The weather has been exceptionally strange – it has felt more like Late Spring than Late Winter. The boffins are suggesting a bit of a seasonal reset will be happening soon and normal winter conditions will return. But they have been wrong before and I have yet to decide what is normal in this frostless place.
I have been trying my best to get ahead and ready for the new season, but it doesn’t seem to be progressing as quickly as I’d like and my priorities are constantly changing so I am going to create a list of things I want to achieve for this week in a form of public accountability. It is great to start the week off with an ambitious To Do List. Realistically I know not everything will get done because – well… life.
And then there is the weather. The boffins have also suggested this great weather reset will also involve a lot of rain. I am in two minds about this – it is always good to have rain in winter to fill the water tanks so we can get through the summer without worrying about buying water. But this also interferes with my abilities to garden unless I pop on a giant raincoat and carry on regardless. But then I could catch a cold and then every time I sneeze people will look at me with great suspicion, so it isn’t exactly an ideal time to catch a cold.
So here is my list:
Ok – that should be enough, or I’ll bite off more than I can chew. Even now I look at this list with trepidation. And this is just the short list! There is a much longer one waiting in the wings with items of varying importance with long term and medium term labels waiting to make the jump to the weekly lists.
Come again soon – I’ll let you know how I get on….
Sarah the Gardener : o)
What is it about the passing of time that sets of fear in my heart? Yet another chunk of my life is passing me by and what am I doing with it? According to my ever growing ‘to do’ list – not enough. To be honest I’m being hard on myself. I have extra limitations holding me back – ie that annoying inconvenience called MS, but aside from that I’m fraught with things like procrastination, a heavy dose of ‘I’ll get to that later’ as exhibited in my pickled onion situation. I also have to deal with a lot of over ambition and over estimation concerning the length of time and effort something I thought up in my mind actually requires. Currently the most realistic expectation for a task that I think will take an arvo is usually about 3 days! Nothing like a ‘must do’ project to hold you back from the mundane, the routine and a million other cool ‘must do’ projects waiting in the wings.
After the madness of #MakeMayCount, back in late autumn, I have let the winter drift by. Ok it has been cold and wet and nasty. Actually this is more of an excuse rather than a reality. This winter as aside from a few cold snaps it has been quite mild. I think I have lulled myself into a false sense of ‘well its winter, we don’t do much in winter’ buoyed up with a ‘well I worked really hard in May I deserve a break’. But May was ages ago and with the mild weather I should have been making hay while the sun shines, so to speak. I mean if sunflowers can be bothered to grow then I should have been tending to their garden.
This last week I have been a bit under the weather and so I sat there peeling onions in a comfy chair and I watched a lot of online garden videos. It has left me feeling two emotions – firstly, why don’t I have a perfect life like that. My kitchen is a bit of a mess and the fridge needs a jolly good sort out. It is much easier to grab a cuppa tea on the run than sit poetically staring out at the view. Although I did enjoy my lunch alfresco overlooking the ocean the other day and it was lovely. It really elevated the quality of my quickly thrown together meal. I really need to take more effort over lunch, and probably breakfast and if I’m being honest a good from scratch homecooked meal would feel a little better than something hastily considered at the end of the day. Maybe if I got myself organised then I’d have more time to live my life by those on the videos.
The second thought was, ‘but I make videos like this’ and put my life on the net too and so I should know better than most that it is easy to edit away the less than ideal with camera angles and mess shoved to one side. They might have an immaculate kitchen to produce an immaculate lunch, so they can eat it wistfully at a perfectly curated table setting. You can’t tell me there is no chaos in their world. It is great to have realistic goals for life so I don’t end up beating myself up about my ‘mediocre by comparison’ efforts. Although just for fun I’m tempted to do such a video with a lunch made with fresh garden produce eaten overlooking a grand vista – at the very least my kitchen would get a tidy up.
But I digress. August has begun and I’m not ready for it. Spring starts at the end of this month and I’m not ready for that either. So I’m going to shake off this winter slovenliness and try and make this new month count for something – although not as intense as May counted. August has its own taskmaster in the form of the encroaching new season. You can’t hurry nature, but apparently you can’t slow her down either.
Come again soon – welcome to a new month full of frenzied, panicked activity.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have been determined to get things straightened out ready for the spring. However, my biggest weakness is procrastination and the bigger the mess the more likely I will put things off. The most pressing need right now is the dome… it is a huge mess as it has been a dumping ground for months. I need it ship shape and spick and span ready for a new season of seedlings to emerge under my watchful care in mere weeks!
So, I stepped in there to make a start and was faced with an even more impending procrastination problem. In the summer I harvested my shallots and carefully laid them out in trays to dry in the greenhouse, intending to pickle them in the following weeks. Unfortunately, they never left the drying rack. As they are such a robust vegetable, they didn’t demand urgent attention like a bowl full of gherkins would have. And there was always something more pressing, more urgent, and more interesting to be done. So, I didn’t do anything. Until now.
Faced with the thought of the monumental task of tidying the dome, all of a sudden pickling onions seems like a great thing to do. It could have something to do with the fact some of them were starting to go a little soft or beginning to sprout. So, it switched from a ‘when I get round to it’ job to a more pressing ‘you snooze you lose’ situation and I hate to see waste from the garden. I needed to pickle onions urgently. Cleaning the dome can wait.
Having said that it isn’t a job to be rushed. It turned out I had 2kg of the marble sized shallots and I completely forgot the advice of using a little hot water to loosen the skins to make peeling easy. Over the course of a couple of days I spent a considerable amount of time carefully peeling onions and trying not to mark the layer underneath as it can show up in the final pickle. It was mind numbingly boring but it sure beats cleaning.
Not having really planned for this job I realised I didn’t have quite enough salt to do the brining process. But then I remembered a bag of Himalayan pink salt in the back of the cupboard to top up the last few grams to get what I needed. And just like that they have become artisan gourmet pickled onions.
The salty brine water was then rinsed away, so it probably won’t even make a difference that there was Himalayan pink salt in there, but I will know. Fortunately, the chillies are still sporadically producing so when the recipe called for dried chillies, I thought ‘I can do better than that’. The only other seasoning the recipe called for was peppercorns and while that is all good and well – it is from a much loved and trusted recipe book, it seemed a tad boring for my tastes so I had a bit of a look around the garden to see what else could lift the flavour a little.
I always have a problem with making pickled onions as the recipe says put the onions into sterile jars and fill with vinegar. But considering the onions themselves take up most of the space in the jar, how much do you really need? I normally fill the jars with the onions and as part of the rinsing process to remove the brine, then fill the jars with water and pour it off into a measuring cup so I have a better idea of not only how much vinegar but also how many jars I actually need to sterilise. Then I empty the onions out into a clean bowl and give the jars a good wash and pop them in the oven at 100ᵒC for 20 minutes.
Then with the right amount of vinegar and a little extra, just in case, I boil the vinegar with the peppercorns, chillies and whatever else I decide to put in there. Then pack it all into hot jars and seal them up, waiting for that magical pop to tell me all is well and in months to come we will have delicious tangy, crunchy oniony goodness.
And then there would be nothing stopping me from cleaning the dome… although I should probably get a mask, so I don’t breathe in the dry dusty soil and give myself legionnaires disease. In the meantime, there are those tomatoes I popped in the freezer intending to make tomato relish when the heat of the day wasn’t sweltering and more suited to standing over a hot stove. Annnnd…. I do need to make room in the freezer for more space for the new season harvest….
Gosh I’m terrible. I need to stop procrastinating and clean the dome so I can get the new season off to a great start!
Come again soon – Spring is just around the corner.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It has been a bit windy recently. There have been three storms in as many weeks. But this is expected from midwinter. However the thought there are just 40 days until spring has caused me a little consternation. It is so easy to think winter is a long boring season with plenty of time to tackle projects and get things in order ready for the spring. But apparently not. I have a lot to do and I’m running out of wintery days to do it in.
With the shock of the encroaching spring, I have decided to mark this point in the year as the first day of the rest of the season. Day one to getting things ready for what lies ahead and the best way to do that is document the starting point. So sit back and enjoy my short video that is an open and honest, warts and all record of how the garden stands right now.
All going well from here on, there will be nothing but improvement and progress.
Come again soon – Spring will be here before we know it!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
(NB: The video is actually really short ~ 10 mins…)
I feel for my poor strawberries. Before we moved to the coast I had repotted extra runners into pots, but at the time I had no reason to do it, I just didn’t want to waste them. Then when the decision to move came about, aside from all the roller coaster emotions that go with an unexpected move, I was pleased my earlier self had decided to set aside these poor wee plants. There was the right number to start over again.
They spent a year in pots too small for them to flourish and they barely survived the waiting period. And then the day came, and they could stretch their roots into their very own purpose made spot, stretched over a bed and a half – which the beds being 2m x 4m and they kind of did ok. The irrigation system on the half bed had a problem, which I suspect was me putting a spade through the underground hose, I was meaning to fix it but never quite got round to it. It still needs fixing. The irrigation on the other bed was a tad in adequate. If it was closer to the tap and not up a slight incline then it would be fine, but the pressure just wasn’t enough to support all the drippers. And there was no net – so that first season there weren’t many strawberries. But that was ok the plants were recovering.
They recovered well over the winter and I gave away over 800 runners! Then I went away for 2 weeks in the spring. Hubby the Un-Gardener had been asked to water the plants in the greenhouse but not the plants in the garden. It was spring and spring has spring showers – but not that spring and my poor wee strawberry plants dried out. I did my best to save them, but they really didn’t recover and come this winter they were scrawny specimens with barely any runners.
So, I took action – dug them all up and potted them up and put them in the greenhouse where I gave them tender loving care. They bounced back and looked magnificent, so I replanted them back in just one bed. I fixed the irrigation system so the bed was divided into 2 cycles and this seems to work well. And then went away for a week. I came back to find every single healthy flourishing leaf was gone! I was not impressed but wasn’t sure who my enemy was.
Until I saw an escapee chicken roaming the garden. It was her – eating my strawberry plants! So, I hatched a plan. After a lot of thought I designed a frame with a lift off lid that would keep the birds out and my strawberries safe. As it is such a large area I needed to make sure it would be light, and I really don’t want to go through the hassle every season, so it needed to be durable enough to last the ages. I really don’t like netting as birds can get trapped in it, in their attempts to pilfer strawberries. So, when I found rolls of plastic netting with small holes, my plan began to come together.
I measured out lengths of a light trellis type wood we had lying around and began stapling the plastic netting to it. Then I ran out of wood and staples, so I headed off to the hardware store for more of everything, so I had what I needed to complete the job. It was going really well. It looked sharp and I couldn’t be more pleased with myself. Although I’m not in a hurry to use the staple gun again.
Then it began to feel more like one of my ‘usual projects’. I bought glue because I wanted to help strength the corners and even waited the required 24 hours curing time. But it was too wintery damp and the glue didn’t set. This was the first sign of things not going well. It wasn’t a disaster, but I was beginning to realise it wouldn’t be a ‘perfect’ project, but at this point I’d be happy with ‘good enough’. I decided to use screws to strengthen the corners but bought the wrong size.
Once I got the right size I was starting to feel good about things and moved everything over to the strawberry area. It was at this point I remembered the garden beds – while on the plan say 2m x 4m, they were made by me and were yet another ‘good enough’ project, so my well-crafted components… let’s just say ‘required adjustment’.
But once the adjustments were made – with a lot of unnecessary words, I was able to stand back and look at a well-protected strawberry cage. All going well – there will be a bountiful harvest of strawberries this season!
Come again soon – next time I build something, remind me to lower my expectations of my abilities!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
For a deeply obsessed gardener there is no good time to go on holiday as there is always something to do or something to watch out for. But I took my hand off the controls at what seems like a safe time. The onion and garlic are in, the asparagus has been taken care of and the strawberries have been planted out. The seedlings in the greenhouse can manage a week sitting in trays of water and all is looking well. It coincided with the school holidays, so it was as good a time as any. With 50 days until spring, it really is the right thing to do to take a pre-busy season break.
So, we loaded up the car and headed off for our adventure without a care in the world… until the boffins started freaking everyone out – tie down your trampolines there is a storm coming! It will be bad, bad, bad with hail, thunder and lightning and winds gusting up to 110km straight of the coast. This is the worst thing a gardener miles away from home needs to hear. There was nothing I could do but hope the boffins had it wrong. They’ve been wrong before.
We arrived home in darkness and so the post storm damage check had to wait. To be honest I was too afraid to look and put it off as I turned over the extraordinary amount of laundry that occurs when you go on holiday. I’m sure we don’t use that many clothes during a normal at home week! Then I tidied the house and pottered about – delaying the inevitable… was there damage? I’m not sure I could deal with it. I just want to grow stuff without it getting wrecked all the time. In my mind I had my pity party all planned… I was going to wail and cry “why can’t I just for once have a garden on a flat, fertile spot of land with no wind and no drainage problems!” I even briefly considered purchasing a tiny spot of perfect land and go there everyday like a job as I set about creating a nice ‘normal’ garden. But it is my lot to grow in challenging conditions, and so I needed to put my brave on and have a look.
It wasn’t too bad after all and the weather station told me the worst it got in the garden was gusts of up to 30km an hour. So, while not ideal it isn’t as destructive as 110km would have been. Plants did get whipped about. Some of the leaves got blown off my lime and the peppers I was thinking of overwintering. Hopefully, they’ll recover. My arch got mangled, but it was never a great success anyway. I think I’ll need a new plan for growing my luffa up. The artichoke got bashed about with its big voluminous leaves and I was about to moan about that, until I discovered there are actually artichokes growing in there… out of season, but I’ll take them. Hmmm I love artichoke! And the garlic has rust. This is nothing new from last year, so I’ll just treat them as I did last year and hope for the best. Super frustrating though – especially so early in the growing season.
The worst spot of damage wasn’t caused by the weather, but to be honest I’m not sure what. My strawberries weren’t doing well, so I had dug them up and let them recover in the greenhouse, prepared a nice lovely soil for them to go back in to and lovingly planted out 60 healthy plants – with flowers and berries almost ready to burst into berry goodness. Unfortunately, while I was away, someone or something ate every last green bit. The centre of the crowns look like they are recoverable – so now I need to find a way to protect them while they recover once again. I really need to put my thinking cap on. Grrr. That is one thing I haven’t had a lot of luck with since moving here but I won’t give up.
Come again soon – some time in the future there will be a fabulous strawberry protection device!
Sarah the Gardener. : o)
I’ve been on holiday. It was an impromptu decision but one well worth it. You really can’t beat quality time with family. And my Mum is a bit of a gardener so the allure of a visit is all the more tempting. She lives 6 hours south of us, but still on the west coast so her beach is just an extension of our beach…
Being winter and being 6 hours south it was a lot colder than our frost free spot so it came as a delightful surprise one morning to wake up and see this white substance all over everything. It didn’t look like frost, so the natural assumption that it was snow, considering it was snowing an hour and a half away, up the mountain. But then there was much discussion as to whether it was snow or not as this was not an common occurrence. Some folk suggested there was a dramatic hail storm in the middle of the night and then it rained and melted the ice and what we were seeing was a big hail slushy. I’m going to believe it was snow because for this northern chick, snow is cool!
I also spent some time scouring garden centres with my Mum. She is a garden ninja… things were going into her trolley left right and centre with wild abandon. She assures me that she knew exactly what she was doing as she’d been planning it for ages. But to the untrained eye it looked like wild abandon with the only considered bit was when she made me bend down and pick up the pots to examine which was the best specimen and she was rather picky. I did a lot of bending and stretching while being dripped on by icy water as the ‘snow’ melted through the shade cloth above us. Her garden is going to be lovely when it matures.
Then she took me down to the beach to see a regeneration project, freeing the sand dunes from interlopers that have had their day in the sun and now need to go. This will allow the native plants to be returned to where they belong after being edged out over a hundred years ago by early settlers who thought they were doing the right thing at the time. We aren’t quite coastal as this, however it is good to see what they are doing and get some ideas for the more exposed areas of our place.
Then she took me to see another coastal spot, where there were bright and vibrant plantings that were in such a position that they could withstand high traffic areas – they were in traffic islands and on the sides of the road, and also could cope with all the wild west coast could throw at them as they were on the road to the beach, a coupla hundred metres from the crashing waves. I was rather impressed with how healthy they all look, but on the inside my heart sank just a little. They were mostly – actually they were all succulents and cactus. I’m not a great fan of succulents – I never really felt the desire to acquire any at all. And after struggling to grow so many ‘normal’ plants at my place and failing, here were these luscious and vigorous plants calling me like some kind of temptress… ‘come over to our side…’ I’m not sure I’m ready to let go of my idea of a perfect cottage garden with hints of formality, but I did go and buy an Echeveria to begin the bonding process as I reluctantly accept the idea a succulent garden wouldn’t be all bad…
While embracing all things new, I decided to increase my house plant collection and found four little cuties that can find a place in my house. I have had two house plants in my office for ages and haven’t killed them… having said that I forgot to check them before I left. Lucky its winter and they don’t need much water in winter. I’ll check them first thing when I get home. I’m looking forward to finding just the right spot for these newbies, but may need to build shelves. But that’s ok, we’ve become good at building shelves!
Meanwhile at home, apparently there was a terrible storm with gusts of up to 110Km straight of the coast. Our fabulous neighbour says everything is ok, but I will need to reluctantly look to make sure everything is safe from harm.
Come again soon – it will be good to get home.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: Clicking on the images will make them bigger and give you a description.
It is the beginning of midwinter with just over 60 days until spring – not that I’m counting and as I look around the garden not all is as it seems.
There are the usual midwinter things like onion seedlings still trying to stand up, a vast array of brassica doing their thing and garlic growing from strength to strength. There are empty beds, some that need a refresh for the new season and some that are all ready and waiting.
Ordinarily that would be it for the goings on in the garden but alas no… there are other things from other seasons that surprise me with their presence. I have spring things and summer things blooming side by side in a season that isn’t theirs!
Come again soon – this winter is a crazy season.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have to confess the shortest day took me a bit by surprise. Its not that I didn’t know it was coming, but the speed it approached left me feeling a little like Wylie Coyote standing there with tools unused after the Roadrunner zapped by. It always feels like I have plenty of time to do things, however in reality I always underestimate how long things will take. This can be misjudging the task by an hour or even by days and in some cases by weeks.
I may have let the shortest day slip by in a gardenless state, but spring is just over 9 weeks away and I can’t afford to be complacent. I need to make winter count although without the intensity of making May count. And the first thing to be done was to rectify the onion situation. It would be a terrible thing to be in an onionless state.
The day after the shortest day was spent up to my elbows enriching the soil – which should have been done weeks ago, according to my plan and intentions. I am fortunate to have healthy set of seedlings due to the wise foresight I had on the eve of lockdown. My last purchase was onion seeds. I was able to find some Pukekohe Longkeepers from my favourite supplier easily enough, however they no longer do my second favourite variety of early producing Hunter River Whites. They were a perfect combination of onions and the Hunter River Whites, while being ready earlier, didn’t store as long and so by the time they ran out I had the Longkeepers ready and kept us going until they ran out some time in mid-winter. So, there I was standing in the garden centre in the late hours of the last day of being out and about for who knew how long, and I had to make a decision which was to be my backup variety. I did a bit of speed Googling and hastily decided upon a Spanish Sweet Yellow Onion. I’m not sure if it will meet my needs, but apparently it keeps well. We shall see.
Upon sowing the seeds I seemed to be a bit heavy handed with these new seeds and so – to throw the cat among the pigeons of my uncertainty, I have ending up with more of these new onions than my old familiar favourites and so nervously worry about my long term onion supply situation. I’m not a great fan of change. If something works why mess with it.
My healthy (because that’s what counts right now) onion seedlings were lovingly soaked in a seaweed tonic to assist them in their abrupt passage from the warmth of the greenhouse to the chill of the garden. I didn’t even give myself the opportunity to slowly and carefully harden them off. I’m such a bad onion grower. To make up for it I took the time to space them out correctly. I even used a string line and a small bamboo spacer. Although I did throw caution into the wind and spaced them slightly closer than recommended in an attempt to reduce the final size of the harvest and up the number of plants. Last season I grew some enormous ones that would do 3 – 4 meals, but I’m not really enjoying having to store cut onions with their aroma tainting anything in the vicinity. Then I breathed a sigh of relief – my onion harvest was in the ground and in 6 months we’ll know if there were any adverse effects from the rocky start.
But this is only half the story. I still had 4 square metres of space designated to the ‘Other’ onions. The sweet red onions that perk up summer salads, shallots for the much loved pickled onions, and elephant garlic because elephant garlic is cool. I also got carried away in that pre lockdown splash out at the garden centre and bought some pearl drop onion seeds as well. I hadn’t given much thought to how I would use them in our diet, but I had the seeds so I sowed them and as healthy seedlings – it would be wrong not to plant them. I also had some long overdue leek seedlings that have been planted well out of season, but they were there so – nothing ventured nothing gained and waste not want not and all that.
There was one thing standing the way of these ‘other’ onions – a lingering zucchini plant. It wasn’t looking great but it was still doing its thing. I had a decision to make, make the onions wait a little longer, or condemn the determined zucchini to the compost. In the end I relocated it and am hoping for the best! Because of the zucchini this bed also needed to have its soil enriched to replace what the zucchini took. Then the onions were unceremoniously plunged into the earth as the once blue sky began to darken and feel heavy with rain. The spacing started out with tape measures and string and perfect lines and disintegrated into a vague ‘she’ll be right’ approach in an attempt to avoid planting in the pouring rain. If these onions manage to shake off their rocky start I’ll be quite surprised.
With that over I can relax a little – but not too much, the broad bean seedlings grown from seed and repotted several times as they grew are staring at me from the shelves of the greenhouse begging me to liberated them so they can feel the natural soil beneath their roots and the wind rustling through their leaves… there is always something that needs to be done. I need to embrace active relaxing to avoid the boom and bust of celebrating achievement for too long without picking up tools again and move slowly and steadily forward.
Come again soon – why does it surprise me that winter is a busy time in my garden – I’ve been doing it for years?!
Sarah the Gardener : o)