This post is unashamedly full of kitten cuteness. Fennel has got her brave on and ventured beyond the safety of the house. It was delightful watching her take those first steps across the grass. She was highly suspicious at first and preferred to stick to paths and the familiarity of solid surfaces. But after disappearing under the deck, causing great panic, only to emerge a little while later, covered in cobwebs and wondering what the fuss was all about, I realised she was ready for the garden. So I took her out to discover the environment she would spend most of her time, if she wanted to hang out with me.
She is quite a clingy wee thing and to start with barely left my side in the shed as I sowed seeds. The corn garden has an annoying gap where a dozen plants are missing. Early on – when the seedlings were still tiny I carefully lifted the spares and relocated them into spaces where none had appeared. Then I strategically moved others so the area where there was none formed a block and I popped in more seeds. I don’t know if I’m impatient or not, but only a few showed their faces. So, I’ve started again under the controlled conditions of a seed tray. The beans must have decided the corn’s behaviour was admirable and worth emulating as only a handful of these had popped up.
A pleasant time was spent hanging out in the cool of the shed with wee Fennel, me sowing seeds and her digging them out… Oh, fun times. Then we headed deep into the garden so I could do a spot of weeding. So long as she could see me she was fine. Then she got adventurous and explored the beds beside the ones I was working on. The brassica completely engulfed her, the cosmos intrigued her and the bolting lettuce gave her a great place to hide. If she continues to enjoy the garden as much as she did yesterday, then we are going to get on just fine.
Come again soon – there are so many things vying for my attention, I’m spoilt for choice.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Across much of winter and spring the garden can be almost monochromatic, or bi-chromatic – is that how you say it? Maybe its duo-chromatic? Either way, winter is a sea of brown bare earth with hints of green as bold weeds try to break through the chilly soil. Spring on the other hand is bursting with life, with abundant greenery overcoming the rich brown earth. The garden is clothed in green in more shades that you would think possible. And it is a fresh green – almost luminescent as the seedlings grow vigorously and take their place in the garden. You can almost catch the enthusiasm of all this rampant growth.
By late spring, the green tones settle down, to a duller less vibrant green as the growth slows and the plants reach their desired size and switch to fruit production. The lower leaves near the bottom of the plants that had been there from the beginning, from those exciting days when each new leaf as it unfurled was intimately known – have become so bedraggled it is best to just remove them. They have done their job and done it well. The plant will grow on without them.
Early summer brings a radiance that isn’t there in spring. The sun shines brighter and longer. In the midday sun the glare is almost too much, as is the heat. The brights are brighter than ever before. But in the still of the first light and the lingering glow of sunset the garden takes on an almost ethereal demeanour. Whenever you find yourself in the garden, be it morning, noon, late afternoon or just on twilight, the garden feels vibrant and you can’t help but feel alive in it’s presence.
But early summer begins to reveal something else. As the fruit begins to make their presence felt, they reveal the beauty of their colours. After all of that green, the colours seem larger than life and crisp and fresh. Yellows so deep and reds so rich. The food almost looks too good to eat. Everyday I marvel at the wonder of the garden. It isn’t new to me, but I’m still blown away at the wonder of it all. Each plant is so different and beautiful. Gardening isn’t an activity – it’s an experience.
Come again soon – I have so many plans and projects for this season I hardly know when to start. I love summer.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
We are all still pretty much ga-ga over the latest addition to our family – Fennel the kitten, and she has turned our world upside down with her bursts of manic energy. Fortunately kittens wear out quite easily so one moment she is racing around in a blur and the next she is curled up fast asleep in some strange place.
Sleep time for Fennel is garden time for me, as I know I’ll have about an hour before I need to check on her to see what form of mischief she is into. I’m beginning to worry about putting up the Christmas tree. However Fennel isn’t the only thing keeping me from the garden at the moment. The festive season is now upon us, and so is summer. Today is the first official day of summer and it was like a switch had been flipped and the temperatures adjusted accordingly. I’d like to think it is now safe to put away my thick socks for another season.
The move to summer is a great thing for the garden. Hopefully things will be more settled and my plants can get on with the business of growing without being hindered by horrible winds and I can get out there and tend to them without being soaked to the skin in a deluge of cold rain. Not that that happened but it could have – I mostly stayed inside while it was raining. I did buy a large beach umbrella to keep dry while gardening as it did start to feel like the rain would never stop, but I never got the chance to use it. Maybe it can be a new summer shade brolly to keep those harsh UV rays off me as I go about the garden, doing my thing.
But the thing is – this festive season thing. It has already taken me away from my beloved garden and into the city for a fancy Christmas doo. We had a lot of fun and the hosts were fabulous and I wouldn’t have missed it, however, the garden sat waiting. The sector system is in complete disarray as I rush around being reactive and not proactive. This really wasn’t how it was supposed to be. But I shall adapt and adjust and get back on track, even if it means doing 5 sectors in one day, because as we draw nearer to Christmas and the holidays that follow, it isn’t going to get any better and the demands of life beyond the garden is going to get crazier before it calms down again. So long as I stay on top of the harvesting and succession planting at the very least and the weeds and mowing at best. Then kittens and Christmas can distract me all they like, because lets face it – they are great things to be distracted by.
As a nod to the new fur baby, I’ve gathered together a collection of green babies from the garden, as the garden is still very much in it’s infancy and there is a lot of first time things going on.
Come again soon – I think I have a new year’s resolution from 11 months ago to honour, I’m going to need to start making some plans.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
PS – if this seems a little jumbled, parties in the city and energetic kittens can take a bit of a toll only my poor old MSsy body. I think I prefer that excuse than I’m getting too old to party, because that isn’t the case at all – why it seems like just yesterday I could party with the best of them! : o)
It has been almost five months to the day since we lost our wee beloved Toast the Cat. And we have missed her terribly. I keep thinking I see her out of the corner of my eye, but alas no. It is a handbag on a table in a dimly lit room or the meow is the squeak of two latches creaking together in the wind.
Even as I go through my garden photos looking for just the right image to compliment an article, she’s there, on almost every page. I never realised just how many photos I took of her. Almost everyday I’d find her adorable in the garden and capture the moment.
So over these past few months I missed her presence, sleeping in the warmth of the spring greenhouse, using my freshly dug garden as a loo, and photo bombing me as I tried to get that perfect shot in the fading light. There was an emptiness in the garden. A hole that couldn’t be filled in with a wee seedling or a shovelful of rich compost.
This catless state couldn’t be allowed to go on. A good garden needs a cat. After much searching, yesterday we brought a wee bundle home to enrich our lives with her kitten craziness. Our family has expanded by one and Fennel is 8 and a half weeks old and a bundle of energy and has the sweetest meow and a very loud and satisfying purr.
For now, she is exploring her world indoors and making herself at home. I had forgotten just how energetic kittens could be – it has been 16 years since we last had one and it is a lot faster paced than a sedate elderly cat. Interestingly fingers dancing over a keyboard are too much of a temptation for a curious kitten not to join in with, so I have to type even faster to complete my work uninterrupted.
The big outside world of the garden is still a little bit scary for her, (I tried to show her the garden but she was a bit frightened and dug her claws into my shoulder) so over the next few weeks I’ll slowly invite her to spend some time hanging with me while I work, and teach her in the ways of the garden. The benefits of snoozing under the shade of the corn, chasing the birds out of the strawberries, dancing with butterflies and pouncing on the marigolds swaying in the breeze and sleeping in the warmth of the greenhouse – just like Toast used to do.
So join us over the summer and watch wee Fennel grow into a cat, and learn to love the garden, which I’m sure she will.
Come again soon – I will get gardening done, once I finish being distracted by oodles of cute.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Now the garden is all planted out… well mostly so it’s close enough, and the sector system is working well. I was able to whip around today’s sector in no time at all, leaving the afternoon free for something else. There are a lot of ‘something else’s’ to choose from. I have loads of cool projects ruminating in the back of my head, but before I tackle these – there are the chores. Now the demand is no longer on the greenhouse, I should give it a tidy up. The pots need cleaning and you really don’t want to look behind the shed. I originally designed the gap between the shed and the fence to be wide enough to get the lawn mower back there. Unfortunately, it has become a bit of a dumping ground for old bamboo poles, trellis and miscellaneous bits of wood that may or may not come in handy for something.
But the something else for today just had to be to tidy inside the shed. It also became a bit of a dumping ground in the race to get everything ready for the season. I’d just open the door at the end of a long, cold and exhausting day and just lob everything I’d used in there. Tools, bits of string, surplus trellis, empty compost bags, fertiliser packets, empty cups and the odd nail or two. It all became a bit of a death trap to be honest. I raced in there last week to get something and stood on the rake and in that comedic style thwacked myself fully on the head. I was a tad dazed and confused for a bit but carried on as the garden needed my attention.
So aside from health and safety, I had another exciting reason to clean the shed. It needed to be worthy of cool new things. Historically I have been a poor, yet resourceful gardener and as I mentioned before my tools while not the cheapest in the store, were near the low end of the budget and broke easily and often at the hand of Hubby the Un-Gardener. I would end up persevering with broken tools or nipped up to the garden store and replaced it with another one that was destined not to last long in my garden.
This has now changed. I am now the proud owner of some fabulous Gardena tools (gifted to me by the lovely people at Gardena) that should even withstand the efforts of Hubby the Un-Gardeners destructive gardening technique and I couldn’t possibly allow them to find themselves in the squalor that was the current state of my shed. Sometimes a reorganisation is what is needed to make effective use of space in a small area like a shed, and clever storage solutions can make all the difference.
I had a table across the end of the shed to store my pumpkins on – there are a few left, but the space under the bench was dead as only what sat on the floor was under there. So, I moved the table under there and created an open space where it was, that was quickly filled with the resources for exciting projects in the waiting. These were currently just dumped behind the door jumbled up with the tools. But it made sense to keep the tools there behind the door as they are handy to grab when needed. So, I created a dedicated tool corner.
The great thing about the new Gardena tools is the combisystem that comes with a rack and when you want to use them the tools just swap between the wooden handle or telescopic handle so they are up off the floor and there will no longer be any more rake to the head incidents in the shed. In this system is a rake, hoe, cultivator – which is fab because mine is broken, and even a broom! I’m still undecided if I’ll let hubby the un-gardener use my shiny new tools – maybe I’ll let him sweep, there can’t be too much to go wrong with that. There are also a great pruning tools which will be perfect for looking after my orchard this winter. Normally I put the pruning off because it can be a tad daunting, but this season I’m already looking forward to it.
Now if you are in New Zealand and would like to get your hands on one of these amazing combisystems, with the great storage rack and all the cool tools, pop over to the Gardena website > Here < and enter the competition to win one of 40 sets. The competition closes on the 11 December so don’t miss out.
I am looking forward to using these tools in my garden and working from a tidy shed. Going from poor tools and a messy shed to great tools organised well is going to feel wonderful.
Come again soon – spring cleaning for summer feels like we are getting ready for something amazing!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I’m quite pleased with my routine schedule for the garden. In the past, I’d wander around aimlessly until I found a chore that needed doing, couldn’t be ignored anymore or was really easy and there was no real focus. The garden felt like an endless chore sometimes as by the time you look care of the weeds in the last bed, the first one was raging out of control.
Today the weather was incredible – like nothing I could have ever imagined given the state of the previous 12 weeks or so. It was blue skies and gentle breeze all day and it made spending time in the garden such a pleasure. But even more so my time in the garden was bolstered with a sense of purpose. I had to take care of Sector Two.
I started by going around the seven beds in the sector and removed all the weeds. It hardly took any time at all as the weeds were tiny and few and far between. Then I nipped out all the laterals on all the tomatoes, stripped all the rust off the garlic – it is a never-ending battle. Lastly, I gave everything a bit of a feed. And that was it. I was able to finish up knowing while it didn’t seem like much, there was comfort in knowing next Tuesday and every Tuesday after, this bed will just need a bit of a tickle to keep it in order.
And as the sun sunk lower in the sky I ended my day by seeing what needed harvesting and filled my basket with some delicious seasonal goodies. I do have to say as much as I love my garden, it is much easier to love when it isn’t so labour intensive.
Come again soon – I think if this weather keeps up I’m going to need a good hat and a lot of sunscreen!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Finally, after a difficult week the sun burst forth and I could go out into the garden and truly lose myself in it. After a miserable spring where more time was spent nipping out to the garden to do a few quick things before the next shower. The terrible week was framed with high winds and solid rain, which set the scene for the shock of serious earthquakes, tsunamis and severe storms for most of the country. We were blessed enough to be far enough north not to be affected by it all, but stood by and watched a country literally be torn apart at its foundations and with the rest of the country count the blessings in that as far as the harm it caused, it could have been a whole lot worse. We are a resilient nation and we will bounce back and be stronger for it.
The only damage I experienced last week was so minor in the grand scheme of things – my broad beans were blown about a bit. This makes me count my blessings. However, blown about beans look awfully untidy and they were due for harvest and removal anyway. I’m still not sure I like them, but the fact they were there again this year shows I was willing to give them another shot. Either that or I’m a sucker for punishment.
The removal of the broad beans gave me the last empty bed to prepare for the summer garden and in its place is to be more beans. Proper ones. Although I’m not overly keen on beans, I still like to have a few as they do have a place in our diet and if cooked in enough butter they are tolerable – although not as much butter as broad beans need! But aside from the green beans, I like to try fancy ones, so there are purple ones, yellow ones and pink speckled ones. And exciting this year I am having a go a Yard Long beans in red and green as the description made it sound like they don’t taste like ordinary beans and could be the answer to my bean issues.
Not all beans are bad though, in my opinion. I give most of the bed over to kidney beans that I allow to dry on the plant at the end of the summer. The ultimate low maintenance plant – just sow and forget. Well aside from the weeding and watering, but I’d be doing that anyway, regardless of which crop was in there. And they give so much back as they become a winter favourite in chillies and nachos.
So in spite of the fact that it is just beans – the key to good crops is good soil and so taking care of the little things means a great harvest. You can check out this beany transition in my latest video:
If you want to know the pickled broad bean recipe you can find it here: The Late Spring Harvest – with Pickled Broad Bean recipe
After a hard spring and a lot of hard work the garden is finally in a place where I can see beyond the digging and the weeding (for the most part) and begin to enjoy all I have accomplished.
Come again soon – The garden is really starting to feel summer ready. I just wish the weather was.
Sarah the Gardener : o )
My strawberries, historically have had a bit of a rough ride. I would just take the goods until they slowed down and then would neglect them until it was time to start to think of them again. This was generally in August in late winter where I’d be out there in the freezing cold trying to disentangle the patch from a jungle of weeds as I cursed my lazy late summer self. Every year I vowed and declared to do better, but in the busyness of the high season, a plant not yielding terrific amounts was low on the list.
This time I think I’ve nailed it. Time will tell, but my strawberries will be treated with a whole lot more respect this season. To start with I have created new raised beds for them as they really didn’t enjoy life low down in the cold, sodden soil over the winter. And I don’t blame them. No one really likes wet feet – especially if it is freezing cold as well.
There are three raised beds with about 45 plants in each. Each bed is dedicated to plants in different stages of life. One has the new runners from the old plants of last season. These will put out a harvest for me, but not as fabulous as the ones in the next bed. Two year old strawberries are at their prime and have the best, fattest and most delicious strawberries. Then the last bed is the three year olds. I wouldn’t say they are on the way out, but the productivity is waning. At the end of the season I collect their runners and then reluctantly introduce them to the compost heap.
But even before I overhaul their beds I am thinking of them in other ways. Strawberries like a good mulch. It keeps the weeds down, it retains moisture and importantly it keeps the yummy ripening berries off the soil. This keeps them clean, dry and lessens the risk of rotting and going mouldy. The thing is the beds are large-ish. Each are 2.5m x 1.5m and so this requires a lot of mulch – at great cost. I don’t really have the resources for anything that comes at ‘great cost’ so I needed to have a rethink.
After a few years of practice and refining my technique I now have a plan that works well for the strawberries. I grow my own wheat. It is perfect. I got the idea one day while feeding the chickens. I thought “hmmm… I wonder….” Not all good ideas start with “hmmm… I wonder….” Some are right disasters, but others can be a stroke of genius – if I may say so myself. So I whisked away the chicken food out from under their beaks and sowed it in an empty bed in the garden in the autumn.
The beauty of it is wheat doesn’t mind growing over winter and makes an excellent cover crop and keeps the bed it is in weed free, due to its allelopathic properties. And it gives nice seasonal interest as a burst of greenery in an otherwise barren landscape. That is if you can get the seeds to germinate before the birds get to it. I have found birds from a country with no snakes have no residual primordial memory of them and are not afraid of plastic snakes, no matter how many you put out there. Next autumn I’ll try something new – probably less mad-cap.
Harvesting the wheat is timed nicely with getting the garden ready for spring, right before the seed heads form, because as cool as it would be to have wheat to make flour, getting to that stage would take too long and also it would become a weed seed in the mulch and even something as desirable as wheat is a weed in the wrong place.
Once the wheat is harvested I lay it out in my greenhouse to dry. This also works out with good timing and while it is drying most of the occupants of the greenhouse are out sunning themselves in the hardening off process so there is plenty of room. Then it is a simple case of laying them around the strawberry plants, leaving no dirt uncovered.
So the strawberries are off to a good start, with a thick layer of straw mulch. They are also in the sector system I set up, so will be weeded, fed and attended to on a Thursday – all year, not just while they are giving up the goods.
Having said that, I now need to look into effect bird protection measures as the fledgling birds are out of the nest and the stone strawberries are no longer working. I see another project coming on.
Come again soon – summer is so close and much longed for.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Over the years my garden has grown in more ways than one. Each season the plants grow to flourish and create a bounty of food. Although some years there is less of the flourishing and more of the failing. But that is ok. Some seasons just aren’t ideal for pumpkins or garlic or whatever crop it is that makes you hang your head in shame. But these situations are about growing as a gardener, learning what each crop likes and needs and finding out how best to provide that in your garden. While those plants may not grow, as a gardener you grow.
The other thing the garden has done is grow in size. I originally started out with four humble beds and somehow they became 36. It seems to have been a steady consistent growth as I found a garden plan from 2010 that only had 19 beds. To be honest I’m not quite sure how it happened, but I’m glad it did. I can grow everything my family needs each year – provided the crops don’t fail.
And I created most of this with my bare hands. Well I exaggerate. There were tools and Hubby the Un-Gardener has been on hand to help. And while he has been marvellous when digging under supervision and strict instruction, there have been times when the help hasn’t been helpful. I haven’t let him mow around the garden in years – not since he mowed over the cucumbers several years ago. Then goodness knows how many of my tools he has broken with his overzealous activities. Just the other day he broke the tine on my lovely wooden handled fork. But he means well and so he’s still welcome in the garden.
A garden that keeps growing in size can throw up some logistical issues that you never really consider as you merrily create more space for more food. Over the summer months these food producing plants can get a little thirsty and delivering enough water by hose each day can take hours. So after many hours trying to wrap my head around the conundrum of irrigation I came up with some interestingly innovative irrigation solutions. You can read about them for your own amusement here:
Now the good people at Gardena New Zealand have been watching me (probably with mild amusement) for several years. At one point they must have felt sorry for me and sent me a wonderful Gardena 6 hose Automatic Water Distributor and a Gardena Premium Water Computer to make things easier for irrigating my large veggie patch. Of course being the creative soul that I am this also bought up some amusing posts and who can forget the wonderful yet terrible Irrigation Trolley MK I: To get water hammer hammer saw saw. MK II was a little better, but not much: Modify.
However after seeing me muddle through with cheap or inadequate tools and wonky, shonky hose set ups, they decided I was in desperate need of rescue and to be honest they were probably right. They reached out to me and asked if they could help. They would show me the proper way to irrigate my garden taking into consideration all the complexities of crop rotation and plants that hate getting their leaves wet, not to mention water pressure and which little nozzle is the right one for the job. I was so relieved. Finally someone was going to take me aside and teach me how to water my garden the right way and I can stop guessing. And the best bit is I can share this knowledge with you, so for once and for all, all those cute little connectors and nozzles and valves and bits and bobs at the garden centre needn’t be a mystery anymore!
I think they may have also felt sorry for me after Hubby the Un-Gardeners trail of destruction across my tool shed and so now I have some wonderful shiny new tools, but I’m left with a conundrum, do I allow Hubby the Un-Gardener to continue his role as chief digger safe in the knowledge that it would be next to impossible to break these tools, or do I save selfishly them for my use only, which will mean I’ll have to do all the digging?
Come again soon – my gardening experience has just become a whole lot more pleasurable
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Sometimes when you are working so hard on something, that all you can see is what is ahead of you, all you still have to do. The wood becomes lost in the trees. So you put your head down and your butt up and you keep pushing through because you know if you keep at it you will get there in the end. The thing is with a garden there is no end so you need to stop and look up often or you might miss something interesting.
After a marathon mowing session, as the afternoon was giving way to the evening I leaned on the mower to catch my breath and was surprised at what lay before me, a garden that looked orderly and tidy. I’m not sure how it happened but all of a sudden the list of things to do faded into the background as I admired all I had achieved. I just had to show you what I saw:
I think maybe the section thing is working. On Monday I did the blue group – well most of the blue group – the zucchini and the bean beds were a bit hard so I took two easy beds from other sectors – but 7 beds got done. Then the next day I did another 7 beds from the green sector – they were all easy and so there was time for mowing. Having said that, I had a full ‘out of garden day’ today and my hands stayed clean. So the yellow sector needs a catch up. But I still have more plants to repot in time for the fundraising event this weekend so I hope the wheels don’t fall of the cart in the first week. Having said that gardens are forgiving and it will get back on track.
Come again soon – Gardens are always a place of hope and optimism.
Sarah the Gardener : o)