SARAH THE GARDENER

I made something berry cool

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

Power tools

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

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

Making calculations

I may have over complicated things with my calculations

Making simple calculations

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

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

Measure twice and cut once

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

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

Central support spine

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

All the supplies to make the frames

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

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

Laying out the materials

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

Finished strawberry cage

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

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

Access to the strawberries

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

Bedraggled strawberry plants

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

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

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

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

20 days until spring

Not counting today and not that I’m counting…  actually, that is a lie.  Of course I’m counting.    It is all a bit hectic here as I race to get the garden ‘spring ready’ for this self-imposed deadline.  If I’m honest with myself, nothing much will change on the 1st of September in the garden, except I’ll probably start sowing a few seeds to get things going.  And then I will carry on getting ready for the next gardening deadline, the great safe from frost planting out date in late October.

Seed starting station

The seed starting station in the greenhouse is ready and waiting.

But even then for me this is a bit of a misnomer as we don’t get frosts here.  It was a chilly 4°C here this morning and it has been colder but never a frost.  I am putting my feelers out there a little bit more boldly each year and start things just a little bit earlier.   In the old frosty swamp garden, I wouldn’t dream of starting my tomatoes in August, and would wait for the momentous first day of spring to get them going.  But this year I will try to give them a two week head start and start them next week, with the aim to get them in the garden two weeks earlier in October.  While it isn’t the boldest move, it does feel a little brave.

pepper seedlings

Hello little green faces. I’m sorry I shouted at you. All of the pepper seed trays are spending their nights on heat mats and their days in the greenhouse where it gets to a toasty warm temperature in the high 20Cs. It is really nice to just hang out in there too!

I’ve done the same thing with my peppers.  I started them about three weeks ago at the end of July, instead of on the 1st of August.  I had them on a heat pad in my office and in spite of giving them the best of care while they are right there in front of me, they just sat there and did nothing.  In the end I threatened them.  I told them if they didn’t show their faces I was going to start a new batch that will rise up and take their place.  I was quite mean to them and blow me down if there weren’t half a dozen little green shoots popping up the very next day.  I sowed more…  just in case so I will probably end up with too many for my troubles.

The view of the garden from the swing seat

The view of the garden from the swing seat at the end of a busy week is the best place to take it all in

And in the meantime, I will continue to cross things off my list, chopping down cover crops and getting beds ready so they can settle down and be ready to receive plants when the time comes.   Hopefully, my self-imposed sense of panic to get everything done in time comes together for a feel good spring, where I can just potter about the garden doing what needs to be done, rather than putting everything on the increasingly urgent ‘I’ll get to you later’ list. 

Come again soon – I have a good feeling about this new season.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

 

I think I’m going to like this August

After a turbulent July, August so far has been lovely.  It makes it really feel like spring is so close you could touch it.  The first half is looking to be mostly sunny with a smattering of rain, but it will still be cold.  Too cold to start the growing season off early.  As keen as it feels, nature has its own sense of timing and won’t be hurried so there is no reason for me to rush into anything just yet.

The Garden

I have a good feeling about this season. We are starting off from a good place.

Having said that, there are plenty of things that need doing here before the new season arrives.  It is a little like nesting before the baby comes.  (Important note: there is no baby!)  To prevent overwhelming myself, over the last couple of months I have just done what seemed to be the most urgent and squeezed tasks in around the wind and rain.

Mustard cover crop

The mustard cover crops across the garden are showing signs of wanting to flower, which tells me it is time to chop them down.

Now that we have a good run of good weather promised to us, I decided to create a list of all the things that need to be done now to get ready for the new season.   It isn’t a big list, but I found myself overthinking things and decided to get them down on paper so I wouldn’t try to formulate the list in the middle of the night.

Rosemary

The rosemary is in desperate need of a trim – it has gone all lanky.

The most common task across the garden is to prepare the garden beds for the new season.  The cover crops are starting to flower and need chopping down.  There is plenty of time for them to break down before the beds are needed.  Some of the beds just need to be enriched with compost and blood and bone etc as the old crops come out.  This also means we need to hurry up and eat a load of things to empty the beds so they can be prepared for the new crops.

Gladioli

The Gladioli are already popping up and at this point they are acting like weeds!

The flower garden needs the most specific attention.  I want to move the Gaura out of the cut flower garden and into a bed that is still wildly overgrown, but there is plenty of time to sort that out.  I also want to move the gladioli to the same wildly overgrown bed.  I do love them, but they keep getting rust on their leaves.  I’m not ready to give up on them completely but I just want to put them somewhere where their leaves will be hidden but the flowers will shine.  The other thing is they have so many tiny bulbs that have multiplied over the years I suspect I’ll need to sieve the soil to get them all out.

Strawberry bed

The poor strawberry bed is being temporarily protected from whatever vile creature loves to eat it’s leaves.

I also need to prune my rosemary – it has gone all leggy.  And while I have the pruners out I need to tidy up the blueberries.  They are coming along really well with loads of new growth and plenty of buds, but it is really clear where the dead bits are, so they need to come out.

Swedes

Eat, eat, eat! There are plenty of things to be eaten in the garden, before I need the space again for something else.

And I have a project with my strawberries.  Hopefully this will be a success story, but at the moment it is just an idea and a collection of gathered supplies.  I am yet to know if it is a good idea or not.  I’m hoping it will be a good one as the cost of things these days is through the roof.  I’ll let you know how it turns out (even if it turns out to be a bad idea – so you don’t need to try it out).

Spring flowers

With beautiful spring flowers and stunning blue sky days it would be easy to think spring is here, but I need to constantly remind myself we are still in winter and it could still easily turn yucky!

So, all in all there are only 18 things on my garden to do list.  It doesn’t seem impossible but is suspect it will be one of those lists where more things get added as things get crossed off.  But that is the nature of things at this time of year!

Come again soon – it feels so good to find the sun warming your back as you work.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Just an Ordinary Day

These days I have been working my way though all the winter projects on my to do list at a great rate of knots.  With only 34 days until the start of spring – not counting today, I feel like I will arrive at the start of the new season, more organised and more in control than I ever have been before!    But not wanting to jinx it I am wary that anything could go wrong to set me back, like another fall off the deck or catching the dreaded Covid, which I have so far managed to avoid.

I decided today I’d take you along with me to see what an average day in the life of Sarah the Gardener looks like….

start of the day

My day starts with a basket full of the bits and bobs I need in my office like my laptop, and some warm gloves. And then all the garden bits and bobs that end up in the house, like a pair of grubby gloves and the dahlia tubers I bought the other day on impulse. And of course a cuppa tea to get started with and my garden boots because I intend to have a good day.

daffodils

Once I’ve settled all my bits and bobs into their rightful places in the office, I take a quick tour of the garden to see if there is anything new. These daffodils weren’t there yesterday!

Greenhouse

Then it is off to the greenhouse to check to see if the pea seedlings have popped up yet. It is too soon for them to pop up but it is always good to check… you never know.

Computer gardening

Then it was settling in to a session of computer gardening, taking care of all the emails and comments, chipping away at projects and a good bit of writing.

Raining

I didn’t mind spending time in my office in the warm and dry. The weather outside was awful, there was rain coming in sideways from time to time.

sunny

And then the sun came out and made all sorts of outdoor gardening chores seem possible. Although to be honest it did flip flop between rainy and sunny all day.

Jasper the Dog

Not everyone was ready to leave the warm of the office once the sun came out! Jasper the Dog is often found sleeping on my comfy office chair.

Pumpkin soup

I decided to stop for lunch before heading out to do some hard graft. You can’t go past a warming bowl of pumpkin soup and each bowl of soup means a dent in my stored pumpkin stash in the shed.

Spreading compost

The first big job was to spread some compost in Room Two of The Palace Garden. I lost count of how many bags but I know it was more than 10.

getting bark chips

After the compost was spread we headed off to the local garden centre for a load of bark chips to mulch Room Two in The Palace.

Spaghetti

Hubby the Un-Gardener whipped up a delish dinner with plenty of fresh herbs from the garden sprinkled through. I’ll hope there isn’t some stuck between my teeth, spoiling my smile, but no one has said anything.

Night time view

I had intended to show a lovely sunset to mark the end of the day, but it sun  went down while I wasn’t looking so this was the next best thing – the view out of the window at night… or not.

And that was my day.  I have collapsed into a bit of a heap on the sofa with Jasper the Dog on my side and a cheeky red wine in my hand.  I will certainly sleep well, so I can go through it all over again.

Come again soon – spring things are starting to appear on my to do list.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The broken break

When you live somewhere as extreme as we do, here on the wild west coast, there is nothing like experience to teach you what you need to know.  More often than not, it comes after you complete a project with the best intentions and what you believe to be the best approach, after thorough research and planning.  Just as you stand back proudly to admire your handiwork, nature comes along and laughs at your efforts.

fixing the windbreak

The first step was getting the fabric back up, ready to slow the wind.

Sometimes, you need to make adjustments and improvements several times in order to get it right, but time is the real test to see if you have succeeded and it isn’t measured in months or seasons, but years.  In the grand scheme of things, we haven’t been here that long so I’m just hoping the constant tweaking will result in long term success.

Box of plants

There is nothing more exciting than receiving a box of plants!

One of the biggest challenges I face is going up against the wind.  So, it makes sense to create a windbreak.  And the wisest advice is to always put up a windbreak before you start anything in a windy spot.   Easier said than done.  Firstly, the initial excitement of a new project means the wisest advice is often ignored in favour of the more interesting heart of the project.  It just takes a storm or two, for nature to undo all your hard work and remind you the wise advice is wise for a reason.

windbreak plants

The final indignity for these plants before going into the ground was to be sorted into groups so they provided an even but random spread across the hill. There were also a few leftovers from another job in there too!

To be honest, the windbreak to the front side of the house, intended to slow the wind off the ocean was a bit of an afterthought.  There was quite the wind tunnel racing up the hill and into the garden.   The eventual plan was to grow native plants to create a beautiful stand of hardy trees that would slow the wind and protect our privacy from the property across the driveway.

Coprosma repens taupata

The Coprosma repens taupata was a surprise survivor found in among the weeds. There were a few of them so with proper care this time they may well thrive!

It seemed simple enough.  I did my research and found a load of plants suited to the area and popped them inside a couple of fabric windbreak walls.  Our first mistake was our choice of wooden stakes for the fabric windbreak was woefully inadequate and had snapped within a week of installation!  So more sturdy metal warratahs were used that have stood up well to the elements.   The fabric not so much.  Held in place with just cable ties, they coped for a while but after a couple of wild winters become tattered and ragged, flapping in the breeze like a defeated pirate flag.

Whau - Entelea arborescens

I also planted some Whau – Entelea arborescens – NZ Cork Tree plants I’d grown from seed. They are supposed to do well here too.

The plants also suffered and there were deaths – many deaths.  Some of this was down to the failure of the fabric, exposing the young plants to more weather than they could handle.   But a lot of it, much to my shame was my fault.   I had come from a swamp situation where you just planted things and you could pretty much leave them to their own devices in a do or die attitude.  A few died but most did really well.   But here is completely different and while the plants I chose for the wind break were hardy, they still needed care, a lot of care – especially in the summer.  It wasn’t until last summer that I began intensive watering in the windbreak – once a week, turning on the sprinkler – even when our water levels were precariously low.  But for some plants, it was too little too late, after suffering from the effects of a failed windbreak.

Corokia x virgata –Geentys Ghost

The Corokia x virgata – Geentys Ghost are the smallest plants from the delivery but everything I planted got a bamboo stake – so I could see where everyone is for regular maintenance weed clearing.

Not discouraged, I have renewed my efforts and have just completed my latest attempt to establish a beautiful native windbreak on the front side of the house.  Lessons have been learnt.  I upgraded the plastic-coated washing line wire for the fabric frame to actual wire – a good thick gauge to give the frame strength.  Then instead of cable ties to hold the fabric in place I have used proper windbreak fabric clips, and loads of them, to spread the wear and tear weak points.  I did use cable ties to secure the ends to the waratahs, to stop that feathering of the fabric at the edges.

Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy

The Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy is supposed to be fast growing and should fill out into a great windbreak plant soon enough.

The plants came from an impulse bargain buy on the internet I saw when I wasn’t even looking for them.  But with the heading ‘Tough as nails combo’ I couldn’t really turn it down and was sold by the description “A mix of tough natives that will thrive in almost any conditions, will look great with minimal care and will withstand a battering from the elements.”    These were the plants for me!  I placed my order and received five of each of:  Hoheria populnea – Lacebark, Corokia x virgata – Geentys Ghost, Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake, Dodonea viscosa – Purple Ake Ake, Olearia dartonii – Twiggy Tree Daisy.

Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake

I have high hopes for the Olearia avicennieafolia – Mountain Ake Ake, it is supposed to have fragrant flowers in the late summer!

They were tall plants, but only in 7cm pots with roots poking out the bottom.  Wisdom would suggest dropping everything and planting them, but I wasn’t ready, or at the very least repotting them into something bigger.  But I knew if they were in bigger pots the urgency to get them in the ground would dissolve and there would be every chance they would die at a ripe old age in their pots.  So, I heeled them into to a large container with some compost around the base of their tiny pots and they filled me with guilt every time I walked past.

Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat

I had good company with Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat while working on this project. I wonder if this means they are becoming more tolerant of each other! Maybe one day they will be friends.

Finally, the fabric wind break was repaired the grateful plants were freed from their constricted pots and this latest attempt is underway.   Let’s hope this time we meet with nature’s seal of approval.

Come again soon – loads of things are being crossed off the ‘to do’ list.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Wishy washy

I can really feel the hint of spring, and if I am to be honest, along with the rising sap there a rising panic.  Will I get all my winter things done before I need to switch over to spring things?   I feel confident that, thanks to the help of my handy helper the garden is in a good place and this week we finished up all the restoration weeding.  So, from now on it will be maintenance first and then outstanding winter projects.

Pot washing

First batch of pots in the soapy water, ready to be scrubbed.

Some of the winter projects are on the large side and while still looming large on the weekly ‘to do’ list, many are in their final throws and should be crossed off the list sooner rather than later.  Having said that, some haven’t even been started and while I’m determined to somehow squeeze them in I think some will just have to wait until next winter, which will be a shame.

Pot washing

It was so wonderful to have hot water in the greenhouse. I should leave it in there to make cups of tea.

My philosophy this winter has been to chip away at all the projects each week instead of focusing on just one at a time and so while it feels a little chaotic right now, it has certainly been a productive way to spend the winter.  The key is having a good blend of things that can be done of cold wet nasty days and things for those rare blue sky sunny winter days, and the rest you can manage whatever the weather.

Pot washing

It is important to get into all the nooks and crannies, but these large seed trays have a lot of nooks and crannies!

But with spring imminent, I have begun to ask myself, what can I do now to make the spring easier?  Yesterday was really windy and I was at a point with my computer gardening where I could take a small breather and I wanted to make a bit of progress in the garden, so I gathered up all my seed starting and young seedling pots and brought them into the greenhouse to give them a good wash.

Pot washing

There is nothing more satisfying than bubbly water dripping off clean pots.

I set myself up in there with a large container, some disinfectant and dragged the hose in there too.  Now it was really cold yesterday, and I’m not that hardy, so I fished out the camp stove and the whistling kettle so I could wash everything in hot water, which will also help sort out the bugs.  And to deal with the mind-numbing boringness of it all I popped on some gardening videos and podcasts and before I knew it I had done them all.

Pot washing

The first batch of clean pots drying on the bench.

Well, most of them.  I notice there are still a few about the place that I left abandoned where they lay after planting seedlings.  So, in the spirit of being organised this season, I will get them picked up and cleaned up too before the greenhouse becomes full of seedlings.  That will happen before we know it!

Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat

I wasn’t lonely in the greenhouse. Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat kept me company.

It was such a satisfying job to cross off the list and future me will be so grateful to have nice clean pots to use at a busy time.   For the next pre-spring prep job, I noticed the first mustard cover crop is beginning to flower so that will need taking care of sooner rather than later, I doubt there will be much slowing down of chores and tasks from now on, no matter how many things I cross off the list!

Come again soon – there will always be something to do.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

An Irrigation Intervention

NB:  This is a sponsored post with the good people from GARDENA NZ, who have generously made this project possible.  

Over the winter I have had a few side hustles going on beyond the realm of my garden that have occupied huge swathes of my time.  This has left me with very little to say about my garden.  Aside from ticking over with the restoration weeding with my handy helper, not a lot else has been going on.  But at the same time, I have been extraordinarily busy, and I feel like I can say with confidence that it has been my most productive winter ever – just not in the main garden, aside from the weeding.

Mums irrigation

The lavender will soon fill in and you won’t even notice the pipe.

Today I took a big fat marker pen and drew a satisfying line through a winter project that has taken an enormous amount of time.  There is nothing like crossing something big off a ‘to do’ list, especially if it has been waiting in the wings for months and months.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Soften the end of the pipe in hot water to make it easier to attach the connector.

This project was done in conjunction with the good people at Gardena and as always is a joy and a pleasure to do projects with them.  We used Neta irrigation supplies and a GARDENA water timer and water distributor.  But this time was even more special as I had the opportunity to set up an irrigation system in my Mum’s garden.   My mum is not only a fantastic, passionate gardener, she is an amazing artist who paints and draws beautiful images of our native NZ bush with environmental messages woven through.  She has a gallery at the front of her home which is the cutest turn of the century cottage with a backyard exploding with beautiful plants.   To free up some of the time she spends watering the garden in the growing season, so she can create more stunning art, it made sense to set up some irrigation.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Ratchet clips help to prevent the connector being blown off with high water pressure. To get a good tight fit use a pair of pliers.

But long before I could set up the irrigation, I needed to make a plan.  This wasn’t the easiest thing to do long distance as I had to work out where all the garden beds were and find out how big they were.  I sent Mum out into the garden with my rough plan sent across the internet and asked her to make a few measurements, and then a couple more and just a few last ones until I had enough information to make an accurate plan of the layout of her garden.

Irrigation top tip

Irrigation top tip: Pipe stakes hold the pipes in place and stop them from being moved about.

I also needed to get her to do the bucket test.  I explained to her she needed to time how long it took to fill a 9L bucket, so I could work out her flow rate.  It took 22 seconds and using the handy chart on the Neta website, her flow rate was 1325L per hour.  This is important to know when planning irrigation because it helps determine how many sprinklers or drippers can be used in a line of irrigation.

Mums irrigation

Connecting all the bits and bobs together is super easy and you don’t need fancy tools.

The next step was to decide what kind of sprinklers she needed in her garden.  I decided across the flower borders, jet sprayers would work best as it would fling the water across the garden, beyond any obstacle to cover more ground.  However, some parts of the garden were deeper than others.

Mums irrigation

Using the hose to force water under the path to make a tunnel for the irrigation pipe was cold, wet and very messy, but by the end I was up to my elbows in the cold muddy water!

To get a good even coverage, adjustable sprayers made perfect sense, so they could be opened up to reach up to 1.8m and closed down for the narrow parts so it didn’t waste water on the fence or the path.  In the deepest curves I allowed for two sprayers, so the front and the back of the border received an even coverage when fully open.

Mums irrigation

The jet spray in the flower gardens will fling the water into the far corners.

For her small vegetable patch, drippers made more sense as for many vegetable crops it isn’t desirable to wet the leaves, or you could invite fungal diseases.  Here, drippers made sense.   As a vegetable patch is often being worked with the addition of fresh compost or digging up potatoes etc, it is handy to have irrigation that can be easily lifted out of the way, and then replaced when the job is done so I included in-line drippers in the plan.

Mums irrigation

The vegetable patch is irrigated with drippers.

Across the front of her place, beside the public footpath she had a lovely row of lavender and I thought it best to use drippers here to hydrate the soil as a jet spray could end up spraying unwitting pedestrians.

Mums irrigation

Beside the back deck I used 180° sprayers so only the garden gets watered.

Once I had the plan and the flow rate, I worked out she had four zones and so four lines with up to 22 drippers or sprayers would have enough pressure to have them all working well.  From there I worked out the rest of the supplies, the 13mm poly pipe and the 4mm tubing, the end stops, elbow and T joints, not to mention the all essential rachet clips to secure the connectors and the rigid pipe stakes to keep the pipes in place.  Once I had everything I needed I set off to do the job.

Mums irrigation

I love that the name of the bit you use to plug a hole in the wrong place of the pipe is called a ‘goof.’

My mum lives 6 hours south of me so it was a bit of a road trip, timed perfectly between two forecasted storms which turned out to be stunning weather although a little chilly.   Over three days, I toiled away in the garden, following the plan.  For the most part it came together perfectly.  Although she had a lot more concrete about the place than I remembered, and I had to make a couple of tunnels beneath two paths by using a hose to force water to carve out the soil.  It was a cold, wet job but so satisfying to break through to the other side of the path.

Mums irrigation

The middle of winter is the best time to set up irrigation, while there is plenty of bare soil to set everything up and causing the least amount of harm.

Once all the irrigation supplies found their place into the garden, I brought the four lines together to meet at the water distributor and the water controller and programmed it so come the warmer months her garden will be watered regularly, before she even gets out of bed!

Mums summer garden

Mum’s garden in the height of summer is full and lush and to attempt to set up irrigation at this point would be quite damaging.

After checking everything worked properly, I cleared up my mess, packed up my gear and headed home, to get on the other projects on my winter list, satisfied with a job well done.

Come again soon – spring is beginning to breath down my neck.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  If you want to find out more about anything mentioned here check out:

Mum’s art:  https://www.facebook.com/AllomesPauline

GARDENA NZ for all the cool things they have to help out in the garden:  https://www.gardena.com/nz/

The irrigation supplies:  https://www.netagarden.co.nz/products/category/irrigation

And for a great irrigation planner:  select the download tab and click on the  ‘Neta DIY Irrigation Planner’

I’ve been too busy to chat.

I’ve missed you all and I don’t know how I managed to leave it so long before getting in touch.  I haven’t stopped or anything.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I’ve had my most productive June ever.     I think the expression – ‘if you want anything done, ask a busy person to do it’ sums up my days recently.   I had a large computer gardening project on, and I knew it was coming so I organised myself so I could absorb it into my schedule without missing a beat and I ended up being super-efficient.  I managed to get it done in a timely manner, along with many other things on my ‘to do’ list.

rainbow on the beach

We have also made plenty of time for family and walks on the beach in winter are amazing!

Historically I would put the project first and let everything else fall by the wayside and then emerge at the end in a bit of a flap at all the things I hadn’t done that were becoming increasingly urgent, and as a result I’d end up in a perpetual panic.  But this time I applied the gardening philosophy of ‘do a little and often’ to everything and so as I worked on the project I also set aside time for all of the other things as well and managed to achieve so much more, that now that it is finished I’m looking about for things to do on a rainy day when I can’t be outside that are things I’d scheduled to do in August.  It feels good, but I need to keep the momentum up as my trip away in November where I play host to a bus load of garden tourists visiting the best gardens New Zealand has to offer, will roll around before we know it.

Colourful winter harvest

You have to love a pink and green harvest – mostly brassica but also the last of the eggplant!

So, some of the things that I have achieved along the way have been to plan the new season garden and organise for the seeds I need.   I was quite ruthless with my planning as we are one set of hollow legs down, with only one teen lad left at home so don’t need so many pumpkins and other things.

problematic onion seedlings

Hmm something is not right with these onion roots. When I try to grow a years worth of onions then it isn’t worth taking the risk.

Then following the plan, I set about planting my onions out, but ran into problems.  The ones I grew from seed had a weird thickening on their roots.  I blame myself – I was too lazy to wash the pots I used, and I think they may have contaminated my seedlings with some kind of disease.  I didn’t trust them, so I discarded them and bought new healthy ones from the garden centre.   I see a big pot washing session coming up soon to get ready for the new season – it is only 8 weeks until spring and I start some of my early stuff in August so not far away at all.

Planting onion seedlings

There is no shame in buying seedlings – espcially if that is the only way you will get a harvest. These have been planted 7 seedlings across the 1m row in rows 20 cm apart. I still need to count up to see how many rows there are to anticipate the harvest.

My helper and I have made amazing progress on restoring order to the garden.  I still don’t know how I managed to let it slip so badly…  but with an extra pair of hands, we are about 1 or 2 sessions away from having the whole garden back into ship shape condition and then we can focus on projects and fun things, with a quick little and often approach to the weeding so it never gets out of control again!

Room Two of The Palace

I love the way this turned out and I can’t wait to watch it mature and fill the space.

I’ve also been working up in The Palace in Room Two.  It needs a better name.  But I made my design based on native plants that will do well here and then was delighted when I managed to source them all easily and many were found at bargain prices.  And then I planted them out – all 182 of them on a day we had a scheduled power outage, so was the best use of my time that day.  I still have more to do.  I need to hold the sand back with a good thick layer of mulch.  It is a large area, so I need to investigate the best price to get bang for my buck.  But I love the way this garden room is coming together.

Chickens

The new chickens have settled in nicely without any argy bargy with Turducken, aside from their constant escaping. But they always escape back in to the coop when they’re hungry!

Since we last spoke we lost the last of our elderly chickens, leaving behind Turducken our 4 year old young lady that our ‘still at home teen lad’ raised from a day old chick for a school project.  We couldn’t leave her on her own, so a friendly neighbour came to a rescue with 5 spare ones from his flock.  Gosh I have to say young chickens are rather active compared to sedate old ladies.  The huge fence we have keeping them in is no match for them, so we need to go and clip a few wings before they find all the goodies in the garden!

Soil pH testing

I am finding the pH testing strips that came with my fermenting kit useful in all sorts of other activities.

Especially as I have just planted my brassica that should have gone in ages ago.  I even pH tested the soil, found it was a little too acidic and decided to lime the soil.  But ideally liming the soil should have been done weeks before planting to have time to work and I didn’t have any lime.  But I did have some Compost Maker which has lime and gypsum in it as well as a load of other goodies in it.  It is described as a bio accelerator so hopefully it should be fine…  I’ll let you know how they go!

puddling in brassica seedlings

I tried to do everything right with the planting of the brassica seedlings – aside from being free and easy with the Compost Maker. I did the gardeners shuffle across the bed to gently firm the soil. The only time I let anyone walk on the beds, and even then I’m the only one I let do the gardener shuffle so I know the soil has been firmed just right. Then I dug planting holes and filled them with water – twice, to puddle them in and them firmed the soil in around the seedlings. If I get bad brassica this time round, it won’t because because of the care and attention at the time of planting. But their seedling life was shaky and they still have a way to go before maturity – anything could happen.

And the last big project I’ve been tackling was designing an irrigation plan for my Mum’s garden.  The good people at Gardena are helping me to sort this out for her.  She had an amazing garden but if we can save her some time in the summer by automating her watering then it can free her up to just potter in the garden and do her first love – her art.  She is an amazing artist – you can check her out >here<.  I’ll take you with me on this project so you can see what we are going to do in her garden.

Pruning Chamomile

Pruning Chamomile has to be the most relaxing job. It should be done more frequently than I had been doing, but now it is on a regular routine list.

And today it is raining.  It wasn’t supposed to rain until tomorrow, so I will need to reach deep into my ‘to do’ list and look for a computer gardening project so I can keep up the momentum and tomorrow I will tackle some pruning, there are quite a few things that need chopping down!

Come again soon – did I mention spring is 8 weeks away!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Power is so overrated

broken wind break

I declared bravely while we had none.   We have a camping stove so the cups of tea can still flow, so really what is there to worry about?!  Other than the fact that the power outage is caused by the wind howling such a hoolie that had cut power somewhere.  The biggest problem with being so rural is you never really know if it is just us or it is the whole street.   It turns out it wasn’t just the street but the whole region!

broken wind break

Ok, this is my own fault. The willow screen works well to contribute to slowing the wind, but I ran out to time / motivation to carry on putting up extra support to secure it in place so it is no surprise it fell apart.

It has been stormy all weekend, but I’d have no problems chalking up today as one of those few days where you get a little concerned living so close to the edge of the wild west coast.   And I need to remind myself we have endured worse without too much harm and for the number of days like this there are as many still calm days that are so amazing you can hardly believe it.  And all the days in between are just ordinary average days that are similar to what you’d find inland and aren’t particularly special.  The kind of days you muddle through getting things done without really noticing what kind of day it is.

stormy seas

I almost got blown away while taking this photo, but why I rushed outside to take it I’m not sure. I have plenty of ‘no horizon, squall coming in over choppy seas’ images in my collection that it should give me peace of mind that everything will be ok.

This morning the rain was coming in sideways and the wind was giving my wee office a bit of a shake.  After the power went out, the sun came out, so it didn’t seem so daunting, but the wind has continued to make itself known.

windswept fennel

Aside from the windswept peas, there isn’t a lot of tall-ish things in the garden at this time of year that would demonstrate the severity of the windiness. Although with the peas it is hard to distinguish what was damaged this time and what was damaged last time. So here is my fennel, bowing over in the wind. It normally defiantly stands straight and tall.

In the garden there hasn’t been than much damage aside from a windbreak I hadn’t finished securing, so completely expected really, and the peas probably won’t make a full recovery from the last storm where they got the bash.  I’m thinking of growing the Yates Novella variety in the winter as it has this madness of tendrils that are almost impenetrable and they should provide a more secure anchor to the netting, keeping the leaves and pods safe from harm, or safer at the very least.  Once the weather returns to normal, I’ll salvage what I can from the pea harvest and start again with the Novella.

New weather station

After we installed my new weather station it sat there in hardly a puff on wind, completely oblivious to the torment it would soon face!

I am pleased I installed my brand new weather station recently as it has been interesting to see what is actually going on in the garden.  The wind speed cups are spinning frantically and although it is the pretty much tallest thing in the middle of the garden, and technically out of the protection of the wind breaks, the garden is behind the house, which seems to offer a degree of protection.   There is an online weather station up the beach from us – about 5km away and it was suggesting that we went over 100km/h last night, but the weather station recorded 60km/h as the windiest.

Power outage map from the Counties Energy App.

It wasn’t until after the power came back on that I could check the nature of the power cut. According to the power outage map from the Counties Energy App it would seem it wasn’t just us!

This certainly gives me piece of mind, but I do need to keep working on windbreaks and improving them because as we are reminded from time to time – it is brutal here.

Come again soon – I hope we can get some gardening done tomorrow.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Knowing when to stop trying

Yams

Over the last few days, I’ve done a significant amount of harvesting, which is surprising considering we are at the end of the first week of winter.   The first session was more a case of storm damage.  The peas had been completely bashed to bits, but they were attempting to rally, and I noticed some fat pods that needed picking.  I was surprised how much I was able to harvest, and a good meal sized portion was podded and put into the freezer for another day.  

Hotdog sauce

My hot hotdog sauce. I need to add a warning to say use sparingly.

The storm had also whipped all the leaves off the peppers.  Earlier in the week they were looking great and I was hoping they would go on for ages.  I can overwinter them easily enough, but with the lack of frost here,  I can also easily overwinter pests.  The year I did try to keep them going, their second year was fraught with pests and problems, and I decided it wasn’t worth it and start fresh from seed each season. 

Peanuts

Not a bad haul of peanuts!

I pulled all the remaining peppers and chillies off all of the plants.  The bigger peppers were cut into large chunks and frozen for using in cooking throughout the winter and the smaller ones and chillies were turned into a hot Hotdog sauce.  I suspect the jar and a half I made will last quite some time as it is a little on the spicy side. 

Kumara

The once lush kumara leaves were quite bashed by the storm so the time had come to dig up.

Kumara

I’m pleased with this harvest – size wise, but next season I’d like to have a few more than this.

Then this morning, with the help of my Handy Helper, we decided to pull up the peanuts.  It was a good sized haul – about what I would expect based on what I have harvested in the past.  These were taken into the greenhouse to dry out a little before processing.  Then we moved on to the Kumara.  I wasn’t expecting much because the slips weren’t looking the best and they went in late.  But I was pleasantly surprised.  There were enough tubers big enough to get excited as we dug them up – although I did put the fork though the biggest one – which is so typical, and small ones big enough to still be considered worth eating.   Although it would have been nice to have more so next season I need to lift my game.  

Yams

At this point there is the possibility and hope of a magnificent harvest.

Yams

And then comes the reality check – hmmm…. Maybe we don’t speak of this again.

Ideally they should be cured by leaving them in a warm place to dry out to harden the skins and allow them to be stored for longer.  They also sweeten with curing as the starches convert to sugars.  The main suggestion was to leave on the soil to dry in the sun but unfortunately we are long past those days, so I need to find a warm place with good airflow for about a week.  I wonder how the family feel about having Kumara on the coffee table in the living room?  Then, if we had enough, they would be stored alongside my pumpkins in my shed in a cool dark spot with good airflow and checked often to make sure they aren’t going squishy.  I think once these have been cured they won’t even make it into the shed! 

asparagus

The asparagus fronds have turned yellow – the perfect sign to cut them back,

Then we emptied out the yams.   I have never really had a great harvest in all the years I’ve been trying to grow them.  However, I have persevered because maybe one day I will get things just right and enjoy a bountiful harvest.  With a negligible harvest in previous years in one of the 1 x 1m beds I decided it was a waste of space.  Especially as the kumara was being grown in large pots because I always forgot to make room in the garden for them.  So, I switched them around and gave the kumara more room in the garden, which could explain the better harvest and now I just need to improve my timings.    And the theory with the yams was if I grew them in a container I could control the conditions a little better and popped some of the biggest, fattest ones I could find into a big pot filled with potting mix and plenty of goodies to keep them happy. 

asparagus

With sharp secateurs just cut them down at the base.

It turns out there is something they need to keep them happy, and I just can’t provide that for them.  They need a cooler climate than what I have to offer.  It was with much excitement we went digging through the soil to find a dozen or so teeny tiny pink balls that were collectively smaller than just one of the tubers I had originally planted.  I’ll still cook them up – and will enjoy every last morsel – I grew ‘em, I’ll eat ‘em! 

asparagus

A nice topping of compost and other goodies and the asparagus is tucked up safe and sound for the winter.

But I think I have come to the realisation that after over a decade of trying, it is probably not worth trying again.  I gave it a good go, and if any of the seasons or growing conditions I subjected them to over the years resulted in a slither of hope then it would be worth continuing to try.  But with today’s harvest, even I’m not that optimistic.  I will miss the challenge of trying to grow them, but something else should take their place in the garden.

Chicken

While clearing the fence line we got a little help from Turducken the Chicken. She’s a bit lonely as her last elderly friend died this weekend. So we will need to find some younger friends to keep her company.

Not wanting to end on a downer – my Handy Helper and I cut down the yellow asparagus fronds and popped some blood and bone and Yates Dynamic Lifter on the bed and tucked it in with a thick layer of compost ready for the new season.  We should see the first of the new season spears popping up in August!

Jerusalem artichokes

These are the only Jerusalem artichokes I could find. Hopefully they will go one to create a bountiful crop for next time.

Then we continued our quest to weed the fence line and in the process uncovered the neglected Jerusalem artichoke bed.  I just didn’t get to it last year, so it was a complete overgrown mess.   Now bearing in mind this is the crop they say plant where you want to have them forever because they are indestructible….  Well, it would seem I achieved the impossible.  The last time they were well managed I ended up selling my excess to the Goodness Grocer for a good price.  This time I found 4 good ones and a few tiddlers.  But the upside is the neglected soil was so soft and lovely and friable, so I just popped them all back in to regenerate my supplies with a promise not to neglect them again.

garden

The view across the garden looks so much more in control now – especially with a clean fence line.

And that was the last harvest of the season – aside from carrots, cabbages, broccoli, Wong Bok, celeriac and a few other… ok, so there is still plenty to harvest from the cool season crops but that was technically the last of last season’s crops.

Come again soon – the weather is keeping us on our toes.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Sorry it was a bit long – I got over excited!   

 

 

 

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