I have a mountain of earth to move. It equates to 6 truckloads of good quality swamp-like soil from ‘up near Froggies’ near where we used to live. I feel confident it will be a fabulous growing medium for my new garden and it appears to be weed free. It has been hanging about for a couple of months now and nothing nasty has reared its head. This is always a great relief when taking delivery of soil from an unknown location.
The earth needs moving for a couple of reasons. The first obvious one is I need to fill beds so I can be ready for the spring. There are a lot of beds, so it should make a good dent in the mountain. However, I have only constructed half the beds I need and want, because of the mountain. The bulldozer can’t adequately manoeuvre around it to flatten out the last little bit of garden in the front corner and the mountain of earth is where I want to put my tool shed and so it clearly needs moving at some point, so I can construct a shed to store my tools.
I should have thought more about it when I had the soil delivered, but the places that I think would have been ideal now – being easy access for digging from and out of the way of everything we have going on now, would have been in the way for the delivery of the house or even more frustrating would have been right where the caravan was that we were living in at the time. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. At the time it seemed like a good spot.
The great thing about this soil and something I will fully appreciate in the summer is it seems to hold water very well. This is a quality my plants will enjoy and will assist my water tank to stretch across the long hot summer I am hoping for this season. When dry this soil is light, crumbly and can best be described as fluffy. When wet it is clay-like, sticky and very heavy. A few days in the sun and it goes back to fluffy with the lightest touch of the rake.
But it is winter and in winter it rains… a lot! So I am trying to move a heavy, sticky mountain most days. It doesn’t make it fun. I have found after a day of rain – it makes good sense to wait until the sun has been on it a good few hours and then take the soil from the top and sides where it isn’t so claggy. It is slow going for me and in trying not to over exert myself I just do a few wheelbarrow loads at a time then go and do something else and come back to the garden a little later.
I have also hijacked our lovely builders helper a couple of times. It is amazing how fast a strapping young lad can move dirt. Hubby the Un-Gardener has also been fulfilling his role to dig on demand, although the demands on his real job are often incompatible with my demands in the garden. All can hope for really is a whole bunch of magical fairies to come along in the night and work their magic. Say it with me “I believe in fairies, I believe in fairies.”
In the meantime I’ll continue to plod on and slowly and steadily, knowing out of sheer determination I will get there in the end.
Come again soon – you’ll find me in the garden – digging.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I feel like I have bitten off more than I can chew, and my eyes are bigger than my stomach but I really want what I want, so I will work hard to get there. My garden is huge. Last time it was built up slowly over 10 years. This time I want it all done in 10 weeks. Actually I have longer than that but it sounds more dramatic that way.
Winter isn’t the best time to be doing all of this either – well it is because it is a behind the scenes kind of a season where nothing much is growing and if I pull it all off, I will meet my goal of being ready for the new season. I am desperate to meet this goal because buying vegetables is beginning to wear thin. I don’t mind buying onion, garlic and spuds when my crops run out… but to have to buy other simple easy to grow things that should be safely tucked up in my freezer or out in the garden to be pulled at my leisure like a fresh carrot…. To me I can see the benefits to growing, in taste, freshness and lack of plastic wrap very clearly and I’m keen to remove the cost of veggies from my weekly shop. This keeps me motivated, that and realising the vision in my head of the finished garden in full flourish – it will look magnificent.
The problem is winter is cold and wet and often times miserable and it is much more preferable to be wrapped up warm by the heater. It is easy to get down on myself for not achieving much on a daily basis. Fortunately I have installed a time lapse camera overlooking the garden and can see just how much I have achieved in as little as one month! I don’t feel so bad about it all now and I’m encouraged to carry on. Every little bit helps. I will get there in the end – determined and exhausted. But it will be well worth it.
You can see for yourself just how far I’ve come by checking out my timelapse footage:
Come again soon – progress is being made and Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
We recently headed on down to the local Fieldays event for farmers and rural types. I’ve been meaning to go for a decade. We’re rural types and with over a 1000 exhibitors and all things country it seemed like the perfect thing for us to do. It was a lovely day out, but my head was all about the garden, and my wallet – in spite of all the great deals, was intrinsically linked to the house and at this point is a finite resource to be guarded tightly. Fortunately, my heart was blinded to all the exciting possibilities found at many points along the crowded paths and bursting stalls.
However with the garden foremost in my head, the thing that drew my eye was the wood chips on the ground to mark out trade sites and keep down the mud in the paths. I kept wondering what they would be doing with it after the show – there must have been acres of it in nice thick layers. It turns out the event centre reuses it, shame. Now for me right now, picking up a truck load or two of preloved woodchip at a bargain basement price would be the deal of the century. Alas not to be.
But it did get me thinking about my garden paths. It is still a bit early to be making a decision but not too early to start thinking about it. What would be the ideal medium for the ground between the gardens. I put a post out on Facebook and Twitter to see what others used and what they thought.
It basically came down to about four main options each with pros and cons. It was good to see what others thought, and added to my own experiences and I think I have come up with a decision. However I’m open to persuasion. So please let me know your thoughts. Here’s mine.
I love the look of well mowed lawn between the beds. It is comfortable and cooling to sit on in the summer as I tend the beds and isn’t to difficult to set up – scatter seeds and wait. The last garden has grass all around and after a mow it looked stunning.
However, the new garden is about the same size as the last one and will introduce the same problems. Due to the MS, keeping it mowed was exhausting. I tried mowing in sections so I wouldn’t get exhausted, but then I never achieved that lovely well mown look all across the place. It often left me too stuffed to actually do the pottering about. I have tried getting others to help but they often did more harm than good as a trailing cucumber vine was mulched to a pulp, a hanging pea shoot became ensnared in the passing handle and ripped ruthlessly from the earth, among other things. Non gardeners just don’t get it.
Then there are the edges the mower can’t reach. I find a weed eater is a bit unwieldy in a tight spot and I got quickly fed up with the bit of plastic snapping off the strimmer line as it repeatedly hit the sides of the beds. I don’t want to add unnecessary plastic to my garden. I’ve had help in this area too in the past, resulting in a severe haircut for my poor onions! So I found the only way was up close and personal with shears. It was good in I was in regular connection with the garden, but it was extremely time consuming.
I do love a lawn but on an energy output scale Hubby the Un-Gardener has said no for my own good.
STONES AND GRAVEL
I have written these off right from the start. I have experience here. In our very first garden when we didn’t know what we were doing, we put in a lovely white pebble garden with a few poor unfortunately plants to suffer in. We put down weed mat and then stones, but it didn’t take long before we lost control. The leaves blew in and landed among them, plants crept across from under the fence and in the end we had a lovely rich compost above the weed mat with nasty weeds thriving above with their roots piercing the pores in the mat making it next to impossible to pull up. Add to that the weight of the now invisible white stones that had sunk to the depths of the debris and clearing it all up (to make the house presentable for sale) was something I don’t care to repeat any time soon. Without the weed mat the gravel will quickly be lost in my sand and I’m not keen on weed mat at all so however lovely it looks on day one… It’s a no from me.
This would make it my dream garden. Maybe a lovely pattern and play on shapes, sizes and colours. It would be low maintenance, weed free and look fabulous. There is just one drawback. Cost. I priced it up. It would be over ten thousand dollars new! Eek. I think this will need to be a long term plan to source enough second hand ones for free or next to nothing and then one day when I have enough I could make it wonderful. Or I could learn to make pavers – but then there’d still be a cost… So that’s a no for now.
So that leaves
A lot of people use these. The common complaint seems to be the blackbirds make a mess of them and they break down quickly and need replacing often. I’m not worried about the birds – it would be contained within the outer walls of the beds. But the thing that sold me for now is the continuous break down of the chips themselves – I don’t see it so much as my paths being eroded, but my poor sandy soil that lies beneath the entire space will get a continual nutrient boost, not to mention the benefit it will bring to microbial communities in the garden. The paths will have more of a job than just covering the sand and being worked upon. They will be working just as hard as everything else.
Wood chips it is… now where to find several truck loads at a good price….
Come again soon – good things take time.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I am champing at the bit to start moving soil, so I can start planting out my winter crops. But I seem to have an inbuilt self-integrity mode that just won’t allow me to cut corners in the garden. I just can’t cheat on myself. A bulldozer is not for fine work – it’s not subtle. It does a great job of clearing the ground, but it won’t give a polished smooth surface. The ground is flat but there lumps and bumps in places. A lesser version of myself in a parallel universe would say it is flat enough and carry on with the next stage.
But as I stand at the bottom of the garden and gaze across I can see it is a tad wonky. My last garden was wonderfully wonky, and I embraced that. It evolved over time and beds were thrown together with varying techniques and a she’ll be right attitude. This garden is different. It is my dream garden and it would bother me for the rest of my days if it was out of kilter. I have time and opportunity and it is only my desire to get to the next stage that stands between me and a nicely laid out garden.
Our amazing builder watched me with amusement as I juggled a level and 1 metre lengths of wood and couldn’t bear it anymore so showed me how to use the string line. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again – knowledge is power, and I had a huge ‘aha’ moment. Oh, so that is how it works.
The garden has a gentle slope that runs down to the house and if it was to be completely flat the bulldozer would have had to move mountains more earth for little gain. The slope is very minor and gives character. So, the string line was tied to a couple of rebar poles and pulled tightly at the top and bottom of the garden across 3 beds, and down one side. Any bits sticking out in a wonky fashion was adjusted back into line with a tap of my boot. And when all adjusting was done it was moved to the other side of the bed and levelling was repeated.
But there is more to a string line… it can check the other dimension and while the sides of the garden line up beautifully the tops seemed to go up and down like the hind leg on a donkey. I hadn’t really noticed it in some of the beds, but others were blatantly obvious, and I knew tweaking was needed.
This is where having sand is such a blessing – it is the material used to level off paving stones etc and I have it in abundance. The other blessing is it is winter, and it has been raining… a lot. So, the sand is damp and compacts well. In the height of summer, it would be a completely different story. It would be light, free draining and blow about the place and certainly wouldn’t stay put.
Using the shovel, I gently levered the bottom of the bed on the side that needed lifting a little and then packed some sand underneath until the bed looked level against the string line. Then I removed the shovel and continued to poke soil under the bed with my fingers – I’m a hands on gardener for sure. Then I grabbed a couple of blocks of wood from the off-cut pile from the building project and used them kind of like a couple of mini bulldozers to ram sand into the gaps and soft spots and compact them as hard as I could. I soon found an easy rhythm and the garden started to look even better than I first thought. I quickly worked my way through the first half of the half of the garden I had already built.
It won’t take more than a jiffy to finish off the rest and then I can begin the fun part. Well it seems like it will be fun from the starting point. Ask me again after I’ve filled three beds! So, the great lesson to be had here is ‘do it once – do it right.’ I won’t regret the time taken to do this extra step.
Come again soon – there is loads going on (get it – loads and loads of dirt!)
Sarah the Gardener : o)
If you want to listen along you can check it out here:
Sometimes life sweeps you away with what you are doing and you barely notice the passing of time. That was how this June has been so far. A hive of activity with the days disappearing into a blur. I am not entirely sure how we have found ourselves one third of the way through this month. The weather was magnificent and the garden called to me. The work, while involved heavy lifting, was fun and easy.
Half of the garden has been put together and I’m happy with that. I have arranged my crop rotation and planting plan so the winter crops are on this side of the garden. Which means I can get on with filling the garden with earth and planting out my onion and garlic, all going well, on the shortest day.
The other half of the garden is still not level and the bulldozer needs to do more work. The problem is the large pile of earth is in the wrong place, but how was I to know that all those weeks ago when the garden was just a dream?! So I need to burst a foo foo valve moving as much as I can, into the new beds. Then the bulldozer can come back and level out the rest of the garden and bed building can recommence.
In the meantime I will most likely be out there – rain or shine, moving a mountain.
Come again soon – progress is being made.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Oh and… this week I am starting a new thing I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now, but have only just got around to. I’m voice recording my blog so you can listen along instead of reading it. You can check this out here:
It is always the way – you just get to sink your teeth into an exciting project and something comes along and throws a spanner in the works. We had a productive couple of days with the bulldozer sorting out my land. Gone are the undulating lumps and bumps. All but the merest hint of Kikuyu grass is gone and the base for my garden is clean sand. Which is manageable at this point. I just need to come up with a system to stop the inward grass encroachment from around the edges.
It was going so well and then we had an event that I think will be just part of our new normal. There was another storm. Nothing like that horrible one when the house was up on jacks, but still bad enough to have me up all night listening to the wind whistle through holes and gaps in the house that at that stage still hadn’t been repaired. By my count this will have been the 6th storm since we moved here on the 19th January. The only consolation is these storms aren’t isolated to our property and large swathes of the country are also experiencing traumatic weather events. It isn’t me, it is you too!
The wind is pretty wild and the ocean is as marbled as an expensive piece of wagu beef. Sitting in the dark in the middle of the night watching the sky light up with a dramatic electrical storm out to sea, framed perfectly through the bay window, is no longer terrifying – it is spectacular! Even in the worst weather I still love living here. It makes you feel so alive. However, it isn’t that conducive to getting things done outside. The building work has loosened a lot of the land and exposed the sand (aside from my project which doesn’t count in this as it is my sand with a noble purpose) and once you get the wind behind that, it is like a brutal exfoliant or a sharp sand blast. It is much better to just stay inside.
The problem with this is, I really want to push things forward and get things done. I’m done with waiting. I’ve done my time and 120 days is my limit. Then I remembered my seedlings, sown back in the beginning of April. In their short lives they have moved several times and been through a couple of good storms, and still looked good. They were certainly strong little plants, but the time had come to move them out of the seed raising mix and into bigger pots and a good quality potting mix.
But it was yucky outside and while the sun was shining, out of nowhere an intense rain burst would come up from the beach and then disappear as quickly as it came yet left everything freezing cold and soaking wet. Then I remembered – it isn’t so much that we have a building site in our home, we are living in a building site. The builder had set up his saw bench in living room. The electrician was working on the fuse box in a sea of wire clippings. So, if they could turn the house in to work space, then so could I and set myself up in the kitchen.
As I scooped the soil into the pots I began to daydream a little. All of these little seedlings will end their lives in the big garden. It is so close I can almost feel it. But at the same time there is a lot to be done to get there. The first step is to lose time in a wild afternoon in a kitchen with a light layer of sawdust dusting the surfaces and digging into the rich soil as I repot tiny plants loaded with an incredible future. Life is good.
Come again soon – there is some heaving lifting in my immediate future.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
* Exciting news: a lovely range of amazing Gardena Hand Tools will be available in NZ from 25 June 2018.
Today is a fabulous day. After months of being gardenless, it is all about to change. I have dreamed of this moment and can hardly believe it has come. The container with all our worldly possessions has gone. I made the brave call to book the truck to come and get it before we had even begun to empty it. I work better with a deadline, although this was a pretty bold deadline. Especially as Hubby the Un-Gardener would be doing the lions share of the work. Well he is so much stronger than me. It didn’t look like we’d make it as events and occasions kept getting in the way. I have found panic and pressure are even greater motivators than deadlines! You seem to find a superhuman strength to push on through into the impossible. It certainly didn’t seem like we were physically capable to this monumental task.
So, as we waved goodbye to the container that was the backdrop for the last 122 days we returned into the house and tried to store the contents as cleverly as possible so as not to trip over items that should really be in a shed, if we were to have a shed!
The caravan also moved. It didn’t go far, just tucked in beside the house. It had been here much longer than the 122 days. It had been here beside the sea for a few years. We were so blessed that the previous owner had allowed us to rent it from them while we were temporarily homeless. When we moved it, we found it wasn’t just a safe haven for us… the chickens have sort sanctuary underneath after the storm.
The chicken coop had blown over twice in one week of high winds and I don’t think they trusted it any more. Not only was it home but a great location for laying eggs as there were loads of them under there. We just thought they’d gone off the lay in the increasingly cold weather. Unfortunately, the age of the eggs was more than likely too old to even take the risk. Once you have the pleasure of smelling one off egg, it isn’t something you care to repeat.
The next step was removing the temporary garden into a new temporary location, so it was out of the way. It has since moved again as it was in the way of some tradesmen where it was tucked in beside the house. Now it has lovely view overlooking the ocean but moved with less care than the last relocation as time was of the essence. It doesn’t seem to mind its new spot.
Finally, it was a matter of removing all the things that had built up as clutter around the container and out of sight behind the caravan. The kind of things that should be in a shed, but don’t mind too much being out in the open. This was also down to the strength and might of Hubby the Un-Gardener and he stacked it all away in a tidy manner out of the way. Well most of it. As the time raced by it was more a case of moving things to higher ground and hoping for the best.
The day dawned on a mostly sunny day, punctuated with squally rain showers you could see approaching across the ocean, but it didn’t dampen my spirits. Today was ground level day and the bulldozer was due. The kikuyu grass was pushed to one side where it could grow again as lawn. Hubby the Un-Gardener wants a tennis court and for all his efforts it will be good to give him one, however for most of the time it will masquerade as lawn.
It is hard to imagine how such undulating land can possibly become remotely level, and yet with a few sweeps of the blade of a bulldozer the foundation for my dream garden has been revealed. All I need to do now is build it.
Come again soon – I’ll be gardening again before you know it.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The garden is on the move again! Now the house is kind of under control and in the hands of a good builder, the time is right to focus on other things and in particular the garden. For the last 117 days I have bemoaning the fact the caravan and the container with all our worldly possessions contained within are smack bang square in the middle of where I want to put my garden. Well not for much longer!
Last week I made a bold call and phoned the shipping container company and asked them to take it away today. Then I told Hubby the Un-Gardener we needed to empty it and had a week to do it. It was a complete mission and we have had to sacrifice a room in the house, but we got there. I think a new shed is now high on Hubby the Un-Gardeners list of priorities! The caravan was also moved off my soon to be garden and is now tucked in beside the house, well out of the way.
The container was useful – not only in keeping all our stuff safe, but it was a great windbreak for my temporary garden. It has been so lovely to have a wee garden to tend to over the last few months, caring for plants, some of which were started well before this idea of moving had even occurred to us! Some crops have come and gone, like my peppers and others are hanging in there waiting to take their place in the new garden. There are also new crops, recently sown that may start their lives contained, but I fully intend to release them into the open soil of the new garden very soon.
There are also crops that enjoyed the wait with me, however they were not destined to be a part of the next stage and I dug them up before moving all of the other plants. The expectations for my kumara and yams was high, however the results were mixed. But heavy pots now lay empty and the latest move is made all the easier. One by one I gathered up all my plants and tucked them in to a safe little spot beside the house, where they will be out of the way for the next stage of the project. Although they can’t stay there. They are in the way of building repairs and renovations. I just hope the next move will be into the garden…. But I expect to move them at least once more before then.
You can check out the latest move here and join in the celebrations and commiserations over my most recent harvests. You can’t win them all, but there is always next year!
Come again soon – I expect things will happen quickly from now on – well parts of it anyway.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
In the final days before I can get stuck into the garden there was one more thing I wanted to know about this new place, so I can garden wisely. And that is the climate. We’ve only been here almost 4 months, but boy have we seen some weather! In the early days it was the height of summer and the heat seemed to radiate from the black sand these hills are built on. The valley I want to grow the vegetables in seems to hold the warmth captive with a three-sided secure border.
Having said that it was a very hot summer and the sea breeze was a bit of a luxury as there was a gentle movement in the air which dropped the temperatures a degree or two. It wasn’t until we made trips into town and felt the close, muggy heat that seemed so much hotter and more oppressive, did we realise the blessing we had with our natural fan from the ocean.
We have also experienced the worst of the wind. Everyone said “ohhh it’ll be windy out there” and I thought “how bad could it be?” Naively I thought it would be manageable. It was windy down on the swamp as it was very exposed, and I lay awake many a night worried about the greenhouse or the peas and tomatoes. There was always a windy storm just went the sweetcorn was at the point of the pollen dropping to the silks, no matter when I started them off! So, I already have wind proofing strategies.
But that storm was massive with it’s 213km per hour winds was a great example of worst case scenario. Everyone around here has said they haven’t seen anything like it in decades. So, if I set up my garden, then a normal winter storm will be a breeze to prepare for. Windbreaks around the garden will be essential, but not an everyday thing. I might create some systems I can rig up when the storms are forecast.
The other thing I have noticed since I’ve been here is the sea breezes aren’t the only threat. The winds that come down the valley are funnelled down the hill and pick up a fair bit of speed. These are more common in the summer and as this is when the garden is most vulnerable, I’ll need to take this into consideration in the garden design.
The best part of being on the wild west coast is it is great for things like surfing and next door is a paragliding site and the weather is very important for these activities so there is some very good, very local weather information.
The only thing I don’t really know about yet but will do by the spring is frost. The only historical information I can find that is close to us is at the Auckland airport. It isn’t that far away as the crow flies, but it is seaside facing, but in the inside of the Manukau harbour so it does offer it a degree of protection from the full influence of the open sea. But until I collect my own data, it will have to do.
The interesting thing, over the winter months for the last three years the lowest temperature was 1ᵒC in July. The June, July and August temperatures range between 1ᵒC and 4ᵒC with mostly 2s and 3s. The maximums are an encouraging 17ᵒC to 20ᵒC. However, I don’t think this takes wind chill into consideration. But I think gardening all winter should be bearable if I wrap up warm.
But I’m really not sure about the frost. Will we get any? From what I understand, coastal areas are less prone to frost because in winter the sea can be warmer than the land and any breeze from the ocean can protect against frost. Having said that, frosty air is heavy and rolls down a hill like a liquid. The house and the wind protection could work against me and trap the cold air in the garden. I guess there is only one way to find out and that is to go through a winter or two. You need more than one season to really know as in the swamp I remember one winter with no frost at all and another with so many I lost count. I would like to see a frost or two – not only is it pretty, but it is good for keeping the pest and disease populations in check and it can help to break up the soil, making it easier to work in the spring.
It is a good idea to have a vague idea of how it will be, so I can make sensible plans for the garden, have strategies for the worst conditions and make informed choices when deciding which varieties to grow. But to know for sure, I just have to carry on and learn as I go. So, we’ll have to wait and see.
Come again soon – all my behind the scenes garden prep is almost done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)