SARAH THE GARDENER

Under the sun

I’ve been away.  Not only that, I’ve time travelled!  With the garden mostly under control it was the perfect time to have a bit of a holiday.   For the keen gardener mid-winter really is the best time to take a break as there isn’t really a lot going on and besides – it is cold and miserable so who wouldn’t want to go somewhere tropical?  So, we jumped in a plane and after 5 hours found ourselves 22 hours behind, in the day before we even left, in the delightful Tahiti. 

floating in the Pacific

There is nothing like floating in the Pacific to relax completely.

To be honest for me it was perfect, I didn’t realise how much I actually needed a holiday from it all and so there was no gardening, although I did read a fascinating book about the head gardener from the Gardens of Versailles. >Find out more about it here<  I didn’t even intentionally look at gardens.  There were options to visit gardens and agricultural places, but the soft warm waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean called to me and I swam in waters that drifted all worries and cares away.  I was truly refreshed.

I was also truly spoilt and had some amazing food and drink.  There is nothing like celebrating the setting of the sun with a cocktail in hand in the company of lovely new friends.  The French influence interlaced with the Polynesian culture made things feel truly exotic and the food was incredible.  Although I have to say as much as the French enjoy eating snails, they can keep them.  I thought it would be the ultimate gardener’s revenge, but I couldn’t face it, not matter how much garlic there was on them.  I guess ignorance is bliss as I watched non-gardeners gobble them down.  I just kept picturing the slimy buggers in my garden!

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But now I’m back and with just a week left of mid-winter I need to get my act together.  Spring starts is about 6 weeks and the first seeds of the season get started in a week and a half!  So with one hand on the unpacking and the laundry as I wash the salt and sunscreen residue from my clothes – but not my memories, I will throw myself back into the garden with all that needs to be done, should have been done and will need to be done sooner rather than later.  I’m relaxed, refreshed and ready for business.  A new season is coming.

Come again soon – there is much to be done.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

New Orchard Take Two

After my recent confession on the failure of the first orchard in the new place, I am determined to get it right the second time.  So the first thing I did was research the trees I wanted first based on who needed a pollinator and which varieties were best, then narrowing that list down to the give us something for every season and even in some cases something for early, mid and late season so there is a constant supply of fruit once the trees start fruiting.  That list was then narrowed down to the juiciest and most delicious ones that will give us a seasonal delight that can’t be bought at the store.

So many trees

So many trees… too many trees. I had to use all my self control to stick to the carefully curated list.

Picking the right fruit trees is a complex business and I went through the same processes last time as well, so a lot of my options were still the same, second time round.  The problem was I had left it too late in the season and all the good stuff was gone and I had to compromise dramatically, often searching the great big internet while standing in the garden centre, trying to find any information I could about the obscure and scrappy looking tree lurking in the far corner, that I knew I would probably buy regardless as I was desperate for trees.

Fruit trees in the car

There are only so many fruit trees in the car. I could have squeezed in more but it was quite twiggy in the front seat.

The difference this time is I was early at the garden centre – within a week or two of the arrival of the new season trees and there were plenty to choose from and most were on my list.  I may have had to swap out one or two, but it was nothing drastic, and often for something that was in the final decision category anyway.   I had to make two trips, so the trees would fit in the back of the car and on the second visit I was glad for my prompt action as there were several varieties that had already sold out.  The early bird gets the worm and all that.

Spraying the trees

I sprayed the trees in the fading light of the day when all good pollinators should be well and truly tucked up in bed

Next, I set them off to a good start by giving them a spray for pest and disease such as leaf curl, black spot, scale and mites with Conqueror Spraying Oil and Copper Oxychloride.  I did feel quite proud of myself with this step as in the past I have always been too hasty to get them planted and just bunged them in and left them to fend for themselves in a do or die attitude.  I would prune and spray most winters, but never as often as recommended so there was always peach leaf curl, black spots on the quince and gross pear slugs on the plums making lace out of the leaves.  It is my intention going forward these trees will stay up to date with their spray routine, so they stay healthy.  They are in for a tough life here on the coast so it is the least I can do for them.

Digging holes

Hubby the Un-Gardener did a great job digging holes. He was fast and efficient and mostly agreeable. I’d be lost without him.

Where the orchard is, is up a valley.  In the summer it is mostly full sun as the sun travels across its length but in winter one side is shaded, and as we don’t get a frost here, I was worried about the trees that need a certain number of chill hours to be successful.  So I chose varieties that suit the warmer areas, but the ones that needed things cooler in winter I placed on the shady side of the hill and the ones that weren’t that bothered went on the sunny side so hopefully my plants will enjoy the thought I put into their final locations.

Dog and hole

You would think Jasper dug this hole the way he became territorial over it.

Then, instead of languishing for months in pots – a mistake many of the old trees I have had are familiar with, I got them into the ground within weeks of buying them and bringing them home.  To be fair Hubby the Un-Gardener dug all the holes for me because he is just quicker at it than me and didn’t complain when I suggested one was in the wrong place and could he re-dig it 30cm over.  You see the trees are in a couple of lines up the valley and so it will make it easy to deliver irrigation to them.  I want to run a few lines of 13mm poly pipe up the hill and then have 4mm tubing going to each tree ending in a dripper or two.  The end of the pipes will go through the chicken coop – the apples and pears are in there, and then have connectors out by the raspberries in the garden and so watering the orchard will be as easy and plugging in a hose on a timer and these trees won’t suffer the same fate as their predecessors dying of thirst.

The new orchard

And take two with the orchard, I really hope in spite of all the challenge it will face, it still flourishes here on the hill.

I still have a few things to do to make the orchard right.  I need to give the new pip trees a prune, so they are off to a good shape, and then do the stone fruit from the spring because it is unwise to prune these in winter due to the risk of disease.  I also need to stake them so the roots can settle into the soil without being rocked by the wind, of which we do see more than our fair share.   But at this point I am just pleased the trees I have chosen are in the ground and planted alongside them is a lot of good intentions.

Come again soon – I’m going to do something a tad exotic.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

FYI:  The trees I now have in my orchard are:

  • Plums – Santa Rosa, Black Doris and Duffs Early Jewel but I still want a Damson
  • Quince – Taihape
  • Feijoa – Unique, Mammoth and Apollo
  • Peaches – Red Haven but I still want a Black Boy
  • Apricot – Sundrop and Trevatt
  • Apples – Golden Delicious, Cox’s Orange but I still want a Peasgood Nonsuch
  • Pear – Red Bartlett and Conference
  • Olive Rakino and an unnamed variety that I’m sure will be fine.

There are still other things I want, like a persimmon, tamarillo and some nuts but they can wait.

Yams – Yay or Nay?

It was with great expectation I approached my Yam bed, also known as Oca.  As far as I was concerned, I’d done all the right things, I’d fed and watered with a frequency that could be described as regular.  I was in a new environment here beside the sea and the soil was more free draining than at the old place and so surely that would have helped.   I waited until the bulky foliage had completely died back, like you are supposed to do.  Surely there was a bumper harvest lying beneath the surface of the soil.

The Yam bed

Sometimes the expectation and anticipation is more exhilarating than actually knowing what lies beneath the soil.

At the old place I never really got a great harvest of yams, but certainly not from a lack of trying, however their bed was off to the side and easily forgotten with an out of sight out of mind cavalier attitude.  It did flood often there as well and what yams I did dig up were mostly pockmarked with the early signs of rot.  It really didn’t bode well, but I can be tenacious at the best of times and there is nothing to be lost from trying this crop again and again, hoping for a better outcome.  It is relatively low maintenance so worth the persistence.

So how did it fare in the new spot?

Yams

And this is it… after 11 months of waiting… for this… hip hip hooray…..

Miserably!  To be honest I think the tubers I planted collectively weighed more than the tubers I harvested.  It is a miracle reducing crop.   However undeterred I shall try again, surely one day the conditions will be perfect and we will get the much longed for bumper harvest.  Conditions swing wildly from one season to the next and I can’t forget the year I could hold my entire pumpkin harvest in one hand, which just happened to be the same year I had the best ever celery crop.

Miniature pumpkin harvest

My miniature pumpkin harvest from back in 2014 isn’t exactly something to be proud of.

I live in hope, although my suspicions are it just doesn’t get cold enough and moving to a frost free spot beside the sea isn’t going to help.  Having said that the boffins are suggesting this is a mild winter compared to most, so maybe next year it will be colder…  I can’t believe I’m actually hoping for a chilly winter.  But its for the yams!

Yams

We were off to such a good start with these seed yams. So much potential locked into these rather large tubers.  What could possibly go wrong?

Yams will always have a place in my garden, not counting the hope of a better crop, but I created a bed especially for it and it is now riddled with measly mung bean sized tubers I couldn’t be bothered harvesting and now they are there they are there for good.  They are related to the dreaded oxalis weed that strikes fear into the hearts of gardeners at the mere sight of a tiny folded trefoil shaped leaves emerging from the undergrowth.  But for now I’ll just have to make do with do with ones from the store grown by folk who know what they are doing in a location that yams actually like.

Come again soon – I need to tell you about my orchard.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I have a confession to make

Dead orchard

This is my valley of death, and my greatest shame.

You may or may not remember late last year I bought some fruit trees….  >Read about it here<  Umm…  yeah…. Well…  I killed them, all of them.   Well the olive still has leaves, but it might as well be dead by the look of it!  It isn’t completely unexpected, as I ended the tree purchasing post with the words:

“I do feel a little sorry for the humble collection of trees I have just acquired as I have a ‘do or die’ philosophy when it comes to fruit trees.”

Dead apple tree

As much as the chickens tried, this Golden Delicious tree is dead. The other apple tree in the chicken coop is surprisingly still alive, however, I was in such a rush to plant them I didn’t document who was where, so I have no idea what kind of apple it is!

Although I was referring to its ability to survive here by the sea and not my negligent behaviour.  But the thing is I had that old saying “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the second best time is now!” ringing in my ears.  I left an established orchard and that was hard to do.  I’d waited a long time to have an abundance of fruit and just when they got going, we got going.  There are trees in that orchard with fruit I never got to try.  So, I was in a hurry to replace them.

pear tree in poor health

It looks like the pear tree is salvageable, which is great news.

But there was so much else going on at that time, what with moving a house and building the entire garden in time for the growing season, so the trees while were on the ‘do it now’ list, I wasn’t really ready for them.  By the time I got to the garden centre all of the good ones had gone already so I had to compromise on my carefully researched varieties.

Anvil secateurs for dead wood

I took the top of the pear tree in sections so I could check the state of it. Anvil secateurs cut through the wood like a knife onto a chopping block but is best for dead wood as it can bruise live branches.

Having secured a motley crew of trees, the poor things then languished in pots for far too long while I tended to the needs of new season seedlings and finishing the last of the beds.  They were moved about the place several times as they somehow seemed to be underfoot and in the way.  The brisk sea breezes enjoyed knocking them over again and again and as they were in small-ish pots they often dried out.   Oh, and then Snowy the Goat gave them unnecessarily pruning – twice as she slipped her collar.  She now sports a dashing and much stronger collar to keep her in control.

dead wood

Yup. The top half of the pear is dead.

Finally, they found themselves in the ground, better late than never right?  Unfortunately not.  Last summer was a very dry summer, compounded by the fact that the water tank for the garden was only installed in September so it didn’t have an opportunity to become filled by nature and we started the season off in a position of shortage and water conservation.  The newly planted trees were thirsty and not having the opportunity to hunker down and get their roots in deep during the winter and spring, come summer they suffered.  I did water them, but not enough.  My watering was sporadic for a healthy orchard, but devastatingly so for a bunch of trees in such an unfortunate situation.  Death happened and much to my disgrace was not unexpected.

Bypass Secateurs for green wood

I then cut the dead part of the tree off, on a slight angle, in the healthy part, just above a small branch with my bypass secateurs. These are the best tools for green wood as they are designed for the job with two blades that slide passed each other leaving a sharp, clean cut, which is best for the plant to recover from.

But I still want trees and I still have my list.  I found it the other day tucked down the back of my seed tin.  So, I have pulled it out, straightened it out and popped it into my handbag ready for the day I can go to the garden centre and restock with trees that will be treated with a greater kindness.  The garden centres are filling with new season trees and this time I am ready for them.  They will be my sole focus of care upon arrival and will be planted into spaces prepared for them.

green wood

Hooray it is alive. The pear lives!

The other key to their survival will be water.  I shall set up irrigation for each tree and the starting point will be accessed from in the garden so I will have no excuse not to connect the pipe to the hose and quench the thirst of these precious trees.

Pruning raspberries

While I had the secateurs out I pruned the raspberries. The autumn ones were completely cleared back, cutting off all the stems. The summers ones were a bit more complex as only the old ones were removed, leaving behind the new stems from the last season.

So, there it is, my shameful secret revealed and my promise and intentions to do better, and the reward will be sun-warmed peaches straight from the tree, crisp apples on crisp autumn days and so many other varieties of fruit.  They will be so loved that it will only be their own internal desire to remain rooted in this spot beside the sea that will let them down.  I will do my absolute best by them.

Come again soon – its tree shopping time – again!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Digging

Well I did it, I grabbed a spade and pushed it into the sand, not just once but repeatedly.  At the first metre of trench I celebrated.  ‘This isn’t so bad.’  I may have even done a happy dance.  I laid the 13mm irrigation poly pipe down the bottom of the trench, removed the click-on joiner & bug cap, that was connected to the length of poly pipe coming out into the middle of the path, that was connected to the irrigation system in the bed, and has been a tripping hazard all summer and a constant reminder of the digging that needed to be done.

irrigation trench

My first trench

I softened the end with the click-on joiner & bug cap in hot water and popped it off, then replaced it with a barb elbow and joined it to the long poly pipe in the trench and locked them in tight with pipe rachet clips.  I then filled in the trench burying the pipes deep within the garden and removed the tripping hazard in the middle of the path.  We were one step closer to being connected.  Action was being taken.

irrigation trench

It would seem someone has been ‘helping’ with the digging…..

However, the tripping hazard was moved to the end of the bed as the other 5 beds in the group also needed to be prepared in the same way and then connected across the top with all click-on joiner & bug caps terminating in the same spot.   I was one down, 35 to go…

Irrigation trenches

It was so satisfying to see the paths free from the tripping hazard of a pipe poking out, waiting to have something done to it.

After the second one I decided it was better to just look at it in terms of the groups.  Two down, 4 to go.   Not including the trench across the top.  By the third there was no happy dance….  Digging is hard work.  I began to question myself.  I’d given myself a week to do this job.  A week?! Was I crazy?  I know I sometimes have trouble visualising things, but doing all that digging in a week? What was I thinking?

best practice digging

Halfway. It is best to dig with the developing trench ahead of you so you can see all you have achieved and feel proud, rather than see what still has to be done and feel overwhelmed.

By the 4th trench I wasn’t even burying it back up again… let the wind do it for all I care…  But fortunately, I have a teenager who owes me money who filled in the trenches behind me like he was moving feathers.   Between the two of us we got to the end of the group and he swanned off to do teenage things and I dragged my weary body into the house where I draped myself across the sofa, not to be moved for the rest of the night.  Digging is hard work… well it is for me.  No wonder I’d put it off.

Jasper the Dog

Jasper the Dog decided it was easier to watch hard work, than joining in.

The next day, full of determination and a little bit stiff I headed on back out there to carry on.  I’ve revised my goals.  The aim was first sector completed this week.  The rest, all going well will be done before spring and the start of the growing season.  If I just dig one or two trenches a day, weather permitting, I should get there.

Irrigation trench

There is something deeply satisfying at this point of the project, to see all the pipes neatly lined up.

I thought the hard part would be digging the trench along the top end, by my reckoning it was about 12 metres, give or take, at a spade’s width and a spade’s depth.  But that seemed to go easily as you can fall into a rhythm with digging and you don’t notice you are hot, bothered and knackered until you stop.  So, I arrived that the end of the trench somewhat surprised.

Irrigation trench

It is like a super highway down in the trench as the pipes all come together.

Now the task was to connect the poly pipes so there were 6 individual poly pipes running from each bed joining the top trench and running alongside each other to get to the hub at the end.  This involved cutting the poly pipes to length so they lay comfortably in the trench and joined with an barb elbow and locked into place with pipe rachet clips and pinned into place with rigid pipe stakes so they stay in the right order so I’ll know which bed to water when looking into the hub.

Irrigation trench

And what was a tripping hazard across the garden have now been brought together, tucked out of the way in a corner of the garden, but still able to do the same job.

Once they all met at the end it was more barb elbows, pipe stakes and pipe rachet clips to bring them back up out of the trench standing proud but not too tall, side by side with their click-on joiner & bug caps on.  The hub went over the top hiding them away until ready to be used.

irrigation end point

Finally all the beds in the group are brought together in one spot so the beds can conveniently be watered with one turn of the tap.

All that was left was to fill in the trench.  I have decided digging holes is easy.  It is the filling them back in that is the hard bit.  But desperate to see the job finished I persevered and shovelled it all back in and raked it off.  Now the top sector looks amazing, is tripping hazard free and ready and waiting for the beds to be watered in once easy go.

Irrigation trench

And aside from a nicely raked surface you’d never know the great job I’d done bringing irrigation easily to my beds. But I know and I’m so chuffed.

Come again soon – I understand new season fruit trees are filling garden centres near me.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

So, how’s winter treating me?

Well to be honest, not too shabby.  The winds of last week are well behind us, although I have to say I am glad I wasn’t here.  It isn’t so much the wind itself that bothers me but the horrendous noise it makes.  The whistling and the howling.  That’s why I don’t get yachting – even the nicest summer day can be made to feel stormy as the wind whips itself around the ropes and sails… not an occupation for me!    But I’m getting off topic.

Fog

This was taken once I got where I was going, but at the height of the fogginess you wouldn’t have been able to see beyond the trees!

While the big bad wind is an occasional given, living here by the coast, there is another unexpected advantage.  Every morning this week I have awoken to blue sky days, with hardly a breath of wind and the sun emerging from behind the hill and blessing the day.  It is cold, but not freezing and I feel confident a productive day will unfold.  Then I have to get in my car and go further afield and at the end of the road – BOOM!  Fog!  Fog so thick it has a visibility of less than the distance between two power poles.  It was so bad that in the last couple of days up to 30 flights a day had been cancelled at Auckland airport.  With the fog a gloom descended and the positive attitude I started the day with dissolved into the mist and all I wanted to do was wrap a big fluffy blanket about me and eat soup!  Even returning home to our sunny spot by the sea, it was still difficult to shake the fugginess of the day off my shoes and I had to work hard at working hard to get things done.

Elephant Garlic cloves

I am always amazed at the size of the Elephant Garlic cloves. These are some I saved from last year.

But I did get things done.  I crossed everything off the list I wrote myself to do in the garden this week.  Everything except digging trenches for the irrigation.  I keep putting it off but once it is done, I will be so pleased so maybe next week I’ll just dig deep to find what I need to dig ditches.

Shallots

It is down to the fact I didn’t get round to making my pickled onions yet that I had a good supply of shallots to choose from this year. But I should get on and pickle the ones I didn’t plant sooner rather than later… they won’t wait forever.

I did some work on my onion overflow bed.  The one for the elephant garlic, shallots, red onions and leeks.  I found in my records I didn’t do a spacing chart like I did for everything else as they were already in the ground and I didn’t make a note.  I always struggle with spacing because the greedy part of me wants to squeeze in as much as possible, but if I give them enough space they will grow better (bigger) and will be less likely to pick up fungal diseases that thrive in a crowded allium patch.

Working out spacings

There is nothing like a visual representation of the plant to help figure out where everything needs to go.

I’m a visual person, so after I enriched the bed with enough goodies for the plants to live in comfort for the next 6 months, I spaced the planting spaces using my 10 cm pots.  The elephant garlic and shallots were positioned a pot and a half apart in rows that had two pots between them.  Seeing the pots laid out across the garden gave me confidence the spacing was good and the plants would have enough room.  It is hard to imaging how big they will be at the end, but it is important to try.  The red onions were spaced with pot between them in both directions – you really don’t want giant red onions!

Muehlenbeckia cuttings

I don’t know why I put off taking the Muehlenbeckia cuttings, it wasn’t difficult and took less than an hour to do 60 cuttings. Let’s just hope some of them take!

I finally got around to doing some cuttings from the Muehlenbeckia.  I shouldn’t beat myself up too much with the delay of not doing it as now is a more appropriate time.  I found instructions on the great big internet and followed them to the letter and even making sure most of the cuttings had a ‘heel’ at the base.  It is quite hard to get decent specimens as it is such a wiry plant.  I hacked quite a lot of foliage from the wild growing plants, but most was too thin and unsuitable for cuttings, but I managed to get 60 twigs into pots, so now I hope for the best.

Thanks to the wind the yellowing fronds of the asparagus were stripped of their tiny leaves and so all that was left standing was what looked like a bunch of twigs.  So, I cut them down to ground level and then topped the bed with compost and other goodies to feed them for another season and then topped the lot with a fermented Lucerne mulch.  By my calculations I should be able to sample a few this season.  I sowed the seed in 2017, then put them in the garden last year so that makes them two year old crowns.  Next season we can go wild and eat the lot for the next 25 years.  I’ve missed the taste of fresh asparagus, there is nothing like it.

Repotting sweetpeas into paper cups

I have found repotting into paper cups is great when you don’t have enough pots of the right size. But it is important to pop some holes in the bottom as paper cups aren’t supposed to have good drainage!

And I repotted my sweet peas, they were out in the wind and got a little beaten up so needed some love and I repotted all my onions even though they go in, in a couple of weeks as their soil got a little too soggy while I was away recently and some were beginning to rot away.  Trying not to blame anyone in particular, but let’s just say he’s not a gardener…

Homemade soap

Not a bad batch of soap for a first attempt. I tried to keep it simple, but it is very easy to get lost in the mesmerizing world of soap making online!

Oh, and I made soap… proper stuff with the lye and oils!  It was loads of fun and reminded me of my days working in a laboratory with the googles, gloves and careful measurements.  I can’t wait to do it again.  We’ll be the cleanest family in the land.

Come again soon – there is some digging to be done.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Finally, a small project completed

It should have been an afternoon job, but as soon as I started it, I kept getting called away to other things and then I found I had underestimated the resources I needed and had to go out and get more and added to that the weather decided it would join the fun being caused by other delaying factors.

Tap problem

This is the problem – puddles of water everywhere and even holes in the sand below the tap… something had to change!

But it is done and while it is such a simple project, I think it will improve the corner of the garden where it lurks.  And this project?…  well I’m not even sure it is a thing, but I’m calling it my water catcher.  Maybe it is a sink hole?  But whatever it is my garden needed it.

The problem comes from my desire to have good water pressure in the garden so I can have effective irrigation.  So as part of the budget blowing process of creating the garden I had installed a very good pump to deliver the water from the tank to the tap in the garden.  Which is wonderful because I’m essentially watering up hill.  It might be a small gradient, but it is uphill, and I want to be safe in the knowledge my garden will not thirst.

While this is good for the garden as a whole, it is not so much for the small corner of the garden where the tap is.  The pressure was so much that when turned on without a bucket, watering can or other receptacle under it, it bored a hole right into the sand!  Then when the kids used it to get the water for the goat or the chickens, they seemed to have an incredible ability to get water everywhere but in their buckets and any overflow from inattention filling the buckets or when the tap was not quite turned off,  spilled out over edge of the fence, washing sand with it, creating a constantly damp patch in the corner of the newly seeded lawn on the other side of the fence.

I knew I needed to think about this and come up with a solution, as it bothered me.  But it became more apparent when I popped in all the daffodil bulbs along the fence, the ones near the tap would rot away with all the excess water.

So, I hatched a plan.  I got hold of a very deep bucket and drilled some holes in the base.  I was going to dig a hole and fill it with stones to direct the water deep within the soil, deeper than the daffodil bulbs and deeper than the lawn surface on the other side of the fence so the water would drain away deeply and gently.  The helpful man at the garden centre, when I tried to explain why I wanted the stones and discuss which would be best, suggested adding a deep layer of stones below the bucket so the holes in the bucket didn’t get blocked up with sand.  Which made perfect sense.  And I went home with a bag each of scoria for functional drainage and river stones to make it look pretty.

I then built a mini raised bed structure with leftover brackets, to contain the stones that would hide the bucket and give a bit of stone depth to absorb the splashes from exuberant use of the tap.   Excitedly I dug a bucket sized hole, and then dug a bit more, added the scoria into the hole, eased the bucket onto it and pushed sand down around the outside of the bucket so it was held snug.  Then with great expectation I emptied the rest of the scoria into the bucket to find my spatial awareness had jiggered thing up once again.  The bucket was only half full!  Seriously – how could I have not seen that!  But it is all part of the journey.  It was late in the day – about day four of the project that should have taken an afternoon, and the garden centre would have been long shut by the time I got there.

Eventually I found the time to go back and get more bags, with a reluctant teenage boy in tow to do the heavy lifting.   This was also late in the day, so the bags sat there, taunting me for several more days until I found the time to finish the job.  And in the space of less than an hour I filled the bucket and a good bottom layer of the raised bed structure with scoria and then added two bags of river stones to pretty it up and the job was done.  Just like that.

Water catcher

And there you have it. My completed project that will be a solution to my problems. (Well not all of them… just the one.)

Sometimes it is our easiest jobs that cause the biggest headaches, delays or reasons to procrastinate, and we come out the end of it thinking, why didn’t I just get on with it in the first place?  But it is done now, and I can cross it off the list – the list it had been on for the entire #Make May Count initiative.

Post problem

Don’t you think this post is crying out for embellishment? What should I do?  What would you do?

I think I may still fiddle with it a little bit more – I’m thinking of a duel tap attachment so the kids have no reason to unplug the hose supplying life giving water to my irrigation system and the post at the top is crying out for some kind of decorative element…  I’m open to ideas but have thought maybe a container for a potted plant or flower display, a wind driven sculpture or just some kind of humble statue or finial….  Hmmm…  something to ponder.

Come again soon – once again I’m a week late in making the month count but there is plenty to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

A Very Quick Update

So much has happened in such a short space of time.  Firstly, it is now winter.   It is cold.  I’m allowed to say that now.  In autumn I was putting on a brave face, so while it was getting colder and colder, it wasn’t winter yet so I kind of pretended to myself it wasn’t that cold.  If you can’t cope with the cold of autumn, then winter will be a dreadful season.  But now we have embraced the chill and embraced thick socks, warm jumpers, beanies, and a cosy electric blanket to fall into an exhausted slumber after a day of hard slog in the garden.  And it will only get colder.   Although last year we didn’t get a frost so I’m looking forward to finding out if that was a one off or is it a thing here.

deconstructed shed

At the beginning of the day just as the sun peaked over the hill the shed was spread out over the back lawn in pieces.

The most exciting thing that happened since the start of winter was something that caused me to fall exhausted into my cosy warm bed was my office shed was constructed.  Yesterday (Monday) the Queen graciously allowed us to have a day off to celebrate her birthday and the weather was majestic.  It couldn’t have been better and so our lovely builder, who knew I’d been longing for my shed for so long, decided to give up his day off to build my shed.  Looking at the weather and the opportunity, there wouldn’t have been a chance to do it for ages if it wasn’t done then.  And I am so grateful!

Building the shed

The walls went up quickly and it lovely to see the soon to be view from the door.

It was a fun day being a builder’s helper.  We started with the floor and then the sides seem to go up like magic and by lunchtime I thought it would be all done by afternoon tea, but the roof required more effort and rightly so, it is probably the most important part to get right – especially here out on the windy west coast.  I’d hate for it to blow away.

Building the shed

It is a great little shed and the doors and windows come ready to go!

So, all that is left is to paint the outside to protect it from the elements and paint the inside to make it mine.  Then I can move in and go to work in the garden in more ways than one.  Hubby the Un-Gardener asked if I wanted to move some stuff in straight away (I think he is keen to finally stop having my stuff clutter up the house) but I told him not until after the painting and decorating, because I know me and if I move anything in before its done, it will never be done!

The new shed

I think it will take a bit of getting used to, seeing such a large structure in the landscape, but as a home away from home during working hours, I know I’m going to love it so much. I already do.

But one of the things I did while building the shed was to make a time lapse video of it and while I was there I did a quick tour of the garden to show the state it is in on the first days of winter, so wrap up warm and grab some popcorn and check out my latest video:

Come again soon – winter is off to a great start.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Last May Day

Did May Count?  Were my efforts to prevent this month from slipping away worth it?   Did I make a difference to my gardening journey?  Historically this is a strange month and looking back over my previous blog posts for the Month of May for the last 8 years it seems to be a collection of moaning about the weather with a combination of frosts, not enough rain and too much rain with a cyclone thrown in for good measure, a bit of chicken talk and some cooking, including my most popular blog post ever, >My Mum’s one pot sultana biscuits<.   There was also a lot of end of season tidy up, which is pretty much what I was about this month.

Rainy view from the dome

Rainy view from the dome

This month I’ve made leaf mould that will take a year before I can use its wonderful goodness.  It feels like I’m investing in the garden.  I faced the elements with a week’s worth of rain days that turned up on the days I really wanted to be in the garden.  Often times this was accompanied by high winds straight off the ocean that wreaked havoc in my poor garden and had me lying awake at nights worried for my plants.  I planted daffodils, and sneaky spuds for the winter, and sowed all the cover crops that were needed according to the master plan for the garden.  I harvested peanuts and my kumara which was kind of disappointing but in a delicious – better than nothing way.  I even did some cooking and made that absolutely delish red onion marmalade.  It was also a time for celebration with the garden itself having its first birthday and I also had my very first garden visit from a local garden group.

Water catcher in the making

Water catcher in the making, it will make more sense when I explain it properly when it is done, probably next week when the rain stops.

So, while I did a lot there was also a lot that didn’t get done.  I was hoping to have my garden shed built by now, but it was delayed.  It has finally arrived and now sits there in its box waiting to become my office in the garden where I will be able to be inspired by the garden as I write, by being in the garden as I write.   I also didn’t get my water catcher under the tap finished.  It is hard to explain without showing you pictures.  I am halfway through and almost achieved it during the Make May Count month, but I underestimated the resources required and had to buy more hoping to finish it today, but today is rainy and I’m not crazy enough to complete the task in the wet.

rain soaked Muehlenbeckia

Rain soaked Muehlenbeckia

I didn’t get on to the Muehlenbeckia cuttings either and to be honest I have no idea why.  I need to put this down to procrastination and try to do better at avoiding it.  Besides from what I understand it is better to do the cuttings in winter and that starts tomorrow so all is not lost.  I also didn’t lay the irrigation cables in a mile of trenches not so much because of procrastination, more from the fact I was dragging my heels with all the digging that was required.  But having said that I dug a deep hole yesterday for my water catcher and it wasn’t that bad, so maybe I can convince myself to throw myself into it in June.

Tomato supports waiting to be removed

I did get onto one long overdue task… The tomato supports waiting to be removed…

Even without these ‘overflow’ tasks June is a month that isn’t spent searching for things to do.  It may be the first month of winter, but the tasks are many and exciting.  I have to prune back the raspberries and sort out the strawberries and clearing out the runners.  The asparagus needs cutting back and getting ready for the new season.  The onion seedlings will go in and the most exciting of all is it is tree season so I can make the new orchard, properly, for once and for all, with irrigation!  And all of this juggling around the tumultuous weather expected from the season.

Garden bed waiting for the onions

And now the soil has been enriched and is ready and waiting for the onions that will take its place later in June.

Even though I didn’t get everything done I wanted to, I certainly think my Make May Count concept was a good idea.  It had me looking for things to do in a time that could have easily slipped by unproductively.  So much so I have popped it in the diary to do it again next year.

Come again soon – winter starts tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Raking in the Gold

As we are only a year and a bit into this new property beside the coast, there are no trees. It didn’t come with trees and I haven’t quite got to the point of planting some – well not quite, but that is a shameful story for another day!  Besides, if I had planted any since moving here, they certainly wouldn’t be big enough to fulfil my needs.  Obviously, there is the usual benefits – the fruiting that comes from fruit trees and the whole aesthetic appeal a tree can add to the environment and they can also be a place of shade on a hot summer day.  Any stick-esk saplings I plant won’t be any good to me for several years.

Autumn leaves

The offending tree that causes my friends such problems each autumn.

But at this time of year, a tree – in particular a deciduous one can be of tremendous value, from what the unwary would consider nature’s litter.  The fallen leaves.  I have long coveted a large tree dropping rake-able leaves so I can scoop them all up and treasure them.  Unfortunately, we just weren’t at the last place long enough and now we have to start over.

Autumn leaves

The lawn out the front of the workshop was littered with leaves

Fortunately wonderful friends of mine, the lovely ones who helped with my garden beds by making the brackets so I could whip together all the beds in no time at all, mentioned they had a large tree outside their workshop and were getting a little sick of sweeping them up.  So, I offered to help them out, if I could take the leaves away.

Autumn leaves

The mother load of leaves blown into the corner!

This may sound like I’m a tad crazy but fallen autumn leaves are like gold – not only in colour but for the potential they hold.   You see, if you leave them to rot down – on their own, they can become the most amazing soil conditioner.   As I have only seen this happen and helped others make it happen, I’d never really had my very own leaf mould.   And this season it is all about to change.

Gardena combisystem Adjustable Rake

There is something about raking up leaves that is strangely satisfying. Either that or I’m a little odd and was overly excited to be raking leaves…

So, I popped along to my friends’ workshop, dragging a couple of unwilling teens with me – but I needed someone to hold open the bag!  And we raked up all the leaves out the front of their place and got a large bag full of gorgeous autumnal leaves.  Much to the bemusement of my kids, you could even say I was excited.

Gardena Comfort Hand Rake

It was great to have the Hand Rake so I could get into all the nooks and crannies – no leaf left behind.

Once I got by bag of loot home, we poked a few holes in the bag with a garden fork and moistened the leaves with a couple of squirts of the hose and tied the bag shut.   Then I popped it behind what will soon be my shed.  And now we wait – an entire year, for it to turn into the loveliest well-rotted, crumbly, sweet smelling leaf mould that makes an awesome soil conditioner and is worth its weight in gold.

Making leaf mould

I was delighted with the rewards of our efforts – it is like having a bag of gold!

The science behind it is the leaves no longer contain much in the way of nitrogen, which is pretty much what makes them dry and crispy.  All that is left behind in the leaves in great quantities is lignin and cellulose, which are very slow to break down.  You can put them in the compost as a brown material in a balanced 2:1 brown : green ratio.  However with a mature tree at this time of year and taking into consideration most of the garden will have given up the ghost and fresh green material is sparse and there is only so much that can come out of your kitchen, the balance could easily look like a million to one!  If you put too many autumn leaves in your compost, then it is highly likely they will still be there when the rest of the compost is done.

Making leaf mould

There is something satisfying in poking holes in a bag full of leaves.

Normal composting is generally done with the help of bacteria who do a great job, however turning leaves into the incredible leaf mould is a job for fungi as there isn’t all that much present in the leaves to interest bacteria.  They get onto the task of breaking it down in the material you will often find on a forest floor in the humus layer.

Making Leaf Mould

Without saturating the leaves, moisten with water

And the reason to go to all this effort is it is an amazing soil conditioner – one of the best.  While it doesn’t provide much in the way of increase fertility or nutrition, so it doesn’t replace compost, it improves soil structure, and improves the soils ability to retain moisture and nutrients.  It also makes a fabulous home for all the beneficial creatures and organisms that live in the soil.

Making Leaf Mould

I’ve tucked the bag behind what will soon be my shed so it will be out of sight until next year. It looks like there is plenty of room for more bags….

I hope one day I will have my very own source of autumn leaves from my own trees.  In an ideal situation, because it takes so long, if you gather leaves in a bag and pop them behind the shed each year then you will end up with a constant supply.   But until then I may just become the crazy lady out there willing to rake your leaves.  If you do have too many leaves that need a rake – let me know…

Come again soon – winter is knocking on the door and I’m not sure I’m ready to let it in.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Thank you to the good people at Gardena, this is a paid post.

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