We are still in the grasp of midwinter, but the grip of winter is loosening. Late winter starts in a few days and with that the planning and preparation for the summer garden has amped up a gear. I have gone through my seed collection, double checked the packets to make sure there are still seeds within the little foil parcels, decided if there is enough or not, and if they would still be viable or would I be struggling in my efforts to see little green shoots rising from the barren seed raising mix in a few months’ time.
I have questioned my choices from last season and wondered if I liked things enough to grow them again. Somethings have been cast aside, never to grace my garden again – well not at my hand anyway. I found borage to be lacking. All that effort for some flowers to sprinkling in a summer drink and impress the bees. That thing took up more than its allotted space in my herb garden and self-seeded prolifically. I can provide for the bees with something much prettier and with much less problems. That plant is outta here – well it will be once I get control over its progeny!
I also had a look to see if there was anything new and exciting to try and there are a few things that may end up becoming a shining star among the ordinary things or will be a dismal flop never to be grown again – but you never know unless you try.
All of this seed sorting is great to do within the comfort of my armchair in the warmth of indoors, but the time will come soon enough when the contents of these packets become little green beings jostling for space as they grow into the plants that will become my garden. This isn’t a problem exactly, except I’m not sure where to put them.
Ok – I have the dome, but it doesn’t have any shelves in there. Not yet. I have a few stacked crates that kind of work for now, however there is not nearly enough space for everything that will need temporary accommodation in a warm sunny spot. But I’m at a loss as to how to do it.
In the last greenhouse I had a great system. There was a U-shaped frame around the rectangular greenhouse that created the structure for two shelves. The shelves themselves were made of decking timber cut to size but only every 6th one was screwed down. This gave the structure strength, but the loose ones were able to be lifted to be easily washed but also adjusted to improve airflow as the plants got bigger or pushed close together for tiny pots to balance safely without falling through, or removed completely if I chose to grow a tall plant that was happy to sit on the ground. The width of the shelves was deep enough for two of my largest seed trays and a little bit more. It was perfect.
I’d like to recreate something like this for the dome but with its irregular shape I am at a loss as to how to do this. There are too many possibilities but at the same time the slope and curve of the wall needs to be taken into consideration. Another thing to bear in mind is when the floor was laid, we make some holes in it so water could come and go from outside for irrigation and a possible sink, so I need to incorporate this into the design.
I have a few ideas but I’m not sure. But I need to think fast as it isn’t long before I’ll be out in the dome pottering about with a multitude of seedlings all vying for the best spot in the sun.
What would you choose? A, B, C, D E, F or something completely different? Each has their advantages and disadvantages and once done, that will probably be it. I can’t see myself changing it.
Come again soon – hopefully I would have made up my mind and be in the throes of construction.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
After being away for 10 days I was champing at the bit to get out into the garden and check out how it fared in my absence. To be honest I wasn’t really worried as there isn’t much going on compared to leaving a full-blown summer garden. In winter things are unhurried and harvesting isn’t required on a daily basis and things grow slowly.
A quick check of the weather station shows it was warm-ish, – for winter and there was a lot of rain and high humidity. So, it was unsurprising to see a bit of growth. The onions have settled in nicely and are starting to almost imperceivably thicken up. They are a long way from being fat bulbs ready for harvest, but they are on their way.
There are also a few more weeds than I would have anticipated so I need to jump in there and take care of them. Some things have gone to seed, but it wasn’t unexpected, we weren’t eating enough salad crops or Tatsoi. But after the magnificent food on the holiday I may need to change that and, shall we say, ‘eat a little lighter!’ There is plenty of time before I have to get my swimsuit out again and a lot of hard work to be done in the garden in the meantime so I’m sure it will be fine.
The Romanesco has finally come to a head and I have to say it is such a beautiful thing. The Fibonacci spirals are magnificently displayed. There is also some broccoli and beetroot ready for harvest. We are certainly not short for fresh veggies to grace our table. But some things have surprised me. There are broad beans on the cover crop plants that flowered too soon in the autumn. Not many, but enough for a taster. The first asparagus is poking through the soil after my efforts to cut back the fronds and freshen up the soil before I left. They say you can take a few in the second year, so I’m wondering if it is the first few or some from later in the season and just how many is a few, because I have a hankering for fresh asparagus now that I’ve seen it.
On the floral side of things, the daphne that was in bud before I left looks like it is only just in flower, so I get to soak in that incredible fragrance every time I intentionally walk past the plant. I honestly thought I’d miss it. But the biggest floral surprise is I have a daffodil up. Not just a few leaves or a bud about to burst but one in full glory, smiling in the sun. I wasn’t expecting to see that for another month at least.
I checked on the trees in the new orchard and they seem to be doing well, but I do need to make a priority of the staking and setting up the irrigation that I ran out of time to do before I left. But the peach is in bud already so I can’t muck around.
With all of the cool things going on, there is also a battle. The rust on the garlic has come back. I spotted it before I went away and trimmed off the affected leaves and gave it a feed and a spray so it could heal in my absence. I’m so pleased I did spot it as if I hadn’t, I would have come home to a sea of orange and a whole lot of heartbreak. But this time, there were only a few splodges of tell-tale orange, so I immediate removed the leaves and will do the feed and spray thing again. This is a battle I refuse to lose, and I will fight for my garlic and beat the rust into submission.
But all in all, things aren’t too bad, so as we approach the spring from the remaining half of winter, I will prepare a big long list and work towards it. It shouldn’t be too hard.
Come again soon – There has been a shift in the atmosphere, spring is coming, hoorah!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
I’ve been away. Not only that, I’ve time travelled! With the garden mostly under control it was the perfect time to have a bit of a holiday. For the keen gardener mid-winter really is the best time to take a break as there isn’t really a lot going on and besides – it is cold and miserable so who wouldn’t want to go somewhere tropical? So, we jumped in a plane and after 5 hours found ourselves 22 hours behind, in the day before we even left, in the delightful Tahiti.
To be honest for me it was perfect, I didn’t realise how much I actually needed a holiday from it all and so there was no gardening, although I did read a fascinating book about the head gardener from the Gardens of Versailles. >Find out more about it here< I didn’t even intentionally look at gardens. There were options to visit gardens and agricultural places, but the soft warm waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean called to me and I swam in waters that drifted all worries and cares away. I was truly refreshed.
I was also truly spoilt and had some amazing food and drink. There is nothing like celebrating the setting of the sun with a cocktail in hand in the company of lovely new friends. The French influence interlaced with the Polynesian culture made things feel truly exotic and the food was incredible. Although I have to say as much as the French enjoy eating snails, they can keep them. I thought it would be the ultimate gardener’s revenge, but I couldn’t face it, not matter how much garlic there was on them. I guess ignorance is bliss as I watched non-gardeners gobble them down. I just kept picturing the slimy buggers in my garden!
But now I’m back and with just a week left of mid-winter I need to get my act together. Spring starts is about 6 weeks and the first seeds of the season get started in a week and a half! So with one hand on the unpacking and the laundry as I wash the salt and sunscreen residue from my clothes – but not my memories, I will throw myself back into the garden with all that needs to be done, should have been done and will need to be done sooner rather than later. I’m relaxed, refreshed and ready for business. A new season is coming.
Come again soon – there is much to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It was with great expectation I approached my Yam bed, also known as Oca. As far as I was concerned, I’d done all the right things, I’d fed and watered with a frequency that could be described as regular. I was in a new environment here beside the sea and the soil was more free draining than at the old place and so surely that would have helped. I waited until the bulky foliage had completely died back, like you are supposed to do. Surely there was a bumper harvest lying beneath the surface of the soil.
At the old place I never really got a great harvest of yams, but certainly not from a lack of trying, however their bed was off to the side and easily forgotten with an out of sight out of mind cavalier attitude. It did flood often there as well and what yams I did dig up were mostly pockmarked with the early signs of rot. It really didn’t bode well, but I can be tenacious at the best of times and there is nothing to be lost from trying this crop again and again, hoping for a better outcome. It is relatively low maintenance so worth the persistence.
So how did it fare in the new spot?
Miserably! To be honest I think the tubers I planted collectively weighed more than the tubers I harvested. It is a miracle reducing crop. However undeterred I shall try again, surely one day the conditions will be perfect and we will get the much longed for bumper harvest. Conditions swing wildly from one season to the next and I can’t forget the year I could hold my entire pumpkin harvest in one hand, which just happened to be the same year I had the best ever celery crop.
I live in hope, although my suspicions are it just doesn’t get cold enough and moving to a frost free spot beside the sea isn’t going to help. Having said that the boffins are suggesting this is a mild winter compared to most, so maybe next year it will be colder… I can’t believe I’m actually hoping for a chilly winter. But its for the yams!
Yams will always have a place in my garden, not counting the hope of a better crop, but I created a bed especially for it and it is now riddled with measly mung bean sized tubers I couldn’t be bothered harvesting and now they are there they are there for good. They are related to the dreaded oxalis weed that strikes fear into the hearts of gardeners at the mere sight of a tiny folded trefoil shaped leaves emerging from the undergrowth. But for now I’ll just have to make do with do with ones from the store grown by folk who know what they are doing in a location that yams actually like.
Come again soon – I need to tell you about my orchard.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
You may or may not remember late last year I bought some fruit trees…. >Read about it here< Umm… yeah…. Well… I killed them, all of them. Well the olive still has leaves, but it might as well be dead by the look of it! It isn’t completely unexpected, as I ended the tree purchasing post with the words:
“I do feel a little sorry for the humble collection of trees I have just acquired as I have a ‘do or die’ philosophy when it comes to fruit trees.”
Although I was referring to its ability to survive here by the sea and not my negligent behaviour. But the thing is I had that old saying “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the second best time is now!” ringing in my ears. I left an established orchard and that was hard to do. I’d waited a long time to have an abundance of fruit and just when they got going, we got going. There are trees in that orchard with fruit I never got to try. So, I was in a hurry to replace them.
But there was so much else going on at that time, what with moving a house and building the entire garden in time for the growing season, so the trees while were on the ‘do it now’ list, I wasn’t really ready for them. By the time I got to the garden centre all of the good ones had gone already so I had to compromise on my carefully researched varieties.
Having secured a motley crew of trees, the poor things then languished in pots for far too long while I tended to the needs of new season seedlings and finishing the last of the beds. They were moved about the place several times as they somehow seemed to be underfoot and in the way. The brisk sea breezes enjoyed knocking them over again and again and as they were in small-ish pots they often dried out. Oh, and then Snowy the Goat gave them unnecessarily pruning – twice as she slipped her collar. She now sports a dashing and much stronger collar to keep her in control.
Finally, they found themselves in the ground, better late than never right? Unfortunately not. Last summer was a very dry summer, compounded by the fact that the water tank for the garden was only installed in September so it didn’t have an opportunity to become filled by nature and we started the season off in a position of shortage and water conservation. The newly planted trees were thirsty and not having the opportunity to hunker down and get their roots in deep during the winter and spring, come summer they suffered. I did water them, but not enough. My watering was sporadic for a healthy orchard, but devastatingly so for a bunch of trees in such an unfortunate situation. Death happened and much to my disgrace was not unexpected.
But I still want trees and I still have my list. I found it the other day tucked down the back of my seed tin. So, I have pulled it out, straightened it out and popped it into my handbag ready for the day I can go to the garden centre and restock with trees that will be treated with a greater kindness. The garden centres are filling with new season trees and this time I am ready for them. They will be my sole focus of care upon arrival and will be planted into spaces prepared for them.
The other key to their survival will be water. I shall set up irrigation for each tree and the starting point will be accessed from in the garden so I will have no excuse not to connect the pipe to the hose and quench the thirst of these precious trees.
So, there it is, my shameful secret revealed and my promise and intentions to do better, and the reward will be sun-warmed peaches straight from the tree, crisp apples on crisp autumn days and so many other varieties of fruit. They will be so loved that it will only be their own internal desire to remain rooted in this spot beside the sea that will let them down. I will do my absolute best by them.
Come again soon – its tree shopping time – again!
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Well I did it, I grabbed a spade and pushed it into the sand, not just once but repeatedly. At the first metre of trench I celebrated. ‘This isn’t so bad.’ I may have even done a happy dance. I laid the 13mm irrigation poly pipe down the bottom of the trench, removed the click-on joiner & bug cap, that was connected to the length of poly pipe coming out into the middle of the path, that was connected to the irrigation system in the bed, and has been a tripping hazard all summer and a constant reminder of the digging that needed to be done.
I softened the end with the click-on joiner & bug cap in hot water and popped it off, then replaced it with a barb elbow and joined it to the long poly pipe in the trench and locked them in tight with pipe rachet clips. I then filled in the trench burying the pipes deep within the garden and removed the tripping hazard in the middle of the path. We were one step closer to being connected. Action was being taken.
However, the tripping hazard was moved to the end of the bed as the other 5 beds in the group also needed to be prepared in the same way and then connected across the top with all click-on joiner & bug caps terminating in the same spot. I was one down, 35 to go…
After the second one I decided it was better to just look at it in terms of the groups. Two down, 4 to go. Not including the trench across the top. By the third there was no happy dance…. Digging is hard work. I began to question myself. I’d given myself a week to do this job. A week?! Was I crazy? I know I sometimes have trouble visualising things, but doing all that digging in a week? What was I thinking?
By the 4th trench I wasn’t even burying it back up again… let the wind do it for all I care… But fortunately, I have a teenager who owes me money who filled in the trenches behind me like he was moving feathers. Between the two of us we got to the end of the group and he swanned off to do teenage things and I dragged my weary body into the house where I draped myself across the sofa, not to be moved for the rest of the night. Digging is hard work… well it is for me. No wonder I’d put it off.
The next day, full of determination and a little bit stiff I headed on back out there to carry on. I’ve revised my goals. The aim was first sector completed this week. The rest, all going well will be done before spring and the start of the growing season. If I just dig one or two trenches a day, weather permitting, I should get there.
I thought the hard part would be digging the trench along the top end, by my reckoning it was about 12 metres, give or take, at a spade’s width and a spade’s depth. But that seemed to go easily as you can fall into a rhythm with digging and you don’t notice you are hot, bothered and knackered until you stop. So, I arrived that the end of the trench somewhat surprised.
Now the task was to connect the poly pipes so there were 6 individual poly pipes running from each bed joining the top trench and running alongside each other to get to the hub at the end. This involved cutting the poly pipes to length so they lay comfortably in the trench and joined with an barb elbow and locked into place with pipe rachet clips and pinned into place with rigid pipe stakes so they stay in the right order so I’ll know which bed to water when looking into the hub.
Once they all met at the end it was more barb elbows, pipe stakes and pipe rachet clips to bring them back up out of the trench standing proud but not too tall, side by side with their click-on joiner & bug caps on. The hub went over the top hiding them away until ready to be used.
All that was left was to fill in the trench. I have decided digging holes is easy. It is the filling them back in that is the hard bit. But desperate to see the job finished I persevered and shovelled it all back in and raked it off. Now the top sector looks amazing, is tripping hazard free and ready and waiting for the beds to be watered in once easy go.
Come again soon – I understand new season fruit trees are filling garden centres near me.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
Well to be honest, not too shabby. The winds of last week are well behind us, although I have to say I am glad I wasn’t here. It isn’t so much the wind itself that bothers me but the horrendous noise it makes. The whistling and the howling. That’s why I don’t get yachting – even the nicest summer day can be made to feel stormy as the wind whips itself around the ropes and sails… not an occupation for me! But I’m getting off topic.
While the big bad wind is an occasional given, living here by the coast, there is another unexpected advantage. Every morning this week I have awoken to blue sky days, with hardly a breath of wind and the sun emerging from behind the hill and blessing the day. It is cold, but not freezing and I feel confident a productive day will unfold. Then I have to get in my car and go further afield and at the end of the road – BOOM! Fog! Fog so thick it has a visibility of less than the distance between two power poles. It was so bad that in the last couple of days up to 30 flights a day had been cancelled at Auckland airport. With the fog a gloom descended and the positive attitude I started the day with dissolved into the mist and all I wanted to do was wrap a big fluffy blanket about me and eat soup! Even returning home to our sunny spot by the sea, it was still difficult to shake the fugginess of the day off my shoes and I had to work hard at working hard to get things done.
But I did get things done. I crossed everything off the list I wrote myself to do in the garden this week. Everything except digging trenches for the irrigation. I keep putting it off but once it is done, I will be so pleased so maybe next week I’ll just dig deep to find what I need to dig ditches.
I did some work on my onion overflow bed. The one for the elephant garlic, shallots, red onions and leeks. I found in my records I didn’t do a spacing chart like I did for everything else as they were already in the ground and I didn’t make a note. I always struggle with spacing because the greedy part of me wants to squeeze in as much as possible, but if I give them enough space they will grow better (bigger) and will be less likely to pick up fungal diseases that thrive in a crowded allium patch.
I’m a visual person, so after I enriched the bed with enough goodies for the plants to live in comfort for the next 6 months, I spaced the planting spaces using my 10 cm pots. The elephant garlic and shallots were positioned a pot and a half apart in rows that had two pots between them. Seeing the pots laid out across the garden gave me confidence the spacing was good and the plants would have enough room. It is hard to imaging how big they will be at the end, but it is important to try. The red onions were spaced with pot between them in both directions – you really don’t want giant red onions!
I finally got around to doing some cuttings from the Muehlenbeckia. I shouldn’t beat myself up too much with the delay of not doing it as now is a more appropriate time. I found instructions on the great big internet and followed them to the letter and even making sure most of the cuttings had a ‘heel’ at the base. It is quite hard to get decent specimens as it is such a wiry plant. I hacked quite a lot of foliage from the wild growing plants, but most was too thin and unsuitable for cuttings, but I managed to get 60 twigs into pots, so now I hope for the best.
Thanks to the wind the yellowing fronds of the asparagus were stripped of their tiny leaves and so all that was left standing was what looked like a bunch of twigs. So, I cut them down to ground level and then topped the bed with compost and other goodies to feed them for another season and then topped the lot with a fermented Lucerne mulch. By my calculations I should be able to sample a few this season. I sowed the seed in 2017, then put them in the garden last year so that makes them two year old crowns. Next season we can go wild and eat the lot for the next 25 years. I’ve missed the taste of fresh asparagus, there is nothing like it.
And I repotted my sweet peas, they were out in the wind and got a little beaten up so needed some love and I repotted all my onions even though they go in, in a couple of weeks as their soil got a little too soggy while I was away recently and some were beginning to rot away. Trying not to blame anyone in particular, but let’s just say he’s not a gardener…
Oh, and I made soap… proper stuff with the lye and oils! It was loads of fun and reminded me of my days working in a laboratory with the googles, gloves and careful measurements. I can’t wait to do it again. We’ll be the cleanest family in the land.
Come again soon – there is some digging to be done.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
It should have been an afternoon job, but as soon as I started it, I kept getting called away to other things and then I found I had underestimated the resources I needed and had to go out and get more and added to that the weather decided it would join the fun being caused by other delaying factors.
But it is done and while it is such a simple project, I think it will improve the corner of the garden where it lurks. And this project?… well I’m not even sure it is a thing, but I’m calling it my water catcher. Maybe it is a sink hole? But whatever it is my garden needed it.
The problem comes from my desire to have good water pressure in the garden so I can have effective irrigation. So as part of the budget blowing process of creating the garden I had installed a very good pump to deliver the water from the tank to the tap in the garden. Which is wonderful because I’m essentially watering up hill. It might be a small gradient, but it is uphill, and I want to be safe in the knowledge my garden will not thirst.
While this is good for the garden as a whole, it is not so much for the small corner of the garden where the tap is. The pressure was so much that when turned on without a bucket, watering can or other receptacle under it, it bored a hole right into the sand! Then when the kids used it to get the water for the goat or the chickens, they seemed to have an incredible ability to get water everywhere but in their buckets and any overflow from inattention filling the buckets or when the tap was not quite turned off, spilled out over edge of the fence, washing sand with it, creating a constantly damp patch in the corner of the newly seeded lawn on the other side of the fence.
I knew I needed to think about this and come up with a solution, as it bothered me. But it became more apparent when I popped in all the daffodil bulbs along the fence, the ones near the tap would rot away with all the excess water.
So, I hatched a plan. I got hold of a very deep bucket and drilled some holes in the base. I was going to dig a hole and fill it with stones to direct the water deep within the soil, deeper than the daffodil bulbs and deeper than the lawn surface on the other side of the fence so the water would drain away deeply and gently. The helpful man at the garden centre, when I tried to explain why I wanted the stones and discuss which would be best, suggested adding a deep layer of stones below the bucket so the holes in the bucket didn’t get blocked up with sand. Which made perfect sense. And I went home with a bag each of scoria for functional drainage and river stones to make it look pretty.
I then built a mini raised bed structure with leftover brackets, to contain the stones that would hide the bucket and give a bit of stone depth to absorb the splashes from exuberant use of the tap. Excitedly I dug a bucket sized hole, and then dug a bit more, added the scoria into the hole, eased the bucket onto it and pushed sand down around the outside of the bucket so it was held snug. Then with great expectation I emptied the rest of the scoria into the bucket to find my spatial awareness had jiggered thing up once again. The bucket was only half full! Seriously – how could I have not seen that! But it is all part of the journey. It was late in the day – about day four of the project that should have taken an afternoon, and the garden centre would have been long shut by the time I got there.
Eventually I found the time to go back and get more bags, with a reluctant teenage boy in tow to do the heavy lifting. This was also late in the day, so the bags sat there, taunting me for several more days until I found the time to finish the job. And in the space of less than an hour I filled the bucket and a good bottom layer of the raised bed structure with scoria and then added two bags of river stones to pretty it up and the job was done. Just like that.
Sometimes it is our easiest jobs that cause the biggest headaches, delays or reasons to procrastinate, and we come out the end of it thinking, why didn’t I just get on with it in the first place? But it is done now, and I can cross it off the list – the list it had been on for the entire #Make May Count initiative.
I think I may still fiddle with it a little bit more – I’m thinking of a duel tap attachment so the kids have no reason to unplug the hose supplying life giving water to my irrigation system and the post at the top is crying out for some kind of decorative element… I’m open to ideas but have thought maybe a container for a potted plant or flower display, a wind driven sculpture or just some kind of humble statue or finial…. Hmmm… something to ponder.
Come again soon – once again I’m a week late in making the month count but there is plenty to do.
Sarah the Gardener : o)
So much has happened in such a short space of time. Firstly, it is now winter. It is cold. I’m allowed to say that now. In autumn I was putting on a brave face, so while it was getting colder and colder, it wasn’t winter yet so I kind of pretended to myself it wasn’t that cold. If you can’t cope with the cold of autumn, then winter will be a dreadful season. But now we have embraced the chill and embraced thick socks, warm jumpers, beanies, and a cosy electric blanket to fall into an exhausted slumber after a day of hard slog in the garden. And it will only get colder. Although last year we didn’t get a frost so I’m looking forward to finding out if that was a one off or is it a thing here.
The most exciting thing that happened since the start of winter was something that caused me to fall exhausted into my cosy warm bed was my office shed was constructed. Yesterday (Monday) the Queen graciously allowed us to have a day off to celebrate her birthday and the weather was majestic. It couldn’t have been better and so our lovely builder, who knew I’d been longing for my shed for so long, decided to give up his day off to build my shed. Looking at the weather and the opportunity, there wouldn’t have been a chance to do it for ages if it wasn’t done then. And I am so grateful!
It was a fun day being a builder’s helper. We started with the floor and then the sides seem to go up like magic and by lunchtime I thought it would be all done by afternoon tea, but the roof required more effort and rightly so, it is probably the most important part to get right – especially here out on the windy west coast. I’d hate for it to blow away.
So, all that is left is to paint the outside to protect it from the elements and paint the inside to make it mine. Then I can move in and go to work in the garden in more ways than one. Hubby the Un-Gardener asked if I wanted to move some stuff in straight away (I think he is keen to finally stop having my stuff clutter up the house) but I told him not until after the painting and decorating, because I know me and if I move anything in before its done, it will never be done!
But one of the things I did while building the shed was to make a time lapse video of it and while I was there I did a quick tour of the garden to show the state it is in on the first days of winter, so wrap up warm and grab some popcorn and check out my latest video:
Come again soon – winter is off to a great start.
Sarah the Gardener : o)