We are now in summer and I was hoping to put all my troubles behind me. Of the first four days of the season, there hasn’t been much to complain about except a two-hour window of intense craziness on Tuesday.
There we were, minding our own business, enjoying what was promising to be another delightful summer day. Never ending blue skies with a hint of haze in the distance from the smoke of the Australian bush fires. The sun was beating down and there was barely a puff of wind. The previous two days were in the category of ‘so far so good’. We were all hoping the turmoil of spring was well and truly behind us. This season ahead of us has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders to help us feel good about the weather again.
Then things started to change. Around 1:30 in the afternoon, the humidity began to rise dramatically up to 90%. The air felt thick and then it started to rain. Now I don’t mind a good rain as our water tanks are uncomfortably low as we head into what is likely to be a dry summer. And a good rain is good for the garden. It was only a brief three hour rainfall where a mere 5mm was deposited onto the garden and hopefully some of it made its way into the water tanks. Rain I can cope with.
But what was the worst was the wind. Before the humidity rose, the wind was toying about with the garden with breezes of less than 10 Km/h and it was just enough to keep the temperatures almost reaching the mid-twenties still feel light and not oppressive. When the humidity rose, it felt like all hell had broken loose, the wind within half an hour of a gentle breeze had become a roaring 25km/h. But not to be stopped there, it whipped around the garden caused mayhem and havoc for the next two hours peaking with gusts of 51.5km/h. Then as quickly as it came, it all died down, the rain stopped, and the wind returned to breeze conditions. However, just to taunt us it picked up to around 30km/h momentarily a couple of times across the evening.
It didn’t last long but wind can be a bully. It whipped through my rocket, it tousled with the sunflowers, it teased the tomatoes, it flattened the onions, it leaned on the corn and it brought down the bok choi. The rocket and the bok choi had bolted to seed in the latest bout of unpredictable weather and I was leaving it for the bees to enjoy the flowers, so it was no great loss there. New seeds had already been sown. The onions were already beginning to flop over and so the decision on when to harvest was made a little easier. The sunflowers managed to stand their ground in the face of it all and their heads still stand tall and proud. The tomatoes were gently tied into place and the corn was nudged back into the upright position. The wind may be a meany bully but this time it didn’t get the better of us and the garden will go on.
Looking forward to the rest of the month, the boffins are suggesting it will be a warm and dry time, however at quote from the Metservice website says: “Bottom Line – Westerlies continue during December”. Great. I think my next project will be to seriously investigate wind protection options!
Come again soon – we are in summer and the sky is mostly blue.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Up until now the garden hasn’t exactly brought me a lot of joy this season, more a sense of overwhelming, never ending impossibilities. It has been a huge struggle to negotiate the storms and troubles, and shout down the thoughts of running behind. Finally I have reached a place in the garden where I feel in control and things are where they should be, and most of the weeds are also where they should be – in the compost, and things are growing. I can finally relax. I have reached that magical moment where all that is required from the garden is some gentle pottering. A reward from the efforts of the spring and a respite before the onslaught of the harvest in the heat of the summer days.
Each morning when I go into the garden to look about and check on things I no longer see what needs to be done, I notice new growth, new colours and things that make my heart burst with joy. I have made it. In spite of the enormous journey this season, there is a garden to be thankful for.
Here is a selection of some of the things I see each day. I hope they bring you joy too. If you click on the images you can find out more about them.
It is nice to feel like this again. I really do love my garden, but like a petulant child, sometimes we have our differences.
Come again soon – this really does feel like the beginning of something amazing.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
While I have been taking a few things here and there, like the globe artichokes. I have been quite simple with these – just pick, wash and steam until tender. Then we normally dip the scales into melted butter and lemon juice but there was this time when we didn’t have enough butter or even any lemons, so I tried a range of other sauces to go with it. I couldn’t leave it for another day as the artichoke was perfect and after rejecting a range of other dipping sauces, I found aioli to be the best and now we don’t even bother to squeeze any lemons. Although it isn’t exactly a healthy treat, but that is probably what makes it a treat!
And then there has been the salad crops, lettuce, spring onions and radish, however I’m not sure my succession planting of my lettuce is completely aligned, in spite of my best efforts and so I am anticipating a gap in the glut in the next week or so. But there are fresh peas, which haven’t made it into a pot yet – fresh is so much nicer. And we’ve had some spuds I overwintered in pots.
There have been pickings from the garden, it has been more of a nibble, and not the full proper harvest of putting crops away for a rainy day like a squirrel collecting nuts kind of a way, until the other day. The garden is a bit of a mess because I have been away and my attention has been held elsewhere, so I have been working my way across the beds – doing the Monday row on the Monday and the Tuesday row on a Tuesday, but that is as far as I have gotten so far as today is Wednesday so I anticipate another 7 beds will get some love. It helps a lot that we are having summer-esk conditions – blue skies, not a puff of that dreaded wind and just all-round gloriousness. I say summer-esk as summer doesn’t start until Sunday – by the calendar, and to be fair after the spring we have had I just don’t trust it. So, I’m trying to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak.
The rules for my weekly maintenance plan are only take care of the needs of the bed in the row in question – no matter how weedy or terrible it looks elsewhere. So, on Monday I tied in peas and tomatoes and removed laterals, and I replaced a dead squash with something greener and sowed some zinnia seeds into some gaps in the cut flower bed. Then I weeded each bed, removing large and small interlopers and hoed the sand around the beds to keep them weed free too.
While this was going on, I had the irrigation system on and watered everything and gave it all a deep watering, so when I gave each bed a liquid feed the soil was receptive to drawing the goodness deep down instead of it rolling off the surface. It is great to look back at the end of the day and see an oasis of control in the middle of a messy garden. It feels good too.
Once the needs of the row are taken care of next comes the emergency work across the rest of the garden and I am still trying to bring the strawberries back to full health after their near-death experience while I was away. Lesson learnt, even in the midst of a terrible spring, make provisions for watering when you go away!
This brings me to the first harvest. I honestly thought it would be the Hunter River White onions as I noticed while tending their beds that a couple had flopped over, but the rest were still growing strong. I thought to myself ‘soon my pretties…’ But on my tour of the rest of the garden I noticed some of the early garlic was leaning over in a jaunty fashion – which isn’t really supposed to happen.
You can normally tell when it is ready to harvest as the bottom third of the leaves start to die off – these are the tops of the ‘wrappers’ that become the papery layers protect the bulb. It was a little hard for me to tell this was happening as I had removed the bottom half of the layers in the battle with the rust. I never quite got on top of it, but a lack of diligence is mostly the reason. So, I dug them up. And just like that I had my first proper harvest.
Come again soon – the garden is full of surprises
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Slowly but surely putting one foot in front of the other, the garden has been planted out. It came as a bit of a surprise as I was just doing the next job on the list without looking beyond it for fear of being overwhelmed. So, when I stood up, stretched, and looked around I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d made it to the end of all the plantings. There were no more blank slots that my carefully created plans required plants to be put. This unexpected arrival was masked by the sheer number of plants still in the greenhouse and in the hardening off corner. I had hedged my bets back in the spring and sown far more than I needed and then in my impatience waiting for them to germinate, I sowed even more.
You think after all these years I would trust the fresh seed, and the quality seed raising mix and my well taught and experienced techniques and my frequent visits to the greenhouse that kept the soil warm and moist. But seeds of mistrust where also sown ‘what if they don’t come up….’ So, I sowed more. In a couple of cases it was necessary, but if I’d waited a few days longer I wouldn’t have needed to have sown so many spares and saved myself a lot of unnecessary work caring for seedlings I didn’t need.
Having said that if was nice to have spares, although the ones from my original sowing session would have been enough. I always sow the one I want, and a spare, just in case and then a back up to each of these. This should really be enough to cover any mishaps and eventualities and be able to bless friends with spares. But then the frenzied panicked wild abandon sowing occurs, and I end up with far too many.
Those spares did come in handy, due to the inclement weather I had to dip into the extra plants in waiting and get them to take the place of their predecessors who succumbed to conditions no pampered seedlings should need to endure. Sadly, a couple of these brave plants also fell to the undesirable situation this spring has wreaked upon us. With summer just a week and a half away, I feel nervous to find homes for the remaining seedlings, however it is time for them to leave the nest.
All that remains to be done now is a good deep tidy up, the pots and bags and items that were cast aside at the end of a task, much to my shame, need to be gathered up and disposed of appropriately or washed and put away. The dome needs a sort and a clean as it is no longer as well ordered as it was at the start of the season.
The garden itself, while now planted, still needs care and attention, with regular weeding, feeding, watering and tending to tendrils and laterals and doing a spot of training to urge wayward pumpkins in the places I have prepared for them. And a light sowing of successional seeds to ensure a continual supply. This can all be done from the slower pace of only caring for the plants in the Monday row on a Monday and the Tuesdays on a Tuesday and so on. I look forward to this brief season of slow calm before the harvest gets going and I’m in the kitchen processing the harvest in earnest across the summer months.
Spring is never an easy season in the garden as there is a lot of hard work to be done, but compound this with cruel and crazy weather and a multitude of life issues, I for one will be pleased to put this season behind me.
Come again soon – summer is nearly here.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
You may or may not have noticed, but I’ve been AWOL for a while. At the start of the season, it was never my intention. This was going to be that perfect season in my garden. I had it all planned. I wasn’t building any part of the vegetable garden, technically everything was done and ready to go. I was going to waft through the season and casually, with no stress at all, dig in the cover crops and enrich the beds with enough time for all the goodies to be worked into the soil by the worms and other beneficial soil organisms that will appreciate my efforts.
Meanwhile I would sow seeds in my greenhouse, on the new shelves that were perfectly timed and perfect for the job. I would waft in and out daily to keep the soil moist and check regularly for signs of life. Then in an orderly fashion I would repot seedlings as required into larger pots, a couple of times each if necessary, using the compost and potting mix that I had pre-ordered and was just waiting to be used.
Then once the time was right, somewhere around mid-October, I was envisioning planting things out into the garden beds to the tunes of some lovely classical music. I’m not a great classic music fan, but the situation always feels appropriate to have the correct soundtrack. Because we don’t get frosts, I was hoping to sneak a few plants in even earlier. I had worked hard on planting maps for each garden bed and had them at the ready so everything would take its correct place.
And finally, I would stand back and weed and water without a care in the world and all would grow before my eyes and it would be wonderful. I would then arrive at Christmas relaxed, refreshed with a home-grown festive menu.
Now you may notice in these previous paragraphs there was a lot of language that falls easily into ‘shoulda, woulda and coulda’. Unfortunately, things didn’t go to plan.
The first problem was a cold that left me bedridden for a week and a six-week recovery. On top of this an ankle I twisted back in January was in the final stages of medical treatment with the words ‘Ooooh you’ve done a lot of soft tissue damage, stay off it for a week’ uttered a couple of times. This put paid to the cover crop digging in and pre enriching of the beds with all the goodies I had set aside ready to go. Next season I am going to chop and drop in the middle of winter, none of this digging in nonsense. The books and magazines casually say, ‘just dig it in’. It isn’t easy and is more like herding kittens.
Then tragedy struck, and this was what really pulled the plug on gardening and all social media for a while. My dad fought a very fast and vicious battle with cancer, and he was gone within six short weeks. Fortunately, we were able to make the long drive south and saw him a couple of times to tell him we loved him. It was a difficult time. I lost the desire to garden for a while, my health delays had made the garden seem to be overwhelming and I just needed to put one foot in front of the other.
During this time the weather did not do what it was supposed to do. It didn’t stick with the plan. It has been the worst spring ever. The weather was all over the place, hot one day, freezing the next and then there were the actual storms. I lost count, I know it was more than 3 and less than 5, but it was the wind that was the most devastating. I put my peppers out a little early and a couple of days later they were gone. Their poor wee leaves had the life whipped out of them. I held back on planting out the rest of them but couldn’t wait forever. I finally got them out a couple of day ago and then this morning we got hail like I’ve never seen before.
However, not all the delays to the garden were a bad thing. I also had the good fortune to be spend ten days traveling the country and visiting gardens of national and international significance. It was amazing and such a privilege. I hope to share more about this in blog posts to come. But while I was off gallivanting around the country, my poor garden waited some more.
As mentioned above I spent the last few days planting things out, after beds were hastily turned over and enriched by Hubby the Un-Gardener and teenage boys who are faster and better at it than me and plants and seeds were finally in their places, where they should be, according to the plan. I made a quick video trying to explain it all while I did a bit of planting. You can check it out here:
There was no casual wafting. This season has been a hard slog. But summer is 18 days away and I’m just hoping I will find myself wafting about the garden in a summer frock, once I get all the spring jobs done. Here’s hoping.
Come again soon – I need to reclaim a routine and get things back to some kind of normal.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Sometimes the ups and downs of life can get in the way of time spent in the garden. This spring has been one of those seasons with a lot of non-gardening things going on and just crappy weather. The nice days have been few and far between, but often these end up being out of garden days.
But life wouldn’t be the same without a garden and so I am pushing on and doing my best, but sometimes It feels like I’m running terribly late. But I will get there – I have too… there is a greenhouse full of seedlings counting on me.
So bear with me while I get through this complicated period in life, sometimes it is just easy to spend time in garden and get things done to try and catch up and find joy and peace where I can.
Come again soon – normal gardening commentary will resume shortly.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
This week has been awful. The boffins had mentioned it, but often they are wrong, so I take the forecast with a pinch of salt. Especially as the weekend was so magnificent. It was warm – the kids went swimming. I thought they were mad, but they seemed to have fun. The sky was blue without a cloud in it. It was the closest we have felt to summer since last summer. You could almost reach out and touch it. It felt so permanent that you couldn’t even begin to imagine the next day couldn’t be anything but the same again.
I’m not naive enough to not expect this though. I know we are still in early spring and know she is a tease and not to be trusted, with her summer winter flipflopping. But this time she was just mean. I’d even say a bully standing in the corridor of the season barring me from passing by to get to where I want to be. In the garden.
This week has had me trapped indoors by what was possibly the second worst storm we’ve had since we have been here – a mere 21 months. The first one was horrible. The wind was recorded at 212km up the coast from us. Our house was on jacks with the house mover’s truck beneath and everyone feared all would be lost. But alas no – all was fine. Phew. While intense, that storm only lasted overnight and we didn’t have any other permanent structures on the site, it became a worst-case scenario situation for us to build upon. So, while terrifying it was a kind of blessing.
This storm wasn’t as nasty in its intensity but in its longevity it was terrible. It has pretty much lasted a full week with wind and rain and temperatures dropping so low that you’d think we were in mid-winter again. There was also thunder and lightening and hail thrown in for good measure. It was a good and proper storm. The airport is near us as the crow flies but between them and the open sea is the skinny land mass that is the Awhitu peninsula, so they have a tiny bit more of a buffer than us from the rawness of the storm and they recorded 100km at its worst. The worst I saw in my garden was 62km, but the house does seem to slow things down a little and out the front of the house it felt terrible.
Today the sun is out and the birds and singing and while there are clouds, they don’t look like they’re about to burst with a freezing cold shower. But it is still a little windy here. However, that is part and parcel of living so close to the sea! It should ease soon I’m sure. My weather station is telling me it is currently gusting at 23.4 km, but it feels calm enough after what we have been through.
In my gardening history, on windy nights I would lie awake and worry about whatever greenhouse I had at the time and would eventually send Hubby the Un-Gardener out to check! More often than not there was some kind of damage or loss that would require repair, replacement or upgrade. Not forgetting the time poor Hubby the Un-Gardener was roaming the neighbour’s fields looking for polycarbonate panels, trying not to be blown away with the sail like panels he’d already found, in an electrical storm. He never found them all as he made the conscious decision ‘I don’t want to die like this’ and stopped looking.
So, it was reassuring to know the dome stood up to the storm as expected and the seedlings within are green and lush and doing their thing like nothing untoward was happening around them. I managed to make myself brave the weather at least once a day to go and water everything in there, and it was like a warm oasis in the midst of the terrible weather beyond the glass. Even though it cost a lot more than I would have liked, in times like this I am so pleased to have it. And I was able to sleep easy without worry. Well more like, lie awake without worry because the wind is incredibly noisy. It reminds me of a dog where its bark is worse than its bite.
The boffins are suggesting in the next week or so, there will be rain and a bit of wind, but all going well it won’t be anything like what we have just been through, so it will seem a pleasure to garden through whatever weather is thrown at us.
Come again soon – things can only get better.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I have a bit of a side kick that shadows me wherever I go. Most days it is barely noticeable, well not to me, because I’ve learnt to put the nuances it brings to one side and not give it the attention it demands. Other times it is so demanding of my attention it is impossible to ignore and I have to stop what I’m doing and give into it so, giving it the time it needs to stop bothering me. This could easily describe Jasper the Dog with his helpful hole digging in the middle of my paths or dropping tennis balls at my feet begging me to throw them for him or racing at full speed around the garden beds like a maniac just let loose from bondage, or just lying there in the shade of the artichoke slumbering quietly in the heat of the day.
Alas no, if only that was so simple. Managing a dog in the garden makes things interesting but not unmanageable. The side kick I take everywhere with me is MS – Multiple Sclerosis. It isn’t a secret that I’ve kept hidden, it is common knowledge I’m not afraid to tell people about. While it is something I have and effects decisions I may make, it doesn’t have me, and I have chosen not to let it control me or limit me. It is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience.
But at the same time, it is my biggest blessing and I am thankful for it. I first found something was wrong while I was pregnant with the Joeyosaurus. Of course, the first thoughts are … ‘oh no… the baby…’ So, I got it checked out instead of trying and failing to remember to get things checked out next time I was at the Doctor. It is so worth getting the most minor worry looked at by your doctor. Too bad if you think they think you are a hypochondriac – you’re the one paying for their time!
The final confirmed diagnosis of MS prompted us to move from our city lives into the country and that was where I first put a spade into soil and instantly fell in love with gardening. My health flourished with the exercise and outdoor activity. Soaking in the sun’s rays enriched my absorption of Vitamin D, something MS people aren’t that good at processing. The fresh food and healthy diet that came as a result of my efforts in the garden allowed my health to flourish. I was more myself than I’ve ever been.
For most keen vegie gardeners I’ve ever met, it can become addictive and quite the obsession and it had me hook, line and sinker. I was a gardener through and through. When people asked me how I was I’d reply, ‘not good, I’ve got blight’ then have to add ‘in my tomatoes’. But my meagre four bed garden that first hosted the crops I grew in the first season somehow became the 36 I have now. I think by anyone’s standards 36 is a lot. Managing 36 beds isn’t easy for most people but throw MS into the mix and it becomes even more challenging.
But I have found a way to not only manage my garden but allow it, and me, to thrive. The first philosophy is little and often. Don’t over do things. It is tempting when in a serious gardening session, weeding, digging or some other arduous task to push through to the end to get it done. This isn’t necessary. Most gardening tasks are not time dependant. And if they are the window is weeks or even months. It is certainly never a day or a weekend. So, tackling a bite size chunk at a time with loads of breaks of hours or even days in between. Or mix it up so the day is made of different tasks – some easy, some a little more challenging.
Provide yourself with plenty of nice places to sit and rest and admire all you have achieved. And use them often. I have chairs in the shade at the front of my office shed which I expect will get more use once summer arrives. And then there is my wonderful swing seat which is tall enough that your feet don’t touch the ground, so you are reverted back to childhood as you swing your feet freely. Once seated I’m reluctant to get back up, it is so relaxing, which is the whole point. It is easy to stop – gulp a cuppa tea and carry on. On the swing seat is seductive and you linger there much longer.
Staying on top of the garden all year long is also a great benefit so there is no need for intensive boom and bust weeding sessions. I have divided my garden into 5 groups and on the Monday, I only take care of group 1 with weeding, feeding, watering, pruning, deadheading and tying in etc. Then on Tuesday it is group 2, although I have to say group 5 on a Friday often gets the short end of the stick. Harvesting across the whole garden is done when it is needed, that is one thing that doesn’t wait. But even in winter, when nothing is growing a quick check for weeds or problems keeps everything manageable.
Asking for help is another essential tool. I’m terrible at it because I’m a control freak in the garden and prefer things done my way. I am so pleased Hubby the Un-Gardener has no interest in gardening – I’m sure there would be a territorial struggle of wills that would turn the garden into a battlefield. But no, his role that he has willingly accepted from those first days in the garden was to do heaving lifting and dig on demand. I may have put the first spade in – but he did the rest – digging is hard work!
The last thing is listen to your body and if it is telling you to stop then it is in your best interests to stop. Sort of like when the oil light comes on in the car. It is better to have a short rest than do some long term damage that can keep you out of the garden for days.
It is around about now, 14 years ago my life changed irreversibly, but to be honest I firmly believe it changed for the better and introduced me to the 2nd love of my life (after family) gardening and I couldn’t be happier to be inconvenienced by this strange little side kick.
Come again soon – the weather is rubbish again; normal gardening will resume shortly.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Today is Friday and the end of the week. The work in the garden has cranked up a notch and now instead of just potting about fiddling with this and tinkering with that, it has become heaving lifting, ardous weeding and a significant amount of digging and forking over the soil. This has me arriving at the end of the week completely exhausted. So instead of telling you all about it, let me show you in pictures.
Come again soon – next week is another week of gardening fun.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
NB: if you click on the images you can find out more about them.
Today was an amazing day, the sky was blue, the sun was shining and once it warmed up, it was the perfect gardening day. Once I took care of everything indoors, I headed outdoors with a plan. I was going to plant all my potatoes and finally get them in the ground so I can stop worrying about them. The Christmas ones were the biggest worry as I really didn’t want to tell the family that we will be celebrating Christmas 3 days later than everyone else.
Then I was going to sort out the salad bed and give it some compost and some love so I could sow some radish seeds before it gets too hot for them and they all bolt. I’ve had the seed packet sitting on my desk, taunting me for ages. I headed to the garden feeling confident that I was going to achieve things today!
The thing is – while I achieved things, it didn’t go according to plan. My first action was to focus on the Christmas spuds. The others can wait as they are the longer growing ones and so at the end of the day a week or two won’t matter all that much. I like to put my Christmas spuds in containers, in case we aren’t at home on the big day – I can take my festive gardening with me!
But straight away the first problem presented itself and was the main cause of everything spinning off track resulting in my main potatoes still sitting in their trays at the end of the day. You see the containers I wanted to use were already in use. I planted some cheeky winter spuds in them a few months ago. They were doing well until there was a storm and all their leaves got wind burnt and shrivelled up.
I wasn’t expecting there to be any spuds, so I dumped out the soil into a large container and was surprised to see some perfect new potatoes. But I saw something else even more interesting that took the potato planting session even further away from being done by the end of the day. The soil from the containers was full of worms. Loads of big fat earthworms. The soil was just a blend of potting mix and compost with some sheep pellets, blood and bone and Dynamic Lifter thrown in for good measure. They had been sat on the bare sand and there were certainly no worms in there in the beginning.
This got me to thinking and I thought, if there was something good going on in the potato container soil, then I can’t just dump it anywhere. I needed to take advantage of it. And what bed needed love more than my worst cover crop bed. Which meant pulling up the cover crop – as meagre as it was and chop it up and then dig out the soil and lay the chopped-up mustard plants in the base.
Then I popped the worm laden soil on top and began to cover it up. Then I thought ‘while I’m here I might as well add all the other goodies I normally do so grabbed some compost, well-rotted manure and other bits and bobs and layered that into the bed then put the soil back over the top. I may need to give it a bit of a tickle later to make sure it is well distributed but I’m hoping the worms will do the lions share of the work.
After that exhausting deviation from the plan, I had my containers for my Christmas spuds, so I gave them a good wash and buried the well chitted spuds in a new blend of compost, potting mix and all the other goodies the previous potatoes loved. It felt good to finally achieve something on the list, but the day was at an end and the main items on the list remain undone, but at least we have fresh new potatoes for dinner.
Come again soon – tomorrow is another day and if it was a nice as today, my radish and my main potatoes may get to meet the soil.
Sarah the Gardener : o)