Winter made a dramatic entrance today, but was all puff and no substance. It was all fog, but not really cold – not in the standard winter scheme of things. Once the fog lifted it was a lovely sunny, mild day. The kind of day you would expect from a gentle autumn. I hope this is an indication of how things will continue for the next three months, but it probably won’t be.
Not trying to moan too much about the last season, but we encountered a bit of a problem. The chickens really didn’t give us many eggs at all. Time has whizzed by so quickly that it never really dawned on us the chickens were getting a bit elderly at 8 and 9 years old. That is about the equivalent of 80 – 90 year olds so no wonder they didn’t want to enter into a breeding program for us to refresh our flock. Old Chicken the Rooster is probably firing blanks anyway.
So instead of being accused of being freeloading good for nothings – they have been allowed to take it easy and enjoy a life of leisure with no expectations placed upon on them. If they want to lay an egg then all good and well but if not that’s ok too. The coop became a retirement village.
This didn’t help with our egg situation and we had to resort to purchasing eggs. They just weren’t the same. The yoke wasn’t as nice and rich but we didn’t need to crack it into a bowl first to avoid a potential nasty surprize that is always a risk when you have a rooster and the kids collect the eggs.
Buying eggs was a bit of an eye opener after not buying eggs for the better part of a decade. There are different varieties depending on your social consciousness. There are organic, free range, eco, colony, barn, uncaged, caged and one that doesn’t say for those who don’t want to know. Of course, the prices also varied greatly. Organic were the most expensive and the poor caged eggs have very little value.
Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to increase our flock with a youthful vigour, and in doing so saving 6 poor wee souls from a life in cages. Our new chickens have been adopted from a group of 1600 chickens that were rescued from a caged chicken farm. Having seen these poor bedraggled birds, it upsets me that they have spent the first eighteen months of their lives living in such an unnatural way.
But they are with us now and things are about to get a whole lot better for them. I’ve set them up for now in the lamb’s quarters with their own roost, nesting boxes and outside area. It is right next to the actual coop separated by a fence so they get used to their soon to be geriatric roomies.
It has been interesting to watch them explore their new world. At first, they were reluctant to come outside, but Chicken the Rooster, sensing they were there, called gently to them and they came over to the fence and they cooed back and forth. He is such a sweet natured rooster and we love him for it. Although the bravest of the 6 did stand up for the group to start with and in an act of dominance tried to take him on. He is too old for all of that and quickly defused the situation. But I am pleased there is a fence between them. He hovered there all day trying to connect with them, and the old ladies wandered over from time to time to say hi and see what all the fuss what about.
The new girls were kind of funny. Walking on the earth was strange to them and they kept lifting their feet in a way that looked like they were going ‘ewwwh…. Something is making my feet ikky.’ Two of them preferred to avoid the experience all together and pretty much stayed indoors. One girl with barely any feathers discovered the joy of lying in the sun and popped herself in a sunny corner and pretty much stayed there all day. They all laid an egg, however due to the worming treatment they received upon rescue we can’t eat them so I left them in the nesting boxes for now so they know where to lay next time.
There is something mesmerising about watching them discover life at our place. We’ll probably leave them in the lamb’s quarters for as long as they need to, so they can join the flock with little fuss, all going well. But for now, they are just featherless, bewildered nervous wrecks and are being spoilt rotten by us.
Come again soon – winter is here and I am going to make the most of the quiet time.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Not only did the last frost cause the demise of my peppers, but the luffas took a hit as well. They are a little slow to get started but once they get going they really get going. All of their bed companions have long since been composted. They are left hanging on a season weary trellis, daring the frost to come and finish them off.
And so it was – the final summer crop was removed from the garden, its stalks and stems composted and its fruit harvested. It is always a fun crop to grow, not to eat – although you can eat the young luffas, but it has a surprising use.
Most people think the luffa sponges that find their way into bathrooms everywhere come from the sea. Or little thought is given to their origin as they are scraped up and down dried skin to restore a soft smoothness. However, it isn’t anything as fancy as an exotic sea creature, but a humble vine that can be grown easily in most gardens.
Exposing the wonderful exfoliating fibre from the plant is a simple process:
Told you it was easy. If you haven’t grown luffas before then give it a go – they are such fun and will make wonderful gifts – if you don’t keep them all for yourself, because they are really cool.
Come again soon – its winter tomorrow.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Arbor Day is a long held tradition in this country. People have been planting trees to mark the occasion since 1890! There was even a time when people were given the day off school and work to go off and plant trees. These days it often slips by unnoticed except by a few intrepid gardeners determined to restore habitats and biodiversity. Arbor Day on June 5th is a thing and we should all embrace it. Plants and trees are the lungs of our planet and hold things together in more ways than one. We need the trees so we should plant them. It is quite simple.
As a child my favourite place to be was in a tree and we had many in our sprawling backyard. Some I enjoyed for the lofty heights it offered me. I could see forever and felt like the king of the castle. Other trees where bushy and full of leaves where I could sit and hide and get away from the pressures and stresses my eight year old life held. Sometimes now I long to find a good tree to just sit in. It is such a tranquil thing to do.
But my favourite trees were the fruit trees. We had so many of all different kinds and all summer long they were filled with the chatter of greedy children gobbling down as many sweet ripe fruit and some not so ripe before we were called in for dinner. Just the taste of a juice, red delicious plum can pull back the years and take me to a carefree place where the summers lasted forever.
Kids don’t seem to climb trees these days. But they should. Falling from a tree was just what kids used to do, and almost an essential part of obtaining the biggest, ripest fruit in the highest branches. In order for kids these days to climb trees, they need to have trees to climb. There is an old wise saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb, and with Abor day approaching now is certainly a good time.
Arbor day isn’t at this time of year by accident. Late autumn, early winter is the perfect time to plant tree as many trees aren’t actively growing and the deciduous ones are dormant. It also allows the roots to establish before the leaves place their demands on the young plant.
Before you even go tree shopping you need to decide what you would like to grow and where you would like to grow it. Find out as much as you can first. How tall does it grow? how wide will the roots grow? People often make the mistake of planting a tiny sapling too close to a house or a fence only to find it begins to damage foundations or blocks views or the sun entering windows. Tree roots are often the cause of blocked pipes and planting away from your amenities is a good idea. You really want to view your tree as a thing of beauty and wonder, not a pain in the backyard.
Once you have found the right place for the right tree, it is a good idea to dig the hole first. These days the thinking is to make the planting hole square as the tree will often be found in a round pot. If the tree has been in the pot for a while then the roots will tend to grow in a circular direction and can continue to do so in the ground and become root bound. In a square hole the roots will find themselves confronted by the sides of the hole instead of running alongside it they will grow into it.
If you do find the roots are a little root bound when you take it out of the pot, you can tease them apart and even prune off damaged or overly bound roots. Pruning roots can have the same effect as pruning branches – it will encourage more root growth.
Other advice for planting trees to make sure the hole is twice as wide as the root ball, but importantly – to the same depth. You can adjust this once you have your plant beside your hole, but by digging it first your poor plant isn’t hanging about above ground longer than necessary. If you plant it too deep you could rot the trunk and too shallow will not make a suitable anchor to support the tree and the exposed roots will dry out and die.
The advice to fill the hole with all sorts of goodies to feed the tree isn’t thought of as such a good idea these days as it can encourage the plant roots to stay in the hole instead of reaching out in the ground around so it is better to fill the hole with the same soil that came out of it. Too much of a good thing can also harm the roots. Also as the tree is dormant at this time of year, it doesn’t actually need a lot of extra nutrients.
So set the tree in the hole at the right height and gently backfill, tamping down the soil to exclude air pockets until it is at the right height, but not so firm that it would be difficult for the tree roots to penetrate.
Hammer a stake into the ground beside the tree, taking care not to go through the root ball, secure to the tree with a soft tree tie. Don’t tie it too tight as the tree needs to be able to sway in the breeze to form a strong trunk. But not so loose that the root ball is continually rocking in the wind.
Water well for the next few weeks while the roots establish. A mulch can help retain moisture but don’t mulch up around the trunk as this can cause the tree to rot.
And it is that easy. So now you know how – this Arbor Day, plant a tree so in the not too distant future a kid can climb up into its branches and feel the pleasure of indulging in fruit still warm from the sun, listening to the breeze in the leaves and looking out over their neighbourhood and feeling on top of the world.
Come again soon – winter is just around the corner.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I feel like I’ve been flogging a dead horse for the last few months and this morning’s heavy frost was the final straw. We are 10 days out from winter so I’m just kidding myself. The peppers weren’t going to give me my bumper harvest anytime soon. They needed to come out.
Due to the dreadful summer we had the peppers never did very well and so I had been limping them along. Every time the mere suggestion of a frost was mentioned I was out there popping on the frost cloth in the hopes of receiving something worthy of a plant whose seed was sown 10 months ago. Then whipping back out in the morning to remove the cover so they could bask in the weak sun.
But I came to the sad decision to pull them out. Let’s face it, they are hardly going to grow to the expected enormous proportions and develop a rose red glow in the weakening winter sun. If left there they will more than likely grind to a halt in a state of suspended animation and slowly rot in the damp, cold conditions offered up by winter.
It wasn’t a decision made lightly. To ensure I followed through I didn’t go out last night and put the frost cloth on for one last time, in spite of alarming headlines in the news about a dreadful polar blast racing up the country directly from the Antarctic. The boffins were suggesting 3°C which of course you always take with a grain of salt and prepare for -3°C. I allowed the plants to be hit by the stiffest frost we’ve had so far so I would be spurred into action first thing in the morning to remove all of the fruit languishing there.
Once there was no fruit there was no point keeping the plants as nothing new would come from them and the thought of protecting empty plants from frost throughout winter didn’t seem exciting at all. Besides they do perfectly well when started from seed each year – provided the summer doesn’t suck!
It did feel monumentally sad. The peppers are the first of the season to be sown and done so with great care and fanfare. The poor old cucumbers later in the season just get plonked unceremoniously into seed raising mix as there is so much going on by the time they need to get started there isn’t a moment spare to acknowledge just how cool the cucumber is. The peppers are special though. They are with us for so long. They don’t really get going until midsummer – in ideal conditions and then generally continue until the frost with a bumper harvest. Ordinarily the first frost brings relief from an overabundance of peppers stored up in the freezer for use until the new crops kick in.
But I can’t linger over what’s old in the garden. I need to focus on what’s new. The next crop to go into this bed is the cucumbers and I want to make it lovely and rich for them and replace the goodness the peppers used up. Sow I’ve sown a cover crop of lupin in the bed and before long the gorgeous foliage will fill the bed and make the winter garden seem less dreary. It is almost a shame to have to dig it in before it flowers as lupin blooms are so pretty.
And just like that the time marches on in the garden in an orderly fashion. Peppers just aren’t a winter crop.
Come again soon – I’ve got luffas to loof.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Things have been so slow in the garden this week. Mostly because it has been raining. I am determined not to complain or bleat about this state of weather so I have gone out into the garden today and found some bright side stuff so I can feel good about my gardenless week.
I’m sure next week will be better. I have an exciting project to get my teeth into – more on that later, a tree to plant and general potting about the place. I’m not even going to check the weather because the forecast is always changing so I am believing for sunny days.
Come again soon – any day in a garden is a good day.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Cyclone Donna. There are no words….
It started raining spits and spots at lunch time yesterday – about 20 hours ago. It isn’t expected to stop until 6pm tonight – so about 8 more hours to go.
It could be worse… sigh.
Come again soon – I was looking forward to this winter, now I need to dig deep to find the joy of gardening again…
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Normally at the this time of year there is a reluctance to except the winters arrival. With every drop in temperature I moan and complain. As the nights draw in, long gone are the leisurely evening antics in the garden – weeding and watering in the lingering heat of the day. Now gardening tends to wind up in the late afternoon, usually extended by torch light as I nip out to get something for dinner.
But this season there is something different going on. I am excited for winter as it brings me closer to the new season – one full of hope and expectation. Surely we can’t get two horribly horrendous growing seasons in a row. I’ve pretty much written off in my head any expectation to cling on to the dying remains of last summer. Except the peppers, they hardly had a chance to get going so I’m pampering them a bit in hope of some kind of harvest.
With this forward thinking for winter, rather than a reluctance, I am able to see it in a new light. This isn’t a season to be endured but one to be cherished. It is a time for projects, planning and dreaming. The chaos of the growing season can be meticulously planned so it becomes organised chaos with better results. Lessons learn over the last 12 months can be applied and new things that can help make gardening better can be constructed. I never thought I’d say it but I’m looking forward to the winter.
Thanks to a garden visit earlier this week by an enthusiastic garden group, I was forced to pull myself out of my floody blues and whip the garden back into a shape that would be respectable enough for a public showing. In spite of the grass being halfway to knee deep and the beds full of the dead and dying, there was the bones of something good. My section system for the care of my garden, implemented throughout the summer and autumn in spite of the weather had left me with a garden that was easy to restore order. There was no backbreaking digging and weeding, just a gentle tickle here and bit of a pull there. The thing that made it a big job was the size of it all. I’m seriously considering putting in a fence to contain my enthusiasm for new gardens!
So now I’ve come up with an easy plan to manage the garden over the winter. I remember how I normally enter the cold season with an eye roll and the presumption that it will last for EVER! But I also remember how it is normally over in a flash and leaves me on the hop with half completed projects that need immediate attention before they get lost in the craziness of the growing season.
I also remember well how wet it gets here in September and it is something I have learned to live with. But I’ve not been very good at living with it. I normally slowly plod towards the spring thinking I have all the time in the world to get the beds ready and then boom – it rains for weeks and I end up not ready and catching my tail with plants languishing too long in pots. Well not this year. The beds are in a good place now – weed free and mostly empty of crops, or nearly empty and some are even still working hard for me.
So as these beds come free I’ll begin the process of enriching and preparing. This is best done ahead of time and not in the hours before planting as it allows time for the organic materials to incorporate into the structure of the soil, so the tender roots aren’t burnt by fresh nutrients. The microorganisms can change things to the way plants like them. The frost can break up the clods of soil. Cover crops sown now (albeit a tad late) will have plenty of time to break down, enriching the soil before it is needed. Thick layers of compost and well rotted manure can be absorbed into the soil on there own with little effort on my part. My aim is to have the beds ready before the September soggy.
To add to the winter workload, I have three construction projects I aim to achieve – one each month, but more on that later, but they will make such a great difference to my spring and I’m looking forward to creating them.
And on the days it is raining – because it will, I shall make grand plans for the new inhabitants of the garden this spring. There will be old favourites, but places for something new and as complex as working out the seating plan at a wedding, I shall enjoy taking the time to decide the perfect place for everyone so we have a fabulous growing season ahead.
So for the first time ever I am anticipating the winter with great excitement. I can hardly wait.
Come again soon – there is something good to be found in the garden every day of the year.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The new month certainly isn’t afraid to make its mark on the first day. May is the last autumn month before the winter and on the whole autumn is normally thought of as that kindly season that eases us gently through a period of transition. But this year it hasn’t gone according to plan. Autumn has been like that unruly classroom full of kids that the befuddled and poorly equipped teacher can’t control. What started with one tentative riotous rain storm ended up becoming the norm. April couldn’t help itself and delivered a final blow of another 46mm of rain on the final days.
Well now we have a new month and a new teacher. And she has written her name crisply and clearly on the blackboard of the season with a sharp white icy scratch. She has cracked the whip and urged everyone to sit up straight and pay attention.
The first night of May came laced with air directly from the South Pole. This Antarctic breeze whooshed up the county delivering snow to the high peaks and ice to the low valleys. We are more near the top than the bottom of the country and by the time it reached us, it was barely noticeable. Ok it was colder than normal, with a sharpness in the air and I will need to wear socks today.
But as far as a frost was concerned, I had to look hard for it. I did find it, while wandering about outside in my pyjamas at first light before the sun had peeped over the horizon. It wasn’t languishing on the plants and there wasn’t a sea of white as far as the eye could see. But on some plastic left out overnight there were some clear droplets of water that were indeed frozen. If you weren’t looking you would have missed it.
Late last night as the sun was setting, long after I had finished gardening for the day and put everything away, I had this nagging feeling something was in the air. The night time temperatures were dropping fast in a clear deep sky. So, I went back out into the garden and covered my peppers with frost cloth. The poor wee things. They had suffered enough and are still showing signs of having wet feet for most of April. They were only really starting to get going with the harvest when those first fat drops fell six weeks ago. I’m not ready to give up on them yet.
There are high expectations for this new month. At this point I am happy with the crisp chill of a frosty month, so long as it is accompanied by clear blue sky days. I will be able to get so much done in the garden on days like these and all I’ll need is a fluffy jumper, a good beanie and some thick socks. May, so far you are in my good books. I was always one of the good students.
Come again soon – I hope this will be a good month.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
The sun feels so warm against my face as I work in the garden and it feels so lovely. But the sharp breeze and the chill in the shade quickly reminds me winter isn’t all that far way. Normally I fight this seasonal change kicking and screaming from a state of denial. Not this year. I just want to put this whole sorry affair behind me and spend the winter making plans and doing projects so next season is better than ever.
But it isn’t just the weather that reminds me we are at the end of something. There are very few crops left in the garden and every time I step into the garden it feels like I’m undoing things rather than planting and sowing and all those exciting things. And of course the pumpkins are so much a part of this season they are an icon for all things autumn.
So with a golden glow from a weakening sun shining across my garden the butternut squash are highlighted with their own shade of golden orange in a way that begs to be harvested. However these are a crop that wants to be stored and savoured over the winter months so you can’t just pull it out as you would pluck a ripe tomato, or twist off a plump cucumber, or hack at a zucchini with a sharp knife.
In order to ensure the storage keeping properties of these delightful squash, you need to take a bit of care. You can tell they are ready for harvest when the skin has an even golden tone without a trace of green and the leaves will have died back to a crisp.
Then, with clean, sharp secateurs you need to cut the stalk as far from the butternut as you can. This is so the squash can seal its end like a cap on a bottle to ensure disease and rot doesn’t set in through this key entryway where nutrients have passed all summer. If the stalk is still green, then the risk of rot at this point is much higher.
While the surface may gleam like treasures in a barren field, the part in direct contact with the soil isn’t so pretty. The underside will be positively mucky with the dirt it rested on stuck to it. This needs to be removed before storing or it will become a moist entry point for a rotten situation. A quick wash in a mild bleach solution will remove any residual pests, disease, spores and other harmful things that see the butternut as their next meal, not yours.
Leave to dry in a nice sunny spot for a couple of weeks. Then turn them over and leave them for another couple of weeks. This not only well and truly dries them out, but cures the skins so they store well and finishes any last minute ripening so the flavour will be rich and amazing.
After this you can store them in a cool, dark place where rodents won’t be able to eat them before you do. Check them often to make sure they don’t come to the end of their life and rot right there on the shelf.
And with my butternut pumpkins tucked up safe in the greenhouse, the march of the season moves us closer to winter.
Come again soon – I’m sure there are things I can put back into the garden.
Sarah the Gardener : o)