SARAH THE GARDENER

Make May Count

After all the effort to get the garden ready for the garden party, I’ve kind of just rested on my laurels and I haven’t actually done a lot in the garden since.  Well not on the scale of the work I did before the party.  I have done a few things – like a little bit of path hoeing, which is actually kind of fun and easy to run the hoe across the path to keep it weed free, and after the effort of removing the encroaching weeds from the path as part of the pre-party prep, it makes sense to keep on top of them, as there were thousands of tiny weeny seedlings raising their heads in the middle of my path after the last rain.

Weed free path

Now the path is weed free, keeping it that way isn’t difficult at all, just a little bit every day.

I’ve also planted out my garlic, nice and early in the hopes to avoid the dreaded garlic rust and I’ve sown my onion seeds so, all going well, they will be ready to be planted out on the shortest day in just over 6 weeks.

Garlic bed

Soon this bed will be dotted with little green tips as the garlic emerges from the soil. I have been checking often for signs of life.

I do love how the seasons arrange themselves in the winter, the autumn isn’t really that bad, and eases us slowly into the cool of winter, but once we get into winter, the shortest day is only 3 weeks later, so while each day is getting shorter and shorter, the weather isn’t so intolerable that it is noticeably annoying.  Then before we’ve even got a chance to get used to winter, the sun turns around in the sky and the lengthening process begins.  So even when the weather turns bleak, cold and very miserable, it is ok because there is a silver lining in that each day is slightly longer and is bringing us closer to the spring and the much nicer and more desirable weather.   Having said that the reverse is true in summer and I’m not all that happy that summer days begin to end before they have even started.

seed trays

It does feel good to be looking after potential green things again.

But the thought that the shortest day is close-ish and combined with the fact I really haven’t done much since the party I had a bit of a wake up call.  It is almost a whole week into the 5th month of the year, and not wanting to shorten life anymore than it does on its own, that is almost halfway through the year!  I could easily see myself continuing in this pattern of drift without really achieving much.  But that would be such a waste, so I have decided to Make May Count and hope to be able to tick of achievements at the end like a role call of cool gardening related things.   There are so many things I’ve been putting off and I just want to get them done now.

Seed Potatoes

I really need to pop these spuds into containers. I couldn’t help myself when I saw them in the garden centre. Summer delight is a great variety when growing out of season spuds in the dome in the middle of winter! Although note to self: when buy spuds for containers, feel the bag to get bigger potatoes so you need less containers….

Starting tomorrow.  Some things will be big! And others will be so small I have even debated with myself as to whether they should be on the list at all… But everything counts and a small step is still a step in the right direction.

Cinderella Pumpkin

OK… starting today…. In spite of its lack of flavour, I have decided to chop up the Cinderella Pumpkin into meal sized portions and freeze them so they can fill out meals and in doing so fill out hungry teenage boys. They won’t even know its there! Waste not want not and all that. And now it no longer sits on the kitchen bench taunting me.

Come again soon – there will be plenty of gardening action….

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Not all that glitters is gold

I’ve been a round the gardening block for ages, and I’ve learnt things.  Many things.  But still I fall into traps, make mistakes and don’t follow my own advice.  One of the things I say often to many people – ‘if you don’t like it don’t grow it!’  That is why I have a large bed of kidney beans for yummy and delicious winter chilli con carne and zingy nachos, not a bed full of yucky (*disclaimer – my opinion only) runner beans.  I did grow them in my first year, because what is a garden without beans?  Then I grew them in the second year because the bamboo pole structure is really cool and I enjoyed building it.  But then I realised my folly and filled the bed with dwarf French green beans, because maybe I’d like those better (I didn’t) but also my bamboo pole structure kept falling down.  It just wasn’t meant to be.  Although I have recently discovered the Joeyosaurus actually likes beans, so I have been denying him the pleasure for most of his life.  Next season I need to put some Joey beans in.

Cinderella Pumpkin Rouge vif d'etampes

The potential for fabulousness is high in this Cinderella Pumpkin, Rouge vif d’etampes

I also grow broad beans.  It is no secret that I don’t like broad beans,  but not a lot grows in winter and so it gives me purpose.  Look at me – gardening in the winter!  Besides I’d heard somewhere that it takes 21 attempts to like something (or was that doing something 21 times before it became a habit) either way, by my calculations broad beans have another 9 years to worm their way into my affections…

Bean poles.

There was always such joy and excitement making a bean pole structure… shame I’ve never worked out for us, it could have been beautiful…

I tell people (lessons mostly learnt through my mistakes) label everything so you know what you have.  I’m pretty good at this now, but occasionally the label will fade or disappear completely and I have no idea what I’m growing and become pleasantly surprised when something exciting pops up and it is like recognising an old friend you haven’t seen in ages!  Such a delight.

Kidney beans

Dried beans are a great staple in our winter diet. Although I’m not that great at planning ahead, so I soak the lot and then vacuum pack and freeze them in meal sized portions. So when the time comes all I need to do is boil a few beans.

I also tell people, take notes – if you try something for the first season, and you didn’t like it, write it down so you remember not to grow it again.  Once again I ignored this advice with Indigo Rose Tomatoes.  They looked so promising with their little deep purple skins, only to be disappointed by their flavour.  The next season I picked up the packet – still in my collection, ummed and erred and grew them again, because ‘they’d look nice in a salad’.  Just because you still have the seed packet you are not obliged to grow them again…  give it away to someone else, they might enjoy the bland flavour these go nowhere tomatoes offer up.  I still feel the disappointment on my tongue to this day.

Indigo Rose Tomatoes

Look at that colour…. these tomatoes are supposed to be good because they look so cool… such a disappointment.

Another thing I tell people is find out as much as you can about the plant before you buy or grow it, so you have all the information they need to grow to their very best in your garden.  It is a great way to occupy your time in the bleak winter months when you can’t or don’t want to garden in bad weather.   But I am going to add to this advice something very important and something I fell victim too this season.  I chased the shiny and the exciting with no research at all.   Everyone who was anyone was growing it so who was I to do anything other than take it at face value.

I grew a Cinderella Pumpkin, or its official and rather posh name Rouge Vif D’Etampes.  Not only did it look cool, everyone was saying it was fabulous.  I trusted something I saw on the internet.  I should have known better.   This is where is gets controversial, so please no scathing comments in the box below.

Crown Pumpkins, Butternut and Buttercup

Butternut, Crown Pumpkin and Buttercup. They may be boring but they are reliable and actually taste good – how a pumpkin should.

But us kiwis do pumpkin well!  We use it roasted, steamed, mashed, in soups, in salads and even in muffins.  Pumpkins are a staple veggie and more often than not found as one of the 3 veggies in the traditional ‘meat and 3 veg.’  We certainly don’t froo froo it up with spices and pretend it is a dessert.  It is a hearty veg and should be starchy and full of goodness.  Our standard favourites are Crown Pumpkins, Butternut and Buttercup which all offer the requisite amount of flavour, body and texture.

So with great anticipation, although a little premature, as I wanted this pumpkin to be a decorative element for as long as possible because it just looked so cool!  But Snowy the Goat took had a munch on her most recent escapade through the garden so I just knew it wouldn’t keep.  I cut it open and popped some chunks into the oven to roast.

Goat damage Cinderella Pumpkin Rouge vif d'etampes

It didn’t take long for the mould to set into the goat bites, there was no choice but to eat it.

I’ve never been more disappointed…  well maybe it is up there with the Indigo Rose, but it didn’t roast well, and it was not robust in pumpkin flavour and was thin and watery for want of a better description.  It didn’t caramelise up like a good crown would…  it left me wanting…  So I looked it up on the great big internet – I bypassed anyone describing it with a vested interest and when straight to message boards where I found people saying it would be good for soup because it was because it was watery!  But just because it tastes like liquid doesn’t necessarily mean it will make great soup.  The flavour just doesn’t deliver and I like a robust soup with an almost velvet texture.  This would give a cheap polyester texture.

Cinderella Pumpkin Rouge vif d'etampes

The flesh is thick and the potential for deliciousness is still high

And to make matters worse – it is a big pumpkin and I have 2 of them to get through….  Maybe the goat can have it.

So the lesson for the day is, not only find out how something grows, try to find out how it tastes.  Even if it is the latest hot thing on the block.  As my mother used to say “if everyone was jumping of a bridge would you do it too?

Come again soon – there is only a month left of autumn until we are plunged in the depths of winter.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Party time

I love a good party as much as the next person, but when you are the host, there is a lot of work behind the scenes that needs to happen to make sure the event runs smoothly.  If you get it right, your guests wouldn’t have the slightest inkling you had done anything other than put out a few extra cups and hung up some bunting.

Geodesic biodome

The dome has been tidied and arranged in a temporary layout.

So when I noticed Garden to Table, the great program that gets kids in schools not only growing food, but eating it too, was having a garden party fundraiser, I thought why not.  I like a party, and even better a tea party, and even better than that a garden party, so I put my hand up to host an event in my garden.  I could also show off my newly glazed dome and besides, I’m all about getting kids to garden – I wrote a BOOK about it!

Brassica

New plants were popped in, in gaps beside the older plants

I checked out the details on the website and decided the best date would be the latest possible on the calendar – so I’d have time to prepare.  I gave myself a month, that should be plenty of time to get things sorted.  But what I hadn’t factored in was an extended period of holiday smack bang in the middle of my plans.  Not only did I have the distraction of Easter and ANZAC days, which are both occasions that require due respect and acknowledgement, there was also the school holidays in which also needed family time so teen screen time was suitably restricted.  It is just as well I’d chosen the late date.

Compost bin

A full compost bin makes for a happy but exhausted gardener

The good thing was the weather was on my side and I threw myself into getting the garden party ready.  There had been some neglect due to the whole wisdom tooth / holiday business, but probably no one would have noticed but me.  But pride was at stake.  I love showing off my garden and am proud of all I have achieved.  I wanted it looking its very best.  I evicted every weed I could find, I removed long finished crops that should have been taken out weeks ago, I transplanted new seedlings into bare beds.  I even sowed cover crop seeds that I could only tell people about as they had yet to show their faces…  but I knew they were there.  I sharpened the edges of the paths and cleared the fence line of the dreaded kikuyu attempting to enter the garden.  I swept out the dome and rearranged everything that had been dumped in there knowing it would be sorted at a later date.

Tidy garden

There is nothing better after a week of hard slog to stand back and know there is nothing more than needs to be done!

I worked hard and returned to the house each night weary but happy knowing I was on track.  To be fair, my system of doing one group of beds on a Monday and then the next group on a Tuesday and so on had paid off as there was only the shadow of work to be done than if I was using the ‘weed the weediest first’ system.  Experience has taught me you never get on top of that one in a large garden – you just chase your tail from one nightmare to another.  I also had the good fortune of gorgeous autumnal days where the sky was blue with just enough warmth in the sun to feel comfortable without overheating with the effort of hard work.   Besides all that effort was for a good cause.

Paarking

The cars were carefully arranged on the back lawn. We really need a better plan for parking in the future.

I put out the call “who wants to come and see my garden and help kids grow food?”  It was an exclusive party with limited numbers, because of the parking situation.  I would have welcomed more but there just wasn’t the room.  I have dreams on day for space for bus parking.  That isn’t too ambitious is it?

Baking

I’m not much of a baker but I am quite pleased with this spread. (Except the feijoa muffins – I may have mixed up the baking soda and the baking powder – no one complained though)

When not in the garden I set about baking all manner of cakes and treats.  We had feijoa muffins, beetroot muffins, chocolate zucchini bread, dehydrated marrow chips that had been marinated in onions, garlic and lemon.  I made a dip from peppers and chilli with cream cheese and there was zucchini relish to go with the cheese and crackers.  There was also a platter of fresh watermelon and Honeydew melon, freshly harvested.  All of the vegetables had come from the garden.  Good friends were to help me lay the table and hang up the bunting.  After a week of wonderful weather I took a deep breath and looked around.  I was ready. The garden was ready.  The party was ready.

Garden Party

New friends and old friends came together to enjoy the party.

The day of the party dawned, and it was raining – a lot.  Normally I’d celebrate rain, to fill the tank and water the garden.  But not today.  It couldn’t rain on my party.  But with the faith that it would be alright I did my final preparation without a plan B.  There was no cancelling this party come rain or shine.  And as people arrived the weather swung in my favour, the rain clouds receded, the sun came out and we sipped tea, nibbled on cake and I was able to share my garden to the loveliest group of people and raised some money so some kids could grow food.  It couldn’t have been more perfect.

Thank you to everyone who came along.

Come again soon – there is still more to put in and take out of the garden, but there’s no hurry.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Change of plans… again

But that is the beauty of the garden – it is completely forgiving.  Plans can be made, but nothing is set in concrete – except the things actually set in concrete like fence posts!  Over the last year I have spent ages pouring over my plans, making adjustments, then working on the crop rotation and then hoping to never have to plan again.  It can be a logistical nightmare and I get myself in a muddle and come to a great sense of relief once I can put the pen down and know my plans are sound.

Carrot seedlings

The new carrots are settling in, in the old potato bed

Except that isn’t always the case.  My garlic should be in this month and I’m running out of month.  But I have wrestled with their new location.  They are supposed to follow the carrots, parsnips, beetroot and fennel for reasons I have long forgotten.  The carrots follow the potatoes as it makes sense to have the nicely dug over soil, required to ensure every last spud is removed, to grow the carrots who like it nice and fluffy without lumps and bumps.  That is a logical reasoning.  And as there are no spuds currently being grown – well not in the beds – I picked up a bag of seed potatoes at the garden centre just because they were there and will grow them in pots over the winter…  The old spud bed is now nurturing juvenile carrot seedlings that reflect the more mature ones still lingering in the bed beside it, out staying their welcome as the garlic are ready to set up home in a spot not ready for them.

Parsnips

I can’t sacrifice my parsnips for the garlic when I haven’t even made a dent in the row? Parsnips you can stay. Garlic find somewhere else!

So I cast my eye over the row – what else could be done?  The bean bed beside the spuds on the other side still has beans lingering in it.  This was also completely unexpected as the snake beans are still going great guns and then at the other end of the bed, the Lima beans I picked up at a bulk food shop with the thought…  ‘hmmm….  I wonder…’ are still at the lush green foliage stage with a multitude of flowers and a few beans in the early bean stage.  If they are to dry on the plant, then they’d better get a wiggle on.  So I can’t give up on my beans.  Not yet.

Lima beans

The Lima beans are taking ages and are a long way from being a dried bean!

Beside that are the leafy greens, a mix of rainbow beet that will be there until the spring when they will begin to bolt and while this will remain the leafy green bed for some time, it also has some fledgling leafy greens to provide some winter goodness.  So that is not an option for the garlic.

Cucumber

The cucumber has made a great last effort but it is pretty much all over ….

The far side of the row is the asparagus and no one is leaving this bed, not for another 20 years or so.   That leaves me with a couple of options – I could put them back in the bed they just came out of, but the painted mountain corn is still being dried on the plant and while only a couple of weeks will do it, the garlic is getting urgent.  Besides its not good to have them in the same place as there are root rot related diseases that can build up.  And then when you think about the next season what is the knock on affect.  The cucumbers were supposed to go in there next.  But the garlic won’t be out of the garden in time for the cucumbers to be planted out – so there’d be a bottle neck.

Cucumber

…. or is it…. can one late season cucumber stand in the way of an entire crop of garlic???

So that leaves one possibility.  The cucumbers bed between the leafy greens and the old garlic bed should have come out ages ago, but the brave leaves put on a second flush and produced another couple of cucumbers.  Who was I to stand in their way?  But I think it is time to call ‘time’ on their efforts and take down the frame.  This would create an empty bed in the right window of time.   The cucumbers next season would move on to the old garlic bed as usual and next season will not get into a complex relationship with the carrots.  I’d have all winter to eat the carrots before transitioning them across to the new / old potato bed.  So it would work going forward.

Peppers

The peppers are loving their location way too much, but who am I to argue. The onion overflow will need to find alternative accommodation

But will the leafy greens wait for the garlic to come out…  I think they’ll just have to.  The spinach may have to maybe move to the salad bed in another row as it can bolt quickly especially in a hot dry spring which is a possibility.  But the rest can wait.  Garlic planted in autumn is harvested early anyway so it should work.

Zucchini

I think it is fair to say the zucchini are done…

Ok decision made.   And without explaining the similar problem I have with my onion overflow bed, I’ll just say after much pontificating, the zucchini are on their last legs and can come out and make room for red onions, shallots and leeks.  This also moves them back in their crop rotation one slot but if the peppers weren’t enjoying life so much it wouldn’t be necessary.

zucchini

… having said that… this plant still has signs of life

Hopefully this will allow for a smooth transition between the seasons and hopefully will be the last time I have to rejig my plans.

Come again soon – things are really cooling down, I’m back to wearing socks and a jumper!

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Glazed Above

My greenhouse journey has been long and arduous, fraught with horrifying drama – mostly occurring as a shock to the bank balance!  To be honest I’m not sure how much it cost and really don’t want to know.  So after what seems like forever, the dome is done and I’m back in greenhouse business!  Having somewhere safe to grow my seedlings and over winter tender plants is even more appreciated after having gone a such a long time without a sanctuary for my green buddies.

Glazed Geodesic Biodome

The dome is an amazing centrepiece in the centre of my garden, I’m so glad I naively embarked on this journey, in spite of the cost!

This last stage was held up by two things, finding glass at a good price and then waiting for it to arrive on a slow boat from half a world away, but some things are worth waiting for.  And the other thing was the search for some brave glaziers who were willing to take up the challenge and do something a little bit out of the ordinary.  I am extremely grateful for the team at 15 Star Glass and Glazing Services.  They were so lovely and did and amazing job.

Geodesic Biodome being glazed

It wasn’t an easy job to glaze the dome, but the team were wonderful.

You can check out a time lapse video of the glass being added to the dome.  Stay watching until the end for a tiny bit of cuteness from Jasper the Dog and Fennel the Cat.  Also in the description below the video is a link to the dome being built,  if you are interested.

 

Come again soon – as we creep closer to winter the garden tasks are calling more urgently.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB this isn’t a paid sponsored post for 15 Star Glass, I am just extremely grateful for the work they have done for me.  : o)

Raining there not here

Our water tank has a little red ball poking out of the top.  It should be on a long stick as the internal part is floating on the surface of the water letting us know just how much we have left.  But it seems to be constantly positioned on a short stick as we ride the rest of this season of little rain.  I crunched the numbers at the beginning of the month from my weather station.  In March we had a whopping 52mm of rain, of that 27mm fell in one day and 12mm fell in an hour, so you can see from that it has been a little dry here, with no real expectation of it changing in this mild autumn and so I’m holding out for winter rains to well and truly fill the tank.

Water tank

Ideally the little red ball should be standing tall, so I don’t need to think about every drop of water we use.

It might not seem like it is connected, but we went to visit the fabulous Ayrlie Gardens on the weekend.  I’ve been there before, you can check out that visit >HERE<.   But this time I went for a plant sale with a group of friends.   While it is great visiting gardens with Hubby the Un-Gardener who would much rather be at a boat show, to visit gardens with friends who actually like gardens is so much better.  We discussed the possibility of buying this plant for a corner of someone’s garden over the possibility of that.  We ummed and erred over the merits of one variety over another and even had a lively chat over which shade of bromeliad would go better – the pinky green or the greeny pink.  To a non-gardener the finer points of conversations like that would be lost.  But it wasn’t lost on me.  They went with the greeny pink.

Rain at Ayrlie Garden

Seeing this garden in the rain is just as amazing as seeing it on a sunny day.

But the interesting thing is the garden is situated on the opposite coast from us.  About an hour away on the East Coast.  As we drove across the country from our slightly cloudy but definitely dry place, the conditions deteriorated, and our garden visit was very soggy indeed.  It didn’t bother us in the slightest.  Rain is something to dance in, and what better place to do that but in a garden!

Water trough gardens

Now here is an idea… we have water troughs with no livestock… hmmm… water lilies would be lovely. I just need the lilies and the water!

I was quite restrained in my purchases, not saying there wasn’t the temptation, but I have learnt from experience, if there is no hole ready and waiting – plants die.  I did buy a French Tarragon as it was on my ‘keep a look out for’ list and I was delighted to finally find one.  More often that not I come across Russian Tarragon which grows easily from seed, but the superior French variety comes from cuttings.  So, I was happy.  Hubby the Un-Gardener did join our group of gardeners on this visit and developed a sudden interest in air plants – Tillandsia.  So, I suggested he start small with just a few and then if he doesn’t kill them….   I’m hoping this isn’t the beginning of an Un-Gardener encroachment.  But I only have myself to blame, I’ve been dragging him to gardens for ages so it only seems logical that something should stick at some stage.

French tarragon

Bienvenue. Welcome little French Tarragon, I have just the spot for you. We’ve been saving it for a while.

So, after a fun day out, we headed home, slightly soggy but grateful for a time spent in an inspiring garden with inspiring friends that help to enflame my garden passions leaving me in anticipation for the next time we get together in this way.   But on the drive home, the weather seemed to reverse itself and went from the almost torrential to showers, then to drizzle and dried to nothing at all.  We didn’t get a single drop at home and our little red ball was sitting exactly where we left it, minus the amount used for a load of laundry in the washing machine.

Come again soon – maybe we will get a spot of rain…

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Sluggish

All things gardening have been a bit sluggish lately.  Fortunately, this isn’t a euphemism for actual slugs in the garden…  now that would be devastating and have a much more dramatic heading.  No, the problems in the garden have been caused by problems outside the garden and things beyond my control.  The worst bit was having a couple of wisdom teeth removed and to be honest it was harrowing and brutal and I’m glad I have none left so I need not go through that trauma ever again.  Although to be fair my wonderful dentist did give me some gorgeous flowers from his own garden when I went for a check-up.  But the recovery was slow, and it took me well over two weeks to feel like myself again.

Lettuce gone to seed

Well it didn’t take long for the lettuce to go to seed, but I wasn’t going to eat it anyway. (I was but I don’t want to come across upset by it)

The measure of feeling like myself was to stand in the garden to see what happened and some days I just stood there looking at it, not even seeing it.  No weeds were noticed.  Some days I didn’t get into the garden at all.  The frustrating days were the ones where I could see what needed to be done but didn’t have the will or the inclination to do anything about it.  Then there was this fabulous day last week where I went into the garden and picked up some tools and started to do things, and I got so lost in myself I spent hours out there, achieving loads without giving the dull ache in my jaw so much as a second thought.  I was back!

watermelon

After months of keeping the watermelon contained within the bed through strategic use of landscape staples, I take my eye off it for a couple of weeks and it goes wild on me!

Then things happened outside my control.  Many things and in no particular order, the things that kept me from the garden included – Wasps.  So many wasps.  It was frightening to be honest.  They are preparing for winter and seem determined to utilise the wood in my garden, of which there is plenty.  All 36 raised beds are made of wood, and the fence and the compost bins.  Wherever you looked it seemed like there were dozens for them dancing and swooping over their chosen spot of wood.  They didn’t seem bothered by me, but I could have easily put my hand on several while working away weeding beds and the sting of my last encounter a couple of years ago is still strangely fresh in my mind, not to mention the awful itching that followed for weeks after.  Reluctant not to repeat that experience, I retreated indoors where I felt completely lost with myself.  After finally regaining my gardening mojo, to not be gardening was very frustrating indeed.  But safety first.

wasps!

Wasps! Eeek! They are all over the place. I haven’t found a nest so goodness knows where they have come from.

Time travel has been another event in the garden. Although at this point it hasn’t been too much of a problem, but it is what it stands for that is the problem.   Daylight savings ended this weekend and it is rather late to be honest.  I don’t think I would have bemoaned the loss of summer had it occurred a few weeks back as we’d lost that summer feeling anyway with dark mornings and chilly starts.  Not chilly by winter standards but reach for your socks stuff.  But this was the final nail in the coffin of summer and by my accounts it has died three times.  First for the meteorological season change on the 1st of March, then with the astronomical change marked by the equinox on the 21st March and now finally with the end of daylight savings.

Zucchini

The zucchini seem to have pushed through the powdery mildew to have a new lease on life… I hope it keeps going for a while yet.

So, the time travelling back an hour in time hasn’t really had an impact other than a much needed sleep in on Sunday morning after the night before.  But it is what it stands for.  There is nothing of note on the gardening radar that stands between now and the depths of winter.  But to start the countdown to spring now would be too much to bear… There are 146 days until the start of the meteorological spring (the astronomical countdown just adds an extra 3 weeks and I don’t have the patience for that in the spring) That’s 20 weeks.  But that is over a third of the year and a huge chunk of my life to be wishing away.  So now I need to find delightful ways – hopefully green fingered ways to make the next 5 months pass joyfully and in a way that enriches the dreary existence found in winter.

Jasper the Dog

Say hello to Jasper the Dog

Another thing that I wouldn’t say has kept me from the garden but has been more of a distraction.  A surprisingly wonderful distraction.  Although not everyone is pleased.  Our menagerie on the coast has been increased by one.  To join the 9 chickens, Snowy the goat, Neville the robot lawn mower and Fennel the cat, we now have Jasper the dog.   I’m never been a doggy person, but when friends asked us if we could help them out by taking him from their family into ours, it seemed like the right thing to do.  Poor Hubby the Un-Gardener grew up with dogs, but has been without all these years because somehow, we were cat people.  So, he is over the moon.  Fortunately, Jasper is a loveable cocker spaniel, who is soft, not yappy, doesn’t jump up, comes when called and loves cuddles.   The perfect dog for someone not used to dog.   Like a cat who can zero in on the one person who is allergic, to smother with cat love, Jasper decided I must be the one to win over and is always by my side.  I think I’ve been won over.  Although I have made it clear picking up parcels – warm or otherwise, is not my job!  Fennel is working on it and is expressing her dominance by staring him down in an ‘I was here first’ death stare, but no one has been harmed.  Phew.

Fennel the Cat

Fennel the Cat is still a little wary of Jasper the Dog but has made it clear she was here first!

But it is a new week and the sun is shining and the birds and singing and the garden is calling out to me like a sea siren from Greek mythology…  I must go to it.

Come again soon – there are other cool things that have happened, and I just have to tell you all about it.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

Lawn love in difficult times

Having a nice lawn around here is kind of a big deal.  If anyone has ever built or relocated a house will agree that the lawn is the least of tradesmen’s worries.   When we first got the site, it had been grazed by cows and so aside from a few cowpats about the place, which I rejoiced at the sight of – free fertiliser yay! There was a lovely verdant grass, if not a little long.  Before the house arrived, we took great pride in it and even mowed our empty lot with warm fuzzies about how it will be when it is all finished.

Digger on the lawn

Diggers and lawns don’t mix!

Then the tradies arrived.  The house moving truck churned up the surface, the plumbers had great piles of gravel delivered, smack bang in the middle of things and then they took their digger and dug trenches everywhere for the septic system.  The electricians also had a go and dug trenches where they wanted wires to go.  The builder also had stones and sand delivered so he could make concrete and the lovely lawn become unrecognisable.  It had become a building site.  But I reminded myself you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs and it was a necessity to get the dream house.

weeds in the lawn

If the hot weather conditions in the summer bake the grass dry, more sturdy weeds are quick to jump in and fill their place.

I didn’t help things when I got the bulldozer to level the garden and remove the kikuyu grass as that created a mountain of earth that needed to be pushed across the lawn to level it out to make the tennis court sized back lawn Hubby the Un-Gardener had longed for, and bank up the left over soil in any spot that would look ‘natural’.  So, we were effectively left with bare sand where there was once a good solid ground cover of grass growing happily.

remove dead and dry plant material

Remove dead and dry plant material

And as much as it is despised by many, we reseeded the area in the spring with kikuyu seed and lovingly watered it and it was starting to look good again.  It was the best choice to stabilise the sandy soil and works well in beachy conditions.  At the very least it was green.  Ordinarily you don’t think much about a lawn, you mow it and use it for outdoor living, and it rewards you by being a nice green backdrop.  However, sometimes it can get a bit of a hard life.  As the only truly flat bit of land we have, when we invited friends to camp over the holiday period our new lawn was ever so slightly suffocated by tents, but once the campers left it bounced back… kind of.

give the bare soil a good deep soak

Once the soil in the gap is leveled out, give it a good deep soak.

But then it suffered from a problem we all faced this summer.  A lack of rain.  Being on tank water, unfortunately watering the lawn was last on the list for this precious resource.  Actually, it wasn’t on the list at all!  As a result, our backyard was brown and crispy.   Since then we have had a load of water delivered and it rained a couple of times and the green colour returned.  But the lawn certainly wasn’t as lush as it was.  And to make matters worse, we decided to have just another small job done and the plumbers and the electricians came back, with a digger!  My poor lawn is now in a right state.

grass seed

Scatter the grass seed as per the directions on the packet on the bare earth and around in the existing grass to help the new grass to blend in.

But they have gone now, and I need to give my lawn a bit of love now to get it into shape so next summer, when there will be no more construction work, it will be a stronger, healthier lawn and will be able to stand up to the worst summer can throw at it.

Ideally, if I was to water the lawn over summer then it is the same as for the vegies – a deep watering once a week is better than a light sprinkle daily.  You really want to lock that moisture in down deep.  The Kikuyu grass is a lot tougher and once established I shouldn’t have too much trouble with it and it shouldn’t need as much water, especially in winter when it becomes dormant.  So, I need to take advantage of the warmth of the autumn weather to bring some life back into the lawn before it gets too cold.

Gardena Oscillating Sprinkler ZoomMaxx

As the grass seed germinates make sure the soil stays moist, but don’t overwater. A sprinkler like the Gardena Oscillating Sprinkler ZoomMaxx can help control the direction of the spray so you don’t waste water sprinkling the path or the fence!

The first thing will be to level the bumps and digger tracks and try and get it nice and tennis court level again, and maybe use a fork to loosen areas that have become compacted.  Then it is a good idea water the soil well – so it is moist down to about 15 cm so the seeds we’ll sow in the gaps of bare earth or where it is brown and crispy, have a good chance of germination once raked in and the existing grass can find what it needs deep down.  We will need to bring out the sprinkler to make sure the surface of the lawn stays moist, although overwatering at this point can do more harm than good so little and often is a good idea while the seeds are germinating.   It wouldn’t hurt to feed the lawn to with lawn fertiliser at this time of year to nourish the plants, because we need to remember, the lawn is made up of plants and we wouldn’t treat the plants in the garden the way lawns get treated sometimes.  If we keep taking from them by mowing, then we need to give them something back.

Gardena robot lawnmower

One day soon we can extend Neville’s run to include the back lawn too.

All going well we will have a lawn to be proud of next summer.  A lawn to picnic on and play tennis, with the scent of fresh cut grass filling the air.

Come again soon – autumn is a busy season in its own right!

Sarah the Gardener : o)

Finding Peace in a Garden

This weekend I was in Melbourne and for me one of the highlights was to be exploring every inch of the Royal Botanic Gardens, with the long suffering Hubby the Un-Gardener in tow.  It was an incredible day.  The sky was blue with not a cloud to be seen with a gentle breeze to ward of the heat of the day.  Although the air resonated with a constant buzz – the sounds of the nearby Formula 1 racing, it somehow didn’t detract from the ambiance of the gardens themselves.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne

The Royal Botanic Gardens are a peaceful haven, in the centre of such a vibrant city.

The gardens were a short walk from our hotel and immediately on entering the Queen Victoria Garden end, there was a huge sense of peace that conveyed a feeling of hushed tones that you would expect from a library.  The magnificent trees had begun shedding their leaves for the autumn and the lawns were a carpet of green grass and brown leaves.  The fountains and waterfalls tinkled and gushed adding to the ambiance.  And dotted about throughout the gardens where people, soaking in the sun, or sheltering in the shade, reading quietly or listening silently through earphones.  Couples in casual embrace and families having picnics punctuated the gardens with life beyond what the plants could provide.   It was a lovely feeling.

leaves on grass

A carpet of fallen leaves stand out on the vibrant green of the grass

As much as I would have loved to linger there, I was keen to see plant collections in the heart of the Royal Gardens I had heard so much about.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Around every corner was a sight worth capturing – I’d say on film as it sounds so much more poetic, however I snapped away, filling my digital memory with a multitude of pixels.  There were plants I’d never seen before and ones that were shown off in a new light.  I was in my element.

Tea and scones

Tea and scones, the perfect lunch in a garden

After several hours of intentional aimless wandering, our hunger made itself known through increasing rumbles and it was a relief to stumble upon the café in the centre of the garden.  While Hubby the Un-Gardener was ordering the tea and scones that seemed like the perfect sustenance to have in a garden, I made a quick check to see what the increasingly frequent notifications I had been receiving were all about.  It was at this point we were completely dumbfounded by what was unfolding back home in our little corner of the world.   It is hard to comprehend that something so horrendous could happen there.   The unwelcome hate and ugliness of the world has entered our safe haven and caused harm to the very fabric of our nation.  My heart breaks for the communities directly affected by it.  They should have been safe and free to pray and worship, because this is the kind of place we have and the kind of people we are.  Our national anthem, sung with pride carries the words:

“Men of every creed and race
gather here before thy face,
asking thee to bless this place

God defend our free land
from dissension, envy, hate…”

So, it was with shocked and broken hearts, we returned to the gardens, seeking peace and solace.

old oak tree

May light shine through the darkness

There are no more words to even comprehend this tragedy and all I can do is continue to pray.

Sarah the Gardener  : o(

Protecting the autumn seedlings

At this time of year, it is important to get the seeds of the new winter season off to a good start while the soil is still warm.  But there is a bit of a problem with this.  The majority of the seedlings that will grow well over the winter months are brassicas.  They generally do better than then their summer compatriots as they are un-harried by the cabbage white butterfly as the cool conditions don’t suit their tender bits.   It is so refreshing to harvest a broccoli in the winter without spending ages picking out the extra protein and then eating with caution – not that you tell the family…  “Eat ya greens, its good for you!”

Netting cover to protect seedlings

I must admit to a bit of procrastination when it came to sowing my seeds. I was worried the brassicas would get decimated by the Cabbage White Butterflies still flitting about and needed to come up with a plan to protect them.

However, in these early days the butterflies are still flitting about as it is still warm enough for them and just one egg laid on a vulnerable seedling can grow into a caterpillar that can demolish the seedling in just a few days.  But the butterflies don’t just stop with one egg per plant, your poor brassica seedling finds itself food for many, long before it becomes food for you.

I have struggled with this problem for years.  I have used cake nets, kept seedlings indoors until the last moment.  I did regular check and squish inspections.  I’ve liberally sprinkled derris dust and I’ve been at my wits end.

Cabbage White Butterfly

Not on my watch buddy! There are too many of these Cabbage White Butterflies floating about for my liking.

The other problem at this time of year it is still too hot for tender seedlings in conditions where there is no rain and so the potential to fry seedlings in a moment’s inattention after weeks of tender care is huge.  The only really upside to starting from seed at this time of year is things grow so much quicker than in spring so there is less of the ‘will they germinate’ angst and they appear long before you consider giving the soil a bit of a poke to see what is going on.  And of course the obvious…  you get things to eat mid-winter!

Now in my new garden I have the luxury of a nursery bed, one to grow these autumn seedlings beyond the confines of pots, taking advantage of the moisture deep in the soil and reducing the risk of pots drying out.  I’ve always wanted one and am excited to have it.  The soil is low nutrient as the seedlings don’t really need a heavy rich soil.  What that means is I haven’t added compost and well-rotted manure or anything, but I may tickle it with a little bit of something, so it isn’t completely devoid of nutrients – other that what is in the soil.  And it is fully irrigated, so the seedlings can have their thirst quenched easily.

Safe seedlings

Now my seedlings are safe from harm, and the added advantage is the heavy netting will help shade them to stop the worst of the lingering heat from frying them and by planted in the soil they have great access to moisture than they would in seed trays and pots.

So, I was all set to go with the seeds, but the butterfly conundrum held me back…  and I gave the problem a lot of thought.  I did buy a tunnel house to protect the seedlings, but it was too small for the bed, so space was wasted and it created gaps around the irrigation tubes, and I caught a butterfly in there and the few seedlings I was trying to protect ended up with holes in their leaves.

Then I came up with a crazy plan, that actually worked!  I’m so pleased and now I can sow my seeds knowing not only are the seedlings safe from ravenous green creatures and are protected from the heat of the midday sun.

This is what I did:

Come again soon – the seeds are in and the will come alive once again.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

NB:  clicking on the images will give step by step instructions.

%d bloggers like this: