This post has been bought to you by the colour yellow, with a touch of blue thrown in for good measure.

If you were to think of spring, the colour that immediately springs to mind is green.  All that fresh new growth.  The green is luminescent and vibrant and you can almost feel alive because of it.  Its sense of well being and hope for the future is almost infectious.   But we aren’t there yet.  We still have 20 more days of winter. Although the signs are beginning to show.


You can’t beat the cheerful nature of a daffodil

Winter is not ready to relinquish its grip just yet and continues to pour cold water on our enthusiasm.  But as a soggy season, weary gardener it is easy to see beyond the drab and embrace the hints of the new season that are emerging.  And it isn’t the green that is drawing my attention, possibly because it is showing up everywhere, but the yellow.  It is bright and blousy and stands out on a bleak day.  It cuts through and grey and you can’t help but smile at its bravery and defiance.  ‘The conditions are terrible, but that’s ok with me – I’ll hold my head tall in spite of it’ it seems to say and each time I see the amount of yellow sneaking into the garden I feel myself standing taller.

Yellow Iris

I forgot I had this yellow iris. I shall check on it frequently as it emerges as is is a spectacular bloom – Groundsel could learn a lesson or two here about how to be a flower!

Of course the most famous yellow at this time of year is the daffodil and I have loads of them everywhere and some smell so incredible. Being able to stop throughout the day and breathe in the delicious scent, instead of just rushing by, reminds me to slow down.  Nature is calling me to join its rhythm.  At this time of year when the season gets going there is a temptation to rush to get things done.  This season I intend to hurry slowly so I can appreciate all that is going on in my garden.

Flowering mustard cover crop

While making a lovely view and feeding early bees this is not what I had hoped for from my mustard cover crop at this stage.

Other yellows while bright and cheerful and add to the overall enthusiasm of the spring like scene, individually aren’t such a welcome presence.  Firstly because of the incessant rain my cover crops never did very well.  Instead of the tall forest of green mustard plants I have been waiting for, they have all burst into flower while well short of their expected height.   To add to the woes of this situation, the ground is too wet to dig them in lest I destroy my soil structure.  I think I’m going to have to do a ‘chop and drop’ and hope the worms pull their weight and drag the nutrients back down into the soil in time for planting.


These blueberry plants are bursting into life. It will be a delicious season.

The other day – while listening to the BBC’s radio show Gardeners Question Time, I heard that cover crops are ideal for gardens in wet situations over winter as it locks the nutrients into the plants and prevents them being washed away, then by chopping them down and adding them back to the soil the nutrients are returned as the plant rots down and are available to the next crop.  I already knew the benefits of cover crops – that’s why I use them, but this explanation for me was one of those moments when the penny drops and things make even more sense than they did before.


This vision of yellow is not lovely at all. What a horrible little plant. The yellow is a cheeky nod, like popping a dress over your PJs because you don’t really want to go out and won’t be long anyway (not that I do that). The flower, if you can call it that, is a poor effort towards floral beauty but it will be a seed head soon enough so it shines briefly with a token yellow gesture.

The other problematic yellow in my garden is in the flower bed.  It is bed 35 in sector 5 so its care falls into the region of a Friday afternoon.  Which to be honest does diminish its chances of a thorough overall.   So the last time I weeded it I gave it a good going over – but it could have been better.   And now I have horrible little groundsel flowers all over the place and about to burst their fluffy little seed pods all over the place.  This is a nasty little weed because it seeds so quickly.  I’m going to have to do a bit of Friday weeding on a Thursday to nip this one in the bud – and soil structure may inadvertently be destroyed in the process.


I have yellow pockets of gloriousness all over my garden. It helps to make the garden brighter and takes my mind of the muddy mess everywhere else. There are brighter days ahead.

But is isn’t all bad.  My blueberries already look like they are set for a bumper harvest.  This year I may even share them as it is looking like there will be way more than what I can snack on as I go about my gardening business.

Come again soon – I have another project on the go.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)


I need more Broad Beans!

Ok, so I spent ages planning my garden and working out where everything will go based on it’s ultimate size and spacing requirements.   I often tell people, once you have planned your garden then that’s pretty much it – if you want extras, don’t squeeze them in, extend your garden or pop them in containers.   And that still pretty much applies.

Yates Hughey Broad Beans

The new and exciting scarlet flowered Yates Hughey Broad Beans. They are the newest must have in any kiwi veggie patch this season,

But, when Yates, my favourite seed company, decides to release a whole lot of new products for the season, then I just have to make room.  So, while I won’t be squeezing things in, there’ll be some juggling going on.   I really shouldn’t extend the garden and if you asked Hubby the Un-Gardener he would say I wasn’t allowed to.  And to be honest, containers are my weak point.  I do try, but with everything else going on in the garden they can have a less than ideal quality of care, and I’d hate that for these new exciting things.

Yates Evergreen Broad Beans

My Yates Evergreen Broad Beans I planted back in at the end of May are doing well.

I have room in the odd and sods bed which is great.  But that currently has the last of last season’s brassicas in there and they’re not ready yet.  So, I have to get a bit creative to make room for some amazing new Broad Beans.  I can’t believe I’m getting excited about broad beans as I still haven’t completely come to terms with their likeability.  Yet.  But these ones are different.  These are special and have a fabulous story to them and I have to have them.

Broad bean seeds

The beans are placed 15cm a part and sown 4cm deep. It is best not to over water after planting to prevent the seeds from rotting in the soil. I am hoping it won’t rain again before they germinate!

Here in New Zealand our biosecurity is extremely important to us, and as a result our biodiversity in the vegetable range is what it is and I understand this perfectly.  So, when you find a tenacious Kiwi plantsman decides to breed something new to create a Broad Bean with beautiful scarlet flowers, then we need to honour this innovation and grow some for ourselves.

Supporting the Broad Beans

Broad beans grow about a metre tall and need support as they can flop about. I like to build a wee trellis fence around them to keep them contained as they grow

So, I need to make room for my new Hughey Broad Beans, creatively named after the plantsman Denis Hughes. The packet assures me they are tasty and prolific, and succulent and nutty.    You never know – I may just like this variety and if not – they will look spectacular in my garden.


We still have a fair few weather bedraggled leeks in the garden that need to be eaten sooner rather than later.

Maybe if I move the soya beans to the odds and sods bed and plant the Hughey Broad Beans in their place in the Bean Bed.  This will mean harvesting and eating a few leeks that are currently languishing in the spot I have in mind.   And the best thing of all is I can plant them right now…  there isn’t a moment to waste.

Come again soon – the weather is holding off so I need to get things done.

Sarah the Gardener : o)


Fret not – Plants don’t hurry

Pepper Seeds

The obligatory first handful of seeds for the season image…. You can almost see them smiling! They are as excited as I am after months of sitting in a dark packet in a cool place.

I love tradition and fanfare.  Any excuse for a celebration and I’m all over it.  We need these things to mark the passage of time as life rolls around too fast.  And it is with this thought bouncing around firmly in my head we find ourselves in August!   Seriously – August 2017.  It seems like yesterday I was waking up to a new day of a new year and promising myself this will be a better year, all fine-tuned and full of hope due to my past experiences and learning things the hard way.  My intentions were heavily laced with determination and commitment.   And yet here we are in August.

Seed trays

This year I have a new propagation system for these early starters, so they can stay warm, moist and cosy. The first job was to fill them with a good quality seed raising mix.

Don’t get me wrong – I have done stuff I feel proud of and I look back over the year and can legitimately say the failings weren’t my fault.  If the weather wasn’t so terrible I’d have more tomatoes, I would have had a better garden and I would have done more stuff.   The weather – no matter how frustrating has been a convenient scapegoat.


Labeling is importing when sowing seeds – especially when you are planting a hot Bird’s Eye Chilli beside a mild mannered Bell Pepper! I also like to sow seed in alphabetical order and take a photo of the seed tray so there is no chance for confusion.

But now we are in August.  I keep repeating this with disbelief.  The main reason I am approaching this with incredulity is that we are standing on the edge of a gardening precipice.  The new growing season is imminent and I’m not sure I’m ready.  Today as the 2nd day of the new month I haven’t done what a usually always do:  That is to start my pepper, chilli and capsicum seedlings off with great fanfare, pomp and ceremony.  I didn’t get it done.  This momentous moment passed me by.

Spacing seedlings

I normally like to sow my seeds into module seed trays so they get the space they need and there is less root disturbance. However, with this new system that isn’t possible so after I gently firmed the soil I made a grid out of some spare chicken wire mesh fencing we had kicking around. Spacing is important when sowing seeds, to ensure the seedlings have good air flow.

The negative thoughts in my head are suggesting it is an omen for the season…  ‘if you start behind you’ll stay behind’.  Of course, I shut them down straight away.   Peppers can be started all the way up to Early Summer in December and you’ll still get a harvest.  But for me it is more about lovingly coaxing this slow growing seedling into life, giving it the one on one attention it wouldn’t get when planted beside the more popular, faster growing and attention seeking tomatoes next month.  It is also about the beginning of the season and all that it represents to me.   And with this tiny peek into the inner workings of my bedraggled mind you can sense logic in my madness.

Date your seed packet

I always write the date I open packets of seeds, because as much as I store my seeds in the best possible way – in an old tin, in a cool, dry, dark place – the viability is on a countdown from the moment I open the packet. It makes things so much easier when I do my annual seed sort through.

Ok – so I missed the first day of my own growing season.  It was raining, non-gardening commitments took precedent and just to add to the frustration I had a bit of an MSsy day.  And I need to be ok with it.  Sometimes life stops gardeners gardening.  But nature is a forgiving thing – my peppers won’t know they started a day late and will still burst into life under my watchful care.  It is very easy to beat ourselves up with our own expectations.  Today, I’m feeling a little better, my non-gardening demands have been addressed and to be honest it doesn’t matter that it is raining (and the boffins are suggesting there will be a lot of rain – again).  Sowing seeds is a gentle indoor job and I will relax and slow down to the rhythm of nature.  Maybe this is a lesson for the entire season.

Fennel the Cat

They say don’t work with animals and small children. Fennel the Cat was determined to help, but she was just a little too helpful for my liking.

“Fret not – Plants don’t hurry”

Propagation system

The seed trays had their fancy covers placed over the top and then placed on my new heated propagator system with capillary matting so it will be watered gently with warm water from below! Peppers do like a nice warm 22C for good germination. I shall probably check for signs of life at least twice a day – if not more from now on! Let the fun begin.

Come again soon – the starters flag has been waved (albeit a moment late) and the growing season is underway.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Washy Washy

We are still in mid winter for a couple more days and then there is only August standing between us and spring.  This winter is just zipping by!  My to do list in the early winter seemed manageable, but now I’m not so sure.  I’m beginning to run out of winter!  Who would have thought that I would be considering wishing winter would slow down and wanting to delay the start to spring…


A good greenhouse is a real blessing

However, the season is marching on and these things need doing and I just need to get out there and get them done.  The weather for the moment is being nice and so it makes the motivation come easier, which is fabulous. With the new growing season so close it is important to get the greenhouse clean, tidy and in order so it is a nice fresh environment for my tiny new seedlings that will soon be there.  It is a little bit like nesting before a new baby, getting the nursery clean, but the seedlings are vulnerable infants and need quality care.  In the dirty world of gardening hygiene is very important!  It does also help to find ways to make the less desirable tasks more pleasurable.

pot washing

Washing pots is important to ensure last season’s pests and disease aren’t introduced to the new season.

In previous years this has been a horrible job that I put off as it usually involve buckets of freezing cold soapy water and blasts of chilly water from the hose adding to the muddy mess.   This year I found a new way to get it done – a much better way.  Cleaning pots has never been such fun!  You can check it out here:

Come again soon – I think there are a few things that can be sown right now.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Mixing things up

Who said winter was the quiet season? I feel like I’ve got a list a mile long to get things done before the seasons change into the busyness of spring. I’ve worked hard already this winter to try and keep on top of the beds to stop the weeds from truly taking over and I have the sector systems to thank for having a winter garden that isn’t raging out of control. In the past I have let things go and while it made for an easy winter, it certainly made for a back breaking spring!


The signs are everywhere – spring will be here soon enough. I need to get on with my to do list before it is too late.

Now that the garden has been planned and the seeds sorted, the next task as we head towards spring is to enrich the soil. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have had so much rain and I would be able to get stuck in and get the garden spring ready. This is supposed to be the time when I can leisurely prepare the beds without the demands of impatient seedlings waiting for new homes.

mowing the bed

Before I knew better, this was how I prepared my garden bed for spring!

Proper soil preparation is important for a successful garden, because you can’t continue to take from the garden. All crops remove goodness from the soil – some parts you eat as delicious food, and others get consigned to the compost heap at the end of the season. Even the weeds left to go wild in the garden over winter can rob nutrients from the soil. This goodness needs to be restored in order to have another successful harvest or you will deplete the soil and future crops will struggle to thrive and the harvest will be poor.


When the paths look a little muddy like this, I do feel a tad guilty sloshing about on them, but if the raised bed is dry enough to work… well it is just a path….

The soil is pretty much the foundation of the garden and I do love my soil – even if it does get a bit soggy from time to time. This ability to hold an extraordinary amount of water comes into its own in the heat of summer. I feed my plants often throughout the growing season to prevent depletion of easily accessible nutrients, but between the crops is when my soil gets the most love.

My routine is generally to add some compost, well rotted manure and a dash of blood and bone to the surface of the bed and then gently work it in to the soil so it is in the root zone and accessible to the plants. It doesn’t need to be dug right into the depths of the garden – the worms can do that. There is more and more research suggesting it isn’t best to dig too deep in the garden or you will disturb the soil structure and the habitats of the beneficial organisms in the soil that work hard to make things easy for the plants to do their thing – whether on purpose through symbiotic relationships or as a happy accidental biproduct of their activities. So I’m not in a hurry to upset these guys.

Gardena cultivator

My Gardena cultivator is perfect for tickling the soil to incorporate all the lovely enriching ingredients. It has to be my most used tool right now. I love it!

However, the soil does need to be disturbed from time to time – extracting your potato crop wouldn’t be possible without some soil disturbance, but in the past when I’ve dug my garden over it always bothered me to see the unintended harm to many an earthworm. So now I kind of ‘stir’ my goodies into the soil, but with enough time before the crop is needed, to allow them to settle in and become part of the structure of the soil, and allow the underground populations to work their magic.

Onion seedlings

Finally the soil was dry enough to add all of the lovely nutrient ingredients and after mixing well I was able to plant my long overdue red onions and shallots!

It also helps to consider the crops that were there before, when enriching your soil, as a hungry crop like sweetcorn will have made a considerable dent in the nitrogen reserves in the soil, compared to say a bean crop that makes its own nitrogen from the atmosphere through the nodules on its roots. So, you don’t want to enrich your bed and then find it isn’t enough and your next crop suffers, or even worse you wouldn’t want to over enrich things as this is much harder to rectify. A soil test is always a good idea if you are concerned about the quality of your soil.

Fennel the Cat

Ideally the best thing to do in a wet winter is to sit and watch the water drain away.

In an ideal world, it is also important to allow a refreshed bed to settle, so the tender young roots of seedlings don’t stumble across a pocket of pure nutrient that missed being worked into the soil, as this could burn the fragile roots. Having said that, sometimes, when it has been raining for weeks and weeks and weeks and you finally have dry soil and you ‘need’ to get your onions in – if you mix things in well, you can plant directly into the freshly enriched bed and your crop will be fine.

I always aim to do the right thing and I know and understand the benefits of doing things the right way. But sometimes there is a break in the weather and you just have to go for it. Nature is quite forgiving and probably laughs at our ‘rules for growing vegetables.’

Come again soon – there is a bit of tidying up to do.

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Garden Planning – the Final Push

Sector 4 is all fruit so no planning needed there – all I have to do before the season changes is evict the aging three year old strawberries and replace them with their offspring runners to keep the production of delicious berries at an optimum.


I need these in my life

So that leaves the back row that forms sector 5.  If you take the two raspberry beds (27 and 28) out – which I’ll be replacing at some stage soon with fresh canes, there are only four beds in this section so it should be easy.

Parsnip fritters

In spite of what the kids said – these parsnip fritters were delish.

Bed 25 had the carrots and still has the parsnips in there, but we are doing our best to eat them.  Last night I made some great parsnip fritters, but the kids weren’t too fussed about them – I say they don’t recognize quality produce when it is presented to them!  And they should really learn to like them as they are a great way to use a lot of parsnips in one meal.

Once the parsnips have been consumed and ‘enjoyed’ this will become the salad bed.  To be honest in this bed I normally like to use the variety that comes from a mixed salad packet, otherwise I’d just be tempted to put in too many of the same thing from the sheer principle that I have all these seedlings and wouldn’t want to waste them.  I only put the salad in a quarter of the bed and then progressively add more across the season so the bed is in constant renewal.  Any that don’t get finished before they bolt are gratefully received by the chickens or the goats.  I also like to grow rocket for its spicy bite and my favourite recipe is roast pumpkin, red onion and feta cheese on a bed of rocket leaves.  I also pop my radish in this bed.  I don’t plant that many as I’m not a great fan of them, but I see it as one of those crops that mark a time and phase of the season and so it is more of a nod to the passing of time.  Sometimes the days, weeks, months and seasons pass by so quickly that you need to stop every now and again and savour a radish.


Radish have a place in my garden – albeit briefly

The next bed (26) is what used to be my teaching bed – I’m not doing any teaching program this year which will be a refreshing break.  But I do like to share my knowledge with people – just to get them growing something.  It is a 2 x 3m bed in the ground and I pretend it is all I have in my back garden and grow crops in that space to suit a normal family.  Maybe this year I’ll plant it out the same, but send the produce to the food bank or give to a needy family.   Yup – that’s what I’ll do.  The bed usually has beans, carrots, peas, peppers, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, salad and cucumber.  I’ll rename it The Giving Bed.


I know cosmos should be a given in the flower garden but I’m still unsure about the rest… but there will definitely be zinnias – I love Zinnias!

Bed 29 is still a struggle for me to get my head around – it is the flower bed.  I have good intentions about this, but may remove it from my generally planning or we will be here for months while I continue to wrap my head around the art of growing flowers!

Buttercup Squash

These buttercup squash don’t grow too big but give a fabulous burst of flavour in the middle of winter.

The final bed in the sector system is the pumpkin bed.  It is in ground as well as I want to encourage their roots to go down into the soil to find a consistent supply of moisture.  Currently this bed is a bit of a weedy mess – but the bed that gets done last on a Friday does tend to suffer a little.  Once this bed is planted out then I’ll put down a deep layer of mulch.  There are so many varieties of pumpkin to grow and I have tried many of them.  Many of them disappointed with their flavour and ended up rotting in storage or shrivelling up in the back of the fridge.  So, it might sound boring but I grow what I like and these are the ones that are often found in the store.  The only difference being I won’t need to pay for them.    I like to grow Crown Pumpkins and Buttercup Squash.  Add this to the Butternuts growing in bed 10 and we have a good supply for winter and they store well enough so I can have my roast pumpkin salad in the summer.

Giant pumpkin

I don’t think I should speak of this giant pumpkin again

We also like to grow a few Atlantic Giants and after last years shameful 1kg effort the challenge is on – I shall grow a whopper.

And that’s it – my garden for 2017.  It will be fabulous.

Come again soon – hopefully the storm the boffins are predicting will miss us completely.  I’m over storms.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Sector Three

Sector three was once the outer edge of the garden.  I’m not entirely sure how it has become part of the heart of the garden, but I think I may need a fence.    I’m really pleased with my sector systems as it helps break down my large garden on so many levels – weeding, watering and feeding a sector a day makes the insurmountable achievable.   It doesn’t matter that there is a raging weedy mess in bed 30 zone 5 – that can wait until Friday.  But I found in the height of the season the little and often approach almost completely eliminated the weedy mess situation.

Garden beds

Sector three with the successional planting of the salad bed in action.

But also, as I plan the garden, I’m able to break it down into manageable chunks and make sure I have a good understanding of what I want to grow and where it will be put instead of creating a giant list of ‘ohh I want that’ and ‘I must have that’ that ends up causing problems later on when it comes to emptying the greenhouse of thousands of lovingly nurtured seedlings with nowhere to go.  I may be a bit of a geek, but as well as creating a list – I’m also creating mini maps for each garden bed so I know not only what goes where, but how many seedlings I’ll need.  I normally grow a spare and a back up for each seedling needed.

I’m also examining each option to make sure it fits in with how we will end up using the produce in the end.   It isn’t really ideal to have a glut of something you don’t like or won’t use in more than one dish.  And while friends and neighbours often appreciate your excess common veggies, they may not share your enthusiasm for the weird and the wonderful.   I need to remember – at the end of the day my main aim is to feed my family in a self-sustainable way.

Not a bad carrot

Not a bad carrot

Good things take time – and I’m enjoying turning this into a drawn out process, savouring the moment, especially as  the garden is still drying out.   Bed 13 is the first one in Sector 3 and it has already started to be filled with a row of carrots.   Last year it had the spuds because the spuds are great for loosening the soil and it just so happens carrots like loose soil! Last year I vaguely recall some kind of bottle neck between these beds and the salad crops that will go into the bed the carrots were in.  We weren’t eating the carrots or the parnips fast enough which held up moving the salad crops which don’t mind the cool of spring and this in turn held up the brassicas.  My crop rotation wasn’t happening fast enough.  So I started my autumn carrots in their new bed not their old one, but the parsnips need a bit of a hurry up – they’ve been in since spring and have had several frosts on them and are in prime condition to eat.  Maybe we’ll have parsnip fritters tonight.

Parsnips for dinner

Parsnips for dinner

We do love parsnips but I just forget to eat them.  So bed 13 will have the already existing carrots, some fennel and beetroot, which just happen to be there already too and parsnips which will be sown in the spring.  There is enough room in this bed for plenty of succession planting.

Potato Harvest

Not a bad harvest – I’m looking forward digging up this kind of bounty again soon.

Then the new potato bed is number 14.  The spuds go in on the 16 September because I’m a creature of habit and the Jersey Bennes are a Christmas favourite that take 100 days to grow and the 16th September is 100 days before Christmas.  Not only is it cool to dig them up moments before Christmas dinner, but they charge a fortune for these in the days leading up to Christmas and so I feel good in a financially challenging festive season I’m actually saving money.   This is also when I plant the other varieties that take a little longer.  The choice is usually based on what is available and how best they can be used in our kitchen.


I grow beans the easy way. Pretty much set and forget!

Bed 15 becomes the bean bed and the broad beans have been in there since the autumn.  I am a sucker for punishment as these have to be the least liked things in the whole garden.  But one day I might just like them – you never know…  I tend to grow an ordinary dwarf green bean, a yellow one and a purple one for the token bean eating business as we don’t really like beans all that much.  But we do eat a lot of kidney beans.  I have grown them for several years and they are so simple – just plant them and then leave them until the pods rattle!  This year I’m also going to try a Cannellini Bean because sometimes you don’t want a large red bean in your dish.

I’m terrible at meal planning and often decide hours before we eat what we are having and the concept of dried beans doesn’t fit with this approach.  So what I do is I soak all of the beans for the required time and then drain them and freeze them.  When I decide on a whim I want to use them I just chuck them in a pot and boil them until soft and then add them to my dish.  It seems to work well.  In the meantime, I have to eat a lot of leeks because they are still taking up a lot of space in the soon to be bean bed.


There are always leeks in garden. They come in so handy in winter meals.

Following on from the beans is Bed 16 which is the onion overflow bed.  It should have things in it at the moment but the weather has conspired against it.  So what will go in there soon are some shallot bulbs saved from last year, some shallot seedlings, Red Onions, and maybe the left over Pukekohe Longkeepers and Hunter River Whites – if there is space.  I have to also leave some space for the leeks that will go in in the spring.

Okra flowers

Okra flowers are so beautiful

Next to the soon to be onion bed is last seasons brassicas, which are still host to the autumn ones.  They should be well gone by the time we need the bed for the odds and sods.  This is generally for things that don’t fit in anywhere else, like the eggplant and okra but also for fun things like popcorn and peanuts.  There is also a bit of space for something fun.  Last year it had tomatillos in there but I had to admit I don’t actually like them enough to grow them again so the seeds will be off to the seed swap at the library.  I’m not sure what I’ll put in there yet…  In the past I have tried asparagus peas, marshmallow, epazote, sugar beet, caigua and some I even gave a second chance but all won’t be back in my garden.  Maybe I’ll just save the space for an extra left over favourite thing.  I must be getting more sensible as I get older…

Tomatillos and okra

Next season I need to pick my okra shorter and my tomatillos never…

Then the new brassica bed is the old salad bed.  This also has the usual suspects – broccoli, Romanesco, cabbage and a red cabbage or two for good measure, possibly a cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi and that is about it.  There is space in the bed for 16 brassicary things.  So it will be a mix of these, depending on which ones we eat the most of.  Brassicas can all be a bit boring to be honest.


Some cabbage can be good looking

After this there is only one last push on the planning front.  It does include the flower bed and goodness knows what I want in there.  It should be interesting.

Come again soon – The planning stage is one of the bigger winter projects – after this I’ll have to do things like cleaning the greenhouse.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Tomatoes

There is something special about tomatoes.  They complete a garden and epitomise summer.  I’m not sure if it is the fragrance the plants emit from the moment they emerge from the seed raising mix and I love to run my hand over the small army of tiny seedlings in order to get a burst of this scent of summer in the early days of spring.  It is also good for the plants to be touched in this way as it strengthens their stems and prepares them for life on the outside when they will get buffered about by the breeze.  It could also be that there is a depth of flavour found in a home grown tomato that is rarely found elsewhere.  Add to that the intensification of the flavour brought about by it being moments old and still warm from the sun when gobbled up greedily.

Tomato seedlings

The pleasure of growing tomatoes begins with the seedlings

There will always be tomatoes in my garden – which is just as well as there are over 100 varieties available to the seed growers of New Zealand and I have space in bed 7 for 20 and possibly space for a few more if I’m creative with some of the more casual beds I have.  So this is the fun part – decided which ones to grow.

Normally I plant them in alphabetical order – because I like it that way and it helps me to remember which is which.  One year I grew them in groups – all the cherries together, all the cooking ones together and all the large beefsteak style ones together and while it was convenient I found myself going back to my old ways the following year.  Besides It’s not that difficult to tell the difference between and cherry and a beefsteak.

Green tomatoes

The green tomato stage seems to last for an eternity! Checking for the first blush of red can almost become compulsive

With so many options available, I have found I tend to shy away from the ordinary.  Last season the red round tomatoes were clearly in the minority.  I found the garden filled with the deep purples and bright yellows and the flavours from these were by far superior to tomatoes found on shelves illuminated by fluorescent lighting.


Once they get started they become so prolific they almost lose their magic… almost but not quite.

Now most of the tomatoes grown in my garden are destined for the freezer – going in whole and unwashed – just as they are when they come in from the garden.  It couldn’t be easier.  Come mid winter, just run them under the tap, slip the skins off and pop them into the casserole to melt in with the rest of the ingredients.  So a lions share of the plants need to be a kind that isn’t too juicy and large enough not to be a fiddle when preparing a dish.  But I also like to have some cherries to nibble on and to perk up salads with a tomatoey zing.  And of course you can’t go passed a large sandwich sized tomato that will fill a piece of bread or burger bun in one slice and even go so far as to hang over the sides!

So the question remains – which ones?


The harvest begins modestly and the variety is always delightful

After much deliberation, I have decided on – and in alphabetical

  1. Armish Orange Sherbet – I grew them last year but the season was so poor I can’t remember what they were like.
  2. Artisan Blush – which is an elongated cherry with a yellow and pink colour and aparently great flavour.  This one is new to me and I can’t wait to try it.
  3. Black Cherry – I threw a load of these into the freezer last season and noticed when defrosting them to use again they leached a deep purple colour, which means they should be full antioxidants and so its gotta be good for you!
  4. Black Krim are slightly smaller than the Purple Cheroke and have a similar flavour and I love them!
  5. Brandywine Yellow – great for burgers and have a lovely version of the tomato flavour.  To be honest I can never get over the fact that each of these tomatoes all taste like tomatoes but at the same time taste so different.
  6. Green Zebra – I grew it last year but didn’t give it a fair chance because the weather was so horrible they took forever to ripen – but it was also hard to tell when they had ripened as they were green..
  7. Grosse Lisse so we have an ordinary style tomato to remind us of what a proper tomato should taste like.
  8. Linda’s Lemony Tomato – these seeds were generously given to me from the family of a relative who had saved them for the next growing season, but unfortunately cancer got in the way and they were never planted. It is a lovely legacy to be able to grow these each year and remember Linda.  I don’t know what the original variety actually was but she was right to save these ones – they are really nice.
  9. Mortgage Lifter because it would also be great on a burger… imagine how pretty it would look to have a slice of red Mortgage Lifter on top of a slice of Yellow Brandywine in the middle of a home made burger!  Oh I can hardly wait for that opportunity.
  10. Oaxacan Jewel – looks amazing with a red and yellow marbled affect and the flavour is amazing.  This has to be one of my favourites – but then I’d be hard pressed to pick just one.  Definitely in the top 5.


    Mountains of tomatoes – they just keep coming. Oh how I am looking forward to great piles of goodness like this cluttering up my bench top.

  11. Orange Banana – I grew these last year and really enjoyed them and they looked cool.  The season was so harsh I really didn’t get a chance to enjoy them to the full.
  12. Oxheart – a good big meaty cooking tomato.  I’ve grown this one for a few years and it is a solid producer with few problems.
  13. Purple Cherokee – they have such a lovely sweet tomatoey flavour – they have a permanent spot on my list and high up on that list – definitely top 5 material.
  14. Roma – just for the cooking – and possibly to sundry.  It has quite a dense compact habit and different from the other tomatoes I often freak myself out thinking what is going wrong.  Each plant has there own quirks and once you figure that out you can relax and enjoy the plant for who it is.
  15. San Marzano are great paste tomatoes – but these go straight into the freezer so I can use them how ever I need to in my winter cooking
  16. San Marzano this is in here twice because I’ll grow two of them for my winter cooking.
  17. Sweet 100 – because you can never have too many sweet snacks while working in the garden
  18. Tangella as I got the seeds from Heritage Food Crops Reseach Trust and this variety  has been tested and contains tetra-cis-lycopene which is a more easily absorbed form of lycopene than found in modern tomatoes.  It is also a prolific producer and they taste amazing – whats not to like?!
  19. Tula – or using its proper name Black from Tula this Russian tomato has been described as ugly, but who am I to judge when their flavour is exquisite.
  20. Zapotec – Ok this one is a bit of an indulgence and is new to me.  It is from the same region as the Oaxacan Jewel which I love, and it has a fluted beefsteak appearance, but I picked it because it starts with Z and so I can say I grow tomatoes from A – Z!

And with that my tomato choices for the season have been laid down.  I just need to check my seed stocks, get more if needed, and then patiently wait for the time when a small green fragrant army can arise in my greenhouse and fill my garden with hopes and expectations of a fabulous and delicious season.

End of season tomatoes

And then the season draws to an exhausted end. I do hope it isn’t as premature this season as it was last year.

Come again soon – we still have the final push for the planning stage and with the weather momentarily looking ok, I can get a feel for the spring – I can almost smell it.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – Stuck in the Middle

This is an easy sector for me to plan as most things don’t move.  There are two asparagus beds and they have already had all the attention they need for the start of the season.  All I have to do is wait for the first delish spears to pop up, which should be some time around August.  I am a little worried though that some of the crowns may have rotted in the soggy weather so I have prepared in advance some new ones grown from seed.  If there are any gaps then come next winter I’ll be able to pop in what would be one year old crowns by then and we will be away again.

Asparagus seedlings

Grown from seed these asparagus seedlings are doing well, however I strongly hope I don’t need them and will be able to pass them on to friends.

The other beds in this sector are the Jerusalem Artichokes and the Yams, which still need harvesting from the previous season.  The artichokes haven’t been dug up as we’ve been away, but a few roast dinners and hearty soups should take care of that.  With the Yams I’m still waiting for the foliage to die down.  I’m taking the fact that there is still some lingering foliage as a positive sign of some kind of harvest as I’m sure the flooding won’t have done them any favours.  Maybe I need to raise their beds higher still.

Jerusalem Artichokes

I should really get onto to harvesting the Jerusalem Artichokes as the rain seems to have begun the job by washing the soil away

So the upshot is I need to harvest the artichokes so I don’t overcrowd the bed – I’ve already had to mend it twice as the little blighters are prolific and keep trying to escape!  Even leaving one behind would be enough.  And I need to buy more Yams as seed stock for the new season – you could save your own, but I’ve only ever had tiddlers.  The best place to get them is the produce section of the supermarket.  While I’m waiting for mine to be harvested I’ll buy a handful for the table and a handful for the garden.


The theory is you should wait for the foliage to completely die down before digging up the Yams but there is still some stubborn stems and a lot of tiddlers littering the surface. I hope there are some bigger ones underground. To be honest I don’t think our climate is quite right, but I can’t help but try… you never know one day one season will conspire to bring about the perfect conditions…

The other worry-free bed is the onions, which should be in by now, but we’ve been away and now it is too soggy.  I am pleased that I did take the step of popping them in single cells with rich soil and leaving them outdoors while we were away as they are much bigger and healthier than the ones left in the seed trays.  But it will dry out soon enough – well it just has too, and then I can pop my seedlings into the garden and that will be pretty much it until summer – aside from some weeding, watering and feeding.

Onion seedlings

While not in the garden bed, these onion seedlings are on top of it and exposed to all the elements they would have if they were in the soil and aside from being a tad windswept they are doing well and can wait until the conditions are more favourable for this gardener.

But I need to plan ahead here as once the onions come out in early summer I don’t want to waste the space so the melons will go in their place.  I normally start these off in October but leave them in the greenhouse well into November when the warmth is more consistent.  I have enough large pots to keep moving these on as they will no doubt out grow their pots several times before those onions decide they’ve had enough of dwelling in the soil.

Sugarbaby Watermelon

I love how on hot days when the heat is so energy sapping that it is exhausting to even move from the spot you have plonked yourself in and watermelon finds itself as not only a light snack but a form of liquid refreshment as well. Oh how I long for those days to come…. Although I will probably complain about how hot it is just as much as now I’m complaining about the cold!

I have already planned for a couple of orange rock melons to grow up the trellis in Sector One which should be enough of those.  But I’d like to have some green honeydews as well.  Sugarbaby watermelons also do well in my garden and they are so refreshing that they are a must.  Most of these climb well, but in the past I’ve let them sprawl, so the decision is really up or down?  If I put them up they may shade out the cucumbers and the peppers.  Shading the cucumbers wouldn’t be such a bad thing as they wouldn’t mind too much, but the peppers do like to bask in the sun.  Maybe I could do a short trellis… hmmm this requires more thought but I’ve got plenty of time to think about it.

Novella Peas

Novella peas with all their crazy tendrils are ideal to cope with the tumultuous conditions of winter. And they are tasty too!

The peas are also destined to go into bed 9 and in the past I’ve got myself into a right pickle here.  Because I’d always somehow have a cover crop growing in the soon to be pea bed, so the early spring peas were popped temporarily into the tomato bed – which is the old pea bed, only for them not to be ready in time for when the tomatoes needed to go in.   This was all a result of poor planning and reactionary gardening.  I’d see a blank spot and fill it with something not realising the knock on affect down the line.   The tomato bed does actually currently have peas in there.   This was last seasons pea bed and these are my autumn peas that ending up being my early winter peas because I had so much trouble getting them started, and here we are at mid winter and I haven’t had a single one yet, but I do have some almost fat enough pods so it isn’t far away.  They should be well gone by the time I need the bed for the tomatoes in the spring.

In the meantime the spring peas will be sorted because the cover crop that I currently have growing there, has been marked in the calendar for digging in 6 weeks before the bed is needed for the peas whether it’s ready or not.   I like to start with a more robust Novella pea that hold up to the harsh conditions of early spring, and then move on to the taller Alderman variety later on because picking peas standing up is so much easier and both of these taste delish!   I did say I wasn’t going to grow the tall ones again, because of the trouble with the wind, but I think the ‘borrowed’ sheep fencing will improve this problem no end.

Painted Mountain Corn

Painted Mountain Corn is such a fun thing grow. This season I hope to grow enough to turn into something more than funky table decorations.

I may pop in a sneaky 3rd crop of peas as the season progresses – it really depends on how hot things get as peas don’t really like it hot. Or I may move on to using the space for more exciting things.  Last season I followed my peas with some Painted Mountain Corn which is such fun to grow.   Then once these come out I can resow more peas for the autumn harvest.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash bring such versatility to our winter diets that I wouldn’t be without them. Tonight I’ll be turning one into a heartwarming Thai Pumpkin Soup that will cut through the chill of our current winter weather.

The zucchini and butternuts will be in bed 10 and I have found I can control the zucchini best by tying them up to a sturdy pole.  I love the yellow ones, but also want a dark green one for contrast because it will look cool on the plate.  There are plenty of other cool ones but as we all know there is such a thing as too many zucchini and at our place two plants are on the upper limits of excess.  Butternuts can climb and in the past they are mostly contained but have a tendency to sprawl over the edge of the bed, so I may look at creating some kind of climbing frame for them.  We’ll see.

The last bed in this sector is the tomato bed, where the peas currently are, but tomatoes are a special thing and deserve a post of their own.

Come again soon – we can wax lyrical about all that is wonderful about tomatoes.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Planning the Garden – The Back Row

I tend to be a bit of a creature of habit and once I’m on to a good thing, then I don’t tend to change much and the beds that form the rest of sector one are of the ilk – ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’  Maybe I’ll do a bit of tweaking in the pepper bed but it is pretty much business as usual but in a different bed.  Everything in this sector except the herbs and Rhubarb and Artichokes move one bed to the right.  This means the same crop won’t be in the same place for five years.

Bed Two – The Leafy Greens

This bed is where the cucumbers were last year and normally consists of spinach, rainbow beets – often called chard, celeriac and celery.  We love the spinach, the rainbow beets feature on our plates from time to time, but the chickens seem to love them more.  I like to have them in there as they do add a delightful splash of colour all year.

Celery to be proud of

Celery to be proud of , however, if it means always having a soggy summer then I’d rather have celery that I would be ashamed of! The flavour is still the same.

Due to the exceptionally wet season last year the celery and celeriac did really well, but I’m not sure I want to repeat the conditions for the sake of this pair.  But I’ll pop them in again with the expectation of struggling to get a decent crop because I’m hoping it will be a dry summer.  I can’t see any reason to change the contents of this bed – just the location.

Bed Three – The Cucumbers and Melons  

This will be where the garlic and peppers were last season.  I like to grow them up so I have three rows of netting tied to rebar pole.  Rebar is much better than bamboo and just as affordable so making the change last year was a good idea.  But the nylon netting had a tendency to make the whole thing sag under the weight of a heavy crop.  This year I’m thinking of using some of the spare sheep fencing we have.  Hopefully this is more robust for my plants.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point putting up netting if the crop ends up on the dirt anyway.  I hope it works.

Pickled Gherkins

Actually – in review – I think we may need to eat Gherkins in every meal before the next onslaught of crunchy Cucurbits.

The cucumbers I want to grow are long telegraph style ones, lemon cucumbers because they don’t seem to be as bitter as the apple ones and lots of gherkins because you can never have too many of these – although the key is to harvest early and often, so you don’t end up with a thousand jars of pickles filled with one gherkin each.  In this bed I also like to  pop in a few rock melons and a luffa to climb the frame too.


Luffas are such fun things to grow.

Bed Four – Garlic and Peppers

The garlic is already in there and doing well.  I am keeping a sharp eye out for signs of rust and aren’t afraid to spray if necessary.  This bad run of garlic needs to end now!  Once the garlic comes out I’ll pop in the peppers.  This year I have acquired some larger pots so if the peppers have to wait, then they can do so in comfort.  The majority of the bed will be bell peppers so we have enough to freeze for all year use.  There’ll be a few interesting ones and some with a bit of a kick just to make it fun.  I’m not sure which ones yet, but I’ll have to decide soon as I usually start the seed off on the 1st August.


I am keen on filling my freezer with an abundance of these this season

Bed Five – Rhubarb and Globe Artichoke

I need to remove the old rhubarb, raise the soil level and replant the ones I grew from seed.  I was hoping to raise the level under the artichokes but they seem to have bounced back from the flooding drama so I’m still undecided as to what to do.  But I have plenty of time to think about it as the soil is too soggy to dig… again…   I’m beginning to wonder if this is a one off blip in an otherwise gentle temperate climate or is it a more sinister sign of climate change?

Flooded rhubarb and artichoke

This is no way to treat these delightful crops. So disappointing.  I hope we don’t see this kind of thing again.

Bed Six – Sweetcorn

This should be simple….  There is space for 60 plants and they should be all the same as most are destined for the freezer to bring a ray of sunshine in the winter months.  Last year I ended up with gaps all over the place.  They prefer to be direct sown – it helps them to establish a strong root system that will anchor these giants into the soil,  and I’ll do this again this year – but I’ll pop some in the greenhouse at the same time in case I need to plug any gaps.   Some years the conditions are ideal for some plants and terrible for others.  Last year it didn’t smile favourably on my poor sweetcorn during its formative days.


While sweetcorn were slow to get started last year I did manage to achieve the perfect ear – with every kernel pollinated.

I feel a bit more in control of this new season with a quarter of the garden planned.  I can do this!  At times like this I wonder why I have such a large garden, but then as I ponder each crop as I decide where to put it, I can almost taste the freshness in my mouth and I long for it to be time to grow everything.

Come again soon – the long and the short beds are next to be exposed to close examination.


Sarah the Gardener  : o)


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