SARAH THE GARDENER

Getting Salty

This weekend I did something I’d been putting off for absolutely ages.  During the summer I grew French Red shallots.  Every year I hold back my biggest and replant them in the hopes that I end up with something a little bigger than the year before.   You see, no matter how hard I try I always end up with the smallest shallots.   But that doesn’t stop me trying to grow them each year.  But it does delay my processing of them.

Shallots

These are my shallots saved for next season – which is due to be planted out next month.

This latest batch were harvested back in January.  My excuse for not dealing with them then was it was too hot to be stuffing around in the kitchen and they’d keep until I was ready.  To make sure I didn’t forget them I stored them in my office and for months I moved them about the place so I wouldn’t trip over them.  They spent time on the floor, on a stack of books, on my desk, on the chair outside, behind the door, balanced onto of the wastepaper basket and you name it.

Shallot seedlings.

I also grow shallots from seed and this season I have a couple of varieties including Zebrune that I’ve been wanting to try for ages.

Finally, I decided to deal with them – if I’m kidding myself, I can say it was the first step in tidying the office… so we’ll go with that.  So, I brought them inside, popped a gardening video on the telly and set to it.  It didn’t take long before I remembered why I had been putting it off.  Taking the skins off 2.5Kg of teeny tiny onions without removing too many layers that would make them too small to bother with, is very time consuming.  It took about 5 hours!  The Teen Lad Left at Home came in towards the end and noticed I was still at it.  I told him to remember this next time he considered devouring a jar in a single sitting!

pickled onions

So after 5 hours of peeling – I ended up with just 4 precious jars.

By the end of it I was too tired to even set up the brine to soak them in, so I just popped them in the fridge.  The next morning, I set up the brine and left them to soak.  The recipe said leave them overnight, but I’d started in the morning so figured overnight was about 8 hours – give or take…  It is such a strange but perfectly excepted measure of time.  What if I was a night owl and my overnight started at 11pm or I like a good lie in in the morning and don’t get up until gone 10am.  (I’m neither… I am an early to bed early to rise kind of girl!)

Onion peelings

I didn’t take many photos of the process as I was so over it before I even got going, I just wanted to get it over with. And I wasn’t sure the making salt would work so I didn’t take photos then either. So here is a bucket of onion peelings to prove it happened.

The onions were popped in sterile jars and filled with a hot boiled white vinegar, some sugar to take the edge of the sharpness of the vinegar, some spices for a zing and chillies to slow down that teen jar gobbling down a little.  Ordinarily malt vinegar is the vinegar of choice for pickled onions, but I have so many friends with gluten issues that it is nice to be able to whip up a grazing platter for when we have company and not have to worry about causing problems for them.  And then I heard that satisfying pop to say the jars were sealed.  So now we wait.  It should be about 3 months before I get to see just how spicy they turned out.

But as I was clearing up, I had this very large bowl of brine.  I wasn’t sure what to do with it…  a brine that strong would harm the worms in our septic system so I couldn’t just pour it down the sink.

Homemade salt

How cool is this? It doesn’t have the lovely coarse crystals I started with, but it does have a lovely onion aroma. It will be delish on chips!

Then I got an inkling of an idea… It was mostly driven by the fact that the salt used in the brine was the expensive kind…  natural course sea salt that came in a fancy bag.  I’d sent Hubby the Un-Gardener out to get some non-iodised salt that is normally cheap as chips in a cheap as chips bag.  But he couldn’t find anything other than the fancy stuff.  He even video called me from the store to prove it.    It felt wrong to just pour it away, so I decided to claim it back – the recipe called for a cup and a half of this fancy salt, so it was quite a lot to just ‘waste.’

Stormy seas

I may wait for a nicer day before attempting to make some genuine sea salt!

So, I poured it into a roasting pan on the top of the stove and turned both elements below it onto high.  For a while there it felt like my kitchen was some kind of exotic spa, I just needed soft music and something other than the smell of pickling onions.  I wasn’t sure it would work, but eventually the water evaporated off and I was left with a salty slurry with a hint of onion.  Not wanting to burn it, I transferred it to a low oven until it completely dried out.  I broke up the soft lumps and poured it into clean dry jars and by the look of it I managed to reclaim all of the salt I originally used.  What a fab result.  Now I am eyeing up the waves outside my kitchen window wondering….  Hmmm…  could I?  Should I?

Come again soon – there have been some changes in the garden.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Progress feels good.

I’m really starting for make some great progress in the garden and the feelings of being overwhelmed are slipping away. There are some seriously dodgy areas that have gone way out of control and some pretty big projects on the go. Fortunately, only one has a deadline attached and I feel like I am on top of it for now. The other projects are self-imposed but if I don’t get them done then things are wasted, and the window of time will pass us by. But all in all, I’m feeling good about the garden.

Brick paving

Jasper the Dog is a great supervisor while I laid the bricks

The big project with the deadline is the second room in The Palace Garden and the sundial / time capsule on the hilltop has been completely buttoned up. This week I found myself laying bricks around it for a solid viewing platform. I really enjoy the process of working with bricks. But the end of the job I could tell if things were even and level by just feel alone, although my trusty level and rubber hammer were never too far away to tweak the occasional wayward brick into alignment. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of brick work in my garden.

purple basil flowers

When you aren’t rushing by, you notice more things… Like how stunning the purple basil flowers are.

It was so satisfying to have another mini task within a big project completed. I’m still doing my daily weed pulling from the bare ground to remove the last traces of kikuyu and imagine they will still pop up for a while yet, albeit in smaller numbers but if I can keep on top of them, then by the time I’m ready to plant the ground should be well and truly clean. The next mini task is to create some steps to the hill to the sundial but at the moment this is more of an untested idea in my head so anything could happen.

New life on the poor lemon tree

New life on the poor lemon tree

Meanwhile down in the garden I received a poor leafless lemon tree that I have given the best care too in the hopes of restoring it to full health. It came in a bag with barely any soil. So, I popped it in a compost and potting mix blend with a slow-release citrus fertiliser thrown in for when it recovers. I also pruned off the dead branch tips and I watered it in with a seaweed tonic to help reduce the stress and promote growth and popped it in the greenhouse, so it is warm and sheltered. I am pleased to report that after just a week it is starting to show signs of tiny new leaves emerging. So far so good.

My seedlings, from the seeds I sowed the other week are started to pop up, which is great news, and the other seedlings I rescued seem to be bouncing back. Although I’m not entirely sure I should trust the brassica seedlings as they have a tendency to bolt straight to seed if they dry out at any point of their life. But it could be worth risking it as I have a brassica glut in the garden right now so we may be sick of them later. There are three red cabbages, a savoy cabbage, a Wong Bok and four broccoli all needing to be picked right now… I guess we will be eating a lot of cabbage and broccoli for a while. I’ll leave the broccoli plants in place as the side shoots can give several more meals while we wait for the new plants to get big enough.

Potted plants

The spring bulbs are safely below ground waiting to grow and their neighbours have had a bit of a weed and a spruce up.

I also did a lot of pottering around. It is nice to be able to just wander about and think ‘oh I’ll just take care of that’ instead of racing by and thinking ‘I’ll get to you soon…’ Some of my pots were cleaned up, trimmed back and repotted so everything looks fresh. My spring bulbs finally got planted with some lovely violas and pansies on the top. Tulips aren’t all that reliable for coming back for a second year, so I took a bit of a chance. I rummaged around in the soil in my pots and found all the bulbs. A few had disintegrated to nothing but a husk, but there were a considerable number of bulbs that looked ok. The thing is my new ones were pink, and the old ones were fire engine red, and they would clash terribly so I planted up two separate pots and for the pink ones the blue violas were planted above them, and the red ones have yellow pansies. There are also some Hyacinths and some Grape Muscari that will make such a lovely display in a few months’ time.

The flower garden before

The flower garden before – the Gaura was quite unruly.

The flower garden after

Well it has certainly been whipped into shape now!

But the most dramatic job I tackled was cutting down the Gaura. It had finally done for the season with only a few lingering flowers and the bees were no longer interested. I may have been a bit too dramatic, but last time I didn’t think I chopped them back far enough. Besides I’m toying with the idea of moving them to a different spot eventually – one that needs a thorough weed first so we have much work to do.

Sunset

After seeing thousands of sunsets, some still manage to take my breath away

And finally, I gave the whole garden a jolly good drink because it was so darn dry. The last rain of note was over 2 weeks ago and even that wasn’t all that much. It is supposed to rain this week but I’m not counting my chickens.

Come again soon – progress feels good.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

No Pressure

Now that I have my Handy Helper who pops along once a week to help out, to make things easier for me, I have this huge hankering in me to create a visible difference in the garden so when she comes back, she will know I’ve been busy.  I haven’t asked her to hold me accountable or anything, but it is a bit like cleaning before the cleaners come.   I don’t want her to think I haven’t done anything in her absence and that she is the only one doing anything.  It is a self-imposed madness, because getting help is supposed make things easier for me, not turn me into a crazed gardener on the verge of burnout or body malfunctions.

A weedy mess

To make the biggest visual impact it can often involve starting with the big jobs first.

Yesterday was Naked Gardening Day…  not that I’m about to get my kit off and garden in the nuddy…  even if our garden is in an isolated spot.  It is far to cold for that kind of nonsense.  The only nudity going on was my naked obsession to get a difficult job finished.  And then at about lunchtime I woke up to myself, after noticing a twinge in my elbow, and decided it didn’t need to be done all in one go.  So, I stopped.

A formerly weedy mess

While it is a dramatic difference to have cleared all the grass and weeds, I suspect this is where the twinge started.

After all of the efforts my lovely Handy Helper was able to do in her allotted time, I wanted to mirror that with my achievements, so it felt like we are pushing forward together.  So, I threw myself into some of my ongoing projects.  This soon frustrated me as, I had been toiling away for hours and there was barely anything to show for it.  It was important work, lifting the freshly sprouted kikuyu rhizomes where the tractor had cleared the land.  There are always the evitable ones that got left behind, but the sand is soft, and the green tips are like a little flag…  “Here I am!” and so I just need to reach into the soil and pull them out.  The easiest weeding I’ve ever done.  But not as visually impactful as if it was a solid green I was clearing away.  So, for dramatic affect I picked a really weedy bit to clear away.

Rescued seedlings

The poor neglected seedlings are tucked up in the warm with new soil and regular attention but I suspect it is more of a hospice situation.

Then I decided to take care of the poor neglected seedlings that have languished ignored since I fell off the deck.   I transplanted their stunted little bodies into fresh potting mix and hope for the best.  Although I’m not expecting much so I also sowed a replacement set of seeds.   And a quick check of the calendar revealed it was 8 weeks until the shortest day when traditional wisdom suggests it is a good time to plant onions.   Allowing for the possibility of a resow as they can be a bit fickle, I sowed this year’s onion seeds as well.   And just like that there was visual impact in the greenhouse.  Although possible cleaning up all the items I store in the greenhouse and putting them back in a nice orderly fashion instead of leaving them out in front, in hindsight, was probably just as an important job and then I could actually tick ‘clean greenhouse’ off the ‘to do’ list.

Washing pots

As much as I wanted to get as much done as I could, I find I just cant cut corners and so it I was going to sow seeds, I needed to use clean pots.

Having my lovely Handy Helper proved a tad dangerous at the garden centre.  I told myself that she needs to have all the resources at her disposal so she can just crack on.  But a strange thing happens at the garden centre… the moment you put more than two items in your trolley, it unleashes some kind of mania and before you know it your trolley is full, and your wallet is empty.  And now I have some lovely spring bulbs to find the time to plant, among and load of bargains I managed to snag!

New seeds sown

These seeds have a better chance than their neighbours in the greenhouse and it feels good to work in a clean space if not as yet tidy space.

But even staying at home, resting on the sofa is dangerous.  I saw a clearance offer too hard to resist for 25 trees in a ‘tough as nails’ – suitable for coastal conditions offer on one of those pop-up adverts.  I don’t know what came over me, but suddenly there were 25 trees winging there way to me.

Native tree delivery

There is nothing like needy trees arriving on the doorstep to move things up the ‘to do’ list!

As they were on clearance, they were in small 7cm pots, but are at least a metre tall with roots sticking out the bottom of their bulging pots.  So, my natural reaction was to prepare the ground.  The only problem is the ground has been lingering on the bottom of the ‘to do’ list for months.   They are help build a wind break at the front of the house to slow the wind before it gets to the garden.   But the fabric wind breaks had broken and needed renewing and the kikuyu grass had romped away and hid everything, including the poor old trees I had put in there during several previous planting attempts.

The broken windbreak

Working on the broken windbreak isn’t a job that can be completed in an afternoon but if I chip away at it, I’ll get there in the end.

The first thing was to clear away the broken wind break and trim the grass so we can have a clear run at remaking it.  Then I foraged about in the grass trying to find survivors and cleared space around them so they could breathe.  There were quite a few more than I had expected so I didn’t feel so despondent about having this project being neglected for so long.    But with the new trees at the forefront of my mind, I pushed on like a madman, until that twinge in my elbow that woke me up to the fact I didn’t need to get it all done in one day.  I took the trees and set them in a container with a layer of compost, so their exposed roots were no longer exposed and vulnerable.  I did toy with the idea of repotting them, but that would doom them as they would no longer worry me, and they would soon be forgotten.

Cowboy candy

Oh and in the midst of the busyness I whipped up a batch of cowboy candy with the last of the Jalapenos as they were nagging away at me. Next will be the Hungarian Wax and Banana peppers who are calling out as I walk past.

And so now I am going to be more sensible…  and break all the hard, boring, or visually unnoticeable jobs into small chunks and tackle them all side by side in a little and often approach and before you know it, I will pop out the other side of this short season with jobs done and no harm done.

Come again soon – little and often is the best way forward.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Help is on the way.  

After my foolhardy fall, and the ensuing set back while I recovered, I came to the realisation I had stretched myself too thin.  As I tried to catch up again, I realised just how much of a thin line I was trying to balance myself on.  I was one disaster away from calamity.

Mustard cover crop

The mustard cover crop I sowed last week has come up. It does always take me by suprise as it is so fast to germinate and I some how end up amazed that it did decide to pop up!

I love the vegetable garden and love the produce that comes out of it even more.  But after more than a dozen seasons, I’d got the hang of it well and truly.  I instinctively know what needs to be done and when, and the spacing each plant requires as it moves from bed to bed in the well-planned crop rotation cycle.  The same old weeds that try their best to pop up time and time again are familiar old foes.  And a lot of the vegetables are the same each season as they are tried and trusted and we enjoy eating them.  There is a little room for something new and interesting for a bit of excitement, but on the whole, it is becoming a tad same samey.  Long gone are the joys of seeing something emerge for the first time, although I will never tire of seeing the new seedlings of a new season emerge from the seed raising mix.

Bitter Melon

There is always room in the garden for something different to try – although not all things get to grow again – but the fun is in the trying. Bitter Melon, while it looks cool, isn’t for us.

But these days I am more likely to have a burst of emotion if something behaves out of the ordinary and often that emotion isn’t likely to be a joyful one.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m bored with the garden, because I still love getting in there and getting things done and relish the routine as I whip things into control.  I also love being in the outdoors and enjoying what nature provides, and the slowing down that it enforces upon you…  so long as you don’t get behind and slip into the constant state of needing to catch up.

weeds in the brick path

There are weeds in the brick path around the rock. The audacity of it all… And now I have to find time to haul them out.

But these days the thrill of the garden comes from the challenge of taming the land beyond the vegetable patch…  looking at a spot of land and deciding to turn it into something beautiful and I have started off with a whiz and a bang and created several spots about the place that have stretched my skills and abilities and have me craving for more of the same.  Although, I have discovered, it is all very well to create, but you need to follow up with maintenance to keep everything looking nice.  And as I look forward with fresh eyes and the thrill of the challenge of something new, I look back over my shoulder at a growing list of things I need to do to keep everything in good order.

Bare earth

And then there is this… This excites me. I have some great plans for this patch of bare earth and can’t wait to sink my teeth into another crazy project!

For some spaces it is just a weed, and a prune and others require a significant tweaking as in my initial enthusiasm I overlooked an aspect that nature just laughed at my attempts and calls me back to try again, but differently.   I suggest this kind of trial and error out in the wild beyond the vegetable patch will challenge me for many seasons, until I understand the environment in the same way I understand growing my edibles.   The key going forward is to stay on top of the things I’ve already done as well as pressing on into the untamed.

Cover crop sown in pumpkin beds

Today my Handy Helper removed the spent pumpkins, weeded the beds and sowed a lupin cover crop in each one. The cover crop sowing was becoming pressing as they need the lingering warmth from the summer in the soil, and the temperatures are dropping as we approach winter.

But I am only one person, and not a young one at that.  Gone are the days I can toil in the soil from dawn to dusk without so much as a twinge.  And then of course there is my MSsy shadow that tugs at my coat tails reminding me to slow down all the time.  I have Hubby the Un-Gardener for the heavy stuff, but he has a real job and while he works from home isn’t often at my beck and call and sometimes things have to wait.  The other thing is my computer gardening, which don’t get me wrong – I love to do just as much as proper gardening – especially on a cold wet day, but it takes a considerable chunk of time to be done as well.

Cleaning the greenhouse

Meanwhile, while the pumpkin beds were being sorted I could get on with the overdue task of putting linseed oil on my dry and thirsty wooden benches in the dome, which needed to be done before I could bring plants in for the winter. It has been on the list for far too long and is such a relief to have it done.

So, with all of this in mind, I tentatively put the call out…  “Do you know anyone who can help me?” and the first person I asked said ‘why yes, I do… Would you consider me?”  I couldn’t be happier to have a good friend by my side in the garden.  It is only a few hours a week, but it is such a weight off my shoulders to have the routine tasks in the vegetable patch taken care of so I can sink my teeth into my projects and still get a good harvest at the end of the day.  And so now I’m a team.

Come again soon – many hands will make light work.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Finally, some garden time!

It is amazing how much you can get done when everything is pointing in the right direction.  Yesterday I was very intentional with my objectives.  All my urgent affairs had been taken care of, the weather was suitable for a spell of pleasant autumnal gardening and there was nothing standing in my way.   The garden had my undivided attention for the first time in a long time.

Hollyhock

The hollyhock seems to be having a second flush. I’m quite impressed as the seeds were only sown from seed this spring!

As I stood on the deck looking out over the garden I had to decide where to start.  It has become quite a weedy mess in many areas.  And there are spent crops that need clearing away and cover crops to sow across the garden.  I was torn between starting in one corner and working my way methodically across the garden or starting with the easy bits.

garlic seedlings

Yay the garlic is up.

The easy bits won out.  I would be able to make greater progress by doing the easy bits first, which in turn is encouraging and motivating.  Had I started with the first corner, the job would have been well done, however in the grand scheme of things barely noticeable, and in the meantime the easy bits would slide into a more difficult to tackle weedy mess.

self seeded bean seeds

These out of season self seeded bean weeds look so much better than any I try to lovingly coax into life at the right time… isn’t that always the way?!

The first easy bit was the garlic bed.  I had recently spent time planting it out and it is now showing signs of life, which is fabulous.  There are a few gaps, but they are still emerging, so I won’t worry about popping in a few extras just yet.  But the weeds had also shown their faces and when you use home made compost the weeds are often interesting things like pumpkins and tomatoes. You aren’t supposed to put seeds in the compost, but surely that doesn’t apply to the kitchen scraps…  If I had to remove the seeds from the scraps, it would become such a hassle, that I’d never compost anything from the kitchen.   But they are easy enough to recognise and pull out.  There were also a few beans that had popped up from the ones that escaped my harvest basket.

As I went around the garden tending to the easy bits, I also made a point of hoeing the paths around the bed so everything in the vicinity looked like it was in some sort of control.   Some beds, like the kumara just needed a tickle – a few weeds pulled out.  The kumara should be almost ready to harvest and its leaves should be fading to yellow, but it is looking the most luscious it has all season, so if it wants to keep going, who am I to stop it?

Kumara

The kumara look good for this time of year – and I’m sure the few yams hidden beneath are doing well too…

I have a stack of seeds on the corner of my desk that need sowing – or resowing.  They have sat there for weeks.  So, in the spirit of good intentions, I took the top packet – carrots and sowed a new succession row beside the previous row that sowed goodness knows when, but not that long ago.   So long as I have the right variety, they can be grown all year round.  It felt satisfying to get that done.

Carrot seed row

There is nothing more satisfying than a seed filled row stretched out across the bed. Grow well little carrots.

Another easy job – so I thought would be to weed the old overflow onion bed and sow a cover crop.  However, I discovered there were some self-seeded young leeks lingering there.  I’d left the seed heads on some bolted leeks as they were so tactile and at the perfect height for giving a little pat as I walked past.  Not wanting to waste the leeks I thought I could transfer them into the new onion overflow bed.  It would be a good idea to get that ready as it will be soon time to plant it out with red onions and shallots, and elephant garlic.

spreading mustard seeds

In the spirit of getting things done quickly, my beloved spreader gets seeds spread super fast.

So, I pulled out the old stakes that were the only thing remaining from my attempts to grow zucchini vertically.  Then I realised that before I replanted the leeks, I really should enrich the soil to replace what the zucchini used up.  Onions are in the bed for such a long time they really need a good start.  As I was trying to do the easy things first so I could make great progress these two apparently easy to sort beds came to a stop.   I could have sifted more homemade compost, but that would mean dragging out Wilbur the Wheelbarrow and loads of backwards and forwards with actual proper hard work.  Or I could nip down to the garden centre, grab some good to go compost and save time and effort.   I’d need to buy compost eventually as my stuff won’t go far, so it made sense and the beds were left weed free and temporarily abandoned.

Pea seeds

In my haste the pea row was a little wonky but is well within the double row of nets that hold them in place during the wildest weather.

Looking for more easy options to give great visual impact to show Hubby the Un-Gardener ‘look what I did today’ and to make me feel less overwhelmed I moved on to where the sweetcorn was but has long since been composted.  The soil was lovely and soft, and the few weeds present slipped out easily.   As the corn is such a huge crop that draws so much goodness from the soil to sustain the tall plants, the bed is a perfect candidate for a cover crop.  As the peas will be the next crop in the spring bringing their own nitrogen source, mustard was a good idea and I got to use my fun hand spreader.

The old pumpkin patch

It didn’t take too long to clear away this tangled mess and pop in some lupin seeds.

While I was thinking about peas, I grabbed another seed packet from the corner of my desk and sowed a new row of peas.  The existing row should begin flowering any day now.

Feeling a little weary, but not ready to stop I pushed on and cleared the old squash bed, gathering up the last remaining butternuts before popping in a lupin cover crop to ready the soil for the sweetcorn next spring.

The old glass gem corn bed

It is amazing how you can draw up extra strength from a weary body when you sense a bit of a battle is needed!

Just as I was about to call it a day, I heard some crashing and bashing in my glass gem corn.  Some vile creature had the audacity to nosh down on my corn A) before it was even ready and B) while I was working in the garden just metres away.    In a rage of ‘if I can’t have it then no one can!’ I single handedly – without tools ripped out the whole corn patch salvaging what I could, which wasn’t much.

Broccoli

This the first broccoli from the latest batch sown at the start of the year. It was delish!

Then I harvested a broccoli and came inside for dinner.  It was such a lovely productive day, and I can’t wait to do it all over again – but the weather has turned nasty again.

Come again soon – a nice day is just around the corner.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  Sorry this one is a bit long – I haven’t gardened properly in ages so got a little bit over excited.

A Time Capsule

I have been working on Room Two in The Palace and things have gotten a little out of hand and I have found myself embroiled in an exciting side project.  You see I have done a spot of brick laying to build a plinth for my sundial.  I’ve never laid a brick before and was surprised how well it went.  The full details should be in the June edition of the Kiwi Gardener Magazine so look out for it if you can.  I do love being able to write about my gardening journey in the magazine as it pushes my creativity, but it also motivates me and keeps the projects moving along as there is always a deadline to be met.

A cavity for a time capsule

It would be wrong to let a perfectly good hole go to waste.

So anyway…  the brick plinth ended up with a cavity down the centre and just before I moved to the final stage of sealing it up, I had a fab idea – what if I put a time capsule in there.    You don’t get many opportunities to create a time capsule, so I have been doing what I need to do to meet the gratefully extended deadline because of my fall, keeping the garden ticking over and gathering all the things a want to put into the time capsule.

But as a writer, I couldn’t just leave it as things… I had to tell them about us, life, and everything.  So, in another form of putting things out there FOREVER….  I’ve decided to share what I’m going to tell them – the people in the future.  (Although I’ve left out some personal details that matter now but won’t matter in 100 years.)  So below is what I’ve written…

Come again soon – we’ll be back to normal gardening presently!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Hello from the past. 

You found our time capsule.  This would mean my brickwork on the sundial plinth hasn’t stood the test of time.  But as the building of the sundial created a cavity, we thought it would be a good idea to pop in a time capsule.   

The sundial was part of the second garden in what I call The Palace Garden which is to be a series of garden rooms along the length of this plateau in part of the 10 acres of land we own.  At the point of sealing the time capsule Room Two was a work in progress. 

The first garden is beside it closer to the ocean.  The rock in the middle (if it is still there) was handmade like papier mache with chicken wire, cut up fluffy bedsheets and cement and sand.

Time capsule

I’ve included some things that show our cost of living but also shows what is important to us these days.

The land itself was new to us from January 2018.  There was nothing here except some cows being grazed.  Then after 100 days of living in a caravan on the land with two teenage boys, we relocated our house on site.  It came from Tauranga and was cut in two to be transported.  The house was originally built in 1934 in Onehunga and was shifted to Tauranga 10 years before we moved it.    This was the most affordable way to get a nice property.  Property prices are considered really high right now. 

Having a garden here was a priority as I am a garden writer but living here on the coast is a harsh environment and the worst storm to date had gusts of up to 212km / hour.  It isn’t the easiest to garden here, but I’m determined to create something special.  Hopefully what we have created will stand the test of time.

Time capsule

I couldn’t not miss an opportunity to encourage someone to get into gardening.

Life right now is tough, we are 2 years into the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused unprecedented responses such as lockdowns and closed borders.  At this point around the world 6.18 million people have died.  In New Zealand we have been well looked after and it was the Omicron variant outbreak at the start of this year that drove our death rate from 52 to just over 500 and we aren’t out of the woods yet.  I hope we haven’t locked Covid in the Time Capsule – to be unleashed like Tutankhamun’s tomb… Just kidding – We have been hunkering down and restricting our movements to avoid catching it.   

And as I write this Russia is causing indescribable atrocities in the Ukraine.  The combined effects of these global challenges, mean many things are scarce or really expensive.  Climate change is also of huge concern, but I worry we aren’t doing enough to protect the planet for the future.  But I guess you will know how that turns out. 

Time capsule

We couldn’t really avoid the current affairs. There is so much going on right now, but one day it will all be a distant memory and some people won’t even know it happened at all.

But I’m jumping around – who are we?  We are Tom and Sarah and we have 2 kids – Tim, who at this time is 18 and has left home to study to become a commercial pilot.  And Joey, who is 16 and doesn’t know what he wants to do yet, but that is ok. 

We also have Jasper the Dog, Fennel the Cat, Snowy the Goat and 2 chickens – one of which is a special one raised from a day old for a primary school calf club project.  She is called Turducken.

We run a successful business called CV.CO.NZ writing CVs and doing career coaching for people and helping them to get jobs and develop their careers.  It gives us the lifestyle we love – working from home, here beside the sea.  Tom does most of the work and we have people working for us all over the country.     I don’t do all that much as I’m too busy being a garden writer and blogger, tending the garden and being a brand ambassador for Yates and Gardena.  I also have Multiple Sclerosis so that does slow me down a little – but I try not to let it get in the way.   You can find me on the internet – if social media still exists, as Sarah the Gardener.  I’ve also written three gardening books – The Good Life; Play in the Garden and Growing Vegetables.  I’m hoping to add a coastal gardening book to the list once I understand how to work with this land.

Time capsule

And of course we needed a snapshot of us

Now something I should point out – if it hasn’t been discovered yet – the hill on right closest to sea, may or may not have an unexploded World War 2 bomb in it.  The American GIs did some training out here before heading off to the Pacific.  Our neighbour’s dad was a kid at the time and used to watch them and remembered a bomb going into the hill but not exploding.  So, when our neighbour bought a bulldozer, his elderly dad said ‘Son, don’t take the bully into that hill, there is a bomb in there!’  

Time capsule

Reds store well don’t they?! I hope the people in the future appreciate a good glass of wine.

So, what I have included in our time capsule for you is:  A copy of the NZ Herald newspaper because that is always interesting.  A copy of the Kiwi Gardener Magazine.  You can read about my plans for this part of the garden on page 28.  The story of this time capsule will be in the June 2022 edition.  I have also included a packet of tomato seeds and a Yates brochure with advice on growing from seed.  The use by date is 2025, but I’ve seen 100 year old tomato seeds grown before, so give it a go.  I have included one of each of all of our coins, and I was surprised to find a full set because I rarely use cash at all.  And there is also some cost of living things – a supermarket flyer with the cost of food and essentials, a Briscoes flyer that shows how much homeware products cost and also what we think we need in our homes.  And a hardware store flyer for tools and materials. I also put in some receipts, but they are printed on thermal paper so may not last.  Petrol is really expensive and currently hovering around almost $3 a litre.  Electric cars are beginning to become more popular. 

Time capsule

I tried to think – if I opened a time capsule what would I want to find. Hopefully this will bring great joy to whoever finds it.

Oh, and there are some photos of us and the house and garden and of the land before we got here.  And a bit of a bonus we’ve popped in a bottle of red wine – I hope it ages well.  Raise a glass in remembrance of us.

Gosh I wish I could tell you more about our lives, but hopefully I have given a bit of an insight as to what it is like to live in New Zealand in April 2022.

Stay safe and well.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Slowly reclaiming control.

Sometimes nature forces your hand and encourages you to get things done.  The garlic I grow is a variety called Early Pearl.  A generous friend sent me some to try many years ago and I had the best success with them.  So, I saved them for the following year and have done so ever since.     The great thing about this garlic is it gets going early enough so by the time the rust inevitably hits, the plants are strong enough to shake it off and continue to grow bulbs that are harvestable with cloves big enough to go to the fiddly bother of peeling and cooking with.  I still hold out hope one day for a rust free harvest with big fat bulbs.

Next season planting garlic storage

My trusty garlic legacy box… It sits on a shelf in my office for six months holding the best dozen bulbs from the crop. The pungent aroma of freshly harvested soon settles down – either that or I just get used to it.

But the thing with this garlic is it is an early variety and needs to be started in March or April.  I have never managed a March start as it just instinctively feels too early for garlic considering the general planting time is the shortest day in midwinter.   And in March there isn’t anywhere for it to go.  All the beds in that sector are still producing or, its potential neighbour needs an early start and to have garlic in its new spot in the crop rotation cycle messes up my orderly flow.

The bean bed

The bean bed always looks scruffy towards the end of the season, but it is best to let the beans fully mature by drying on the plant.

However, this season I have settled for it to go between the beans and potatoes.  The beans need a nice warm soil of at least 18°C which isn’t until late October – not that the start date really matters for them as they come after the cucumbers, which will have their beds overwintered with a cover crop and be enriched and replenished in plenty of time for bean planting.   But it is the other end of the season where the beans are compatible with the garlic, as by April all of the dried beans have dried on the plants and I need the motivation to get them harvested before the rains ruin them or the rats find them, and so by adding a sense of urgency to get the garlic in, means the beans get harvested in good time and possibly even jump the queue to get to the top of the list.

Dried kidney beans

I am very pleased with this seasons haul of kidney beans. To make them more convenient in the kitchen I will soak the whole lot over night and then divide them into meal sized portions and freeze them. Then when we need them I just need to boil them up for 20 mins and add them to the meal. I’m not organised enough to leave them as dried beans on in the pantry – we’d never use them!

It doesn’t do any harm to have a soil that has the cleansing qualities of garlic be the new home to the potatoes in the following year.   And once the garlic is harvested in November – because it is an early variety, there is plenty of time for a crop of corn to keep the bed productive and even enough time to pop in a cover crop to replace what the corn used up.

Sifting composts

Having the bed close to the compost makes adding it so much easier. My mesh lined crate makes short work of removing the lumps, bumps and the as yet un-composted from the good stuff.

So, this week, in among all my other urgent projects, I found the time to harvest the beans, clear the bed of weeds that were beginning to show their faces since the last bout of rain, and top it up with a sprinkling of blood and bone and a good layer of home made compost, sifted directly onto the bed.  It was the easiest way as this bed is right beside the compost pile.   Then, in spite of the recent rain, the garden was quite dry, so I gave the whole thing a good soaking.

Prepared garden bed

There is nothing nicer to behold than a freshly prepared garden bed waiting for a crop – aside from the lingering snake beans.

Then I heard about the impending storm and how it was supposed to be high winds and terrible rain so I thought I would leave planting the garlic until after the storm in case they got too wet and rotted before they started.  But as soon as it was clear that it would miss us, I decided to plant it anyway and take my chances.

Watering the bed

The bed was given several deep waterings – and a smattering of rain before being planted out.

So, I popped in 16 rows, 25 cm apart and with 6 in each row 20 cm apart.   They can be planted closer together but when dealing with fungal diseases you want as much air flow as possible around the plants.  Although garlic has such long strappy leaves, they invariably rub their orange rust infested tips against each other eventually, requiring haircuts to reduce the spread.

Garlic ready for planting

I sorted through my dozen saved bulbs of garlic looking for the best and fattest cloves and set them aside ready for planting – 96 in total – that should last us.

Two of the rows have been planted in pots to be transplanted later, because the snake beans are still flourishing, and I didn’t have the heart to pull them out.  So, once they are done, the container garlic will be slipped into their final spot.

Garlic in pots

These cloves will have to wait until the snake beans have finished before going into the last two rows.

It feels good to be making solid progress to restoring order to the garden, but also strangely weird to have the first crop of the new growing season underway – especially when there are still tomatoes in the garden from the last growing season.

Come again soon – progress may be slow right now, but we’ll get there in the end.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Fraught with Frustration

There is something to be said for being in the garden every day and just doing little and often.  Over the heat of the summer the garden didn’t really need a lot and aside from constant watering and regular harvesting, it wasn’t much of a commitment at all, really – especially as the heat often drove me out of the garden before I had fully got my fix of gardening goodness.

Rodent eaten pumpkins

This I am a little annoyed about as I would have harvested the pumpkins by now, but …. and now the rodents have found them. I’ve left the nibbled ones in the garden to distract from other things.

But now the temperatures have dropped to a more manageable number and the rains have come so the garden isn’t as demanding as it was for quenching its relentless thirst.  In normal circumstances this is a gentle time of pottering about.  Hoeing off small weeds as they take advantage of the conditions and dare to pop their heads up; harvest the last of the crops as the plants begin to wane; tend to the young seedlings that hold the hope of a winter harvest; slowly clear away the detritus of a season well spent, and sow cover crops to protect the soils for another day.

Kidney beans

The kidney beans are also ready for harvest, but now the rains are coming more frequently I need to find a window for them to dry out before harvesting them, but I can’t leave them there for much longer.

In normal circumstances this is a slow and pleasurable pursuit, the act of gardening in a productive but unhurried way.  It is a small reward after the chaos and busyness of spring and the disappointing heat of summer.  It is as satisfying as that last gulp from a well-made cup of tea.

weeds in the path

A quick swipe of the hoe will take care of the weeds in the path, once I find the time.

However, this season is not normal circumstances.  Just as I was beginning to allow myself to indulge in this wonderful season, a storm blew through, keeping me indoors.  Then of course there was the ankle debacle that has hobbled me from anything seriously productive in the garden.

Rotting tomatoes

This is such a sad sight, however I can only console myself that this is at the end of a successful tomato season and we have more than had our fill!

Yet meanwhile the garden has done what gardens do and carried on growing regardless.  However not all of it is as an idealised autumnal affair.   Most of the desirable plants are withering with age, which isn’t completely unexpected, but they could have limped on a little longer.  In the meantime, their last remaining crops go unharvested.  The weeds, on the other hand, have flourished and are popping up unhindered in the beds, paths and all sorts of nooks and crannies.  It will take significant effort to get on top of them before they become problematically too large.

nibbled cauliflower

I don’t think there is any hope left for these poor nibbled cauliflower.

The pests have also been emboldened and are sucking the life out of everything that isn’t being chomped upon by other pests.  My brassica seedlings have not fared well at all, and I will need to sow more.  If I had been in the garden often, I could have protected them.

Bolting lettuce

The Little Gem lettuce have bolted. To be fair the family didn’t realise they were ready to eat as they are such a small, meal sized lettuce and they were waiting for them to get a little bigger incase they got in trouble for picking unready crops.

Added to this lack of attention is a project with a gratefully extended deadline, that in the interim needs priority instead of sitting comfortably beside the needs of the garden.  So, tending to the needs of the garden has been pushed aside once more, although, all going well should only be for a little while longer.   As much as I am enjoying the project, the garden is calling to me, and often interrupts my dreams.  I am looking forward to the day the external demands have eased, and my foot has recovered well enough, and I can start in one corner of the garden and work across it to the other side taking care of the needs of everything and restoring order and a sense of control.  I also hope the weather will give me a break and shine with warmth and kindness.

Kohlrabi

On the up side the kohlrabi is ready!

This growing season has certainly not been one of my favourites, as the challenges and frustrations have been great.  Although it hasn’t been without its rewards, and I have a freezer and a pantry full of goodness and any opportunity to plunge my hands into the soil is a good opportunity.   But as with gardening there is always hope and there is always next season.   Next season has the potential to be much better.  With all the lessons learned and promises of new things, the thought of the encroaching winter fills me with joy as this is a time of planning and dreaming.

Come again soon – there will be actual gardening at some point, and a lot less moaning!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Why we don’t call ‘autumn’ ‘fall’.

Because it could easily be mistaken for an instruction.   And taking a fall in the garden is less than ideal, as I have just experienced!

This weekend I have been working on Room Two in The Palace Garden and I have been so excited about it, I’ve even been dreaming about it.  This week was to be the culmination of months of thoughts and preparations for phase one.   All the stars were aligned, and it was going to be magnificent.  I had been delayed by a week because of the storm last week and so I was even more keen to get started.  With the glorious weather in the forecast, I was confident I could comfortably achieve all I needed to get done in good time and make my latest deadline.

flat tyre

Well – this was a surprise and not the kind of thing you want to find in the midst of an emergency!

On Sunday morning I bounced out of bed with a skip in my step, had a quick breakfast, instead of our usual long lazy weekend brekkie and headed into the garden.   I began gathering my supplies to start the project with everything I need and in a moment’s distraction – I fell off the deck.  Fortunately, it wasn’t at the deep end, but even a short misstep can be a problem.

I felt my ankle roll and heard noises and saw things from my foot that just weren’t normal.  I lay there on the ground for a while thinking, ‘ok…  how bad is this?  Can I still do my project?’  but the longer I lay there the more I realised my dreams had just been crushed.  I reached for my phone that seemed to have taken the tumble with me and called Hubby the Un-Gardener…  ‘Umm…  hey Hun, I think we need to go to A&E’.

wheelchair

My extremely temporary ride… But I was so grateful for this transportation while at A&E.

Now the interesting thing is – because of the MS – one of my things is pain is dulled and often in my feet.  This turns out to be a bit of a blessing as apparently, I should have been in a lot of pain, but I’m not at all.   So, I get Hubby the Un-Gardener to help me hobble into the house – because I have my pride – my gardening clothes are rather rag tag and not fit to be seen in public and so I needed to change into something more respectable.

Once I felt reasonably presented, we hobbled out to the car to find …  shock, horror… a flat tire.  Hubby the Un-Gardener tried so hard to do everything right and the wheel just would not come off and seemed to be stuck fast.  So, we called our friendly neighbours over to come and help – with farmer type tools to remove the wheel.  With the spare safely in place, we felt it would be rude not to thank them for their efforts with a quick cuppa coffee, and as I wasn’t in pain, a cuppa tea seemed like a good idea at the time.

Moon boot

If I could feel things, then maybe this wouldn’t seem so ridiculous.

Eventually we headed off to A&E – our nearest is half an hour away, but everyone was so lovely.  I even got popped in a wheelchair to take me to x-ray and the off to wait for the doctor.  It was such a relief to find my foot wasn’t broken but the joy was short lived when the doctor said, ‘you need to have your foot elevated for four days.’  Apparently not being able to feel the pain is a downside when it comes to healing as I could easily do more damage.  So, he threw in a moon boot for good measure.

The view

And so this is my view for today, which is so frustrating as I’d rather be in the garden, getting stuff done on such a lovely day.

So now, here I am, inside on a sunny day – weather that would have not only been perfect for my project but would have contributed to the joy of creating something amazing in a beautiful landscape.  My foot is up in the air – 4 pillows high, as specified by the doctor.  If I could feel anything I’d feel like the princess and the pea!

While I heal, I’m checking the forecast for next week… It doesn’t look as lovely, but who knows – things can change and all going well I will have recovered enough to get back on my feet and finish the job I almost started.

Come again soon – I guess there is always a bit of garden planning to be getting on with.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

A fresh wind is blowing through

In typical style for out here on the wild west coast, this week’s storm’s last hurrah is wind!  There are still a few spotty showers, but the wind right now is averaging around 50 km/h with the inevitable stronger gusts.     By this time tomorrow it should be all over or getting that way.  The forecast for tomorrow says ‘Fresh southwesterlies easing.’  Fresh is an interesting choice of words for wind and certainly doesn’t line up with the ‘fresh as a daisy’ expression.  Out here on the coast I would be more inclined to use the word ‘bracing’.  And you really need to brace yourself before heading out.

A gloomy view of the garden.

Aside from the gloomy view, there is still a lot going on in the garden and it will certainly give me plenty to do over the winter months.

Although having said that the bark is often way worse than its bite.  We live in an old, relocated house that we are still very much in the process of doing up (…someone may have spent a little too much of the budget on the garden instead of the house…)  and so, the wind whistles through the nooks and crannies making things seem infinitely worse than they actually are.  The downside of this is you tend to hunker down unnecessarily and are pleasantly surprised when you do venture outdoors.  (Sometimes… But not always)

wong bok

This Wong Bok is what fresh looks like on a grey gloomy day!

These days the garden is a sanctuary from the storms – well as much as it can be.  I have installed and improved the wind breaks to the point now that it has to be a really bad storm for serious, irreparable harm to come to the garden.    Everything has been designed with the worst case in mind.  Although the direction of the wind can have serious implications – the wind straight off the ocean is laden with salt.

rain gauge

After Monday’s 70mm we haven’t really had a lot more, although it has felt damp all week.

Over this last week I have hunkered down and taken care of as much of the computer gardening as I could – the things that needed to be done, had deadlines or other people needing me to do my bit.   So, on this supposedly last day of the storm, I’m at a little bit of a loss as to what to do.  I’m not mad enough to go out and garden – maybe I’m getting soft.  I think my younger self would be right out there getting things done.  I’d like to think it’s wiser not softer.

Strawberries

The strawberry patch will need attention over the coming months. There is much work to be done here.

So here I am at the cusp of a season, so it is the perfect time to make some plans.  I need to do a stock take of all I would like to do this cold season; all I need to do and everything I should have done before.    The list of things that should have been done before is the one that is angst ridden and were once on a ‘things to do now’ list, but time was not kind and they ‘fell off’. They may not be on paper anymore, but I know they are there, waiting to be done.

wildlife pond

The wildlife pond as been on a list of sorts for far too long. I need to get in there and plant all round it and make it lovely before the weeds I cleared settle back in.

Other things have been on the list a long time but waiting for the right conditions, like waiting for the rains to come.  Then there are the ordinary routine things that need to be done to keep the garden moving along and will ultimately make spring easier.  And finally, there are the new things, the exciting things I want to do, which often get to the top of the list not only because of what they are, but there is often a deadline attached.

bricks

And then there are the fun things… I have a load of bricks just waiting for something creative to happen.

Thinking about it, the reason a lot of things don’t get crossed off the list is because they are too big – almost too insurmountable.  ‘New irrigation’ or ‘Fix back corner’ makes it feel like I need to set aside a week of sunny days to get the job done.   But if I list all the jobs and then look into them and break them down into smaller lists of tasks that seem doable on their own or at the very least make the insurmountable seem achievable and less daunting.

empty beds

There is always the usual seasonal clear up to remove the detritus from the old growing season and prepare for the next.

The other thing to bear in mind is winter is always thought of as the long slow season.  But when you take into account the days that are too cold and too miserable to do anything useful, the days taken up by other things and if we are being honest the spring preparations start in late winter so that is one less month of winter to spare for projects, there isn’t actually as much time as you would think and it disappears quickly.  The upside of this storm is it has given me a cool season mindset early on and so I will take the next two months of autumn and instead of seeing them not as a lingering and dying summer, but a head start to cool season achievements.   This season I will be starting early instead of dragging my heels as I bemoan the demise of a season I didn’t actually enjoy.  Now is my time to shine.

stormy seas

The ocean provides us with ever changing views and even on a wild day it can be mesmerising.

I’m excited to get started on this list – I feel like I’ve gone from feeling a little lost to motivated and open to a productive turn of events.

Come again soon – this wind will blow over and I’ll be ready for a fresh start.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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