SARAH THE GARDENER

This is not what I was expecting

Coming back to the garden after such a long time out of it feels weird.   It isn’t helped by the weather.  We are just three days away from the start of the meteorological summer and to be honest it feels like the early days of spring.  Instead of slowly raising the temperatures and increasing the sunshine, the season seems to be stuck in some kind of holding pattern from early spring.  As I write this the temperature gauge only just moved to 17°C and I’m still wearing socks, a warm jumper and a scarf.  I’ll probably shed most of them as the day wears on,  but I certainly won’t be switching out for shorts and a tee-shirt anytime soon.

The view

The view from the office is encouraging, there is plenty of life out there to be seen.

The garden is doing its thing and growing.  There are obvious signs of change since I left the garden.  You can’t miss the blush starting out on the first tomatoes and when looking out the office window there is more green from the foliage than brown from bare earth – I must get onto mulching.

Red tomato

I wasn’t expecting to see red tomatoes so soon!

But it is the mindset I am struggling with.  My brain is telling me it is nearly summer, and it should be warmer and nicer.  But confronted with the reality of the weather, my default is it is too cold and miserable to possibly garden and the temptation is to sit it out until the weather improves.  But then I need to remind myself that just a month or so ago, I would have relished this kind of weather.  It would have made a break from actual cold weather that was closer to freezing than anything remotely considered warm.  In the early spring I would have valiantly raced out between showers, making the most of the moments of good weather.

blueberries

Some things just carried on regardless if I was there or not, although I will need to net these blueberries to ensure I get a harvest when the time is right!

So, in a slow and steady approach I will find my feet again, in spite of the weather, and reacquaint myself with this wonderful garden I have created.  I will greet each plant and inquire how it is doing, so that the familiarity like an old glove returns.    There isn’t much needed to restore order, thanks to my Handy Helper, for which I am extremely grateful.  So, as I head into the new season this garden will once again become everything I need it to be, for my own wellbeing but also to the benefit of my family as the storehouse slowly refills with seasonal goodness to be saved for a truly cold and rainy day

Come again soon – the weather may be strange, but I need to ignore that and carry on.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I didn’t intend to leave you so long

There has been a lot going on since I last chatted with you.   Just re-reading my last post, brought back all the feels – the nerves, the determination, the long, long list of things to do, and the excitement.  There was so much ahead and a lot of it was unknown.  But now it is all behind me and I look back and wonder how I did it all and remembering with fondness that I had an absolute blast.  So, to bring you up to speed….

The garden all planted out

The garden all planted out and reluctantly left to cope alone.

Firstly, I managed to get the garden and my office clean and tidy and planted out in good time. This took me a little by surprise because while in the midst of it, it didn’t seem possible!   I kept back a spare set of everything for just in case and then offered all of my other spares to the lovely gardeners from the garden club that arrived by bus to visit my garden.    Any spare seedlings at the end of day were given to my neighbour, who will probably end up with a better outcome than me, however his garden is further back from the coast and much more sheltered.  Besides comparison is the thief of joy and I’m just pleased my little green babies went off to a good home.

Chantecler

Chantecler was the kind of garden where it seemed everything grew magnificently in a perfect microclimate.

All the while, I was also preparing for my big trip that was to whisk me away from the garden for 20 days.  There was a lot to be done as I was to take up my role as a botanical tour guide for Botanica World Discoveries, hosting our travelling garden loving guests across the country exploring the best gardens New Zealand has to offer.  There were two tours under my care – the Taranaki Garden Spectacular & Private Gardens tour and the Private Gardens and Landscapes tour which ran back to back.

Barewood Garden

The fabulous Barewood Garden with its beautiful hawthorn walk in full bloom.

Ohinetahi

There was a great used of magnificent structures in the garden at Ohinetahi

All up over 20 days we visited 34 absolutely amazing gardens and travelled the length of the country, starting in Taranaki, down to Wellington, Marlborough, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and then up to Hamilton and Auckland.  The interesting thing is each garden was different.  I was worried that I would get ‘cathedraled out’.  When I was a lot younger and did my OE in Europe we saw so many cathedrals.  The first one was awe inspiringly majestic, but towards the end they all seemed to have a same same familiarity about them.  But with the gardens, it wasn’t like that at all.  And to be honest I would be hard pushed to name a favourite.

Castlemaine

Castlemaine Garden was one of my many favourites. There was such a welcoming peace about it

There were some stand out gardens though.  The stunning weather with classical music piped through the garden at Castlemaine Garden near Lumsden had a peace and elegance about it that we were all reluctant to leave.   The Italianate styling of Casa Rossa just out of Christchurch was so full of life, it felt like you were being embraced in a horticultural hug!

Cassa Rosa

Casa Rossa was a garden full to the brim with stunning vistas

But it wasn’t just the gardens that made it special, but the gardeners themselves, many who generously hosted us with a guided tour through their life’s work.  You could just feel the passion and love beaming from them as they spoke about their gardens.   Notable hosts were having lunch with the fabulous Josie Martin from the Giants House in Akaroa where her art blended fabulously into the garden, and dining in style at Larnach Castle with the elegantly graceful Mrs Barker who also showed us around her magnificent garden perched on the top of the windswept hill.  But everyone else was also so lovely, but that goes without saying as gardeners are the nicest people.

The Giants House

Mosaic sculptures at The Giants House burst with life in the garden packed full of interest at every turn.

Upon returning home, we were supposed to head back down to Wellington for a wedding, however dreaded lurgy I’ve been trying to avoid for the last few years came knocking on my door.  Fortunately, I wasn’t struck down too badly, but it did mean my poor garden didn’t get the homecoming love it deserved, but rather my absence for yet another week.  Having said that, had I been well, it wouldn’t have been any different as the weather was just persistent and torrential rain for the full seven days I was required to stay at home.

Larnach Castle

It was a joy and a pleasure to share a meal at Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle

It was even more of a pleasure to be escorted around the castle grounds by Mrs Barker who pointed out everything she loved about the garden.

The combination of the bad weather and the dreaded lurgy meant the open garden day I foolishly planned for the first weekend home had to be cancelled.  It was probably just as well.  But as there was so much interest, we’ve rescheduled and so the new date for the open day is the 21st Jan 2023.  There should be just the right amount of time after the summer holiday to restore order and have the garden looking its best before the season turns and things start to wane.  I am a sucker for punishment really.  But with a deadline there remains a need to keep the garden looking its best and you can’t beat that kind of panic driven motivation to stay on top of things.

Trotts Garden

The brightly painted accents really made the plants pop in the red border at Trotts Garden.

Ohinetahi

There was a great use of magnificent structures in the garden at Ohinetahi

The weather now is easing, but as I write this it is still a bit blowy straight off the ocean.  I took some slow and tentative steps into the garden with my Handy Helper and we did what we could to begin to restore order.  To be fair it wasn’t really that bad, nothing that a bit of pottering about in the next week or so won’t fix.  The garden is resilient, and the season will be what it is.  Each season is different and an opportunity to learn and grow and even after all these years, it is good to let the garden show you something new.

My Garden

And home to my Garden, which seemed to cope well enough without me, which came as a great relief.

And so there you have it, the last few weeks have been a crazy whirlwind and now it is back to normal as we head into Christmas and all that the festive season brings.

Come again soon – sometimes a normal ordinary routine is just what is needed.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I may have taken on too much

I have a really exciting opportunity coming up that will take me away from the garden for 20 days from the end of the month.  It is garden related so there will be more on that later.  But in order to prepare for an extended absence in spring – the busiest time of all the seasons I have had to be organised and work really hard.

Aparagus

This is what happens when you take your eye off your asparagus for a couple of days!

And if that wasn’t enough I have a garden club coming to visit the garden the week before I go away.  When I agreed to the dates I was quite smug thinking it would be good to have a reason to have the garden sorted before I went away so it wouldn’t fall into much chaos in my absence.  Present Me is a little annoyed with smug Past Me.  Past Me didn’t realise just how much time and effort that would require!

Celeriac

There is only enough celeriac left for one more Celeriac Remoulade – my now favourite winter salad. But I don’t want to eat it just because I need the space, I want to savour it and enjoy it. It will be a long time before they are ready again. I need a special occasion and pronto!

So I have been super busy and something needed to give while I got all of my ducks in a row, and unfortunately this was the weakest link and so I took a little tiny unplanned break from blogging.  I didn’t mean to, it just happened.  Days drifted into weeks in the blink of an eye.

Greenhouse seedlings

These are all of the heirs and spares waiting to go into the garden. I will need to begin the tedious task of hardening them off soon – which means a lot moving all the pots in and out for days on end.

Computer gardening has taken the lions share of the priority as a lot of it is what funds the garden and has deadlines attached that can’t be missed.  Conveniently we had a polar blast last week, where the temperatures plunged and the wind howled a hoolie straight off the ocean.  There was no gardening done at all, but it did mean all of my computer gardening commitments until after I get back have been taken care of and so that is one less thing to worry about and several items crossed off the extensive to do list.

Seedlings

These are the last two trays that need transplanting out of the seed raising mix. It barely seems worth it as they’ll be in the ground soon – but it is so worth it. Now… where to find where I put all that spare time…

The garden has been a bit of a concern.  My Handy Helper and I stood back at the end of this week’s session, confident that this time all out of control garden areas are now back in control and we just need to work on a maintenance schedule to keep it that way.  It is such a wonderful feeling and for a while there I didn’t think I’d get to this point in time.

extra seedlings

The extra seedlings in their paper cups. I’m sure the garden club visitors will have no trouble taking them off my hands!

There are other areas in the garden zone that need some attention.  The shed has become a bit of a dumping ground as each returned item came with a promise to be put back in its proper place later…  when there was time.  It is amazing how quickly chaos can ensue once you begin to not put the first few items back properly.

Parsley

Seriously – how long would it take to pull out this bolted parsley and pop in a new one… just moments, but collectively there are a lot of things that would take just moments…

My office has a similar problem, but as I am in it most days, there is a degree of order as I need to know where everything is most of the time.  So that is more organised chaos, and a jolly good sweep wouldn’t go amiss!

Office mess

Hmm this is part of my office mess… it isn’t actually that bad – things just need straightening up and some things need to go back to where they came from.

Then there are the actual spring things.  I have been sowing seeds, transplanting seedlings and preparing beds as fast as I can.  There are only 2 beds left that need to be cleared and prepared for the spring, but we are still eating the occupants.  A couple more meals and it should be good to go.

outside mess

There is a little bit of chaos on the deck, but it shouldn’t take much to sort it out.

Even though I staggered my seed sowing to ensure I would have staggered transplanting sessions, there comes a point when the weather warms up and everything outgrows their pots, but it isn’t safe enough outdoors yet.  So, the other day was a ‘most of the day’ transplanting session.   But it was good to see the wood for the trees and do a final roll call to see who is missing and how many extras I have to set aside from the official Heirs and Spares.

Garden

All in all I think the garden is in a good place, so long as I don’t drop the ball!

I still have one more good transplanting session to go…  probably 2, maybe 3 hours.  It might seem a little pointless as there is less than 2 weeks to go to the safe planting out day, but you will be surprised how much those plants can grow in 2 weeks when liberated from pots that are too small.  It is worth the time and effort for healthier plants.

I have been up to other things as well and I will find the time to tell you all about it as soon as I can.

Come again soon – and thanks for bearing with me.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Safe travels over the rainbow bridge

It is a bit of a sad day for us here.  Our magnificent Snowy the Goat peacefully passed away while receiving her last cuddle.

Snowy the Goat

Go well Snowy the Goat, we will miss you xxx

She has been a constant in our lives for the last eleven years.  When we got Snowy she was just 5 days old, and her sister Sweetie was only 2 days old.  We needed them for school calf club for the boys.  Snowy belonged to Tim and Joey had Sweetie.

You can read about when we first got them here:

We have babies – tiny babies – sooooo cute!

They were so tiny the chickens were bigger.  Looking back at the photos they boys were so small then too!

Tim and Snowy the Goat

Tim and Snowy the Goat were both so small!

Within 7 weeks, they were taken to school and put through their paces with leading, calling and how well they’d been looked after.  Blow me down if Tim and Snowy didn’t win Champion Goat with large trophies and many ribbons.  It came as quite a surprise.   You can read about that here:

You gotta love living in the country…

Snowy's prizes

We have been known to tell people we are award winning goat farmers… which is a bit of a stretch…

From there the goats lived a more mundane life, just keeping the grass down across our lands.  Although occasionally Snowy found herself in the pages of a magazine.  She had such a grand pose.  She was a cheeky goat and loved to be cuddled and her tail would wJag furiously in delight.  However, she didn’t know her own strength and the horns were a potential hazard so giving cuddles required a degree of bravery.

Snowy the Goat

This photo shows the character of our lovely cheeky goat.

Sadly, Sweetie passed away not long after we moved here beside the sea and Snowy got to enjoy clambering up the sides of our great hills and kept the gorse at bay.    It won’t be the same looking out the window and not seeing her taking in the view from a lofty height on the hillside.   She will be dearly missed.

Come again soon – once I’ve had a moment to process that she is gone.

Sarah the Gardener : o(

Off to a great start.

The tomatoes are off to a great start.  As usual I started too many seeds.  I have decided this stems from a fear of something going wrong at the seedling stage and when it comes time to planting out I don’t have enough rather than having a heavy hand with the seeds.  And I sow them in 6 cell seed trays and in spite of my wee tip for sow one seed for the plant you want, and a backup, for just in case and then a full set of extra because you never know…  So that should technically be four of each variety, with heirs and spares, but I can’t leave those other 2 cells bereft of seeds so 6 is it.

Tomato seedlings

A vegetable garden isn’t quite the same without tomatoes in it.

This season I have cut back on the number to tomato plants to give them a better chance in the space, so they aren’t competing with each other for space and airflow.  Especially as after last season’s success with the insect netting to keep the Tomato Potato psyllid, the tomatoes will be tucked undercover so it will be a good idea to avoid overcrowding.  So, there are 11 varieties that will live in the 1x5m garden bed, planted in a staggered pattern up the length.  If all a need is 11 plants then the 66 seedlings in the greenhouse are probably a little bit overkill!

Tomato root ball

The tomatoes were at a good size for transplanting with a good looking root balls.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have started a little earlier than I normally would, but I am pushing my frost-free boundaries.  I may regret it as one of these seasons I may push just a little too far.  Hopefully, it isn’t this season though as I have managed to take my generous seed sowing into the seedling stage and beyond.  I watched as they all began to emerge in pretty near perfect germination rates, and I breathed a sigh of relief only to swoon at the thought that I now had to look after them all.  They grew steadily in their seed raising mix home and eventually put out two sets of true leaves from their sturdy stems.   This was the sign it was time to transplant them from the seed raising mix that had supported them so well in their early days of life.

Transplanting tomatoes

The stems were a little long so I planted them deep into the pot to take advantage of their ability to form roots out of their stems.

Now was a time for something a little more substantial – a good potting mix that would provide further support and nourishment as they continued to grow.  I didn’t want to leave them in the small seed pots as they tend to slow their growth down while they wait for better living conditions.   I was pleased I staggered my seed sowing as potting on 66 tomato plants took quite a while, even with a mini production line set up.  The last thing I wanted to do once I’d finished that was move on to the leafy greens!  Although they will need to be done any day now.

Seaweed tonic soak

All of the seedlings got a good soak in a seaweed tonic after transplanting in their new pots to encourage healthy root growth and reduce the transplant shock.

It is still a long way to go before, even in my frost-free environment before I will be planting my tomatoes outside.  The overnight lows this week being predicted are in the double figures, but only just.  Tomatoes appreciate it a lot warmer, so they will stay in the greenhouse and wait.  While they are waiting they will also be growing, and I expect to pot them on to even bigger pots once more before they head outdoors.  They seem to be growing in leaps and bounds and so I find myself checking the bottoms of the 5cm pots looking for signs of the roots poking out, to tell me now is the time for the 10cm pots.  It is always best to move them up slowly, so they don’t end up with leggy roots, but it is also like shoes.  If they are too small it restricts your feet, your toes don’t like it and you get cramp and blisters, but if they are too big then your feet flop about inside and you risk tripping over your own feet.  But with the right size shoe, you don’t even notice you are wearing them and just get on with your day.

The last of the seed to be sown

The last of the seeds have been sown. The pumpkins and cucumbers grow so fast and really don’t like the cold, so there is no benefit from starting them off early.

As much as it is a compulsion to go into the greenhouse several times as day at the seed stage to worry and fuss over if anyone is actually going to pop up, this next stage is a delight as each day the plants get bigger and fill the space, making the greenhouse feel alive and give encouragement that this could actually be a successful season, it you dare to believe the weather will treat us well.

Full greenhouse

The greenhouse and my heart is full.

At this point all of the seeds for the season have now been sown, aside from the regular crowd that benefit from succession sowing for a continual supply all season.  So, we are now beyond the nursery stage and are more into preschool style gardening where they still need daily attention to help as they learn to manage on their own but are growing so fast the demand for new shoes can become overwhelming.  But this stage, while quite intensive at this stage, it is over in a flash.  After sowing the last seeds, I did feel a little sad for the passing of time.  This is another start of season task ticked off the list for the year.

Come again soon – the weather this week is supposed to be rubbish, but any rain at this time of year has to be good rain to fill the tanks.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Dealing with Kale

Kale is a staple in our garden.  I wouldn’t say it is a staple in our kitchen but every now and again it turns up in a dish and we are pleased that we have it in the garden.  The chickens and the goat also appreciate the kale in our garden.

Bolting Kale

Kale flowers are actually rather lovely.

It is a great crop because you plant it in spring and it just sits there and grows, all year round until the following spring when it starts to bolt and has lovely yellow flowers that make the bees happy when there isn’t much else out there.    But by the time it gets to this point it has overstayed its welcome as its home for the last year needs to be freshened up for new occupants.  I try to leave it as long as I can for the benefit of the bees, and as a crop on borrowed time there is invariably an increased interest in it in the kitchen.  But at some point enough is enough and it has to go.

Washing kale

I gave the Kale a good wash in fresh water.

The tender flowering tips go to the chickens and the tough old manky leaves go to the goat.  But the bit in the middle – the nice leaves, go to the kitchen.  I give them a really good wash as there are usually some kind of hitchhiker in there.  Although this time only one earwig crawled out of the sink and across the bench.  I have to say, as I was washing them I realised there were no whitefly also enjoying the last of the kale – sucking what remaining life was left in it and erupting in clouds of white winged fury, annoyed at being disturbed by just daring to walk past them.  I’m pleased they didn’t show up this year, they can be such a pain to deal with.

Spin drying Kale

I love my salad spinner, it makes a good job of drying the leaves.

Then it is a whiz in the salad spinner to remove as much of the moisture as possible and then onto oven trays in a thin single layer.  Ordinarily I’d use a dehydrator but with kale on this scale you have to level it up, so into the oven they went.  It was set at 100°C for a low and slow process of turning them to a crisp without burning them. It took a couple of hours, checking every once and a while and rearranging them in the trays.

Kale leaves ready for drying

The leaves were loaded up ready for drying in the oven

The plan is to use them to crush up into whatever meal takes my whim to add extra nutrients for the next wee while – until the new kale starts producing in abundance again.  Having said that, fresh from the oven a large dent was put in the crisp kale pile as we snacked on them.  They have the same satisfying crunch you would get from potato chips, only healthier.

dried kale

After several hours the kale was dry and crispy and actually quite delish!

And now I can feel good about making good use of a crop from the garden, even though it was on its last legs and the bed it was in is now ready for new crops.

Come again soon – the season is marching on, and jobs are popping up all over the place.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I blame Spring for everything

The updates here are slim right now and I can only offer excuses.  Firstly, a lot of what has been going on in the garden has been rather same samey, which can come across as repetitive and boring.  I’m not sure there are enough descriptive words in the thesaurus to tell you I weeded or chopped down another cover crop and prepared a bed to make it ready for the new growing season.  Seriously – I have 35 raised beds.  This spring preparation just goes on and on and on!

salad seedlings hardening off

I have some salad seedlings hardening off (photo taken on nicer days) I just need to eat the things in the bed they need to go in ASAP!

But at this point I only have four beds that need to be liberated of their cool season crops, but we are eating these as fast as we can.  There are also three beds that are good to go, but just need enriching with compost etc and a couple that have long term plants in them that just need a tickle of love to set them up for the new season.  So, progress is being made steadily across the weeks.

waiting for seedlings

I have been staggering my seed sowing to meet the needs of the plants, so I don’t spend all day doing it, and so I don’t spend all day transplanting all the seedlings all at once in weeks to come. And it means I get the excitement of seeing seedlings pop up throughout the early weeks of spring.

The other time thief is computer gardening.  Most of this is what helps to fund the garden so when a deadline looms or a request comes up, then I drop everything and get it done as quickly as I can to please my benefactors but also so I can get back to the garden.  However, the start of spring is a pretty important time in gardening calendar and there is much to be said about it and my poor fingers ache from dancing across the shiny worn-out keys of my keyboard.

sideways rain

Sideways rain is not one of my favourite spring things

And finally, my last excuse is completely out of my control, but does show how much of a wuss I have become.  The weather turned cold, and spring was more winter than winter was this year.  I could have wrapped up warm and pressed on, but I decided I’m not that crazy.  Past Me would have been out there revelling in the bracing chill of it all.  Today Me is ‘yeah nah’.   It has hinted at being nice again, and this temptress of a season reaches out a hand in trust for warmer days, only to dash it all against the next wave of cold sideways rain.

Jasper the Dog

On a day like today, curled up in my comfy office chair is the best place to be, but I don’t have the heart to ask Jasper the Dog to move over!

As a placeholder for my presence in this online world, I have made a point of keeping up with things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as it is easy enough to grab a snapshot that represents the garden in that moment and throw it up on the Great Big Internet.  Having said that last season it all got a bit too much and I let some of them fall by the wayside, which also included my You Tube videos.  They are very time consuming, but I like talking to you like you were in the garden with me, so I am trying to regularly share on that forum again as well.  I have many balls in the air right now but to mix metaphors they say not to put all your eggs in one basket.  If you find I slow down here a little from time to time it might be worth checking out these other places to find me there.

Hyacinth flower

You have to give spring credit for providing beautiful flowers that smell amazing on a gloomy day. Although I still have to work on getting a full hyacinth bloom as this lot are a little light.

I was talking to my Handy Helper this week about why I do it all and to be honest I don’t know anymore, but I know I would be lost without it.   I did start out to share the love of gardening and to encourage others to pick up a spade and now, while the sentiment is still the same, it has also become just what I do.  I am Sarah the Gardener after all…  It is who I have become.

Asparagus

The abundance in the asparagus bed never fails to bring me joy.

And so, in a tight timeline of ‘something has gotta give’ this week I made another video.  This one is all about getting my spuds in for the season.  It is 15 minutes long, and so I’m not sure if it is worth getting the popcorn out, so maybe put the kettle on and have a cuppa tea and watch just how crazy fast I have been working lately…  well, I wish, all my problems would be solved if that was the case!

Thanks for bearing with me in this busy time.  It will soon become a bit more interesting, especially as the season progresses and the plants begin to do interesting things.  And thanks for watching my video and checking out my other social media places.

Come again soon – it will warm up and there will be so much to talk about I won’t know where to start!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Bring on Spring

Spring has sprung and I think this time I’m ready for it.  This is largely due to the amazing weather we had as winter drew to a close.  I feel like it was a bit of an apology for being such an awful soggy stormy season.  But now spring is here and she has her own preferences and has turned the thermostat back down from the balmy 22C days we were having and brought back the rain.  I never thought I would be looking back fondly at the winter weather!  But it shouldn’t be unpleasant for long, spring is supposed to ease us into the hot summer weather and it can’t do that if stays cold and wet.

miserable weather

I wasn’t excepting spring to be worse than the winter within days of arriving.

I am also nicely spring ready thanks to my handy helper.  We get so much done in the 3 hours she’s here but it also pushes me to get things done in between so there is progress to be seen when she comes back.  And so now I stand on the doorstep of a new season in a calm and excited state, compared to the normal chaotic and panicked state.

And to show it all off I made the first You Tube video I’ve done for a long time.  I did take a bit of a break last year as making videos is very time consuming and takes a lot of effort.   But I love looking back over the old ones like a time traveller so I have once again made the effort and my intentions are to continue to do so all summer long, but no promises.

You can check it out here – it is only short – just over 10 minutes, so probably not enough time for popcorn but you could make a cuppa tea:

I hope you get a sense of what it is like in my garden at the start of this new season.

Come again soon – who knows what this spring has in store.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The last day of winter

It has been all head down and bum up getting ready for this new season.  I have been working so hard across all areas of responsibility that I have taken to ending my days completely exhausted in our comfy ‘grandfather’ chair in the sun for a wee bit. I may or may not have dozed off once or twice in the welcoming warmth through the bay windows.

Sunset

We have had some amazing sunsets recently – often with a crisp clear green flash as the sun sinks into the ocean.

In the last week we have been blessed with stunning weather, clear blue sky days with the sun pounding down, reminding us that it might be time to find the sunscreen and begin applying it regularly.  The only problems with days like these are they start out really cold.  We don’t get frost here, but the temperatures drop close enough to it that getting out of bed requires a lot of self-determination.   The nights are closing in noticeably later and along with the clear skies there has been some of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve seen for a while.

rain gauge

We have had a lot of rain – this 120mm was just from one ‘incident’ when it rained non stop for a couple of days. But I’m not complaining – our water tanks are full which is a good position to be in entering the warmer seasons.

But it hasn’t always been such lovely weather, the previous weeks were windy and stormy with so much rain.  There was no sensible option but stick to computer gardening, which is just as well as I had a lot of it.  Thanks to being trapped indoors I was able to work my way through my writing commitments leaving the lovely days to carry on with the spring prep.

Weedy corner

It is amazing how quickly the wildness can encroach on a once tamed spot.

Thanks to my handy helper some areas of the garden that have raged out of control for far too long have been whipped into shape and can now proudly face the light of day.  And cover crops have been chopped down.  This used to be a job I dreaded as it would take forever.  But then I discovered a top tip to used hedge clippers which cut through the almost flowering mustard and lupin crops with ease.  And then to stop the foliage blowing away – which is highly likely here, I cover them over with a generous layer of compost. There is plenty of time for the micro communities to work away at all the extra organic material and get the soil structure ready to receive plants in late October.   Although it almost seems a shame to chop down the lupin as it has such a pretty blue flower.

cleared corner

But with a little bit of effort, my handy helper and I had it cleared in no time at all. I think there is even room for a statue….

I have started sowing seeds as well.  I always urge caution about starting too soon because no good can come of it…. In normal circumstances.  But like I said, we are frost free and although I can hardly believe it, I am slowly, season by season, pushing my boundaries to see where the limits are in a frost-free garden.   I have still held back on some of the more sensitive ones like cucumbers.  One whiff of a too cool breeze and they can give sulking lessons to teenagers!

seedlings

It feels good to be caring for seedlings again. Although soon there will be a multitude taking over the greenhouse.

So, on this last day of winter, my to do list is slender.  There are still things to be done, but it shouldn’t take too much effort or time.  Soon enough I should be able to enter that gentle ebb and flow of weeding and watering and tending to the occasional needs of my growing plants and sit back and enjoy all I have achieved.  Or I will take the moments of spare time and throw myself into another project, which considering all of the ideas jostling for space in my head this is the most likely direction things will take.

The garden

I am so pleased with where the garden is right now and there is plenty of time to finish the last few things on the winter ‘to do’ list even though we are moving off into spring.

It has been a good winter.  Terrible weather for the most part but looking back at the start of the season before my handy helper started helping and I was in a right state.  Today everything looks great, and the hopes of a new season sit heavily on an almost ready garden.

Come again soon – spring starts tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I made something berry cool

I’m not all that technically minded, but that never stops me from trying to turn the perfect solution to a garden problem from the vision in my head into a reality.  Sometimes it works out wonderfully and I am amazed at what I managed to achieve.  Other times something get lost in the translation and, while well intentioned, I create a disaster.  Most of the time I manage to cobble something together that vaguely resembles my idea and is fit for purpose and when I stand back and look at what I have achieved I feel happy.

Power tools

It is always exciting to start a project by getting out the power tools!

I have been struggling with my strawberry patch since day one, to come up with something that will not only protect it from the critters but also be easy to use and aesthetically pleasing.   Recently I have encountered a new foe in the strawberry patch, in that a possum has been eating all the leaves off the strawberry plants.  I’m assuming it is a possum as I can’t think what else would do it.

Making calculations

I may have over complicated things with my calculations

Making simple calculations

And Hubby the Un-Gardener came up with the right answer with the proper use of the protractor. (He must have listened in maths class at school)

My handy helper and I recently did a winter clean up of the strawberry patch.  We gave it a deep weed, replaced the three year old tired plants for the healthiest looking runners and enriched all the soil with blood and bone, Dynamic Lifter organic plant food and compost for a good long term slow release support for the season.  It looked fabulous and ready to go for the season.  Unfortunately, we seem to have made targets of the plants cleared from the weeds, sitting alone in the space they should soon grow into and before long all the leaves were gone.

Measure twice and cut once

And here we see the classic need to measure twice and cut once. The second measure saved my bacon!

I’ve had several versions of protection for my berries.  The first one was a good idea but was too unwieldy and required two people to lift it off.  So, while the plants were protected, it was a pain to pick the strawberries.   Then I decided to just make a hoophouse style structure, but we were in lock down at the time and the netting I ordered online was that horrible thin plastic stuff and it was a potential trap for birds and the weeds soon become enmeshed in it.  And it was a bit of a pain to untangle to get in to harvest, and then put back again – getting it perfectly tight to minimise the risk to birds.

Central support spine

The central support spine runs the length of the strawberry garden.

All the supplies to make the frames

After a lot of measuring, cutting and preparing I had what I needed to make the frames. (well most of it – I did need to go back for more supplies… twice. The upside of under estimating the supplies is the cost is divided into several purchases and takes the sting out of the initial cost… because of course extra supplies don’t count!)

After much pondering I came up with a new idea and without wasting any more time I ordered some materials.   It started at the lumber yard where they know me well.  I explained what I thought I needed, and they sent me home with what I actually needed.  Hubby the Un-Gardener was also a great help with this project with his man strength (although I did have to remind him several times not to stomp about on the plants) and also his mind powers when I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out the mathematical angle calculations needed at several stages of the project.  I really should have paid more attention to geometry in school.  Who’d have known I would have needed to know that stuff all these years later.

Laying out the materials

As a visual person I needed to see that my measurements were right, before screwing it all together.

Finished strawberry cage

After weeks of planning, measuring, second guessing and assembly, my strawberry cage is complete. It isn’t perfect, but rather wonderfully wonky and I love it!

What I came up with was a central spine running down the middle of the strawberry raised bed.  Then each side was divided into four sections that were wooden frames with a solid plastic trellis insert, connected to the central spine with hinges.  They were long enough to extend just beyond the side of the raised beds.   The ends were capped off with a triangle frame lined with the same trellis material and secured in place as a permanent fixture.  This was cobbled together by good fortune rather than intelligent design…  I knew what I wanted and had a ‘make it fit’ attitude.  As a result, I surprised myself with my end result.

Access to the strawberries

The access to the strawberries is quick and easy and I can’t wait to use it to pick lovely yummy strawberries.

Bedraggled strawberry plants

But first the plants need to recover from their leaf eating, man boot stomping ordeal. I’ve given them some seaweed tonic to help them recover from the stress and to promote healthy root growth. Once they show signs of health and vigour I’ll start giving them some liquid plant food to speed them on their way.

To access the fruit and tend to the plants, the frames just need to be lifted up and held aloft with pole.  It makes it feel so easy that there should be no excuses to miss a single berry or single weed.  This season the berries will get all the love they so desperately need and for seasons to come as this structure is going nowhere…  unless a fundament flaw presents itself in the coming months and then it will be back to the drawing board.  But for now, I’m happy.

Come again soon – things are being crossed off the list left, right and centre.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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