With 9 days left of winter, you would easily believe spring is already here. The weather has been settled for over a week, with gentle frosts most mornings, and balmy afternoons that almost have you shed your jumper in favour of a tee-shirt. It is taking all my self-control not to get started and fill my greenhouse full of seedlings. But we are still in winter and as it passes the baton over to spring, experience tells me it is a tumultuous transition period and we haven’t seen the worst of the bad weather yet – that is still to come!
But for now I have the feel of spring on my skin as the sun gathers strength and the warm rays touch my face with their warmth. It is such a glorious feeling after shivering to my bones for the last few months. I find myself just sitting in the garden and basking in the comfort of it, like an old familiar blanket that I’d previously misplaced.
With all of this idyllic weather, the soil has dried out to the point that the plants that are in the ground this early in the season actually need watering. This came as a bit of a shock as I hadn’t expected to be watering the garden in the winter! The soil is magnificent and as I plunge my hands in I find it soft and crumbly and it releases weeds with an ease not often encountered in the soggy winter or bone dry summer. At the end of the day my knees are caked in dirt and my hands begin to take on the rough patina that marks me as a gardener.
The fragrance of spring fills the air and wafts up at you as walk past the daffodils. The aroma is completely intoxicating to the point that in other situations it would be overwhelming. However, against the back drop of a retreating winter it brings a freshness to cover over the wet and earthy odour the soggy season brings with it.
Looking out over the garden is like watching a fast moving play. The scene before me is constantly changing. The grass grows with such vigour you can nearly see it. Almost unperceivably, buds on the soft fruit and trees are fattening up and the slightest hint of green is becoming visible on the tips. The birds dance across the beds as they court each other and gather items to build their family homes in the branches of the trees.
The flavour of spring is all about making room. We are eating leeks with every meal to make room for the beans to come. The carrots need evicting and it is such a pleasure to eat their fresh, sweet orangey goodness right there in the garden. The first asparagus are peaking through the soil and the anticipation of this delicacy is almost too much to bear. Yet in a month or so, I will be bored of this amazing veggie and be on the lookout for the next new thing to present itself after a season of absence from our diet.
But with all those amazing things to connect spring with my senses, it is what I can hear in a secure corner of my garden that epitomises the sound of spring. Even more so than the gentle hum of the tractors across the road preparing the soil for a new season of horticultural bounty, although it is pretty reassuring to be preparing my garden at the same time as the experienced farmers. Surely they know what they are doing – their livelihoods depend on it.
The sound I’m referring to is the hungry baa of tiny little lambs. So small and so cute the chickens stand taller. Less than a week old, their newborn bleat is fresh and tender, just like the burgeoning spring. It is high pitched and yet at the same time soft. Their cries full the air with expectation and excitement as you approach with the warm milk in carefully prepared bottles. They are as vulnerable as the tender seedlings and as the spring develops into a season that embraces new growth, these lambs will grow big and strong and grow with spring and become less dependent on us, which is just as well because we will be off enjoying a new season.
Come again soon – I maybe a tad tired from all the night feeds in the freezing rain, that is of course inevitable.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This has to be the most frustrating time of the whole season. After much anticipation I finally sowed my pepper seeds. These are the first seeds to find themselves lovingly placed in seed raising mix in preparation for my summer garden. They are notoriously slow and experience has taught me that if I’m to have a decent harvest before my first frost in autumn then they need to be started now.
In spite of being a bit rusty, having not sown any seeds for months, the technique came back instinctively and I felt good. Finally, I was growing again. The season is underway. I was even proud of my restraint and only sowed what I needed and a replacement set and resisted the urge to chuck in the extra “just in case” ones and completely avoided the “but they are so tiny, it wouldn’t hurt to grow a few more!”
Then I set them up in a warm spot with a gentle heat radiating from underneath, to appease their fickle desire to germinate in a cosy spot of around 22°C. Several times a day I gently misted the soil to ensure it was at the correct level of moisture. I had even used fresh seed in a brand new seed tray so I felt so chuffed with myself. We were off to a good start.
It has been 12 days and my confidence is beginning to waiver. There is no sign of anything. Nothing. The seed tray is barren. In spite of my obsessive level of care that no other seeds in the garden receives – there is nothing like that first child to get spoiled beyond belief. By the time the cucumbers go in there is so much going on that they get lobbed into the nearest pot and watered as and when and they rarely get individual attention. They still do well – proving we don’t really need to fuss as much as we do.
But I need to be reminded of this each season as I fuss over these first seeds. I begin to question myself. Is the misting not working – is the soil too dry. Maybe my mister is a little too misty and it is making the soil too wet. What if the heat is too hot and cooking my seeds? What if it is too cold and my wee babies are shivering down there in wet soil? What if the seed is dud? But with 11 different varieties, surely they can’t all be dud? I resist the urge to have a poke. I wake in the middle of the night with the question going around and around in my brain: “What am I doing wrong?”
But deep down in my heart I know what is wrong. The problem doesn’t lie with the seeds. It lies with me. I need more patience. They will pop up eventually – in their own time. I need to trust their natural instinct to grow. I have given them what they need and all I have to do now is wait. But I do wish they’d hurry up.
Come again soon – the sun is shining, the soil is drying and there is much to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
There was a break in the weather, so I decided to crack on regardless of the muddy, floody grass around the garden. The raised beds themselves had drained nicely, so the soil structure around the garden just had to take a hit for the team. I did lay planks down in the places I’d be working the most in an exercise in damage limitation.
Deciding what to aim for first wasn’t too difficult. I really want to get my onions into proper soil. They should have been in weeks ago. The problem was I couldn’t just plant them into the garden, because the soil hadn’t been enriched since the tomatoes went in last season.
And I couldn’t enrich the soil because there was a mustard cover crop in there, that had been in a tad too long because of the rain. It was beginning to flower. This wasn’t a good sign because the stems would start to go woody making it harder for the organisms in my soil to break down and if left much longer would go to seed.
I didn’t want to dig the cover crop into the bed they were growing in as they wouldn’t break down in time to benefit the onions that really should go in tomorrow. So I had decided to dig them into the bed the tomatoes are going to go into this season and give the benefit there.
The problem with this is I’d popped a nursery bed on the end of the bed in the early autumn because it seemed like a good idea at the time, and would have been, had I not been distracted by a rather large project. So there they all were jammed in tight as a lesson in why it isn’t a good idea to plant things too close. The brassicas where all showing signs of not amounting to anything and the coriander had been and gone, the leeks were still salvageable. As for the rest – all that remained was a faded label to mark where they would have been. And then there was the chicory.
As the bed needed clearing I got tough with myself and lobbed the past it coriander and incredibly leggy brassicas to the compost heap. I heeled in the leeks among the past it spinach in another bed for the moment and then all that was left was the chickory. I’d heard it was good for a winter salad, but it was way too bitter for me. It would seem it was even way too bitter for the slugs and snails as they had barely touched it in the months it had been languishing in the garden. I ripped the tops off and gave it to the chickens. I hope they liked it, but I doubt it.
The chicory roots were difficult to remove and when I eventually dislodged them they reminded me of my finest parsnips. I vaguely remembered you could make a coffee substitute from chicory root so I had a brief look at The Great Big Internet, to get the gist of how to do it and then gave it a whirl.
After a day of peeling, roasting, dehydrating and whizzing it all to a fine powder I can say … ummm, I don’t think I like it. Having said that I’m not a great coffee drinker in the first place. I did have high hopes as while it was roasting, this incredible chocolatey aroma drifted out from the kitchen and over the garden. But as I was whizzing it up it smelt more of roast carrot – without the carroty bit.
But needless to say I pushed on and popped some in the coffee plunger and added the boiling water and hoped for the best. It looked like coffee, but that is where the similarity ended. Drinking it as it comes was out of the question. It was quite bad. But I like my coffee with a touch of sugar and a dash of milk so I dressed up the chicory coffee in the same way. Yeah Nah…. Not my favourite thing to drink. Hubby the Un-Gardener actually spat it out when he gave it a try. I on the other hand went to all the trouble of growing it, peeling it, roasting it, dehydrating it and whizzing it up, the least I could do was finish the cup. This didn’t improve my opinion of it, but at least I tried. I might plant a real coffee bush.
Come again soon – the strange after taste in the back of my throat may be gone by then.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I woke up this morning and there was this strange bright orb sending laser beams onto my face making it hard to see back out the window. It took a moment or two to remember what it was. Oh yeah – the sun. We haven’t seen much of that about here lately.
It has rained every day for 22 days, oh except that tease on the 21st of July when it was just gloomy and windy instead. The forecast going forward doesn’t look that great. The boffins have a lot of explaining to do!
I am hanging out for nicer weather. I have tried so hard to put a positive spin on it – “well this will give us a good solid base to the soil so it won’t dry out so quickly in the summer” “the reservoirs will be getting nice and full so the risk of drought is reduced” and “that thunder and lightning isn’t so scary – it’s converting nitrogen from the atmosphere into a kind my garden can use. Yay!?” I even celebrated the strong winds as it was helping dry the ground out… Until the next down pour!
The thing is, nature just doesn’t understand what I have going on. Doesn’t it know who I am… I’m a gardener on a mission and I need to get things done! Before all the is rain I was on track to be more spring ready than ever before – now as I wait for the rain to stop and things to dry out, it is looking like I’ll be running behind – again!
My onions seem to have become container grown crops as it is too wet to plant them out in the garden so I have moved them into pots languishing on my deck until the time is right to make the move. If it ever happens. I have cover crops to dig in but digging in sodden soil ruins the soil structure.
Don’t get me started on my strawberries – this was to be my grand winter project. The in ground bed was always roughly divided into three so there is always 1, 2 and 3 year old plants in a continuous cycle. But this time I have decided to raise them up and have already built the beds and they are standing by waiting. The strawberries themselves are marooned in the garden with advantageous weeds encroaching daily. But there is nothing to be done until things dry up. I can’t fill the new beds with wet soil. I’m starting to get a little anxious – the strawberry window is closing in.
Now is also a good time to spray for peach leaf curl, but you guessed it – you can’t spray in the rain! Even sowing radishes would be a waste of time. They’d either rot and float away. Besides I haven’t had a chance to sort out their new bed, so it would be like moving into a new home to find the previous tenants not only didn’t clean before they left, they had lived like slobs and had taken all the good stuff with them when they went… and left the tap in the bathroom running. No one wants to live like that and my radishes deserve better!
Gosh that moan felt good! Am so sorry for having such a bleat, but there is only so much smiling and pretending it is ok that a soggy gardener can take. We get a few of those teasing moments when the sun comes out, lures you outdoors only for it to nip behind a cloud and pour water on you. So I’ll put on my brave face and grab a brolly and take some photos to show you what I mean.
Come again soon – It can’t possibly rain forever….
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It is still raining. There are puddles on my puddles. Gardening is still very much out of the question. I’m seriously hoping the wild winds will help dry everything up. But I still needed to itch my green thumb so by the warmth of the fire I settled in to a day to tackling a project I’d been meaning to get onto for ages – planning the garden.
In the early days I just planted stuff willy nilly with no real understanding of what the plant needs, and experience taught me a few sharp lessons. Plants have their own sense of timing and their own personal space. So then I took this acquired knowledge and improved my planting and my timing and each season I tweaked and adjusted until I found a good balance for a successful garden. But I never really formalised things. I collected my seeds based on desire and then once they were seedlings I moved them about the bed in their pots until I felt I’d got it just right and then began digging holes. Sometimes I even used a ruler. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t doing the right thing.
But I’d never really sat down and planned the actual garden, what goes where and how many of each plant do I want or need. The garden is so big it was quite daunting. Today was the day I decided to change that. I printed off some grid sheets and cut out my garden beds to scale. There are still more than 30 beds, but less than 40. I’m not comfortable acknowledging exactly how many there actually are.
Because there are only a determined the number available spaces in each bed, I sorted through my vast seed collection to find the perfect plants for each spot and where things were missing I sourced more and wrote lists to buy more seeds. I tried to be adventurous but only to the point that we’d actually eat the produce and not waste it by staring at it wondering how exactly it was meant to be eaten. I was quite restrained and for the majority I only selected things I knew we would eat.
As I approached each grid, I gathered together all the seeds I had that would be likely to grow in there and had a good hard look. I always try to write the year I opened the seed packet in the top corner, because once the seal on that foil packet is open, how well the seeds keep is down to how well I’ve stored them. I got quite ruthless and threw out any that were 2013 or older. This was a bit of a shock to my system as Hubby the Un-Gardener will tell you I’m a bit of a hoarder. Of course I’d deny it, however, there were some really old ones in there!
Then I looked at what was left and asked myself if there were any I didn’t actually want to grow again. I now have quite a pile to drop off to the seed exchange at the local library. Any duplicates are also destined for the library. This left me with manageable pile for each bed, and quite a few gaps that could be filled with the new and the exciting!
I carefully read the instructions on each seed packet to find out just how far apart they need to be and allotted them a space in the garden. I then made a note of when would be a good time to plant them off as some like a head start – like peppers and others pretty much prefer last minute, like the cucumbers. As I worked my way across the garden I not only ended up with an invaluable planting plan and a list of how many of each variety I need to grow, but I also ended up with a sowing schedule that will allow me to plod along through the spring without having to think too hard about what needs to be done.
This is all very fabulous and the most organised I’ve ever been. All that needs to happen now is I need to follow my own instructions and the rain needs to stop so the ground can dry out and I can get on with the task of getting the outside of the garden spring ready.
Come again soon – we are now in the last month of winter and it will whiz by.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The weather has been lousy. The rain has been torrential, but in a sneaky way. It rains solidly all night and apart from the moments it is so intense it rattles the roof and windows, I’m mostly unaware as I blissfully sleep, dreaming of sunny days in my garden. Then when I wake the sun is shining and so the above ground water table just doesn’t make sense.
The soil spends all day making that satisfying sucking noise as the water slowly drains away, only to have its efforts undone overnight. I fear my garden will never dry out again. As tempting as it is to carry on with the digging, weeding and pre-spring preparations, it would be fool hardy. I would seriously damage my soil structure, remove more soil than necessary as it clings tightly to the roots of stubborn weeds when it is sodden, and not to mention the muddy mess I’d make of the grass around the garden as I sloshed about the place in ankle deep water.
Spring is just over a month away and there is no lack of chores to be getting on with so I’m getting a little anxious. So I decided to do some indoor jobs and cleaning out the greenhouse seemed like the perfect thing to occupy my time. I had tidied it up in autumn after the last growing season came to an end, but somehow it managed to attract dirt, clutter, rubbish and nasty bugs.
After a couple of afternoons toiling away I managed to remove all the shelves and give them a good clean and put them back, remove all the weeds growing up through the cracks in the paving stones, give it all a thorough sweep, throw away a mountain of rubbish, sort out things to be giving a good wash like labels, tools found in the deep recesses of the greenhouse, and pots. Lots of pots, but it will be nice to know they are ready for the new season. I want to give the glass a good wash down and tighten all the bolts but this is also a job for another day.
It feels good to be working towards spring and the knowledge the greenhouse will be clean and safe for my little green babies. I think I may be nesting.
Come again soon – I’ll either be digging or tidying my shed – weather permitting.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The in between season. I’ve still got things in the growing in the garden. But not a lot and they are close to being labelled ‘past it.’ But they are still there needing to be eaten. There isn’t much that can be grown at this time of year. But I can technically plant some things, but even that is fraught with problems.
For example I have a pack of carrot seeds that could go in any time now, in fact this variety has the lovely phrase that makes a gardener’s heart leap for joy. The packet says it can be sown ‘all year round’. The problem is these carrots take 16 weeks to grow. So if I plant them in the old carrot bed from last season then they will be in the middle of my salad bed for next season. I could plant the salad crops around the carrots but, I would really need to enrich the bed as the soil hasn’t had a good feed since the potatoes were in there the year before as carrots really don’t like a bed full of rich organic materials, so it’ll be getting a bit tired and the hungry salad plants that look for a quick nitrogen fix won’t want to share with the carrots.
I could put them in to their new season bed, but there is a cover crop growing there. I grew some mustard to attempt to clean up the soil a little as there was a bit of blight in my spuds last year. But I don’t want to dig them into the soon to be carrot bed as they wouldn’t appreciate the excess organic matter. So I was planning on digging them into the bed the beans were in so the soil there can get the benefit of the mustard, because this is where the new potatoes will be going. They won’t be going in until mid September which is perfect timing for new spuds for Christmas. Which would give the mustard time to break down in the soil and improve the structure.
The bean bed won’t be needed until the soil is warm enough in late October so the leeks can languish there a while longer. But don’t get me started on the broccoli. I still have cabbages and kale in their beds which will soon be the odds and sods bed for all my fun stuff, but I can still grow brassicas at this time of year, but I don’t want them in my exciting odds and sods bed holding up the action, and my salad bed still has salad in it – growing impossibly slowly due to the cold weather. I guess it beats having them go bitter and bolt in the heat.
But more pressing is digging in the mustard cover crop where the tomatoes were. I popped them in to freshen up the soil after my summer was blighted with blight. But I didn’t really give much thought to what comes next and I have some onions almost ready to be planted. Almost, because I’m running a little late with my seed sowing due to our earlier trip to Tahiti. But our onion growing farmer friend always tells me I’ve planted them too early, so maybe this year he won’t have to point it out. The problem with the cover crop is, there isn’t enough time for it to break down in the soil – I reckon we have a week or two before they go in. So I thought I could dig them into the bed where the peas were, because this is where the tomatoes are going to go and hopefully there will be lingering benefit from the mustard into the soil that will nurture my tomatoes.
I think I just need to pick up my spade and do some digging. There is no other way around it. The problem is the boffins are saying the next 7 days are going to be soggy. I just hope they have it wrong. The school holidays finish on Monday so it is bound to be sunny.
Come again soon – there is only 6 weeks until spring and there is so much to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I tried to go out into the garden today, but it was just too gloomy, the ground was way too soggy after we received another dumping of rain overnight. This was most annoying as the ground had almost dried out since the last burst of rain and was almost workable again. The only up side of this is the normally difficult tap rooted weeds like dock and dandelion just slipped out of the sodden soil. So I began with a spot of weeding and hunting down these thugs in their vulnerable state. But no matter how enthusiastic I was the clouds above me released rain drops in spits and spots, leaving me to wonder if this was the next big downpour the boffins had been warning about and last night was just a warm up.
I’m not in a hurry to get wet and catch cold from non-urgent jobs about the garden so I decided to tackle some chores that I could do in the warm and dry and to be honest were long overdue. I cleaned my tools. I have to be the first to confess, my poor tools get a hard life. I work them hard – occasionally with tasks they weren’t designed for, but they do the job. In the craziness of summer, they often get left in the garden, where after a long day I wander away weary from the effort, knowing I’ll only be out there again the next day to do it all over again. If I was to grade myself on care of my tools, I’d end up with “Must try harder on” on my report card. This wouldn’t shock me too much though as I saw it often enough on my school reports when I was a child.
I took my cutters and pruners and gave them a good scrub in a bleachy solution. I do give them a bit of cursory wipe after use, but a build-up of gunk had lodged in nooks and crannies and make the whole thing stick when trying to open and close the blades. Then I gave them an oil in the moving parts and sharpened the blades and we were back in business.
Bouyed by the success of the cutting tools I turned my attentions to my forks and spades. Hubby the Un-Gardener gave me a lovely stainless steel fork for Christmas with a wooden handle. I love using it, it goes through the soil like a dream. But in order to keep the handle in good order I gave it a liberal wipe down with linseed oil. This will stop it from cracking and splintering and it now it smells really lovely.
Knowing there is a lot of digging to be done in the next season, that isn’t too far away I had a good look at my spade. I think it maybe on its last legs. Where the handle bit meets the blade bit, it’s come loose and delivers a nasty pinch if you forget in the heat of the moment while doing the digging. However there isn’t much that can be done to tighten it as it appears to be secured by a rivet. Well – it was cheap and has lasted ages.
There is also a weakness in the blade itself where the shafts flattens out. A bit of duct tape on the handle should limp it along for a bit longer and if that’s the case then it’s dull cutting edge was long overdue for a sharpening. I grabbed a file and worked away at the edge, appreciating the rasping sound, that strangely made me feel productive as an sharpness appeared across the entire edge. Not razor sharp, but will make it so much easier for Hubby the Un-Gardener as I have some digging for him to do soon enough. I must remember to warn him about that pinchy handle.
Come again soon – it can’t possibly rain forever.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Oh my goodness, winter has finally stood up and said loudly and proudly: I am here! Last week we had so much rain it broke records for the most rain in an hour for the month of June. The thing is – it wasn’t just that hour, but the hour before and after it…. well actually the days before and after it where it rained full and heavy drops that seemed to have no end. It was positively sodden. After being so mild, June, in it’s dying days decided to step up to it’s wintery expectations. The only upside I can take from this is the soil, right down deep has well and truly had it’s thirst quenched from the long dry summer months and is now restored and ready for a new season.
Then July arrived in spectacular style and majesty. It came cloaked in the sparkliest, coldest frozen attire. The sky was the deepest blue and the ground was coated in the brightest white. This too broke records as the coldest night of the year so far. While it is chilly outdoors, the sun has been able to come out from where it has been hidden by clouds and embrace us all with it’s weak, but welcome warmth.
The pests and disease lurking in the soil since summer have had a short sharp shock and knocked back from their position of abundance. The soil is beginning to dry out and I can pick up my tools and garden on. Although not as early in the morning as I did yesterday…. Check it out here:
Come again soon – winter is doing what winter does.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
My poor wee Toast. OK I can’t do this justice. It is too upsetting. The vet found an aggressive tumor that was beyond repair. She’s been by my side for 15 years and loved my garden. She was only 8 weeks old when we got her from the SPCA and she has been a sweet natured wee thing ever since. She loved being in my videos and snuck her cute way into my books and blogs. She will be greatly missed.
Toast the Cat 2001 – 2016
Come again soon – the garden just won’t be the same.
Sarah the Gardener : o(