It might sound sacrilegious this early in the season, but I found myself with a rather large bowl of strawberries in the back of the fridge. I had harvested a mountain of berries before heading out for the evening and with the intention of doing something with them the next day, like slicing them with my egg slicers and marinating them in mint and a sprinkle of sugar to go over ice cream. But the next day came and went, I got busy and completely forgot about them.
On rediscovering them in the back of the fridge, they had just passed that moment of being a delight to eat as you bite into fresh, firm, juicy strawberry goodness, and were now a bit soft and – not wanting to insult a fine fruit, but they were a bit rubbery. But all that strawberry deliciousness was still trapped inside and crying out for some kind of treatment that would not only render them edible but amazing as well.
The logical choice is jam, and there was enough to make maybe a half dozen jars of ruby red gorgeousness that would have gone perfectly with a well baked scone and a big blob of whipped cream. However our cupboard is still a bit chockka with jam from last season and it isn’t the kind of thing I want the kids to ‘hurry up and eat’ so I can make room for more. Veggies in the freezer – yes. Jam in the cupboard – no.
In a deep and meaningful discussion with Hubby the Un-Gardener we decided to look ahead towards Christmas and create a strawberry cordial to lace our Christmas day bubbly with. I can almost taste it now, which is now a tad frustrating as I have to wait over a month to release that essence of redeemed berry as pride of place on the festive table.
It is quite an easy recipe and well worth it. I had 700 grams of berries, and got 1 litre of cordial and some pulpy loveliness that may go well dehydrated, frozen or poured over ice cream – I have yet to decide. So I’ll knock the recipe back to 100 grams of strawberries so it is easier to adjust.
Come again soon – the sun has been shining and the garden has been calling to me to come out and play.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This week, to distract myself from the chaos in my world right now, I took part in the 7 day black and white challenge on my personal Facebook page. But once it was complete and I saw the collection I though I just had to share it here. The rules were: 7 Days, 7 photos of my life in black and white. No people. No explanations. 1 nomination a day.
So without any further words – this was my week.
Come again soon – there are still loads of little jobs about the garden that need tending to.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This is a bitter sweet moment for me. I love my garden, but life has a habit of creating change.
Ten years ago we were living in the heart of Auckland city with a tiny house – the perfect kind for the first rung on the property ladder. We had two tiny boys and I was recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. We decided we couldn’t stay there, it made sense to move. And so, with nervous trepidation we sold up and moved to the country.
This property ticked everything on the wish list – flat land for a garden, a big enough house for the boys to grow into, great water pressure, its own water supply and so much more. We felt so grown up moving to a home with a ensuite bathroom and walk in wardrobe. The only thing it didn’t have was the sea views that Hubby the Un-Gardener has longed for since before I even knew him. But there were dolphin tiles in the bathroom and that was a good enough sea view for me so I ticked that box too! We have since renovated the bathroom to a more modern style and so the ‘sea view’ was erased. To satisfy Hubby the Un-Gardeners wants from life I agreed we would look at moving again in 10 years to a more coastal property.
But I didn’t know then what I know now, I had no idea how my garden would grow and become part of my life story. Like the miller’s daughter in the fairy story Rumpelstiltskin, I quickly forgot my promise and time is up and Hubby the Un-Gardener has reminded me of it and I have to give up my garden. I love my garden beyond measure. I love that it has provided me with wonderful food – some things I never knew existed, others I never want to try again. It has helped to restore my health, through a good fresh whole food diet, good exercise, being in the sun absorbing all the vitamin D that is healing to an MSsy body. But is also gave me a career where one wasn’t possible in the ordinary sense. Because of the garden I have written three books and won an award as a public speaker. I’ve been on radio and TV numerous times. A career as a garden writer fits in so nicely around everything I have going on. Back then I would have never seen it coming.
The garden has humbly grown from a few small in ground beds to 36 well organised raised beds that are completely sustainable for our family to meet our vegetable needs. We eat like kings. I have found a way to manage such a large garden with minimal effort, and Hubby the Un-Gardener helping with the digging and heavy lifting.
The house itself has served us well, and I love living here. But a promise is a promise and with much reluctance, our house was listed on the market today. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful photos and drone videos taken of the property for the marketing of it. It is something I will always have – a moment in time when my garden was looking its absolute best after 10 years hard work.
But in the words of that great song Closing Time by Semisonic, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” And there will be a new beginning – a new garden. An even better garden, built on the experiences of this garden, all the “I wish I’d done that differently” will be rectified. It will be magnificent, and I’d love to take you with me into this new journey. I can’t say much about the new until we sell the old, but hopefully that will be very soon.
Come again soon – I’ll keep you updated as we ride this emotionally challenging wave down to the coast, but in the meantime we will garden on until the last possible moment.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Check out here to view the listing and video: https://www.barfoot.co.nz/607476 Someone will be very happy here, just like we have been.
Sometimes you know you need something, but just can’t have it. So you try your best to make do and manage with what you can, but once you get your hands on something of quality then nothing else will do and then you make a way. This could apply to many things in the garden and the amount of times I’m made do with inferior tools only to find expensive things cost more for a reason – they are just better and don’t break as easily and the job at hand is more pleasurable to do and is less of a struggle. Spending a bit more on something long term like a good spade or a stronger greenhouse makes sense. They will last a long time and you enjoy taking care of them because they cost so much, but they become like old friends that you wouldn’t want to be without.
But there are other things in the garden that can put demands on the purse strings and for the less tangible it seems difficult to justify spending much on what can seem like a temporary item, especially when you need a lot of it. This is my problem with mulch.
I understand the benefits of mulch – it keeps the weeds down and locks in the moisture, and the right mulch can add organic material back to the soil and help improve the long term health of the garden. But…. When you have a garden as big as mine it is all very well in theory. So I’ve been a little creative in the past.
I paid a lot of money for a big bag of pea straw that was as light as a feather – but I was desperate – I wanted to mulch my garlic to help prevent the rust fungal spores from splashing up from the soil onto my plants. It didn’t work – my mulch wasn’t thick enough and I didn’t like it enough for my wallet to like it enough too! Several months down the track the pea straw is really thin on the ground, much has blown away and it is looking a tad threadbare as the earth pokes through in more places than are generously covered.
I mulched the asparagus with its own trimmings in the winter, and it must have worked as the beds stayed weed free… well mostly, there were one or two. Although I still wonder if it is wise to mulch something with itself, in case there were pests or diseases hanging in there. What if all I’ve done is given them a nice place to live over the winter, close to their favourite food joint?
I grow my own wheat from the chicken food – not for the wheat, but for the straw – to go under my strawberries. This works well as it keeps a bed active over the winter like a cover crop, gives a nice view of something green when not a lot else is growing, and well, it just seems like the right thing to do to mulch strawberries with straw.
I even use the old Christmas tree to mulch my blueberries! They seem to really like that, judging by the amount of berries fattening up on the bushes this season.
So when I was approached by the good people at Fiber Earth to see if I wanted to try out a bag of their new Lucerne mulch I jumped at the chance. I wasn’t sure how far a bag would go in my huge garden, but some mulch was better than no mulch. Opening the bag revealed a couple of surprises. Firstly – the bag was sealed in a way that upon opening changed it from a dense solid block to a mountain of fluffy mulch. Fortunately I opened it in my wee trolley that I had used to drag the bag into the garden, so I didn’t lose a drop.
The second thing was it was light, soft and fluffy and had a lovely sweet scent from the fermentation process. You could just tell it was going to be good for the garden. It went down on to the garden so easily and once in place it stayed in place. I carefully mulched around the onions in the main garden and then stood back and did nothing for months. There was nothing to weed and the onions grew steadily in their cosy mulched bed.
The mulchless onions in my overflow bed unfortunately didn’t benefit from the same treatment, and comparing the two – I think they flew into a jealous rage. They don’t seem to have thrived as well – they certainly aren’t as advanced as the other onions and they have been on the weeding schedule as there have been all manner of interloper trying to claim squatters rights in that bed.
So once again sometimes, somethings benefit from having the right product for the job, and I am extremely grateful to Fibre Earth for drawing my attention to something I had been looking for, for a long time, but never found anything that worked how I wanted it to. I think this will be a must have in my garden from now on and my soil will thank me for it.
Come again soon – now the garden is in control, mostly, I can focus on other things.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
For more information check out: https://fiberearth.co.nz/
I think this is as close as I will get to a Did…Dah… moment. There are still a few empty beds, but I’m working on it. The grass is cut, most of the plants are in, it hasn’t rained in ages and the boffins were wrong about the rain this Saturday – it completely bypassed us. Just as well I chose to ignore them. However I am a fair weather friend and when they suggest there will be no rain for the next 8 days I will embrace it as fact!
If this is so, then I will need to get the full irrigation system up and running, as the soil is looking a little on the dry side. This is great indicator that summer days are just around the corner. With the watering taken care of, I will be able to fall into the gentle ebb and flow of weeding and waiting, as the real harvest is still a little way off. I am looking forward to this time, as I feel I have worked really hard to get to where we are today.
As my garden is a little on the large side the best way to see it is to come on a tour. So join me as a do a grand review and show you everything that is going on in my garden. I think it will be a fab season in the garden this year.
Come again soon – there are still a few plants needing bigger pots and I need take care of the moisture I apply to the beds.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
These days I tend to fall into the bed at the end of the day exhausted. I have been working hard. The spring has not been kind to me, but together we fall in to rhythm that seems to work well for both of us. Spring rains heavily leaving me pretty much locked out of the garden while I wait for the soil to dry out enough to work without damaging the soil structure. This normally takes about a week – but as we get closer to the summer it seems to drain quicker and now, depending on the size of the deluge, it only takes about 4 – 5 days compared to the previous downpours in early spring which could take 7 – 10 days.
Once the soil is dry enough, I race out enthusiastically and work myself into a frenzy turning over soil to get a nice fluffy tilth from a heavy rain compacted earth. I tend my seedlings out in the hardening off area and repot if necessary so they don’t become root bound in the waiting. I mow the knee high grass and trim the edges. And I rue the fact I have such a large garden and despair that I’ll ever get it weeded and prepared before the start of summer. With one eye on the weather forecast and another on the work ahead, I probably push myself a little too hard.
And then the next lot of rain comes as a bit of a relief and drag my fatigued MSsy body back inside to sit out the next soaking and drying cycle. By the time it is dry again I am restored, relaxed and ready to go again. So I have come to appreciate the rhythm of nature, instead of fighting it, I’m working well with it. And we must be doing something right because I’m starting to get things to eat. Not a great abundance at this point but a harvest nonetheless.
Come again soon – I am so close to having everything planted out, that I’d like to do a big picture reveal and show you the garden in its entirety.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The garden is coming along nicely, but don’t feel like I am in a position to stand back and look at it as a whole. It just overwhelms me with what still needs to be done. But taking the time to catch a breath and look into the finer details always makes me wonder at the marvel of nature that is going on in my garden.
Come again soon – all going well there will be some kind of did-dah grand reveal moment… well as close as we can get, as a garden is never in a state of complete done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Since I have had my wonderful new irrigation system installed in my garden, late last year > you can read about it here <, I have had the pleasure and privilege of using it in a full weekly cycle a sum total of once! And then the rains came and didn’t stop. So, I didn’t need to use it at all – which was very frustrating as you can imagine. It is like giving a kid the latest must-have toy and then not letting them play with it, or going to your favourite restaurant and not being able to eat anything.
But I declare the new season starts now and this irrigation system will be used every day throughout this growing season. This rain can’t go on forever and I am going to prepare for drier days so I’m ready and waiting and my plants will get the best moisture support I can give them all summer long. Rain you can stop now… I’ve got this.
Before I race out there and pop all the dripper spikes where I want the plants to be and where they will be well positioned to distribute the water best throughout the bed, there are a few things I need to do. It isn’t quite that simple.
The system has sat there all winter, with empty pipes, waiting for a chance to be used. However, to just turn on the tap to full, can actually do a bit of damage. As the water rushes in to fill the void it can create a water hammer effect that can be a tad violent and can cause valves to burst, connectors to pop, break seals and damage the working mechanisms of the drippers. Add to that, some of the dripper holes may be blocked due to a season of inaction and so this all adds to the pressure build up within the pipe as the water rushes to find a way out.
The key is to remove the top of the dripper on the farthest end of the system and then slowly and gently turn the tap. Watch the open dripper for the water to come out and let it run until it is clear and free from air bubbles. This is a good sign the water way is free of blockages and the system has been primed.
Then it is important to check all the drippers to make sure all the little holes are not blocked and are free flowing, so it can distribute the water across the garden bed as intended. As there was period during the winter where my beds were actually underwater due to the worst flooding in a decade of gardening here, it is especially important for me to double check each one. Ordinarily the risk is bugs, webs and dust that can cause blockages, but for me there is the possibility that silt could have washed into the sprinkler head! Each of my sprinkler heads has 8 holes, and each bed has on average 16 sprinklers, so this may take a while. But it is a job worth doing.
While the tap is running through the system is it also a great time to look for damage, water pooling in places it shouldn’t and check for leaks. Having a system out in the elements all winter long, can make it susceptible to damage – it is just the nature of things. I’m not sure I’d fare very well if I had to stay outside all winter in the wind, rain and freezing conditions. It could be a matter of just unpopping a 4mm tube, trimming the end and resetting it on the connector against the 13mm pipe so it sits flush. In some situations, the freeze thaw process may have actually broken something, and it will need replacing. Taking the time to check the system will ensure a trouble-free irrigation season.
So, while I wait for the weather to settle down, I’m going to grab an umbrella and play with the water!
Come again soon – I’m believing for a drier season ahead.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
So much for a glorious long weekend building structures and then planting out the plants that are to be supported by them all season long.
Well after the debacle of the cucumber frame, I went to bed scratching my head and excited about the following day. What could be better for a gardener than to have the official last frost date, a public holiday and a load of plants to plant on your birthday! As far as I was concerned the planets were aligned.
The problem is – it rained on Sunday night. A lot. And didn’t stop until well after midday on Monday. So, the puddles I woke up to, on the lawn, rapidly spread to form an ocean by the end of the day. Poor Fennel the Cat thinks this kind of thing is normal as we have pretty much had constant wet weather her whole life and thinks nothing of walk through a puddle instead of going around it!
So, I didn’t even go outside – well I did once as Hubby the Un-Gardener didn’t trust himself to do a good job of picking the asparagus spears for my breakfast in bed. There were two spears that were ready, and they were so good, and I am so delighted they are showing themselves as I’d begun to think they were gone for good. I did make the mistake of nipping out there in bare feet and that was when I discovered it was not only soggy, but freezing cold as well. I consoled myself that at least I hadn’t actually planted anything out yet or they would have drowned, as I tucked into my fresh poached eggs and bacon on bagels with hollandaise sauce and two spears of steamed asparagus on the side. A birthday breakfast fit for kings!
I was completely spoilt over the course of the day – I didn’t need to lift a finger to do anything at all. I think my family sensed my frustration over the weather and may have been walking on eggshells so as not to make the day any worse! And I received some cool gifts – A vacuum pack food saver so my produce can stay fresher for longer, James Wong’s new book which is absolutely fascinating, and I will be dipping in an out of it for weeks learning scientific facts about the things I grow. I also got a gardening mag and chocolate – lots of chocolate.
The upside is the ground seems to be draining a lot faster than it did a month ago, and with the patience of a saint, I think I may be able to attentively start work on the garden again tomorrow. The boffins are suggesting I have 10 days before the next burst of outrageous rainfall, so I’d better make the most of it. That cucumber frame isn’t going to build itself.
Come again soon – the garden is almost dry – again!
Sarah the Gardener : o)