try to get strong stems, not leggy ones reaching off in one direction.  If things don’t improve soon I’m considering attaching tin foil to the back of the curtains….  That doesn’t seem too desperate does it?

Growing under cover

It would seem these clear plastic containers aren’t quite clear enough

My hat is now being taken off to all those keen gardeners who start their gardens on windowsills, you work so much harder to get healthy plants than those of us with the luxury of a greenhouse.

Leggy seedlings

Oh no leggy seedlings! the only saving grace is tomatoes can be planted deeper than normal.

And now I need to go and find the hanging basket system I got the boat builder to put a place for on the boat, so I can garden at sea…  well you have to have fresh parsley with fresh fish!

Seedlings in the bay window

They have the best of everything I can give them short of being in the dome.

Come again soon – the garden is becoming closer to being ready each day.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Spring is Knocking on the door

I have a confession.  I have been holding out on you.  But I wanted it to be a surprise.  You see after the big storm back in April, when the house was still up on jacks, while the foundations underneath were being built, that brought with it 212km gusts straight off the ocean, I realised I’d have to adjust my vision for the garden a little.

House on jacks

I’m not sure many houses would be able to stand the full brunt of a terrible storm while in this vulnerable position.

That storm was terrifying, but the house stood strong and now in the midst of winter went a storm rolls in I feel safe and secure in the knowledge, no harm will come to us.  However, in years gone by I have spent many a night lying awake and thinking the worst as the wind whipped around my glasshouse, and its predecessors of varying quality.  The storm made me realise things out here on the coast need to be built of stronger stuff and the greenhouse I had picked out but not yet purchased, just wouldn’t last long in these conditions.  I naively thought the ability to withstand winds of up to 150km would be enough.

Glasshouse

I do miss my old greenhouse. I’d be spending most of my days in there about now!

A greenhouse is a significant investment for a good one and I was looking at spending around $6K.  The conditions of the move with Hubby the Un-Gardener, was I was to have everything I had before, and in time for the new growing season.  That required a good budget, because the old garden had come about over the decade with a bit spent here and a bit spent there, and no one noticed how much it really cost.  Until we did a quick add up as we were packing to leave….  I had a good budget and thought I could get away with a slight upgrade on the greenhouse…  just a touch bigger than the old one.  A chance like this wouldn’t come about often.

But had I bought the greenhouse before the storm that would have been money wasted especially as I found out years ago, you can’t ensure a greenhouse on the eve of a storm.  The insurance people weren’t very encouraging at all, strangely.  So, the storm was a blessing, but one that required a rethink.

Geodesic biodome

I love my geodesic biodome. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!

Then I remembered my lovely friend Bren, over in Ohio, who I met when I went to the Garden Bloggers Conference back in 2015 in Atlanta, USA, has a Geodesic Biodome and loved it.  She could garden in the middle of a snowy winter in there.  You should check her out – she is over at Brenhaas.com and has fabulous gardening things going on. I don’t need mine so much to keep the cold out, but aren’t triangles the safest shape? And with it being a dome shape the wind would just sail right over.  It seemed perfect.

New garden

The new garden is coming along nicely. I think come summer you would think it had always been there! : o)

So, I set the wheels in motion and asked my builder – “do you think you can build me one of these?” and showed him a picture on the internet.  He knows me better now and my strange requests that start with “can you build me…” doesn’t faze him anymore.  But he embraced the challenge and now I have a fabulous geodesic biodome sitting proudly in my garden!  And I love it.  It still needs glazing and shelving, but oh my goodness it is awesome.  Oh, and don’t ask about the budget – I think I blew that a long time ago.

If you want to see my wonderful dome and have a tour of my garden to see what I’ve been up to lately, check out my latest You Tube video.

Now the dome is up, I really need to press on as spring starts on Saturday and I’ve still got beds to build and loads of digging to get them all filled.

Come again soon – the new growing season in my new garden is about to begin.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Hunting and Gathering Trees

Finally, the weather turned to ‘not rainy’ and my schedule cleared up and I could go tree shopping.   Only I’ve left it a little late.  I knew I had but didn’t realise just how late as all the good stuff was gone.  It was my worst fear.  Well actually that is an overreaction, but it was rather disappointing.  Aside from earlier in the week, I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of becoming an orchard keeper and didn’t have the time to go off in search of trees.

Feijoas

I love how orderly nurseries look – everything in straight rows.

The up side was I was able to get some of what I needed, and I think I will just need to lurk in every nearby nursery and tree seller over the next wee while until I find what I need.  There is no real hurry, not really, except for my desire to indulge in fresh peaches and have plums for Christmas (maybe not this one) and sink my teeth into a sweet crispness that is fresh apples straight from the tree.  Once you know the pleasure of these things it is difficult to be without.

Bud break

Gosh, I’m sailing close to the wind here – the blossoms on the trees in the nursery are about to burst forth.

I was able to cross some things off my list, so progress is being made.  I have acquired a Santa Rosa Plum which is a complete must have if you want to grow many plums as it is a pollinator to many.  In the old orchard I wasn’t getting a harvest of plums and kept adding more plum trees in the hope they would make good friends and neighbours with no real resolution to the problem until I planted a Santa Rosa and then the plums finally began to put in an appearance.  Sadly, that first bumper crop was the in the season we sold up and left.  It broke my heart to see the potential harvest after years of waiting.  So, this time I am starting well.

Buying Trees

I think Hubby the Un-Gardener wanted to pop this wee dog into the barrow too, but we have enough on our plates right now.

These plums are said to be very yum with medium sized fruit with purple skin and yellow flesh and juicy.  They should be ready for harvest in mid-summer which will be perfect for grazing on fruit in the lazy, hazy days of summer.

To go with it, I didn’t quite get what I wanted but with the beauty of the great big internet in my hand I did a quick search right there and then to compare the varieties in front of me to see if any remotely matched my list.  I found a Wilsons Early would give me my Christmas plums and is great friends with Santa Rosa.  I still need a Black Doris for that late season deliciousness and I want a Damson – for the gin!  I will keep looking for these.

Citrus

Citrus will have to wait. Besides they always seem to have it in stock.

I also wanted an early, mid and late season apple that stores well.  But I didn’t really want anything ordinary and the nursery was awash with granny smiths.  I didn’t really know what I wanted for mid and late season options and figured I’d know it when I saw it.  Fortunately, they had just one tree left for my early choice – a Cox’s Orange.  I vaguely remember my Grandfather growing these.  It think they were the ones, I’ll know when I take that first bite.  So, the apple search goes on.

Grasses

Hubby the Un-Gardener took a fancy to these grasses. I didn’t bring him along for independent horticultural thought. He was there to lift and carry!

I managed to get a couple of Feijoas as while one is good, two are better.  They had the Mammoth ones I was after, but not my other choice, but at the end of the day, any feijoa is a good feijoa so I picked up an Apollo which is said to have large fruit and excellent flavour.

They also had my choice of Blueberries, so I have a Blue Dawn (which I had at the last place) and a Blue Magic.  These will go into the fruit cage, that still needs building, over beds that still need building and filling.  But good things take time and we’ll get there.  I also picked up a Black Satin Blackberry for in there too.  It is said to have large berries with a unique tart / sweet flavour.  This does concern me a little – that ‘unique’ word as the last time I tried a berry like this, I grabbed it on a whim at the garden centre and didn’t actually enjoy the flavour.  This is one plant I didn’t mind leaving behind.

Loading the car with trees

Make it fit Hubby the Un-Gardener.  Make it fit!

And finally, I grabbed an Olive.  It was on the list but more as a wish and I hadn’t spent anytime looking into it, but as they didn’t have anything else on my list I kind of impulse bought to feel like I wasn’t so far behind with my tree buying project.  Everyone tells me olives will do well here so we well see.  If it is the wrong kind, then I can always get a different one – we have the space.

pruning damaged trees

With trees in transit, there is bound to be some kind of damage. Use clean sharp secateurs to remove broken branches as soon as you get home.

I do feel a little sorry for the humble collection of trees I have just acquired as I have a ‘do or die’ philosophy when it comes to fruit trees.  I have tried to select varieties that are suggested to do well here but add the sea element to the mix and I’m really not sure how they will do.  But I can only but try.  It is better to try and fail than not try at all and never know you have missed out on all that you could have.

Come again soon – the tree search will continue with gusto.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Getting Fruity

I have a problem.  I want it all and I want it now.  But there is an ancient Chinese proverb to support me in my pressing desires.  “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.  The next best time is now.”  Added to the sense of urgency is winter is slipping away.  Ordinarily I’d be champing at the bit to have this cold and miserable season behind us, so I can get on with the growing season.  However not when it comes to trees.

Apples

An orchard isn’t an orchard with out apples

The ideal time to plant trees is now and all the nurseries have all the best trees up for grabs for the quick and the keen.  In order to have what I want I need to act now so they don’t run out of all the cool ones and in an ideal world, so I can plant them before they burst into life for the new season.

The biggest offering from my nectarine tree so far

The nectarine tree made the yummiest fruit

The problem is, I’m not ready for them yet.  Nothing that a hard weekend toiling away won’t fix.  The problem with that solution is there are also several other tasks and chores that need doing before the spring that are also nothing a hard weekend toiling away won’t fix.   But priority needs to be allocated where priority needs to be and at the end of the day if I don’t buy these trees then they’d just be sitting at the nursery in pots waiting for someone to buy them and so here or there, it shouldn’t make much difference.  Although I do prefer the waiting here option.

Grow well little tree

I hope this little tree is doing well

I miss my old orchard.  The oldest trees were 10 years old and the youngest was planted last winter.  But my goodness – the fresh peaches in summer were to die for!  So sweet and juicy.  The quince made amazing jam, the plums were only just starting to come into their own.  There were 30 or so trees, not really chosen with care, but each harvest was well received.  Most found their way into the orchard on a whim while at a garden centre for something else.  The many plums were the result of planting a new one each season in the hope the pollinator combination would finally work and result in a bumper crop.  I think we got it right in the end but never got to see that bumper harvest.

A respectable looking orchard

A respectable looking orchard – I miss it.

This time I want to be more intentional and have spent hours looking into different varieties, what would work well in our climate and conditions. Pollinators needed to match up and flavour and yield was also an influencing factor.  And finally, I want a good spread of fruit through out the year.  I don’t want all the apples ready at the same time but result in a steady supply across the season with the final harvest being good to store.

Damson plums

We would get plenty of damson plums and always made the best damson gin, so a new one is absolutely on the list

You can have too much of a good thing and so the stone fruit will be a bountiful harvest across the summer, not just in January when we are more likely than not away somewhere on holiday.   I’ve also gone towards free stone and not cling stone, because if I’m going to preserve these babies, I want to make it easy on myself.

Feijoa

There is something said to be said for the short but hugely abundant season! Feijoa are too good not to add to the list.

The winter months will be a filled with the yellow sunshine of citrus and the ordinary will be enhanced with tamarillo, feijoa, persimmon, and fig.  The last two I planted late in my old orchard and never saw any fruit.  In our frost-free position, I have high hopes for the tamarillo as back in the swamp I killed a few trying.  I have always wanted to try olives and have been told here would be good for them.   Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

berry fruit

I’ve got the berry fruit covered too – in more ways than one. I want to build a fruit cage.

The old orchard had a do or die philosophy.  And some trees died.  It comes from my greed of wanting to have it all.  I have the space so why not try.  Although there are somethings I will do differently.  For a start the old orchard was ‘down the far end’ which to be honest wasn’t really that far when you only have 3 acres, but far enough for a lacklustre interest to be the predominate attitude, except when bearing fruit.

Peach Jam

There will be more jars of sunshine to brighten up a winters day

The new orchard will be an extension of the garden – just up the back and certainly not out of sight.  The hose may even reach most of the trees if I plan it well.  It will also require a bit more attention in the area of pest control and wind breaks.  There are rabbits and deer here (so I’ve been told.  I’ve seen plenty of rabbits, although not in the garden and I have yet to see the deer.)   Over the last decade the cost of trees has climbed dramatically and are a significant investment when buying them all in go, rather than in dribs and drabs over the years.  So, it is in my best interests to lavish love and care upon them.

pears in a basket

One day soon I’ll have an abundant harvest of goodness again

So, I have my list and now all I need to do is go shopping.   I love this bit.

Come again soon – the garden is still coming along but was momentarily delayed by a rather cold and windy storm.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Spuds and stuff.

The garden is coming along nicely, although I would like it to be a touch faster, but there are only so many hours in the day.  I’m still convinced I’ll get there.  Having a teenager help, under duress, is filling the beds – slowly.  I think Hubby the Un-Gardener may need to step up soon too.  I’ll sell it to him like a pre summer workout program to save on gym fees.   In fact, maybe I should sell it to many people and have a workout weekend!  It may come to that.  Especially as constructing the beds has ground to a halt as there has been a bit of an issue surrounding the supply of the timber.  And just when I got a fancy new cordless drill.  I think I wore out the old one as it really won’t hold a charge anymore.

Chitting potatoes

Let the chitting begin

But as we approach the spring, the focus of the garden has split like a medusas hairstyle.  There is more than the building and filling of the beds to be done in order to be ready.  There are normal pre-spring things to do, like sort out the seeds I want and gather them together.  My poor seed collection got a tad neglected over the last year.  The ideal place to store them is in a rodent proof tin in a cool dry place.  My temporary garden shed over last summer was the back of the car.  While certainly rodent proof and dry, not the ideal ‘tin’ environment for seeds in summer as I think I may have cooked them all. So now I need to decide to start with all new seeds or risk it and have the chance of a late restart due to failed seeds.  I think I’ll do new in my new garden and avoid the hassle.   Due to the size of the garden, this isn’t a quick task and needs a good afternoon to decide what I actually want to grow.

maori potato urenika

Oh and then there are these Urenika Maori potato potatoes I forgot about that were chitting on top of a fridge in the bedroom. I think they may need to be grown in pots…

But more pressing is the spuds.  100 days from Christmas is on the 18 September.  This is the only pre-Christmas planning I end up doing.  The festive season is usually approached in a state of panic and the question ‘where did the time go?’ hanging on my lips.  In order to get the seed potatoes chitted in time, now is about the time to search them out.

I normally like to go for Jersey Benne’s for Christmas, but this year I’ve gone for something a little different.  I’m trying Cliffs Kidneys.  Apparently, they are an excellent, firm potato, great for boiling.  Which is good because that is how you want your salad type potatoes in the summer.  It is also supposed to be great for containers, which is good, because in recent years I’ve grown the holiday season spuds in containers, so I can take them with us if we go away and dig them up fresh when needed.

potatoes

Oh and then there are these potatoes I grew in pots in early July … because I could! We don’t seem to get frosts here. At the last place winter potatoes in pots would have had to have been safe in the green house. I think we will be up to our ears in spuds this year!

In the potato garden bed there is generally space for 4 varieties.  I like to have some more versatile ones as the season wears on – there is only so much boiled potato you can have and my favourite Ilam Hardy, a great 2nd early / main crop spuds make great chips and roast spuds and baked potatoes.   I also chose some Purple Hearts which are also 2nd early / main crop and are my fun choice as they are purple through and through with the added benefit of loads of great antioxidants.

growing Kumara slips

I’ve always wanted a kitchen with a windowsill so I can do things like start of the kumara (sweet potato) in order to get some slips. Don’t these kumara have the best view?!

Then I need some winter keepers, so I can store them into the cool months.  I hate having to buy things I can easily grow so I need to grow a couple of main crops.  I picked up some Heather which the labels assure me has a wonderful taste.  It is quite interesting because when you buy them in the supermarket you normally just grab a sack of what ever is cheapest without giving much thought to taste.  Home grown definitely makes you look at the ordinary in a different way!

Yams Oca

I’ve also started chitting my yams (Oca). I never get a good harvest, but I just keep trying. I think this time I’m going to give more space and try for the less is more approach.

I still need one more main crop and felt quite overwhelmed in the store, so I came home to review my purchases and decide where the gap is, so I can really stretch my spud growing season and therefore the spud eating season.  I think I’ll go with Rua.  It is a good all rounder and will boil and roast well.  And more importantly it produces heavily and keeps well.  It takes 160 days to mature, so getting them started when I plant my Christmas spuds will have them ready at the end of February.

Garden in progress

But I do need to get a wiggle on – the potato bed isn’t ready yet and they need to be planted out in 6 weeks! Eeek!

Gosh I can barely think that far ahead.  All the effort to get the garden ready will be well in the past, the crops I’m only beginning to think about now will be fading or have already been eaten.

If I thought things were busy before, they are about to get a little crazy in the next month or so.

Come again soon – there will be tomatoes planted out in October!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

A Notable Situation

You only really get one chance at a new start.  And while we have been here since January and work started on the garden in May when the container that held our worldly possessions was emptied into the house and removed, today is a new start.  Probably the last opportunity to call something a new start in my new garden.

New note book

I’m starting off with good intentions.

For me it is the official start of the 2018 growing season and seeds will be sown.  Not many, but enough that will become part of this year’s harvest and therefore it counts.   There are onions, shallots, garlic and asparagus already in the garden, however, their start is so early in the season that it is hard to tell if they are at the end of last season or at the beginning of this season, so they don’t count.  Not to me anyway.   The onion and garlic are harvested well before anything remotely considered a summer crop even begins to get going.

pepper seeds

The obligatory first handful of seeds of the season photo to mark the occasion. I’m not sure I have any like this for the poor pumpkins.

Besides I like auspicious beginnings and I have decided today is it!  Every year for the last few years on the first of August I start my peppers, chillies, capsicum and eggplant seeds.  I have also recently added celeriac and celery to the list because the seeds are so tiny and they take so long to get going, and I have found this head start really helps to get a harvest in good time.  But the peppers and eggplants are such a long season crop and in order to get the plants mature enough to produce enough of a harvest that can be stored as well as eaten and enjoyed fresh before the frost wipes them out, starting them now is a good idea that works well.

Clean seed trays

I always start my growing season off with clean seed trays, lovingly washed thoroughly. The peppers get the royal treatment. In 2 months time when I start the poor pumpkins they will be lucky if their trays get a bit of a shake to dislodge any dirt.

All the other fun things like tomatoes, potatoes, cucumbers, beans and other wonderful crops have to wait.  There is no benefit in starting these ones early.  All that does is create extra effort managing plants that get too big too soon when it is still too cold to put them outside.   Every plant has its own sense of timing that is not just dependant on the possibility of frost.  They also work with soil temperature and day length among other things.  Nature has thought of everything, so the plants succeed. We just need to do our bit to help and not hinder the process.

space seeds well

Space seeds well for good airflow and to reduce the risk of damping off

Today marks the start to an extremely busy season for me – half the beds aren’t even built yet!  With finishing the garden and the usual seed sowing and seedling care, things are about to get hectic.  So, I started a note book.  Not a fancy one, just one of the kid’s school books that didn’t get used.  It has 188 pages and a hard back.  I have every intention of using each page and it will need its firm covers as it will be given a bit of a hard life.

Seed labels

To remember what I’m growing it is always helpful to sow in alphabetical order and take a photo lest something untoward happens to my up-cycled milk bottle labels.

I will sit down and the beginning of the day and make note of the weather.  Once the garden is up and running I want a cool weather station.  But that is on the wish list not the need list.  Then I’ll list what I want to do.  Then at the end of the day I’ll come back and write down what I actually did and if I planted seeds then I’ll make a note of how many etc.

google calendar for garden notes

Google calendar is a great way to remember what you have done before, if you remember to do it in the first place.

I may also jot down in my google calendar the days I planted seeds and then schedule the expected harvest date.  This is great from year to year as it is immediately searchable.  I’ve done this in the past but somehow life got in the way and I stopped.

Baby chicken

It isn’t advisable to let baby chickens help. Turducken is growing up fast and really wants to be where all the action is.

While on holiday I read a book, not a gardening book as such but a story with a garden angle and in it one of the characters had all these journals about the garden going back years to when the show garden was first created.  They became more of a story themselves than just lists of to dos and what’s been done.  I think it would be nice to document this garden in that way.  So today as the first day of seed sowing for the new season is a good place to start.

I hope I can manage to stick with it.  I’ve started notebooks before and lasted about 3 and a half weeks!

Come again soon – I officially declare this season open!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Boxed in

We are firmly on the down hill run to spring and the final weeks of winter are imminent.  Ordinarily this fills me with excitement and a large portion of my being is jumping with joy.  The rest of me really wants to apply some kind of seasonal hand brake.  There is still too much to be done.   I have my lists and a loose sense of order but my thoughts lately are lingering on the orchard.

Boxthorn

Boxthorn – it’s a bit of a brute

Winter is the best time to plant trees and if I want to get back to the point I was in the old garden I really need to get them in this season.  I have been mulling over a long list of things I want.  The length of the list surprised me, as it is pretty much what we had before.  But a couple of trees here and there over ten winters can be almost imperceptible growth.  This time I want to be more strategic.  I want to plan the fruiting season so there is almost always something in harvest to minimise the glut. I want to select fruit because of their qualities, not based on availability at the garden centre closest to me and purchased on a whim while there for compost!

Birds and boxthorn

Strangely the chickens like to bask beneath the boxthorn. Other birds like to shelter in there too, so I may need to replace it with something less invasive but just as bird friendly.

I still have time to carefully consider this, however there is a bit of a problem in the spot I want to plant them and so I need to address this sooner rather than later so when the time comes to planting things it will go smoothly.  There are several large thickets of Boxthorn.  Gosh I hate the stuff.  You only need to stand on one of those thorns to know all about it.  It hurts for a long time.

GARDENA Tree and Shrub Lopper StarCut 160 plus

The Tree and Shrub Lopper StarCut 160 plus is perfect for this job – to save me from getting up close and personal with those thorns.

The early farmers thought it would be a good idea to bring these babies over from South Africa to make a good hedge to keep those colonial cows contained in fields.  Unfortunately, the plant likes it here too much and has taken over, especially in coastal areas.  I think we will have a long-term relationship with it to get rid of it, but the best way is to chop it back and then dig it out.  That sounds like loads of fun.

GARDENA Tree and Shrub Lopper StarCut 160 plus

I’ll have the soon to be orchard cleared in no time.

The good people at Gardena couldn’t have better timing when they asked if I could give their Lopper StarCut a go.  In years to come, it will be a pleasure to prune wayward fruit trees but for now it is this is the perfect tool for this job.  I don’t mind a tedious, mind numbing chore in the garden.  Weeding really doesn’t bother me, so, as long as I am well protected with thick gloves and a telescopic lopper then I think I am prepared to tackle the boxthorn in my soon to be orchard.      If I keep in mind the taste of a crisp apple or the juiciness of a sun warmed peach, I should be able to get through it in no time at all.   Then we will have a big bonfire and celebrate the efforts with toasted marshmallows and mulled wine.

GARDENA Tree and Shrub Lopper StarCut 160 plus

Right tool for the job – this even has a handy hook for dragging the trimmings away because I’m not going anywhere near those spikes.

Wish me luck…  I’m going in.

GARDENA Tree and Shrub Lopper StarCut 160 plus

I am no longer daunted by this nasty plant – Be afraid Mr Boxthorn, I’m coming after you!

Come again soon – hopefully I won’t look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards, bleeding from the cuts of a thousand thorns.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

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