This is traditionally the ‘IT’ weekend. The one you long for and work towards all spring. The average last frost date. Which just happens to fall on a long weekend and so that just makes the whole thing even more exciting.
Every year I am determined to spend the week before tying up all the odds and ends. I expect I’ll be building structures and enriching the last of the beds. I’ll try to make sure all the seedlings are present and accounted for and do last minute transplants because even a few days in fresh soil can make all the difference to a plant determined to grow. There is always the desperate sowing of last chance seeds and worrying that this year there just won’t be Hungarian Wax Peppers.
But then it rains. Not every year. But this year it is raining. Yesterday was ok because I was able to transplant seedlings, so many seedlings. I feel like they have already grown overnight as they look more abundant than they did before I started. I’m glad I did it – even though they will be in the ground before they know it, because seedlings stuck in too smaller pots for a moment too long can slow right down. Any excuse to spend time working away in my greenhouse on a rainy day is a perfect excuse.
So that was yesterday – super garden productive day. Today it rained again. It isn’t heavy rain but that annoying misty rain that takes a while to seep into your clothes and so you potter about in it longer than you should and slowly get wet. The kind of wet that gets into your bones and you struggle to warm from. Not that it is really cold, it can’t be really cold, or we wouldn’t be almost planting plants out into the garden. But not warm enough to be called comfortable.
As a result, I’ve been set back. I need to build structures, there are a couple of garden beds that are still in need of desperate attention so they are ready for the plants that will reside in them. It is also feed week – the plants that are already in the garden are due for a liquid feed and I love taking the time to nourish each plant and give it the once over to check for problems in their early stages. But I don’t love doing it in the rain. And – while I’m having a moan – the rain and the increasingly warmer weather make the weeds grow fast and strong and they can’t be ignored.
The boffins are suggesting it will rain for the rest of the week, so I will spend the time clearing up computer gardening and then I will put on a sturdy raincoat and just get into it.
Come again soon – either the boffins will be wrong, or this stage of the growing season will have a soggy start!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This was week has been a mixed bag of things that has made life all sorts of busy. But for the main part the garden is now mostly good and ready for the planting out stage from next weekend. There are two beds with malingerers that need to be evicted and eaten and one that needs a flower removed so it can be prepared for pumpkins, but aside from that we are good to go.
The weather had warmed up a lot and I had begun wearing T Shirts and my sun hat and had contemplated for a moment starting to put things out in the garden. It was a fleeting thought as the temperatures plunged dramatically for a couple of days this week and while I don’t trust spring, getting this cold so close to the last frost day was still a bit of a surprise. While we don’t get frosts here, my tender summer loving plants would not have appreciated the sudden chill. So instead they stayed in the greenhouse and I’ll begin hardening them off over the coming week. I’ll also work on building all the structures for the garden as it is always better to have these in place before planting things out.
Another distraction was our bathroom renovation was completed and after having to make a myriad of decisions, it is nice to finally have a nice bathroom to wash away the dirt of the day. I really love how it came out and now I’m itching to get onto the rest of the house, but we’ll hurry slowly as it is our forever house and we can take our time and get it right.
It seemed like a good moment to mark the state of the garden with a quick video tour, so sit back and enjoy a whistle stop tour of my garden as it is right now.
Come again soon – change will probably come quickly from now on.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
October is such a gauntlet to run for us. With birthday’s, school holidays and then the obligatory back to school haircuts, stationary kit refresh and new shoes, the garden can become a little neglected. Not intentionally, but life can get in the way which can be quite challenging as we are in the heart of spring and things need to be done.
Fortunately, I’ve been rather organised this season so the chaos of the last week hasn’t had too much of a toll. I could have things under a little more control, but I think that is me being hard on myself. The beds and paths are all pretty much weed free with a few tiny interlopers fancying their chances in my absence. The seedlings in the greenhouse are all in large enough pots that the risk of drying out is less than it was when they were in their tiny seed starter pots. This reduces the need for watering several times a day. Although several seedlings are hinting at the need to move into larger pots by flashing a bit of root out the bottom. So, the most the garden got this week was a quick weed and its scheduled feed – albeit a bit late.
Most of the time plants just sit there and grow slowly, however sometimes that can cry out to you as you walk past and you promise you will take care of them, but as life gets in the way you end up scuttling past, feeling guilty because you haven’t kept your promise. Eventually things get to the point where you need to do something and today was that day.
The artichokes were getting fatter and fatter and their leaves were starting to loosen from their tight grip around the flower bud. There was no time like the present, to stop them going to waste. There is only so many you can enjoy plucking them leaf by leaf, and there is only so much lemony melted butter that is wise to eat! So, I went looking for other recipes and found a great one for preserved artichoke hearts, so I set to work.
The recipe assured me I would need 9 artichokes and would get 3 pint jars of delicious, pickled artichoke hearts. So, I duly went out to the garden and harvested 9 artichokes and a couple of extras for an indigent buttery plucking session. But as I began processing them and peeling away all leaves I realised there would only be enough for 1 jar let alone 3! Ok so my jars were 1 litre jars and the recipe did say you would get 3 pint jars, so I put my treat ones into the pile. The thing with artichokes, is the waste material verses edible content is extremely disproportionate and I ended up with very little artichoke for the jars and a huge pile of peeled material. So, I made a trip to the compost heap to empty my waste container to make room for more and grabbed another 5 artichokes so I would get at least one jar full.
The recipe was quite cool, not exactly ordinary – my kind of thing, but I’m not one for following instructions so, along with issue of the proportions, I may have adlibbed with the some of the flavours.
The first step was to cut a few slivers of peel, then squeeze 4 lemons and put the juice aside for later but put the lemon carcasses into a pot and cover them with water. Then as the artichokes were peeled they were tossed into this acidified water to stop them oxidising and going brown. The peeling involved removing all the leaves, scraping out the fluffy choke bit in the centre and then with a sharp knife, shaving off the tough sides and base and tidying it up a little, without losing too much of the meagre edible bits.
Once it was all done, a quarter of a cup of salt was added to this strange mix of prepared artichoke hearts, lemon carcasses and water and it was put on the stove and brought to the boil, and then reduced to a simmer until the artichokes were tender.
Meanwhile the lemon juice came back into play and was mixed in with a cup of white vinegar, quarter of a cup of each white wine vinegar and olive oil. Then the favours were added – I put in a whole dried cayenne pepper that I grew last season and snipped it into thin slices. I also added way more garlic than was suggested. The recipe called for 3 cloves over three jars, I used 6 for one jar. I also chucked in 9 peppercorns, a handful of oregano and some thyme. These were all mixed together and boiled for 5 minutes.
By the time I’d done that and the artichoke hearts were tender, so I got out one of the three jars I put in the oven to sterilise and fished out the artichoke hearts from among the bobbing lemons and arranged them in jar as best as I could without handling them. Then the boiling herby lemon juice mix was poured over the top and a teaspoon of salt added. Then it was all sealed up with good food safety techniques. They need about a month to mature and should last up to a year… although I doubt this jar will make it much past month two! I can hardly wait.
Come again soon – the garden is almost at the point when the structures can be put up.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
How on earth did we get this far through the year already? I have been waking up, working hard, and going back to bed again and each day drags us along in time… I can barely keep up. If the year would go at my pace we would still be somewhere around June. I would be leisurely keeping up with everything that needs to be done in a way that a lot the perception on the internet looks like. My reality is a little different in that I work really hard to do what needs to be done and run out of day before collapsing in an exhausted little heap on the sofa.
But here we are in birthday Month. The big O month with a big birthday in it with a big ‘0’ in it and I shall take every opportunity to celebrate. Although my turn is later in the month – first we have to celebrate with fabulous Brother the Chef and Joey the Teen Lad. Bearing in mind the first celebrations are imminent and require a trip away, the most important thing to get done is transplanting every seedling that remotely shows signs of needing it. Having them all in bigger pots than the ones they are in now will mean there is more room to hold moisture so they can go a little longer. This will take the pressure off a wee bit and our builder can focus on finishing the bathroom reno and only occasionally watering the seedlings! It took two days so transplant them all and I am so pleased I did it. Although I suspect many of them will need transplanting once more before heading out into the garden.
In the garden itself, Hubby the Un-Gardener has made short work of adding the compost to the beds. It barely takes him any time at all, and I am grateful for his strength. There are still 5 beds left to do but three of them still have plants in them that we need to eat and eat them fast… the last frost date is approaching fast.
Not that we get frosts, but normally along with the cessation of frosts comes a calmer more settled phase of spring and I have learnt to wait until the safe planting out date so my tender wee seedlings don’t get tormented by storms. Last season I lost so many seedlings there were no spares or backups left to give away. I won’t be making that mistake again. Besides a growing season that starts on the last frost weekend is plenty long enough for all the plants to do what they need to do!
This is a busy time of year and I will need to make time for some things, some things automatically get priority and others just barge their way to the top of the list, forcing others to retreat. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything about the garden at this time of year, but at this midway point of spring prep I do have moments when I long for that sweet spot in November when the garden is planted out and the harvest hasn’t started yet and I can sit back and do very little for the briefest window of time.
Come again soon – while I’m behind the scenes slaving away I’ll show you all the pretty things in the garden.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been a long week with a lot going on. When we relocated our house back in April 2018 we made a few unconventional decisions. We decided if a bathroom or a kitchen needed renovating you would find the money to do it eventually, but the outside of the house is the bit that normally gets what money is left at the end of the renovation. So, we ended up throwing most of our budget on things outside – for me it was the vegetable garden and the budget blowing geodesic biodome and for Hubby the Un-Gardener it was his dream entertaining area. We have loved every moment of what we have created.
However, in the house it really does still look like a home in desperate need of a reno. Finally, we managed to get together enough money to make a start on the inside and the bathroom was the first room to be done and it was an easy choice. When the house was being put back together our fabulous builder and our plumber both said they were uncomfortable putting the old shower back in as it could leak and were encouraging us to put in a cheap temporary one. But I know us and if we put in a cheap temporary shower I would still be using a cheap temporary shower in 20 years’ time! So, I have spent the last 2 years worried about the bathroom floor rotting through.
The bathroom reno started this week and I needn’t have worried because the floor was fine, thanks to thick layers of silicon holding the shower in place. Although I’m not sure it would have stayed that way forever. It isn’t finished yet and I’ll show you when its done, but with all the decisions that needed making and the exciting distraction of it all, I didn’t get as much gardening done as I would have liked.
But I did get some things done. This week was the second of the fortnightly feeding of the garden with a liquid feed and I could tell the plants had responded well to the previous one so that was encouraging. For some of the more vulnerable, weak, or newly relocated plants I added some liquid seaweed tonic to the mix to help them get over the stress of whatever they have going on and encourage strong root growth.
The sector system is such a dream, I am so pleased I found an easy way to manage such a large garden because it doesn’t take long to whip through it, weeding, feeding, and tending. And it is very forgiving if you miss a day.
There is still a lot to be done. The tomatoes are now at the stage where they need to be transplanted and so do a load of other things. I sowed my seeds this year with a heavy hand as my seeds are getting a little old. I think next season I may need to replace most of them, but I should probably pick up some broccoli seeds as they haven’t shown their face after several sowings.
I also need to plan and sow my flower seeds – this is urgent. I’ll update you on this before the end of next week. And I need to continue preparing the beds for their new occupants, we’re mostly there – Hubby the Un-Gardener and the Teen Lads have been doing the digging. I should have more free time in the weeks to come because tonight is the start of daylight savings. I would normally suggest ‘don’t forget to change your clocks’ but they all seem to do it automatically these days – except the one in the car – but it will be right again in the autumn and it is easily enough to remember it is an hour out!
Come again soon – hopefully more progress will be made next week.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It was quite an ordinary spring day. The wind (and Fennel the Cat – she has a very loud meow and wasn’t happy the food she had been served for dinner and let me know about it at 3am) disturbed my sleep. It always sounds so much louder and feels so much stronger when we are this close to the beach.
So, it was a slow start to a sluggish day. I started off with my computer gardening while the weather warmed up a little. Then I decided the garden really did need me. All the things that ran through my head at 3am needed taking care of so they wouldn’t be there again should the cat wake me again – which she probably well. Just slowly and gently I began by transplanting the seedlings that needed it from the seed raising mix into a compost / potting mix blend into slightly bigger pots so they could continue to grow and be nourished.
Next I decided to sow another round of seeds and started off my pumpkins, cucumbers, luffa – to go up my awesome arch, squash, and zucchini. There are 6 weeks until the safe from frost planting out day and so they should be a good size by then – not too big and not too small. Not that we get frosts, but the weather is generally more stable after this date so I try not to risk my seedlings in turbulent stormy weather that early spring can bring. I replaced so many damaged seedlings last season that I almost ran out of spares. The only seeds left to sow are beans and corn and I like to sow them directly into the soil when it is warm enough for them.
Then I got Hubby the Un-Gardener to give me a bit of a hand as there was digging to be done and he is so much faster at it than me. We did a bit of bed repair as it turned out when putting the beds together I completely missed more than a dozen screws across the garden. I have no idea A: how I managed that, and B: how did I not notice this whole time! Then I got him to turn over the compost and other goodies in the yam bed so I could plant them as they had sprouted nicely. I never really get a good harvest of Yams but that doesn’t stop me trying.
And finally, the main point of the day was done – planting the potatoes – there is 100 days until Christmas and Jersey Benne spuds take 100 days and so if I’m to have new potatoes on the festive table then today is the day. I also got Hubby the Un-Gardener to help me plant all the potatoes and it feels good to have them in. One less thing to worry about at 3am!
So for a day that had the potential to be a sluggish go nowhere day, turned out to be very productive in a slow and steady way and I am so grateful for the help – I suggested to Hubby the Un-Gardener that I put a sign on the garden gate that says “Welcome to the Gym.”
Come again soon – This season is coming along nicely.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
(A paid post with the good people from GARDENA NZ)
As much as it is still early spring and the weather flip flops between hopefully promising with warm sunny days and a brutal reminder that summer is still a way off as the wind drives cold rain into window panes making indoor computer gardening seem like the best option for the day, it is still important to keep the gardeners eye firmly on the growing season ahead.
My limited experience living here has taught me the garden gets hot in the summer. A digital temperature reading of the sandy paths in the height of last summer had it well up over 70ᵒC. I also know that the soil I brought with me from the swamp is great for water retention and I only need to water the beds for 9 minutes each and the soil stays moist for at least a week. This is encouraging because I have a fabulous irrigation system and water computer to control this process each week.
But I also know how much a tanker of water costs and how long it lasts in the height of summer as last summer we had the accident where we lost all our water through an unfortunate tap turn last Christmas Eve. We ended up having several tanker loads delivered that summer. After some good winter rains, we are off to a good start, but I certainly don’t want to go back to that desperate situation anytime soon. So, I need to do more to conserve the precious water I have in the garden and that means mulch.
Mulch is great because it locks in moisture and reduces weeds and the right kind of mulch will break down over time and feed the soil. When you have a garden as large as mine, a good thick mulch can be a costly exercise, unless you get creative. Fortunately, I am a creative gardener and have come up with a great mulch from what the land already gives us – The tree lupins that grow quickly and easily on our sandy coastal land. I did a trial run on my rhubarb a while back. The bed is small – only a metre square and it seemed to work well enough to scale things up and make mulch across the garden.
It just conveniently happened that I had an area I want to clear of tree lupins as I have decided the garden needs to be pushed out just a little in a direction I hadn’t considered before. Seriously a garden is never big enough and this side of the garden isn’t fenced so my ambition is not contained. Before I changed my mind, I set to work and started to clear the space. With the right tools it was a quick job and before I knew it, I had a better idea of the space I had for my sneaky expansion plan, and had created enough mulch to ensure the onions would have even moisture availability as they headed off into the 2nd stage of their growth and any opportunity for weeds to settle in between the rows have been nipped in the bud.
I do have lupin seedlings ready to be planted out in my mulch plantation, however while they grow big enough to harvest from, I am turning my eye to other areas that could be liberated of plants to serve my purpose. Making mulch is one of those rewarding jobs that doesn’t take long to do but the results are immediately evident. I suspect this will become one of those much anticipated enjoyable tasks across the spring as the beds are filled with plants and topped up with mulch.
Come again soon – the spring is marching on and there is no time to dilly dally.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have been dabbling a little bit in making my own cold process soap. It is a bit fun because it reminds me of my time in a previous life working in laboratories. It is all about weighing out the ingredients exactly and getting all geared up in safety gear – goggles and gloves and using dangerous chemicals. I love it. I just make it for us and haven’t been too adventurous with it yet, but there are loads of cool things that can be done with it.
Tying this in with the garden, I am really excited to grow luffas this year as this adds a whole new level of fun when processing them. I have grown then for many years and I found them great to help scrub off the dirt from a grubby gardener hands after a hard day in the garden and as an exfoliator for gently sorting out dry skin. So just thinking about the combined potential of these benefits and soap making magic! They are also great in the kitchen as a natural scrubber that can be composted when it has nothing left to give.
Since we moved to this new garden I haven’t had much luck growing luffa. The first season I grew them as seedlings but dithered about so much about where I would plant them they died, and it was too late to start again. The thing is they do best when growing up a frame of sorts and I just didn’t have plan for this.
Last year I acquired one of those powder coated metal arches and excitedly assembled it and popped it in the pumpkin area. This was also a little late in the season and so buy the time my luffa seedlings made it into the ground, life was against them as they didn’t get a chance to settle in before it got too hot and they didn’t make it.
It was my intention this year to get it right, but we had a storm and it completely destroyed my arch. I have to say it was a tad disappointing, but on close examination it became evident the salty sea air had not been kind to my arch and had completely rusted it out. So, I had to give the arch concept a rethink and came up with what I think is a great idea for an arch to last in this harsh environment.
I used rebar to support the old arch because to be honest it did look a little flimsy, so it was an easy leap to think of them as support for the new arch and I spaced them out to suit all my materials and banged them into the ground
Then I got some of my irrigation hose that should probably have been used to finish setting up the irrigation… and threaded it down over one side of the rebar and then deciding on a nice natural looking curve at the top I measured it down to the ground on the other side and cut it off. I pulled it all off and used the first length to measure another exactly the same side and threaded them both over the rebar to form two hoops.
I had to get Hubby the Un-Gardener to help out with an extra pair of hands as I attached plastic trellis to the hose hoops with cable ties. I tried my best to make them evenly spaced on both sides but was generous with the cable ties and used loads of them. It is windy here so I’m taking no chances.
As I stood back, I realised it was all a bit floppy in places and it needed cross support, so I cut up some bamboo poles to help hold the trellis taught and used even more cable ties. And just like that I had a lovely arch to grow up my luffa this season. All I need to do is sow the seed and next week is the perfect time to do that and I’ll be sowing them along with the cucumbers and pumpkins in the 4th wave of seed sowing I’ve done this season. I’ve been breaking the seed sowing into batches so it doesn’t become a tedious chore, and some do need less of a head start on the season than others.
And there you have it, a bit of creativity prompted by a need and it is amazing what you can come up with.
Come again soon – things are coming along great as I prepare for what I hope will be a fabulous growing season.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I do love it when you find an unexpected treasure in the garden. I’ve been clearing out the old brassica bed to make it ready for the new season sweetcorn. There is heaps of time before need the bed for the sweetcorn, but the brassica had done its dash. We had eaten as much as we could to the point that we just couldn’t keep up with the side shoots of broccoli. Now bear in mind these were the brassica plants I planted last spring. We sort of let the broccoli go when the autumn broccoli started producing, and now we are enjoying their side shoots.
Now I have to confess, while it is a good thing to just lop off the head of broccoli for the immediate gratification of fast growing side shoots, for most of the other brassica it is better to have the whole plant out and start again. But I’d been lazy and in the midst of it all I’d taken to the red cabbage with a sharp knife and left the base in ground, meaning to whip it out at some point. That some point never happened.
So, while I was clearing the bed, I found a small but perfectly formed red cabbage. As we had no immediate need to eat it, and not wanting for it to go to waste I brought it into the kitchen and decided to pickle it. A quick search on the great big internet told me that I could do a quick pickle that would be ready in three days and would last a month in the fridge and was great to add to sandwiches, salads and as a zing to loads of other meal options. So, I gave it a whirl.
I mashed a few recipes together because I’m not all that great at following instructions. First I sliced it finely and soaked it in a salty brine solution for a couple of hours – this is supposed to draw out moisture but I also took advantage of the fact any lingering slugs would die and float to the surface. There seemed to have been hundreds hiding in there when I pulled it out of the garden. If the family only knew the starting point of this cabbage they probably wouldn’t eat it! I’m made of tough stuff! Not that I’d want to eat one – pickled or otherwise… I did attempt snails at a French restaurant once but could bring myself to eat them no matter how much garlic butter they were soaked in.
Then I drained the brine and packed the cabbage into my jar and filled it with water as part of my handy dandy rinse and measure technique. I poured off the water into a measuring jug to find out how much vinegar I’d need and then put the cabbage into my salad spinner to get rid of as much water (and dead slugs – there was only one, so I must have done a good job picking them out.) as I could.
Next I put the required amount of vinegar into the pot. Most recipes called for cider vinegar or white wine vinegar, but I only had white or malt vinegar so I went with the white. Sometimes you have to work with what you have. I added some caraway seeds because apparently they go well with cabbage; some mustard seeds because they always go well in a pickle, and some peppercorns, some garlic and some chilli for a bit of zing if the vinegar wasn’t zingy enough. I also added a bit of salt and sugar to taste – to take the edge off the harshness of the white vinegar. These were all put in a pot and boiled for 10 minutes.
While it was boiling away I cleaned my jar and lid and soaked them in boiled water to sanitize them. The white vinegar is quite strong, but that doesn’t mean you should take chances and not use good hygiene practices.
With my jar clean, I packed it out with the dry cabbage and then poured over the boiled vinegar and spices. The amount was perfect, no left-over vinegar at all! Then I secured the lid and now we wait. I have such high hopes this will be delish as it is such a pretty pink colour and anything that pretty would surely taste fantastic. I guess I’ll know on Wednesday.
Come again soon – things are sprouting in the greenhouse.
Sarah the Gardener : o)