SARAH THE GARDENER

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)

 

Lists of things to do

While we were away, I did do a lot of thinking about what needs to be done to get the garden ready for the spring.  I have a fixed vision in my head of how I want it to be and it is shaping up nicely.  But things were also happening behind the scenes.  I’m not all that great with my spatial awareness as shown by when I needed to do a quick readjustment to my plans once I was able to fully assess the space in person.  But that was easily sorted.

Garden before

Before we left the garden was surrounded by piles of mounded up earth from the first bulldozer push

Not so easily sorted was where I had asked for the 6 loads of good earth from up near Froggies to be put.  How was I to know it would be in the way?  It seemed like it was tucked up away in a corner.  Only once the bulldozer began levelling the garden that the problem became apparent and I could only build half the garden.  There just wasn’t enough manoeuvre room in the far end to sort it all out in one go.

Garden after

On our return the mounds were gone and the the garden area is flat and space has been created for my shed and my office.

So, while I was away the bulldozer got back to work – with help of a tractor with a scoop and the soil was moved to a more sensible place and the rest of the garden was levelled out enough for me to continue with the building of the beds.  It was lovely to come home to some progress that occurred in my absence.  They even managed to roughly fill most of the beds already constructed.

Soil mound

The soil mound is now in a better place, at least I hope it is. All going well it won’t be there for long as the beds find themselves full of soil goodness.

The garden is now segmented into various stages – some excitingly require the planting of plants and sowing of seeds, others in hard construction and the rest require extracting from my head and into reality.

The best way forward from this point is to write some lists and if I put them here then there is a degree of public accountability to keep me on track. Having said that the motivation to get the garden ready for the spring doesn’t need much of a push.  Especially if I’m to be planting out tomatoes in 13 weeks.

filled beds

I was hoping fairies would come while I was away and fill my beds and it seemed my wish came true.

First list:  Building rest of the beds

  • Paint the brackets with an anti-rust paint on the edges so they don’t rust in our salty air.
  • Check how much wood I have left – I suspect someone (possibly me) transposed the numbers when making the order and at a glance it looks like I have an excess of 1m lengths and significant lack of 2m lengths. Possibly order more.
  • Assemble the beds
  • Fill the beds.

A simple list.

garlic

The garlic I planted on the day after the shortest day has made a dramatic arrival while we were away.

Next list:  The existing beds.

  • Continue levelling them so they line up and look pretty.
  • Enrich the beds with compost, blood and bone, and some Dynamic Lifter. This should allow the nutrients to incorporate with the new soil and form some kind of microbial community and soil structure long before needed.
  • Except in the beds that need onions and asparagus planting in them sooner rather than later. Plant asparagus and onion seedlings.
  • All beds – already and soon-to-be constructed need irrigation. This is always easier to do before planting but some plants are already in situ, but it will be fine.
  • Speaking of irrigation, I need to sort out a water tank for the garden so I don’t ‘accidently’ drain the house dry. All our water needs are met by the heavens above.
  • I need to find and order a load of bark for between the beds.
Strawberries

The strawberries can barely contain their excitement at getting a new home. They don’t seem to be able to wait.

Another list:

  • I need to finalise my under glass growing solution – it is in progress and close to being assembled, but I really want to do a grand reveal for this one so I’ll keep you guessing. But all I can say is it is under control and I’m super excited.
  • Sort out the seeds and get things started so there will be things to plant when the time is right.
  • I need a shed… and an office to write from. This is on another master list awaiting a next stage fiscal injection. It’s like they don’t trust you when building – or maybe they like to keep you on edge… I have chosen the ones I want and can already see myself working in them.
  • Fruit cage. This is more pressing – I have strawberries and raspberries that have been languishing in pots for about a year now.  I’m surprised I haven’t killed them.  This fact alone makes them deserving of a grand home where they won’t be harried by birds stealing their fruit.  I can see it in my head but haven’t managed to clarify the details as yet.
  • Plant an orchard. I want to fill the place with fruit trees, but I need to choose, source and acquire them with haste as there is only 4 – 5 weeks remaining as the ideal time to plant trees for this season.  I had over thirty trees in my old orchard and find the new wish list has not been compromised in any way.   Holes need to be dug!
  • Once the whole thing is created I want to wrap a rabbit, chicken and deer proof fence around the lot with some kind of barrier to prevent the encroachment of the kikuyu grass that thrives in this spot.
  • Compost heap – I’m going to need one of these too – a lovely three bin one.
chicken

Another arrival while we were away was this delightful little chicken that The Joeyosaurus must raise and care for, for a school project. She has been lovingly named Turducken and is a huge distraction.

I think that’s it.  There are probably lists within the lists and things I haven’t thought of but I’m on the right track and full of enthusiasm.

Come again soon – I wonder where I’ll start.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I’ve been away

After all of the dramatic events of the last nine months – making the decision to move, preparing the house to sell, not to mention the extremely stressful sale process.  That is the only thing you can’t control and stands firmly between you and your dreams.  Then making the move to the new place, with the festive season smack bang in the middle of the packing up the worldly possessions stage, added to the intensity of the times we were in.    Add to this – not just moving house but moving a house, which was then ravaged by a great storm before being settled firmly on its foundations.   Exciting times.  During this experience our family was drawn closer together with 100 days living in a caravan – 40 of which had no internet.  The upside was it was summer, so it was like a strange camping trip.

Our house

On a gorgeous midwinter day, it was difficult to tear ourselves away, even if our destination was wonderfully exotic.

Now we are in the house, the garden is being built and on track to be ready for the new growing season it seemed like the ideal time to take a well-earned mid-winter break.  For 12 magnificent days we basked in the warmth of the incredible Tahitian sun.  I was completely off the clock and focused on relaxing and restoration, so I could approach the new growing season with gusto upon our return.  But I can share with you a few images I captured from this beautiful place.

Spring starts in 41 days and it is far from the normal start to my usual growing seasons.  I still have beds build and to fill, sort out my under glass growing solution, get a shed, sort out a reliable water source and so much more.  So, I have come back from my break rearing to go.

Come again soon – I think there will need to be some lists.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

NB: clicking on the image should bring up a slideshow and captions.

Moving Mountains

I have a mountain of earth to move. It equates to 6 truckloads of good quality swamp-like soil from ‘up near Froggies’ near where we used to live.  I feel confident it will be a fabulous growing medium for my new garden and it appears to be weed free.  It has been hanging about for a couple of months now and nothing nasty has reared its head.  This is always a great relief when taking delivery of soil from an unknown location.

Mountain of earth

From this angle it looks insurmountable. It is certainly a lot of earth.

The earth needs moving for a couple of reasons.  The first obvious one is I need to fill beds so I can be ready for the spring.  There are a lot of beds, so it should make a good dent in the mountain.  However, I have only constructed half the beds I need and want, because of the mountain.  The bulldozer can’t adequately manoeuvre around it to flatten out the last little bit of garden in the front corner and the mountain of earth is where I want to put my tool shed and so it clearly needs moving at some point, so I can construct a shed to store my tools.

Digging dirt

However we have been chipping away at it from the other side.

I should have thought more about it when I had the soil delivered, but the places that I think would have been ideal now – being easy access for digging from and out of the way of everything we have going on now, would have been in the way for the delivery of the house or even more frustrating would have been right where the caravan was that we were living in at the time.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing.   At the time it seemed like a good spot.

Beds are being filled

Beds are being filled

The great thing about this soil and something I will fully appreciate in the summer is it seems to hold water very well.  This is a quality my plants will enjoy and will assist my water tank to stretch across the long hot summer I am hoping for this season.  When dry this soil is light, crumbly and can best be described as fluffy.  When wet it is clay-like, sticky and very heavy.  A few days in the sun and it goes back to fluffy with the lightest touch of the rake.

Shallots

And things are being planted. Shallots went in yesterday.

But it is winter and in winter it rains…  a lot!  So I am trying to move a heavy, sticky mountain most days.  It doesn’t make it fun.   I have found after a day of rain – it makes good sense to wait until the sun has been on it a good few hours and then take the soil from the top and sides where it isn’t so claggy.  It is slow going for me and in trying not to over exert myself I just do a few wheelbarrow loads at a time then go and do something else and come back to the garden a little later.

Garlic

The pre-sprouted garlic has been in a week and is doing well.

I have also hijacked our lovely builders helper a couple of times.  It is amazing how fast a strapping young lad can move dirt.   Hubby the Un-Gardener has also been fulfilling his role to dig on demand, although the demands on his real job are often incompatible with my demands in the garden.  All can hope for really is a whole bunch of magical fairies to come along in the night and work their magic.  Say it with me “I believe in fairies, I believe in fairies.”

In the meantime I’ll continue to plod on and slowly and steadily, knowing out of sheer determination I will get there in the end.

Come again soon – you’ll find me in the garden – digging.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Progress

I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew, and my eyes are bigger than my stomach but I really want what I want, so I will work hard to get there.   My garden is huge.  Last time it was built up slowly over 10 years.  This time I want it all done in 10 weeks.  Actually I have longer than that but it sounds more dramatic that way.

before the garden

I have to keep reminding myself what the garden looked like before I started so I can appreciate how far I’ve come.

Winter isn’t the best time to be doing all of this either – well it is because it is a behind the scenes kind of a season where nothing much is growing and if I pull it all off, I will meet my goal of being ready for the new season.  I am desperate to meet this goal because buying vegetables is beginning to wear thin.  I don’t mind buying onion, garlic and spuds when my crops run out…  but to have to buy other simple easy to grow things that should be safely tucked up in my freezer or out in the garden to be pulled at my leisure like a fresh carrot….  To me I can see the benefits to growing, in taste, freshness and lack of plastic wrap very clearly and I’m keen to remove the cost of veggies from my weekly shop.   This keeps me motivated, that and realising the vision in my head of the finished garden in full flourish – it will look magnificent.

soil being delivered

I’ve only got six truckloads of dirt to shift…. how hard can that be?

The problem is winter is cold and wet and often times miserable and it is much more preferable to be wrapped up warm by the heater.  It is easy to get down on myself for not achieving much on a daily basis.  Fortunately I have installed a time lapse camera overlooking the garden and can see just how much I have achieved in as little as one month!  I don’t feel so bad about it all now and I’m encouraged to carry on.  Every little bit helps.  I will get there in the end – determined and exhausted.   But it will be well worth it.

Filled beds

Beds are being filled, visual progress is being made… we’ll get there in the end.

You can see for yourself just how far I’ve come by checking out my timelapse footage:

Come again soon – progress is being made and Rome wasn’t built in a day!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Paving Paradise

We recently headed on down to the local Fieldays event for farmers and rural types.  I’ve been meaning to go for a decade.  We’re rural types and with over a 1000 exhibitors and all things country it seemed like the perfect thing for us to do.   It was a lovely day out, but my head was all about the garden, and my wallet – in spite of all the great deals, was intrinsically linked to the house and at this point is a finite resource to be guarded tightly.   Fortunately, my heart was blinded to all the exciting possibilities found at many points along the crowded paths and bursting stalls.

Feildays

Such an incredible event and the thing I came way with the most was the mud proof flooring! Funny the way your mind works from time to time!

However with the garden foremost in my head, the thing that drew my eye was the wood chips on the ground to mark out trade sites and keep down the mud in the paths.  I kept wondering what they would be doing with it after the show – there must have been acres of it in nice thick layers.  It turns out the event centre reuses it, shame.    Now for me right now, picking up a truck load or two of preloved woodchip at a bargain basement price would be the deal of the century.  Alas not to be.

But it did get me thinking about my garden paths.  It is still a bit early to be making a decision but not too early to start thinking about it.   What would be the ideal medium for the ground between the gardens.   I put a post out on Facebook and Twitter to see what others used and what they thought.

Sandy paths

At the moment the paths are a blank canvas. I did toy with the idea of leaving the sand, however in the height of summer it would be hot and the slightest breeze would kick it up into my face as I worked… so yeah… bad idea.

It basically came down to about four main options each with pros and cons. It was good to see what others thought, and added to my own experiences and I think I have come up with a decision.  However I’m open to persuasion.  So please let me know your thoughts.   Here’s mine.

LAWN

I love the look of well mowed lawn between the beds.  It is comfortable and cooling to sit on in the summer as I tend the beds and isn’t to difficult to set up – scatter seeds and wait.  The last garden has grass all around and after a mow it looked stunning.

However, the new garden is about the same size as the last one and will introduce the same problems.  Due to the MS, keeping it mowed was exhausting.   I tried mowing in sections so I wouldn’t get exhausted, but then I never achieved that lovely well mown look all across the place.  It often left me too stuffed to actually do the pottering about.  I have tried getting others to help but they often did more harm than good as a trailing cucumber vine was mulched to a pulp, a hanging pea shoot became ensnared in the passing handle and ripped ruthlessly from the earth, among other things.  Non gardeners just don’t get it.

grass paths

While I love the look of grass paths, they take a bit of effort to keep looking nice.

Then there are the edges the mower can’t reach.  I find a weed eater is a bit unwieldy in a tight spot and I got quickly fed up with the bit of plastic snapping off the strimmer line as it repeatedly hit the sides of the beds.  I don’t want to add unnecessary plastic to my garden.  I’ve had help in this area too in the past, resulting in a severe haircut for my poor onions!  So I found the only way was up close and personal with shears.  It was good in I was in regular connection with the garden, but it was extremely time consuming.

I do love a lawn but on an energy output scale Hubby the Un-Gardener has said no for my own good.

Gravel bed

I could make the paths gravel like the platform the plumbers created for the water tanks. It does look kinda nice, but I’m not convinced it is the right thing for the garden.

STONES AND GRAVEL

I have written these off right from the start.  I have experience here.  In our very first garden when we didn’t know what we were doing, we put in a lovely white pebble garden with a few poor unfortunately plants to suffer in.  We put down weed mat and then stones, but it didn’t take long before we lost control.  The leaves blew in and landed among them, plants crept across from under the fence and in the end we had a lovely rich compost above the weed mat with nasty weeds thriving above with their roots piercing the pores in the mat making it next to impossible to pull up.  Add to that the weight of the now invisible white stones that had sunk to the depths of the debris and clearing it all up (to make the house presentable for sale) was something I don’t care to repeat any time soon.  Without the weed mat the gravel will quickly be lost in my sand and I’m not keen on weed mat at all so however lovely it looks on day one…  It’s a no from me.

PAVERS

This would make it my dream garden.  Maybe a lovely pattern and play on shapes, sizes and colours.  It would be low maintenance, weed free and look fabulous.  There is just one drawback.  Cost.  I priced it up.  It would be over ten thousand dollars new!   Eek.   I think this will need to be a long term plan to source enough second hand ones for free or next to nothing and then one day when I have enough I could make it wonderful.  Or I could learn to make pavers – but then there’d still be a cost…   So that’s a no for now.

So that leaves

Wood chip

And the winner is…. wood chip – unless someone else has a bright Idea… I’m open to suggestions.

WOOD CHIPS

A lot of people use these.  The common complaint seems to be the blackbirds make a mess of them and they break down quickly and need replacing often.   I’m not worried about the birds – it would be contained within the outer walls of the beds. But the thing that sold me for now is the continuous break down of the chips themselves – I don’t see it so much as my paths being eroded, but my poor sandy soil that lies beneath the entire space will get a continual nutrient boost, not to mention the benefit it will bring to microbial communities in the garden.  The paths will have more of a job than just covering the sand and being worked upon.  They will be working just as hard as everything else.

Wood chips it is…  now where to find several truck loads at a good price….

Come again soon – good things take time.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

The Great Leveller

I am champing at the bit to start moving soil, so I can start planting out my winter crops.  But I seem to have an inbuilt self-integrity mode that just won’t allow me to cut corners in the garden.  I just can’t cheat on myself.  A bulldozer is not for fine work – it’s not subtle.   It does a great job of clearing the ground, but it won’t give a polished smooth surface.  The ground is flat but there lumps and bumps in places.  A lesser version of myself in a parallel universe would say it is flat enough and carry on with the next stage.

String line

And I thought string lines were overrated… little did I know.

But as I stand at the bottom of the garden and gaze across I can see it is a tad wonky.  My last garden was wonderfully wonky, and I embraced that.  It evolved over time and beds were thrown together with varying techniques and a she’ll be right attitude.  This garden is different.  It is my dream garden and it would bother me for the rest of my days if it was out of kilter.  I have time and opportunity and it is only my desire to get to the next stage that stands between me and a nicely laid out garden.

Wonky beds

Ok I knew these were wonky – they were on the edge of what the bulldozer could sort out without banging into my dirt pile, but knowing how to use the string line means I’m not worried about how on earth I was going to get them straight!

Our amazing builder watched me with amusement as I juggled a level and 1 metre lengths of wood and couldn’t bear it anymore so showed me how to use the string line.   I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – knowledge is power, and I had a huge ‘aha’ moment.  Oh, so that is how it works.

Chickens

An audience of chickens watching my every move. Actually they hardly noticed – I was more of a inconvenience in their way!

The garden has a gentle slope that runs down to the house and if it was to be completely flat the bulldozer would have had to move mountains more earth for little gain.  The slope is very minor and gives character.  So, the string line was tied to a couple of rebar poles and pulled tightly at the top and bottom of the garden across 3 beds, and down one side.  Any bits sticking out in a wonky fashion was adjusted back into line with a tap of my boot.  And when all adjusting was done it was moved to the other side of the bed and levelling was repeated.

Shovel to level

The shovel is the perfect tool to bring wayward beds into alignment.

But there is more to a string line…  it can check the other dimension and while the sides of the garden line up beautifully the tops seemed to go up and down like the hind leg on a donkey.   I hadn’t really noticed it in some of the beds, but others were blatantly obvious, and I knew tweaking was needed.

compacting sand

The wooden blocks made easy work of compacting the sand beneath the beds.

This is where having sand is such a blessing – it is the material used to level off paving stones etc and I have it in abundance.   The other blessing is it is winter, and it has been raining…  a lot.  So, the sand is damp and compacts well.  In the height of summer, it would be a completely different story.  It would be light, free draining and blow about the place and certainly wouldn’t stay put.

Peaches the Chicken

Quality control is approved by Peaches the Chicken… the beds are level!

Using the shovel, I gently levered the bottom of the bed on the side that needed lifting a little and then packed some sand underneath until the bed looked level against the string line.  Then I removed the shovel and continued to poke soil under the bed with my fingers – I’m a hands on gardener for sure.  Then I grabbed a couple of blocks of wood from the off-cut pile from the building project and used them kind of like a couple of mini bulldozers to ram sand into the gaps and soft spots and compact them as hard as I could.   I soon found an easy rhythm and the garden started to look even better than I first thought.   I quickly worked my way through the first half of the half of the garden I had already built.

Straight beds

Ahhh that looks so much better! : o)

It won’t take more than a jiffy to finish off the rest and then I can begin the fun part.  Well it seems like it will be fun from the starting point.  Ask me again after I’ve filled three beds!  So, the great lesson to be had here is ‘do it once – do it right.’   I won’t regret the time taken to do this extra step.

Come again soon – there is loads going on (get it – loads and loads of dirt!)

Sarah the Gardener : o)

If you want to listen along you can check it out here:

 

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