SARAH THE GARDENER

Garden Planning – the Final Push

Sector 4 is all fruit so no planning needed there – all I have to do before the season changes is evict the aging three year old strawberries and replace them with their offspring runners to keep the production of delicious berries at an optimum.

Raspberries

I need these in my life

So that leaves the back row that forms sector 5.  If you take the two raspberry beds (27 and 28) out – which I’ll be replacing at some stage soon with fresh canes, there are only four beds in this section so it should be easy.

Parsnip fritters

In spite of what the kids said – these parsnip fritters were delish.

Bed 25 had the carrots and still has the parsnips in there, but we are doing our best to eat them.  Last night I made some great parsnip fritters, but the kids weren’t too fussed about them – I say they don’t recognize quality produce when it is presented to them!  And they should really learn to like them as they are a great way to use a lot of parsnips in one meal.

Once the parsnips have been consumed and ‘enjoyed’ this will become the salad bed.  To be honest in this bed I normally like to use the variety that comes from a mixed salad packet, otherwise I’d just be tempted to put in too many of the same thing from the sheer principle that I have all these seedlings and wouldn’t want to waste them.  I only put the salad in a quarter of the bed and then progressively add more across the season so the bed is in constant renewal.  Any that don’t get finished before they bolt are gratefully received by the chickens or the goats.  I also like to grow rocket for its spicy bite and my favourite recipe is roast pumpkin, red onion and feta cheese on a bed of rocket leaves.  I also pop my radish in this bed.  I don’t plant that many as I’m not a great fan of them, but I see it as one of those crops that mark a time and phase of the season and so it is more of a nod to the passing of time.  Sometimes the days, weeks, months and seasons pass by so quickly that you need to stop every now and again and savour a radish.

Radish

Radish have a place in my garden – albeit briefly

The next bed (26) is what used to be my teaching bed – I’m not doing any teaching program this year which will be a refreshing break.  But I do like to share my knowledge with people – just to get them growing something.  It is a 2 x 3m bed in the ground and I pretend it is all I have in my back garden and grow crops in that space to suit a normal family.  Maybe this year I’ll plant it out the same, but send the produce to the food bank or give to a needy family.   Yup – that’s what I’ll do.  The bed usually has beans, carrots, peas, peppers, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, salad and cucumber.  I’ll rename it The Giving Bed.

cosmos

I know cosmos should be a given in the flower garden but I’m still unsure about the rest… but there will definitely be zinnias – I love Zinnias!

Bed 29 is still a struggle for me to get my head around – it is the flower bed.  I have good intentions about this, but may remove it from my generally planning or we will be here for months while I continue to wrap my head around the art of growing flowers!

Buttercup Squash

These buttercup squash don’t grow too big but give a fabulous burst of flavour in the middle of winter.

The final bed in the sector system is the pumpkin bed.  It is in ground as well as I want to encourage their roots to go down into the soil to find a consistent supply of moisture.  Currently this bed is a bit of a weedy mess – but the bed that gets done last on a Friday does tend to suffer a little.  Once this bed is planted out then I’ll put down a deep layer of mulch.  There are so many varieties of pumpkin to grow and I have tried many of them.  Many of them disappointed with their flavour and ended up rotting in storage or shrivelling up in the back of the fridge.  So, it might sound boring but I grow what I like and these are the ones that are often found in the store.  The only difference being I won’t need to pay for them.    I like to grow Crown Pumpkins and Buttercup Squash.  Add this to the Butternuts growing in bed 10 and we have a good supply for winter and they store well enough so I can have my roast pumpkin salad in the summer.

Giant pumpkin

I don’t think I should speak of this giant pumpkin again

We also like to grow a few Atlantic Giants and after last years shameful 1kg effort the challenge is on – I shall grow a whopper.

And that’s it – my garden for 2017.  It will be fabulous.

Come again soon – hopefully the storm the boffins are predicting will miss us completely.  I’m over storms.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Sector Three

Sector three was once the outer edge of the garden.  I’m not entirely sure how it has become part of the heart of the garden, but I think I may need a fence.    I’m really pleased with my sector systems as it helps break down my large garden on so many levels – weeding, watering and feeding a sector a day makes the insurmountable achievable.   It doesn’t matter that there is a raging weedy mess in bed 30 zone 5 – that can wait until Friday.  But I found in the height of the season the little and often approach almost completely eliminated the weedy mess situation.

Garden beds

Sector three with the successional planting of the salad bed in action.

But also, as I plan the garden, I’m able to break it down into manageable chunks and make sure I have a good understanding of what I want to grow and where it will be put instead of creating a giant list of ‘ohh I want that’ and ‘I must have that’ that ends up causing problems later on when it comes to emptying the greenhouse of thousands of lovingly nurtured seedlings with nowhere to go.  I may be a bit of a geek, but as well as creating a list – I’m also creating mini maps for each garden bed so I know not only what goes where, but how many seedlings I’ll need.  I normally grow a spare and a back up for each seedling needed.

I’m also examining each option to make sure it fits in with how we will end up using the produce in the end.   It isn’t really ideal to have a glut of something you don’t like or won’t use in more than one dish.  And while friends and neighbours often appreciate your excess common veggies, they may not share your enthusiasm for the weird and the wonderful.   I need to remember – at the end of the day my main aim is to feed my family in a self-sustainable way.

Not a bad carrot

Not a bad carrot

Good things take time – and I’m enjoying turning this into a drawn out process, savouring the moment, especially as  the garden is still drying out.   Bed 13 is the first one in Sector 3 and it has already started to be filled with a row of carrots.   Last year it had the spuds because the spuds are great for loosening the soil and it just so happens carrots like loose soil! Last year I vaguely recall some kind of bottle neck between these beds and the salad crops that will go into the bed the carrots were in.  We weren’t eating the carrots or the parnips fast enough which held up moving the salad crops which don’t mind the cool of spring and this in turn held up the brassicas.  My crop rotation wasn’t happening fast enough.  So I started my autumn carrots in their new bed not their old one, but the parsnips need a bit of a hurry up – they’ve been in since spring and have had several frosts on them and are in prime condition to eat.  Maybe we’ll have parsnip fritters tonight.

Parsnips for dinner

Parsnips for dinner

We do love parsnips but I just forget to eat them.  So bed 13 will have the already existing carrots, some fennel and beetroot, which just happen to be there already too and parsnips which will be sown in the spring.  There is enough room in this bed for plenty of succession planting.

Potato Harvest

Not a bad harvest – I’m looking forward digging up this kind of bounty again soon.

Then the new potato bed is number 14.  The spuds go in on the 16 September because I’m a creature of habit and the Jersey Bennes are a Christmas favourite that take 100 days to grow and the 16th September is 100 days before Christmas.  Not only is it cool to dig them up moments before Christmas dinner, but they charge a fortune for these in the days leading up to Christmas and so I feel good in a financially challenging festive season I’m actually saving money.   This is also when I plant the other varieties that take a little longer.  The choice is usually based on what is available and how best they can be used in our kitchen.

Beans

I grow beans the easy way. Pretty much set and forget!

Bed 15 becomes the bean bed and the broad beans have been in there since the autumn.  I am a sucker for punishment as these have to be the least liked things in the whole garden.  But one day I might just like them – you never know…  I tend to grow an ordinary dwarf green bean, a yellow one and a purple one for the token bean eating business as we don’t really like beans all that much.  But we do eat a lot of kidney beans.  I have grown them for several years and they are so simple – just plant them and then leave them until the pods rattle!  This year I’m also going to try a Cannellini Bean because sometimes you don’t want a large red bean in your dish.

I’m terrible at meal planning and often decide hours before we eat what we are having and the concept of dried beans doesn’t fit with this approach.  So what I do is I soak all of the beans for the required time and then drain them and freeze them.  When I decide on a whim I want to use them I just chuck them in a pot and boil them until soft and then add them to my dish.  It seems to work well.  In the meantime, I have to eat a lot of leeks because they are still taking up a lot of space in the soon to be bean bed.

Leeks

There are always leeks in garden. They come in so handy in winter meals.

Following on from the beans is Bed 16 which is the onion overflow bed.  It should have things in it at the moment but the weather has conspired against it.  So what will go in there soon are some shallot bulbs saved from last year, some shallot seedlings, Red Onions, and maybe the left over Pukekohe Longkeepers and Hunter River Whites – if there is space.  I have to also leave some space for the leeks that will go in in the spring.

Okra flowers

Okra flowers are so beautiful

Next to the soon to be onion bed is last seasons brassicas, which are still host to the autumn ones.  They should be well gone by the time we need the bed for the odds and sods.  This is generally for things that don’t fit in anywhere else, like the eggplant and okra but also for fun things like popcorn and peanuts.  There is also a bit of space for something fun.  Last year it had tomatillos in there but I had to admit I don’t actually like them enough to grow them again so the seeds will be off to the seed swap at the library.  I’m not sure what I’ll put in there yet…  In the past I have tried asparagus peas, marshmallow, epazote, sugar beet, caigua and some I even gave a second chance but all won’t be back in my garden.  Maybe I’ll just save the space for an extra left over favourite thing.  I must be getting more sensible as I get older…

Tomatillos and okra

Next season I need to pick my okra shorter and my tomatillos never…

Then the new brassica bed is the old salad bed.  This also has the usual suspects – broccoli, Romanesco, cabbage and a red cabbage or two for good measure, possibly a cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi and that is about it.  There is space in the bed for 16 brassicary things.  So it will be a mix of these, depending on which ones we eat the most of.  Brassicas can all be a bit boring to be honest.

Cabbage

Some cabbage can be good looking

After this there is only one last push on the planning front.  It does include the flower bed and goodness knows what I want in there.  It should be interesting.

Come again soon – The planning stage is one of the bigger winter projects – after this I’ll have to do things like cleaning the greenhouse.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Tomatoes

There is something special about tomatoes.  They complete a garden and epitomise summer.  I’m not sure if it is the fragrance the plants emit from the moment they emerge from the seed raising mix and I love to run my hand over the small army of tiny seedlings in order to get a burst of this scent of summer in the early days of spring.  It is also good for the plants to be touched in this way as it strengthens their stems and prepares them for life on the outside when they will get buffered about by the breeze.  It could also be that there is a depth of flavour found in a home grown tomato that is rarely found elsewhere.  Add to that the intensification of the flavour brought about by it being moments old and still warm from the sun when gobbled up greedily.

Tomato seedlings

The pleasure of growing tomatoes begins with the seedlings

There will always be tomatoes in my garden – which is just as well as there are over 100 varieties available to the seed growers of New Zealand and I have space in bed 7 for 20 and possibly space for a few more if I’m creative with some of the more casual beds I have.  So this is the fun part – decided which ones to grow.

Normally I plant them in alphabetical order – because I like it that way and it helps me to remember which is which.  One year I grew them in groups – all the cherries together, all the cooking ones together and all the large beefsteak style ones together and while it was convenient I found myself going back to my old ways the following year.  Besides It’s not that difficult to tell the difference between and cherry and a beefsteak.

Green tomatoes

The green tomato stage seems to last for an eternity! Checking for the first blush of red can almost become compulsive

With so many options available, I have found I tend to shy away from the ordinary.  Last season the red round tomatoes were clearly in the minority.  I found the garden filled with the deep purples and bright yellows and the flavours from these were by far superior to tomatoes found on shelves illuminated by fluorescent lighting.

Tomatoes

Once they get started they become so prolific they almost lose their magic… almost but not quite.

Now most of the tomatoes grown in my garden are destined for the freezer – going in whole and unwashed – just as they are when they come in from the garden.  It couldn’t be easier.  Come mid winter, just run them under the tap, slip the skins off and pop them into the casserole to melt in with the rest of the ingredients.  So a lions share of the plants need to be a kind that isn’t too juicy and large enough not to be a fiddle when preparing a dish.  But I also like to have some cherries to nibble on and to perk up salads with a tomatoey zing.  And of course you can’t go passed a large sandwich sized tomato that will fill a piece of bread or burger bun in one slice and even go so far as to hang over the sides!

So the question remains – which ones?

Tomatoes

The harvest begins modestly and the variety is always delightful

After much deliberation, I have decided on – and in alphabetical

  1. Armish Orange Sherbet – I grew them last year but the season was so poor I can’t remember what they were like.
  2. Artisan Blush – which is an elongated cherry with a yellow and pink colour and aparently great flavour.  This one is new to me and I can’t wait to try it.
  3. Black Cherry – I threw a load of these into the freezer last season and noticed when defrosting them to use again they leached a deep purple colour, which means they should be full antioxidants and so its gotta be good for you!
  4. Black Krim are slightly smaller than the Purple Cheroke and have a similar flavour and I love them!
  5. Brandywine Yellow – great for burgers and have a lovely version of the tomato flavour.  To be honest I can never get over the fact that each of these tomatoes all taste like tomatoes but at the same time taste so different.
  6. Green Zebra – I grew it last year but didn’t give it a fair chance because the weather was so horrible they took forever to ripen – but it was also hard to tell when they had ripened as they were green..
  7. Grosse Lisse so we have an ordinary style tomato to remind us of what a proper tomato should taste like.
  8. Linda’s Lemony Tomato – these seeds were generously given to me from the family of a relative who had saved them for the next growing season, but unfortunately cancer got in the way and they were never planted. It is a lovely legacy to be able to grow these each year and remember Linda.  I don’t know what the original variety actually was but she was right to save these ones – they are really nice.
  9. Mortgage Lifter because it would also be great on a burger… imagine how pretty it would look to have a slice of red Mortgage Lifter on top of a slice of Yellow Brandywine in the middle of a home made burger!  Oh I can hardly wait for that opportunity.
  10. Oaxacan Jewel – looks amazing with a red and yellow marbled affect and the flavour is amazing.  This has to be one of my favourites – but then I’d be hard pressed to pick just one.  Definitely in the top 5.

    Tomatoes

    Mountains of tomatoes – they just keep coming. Oh how I am looking forward to great piles of goodness like this cluttering up my bench top.

  11. Orange Banana – I grew these last year and really enjoyed them and they looked cool.  The season was so harsh I really didn’t get a chance to enjoy them to the full.
  12. Oxheart – a good big meaty cooking tomato.  I’ve grown this one for a few years and it is a solid producer with few problems.
  13. Purple Cherokee – they have such a lovely sweet tomatoey flavour – they have a permanent spot on my list and high up on that list – definitely top 5 material.
  14. Roma – just for the cooking – and possibly to sundry.  It has quite a dense compact habit and different from the other tomatoes I often freak myself out thinking what is going wrong.  Each plant has there own quirks and once you figure that out you can relax and enjoy the plant for who it is.
  15. San Marzano are great paste tomatoes – but these go straight into the freezer so I can use them how ever I need to in my winter cooking
  16. San Marzano this is in here twice because I’ll grow two of them for my winter cooking.
  17. Sweet 100 – because you can never have too many sweet snacks while working in the garden
  18. Tangella as I got the seeds from Heritage Food Crops Reseach Trust and this variety  has been tested and contains tetra-cis-lycopene which is a more easily absorbed form of lycopene than found in modern tomatoes.  It is also a prolific producer and they taste amazing – whats not to like?!
  19. Tula – or using its proper name Black from Tula this Russian tomato has been described as ugly, but who am I to judge when their flavour is exquisite.
  20. Zapotec – Ok this one is a bit of an indulgence and is new to me.  It is from the same region as the Oaxacan Jewel which I love, and it has a fluted beefsteak appearance, but I picked it because it starts with Z and so I can say I grow tomatoes from A – Z!

And with that my tomato choices for the season have been laid down.  I just need to check my seed stocks, get more if needed, and then patiently wait for the time when a small green fragrant army can arise in my greenhouse and fill my garden with hopes and expectations of a fabulous and delicious season.

End of season tomatoes

And then the season draws to an exhausted end. I do hope it isn’t as premature this season as it was last year.

Come again soon – we still have the final push for the planning stage and with the weather momentarily looking ok, I can get a feel for the spring – I can almost smell it.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Stuck in the Middle

This is an easy sector for me to plan as most things don’t move.  There are two asparagus beds and they have already had all the attention they need for the start of the season.  All I have to do is wait for the first delish spears to pop up, which should be some time around August.  I am a little worried though that some of the crowns may have rotted in the soggy weather so I have prepared in advance some new ones grown from seed.  If there are any gaps then come next winter I’ll be able to pop in what would be one year old crowns by then and we will be away again.

Asparagus seedlings

Grown from seed these asparagus seedlings are doing well, however I strongly hope I don’t need them and will be able to pass them on to friends.

The other beds in this sector are the Jerusalem Artichokes and the Yams, which still need harvesting from the previous season.  The artichokes haven’t been dug up as we’ve been away, but a few roast dinners and hearty soups should take care of that.  With the Yams I’m still waiting for the foliage to die down.  I’m taking the fact that there is still some lingering foliage as a positive sign of some kind of harvest as I’m sure the flooding won’t have done them any favours.  Maybe I need to raise their beds higher still.

Jerusalem Artichokes

I should really get onto to harvesting the Jerusalem Artichokes as the rain seems to have begun the job by washing the soil away

So the upshot is I need to harvest the artichokes so I don’t overcrowd the bed – I’ve already had to mend it twice as the little blighters are prolific and keep trying to escape!  Even leaving one behind would be enough.  And I need to buy more Yams as seed stock for the new season – you could save your own, but I’ve only ever had tiddlers.  The best place to get them is the produce section of the supermarket.  While I’m waiting for mine to be harvested I’ll buy a handful for the table and a handful for the garden.

Yams

The theory is you should wait for the foliage to completely die down before digging up the Yams but there is still some stubborn stems and a lot of tiddlers littering the surface. I hope there are some bigger ones underground. To be honest I don’t think our climate is quite right, but I can’t help but try… you never know one day one season will conspire to bring about the perfect conditions…

The other worry-free bed is the onions, which should be in by now, but we’ve been away and now it is too soggy.  I am pleased that I did take the step of popping them in single cells with rich soil and leaving them outdoors while we were away as they are much bigger and healthier than the ones left in the seed trays.  But it will dry out soon enough – well it just has too, and then I can pop my seedlings into the garden and that will be pretty much it until summer – aside from some weeding, watering and feeding.

Onion seedlings

While not in the garden bed, these onion seedlings are on top of it and exposed to all the elements they would have if they were in the soil and aside from being a tad windswept they are doing well and can wait until the conditions are more favourable for this gardener.

But I need to plan ahead here as once the onions come out in early summer I don’t want to waste the space so the melons will go in their place.  I normally start these off in October but leave them in the greenhouse well into November when the warmth is more consistent.  I have enough large pots to keep moving these on as they will no doubt out grow their pots several times before those onions decide they’ve had enough of dwelling in the soil.

Sugarbaby Watermelon

I love how on hot days when the heat is so energy sapping that it is exhausting to even move from the spot you have plonked yourself in and watermelon finds itself as not only a light snack but a form of liquid refreshment as well. Oh how I long for those days to come…. Although I will probably complain about how hot it is just as much as now I’m complaining about the cold!

I have already planned for a couple of orange rock melons to grow up the trellis in Sector One which should be enough of those.  But I’d like to have some green honeydews as well.  Sugarbaby watermelons also do well in my garden and they are so refreshing that they are a must.  Most of these climb well, but in the past I’ve let them sprawl, so the decision is really up or down?  If I put them up they may shade out the cucumbers and the peppers.  Shading the cucumbers wouldn’t be such a bad thing as they wouldn’t mind too much, but the peppers do like to bask in the sun.  Maybe I could do a short trellis… hmmm this requires more thought but I’ve got plenty of time to think about it.

Novella Peas

Novella peas with all their crazy tendrils are ideal to cope with the tumultuous conditions of winter. And they are tasty too!

The peas are also destined to go into bed 9 and in the past I’ve got myself into a right pickle here.  Because I’d always somehow have a cover crop growing in the soon to be pea bed, so the early spring peas were popped temporarily into the tomato bed – which is the old pea bed, only for them not to be ready in time for when the tomatoes needed to go in.   This was all a result of poor planning and reactionary gardening.  I’d see a blank spot and fill it with something not realising the knock on affect down the line.   The tomato bed does actually currently have peas in there.   This was last seasons pea bed and these are my autumn peas that ending up being my early winter peas because I had so much trouble getting them started, and here we are at mid winter and I haven’t had a single one yet, but I do have some almost fat enough pods so it isn’t far away.  They should be well gone by the time I need the bed for the tomatoes in the spring.

In the meantime the spring peas will be sorted because the cover crop that I currently have growing there, has been marked in the calendar for digging in 6 weeks before the bed is needed for the peas whether it’s ready or not.   I like to start with a more robust Novella pea that hold up to the harsh conditions of early spring, and then move on to the taller Alderman variety later on because picking peas standing up is so much easier and both of these taste delish!   I did say I wasn’t going to grow the tall ones again, because of the trouble with the wind, but I think the ‘borrowed’ sheep fencing will improve this problem no end.

Painted Mountain Corn

Painted Mountain Corn is such a fun thing grow. This season I hope to grow enough to turn into something more than funky table decorations.

I may pop in a sneaky 3rd crop of peas as the season progresses – it really depends on how hot things get as peas don’t really like it hot. Or I may move on to using the space for more exciting things.  Last season I followed my peas with some Painted Mountain Corn which is such fun to grow.   Then once these come out I can resow more peas for the autumn harvest.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash bring such versatility to our winter diets that I wouldn’t be without them. Tonight I’ll be turning one into a heartwarming Thai Pumpkin Soup that will cut through the chill of our current winter weather.

The zucchini and butternuts will be in bed 10 and I have found I can control the zucchini best by tying them up to a sturdy pole.  I love the yellow ones, but also want a dark green one for contrast because it will look cool on the plate.  There are plenty of other cool ones but as we all know there is such a thing as too many zucchini and at our place two plants are on the upper limits of excess.  Butternuts can climb and in the past they are mostly contained but have a tendency to sprawl over the edge of the bed, so I may look at creating some kind of climbing frame for them.  We’ll see.

The last bed in this sector is the tomato bed, where the peas currently are, but tomatoes are a special thing and deserve a post of their own.

Come again soon – we can wax lyrical about all that is wonderful about tomatoes.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – The Back Row

I tend to be a bit of a creature of habit and once I’m on to a good thing, then I don’t tend to change much and the beds that form the rest of sector one are of the ilk – ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’  Maybe I’ll do a bit of tweaking in the pepper bed but it is pretty much business as usual but in a different bed.  Everything in this sector except the herbs and Rhubarb and Artichokes move one bed to the right.  This means the same crop won’t be in the same place for five years.

Bed Two – The Leafy Greens

This bed is where the cucumbers were last year and normally consists of spinach, rainbow beets – often called chard, celeriac and celery.  We love the spinach, the rainbow beets feature on our plates from time to time, but the chickens seem to love them more.  I like to have them in there as they do add a delightful splash of colour all year.

Celery to be proud of

Celery to be proud of , however, if it means always having a soggy summer then I’d rather have celery that I would be ashamed of! The flavour is still the same.

Due to the exceptionally wet season last year the celery and celeriac did really well, but I’m not sure I want to repeat the conditions for the sake of this pair.  But I’ll pop them in again with the expectation of struggling to get a decent crop because I’m hoping it will be a dry summer.  I can’t see any reason to change the contents of this bed – just the location.

Bed Three – The Cucumbers and Melons  

This will be where the garlic and peppers were last season.  I like to grow them up so I have three rows of netting tied to rebar pole.  Rebar is much better than bamboo and just as affordable so making the change last year was a good idea.  But the nylon netting had a tendency to make the whole thing sag under the weight of a heavy crop.  This year I’m thinking of using some of the spare sheep fencing we have.  Hopefully this is more robust for my plants.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point putting up netting if the crop ends up on the dirt anyway.  I hope it works.

Pickled Gherkins

Actually – in review – I think we may need to eat Gherkins in every meal before the next onslaught of crunchy Cucurbits.

The cucumbers I want to grow are long telegraph style ones, lemon cucumbers because they don’t seem to be as bitter as the apple ones and lots of gherkins because you can never have too many of these – although the key is to harvest early and often, so you don’t end up with a thousand jars of pickles filled with one gherkin each.  In this bed I also like to  pop in a few rock melons and a luffa to climb the frame too.

Luffas

Luffas are such fun things to grow.

Bed Four – Garlic and Peppers

The garlic is already in there and doing well.  I am keeping a sharp eye out for signs of rust and aren’t afraid to spray if necessary.  This bad run of garlic needs to end now!  Once the garlic comes out I’ll pop in the peppers.  This year I have acquired some larger pots so if the peppers have to wait, then they can do so in comfort.  The majority of the bed will be bell peppers so we have enough to freeze for all year use.  There’ll be a few interesting ones and some with a bit of a kick just to make it fun.  I’m not sure which ones yet, but I’ll have to decide soon as I usually start the seed off on the 1st August.

Peppers

I am keen on filling my freezer with an abundance of these this season

Bed Five – Rhubarb and Globe Artichoke

I need to remove the old rhubarb, raise the soil level and replant the ones I grew from seed.  I was hoping to raise the level under the artichokes but they seem to have bounced back from the flooding drama so I’m still undecided as to what to do.  But I have plenty of time to think about it as the soil is too soggy to dig… again…   I’m beginning to wonder if this is a one off blip in an otherwise gentle temperate climate or is it a more sinister sign of climate change?

Flooded rhubarb and artichoke

This is no way to treat these delightful crops. So disappointing.  I hope we don’t see this kind of thing again.

Bed Six – Sweetcorn

This should be simple….  There is space for 60 plants and they should be all the same as most are destined for the freezer to bring a ray of sunshine in the winter months.  Last year I ended up with gaps all over the place.  They prefer to be direct sown – it helps them to establish a strong root system that will anchor these giants into the soil,  and I’ll do this again this year – but I’ll pop some in the greenhouse at the same time in case I need to plug any gaps.   Some years the conditions are ideal for some plants and terrible for others.  Last year it didn’t smile favourably on my poor sweetcorn during its formative days.

Sweetcorn

While sweetcorn were slow to get started last year I did manage to achieve the perfect ear – with every kernel pollinated.

I feel a bit more in control of this new season with a quarter of the garden planned.  I can do this!  At times like this I wonder why I have such a large garden, but then as I ponder each crop as I decide where to put it, I can almost taste the freshness in my mouth and I long for it to be time to grow everything.

Come again soon – the long and the short beds are next to be exposed to close examination.

 

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Planning the Garden – Starting with the Herbs

It is this time of year again – dreaming, planning, sorting and buying the items that will become the fabric of a new season.  It usually takes a bit of effort to orchestrate a well-functioning garden full of things that will actually get eaten.  In the past, the lure of the strange and unusual have drawn me in, but become a hurdle in the kitchen.  I need to be strict with myself and grow what I know we will eat and enjoy. It also helps to do a bit of research first to know the best way to eat things, and add this to the plant label to make it easy later on.   Although I do have a bed for some fun things so it isn’t all a practical exercise.

2017 garden plan

Aside from the crop rotation, this doesn’t look a lot different from the 2016 version. The exciting changes are all in the details.

Figuring out where to put each plant can be a bit like a game of Tetris.  It is really important to know how something grows so you know how much space to plan for it and if it is short or tall determines where in the garden it should be – in the front or the back.  The challenge is to fit in everything you want to grow without overcrowding.  Added to this is the challenge of crop rotation to avoid nutrient depletion in the soil and disease build up. I’m not even going to look at companion planting for fear my head would actually fall off!   Every year I sit there with my garden map and my seed packets and confuse myself wholeheartedly before emerging with a plan that makes sense.  The key from this point is to stick to the plan and that is the hard bit.

Herb Garden

The herb garden as it stands today. I really think the lemon grass needs a home of its own, it is a bit of a gentle giant.

Working logically across the garden I begin the planning with Sector One.

Bed One – The Herb Garden

This doesn’t really have a lot of structure, and historically I’ve just plonked things in – but the trouble is some things are there for a long time, making change difficult.  So, with the perennials there are some that are staying put:

Pizza Thyme, Garlic Chives, Chives, Oregano, Rosemary, Summer Savory and Sorrel

I’m going to whip out the Lemongrass and will buy a nice pot to put it in.  It’ll look fab.  I’ve decided to remove the Lemon Balm and replace it with Lemon Verbena and pop it near the back as it can get tall-ish.  The Lemon Balm is a spreader and therefore high maintenance, so if I can save myself a few moments here and there then I’ll take it.

Sage

Unfortunately one brave branch reaching out to the light doesn’t make this Sage plant redeemable. I need a new healthy robust plant for the new season.

I need to buy new Sage and French Tarragon as they have both died – well I assume the Tarragon has died because there is no trace of it. Couldn’t possibly have been aliens! And of course, the new Verbena plant as these are better this way.

Rosemary

The rosemary is doing well in these soggy conditions. I’m looking forward to a summer of kebabs with these wonderful fragrant sticks.

I also need get new Parsley before the current one bolts.  I currently have curly leaf so I’m thinking of a new one of these and a flat leaf variety.  The flat one is supposed to have more flavour but the curly one is prettier on the plate, so I shall have both.  You can grow these from seed but there is an old wives’ tale about it needing to visit the Devil nine times before it sprouts – which is supposed to be an explanation about why it takes so long to germinate.  I’d much rather have more angelic goings on in my garden so I’ll just get some seedlings that have seen the light.  But then I’m running the risk getting pregnant if I plant seedlings…  hmmm these old wives’ tales are a bit of a minefield!

Parsley

The Parsley is rich, lush, wonderful and delish!  A must have in any good herb garden.

The annuals that will grace my herb bed will be the old favourites:

Basil, Dill, Coriander and Stevia.

Although I can’t tell the kids where the Stevia is as they stand in the garden and strip all the leaves off the plant.  I don’t think they’ll suspect it in the herb garden as for the last few years it has been everywhere but there.  I will need to check the seeds I have, make sure they are still fresh and viable or I may need to buy some more.  With the removal of the lemongrass there was a space in the bed so I’m going to try Cumin seeds as we use a lot of this in our cooking.

And so far, so good – the planning seems to be going ok.   Only the rest of sector one and the other 4 sectors to go…  I think I may need a wee lie down, my head is beginning to spin.

New gumboots in soggy puddles

The only upside of all this excess rain is I learnt very quickly my gumboots had sprung a leak and now I have lovely new ones.

Since we got back from our tropical holiday the rain that apparently plagued the garden while we were away has continued to fall, so I’m more than happy to turn an indoor wet weather day into a day of productive action.   Join me throughout the rest of the week as I continue to sort out what has the potential to be my best garden ever.

Come again soon – it can’t possible rain forever can it?  I’m hoping for a dry summer.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

South Pacific Interlude

Mid winter is a fabulous time for a gardener to take a break and to be honest I really felt like I needed one after a long slog in a not so desirable growing season.  So the family and I took off for 15 wonderful days cruising about in the South Pacific.  It was indeed a tropical treat and we met so many lovely new friends, visited exotic places and did exciting things.   Sadly now it is little more than a memory, like the warm glow on my sun kissed shoulders.

Some wonderful experiences were had

But as a gardener, coming home to the garden and the prospect of a new season is also a joy in itself.  With spring not too far away I have many things I would like to achieve in order to be prepared to meet it with arms open wide, instead of the usual head down bum up approach as I try desperately to play catch up with the season.  This time I intend to be ready and waiting.

Of course there has to be some plant stuff

Over the coming months I hope there will be a great sense of achievement from the garden and I look forward to sharing it with you, but I would also love to share where I’ve been with you as we travelled from Fiji to Tahiti via some amazing places.  Without wanting to bore you with the thousands of photos I took, I’ve selected my favorites for you to glance at.  If you want to know more, then click on each one for descriptions and comments.

I was also drawn to the incredible textures I saw and couldn’t help take a photo

Meanwhile I will be waiting patiently for the water table to return to its proper place – below the soil (apparently there was a lot of rain while we were away, I’m not sure how much though as my rain gauge has overflowed) and then I can indulge myself in my favorite thing of all…  growing things.

Come again soon – there is so much to do and so little time!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

Mid Winter Swing

By the time you read this I’ll be long gone and far, far away.  This is the perfect time to take a well earned break.  The garden is mostly dormant.  I say mostly as, although there are still things going on, it is a far cry from the heady days of summer.

Garden

Garden – I hope you behave yourself…

After a frantic period of sorting out the garden to a point it can be left without any attendance – although it will probably miss me terribly and I’ll certainly miss it; sorting out the animals so they are respectable and easy to care for and finally – the much less exciting cleaning of the house so the house sitters have a pleasant stay,  it is amazing how much clutter you don’t realise you have when your mind is focused elsewhere – like… say… in a garden…  we left for a much anticipated tropical break.

Swing seat

Oh I will have some swinging to do in my new swing seat when I get back.

And all going well we would have arrived at our destination in the sun, with winter far behind us and I should have in my hand a glass with a straw and possibly an umbrella in it as the warm clear waves lap against my ankles.  I imagine I will still be pondering the garden as I soak up the sunny rays like a solar panel storing enough energy to get me though the rest of winter. 

Fennel the Cat

I’ll definitely miss snuggles with this cute little face.

So I wouldn’t forget what my garden looked like I not only ran around the garden taking last minute photos in the fading light, but I made a video of it too.  This is more a record for me so I can really appreciate how much it will change while I’m away, but you can enjoy it too.

When I return, I’ll tell you all about the places I’ve been and the plants that I’ve seen. And I will be relaxed refreshed and ready to prepare for the new growing season – It’ll be here in a flash.

Come again soon – There’ll be hot and cold things to talk about!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Taking a hard line with my soft fruit

The soft fruit in my garden have been on a bit of a journey.  One that began in a place of unfamiliarity and good intentions and a bit of a learning curve.  Now they are on the straight and narrow and are being cared for in a way that clearly pleases them as they are bearing much fruit and of course that pleases me.

Blackcurrants

In order to get an abundance of delish currants you have to take some hard action

As a gardener who likes order and structure in my garden – hence my carrots in straight-ish rows and specific beds for specific plants, I initially put all my fruit plants in the orchard because that’s where the fruit should be.  Except the strawberries.  They were in the veggie garden close to the house because I knew you had to pick them every day in the height of the season.  But what I didn’t fully appreciate was most of the other soft fruit were also of a little and often nature.

black currant in need of a prune

This black currant is in desperate in need of a prune.

I had managed to convince myself that I’d go to the orchard regularly to tend to them, but I was kidding myself, because the orchard is ‘down the far end.’  Not miles away by any stretch of the imagination, but far enough to make wading through long grass everyday a bit of a chore.  It is all very well for the big trees as they are more of a once every so often kind of crop.  Taking care of them is like a destination activity – you go there and get the job done and then it’s done, be it pruning or harvesting.   We put the orchard ‘down the far end’ so we would have a reason to go to the far reaches of our vast three acres.  So, to go there daily was little more than wishful thinking.

Gardena bypass pruning lopper

Good quality loppers

 So my poor black and red currants, blueberries, gooseberries and raspberries suffered horrible neglect in their formative years, and I hardly got to taste more than a morsel.  It was my own fault and once I realised this, I carefully dug them up and replanted them closer to home in the veggie garden.  However this was still not the end of their traumatic existence.  I planted them directly into our swamp soil on a strip of land I had stolen in a sneaky land grab.  Hubby the Un-Gardener didn’t want me to extend the garden much further.   Now the fruit are in the second row from the back, not on the outside edge like they once were.  I really need a fence to contain myself.

Before pruning black currant

Before pruning black currant. To be honest I’d never really done it well – pruning can be quite intimidating.

Before pruning black currant

After pruning black currant. I wavered nervously before making the first chop. But once I was into it each next cut seemed logical. I was like a maniac with the loppers.

What I didn’t realise was this land lay slightly lower than the rest of the garden, and so they stood in soggy soil more than once.  To add insult to injury I didn’t have my wonderful sector system back then where weeding takes place on a weekly basis, and as they were at the back and didn’t do much for most of the year I may have forgotten to weed them from time to time. So I built them their own little raised beds and they looked so cute.  But they were too small to manoeuvre the lawn mower around them and it just wouldn’t do.  So I dug them up once more and built more sensible sized raised beds and they are finally happy and have gone on to thrive.

Gardena loppers to prune blackcurrant

Make sure you have the best tools to make light work of the job

They are weeded regularly, their irrigation needs are met thanks to my wonderful new system.  They even get feed routinely and in return they bear fruit.  I had enough blackcurrants for the first time this season to make jam and cordial.  There were loads of blueberries and I ate every single one as I toiled in my garden this summer. They were delicious.   The raspberries haven’t faired as well, as they are in the new back row and their raised beds weren’t high enough and they drowned.  But that’s a task for another day.  The gooseberries – well you can’t tell for looking but they aren’t the original ones.  I think these are the fourth version of themselves, but I really don’t won’t to count because they weren’t cheap.

Pruning red currants

The red currant didn’t need as much of a chop as the black currant. Just a bit of a tickle to remove dead and crossing branches, After the black currant, I really didn’t feel I’d done enough – but they are two different creatures with different needs. They will both be fine.

So there they all are – my soft fruit.  All happy and healthy and I’d like to keep them that way, so I’m going to chop them up a bit.  Gosh that sounds harsh for something that has had such a hard life.  But you have to be cruel to be kind.  They are in for a pruning.  The blueberries should escape the too much attention as unless there are dead or dying branches it is best to leave them be.  The gooseberries are still too small to get a chop and I’d hate to do something to them that would result in version five.

Soft fruit row

And with that, the soft fruit row is now ready for the new season… I can hardly wait.

So the main focus of my secateurs and loppers will be my currants.  It turns out the red currants need to be treated differently from the black currants.

Black currants like to produce fruit on young wood so they need to be reduced by about a third every year. This means effectively every year the oldest stems up to a third of the plant need to be removed to just above a healthy bud down in the base of the plant.  That should leave behind about 10 stems that are 1 – 2 years old so the plant stays youthful and vigorous forever!  Well actually I’m not sure about forever as a black currant bush tends to live for about 10 – 15 years.

Red Currants almost make it look like Christmas

Red Currants almost make it look like Christmas

Red currants on the other hand like to produce their fruit on old wood, so all you really need to do with these is to remove any dead, diseased and weak branches, any growing in the wrong direction and maybe open up the centre a bit for air flow and that’s about it.

And all going well there will be a fabulous harvest come the summerif I can beat the birds to the lovely jewel like berries.

Come again soon – we are getting deeper into winter, but the garden still calls to me.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Before and After

Today was one of those amazing blue sky days that winter graces us with from time to time.  There was not a cloud to be seen and not even a puff of wind.  Out of the shadow a warmth from the sun was discernible.  It was magic.  It was a day for gardening and gardening I did.

Asparagus fronds

BEFORE: Spent asparagus fronds do tend to look a little scruffy. Time to pull them down.

I started with the asparagus as the fronds were yellow and fading to brown, which is a sure sign the crown has sucked all the goodness out of it and stored it up for the new season.   As I cut down the first frond I had an idea that my poor fingers now regret, but it was so worth it. Instead of hauling it off to the compost heap, I decided to use is as a mulch back on the bed so the plant could continue to reclaim some of the goodies it had pulled from the soil back in the spring and summer.

After a check to make sure there were no pests or disease, I grabbed my handy secateurs and proceeded to chop all of the fronds into short lengths and popped them into my trolley for the time being.   It didn’t look like much but after over and hour of snipping and chopping the fronds from the first asparagus bed I filled a filled my trolley to overflowing.  Then I weeded the bed, enriched the soil with a thick layer of compost, some blood and bone and some sheep pellets.   The fronds were returned to the bed in a satisfying mulch layer.

Asparagus beds

AFTER: All clean and tidy and all we have to do now is wait for the delish asparagus spears to show up in a few months. I can hardly wait.

The process was repeated with the second asparagus bed and by the end of the morning the garden was once again transformed.  An area of height was reduced and the outlook is completely different.  The other thing that resulted from a morning of an extend period of snipping and chopping was three rather large blisters on my hands, but it was worth it.

Garlic bed

BEFORE: The early garlic is coming along nicely, and the other half of the bed is waiting for its crop to be planted

The next task at hand was a bit of a doddle.  It was a couple of weeks early if you go by the old wives tale but the packet assured me now was a good time to plant my garlic.  The early garlic is racing ahead and looks promising.  Hopefully it will get big enough before the rust strikes, although it would be nice to avoid that this year.

Garlic bed

AFTER: 30 small cloves have been tucked into the soil and a blanket of pea straw pulled over them to keep them safe as they grow

I couldn’t remember if I’d enriched the entire bed when I planted the first lot of garlic or just the half I planted out, so I chucked in a few extra bits and bobs just to be sure.  I planted 30 Presto and 30 Takahue cloves so now we have 120 possible garlic bulbs to harvest in the summer and last us all year.  This is the plan and I intend to stick to it – the environmental conditions will just have to conform to the plan too.    To reduce the risk of fungal spore splash back from the soil I put a lovely layer of pea straw mulch over the bed.  The new shoots should have no trouble growing up through when they decide to emerge.  All of the bending over did however, make my poor old back a bit stiff.

weedy garden bed

BEFORE: To the untrained eye there looks like there is no coming back from this nightmare. It would be easier to run the mower over it can call it lawn. But I need the space.

Finally with the afternoon beginning to wane, I tackled one last bed – my in ground mixed bed.  It was an overgrown weedy mess.  The soil was still damp-ish and to work my way across it would have been nothing short of a nightmare and would take forever.  So I took the easy way out.  I grabbed some of the big boxes from the replacement fridge and freezer for the ones that died in the flooding.  I was almost more excited to have such great quantities of cardboard than I was the shiny new appliances.  I’m sure the delivery guys thought I was a tad weird when I did a happy dance when they said I could keep it.

I didn’t even chop the weeds back or pull any of the nasty ones out.  I just laid the cardboard over the top, weighted it all down and all I have to do now is wait.  I’ve got plenty of time before I need the bed in the spring, so if there are stubborn weeds I can repeat the process.  It should take about six weeks to clear the bed and the worms love the cardboard.  The rotting weeds will add organic material and the bed will be amazing.

sheet mulching

AFTER: And in no time at all the problem has been taken care of with very little effort. I like this sheet mulching method if you’ve got the time.

As I stood back to admire my handiwork, I noticed the sinking sun was leaving a chill in its wake and the damp knees in my pants made my kneecaps stiff with the cold, so I packed up my tools and hobbled away from the garden feeling rather pleased with myself.  With a bit of luck the gorgeous day will repeat itself tomorrow and I can do it all over again.  Maybe with some less strenuous tasks.

Come again soon – this winter is turning out to be the nicest season so far.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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