The things you do for spuds

After making disparaging comments about how the seed potatoes at the garden centre were available far to early for growing in my neck of the woods, I strangely found myself at the checkout clutching a bag of Swift spuds.  It may be too early for growing outdoors, but surely it’d be ok to grow them in my unheated greenhouse…

New potatoes

New potatoes are such a treat, gently cooked with mint and coated in lashings of melted butter…. hmmmm so very good!

That was 87 days ago, and since then I have cared for these apparently unseasonal goodies with all the passion of a new season tomato seedling.  I started them off, barely covered and as they grew I topped up the potting mix and compost blend.   I fed and watered them with great care and attention as they were the only things going on in the garden and I really needed to itch that green thumb.  And they flourished magnificently.

Indoor potatoes

I think maybe next year I won’t be so quick to judge the garden centre with their early season spuds, but will be quick to get them in my trolley!

Then I made the decision that they would accompany our dinner of roast lamb so well, it was worth digging them up three days early.  The yield was pretty decent and enough for two good meals.  I still have four more containers of spuds to get through as we enjoy fresh spring produce.

However it was the other things I found in the container that kind of freaked me out.  I knew they were there, but not in such great numbers.   I had been plagued for ages with woodlice and ants in the greenhouse and had repeatedly tried many ways to get rid of them but without success.  So I decided to let them make themselves at home amongst my spuds and then, upon harvest I could remove the entire population in this sacrificial soil. Although it was kinda creepy while digging through looking for spuds.  I’ll have a good look in the greenhouse today to make sure they have been evicted for good.   Now I just need to deal with the white fly before it finds my tender wee seedlings.

Roast Lamb

Roast Lamb NEEDS new potatoes!

Oh and for the record the meal was delicious. Home grown everything is an amazing way to eat.

Come again soon – the rain will eventually pass.

Sarah  the Gardener  : o)

Green life

In an ideal world, I would sit back and wait patiently for the water to drain away the the soil to stop making that sucking noise as it absorbs as much water as it can to store away for the long dry months to come.   But I’m impatient and this season isn’t going to wait with me.  Maybe if I just ever so gently pull a few weeds.  I’m not going to walk on the beds or anything and I won’t be doing any heavy digging.  It’ll be fine.

Weeds in soggy soil

It’s only a few weeds – it wouldn’t take much to pull them out….

If it wasn’t for the seedlings in the greenhouse that I can tinker with, I’d be lost.  They are coming along so well, I fear I’ll run out of space.  I still  have all my cucumbers, zucchinis and pumpkins to plant, as these grow too fast to start too early.  Having them hang about in pots longer than necessary will give no favours.

Greenhouse seedlings

Each day the jungle grows and takes over the empty spaces in the greenhouse.

The tomatoes I once feared had died in the frying before they’d even emerged, have put the overheating setback behind them and risen from the soil as strong seedlings.  The thing is – so have the ones I planted to cover any potential losses.  I now have twice as many as I actually need.  The funny thing (I can laugh about it now) is I carefully planned the garden this season an attempt to be organised and efficient and so everything in the the garden has it’s place and all temptation to over plant removed.   Now it will take all my self control not to think “oh one more won’t hurt” and I shall be very generous giving away all my excess this year.

Some days, as the rain beats down on the panes of glass in the greenhouse, I like to just sit there and observe.  I like to notice all the nuances of each seedling and how even within the same species the varieties can be so different. It is so hard to imagine how these tiny fragile seedlings will grow on to be such robust plants holding a great weight in fruit.   There is such wonder and awe to be gained from taking the time to watch a garden grow.

Come again soon – soggy spring will soon give way to sunny spring and we will all rejoice!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)


Spring Showers

The clocks went forward last night, to reflect what we are all doing – looking forward to warmer, sunnier days.  We were rejoicing at the extra hour of daylight we have been given in the evenings.  We made great plans as to how we were going to utilise that first hour of the magical extension to the day, once we were able to drag our weary bodies out of bed much earlier than normal.

Not really a gardening day

Not really a gardening day

However, spring had different ideas and rained on our parade.  It has done nothing but rain all day and as I sit here looking out the window trying not to rue the lost opportunities to garden until I can barely see in the fading late evening light, I am choosing to look on the bright side.  This is giving the earth a deep moist foundation to enter the hot dry season with and in a few short months I will be grateful for this enforced rest day.  So I am choosing not to moan about spring showers, no matter how heavy they are.

Even in soggy times I can’t stay out of the garden and risked pneumonia, or at the very least a bit of a sniffle, because even a wet garden is a beautiful garden and I had to soak it in!

Come again soon – rain makes things grow and keeps a keen gardener busy.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Late for Christmas

I am the kind of person that leaves Christmas – not exactly until the last moment, but I sail close to the wind.  My preparations are reactive, not proactive as every year it takes me by surprise.  Except when in comes to my spuds.

Under normal circumstances I’m thinking of Christmas a whole 100 days in advance, so I get my spuds in on time.  It is a tradition for me in September and again on Christmas day, when I go out to the garden and gather fresh produce for the Christmas dinner.   However this year I got a tad confused.  I’m thinking of suggesting to the family that we celebrate the big day a little later to suit the peak perfection of my spuds.  I’m sure that will go down well.


Come again soon – only 96 days until Santa drops down your Chimney!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)


Hey wasp, get off my broad beans

I know I’m not overly keen on broad beans, but there they are again in my garden, standing tall and festooned with a multitude of flowers.  On warmer days it is nice to see the big fat fuzzy bumble bee and the honey bee with his pockets full of pollen darting in and out of the long tubular flowers, drinking in the nectar in exchange for a spot of pollination.

Broad bean flowers

Judging by the number of flowers it is going to be a bumper season for broad beans. I’m not so sure this is a good thing.

But I’ve also noticed something a bit more sinister.  The broad bean plants are full of paper wasps. When I say full I don’t mean hundreds of angry buzzing nasty wasps, but about a dozen docile sleek black and yellow insects on my four plants.  I decided to watch for a while to try and figure out what the attraction was as they didn’t seem to be entering the flowers like normal bees do.

Wasp on broad bean flowers

Umm – excuse me – maybe you might want to go around the front of the flower like all the other insects do…

What I saw seemed to be a spot of daylight robbery.  They appeared to be sticking their beak into the base of the flower and sucking out all the nectar, completely bypassing the pollen exchange system.  I vaguely recall reading about this somewhere, but I can’t remember where I saw it.

So I did a bit of looking about on the great big internet and now I am conflicted.  I hate wasps.  I was stung three times last year and each sting reacted worse than the one before as I ballooned and itched for a good week or two after.   But they say they don’t seem to mind you unless you get too close, although I definitely didn’t put myself in harm’s way on the days I got stung.

Paper wasp on broad beans

Seriously – will you stop it – you are putting holes in my flowers – goodness knows what damage you are doing to my beans.

I also discovered that it would most likely at this time of year to be queen’s loitering on my broad beans, supping on the nectar and getting energised for the season ahead.  This doesn’t bode well as that means each one may go off and form a nest somewhere not too far away.

Paper wasp

Paper wasps just look angry… I don’t feel all that comfortable getting this close

But this is where I’m conflicted.  While the paper wasps can cause significant damage in large numbers to your wooden structures as they source materials for their nests, the most common diet isn’t nectar, but other insects and in particular caterpillars, but they’ll eat anybody – including aphids and anything that will give them a protein kick. Although they don’t seem to mind who they eat and it would be great to think of them eating the cabbage white caterpillars, but I’m not so happy about them feasting on the monarch caterpillars.  They are in enough trouble of their own without being decimated by wasps.  But aside from that, maybe they are ok to have hanging around the garden?   I just wish they wouldn’t sting me!

Tiny broad bean pod

The first of the crop are beginning to make themselves present.

Oh I don’t know….  How can something with the potential to be really helpful in the garden also have the capacity to be so nasty.  I really don’t want to be stung again this season.   What are your thoughts about wasps?  Friend or foe?

Come again soon – I’ve dug and I’ve weeded and my seedlings are growing well.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)


Fluffy soil

I feel like I’m chasing my tail at this time of year.  One moment I am so in control I loudly declare “I’m the most spring ready I’ve ever been!” and I am genuinely shocked at how in control things seem.   I try my best enjoy the moment without wondering what is going on behind the curtains.

Then the next moment comes that proves without a shadow of a doubt at being 100% spring ready is a fallacy, a myth and trying to get spring ready is as impossible as chasing shadows.  The unceasing rain comes and soggies up my soil and in as little as a few days I’m set back weeks.  And just as it dries out, the rain returns and re-soggies the soil.

Carrot seed

Carrot seed – ready to go in the drill. Finally.

Eventually the sun comes out, the soil is perfect – light and crumbly and releases the weeds that grew relentlessly during the rain, with ease.  I get all excited and climb into my gardening clothes only to be reminded of some pre-arranged engagement that can’t be changed.  And with a heavy heart I put on my fancy city clothes and cast a longing glance out over the garden as we drive away.   As we return towards home, the window wipers are engaged as spits and spots begin to splash on the screen.

Parsnip seeds

I’ve sown my parsnip seeds on the thick side to thin later as it was a new packet and they probably won’t be any good next year as they like to be fresh.

The grass grows taller and creates an overall illusion of a garden raging out of control and I’m as far from being spring ready as I’ve ever been.

Finally, the planets align and the weather is good, the soil is dry and I don’t have to be anywhere for hours and hours.   Choosing to ignore the latest impending storm warnings and setting the phone to silent so I wouldn’t be disturbed, I rolled up my sleeves an indulged in some serious soil dwelling.   My immediate priority was my carrots and parsnips.  These were entering my dreams and causing me to wake with worry.  They should have been in weeks ago, so it was with great pleasure I began work on preparing their soil.

Sieving the soil

Sieving the soil, because I tend to be a tad fussy with my carrot soil

The bed originally hosted a cover crop of mustard over the winter months, to try to cleanse the soil of the blight the potatoes enticed in.  There won’t be another crop in there that would be attractive to blight for 6 years in my crop rotation program, but it doesn’t hurt to clean up when you leave somewhere – it is just good manners.

The problem with the cover crop, is I had planned to dig it into the next bed, where the potatoes were going to go, but there just wasn’t the time for it to rot down before spud planting day.  I cast my eye out hopefully over the garden looking for a spot to dig it in.  I’d hate for it to go to waste – although there was always the compost pile.  The only bed not currently occupied or due to have a new tenant not due to go in sooner rather than later was where the peppers were, which will be occupied by the cucumbers and they hate the cold so won’t be going in for ages.   So I carefully dug it all in and buried the mustard beneath the soil and I really hope the cucumbers appreciated the effort.


What an extraordinary amount of rocks. I do wonder where they have come from, because I didn’t notice them when I was growing the spuds.

Once cleared of the cover crop the soil was fluffed up, because carrots like fluffy soil, however, this winter I had been experiencing rising rocks. In beds that were once loose and easy, after a winter of frost and rain, rocks began to appear on the surface.  I have no idea where they’d come from but there were a lot.  This meant – if I wanted great carrots, I needed to sieve the soil.   To be honest I probably would have sieved it anyway, just to make sure.  I dug out the soil to a spades depth, because that is about how long I want my carrots to be and dumped it into the kids old paddling pool.  Then I laid my riddle down over the hole and sieved the soil back into the bed.  It is just as well I did it as I ended up with a bucket full of rocks.  Had they been allowed to stay I would have ended up with forked carrots and they are awfully hard to peel!

Then it was just a matter of sowing the seeds, watering them well and protecting them by popping over my cool PVC cloches.  I think I need to make some more as more rainy weather is forecast and I’d hate for my seeds to rot in the ground from over watering.

Snug seeds

And there they are, all snug and tucked away in their fluffy soil.

Now my carrots and parsnips are in, I can sleep well.  I have the gentle muscle ache of a job well done and no nagging feeling that my carrots would be late.  Hopefully I won’t dream of spuds as they need to go in – pronto.  Jersey Bennes take 100 days and today it is 100 days until Christmas.  I’d hate to ruin the big day so soon in the festive season.

Come again soon – Oh my goodness – I’ve forgotten to sow my marigolds.   I need to sow my marigolds.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

The dry horrors


Two surviving rocket seedlings stand over three of their fallen friends

I have been lovingly tending my seed trays, misting often so the soil stays moist, and checking several times a day for signs of life.  Ten days past with a few green butterfly leaves of the brassicas standing proud and holding the promise of meals to come.  Others weren’t there yet but it was only a matter of time, just a few more days and my greenhouse would burst into life with a sea of green.

Dried out leaves

My poor radish in pots were all wilty and I didn’t think they’d make it, but have bounced back – although they bear the scars of the disaster

However, life beyond the garden took me away from the garden and I left Hubby the Un-Gardener with clear instructions to open the greenhouse each day, water well with the mist function on the hose nozzle for the seedlings and for the spuds that had been growing for just over two months, use the shower function, but don’t get it on the leaves – go low and gently with the water. Then at the end of the day, close the greenhouse again. This seems straight forward enough and he only had to do it for two days.

Pepper seedling

Most of the pepper seedlings managed to come through largely unscathed except for a few dried tips on the seed leaves.

I returned refreshed and excited from my time away and hurried out to the greenhouse, expecting to see a sea of green faces staring back at me.  This is not what I found.  I found death and destruction.  To give him credit – he remembered to water on the first day. But on the second day it completely slipped his mind and in the closed up greenhouse the temperatures soared to 38°C.  Desperate for moisture in their parched soils, my tiny seedlings were pushed past their permanent wilting point and expired.  They lived such short little lives filled with so much hope and promise.   The tomatoes were due to pop up any day and at this point days later, still haven’t.  I suspect their embryonic pre-emergent state was harmed by this harsh, hostile environment and gave up before they even broke the surface.

Melon seedling

The melon seeds must have been robust enough to not even notice the catastrophe going on above ground and have since begun to raise their head.

There were no words.  I wasn’t angry, I was disappointed. I didn’t cry and I didn’t shout but so much hope had died with those seedlings.  But I had to swallow my distress and sow more seeds if I was to have a garden at all this season.  Just like falling off a horse – you have to get back on.  Although I’ve never fallen off a horse – I’ve not been on one often enough.  The season is still young and the new seeds will catch up – by December you won’t even know there was a delay.   If I look on the bright side it has given me a little longer to get on with the digging and weeding.

Come again soon – there will have been much digging and weeding done.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Plan Bee

I’m having another look at my flower garden.  Last year I did manage to get a well-managed cutting garden.  To be honest I mean ‘well-managed’ quite loosely.  I kept the weeds down, feed and watered regularly and even did a spot of dead heading from time to time.  I even cut a few flowers and brought them inside.  I still find it hard to make the cut because they do look very pretty and the bees love them.  So how can I deny the bees what they need over my simple pleasures.

Bee Friendly

I’m making sure my garden is a welcoming place for bees

In the vegetable garden there are very few plants that come back year after year.  There are the globe artichokes, rhubarb, strawberries and the asparagus, but most are annuals and all I need to do is grow them, harvest them and eat them and in some cases, toss their tired carcasses onto the compost pile.   Flowers are different and aren’t so straight forward.

Flower garden

Last year the flower garden was a riot of colours

I have discovered on my journey with flowers that some actually like to come back again.  Last year I resowed dahlias, despite having them grow successfully from seed the previous year and now when clearing away the bed I found great pendulous tubers in the soil where my flowers once were.  I was quite surprised how big they became in one season.  So now they are there I guess they can stay and fortunately they are on my plan where I’d prefer them to be.

The bees loved my flower garden

The bees loved my flower garden and I’d love to see them back again this year

Unlike the gypsophila and the aquilegia.  I was so disappointed last season when my gypsophila seeds didn’t germinate and popped some scabious in their place, only to find my scabious never did very well because the gypsophila was determined to come back, bigger and better than ever before.  Unfortunately, it isn’t where I wanted it on the plan.  The aquilegia are also stubbornly clinging to a spot that they should have moved from last year, but seemed to have claimed squatters rights.  The straw flowers should be living there but are now of no fixed abode.

Bee in the artichoke

The veggies also provided a place for the bees to hang out and they loved my artichokes

And don’t get me started on the nigella – they have pretty much gone feral and self-seeded themselves all over the place.  My carefully laid plans have gone to pot.  Flowers may look all sweet and innocent, but they’re not.  They are a nightmare unruly bunch who need way more care and attention than the obedient vegetables.

Scabiosa seeds

You have to admit some flowers have silly names and silly looking seeds – not like the sensible vegetables…

But I’m not going to give up.  They are lovely to look at and the bees love them.  In fact I’m going to throw a caution to the wind and grow even more.  I have received a very special packet of Wildflower Mix seeds for Bees and Butterflies as part of a national PLAN BEE program to celebrate September as Bee Awareness Month.  I’ve sown my seeds in a seed tray in the greenhouse, although the seed packet does say it is easy to sow them directly, but I don’t know where I am going to put them in the garden yet.    Then I’ll register my garden as a bee-friendly spot on the Plan Bee Map and do my bit to make it easy for bees to thrive in New Zealand.

I also took part in the Great Kiwi Bee Count with Plant and Food Research and the NZ Gardener and during a two minute period I saw two honey bees and a drone fly cling tenaciously to the yellow flowers of a broccoli in a rather stiff breeze.  I would like to say I let it go to flower intentionally for the bees, but the silly thing went from being almost edible to past it during a weekend I was away and I was so cross I left it there.  And in hindsight I’m glad I did because there is always somebody buzzing around it filling its pockets with bright yellow pollen.  If you are in New Zealand you should give it a go –   It isn’t difficult at all and we should all do our bit to help out the bees.  We need them more than they need us!

Come again soon – the seeds are metamorphosing to seedlings and my greenhouse is filling with shades of green.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

I declare this spring officially open

Tomato seeds

A lot of hope lies with these small seeds.

Wow, we are now into the growing season.  It was a busy first day, but I managed to find some time to sow my tomato seeds.  It is hard to believe in less than two months I’ll be planting them out in the garden.  I have so much hope for this this year.  It is about time we had a good one.


Come again soon – there is so much to do and it will all be wonderful.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)



Keeping things warm

Peas in a cloche

My peas are safe and sound, snug and cosy and will have a great start to life.

With spring starting tomorrow I can hardly contain my excitement.  The weather is settled and being kind.  Well if you don’t count the 48 hour period last week that delivered over three and a half inches of nonstop rain.  This freaked me out a little as I was on track to being the most spring ready I’d ever been and I was back to being flooded again.  But this weather event had the courtesy to be followed up by such strong winds it dried up all the rain in no time and I’m back on track and looking forward to a great spring season.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP ONE . All you need is strong string, a sheet of corrugated clear roofing material (I used an affordable PVC) and a drill. You also may need scissors to cut the string.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP TWO Mark out 100mm in from both ends on the bottom edge of the long sides and also in the middle of long side edge.

But as I review my notes and remember springs gone by, I am reminded that spring is the most tumultuous season there is.  It is unrestrained in its indecision and without so much as a moments notice will turn a almost summery feeling day into an icy bleak winter one, and then back again as though nothing untoward happened.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP THREE After making sure all the marks line up evenly, carefully drill some holes.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP FOUR. Thread your string through the hole and tie a knot so the string can’t slip back through. In hindsight I would suggest not cutting the end so short and leaving the tail beyond the knot with about 200mm of extra string.

For my tender burgeoning garden, that will be filled with the more hardly yet still vulnerable plants in these early spring days, this can be a tough time.  Take my peas for example.  Last spring, I recall having to sow my seeds more than once in order to get some plants to reach maturity.    Heavy rains would rot them in the ground before they had a chance to break through to the surface.  Heavy frosts would delay their progress and the birds just thought it was a great buffet and snipped away at the tasty tender growing tips.  They really didn’t stand a chance and I’m surprised I even managed to limp seedlings along to the flowering stage last year.  It was a real battle.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP FIVE Cut the string off at the width of the sheet and thread the string through the holes.


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP SIX Evenly pull all of the strings through to make the sheet form an even arch. Tie knots to stop the string from slipping through and so it keeps the arch taut. Leave a tail beyond the knot of at least 200mm.

Well not this year.  I’ve taken things into my own hands and have created a cosy environment by making a handy row cloche for them to become established free from the unpredictability of the spring weather and sheltered from those greedy birds.

Voila - and there you have a cloche

Voila – and there you have a cloche


HOW TO MAKE A CLOCHE: STEP SEVEN To secure to the garden to stop it blowing away. Take the extra string tails and tie them to landscape pegs and push it in to the soil as deep as you can.

 Once they seem strong enough to cope on their own and have established good roots and shoots, I’ll release them to experience the elements so they can grow tall and make me some peas.

This should keep my peas safe from harm while they establish themselves

This should keep my peas safe from harm while they establish themselves

Come again soon – spring is about to be sprung…

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

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