You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been AWOL for a while. At the start of the season, it was never my intention. This was going to be that perfect season in my garden. I had it all planned. I wasn’t building any part of the vegetable garden, technically everything was done and ready to go. I was going to waft through the season and casually, with no stress at all, dig in the cover crops and enrich the beds with enough time for all the goodies to be worked into the soil by the worms and other beneficial soil organisms that will appreciate my efforts.
Meanwhile I would sow seeds in my greenhouse, on the new shelves that were perfectly timed and perfect for the job. I would waft in and out daily to keep the soil moist and check regularly for signs of life. Then in an orderly fashion I would repot seedlings as required into larger pots, a couple of times each if necessary, using the compost and potting mix that I had pre-ordered and was just waiting to be used.
Then once the time was right, somewhere around mid-October, I was envisioning planting things out into the garden beds to the tunes of some lovely classical music. I’m not a great classic music fan, but the situation always feels appropriate to have the correct soundtrack. Because we don’t get frosts, I was hoping to sneak a few plants in even earlier. I had worked hard on planting maps for each garden bed and had them at the ready so everything would take its correct place.
And finally, I would stand back and weed and water without a care in the world and all would grow before my eyes and it would be wonderful. I would then arrive at Christmas relaxed, refreshed with a home-grown festive menu.
Now you may notice in these previous paragraphs there was a lot of language that falls easily into ‘shoulda, woulda and coulda’. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan.
The first problem was a cold that left me bedridden for a week and a six-week recovery. On top of this an ankle I twisted back in January was in the final stages of medical treatment with the words ‘Ooooh you’ve done a lot of soft tissue damage, stay off it for a week’ uttered a couple of times. This put paid to the cover crop digging in and pre enriching of the beds with all the goodies I had set aside ready to go. Next season I am going to chop and drop in the middle of winter, none of this digging in nonsense. The books and magazines casually say, ‘just dig it in’. It isn’t easy and is more like herding kittens.
Then tragedy struck, and this was what really pulled the plug on gardening and all social media for a while. My dad fought a very fast and vicious battle with cancer, and he was gone within six short weeks. Fortunately, we were able to make the long drive south and saw him a couple of times to tell him we loved him. It was a difficult time. I lost the desire to garden for a while, my health delays had made the garden seem to be overwhelming and I just needed to put one foot in front of the other.
During this time the weather did not do what it was supposed to do. It didn’t stick with the plan. It has been the worst spring ever. The weather was all over the place, hot one day, freezing the next and then there were the actual storms. I lost count, I know it was more than 3 and less than 5, but it was the wind that was the most devastating. I put my peppers out a little early and a couple of days later they were gone. Their poor wee leaves had the life whipped out of them. I held back on planting out the rest of them but couldn’t wait forever. I finally got them out a couple of day ago and then this morning we got hail like I’ve never seen before.
However, not all the delays to the garden were a bad thing. I also had the good fortune to be spend ten days traveling the country and visiting gardens of national and international significance. It was amazing and such a privilege. I hope to share more about this in blog posts to come. But while I was off gallivanting around the country, my poor garden waited some more.
As mentioned above I spent the last few days planting things out, after beds were hastily turned over and enriched by Hubby the Un-Gardener and teenage boys who are faster and better at it than me and plants and seeds were finally in their places, where they should be, according to the plan. I made a quick video trying to explain it all while I did a bit of planting. You can check it out here:
There was no casual wafting. This season has been a hard slog. But summer is 18 days away and I’m just hoping I will find myself wafting about the garden in a summer frock, once I get all the spring jobs done. Here’s hoping.
Come again soon – I need to reclaim a routine and get things back to some kind of normal.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Sometimes the ups and downs of life can get in the way of time spent in the garden. This spring has been one of those seasons with a lot of non-gardening things going on and just crappy weather. The nice days have been few and far between, but often these end up being out of garden days.
But life wouldn’t be the same without a garden and so I am pushing on and doing my best, but sometimes It feels like I’m running terribly late. But I will get there – I have too… there is a greenhouse full of seedlings counting on me.
So bear with me while I get through this complicated period in life, sometimes it is just easy to spend time in garden and get things done to try and catch up and find joy and peace where I can.
Come again soon – normal gardening commentary will resume shortly.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This week has been awful. The boffins had mentioned it, but often they are wrong, so I take the forecast with a pinch of salt. Especially as the weekend was so magnificent. It was warm – the kids went swimming. I thought they were mad, but they seemed to have fun. The sky was blue without a cloud in it. It was the closest we have felt to summer since last summer. You could almost reach out and touch it. It felt so permanent that you couldn’t even begin to imagine the next day couldn’t be anything but the same again.
I’m not naive enough to not expect this though. I know we are still in early spring and know she is a tease and not to be trusted, with her summer winter flipflopping. But this time she was just mean. I’d even say a bully standing in the corridor of the season barring me from passing by to get to where I want to be. In the garden.
This week has had me trapped indoors by what was possibly the second worst storm we’ve had since we have been here – a mere 21 months. The first one was horrible. The wind was recorded at 212km up the coast from us. Our house was on jacks with the house mover’s truck beneath and everyone feared all would be lost. But alas no – all was fine. Phew. While intense, that storm only lasted overnight and we didn’t have any other permanent structures on the site, it became a worst-case scenario situation for us to build upon. So, while terrifying it was a kind of blessing.
This storm wasn’t as nasty in its intensity but in its longevity it was terrible. It has pretty much lasted a full week with wind and rain and temperatures dropping so low that you’d think we were in mid-winter again. There was also thunder and lightening and hail thrown in for good measure. It was a good and proper storm. The airport is near us as the crow flies but between them and the open sea is the skinny land mass that is the Awhitu peninsula, so they have a tiny bit more of a buffer than us from the rawness of the storm and they recorded 100km at its worst. The worst I saw in my garden was 62km, but the house does seem to slow things down a little and out the front of the house it felt terrible.
Today the sun is out and the birds and singing and while there are clouds, they don’t look like they’re about to burst with a freezing cold shower. But it is still a little windy here. However, that is part and parcel of living so close to the sea! It should ease soon I’m sure. My weather station is telling me it is currently gusting at 23.4 km, but it feels calm enough after what we have been through.
In my gardening history, on windy nights I would lie awake and worry about whatever greenhouse I had at the time and would eventually send Hubby the Un-Gardener out to check! More often than not there was some kind of damage or loss that would require repair, replacement or upgrade. Not forgetting the time poor Hubby the Un-Gardener was roaming the neighbour’s fields looking for polycarbonate panels, trying not to be blown away with the sail like panels he’d already found, in an electrical storm. He never found them all as he made the conscious decision ‘I don’t want to die like this’ and stopped looking.
So, it was reassuring to know the dome stood up to the storm as expected and the seedlings within are green and lush and doing their thing like nothing untoward was happening around them. I managed to make myself brave the weather at least once a day to go and water everything in there, and it was like a warm oasis in the midst of the terrible weather beyond the glass. Even though it cost a lot more than I would have liked, in times like this I am so pleased to have it. And I was able to sleep easy without worry. Well more like, lie awake without worry because the wind is incredibly noisy. It reminds me of a dog where its bark is worse than its bite.
The boffins are suggesting in the next week or so, there will be rain and a bit of wind, but all going well it won’t be anything like what we have just been through, so it will seem a pleasure to garden through whatever weather is thrown at us.
Come again soon – things can only get better.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have a bit of a side kick that shadows me wherever I go. Most days it is barely noticeable, well not to me, because I’ve learnt to put the nuances it brings to one side and not give it the attention it demands. Other times it is so demanding of my attention it is impossible to ignore and I have to stop what I’m doing and give into it so, giving it the time it needs to stop bothering me. This could easily describe Jasper the Dog with his helpful hole digging in the middle of my paths or dropping tennis balls at my feet begging me to throw them for him or racing at full speed around the garden beds like a maniac just let loose from bondage, or just lying there in the shade of the artichoke slumbering quietly in the heat of the day.
Alas no, if only that was so simple. Managing a dog in the garden makes things interesting but not unmanageable. The side kick I take everywhere with me is MS – Multiple Sclerosis. It isn’t a secret that I’ve kept hidden, it is common knowledge I’m not afraid to tell people about. While it is something I have and effects decisions I may make, it doesn’t have me, and I have chosen not to let it control me or limit me. It is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience.
But at the same time, it is my biggest blessing and I am thankful for it. I first found something was wrong while I was pregnant with the Joeyosaurus. Of course, the first thoughts are … ‘oh no… the baby…’ So, I got it checked out instead of trying and failing to remember to get things checked out next time I was at the Doctor. It is so worth getting the most minor worry looked at by your doctor. Too bad if you think they think you are a hypochondriac – you’re the one paying for their time!
The final confirmed diagnosis of MS prompted us to move from our city lives into the country and that was where I first put a spade into soil and instantly fell in love with gardening. My health flourished with the exercise and outdoor activity. Soaking in the sun’s rays enriched my absorption of Vitamin D, something MS people aren’t that good at processing. The fresh food and healthy diet that came as a result of my efforts in the garden allowed my health to flourish. I was more myself than I’ve ever been.
For most keen vegie gardeners I’ve ever met, it can become addictive and quite the obsession and it had me hook, line and sinker. I was a gardener through and through. When people asked me how I was I’d reply, ‘not good, I’ve got blight’ then have to add ‘in my tomatoes’. But my meagre four bed garden that first hosted the crops I grew in the first season somehow became the 36 I have now. I think by anyone’s standards 36 is a lot. Managing 36 beds isn’t easy for most people but throw MS into the mix and it becomes even more challenging.
But I have found a way to not only manage my garden but allow it, and me, to thrive. The first philosophy is little and often. Don’t over do things. It is tempting when in a serious gardening session, weeding, digging or some other arduous task to push through to the end to get it done. This isn’t necessary. Most gardening tasks are not time dependant. And if they are the window is weeks or even months. It is certainly never a day or a weekend. So, tackling a bite size chunk at a time with loads of breaks of hours or even days in between. Or mix it up so the day is made of different tasks – some easy, some a little more challenging.
Provide yourself with plenty of nice places to sit and rest and admire all you have achieved. And use them often. I have chairs in the shade at the front of my office shed which I expect will get more use once summer arrives. And then there is my wonderful swing seat which is tall enough that your feet don’t touch the ground, so you are reverted back to childhood as you swing your feet freely. Once seated I’m reluctant to get back up, it is so relaxing, which is the whole point. It is easy to stop – gulp a cuppa tea and carry on. On the swing seat is seductive and you linger there much longer.
Staying on top of the garden all year long is also a great benefit so there is no need for intensive boom and bust weeding sessions. I have divided my garden into 5 groups and on the Monday, I only take care of group 1 with weeding, feeding, watering, pruning, deadheading and tying in etc. Then on Tuesday it is group 2, although I have to say group 5 on a Friday often gets the short end of the stick. Harvesting across the whole garden is done when it is needed, that is one thing that doesn’t wait. But even in winter, when nothing is growing a quick check for weeds or problems keeps everything manageable.
Asking for help is another essential tool. I’m terrible at it because I’m a control freak in the garden and prefer things done my way. I am so pleased Hubby the Un-Gardener has no interest in gardening – I’m sure there would be a territorial struggle of wills that would turn the garden into a battlefield. But no, his role that he has willingly accepted from those first days in the garden was to do heaving lifting and dig on demand. I may have put the first spade in – but he did the rest – digging is hard work!
The last thing is listen to your body and if it is telling you to stop then it is in your best interests to stop. Sort of like when the oil light comes on in the car. It is better to have a short rest than do some long term damage that can keep you out of the garden for days.
It is around about now, 14 years ago my life changed irreversibly, but to be honest I firmly believe it changed for the better and introduced me to the 2nd love of my life (after family) gardening and I couldn’t be happier to be inconvenienced by this strange little side kick.
Come again soon – the weather is rubbish again; normal gardening will resume shortly.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Today is Friday and the end of the week. The work in the garden has cranked up a notch and now instead of just potting about fiddling with this and tinkering with that, it has become heaving lifting, ardous weeding and a significant amount of digging and forking over the soil. This has me arriving at the end of the week completely exhausted. So instead of telling you all about it, let me show you in pictures.
Come again soon – next week is another week of gardening fun.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: if you click on the images you can find out more about them.
Today was an amazing day, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and once it warmed up, it was the perfect gardening day. Once I took care of everything indoors, I headed outdoors with a plan. I was going to plant all my potatoes and finally get them in the ground so I can stop worrying about them. The Christmas ones were the biggest worry as I really didn’t want to tell the family that we will be celebrating Christmas 3 days later than everyone else.
Then I was going to sort out the salad bed and give it some compost and some love so I could sow some radish seeds before it gets too hot for them and they all bolt. I’ve had the seed packet sitting on my desk, taunting me for ages. I headed to the garden feeling confident that I was going to achieve things today!
The thing is – while I achieved things, it didn’t go according to plan. My first action was to focus on the Christmas spuds. The others can wait as they are the longer growing ones and so at the end of the day a week or two won’t matter all that much. I like to put my Christmas spuds in containers, in case we aren’t at home on the big day – I can take my festive gardening with me!
But straight away the first problem presented itself and was the main cause of everything spinning off track resulting in my main potatoes still sitting in their trays at the end of the day. You see the containers I wanted to use were already in use. I planted some cheeky winter spuds in them a few months ago. They were doing well until there was a storm and all their leaves got wind burnt and shrivelled up.
I wasn’t expecting there to be any spuds, so I dumped out the soil into a large container and was surprised to see some perfect new potatoes. But I saw something else even more interesting that took the potato planting session even further away from being done by the end of the day. The soil from the containers was full of worms. Loads of big fat earthworms. The soil was just a blend of potting mix and compost with some sheep pellets, blood and bone and Dynamic Lifter thrown in for good measure. They had been sat on the bare sand and there were certainly no worms in there in the beginning.
This got me to thinking and I thought, if there was something good going on in the potato container soil, then I can’t just dump it anywhere. I needed to take advantage of it. And what bed needed love more than my worst cover crop bed. Which meant pulling up the cover crop – as meagre as it was and chop it up and then dig out the soil and lay the chopped-up mustard plants in the base.
Then I popped the worm laden soil on top and began to cover it up. Then I thought ‘while I’m here I might as well add all the other goodies I normally do so grabbed some compost, well-rotted manure and other bits and bobs and layered that into the bed then put the soil back over the top. I may need to give it a bit of a tickle later to make sure it is well distributed but I’m hoping the worms will do the lions share of the work.
After that exhausting deviation from the plan, I had my containers for my Christmas spuds, so I gave them a good wash and buried the well chitted spuds in a new blend of compost, potting mix and all the other goodies the previous potatoes loved. It felt good to finally achieve something on the list, but the day was at an end and the main items on the list remain undone, but at least we have fresh new potatoes for dinner.
Come again soon – tomorrow is another day and if it was a nice as today, my radish and my main potatoes may get to meet the soil.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It seemed like such a good idea at the end of last season to grow cover crops on the beds as they came empty, with little thought to my spring self. So what if they add so much value to the soil, to replace lost nutrients, add much needed organic matter and even, it is said, do special jobs like lupin adding extra nitrogen or mustard being a clean up crop. It is all very well to improve the soil – but I have to dig them in. And it is hard work.
Ideally the digging in should have been done a few weeks ago, before they started to flower, while the stems were still young and tender. But for reasons previously discussed, I’m running behind schedule and so my cover crops are flowering. Which puts me under even more pressure to get it done.
I managed one bed yesterday and I’m proud of what I have achieved but it has completely exhausted me. I slept last night for a straight 10 hours. I must have needed it, or like I suspect, I’m going soft. The bed I did tackled had lupin in it and previously had my melons in. This season it will be host to the ever hungry sweetcorn who will be delighted to find their soil has had an extra boost once their roots get down nice and deep.
But this whole cover crop thing as taught me a few lessons this winter. Firstly, I didn’t know the lupin cover crop I’ve grown for years has beautiful blue flowers. I have always diligently chopped them back long before they even show the slightest signs of breaking into bloom. We have some naturalised lupin growing around the garden with yellow flowers that smell heavenly when in flower, so I’m considering scattering some of the cover crop seeds as a yellow and blue combo up the side of the hill beside the garden would look amazing.
The other interesting thing has come from the mustard crops. It would seem not all of my beds are equal. The garden beds were filled on a first come first served basis – as I needed it for a crop the bed was filled. The first row is pretty much pure swamp soil. But as the garden developed the pile of soil was moved a couple of times because it was in the wrong place. And with each move, some sand became mixed in. It couldn’t be helped and then for the last beds, most of the soil had been used so we were scratching around to find patches of it. It didn’t seem to matter too much – so long as the beds were filled.
It would seem it did matter after all and the mustard cover crop was a good indicator. One bed was lush, thick and tall while another was short, thin and barely grew taller than the edge of the bed. Another crop was about halfway between them both in terms of verdant growth.
This is a good lesson into the quality of the soil. Just by digging them back in to the soil, I’m improving it, but for the poorest bed, it will need extra love, so I’ll lavish it with compost, well rotten manure and other bits and bobs, and as the crops in it grow I will make sure I feed them regularly to ensure they get what they need that may be missing from the soil. I’ll grow cover crops again next season and really try to build up that soil.
So, cover crops are good for so much more than first thought and I’ll continue to grow them, even if digging them in almost kills me!
Come again soon – there are so many spring things that need doing I don’t know where to start.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Last week was very exciting for me. Even more exciting than sowing seeds, and that is a big call because sowing seeds is one of the highlights of spring. There is something almost magical in taking inert bits that parted company from the parent plant a long time ago – for some seeds that could be years ago and plunge them into moist warm soil and voila… they come back to life. How can you not marvel at the wonder of that?
But what I marvelled at the wonder of last week, was my amazing builder’s ability to take the vision from my head and with his technical skills turn it into a reality. Last week we built shelves for my geodesic biodome. It has been a long time coming. Originally it should have been done last season when the dome was finished, but the dome didn’t get the glass on until late in the season and the urgency was gone. I had spent the season juggling plants on the floor of the dome and did my best not to stand on them, kick them over or be tripped up by them. They seemed to do well enough huddled underneath the temporary covering of the plastic pallet wrap that clung tightly to the exterior of the dome.
Then I spent a great deal of time pondering and wondering. Often, I find my best ideas are ones that I’ve sat on for a while and given mental space to develop into something great. Normally the ideas that I have and immediately race out to convert into a reality are never my best work. So, I’ve been thinking about these shelves for a long time.
Ordinarily I think about how I want it to look at the end and then think backward to figure out how to achieve it. Sometimes I need to go back and change the original concept because of an unforeseen problem in the design. This time I even asked anyone who would listen, what they thought about it, what they would do if it was theirs. This just confused me even more. But at the end of the day the same design kept coming back to me – a set of shelves that ran around the entire interior perimeter of the dome. I just knew that is what I wanted.
The big question was how? I know for a fact that my woodworking skills leave a lot to be desired. You only need to see what I did with my hardening off staging to cringe with horror. >It’s all staged< I’m surprised I even posted that project for all the world to see. It is clearly not my best work! Knowing and appreciating my limitations, in the face of urgency for the new growing season, I began to worry. I really didn’t want to have another growing season starting out on the floor. In the depths of worry, in the middle of the night, I came to the realisation I wouldn’t be able to do it myself, well I could but it wouldn’t be great. I decided to ask my builder to help. After that peace came and I stopped worrying. It would be ok.
A week later my amazing builder turned up with a load of wood, screws, tools and the all-important technical knowhow. Before he arrived, I emptied the dome of all the items that had found its way in there and with some coloured chalk I began measuring things out so we would be able to make a plan. I may not have known how to build it, but I could come up with a starting point. It isn’t an easy shape. There are 18 points to it and every other diameter is 10cm shorter than the other. Then I needed to decide the span of each section of shelving around the outside and how wide and how tall? It was hard to tell.
So with no real major decision made and me with a great idea with how it should look firmly in my head and my amazing builder with a vague idea based upon my grandiose descriptions that lacked any really useful information other than ‘it’ll be fab’, we set to work.
We started with the frame that would hold the shelves, so depth and height of the shelves was the first decision based on arm’s length and the placement of my largest seed trays. Height was determined by the height of a kitchen bench – if it is good enough for the kitchen, then it’s good enough for me and also the length of the wood meant we could cut three lengths without wasting any.
Once each frame was constructed, we loosely positioned them around the dome and started to play with the span of each section. Once we decided not to tie it into the angles of the dome itself but sit it as snuggly as we could within it, it made wider spans possible, which meant less wood and less work and made so much more sense. We started with the section immediately across from the door and made sure it was lined up with it to make it aesthetically pleasing and gave us a starting point for the rest of the shelving. Working out the angles of each section so it butted up nicely with the next was where I would have become unstuck. That is a technical ability way ahead of my capabilities, but the wood was cut with a skill I had to admire and over the course of the day shelves began to appear.
My amazing builder kept saying ‘I can’t believe how good this looks’, and I kept saying ‘it’s just like I imagined it would be.’ We work well together with thinking through problems and me holding the wood being cut so it didn’t fall to the floor. We didn’t get it completely finished as there is still most of the shelves on the bottom layer to do, but we ran out of day and wood. So, one day soon it will be finished, but for now I have all that I need. My plants have somewhere to grow.
Come again soon – there is digging and weeding and sowing, transplanting and all good things about spring to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I no longer feel panicked and the season can finally start. I know I said it wasn’t a race and I had ages, but that seed sowing window was wide open and was calling me to climb through it. So I found a window of time, grabbed my seed packets and set about sowing seeds. I didn’t get them all done – just the vegies. I will need to go back and sow the flower seeds in the next couple of days. But the crops are done and I can relax a little.
And I decided to show you how I did it, so sit back and watch my short little video with actual footage of me getting this season started! (oh and there is a quick tour of my new garden office at the end.)
Now the seeds are in I can look about the garden and decide which of the many tasks I should do next… Fun times ahead.
Come again soon – this will be a good season, it just has to be.
Sarah the Gardener : o)